Social Media and The New Me

By Joel Barker

I am perched in the observation car of the Amtrak Coast Starlight, just passing Mount Shasta and climbing towards the Oregon border. The other occupants regularly jump up with their cameras at the ready when yet another incredible view rolls by.

If you want to see some of my pictures, check out my twitter feed. I tagged the trip with #whyfly.

Thanks, #GravSum

I was down in Los Angeles attending the Gravity Summit Conference on social media.  I came with a mix of curiosity and skepticism. I was skeptical about two things in particular:

  • That a social media strategy alone will get a company where they need to go.

  • That MC Hammer is a good choice for featured speaker.

My skepticism on one of these was entirely unfounded.  I also bring back a new perspective on how social media can work to merge my own professional and personal life—and how that might not be a bad thing.

Amtrak Coast Starlight: My New Favorite Thought Incubator

Yesterday on this train I spoke to a woman who is fascinated by timelines. Tanya pointed out that we are, with our Facebook and Twitter feeds, creating and self-curating a timeline of our existence.

Like me, Tanya is hesitant to be too open on the web, however. She fears that someone will judge her out of context. After we both expressed that concern we realized that we do not ourselves judge people that harshly based on their online behavior.

In our diverse and connected culture, people who are quick to judge you on some single tweet or post are not going to have many friends. For instance, I doubt that a vegan would hesitate to consult with the Word Lions simply because I post pictures of my awesome Thanksgiving in January birthday party, a festival of carnivorous exuberance.

The fear of being judged on your personal life is largely unfounded.

Twitter and Facebook are exceedingly effective in transmitting humanity. We use different speech, but tend to treat each other about the same online as we do in person, for better or worse. I myself have been in a few Facebook tiffs that were not entirely polite.

The fear of being judged on your personal life is largely unfounded.

Knowing that social media can contain inappropriate language, statements out of context, and any number of off-message statements, I understand why some people and corporations wall off social media in favor of more traditional, more controllable ways of communication. Like normal human life, social media does not cast a consistent message, all sunshine and rainbows.

The American Red Cross Are On The Porch Gettingslizzerd

The idea that we need to lead a certain life that projects faux professionalism is absurd.

Daphne Hart from the American Red Cross told the incredible story of how the American Red Cross made delicious lemonade out of the #gettingslizzerd gaffe.  Essentially, an employee accidentally told all followers of the American Red Cross that she and her peoples were getting drunk on high quality beer. You can read a good account here.

The Red Cross publicity team essentially responded with a friendly giggle and an apology. Their audience embraced their friendly, personable approach to communications—even though they manage such serious issues. I was struck that it was a humanizing moment for the organization. Perhaps, as a case study, it will change the attitude of corporate communications in general.

Work and Life Collide When You Can No Longer Hide

Consider, as Philip likes to, the concept of being professional. “Professional is doing your job well, even on a bad day,” he says. I think he is right. It really does not have anything to do with any other quirks or habits. The idea that we need to lead a certain life that projects faux professionalism is absurd.

For instance, let me point out that the current ultimate model of professional appearance, Mad Men’s Don Draper, is a man that has carved his life into separate and conflicting partitions. Makes for good TV but seems stressful.

My work is an important part of my life, but I certainly am not identical to other people that do my job well.  Beyond being relatively mature and generally sane, People do not need to present a particular sheen in order to convince others of their professionalism.

Gravity Summiteers: A Fearsome Bunch of Really Open People

Along with MC Hammer and Daphne from Red Cross, speakers included:

  • Brian Drescher of Mashable

  • Ted Nguyen, a publicist and darling of social media

  • Simon Mainwaring, formerly of Wieden & Kennedy now an author and all-around smart guy

  • Stewart Neff from Visible, a company that helps to track social media for companies

  • Ramon DeLeon, a Domino’s Pizza franchise owner from Chicago that has gone ahead and made himself famous and loved through his existence on the social tubes

Learn more about all of these folks on the Gravity Summit agenda. Or find them out there in the ether. They are easy to find.

These speakers were quite bullish on social media. They loved to note the use of twitter by Egyptian protesters and consumer revolts. I felt that their view of it was, though anecdotally true, a blue-sky view of a future bathed in the warm unified and democratic light of social media.

By embracing a single public persona not separated into personal and professional, we go beyond posing like cardboard cutout figures labeled with our professional titles. Word Lions have certain passions that lend themselves well to writing awesome technical content.

I started to warm to the idea of embracing social media more fully. I get enthusiastic about my company and about technical communications in general. I want to tell that story.  I am also pretty excitable about artists, politics, food, and a million other things. Today, I am enthusiastic about this fantastic train trip.

A lot of the Gravity Summit speakers are projecting, every day, a persona out to their social media outlets, are willing to be seen as they are. It occurs to me that it might even be a relief. With all of the ways that people can learn about our private lives, it is more and more difficult to partition your life.  It may be time to let go of the idea of a “professional” persona. We simply can not be a cussing free, well dressed, and well tempered person all day and all night. At least I can not.

I have used Facebook to tout the things that matter to me and to disparage things I disagree with. I use an honest, sometimes raw voice there.  In my communications as a Word Lions, such as this blog, I certainly am honest as well. However, I tend to trim out material that might muddle the message. Word Lions have essentially been practicing an older corporate communications model.

My Personal Glasnost With Social Media

After Gravity Summit, I think that old-school communication of your identity will eventually be as outmoded as a 1996 web page. I also think that might not be a bad thing, entirely.

By embracing a single public persona not separated into personal and professional, we go beyond posing like cardboard cutout figures labeled with our professional titles. We become real people. Word Lions have certain passions that lend themselves well to writing awesome technical content.

I live for authentic relationships in work as well as in my personal life. Word Lions is more than a company or a service. Philip and I are working to craft a lifestyle around creating great work while living a good life. We have chosen our clients and compatriots as people that we enjoy. They are often people that quickly move into the realm of Facebook friends, people that I can cuss in front of and people who know that Philip is not much of a morning person but a great photographer.

So, Gravity Summit, this is what you have given me: a new resolve to be authentic in business and to allow my personality in. Feel free to peruse my personal blog (http://wordweevil.com. Not frequently updated but I would love more Answer Phone questions). Check out my Facebook feed: facebook.com/joelbyronbarker. I will in fact post to Twitter (@joelbyronbarker) more. I hope that it stops feeling like an annoying chore. Get to know all of me, world. Not only am I great at creating training, white papers, and all manner of technical communications, I am a great guy, too.

I am still convinced that social media alone is not enough effort for success in most commercial marketing scenarios. People need thorough, curated content to understand a product. However, social media will provide pathways and context for that more stable collateral.

Speaking of great guys, MC Hammer was an incredible speaker. He spoke off the cuff, integrating tidbits from previous speakers. He has an awesome stage presence (comes with much practice) and speaks with the true fire of a believer. He connects with an audience and gave us something of value. If he is speaking somewhere near you, go on and see him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmwA2Z3R11I