#Ferguson Shows Why Citizen Journalism Is Still Critical

If you’ve been keeping up with the news from Ferguson, Missouri, chances are a lot of the updates and photos are coming from individuals who aren’t journalists, posting live video feeds from their cell phones. When members of the traditional media were being arrested by the police, and the cable news stations were all kicked out or, in the case of Al Jazeera Television, fired at with gas grenades, it was often the alternative news sources and citizen journalists who fed us new information and updates.

I spent most of last Friday night, as well as last night (Monday), following what was happening in Ferguson through a variety of Twitter users, including Vice News, Alice Speri, Ryan Reilly, and Adam Serwer, as well as alderman Antonio French (who was arrested Friday night), his wife @Senka, and several LiveStream, Ustream, and Vine users. That’s not to say the mainstream media wasn’t there — they were. But on that first night, most of the video footage and images they replayed over and over on CNN were coming from people uploading them from their phones to Twitter and Instagram.

 

I won’t rehash what’s been happening this week — the militarized police response, the protests, the tear gas and the flash grenades. The fact that you know about it at all is thanks to the mainstream media, the alternative and non-traditional media (Huffington Post, Vice News, Freedom of the Press), and citizen journalists. (Update: The police kicked nearly all the media out of the area at 12:00 am CDT, often pointing guns, firing tear gas, and threatening to arrest them. One journalist, Tim Pool, allegedly had his press badge ripped off his chest and told by a police officer, he “didn’t give a shit.”)

Citizen journalists can range from anyone with a Twitter account and a cell phone to an independent news organization as complex as a large blog or an online news website, like The American Reporter (disclosure: I’ve been the humor columnist for the American Reporter since 1997). And anyone with that basic technology can record and disseminate news on a micro scale, or have your content seen around the world by tens of thousands of people.

While the term citizen journalists is often spoken with air quotes around that second word, especially by professional journos, they still play an important role in getting out early information. Ever since George Holliday recorded the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles 20 years ago with a Sony Handycam, private citizens have become citizen watchdogs against the police, the government, and in some cases, even the media themselves.

In many cases, they’ve been doing it without protection, at their own risk, and without the benefit of a publication’s legal team to back them up. They’re the people who find themselves at the center of the action and rather than run away, they pull out their cell phones, hit the button, and stand around a little longer than is safe or wise.

This means anyone can upload videos of things they think are wrong, or want to record for posterity and history.

Of course this means we also have to become critical thinkers and viewers, making sure that what we’re seeing is real, and not a hoax. That we’re re-sharing news from people we trust, and not just blindly retweeting everything with the trending hashtag of the day.

We Also Need to Trust Our Technology

But while we were watching Ferguson news on Twitter, it turns out Facebook’s algorithm didn’t even allow #Ferguson news to show up in our news feeds at all. On that Friday night, if you weren’t looking at Twitter, you didn’t even know anything was going on. (And if you rely on Twitter’s U.S. trending reports to see what’s happening, you were told that #ThatsSoRaven was infinitely more important than #Ferguson, as the tweens’ show trended that night, while the civil unrest in our own country was supposedly not even happening. The hashtag trended in individual cities like Indianapolis and Nashville, but not the country as a whole.)

Medium writer Zeynep Tufecki argues that this shows why not only is net neutrality important — what if Facebook and Twitter didn’t want us to know about Ferguson? They didn’t mess with the algorithm, but what if they had decided to play that card? — but even the technology used by both real and citizen journalists could be affected. California is considering legislation that will require “kill switches” in cell phones. While the technology is there to discourage violent cell phone theft, who’s to say an overeager militarized police department won’t force a wireless company to throw that same switch when they’re about to come down on a crowd of protestors?

Citizen journalism isn’t going away, despite the gnashing of teething and rending of garments by the professional journalists who look down on the amateurs with only slightly less scorn than a militarized police force. It’s here to stay, and as we’ve seen in Ferguson, it sometimes may be the only source of information we have for a while.

Home Depot Learns Important Lesson on Social Media Outsourcing

Home Depot learned a painful lesson on outsourcing this past Saturday, after an employee of a social media agency tweeted a racist comment with a photo from ESPN’s College Game Day of some Clemson bucket drummers.

The tweet was deleted almost immediately, but not before @ImFromRaleigh managed to grab a screenshot of it.

Home Depot (@HomeDepot) was not amused either. To their credit, they sprang into action, deleted the tweet, and followed up with the message that the (unnamed) agency was immediately fired, as was the employee who posted the tweet

They also apologized over and over to everyone who tweeted how upset they were with the tweet. It may have been a copy and paste job, but I’m impressed by the fact that they did it.

But here’s the bigger lesson that everyone needs to learn: Social media, like every other service, process, and occupation in the world is filled with stupid people. Stupid people who say stupid things.

This is why it’s important to screen for character, and not just experience. This is where price becomes less important than quality. This is where the lowest priced agency is not the best choice.

Too many horror stories like this abound, where big companies hire agencies to manage their social media. And the agencies hire people who apparently can’t tell the difference between their own accounts and their corporate accounts. Or who are prone to say things that are racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise idiotic. Or, if they didn’t actually mean it that way, didn’t wait five crucial seconds to see whether a comment could be taken that way. They didn’t just ask themselves, “should I send this, or will someone be offended?”

This kind of thing is going to happen again and again. We shouldn’t be shocked or surprised by it. We shouldn’t even say this is a problem with outsourcing, because it happens to companies with full-time employees too.

But companies need to start looking at some of the intangible qualities an employee or agency. Are they careful and do they think ahead, or do they shoot from the hip? Are they low-key or are they prone to impulsive outbursts?

In my own business, I see people choosing price first and quality second (if at all). When you’re choosing a social media agency, you can’t just go with the cheapest one. Because the cheapest one is going to hire the least experienced, least expensive employees.

And you will truly get what you pay for.

Five Things Miley Cyrus’ Tongue Can Teach Us About Business

My friend Casey jokingly challenged me to write this post:

Casey Valiant's Miley Cyrus Tweet

After Miley’s R-rated performance at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), including gratuitous tongue wagging and grinding on singer Robin Thicke, social media was ablaze with shocked reactions and stunned disbelief at what they had seen.

Of course, I’m never one to turn down a good “What _______’s tongue can teach” blog post, so I accepted the challenge.

There are a few business lessons, especially related to crisis communication, we can all learn from Miley Cyrus’ tongue.

Sort of.

1) Transparency and visibility are not always highly valued.

Photo quote about Miley Cyrus - Transparency and authenticity are the two big watchwords the social media hippies like to spout. But there’s such a thing as too much transparency. No one wants to know how sausage is made, and no one wants to see your Gene Simmons-esque tongue flapping in the breeze.

There is such a thing as too much transparency. Don’t air the company’s dirty laundry just because you think you should. Which leads us to. . .

2) Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

We hear about the PR stunts and the corporate jackassery all too often in the business pages, and we read with the appropriate amount of shock and horror. And that should clue you in that PR stunts backfire, and jackassery, well, is not looked kindly upon by most people.

This means that while some things may be legal, that doesn’t mean they’re right — looking at YOU, Wall Street!

3) When your actions get in the way of your message, rethink your plan.

My oldest daughter used to love Hannah Montana, and I will grudgingly admit that she has a modicum of talent (“he mumbled curmudgeonly”). Which, I assume, is why she was invited to the VMAs in the first place. But I couldn’t even tell you whether she sang that night, or what song she did sing. And I’m willing to bet that in 10 years, no one will remember the song, but they’ll remember her performance.

Do I really need to draw this particular analogy out for you? Don’t do stupid stuff.

4) If you’re going to screw up, you’d better have a plan for recovery.

In a recent interview, Miley cited Madonna and Britney Spears as positive role models other singers who have made, um, questionable decisions about performances, and she pointed out that people forgot all about it.

Eventually.

Of course, you have to have a lot of star power to pull off a “screw you, I don’t care” recovery plan successfully. For the rest of us, you need to work on containment and recovery. You need to work on overcoming the issue. Don’t hide from it, don’t deny it, don’t pretend it didn’t happen. The road to business failure is paved with bad PR advice.

Just cop to the problem, admit it, apologize, and move on. Assuming your problem isn’t legal or going to see you in court/jail, just shrug it off and promise to do better.

5) When that’s not even the worst thing people are discussing, you’ve got bigger problems.

All the photos I’ve seen of Miley are of her tongue sticking way out of her head. Not all of them are of her grinding on Beetlejuice, but they are all of her and her tongue. And yet that’s not what people are talking about. When every photo is of your tongue, and yet that’s not even the elephant in the room — though, given its size, it does give the elephant’s trunk a run for its money — then you have a problem.

Don’t lose your small problems in your bigger problems. If you’re going through a crisis with your company, you still have to focus on the smaller problems at the same time: deliveries, customer service, sales, etc. You don’t shut down. You don’t assume that your customers will give you a pass. You take care of business and deal with the crisis at the same time.

Bloggers Need to Act Professionally to be Taken Seriously

Yesterday, Deb Ng put a big smackdown on self-entitled bloggers who think that conference hotels need to fawn all over their guests or face the wrath of thousands of angry mommy bloggers armed with smartphones and hashtags.

I found a post filled with nothing but entitlement. The blogger, whose name is Jen, posted an open letter to the Sheraton Chicago who will be hosting BlogHer in a few weeks.  She wanted to prepare hotel management for what’s to come.

After explaining what a blogger is, because apparently hotel staff aren’t hip or in touch enough to know, Jen goes on to tell the hotel what to expect if BlogHer attendees aren’t treated super special.

Ng’s disgust is understandable. Bloggers want to be taken seriously as writers and journalists, and the problems Jen warns the Sheraton about make it that much harder. It doesn’t help when bloggers are on their worst behavior, not by being loud and obnoxious — every conference in every industry does that — but by being unreasonable and demanding.

If we want to be taken seriously as professionals, and not just a hobbyist with a laptop, we need to act like professionals. Here’s how:

1) Act Like You’re Supposed To Be There

Indy 500 Media Center

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center. I’ve covered the Indy 500 since 2009.

Don’t fawn, don’t gush, don’t geek out, don’t ask for autographs. Red Hot Mama, a baseball blogger, once told me the Cincinnati Reds won’t give access to bloggers anymore, because one blogger in the mid-2000s was given media access and instead acted like a total fanboy. He got pictures taken with players, asked for autographs, the whole works. He was the first and last blogger allowed in the clubhouse. Similarly, when I started covering the Indianapolis 500 for my personal blog, I was told the Speedway would yank the credentials of any journalist who ever asked a driver for an autograph or a photo.

Journalists don’t gush, they act like they’re supposed to be there. They have a job to do, and they get it done. Do the same. Act like this is your job, not a once-in-a-lifetime special treat. Because if you don’t, it truly will only happen once. Act like a pro and they’ll ask you back.

2) You’re Not Entitled To Anything

You don’t deserve the things you’re given. They’re not given to you because you’re special. They’re given to you as part of a media and PR campaign. You can’t march into a conference or special event and demand a swag bag or a VIP pass. (See “You’re Not A Celebrity” below.) Don’t act entitled, be humble. If someone gives you a gift, accept it in the spirit it’s given: it’s a gift. Be grateful for it.

This issue is a sticky wicket, because bloggers will often get free things that journalists are not allowed to receive. It’s one area of ethics that separates bloggers from the pros, and may need to change one day. But in the meantime, if you act like you deserve it, you’ll soon be blackballed by the people you’re trying to write about.

3) Don’t Tweet Your Tantrums

If you don’t get something you want, don’t be a passive-aggressive whiner. Don’t throw a Twitter tantrum. Be a mature and responsible adult. Speak to a real person about your complaint. If they don’t make it right, speak to a manager. If they still don’t make it right, then you can take it outside. Tweeting that a restaurant burned your meal or forgot to put cream in your coffee without giving them a chance to make it right first just makes you look like a brat.

There are a couple of times where going straight to Twitter is not a bad thing. Any company that has a Twitter customer service account can be more easily reached this way than spending 20 minutes on the phone. @Delta has fixed a couple of problems for me in the past this way. But publicly complaining about something that could have been fixed with a 15 second conversation is not the way to do it.

4) You’re Not A Celebrity

I’ve never known a journalist to play the “do you know who I am?” card. They don’t expect to be recognized. Many go out of their way to avoid it. Which means, they never threaten people with “exposure” in their newspaper or on their news program when they’re displeased.

Conversely, I’ve known bloggers and book authors who expect immediate name recognition, believing that people regularly peruse the blogosphere or study a bookstore’s shelves in the hopes that they’ll one day meet those writers. When that recognition doesn’t come, said writers will drop their job title or accomplishments about as casually as a college freshman trying not to act drunk, in the hopes of intimidating the other person into giving them free stuff.

You may have thousands of people who gush about you online or shake your hand after you speak at a conference, but until your face shows up on a gossip rag at the supermarket checkout, you’re not a real celebrity.

5) Don’t Be A Bully

When things don’t go your way, don’t be a bully (i.e. don’t play the “do you know who I am?” card here either). Don’t get all your friends to join forces and tweet someone else into submission.

I’m always amazed at the number of people who claim to be anti-bullying, but will gang up and publicly shame people who they think are deserving of their scorn. Companies that gave them a bad experience will soon be on the receiving end of several dozen, if not hundreds, of snotty comments on their Facebook page.

If you’re a consumer or social justice advocate, that’s one thing. But slashing people with the swift sword of Twitter justice just because you don’t like the coffee makes you a bully.

(No, seriously, that happens. The story Ng responded to included this little gem: “Don’t water down the coffee you serve us. Don’t. We’ll hunt you down and kill you with hashtags. #WheresTheCaffeineSheraton?” While Jen’s statement was supposed to be a joke, that actually happens way more than it ever should.)

We’re going to see a day when bloggers are seen and accepted as professionals, but that day is going to be a long time coming when they act like whiny little gits who expect the world to fall over themselves trying to please them. I’m not just picking on Jen or BlogHer, I’m talking to any blogger who has ever thought their 2,000 readers a month made them A Force To Be Reckoned With.

Treat people with respect, be kind, be polite, and act like you know what you’re doing. Everyone else knows what that should look like, and when you don’t, you just make the rest of us who are actually doing the work look bad.

Social Media Stars Killed Social Media

The days of the social media rockstar are drawing to a close.

We’re starting to see the end of social media as a standalone, magical mysterious thing that we do — something every startup embraced, every small business resisted, and every corporation fled from in fear — and we’re seeing acceptance, and even love, from those who previously spurned it.

Amber Naslund’s recent post, The Begrudging Death of the Social Media Superstar, plus a recent Jay Baer podcast episode with Dorie Clark, has got me to thinking that the end is in sight.

Social media will no longer be a viable standalone career path.

In the last six years, I’ve seen positions like Director of Social Media Marketing, Online Community Manager, and even VP of Social Media created to take advantage of this growing communication phenomenon. (I will not dignify positions like Social Media Wizard/Ninja/Guru with any response greater than a sneer.)

But I think we’re going to see those positions pulled into their respective departments, and they’ll become part of the general rabble.

Everyone in marketing and PR is going to be expected to be good at social media, much in the same way you need to stop listing “Proficient at Microsoft Word and Internet Explorer” on your résumé.

History Is Repeating Itself

Olivetti Typewriters - these things went away when computers became widely adopted.It’s always interesting to see what happens to an entrenched communication channel or business method when a new upstart shows up.

Newspaper people panicked when radio showed up, and the radio folks were the stars of the day. Radio panicked when TV showed up, and the TV people were the stars of the day.

Newspapers, radio, and TV all laughed and laughed when the Internet showed up. Then they ran around, screaming like they were on fire when the Internet started playing songs, streaming TV, and posting classified ads.

In the business world:

  • people turned up their noses at computers in the 1980s, but now we no longer have typists, because everyone does their own typing.
  • The postal service got worried when telexes showed up. . .
  • . . . and those people freaked when fax machines showed up.
  • Fax manufacturers peed themselves when email became the main method of communication.

Every step along the way, the new people were the stars, until everyone calmed down, and they were absorbed into the general landscape.

That’s happening with social media.

The social media people have been rockstars, writing books in a whirlwind of publishing activity, speaking and attending conferences. The ones who were doing it first are now considered the godfathers and grand dames of the industry, and the upstarts aren’t finding any real room to shine. There are no unexplored frontiers.

It won’t happen right away. There are still plenty of companies that aren’t doing social media. Hell, depending on which stats you see, anywhere from 40 – 60% of companies don’t even have a website. That means there are still plenty of people who aren’t adopting the Internet, let alone all the cool stuff it can do.

But when PR and marketing agencies are folding social media into their day-to-day offerings, and not a special add-on, you know things are settling down.

Social Media Experts Were Too Good At Their Job

That’s because, thanks to the social media evangelists who preached the gospel of engagement and relationships, everyone started doing it. And we all got good at it.

Eventually the executives who made the decision to create social media departments are going to start wondering, “Even my kids are doing this now, what makes these people so special? Why do they get the rockstar treatment?”

And the decision will be made to fold social media back into the regular marketing department. Or PR. Customer Service. Sales. R&D.

This is good news for people who are already good at marketing, PR, customer service, sales, and R&D.

But if you’re not good at it, you’re going to have a problem.

If you were only good at using the tools — you were “good at Twitter,” “good at Facebook” — you’re going to have a hard time fitting into your new role. If you thought that social media was all about using the tools, you’re in for a shock.

You need to get good at something else too. You need to get better at the departments and functions you were supporting.

You’re going to have to redefine yourself as a content marketer, a marketing strategist, a PR practitioner, a customer service professional. Social media is only going to be a part of what you do, not the actual thing you do.

Just like writers don’t have to be “proficient at Microsoft Word,” being “good at social media” will not be enough.

Photo credit: eat more toast (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Is the Forbes Top 50 Social Media List Flawed?

If you made the Forbes Top 50 Social Media Influencers list, you’re generally regarded as being pretty hot stuff. The Top 50 have a lot of influence, are extremely knowledgeable, and are connected to tens of thousands of people in their various networks.

If you didn’t make the list, you can tell yourself you were #51, or just try harder next year.

This year’s list was compiled by Haydn Shaughnessy using a “Pull Report” from PeekAnalytics.com.

There are also some basic criteria for involvement – experts must be creating their own content, and it has to be about social media. See more on the criteria here.

On the scoring, Peek Analytics gives people a score called Pull. If an individual has a Pull of 10x, that means that the audience the individual can reach is at least ten times greater than what the average social media user can reach.

Sounds pretty straightforward: if you’re a rockstar, you’ll be on the list.

Except it’s missing several notable names.

Jason Falls, Jay Baer, Chris Baggott

Seriously, these guys didn’t make the list? Jason Falls (l), Jay Baer, Chris Baggott (standing)

According to Judith Gotwald on Social Media Today (25 Social Media Influencers Forbes Ignored (And Why)), the Forbes list has snubbed a lot of pretty influential people, including several who were on last year’s list: Jay Baer, Jason Falls, Gini Dietrich, Charlene Li, Brian Solis, C.C. Chapman (Forbes did include his Content Rules co-author, Ann Handley), and even Mitch Joel.

Of course, Forbes does include some of the names you would expect: Mari Smith, Chris Brogan (but not his Trust Agents co-author Julien Smith), Liz Strauss, Jeff Bullas, Scott Stratten, and Dan Schawbel (disclosure: I write for Dan’s Personal Branding blog).

So what’s up? What happened to the names you would normally expect to see? Did Shaughnessy forget them? Did the non-Forbes people drop off on their Pull? Was PeekAnalytics having a bad day?

Admittedly, many names on both lists are names you expect to see year after year on a Top 50 or Top 100 list, but many of these missing names are glaring in their omission.

I’d like to see some better explanations for the list, and who did and didn’t make it, and why/how. I’d love to hear some of that “inside baseball” talk to explain how he went about determining who to measure, and who not to. How did he come up with the names to check? Is Pull based entirely on followers and reach, or is more like Klout, which could give a person with a very small following a high score because they the followers interact frequently? Or did Shaughnessy want to give some new people a shot at being on the Forbes Top 50? That’s admirable if it’s true, but then the list isn’t accurate or reflective.

It’s not that I’m suspicious of Forbes’ list, or will reject it out of hand, like it’s some partisan wing-nut website. It’s just that the exclusion of several noted social media experts is, well, eyebrow-raising, to say the least.

At the very least, Forbes’ list will be seen as problematic, which can be fixed with some basic explanations. At the worst, it’s a flawed list that is seriously lacking in its execution. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

24 Quotes to Inspire Any Marketer, Plus One of Mine

Have you ever had your name mentioned in a sentence with someone you admire? Like you’re being compared to them, or included with them? And not, “Is Erik Deckers older than Jason Falls?”

It happens occasionally for me, where someone includes me in a list of people I’ve only read about, and who wouldn’t know me from Adam. Every time it does, I want to say, “Wait, I think you made a mistake.” It’s terribly exciting and a real honor. It’s also something I struggle to accept.

People from Indiana are taught to be humble, and to not brag. (We’re America’s Canada.) We don’t take compliments very well, because we’re supposed to be humble and not appear boastful.

So when someone includes my name or mentions something I’ve done/said in a list of people I’ve looked up to, quoted, and read regularly, part of my brain ducks its head, says “aw, shucks,” and kicks at the ground. And another part squeals like a 12-year-old girl meeting Justin Bieber.

It happened yesterday after someone pointed me to a slide deck of “25 Quotes to Inspire Any Marketer” from ezanga.com. It included quotes from Dan & Chip Heath (Made to Stick), Seth Godin (Purple Cow, Tribes, and Linchpin), John Jantsch (Duct Tape Marketing), David Meerman Scott (Real-Time Marketing & PR), and David freaking Ogilvy.

And me.

The line is from Branding Yourself, a book that Kyle Lacy and I wrote in 2010, and finished a second edition in 2012. I can’t remember who we learned it from (we cited him in the book), but it was used to illustrate the idea that, just like people have emotional reactions to their most-loved and most-hated brands, people have the same reaction to us.

I thought, “this must be a mistake. Or it’s one of those ‘Daily Paper.li’ pages where 87 different people get included and tweeted.” But then I looked and saw that it was neither of those things. It really was something I said, and it was good enough to be included in a list with the Johnson Brothers, Seth Godin, David Meerman Scott, and David freaking Ogilvy.

People think it’s odd that the personal branding guy has difficulty in accepting compliments or stating simple facts like, “I wrote a book,” especially when he wrote a book that told people “get over yourself.” But I do. I get red in the face when I get complimented. I still don’t like telling people, “I wrote a couple books,” because it seems like bragging. And I still feel like a fake when someone asks me to sign their book.

I have to fight that urge to not say anything about what I’ve done and, you know, actually do the things I tell other people to do.

So, here it goes:

“I had a quote about marketing included in a slide deck and blog post that included a lot of really smart people.”

You have no idea how hard that just was.