Why I Took a Social Media Nap

Almost 40 days ago, I joined millions of people around the world to give up something for Lent – some quit smoking, some drinking, others anything with sugar in it … but I found it ironic that people were announcing on Facebook that they were, in fact, giving up Facebook for 40 days. Were they closing down their notifications immediately after they posted? Did they only shut it down after they waited a couple of hours to see how many people liked their status update?

I wasn’t planning on giving up anything for Lent – some years I do, but I usually just use it to pick up something else to bring me closer to my relationship with God, whether it’s extra prayer, reading a new devotional, or otherwise. I did that anyway, but as I saw myself carving out what seemed to be no time – but ended up being 20 minutes – scanning my Facebook news feed, I felt myself getting angrier and angrier with each post I saw.

It was the same stuff, over and over again. The same people documenting the same issues, time after time. Maybe the people changed, but the issues remained the same. As I fumed over a Facebook member’s latest status update about breaking up with her boyfriend for literally the eighth time in six months, it finally clicked for me.

I was spending more time on others peoples’ lives than I was my own. Was I examining myself closely enough, or was I content to put that off because it’s easier to play Monday morning quarterback on other people’s lives, people in which I have no vested interest? I had grown content. I was losing myself in other people’s lives because I didn’t want to confront whether I was lost in my own.

So with that, I immediately shut down my automatic notifications for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn – moved the apps to the last screen on my iPhone and off of the home screens of my Microsoft Surface and Asus Ultrabook. I had never done this before, but I was going to give it a shot.

I have to say, it was pretty liberating. Not feeling like I had to scan my news feed quickly as I downed my first cup of coffee headed to the gym in the morning allowed me to fill that time with reading other things, like an Easter devotional as well as the news of the day. I was learning about things happening in the world that didn’t involve an Instagrammed photo of someone’s food truck lunch, and it was great. There’s a whole big world out there, and I think that I was missing that by focusing on what was curated by my social circles.

This isn’t to say that social media isn’t a good place to curate news and updates – and that everyone I follow are shameless foodies, I actually have really smart, cultured friends. If you do it right, you can make sure you’re getting a very diverse view of things. But it’s like anything else, how diverse you get is really up to you. The very customizable nature of selecting your circle, or your followers, or your friends gives you freedom to choose what you want to see. But again, is that really giving you everything you should have? Or are you just content with what your other friends see and hear?

For me personally, I found that I wasn’t really updating my social media accounts all that much but I lurked an awful lot. I read up on everything, but never really engaged. I used it as a secondary news and events feed to standard news publications because I was too lazy to go look for it myself. I relied on others, but when I rely on others, I may not get exactly what it is that I want.

So in giving up social media for a brief time, I wanted to see if it made an actual impact on my life. If I craved the voyeuristic feeling of peering into others lives, but in a way that they allowed me to by giving me access to their daily updates and posts. If I missed wondering if a status update would get 5 likes, 20 likes, or a big fat zero.

It turns out that I missed it less than I thought I would, but now that I’m looking at it with a fresh set of eyes, I want to change the way I view social media. I’m going to much more liberally hide posts. I’m going to focus on the people I care about the most, and the type of news I care about the most. I’ve been really passive in shaping the conversation I want to be a part of, virtually, and it’s time for me to take that back. Like having to craft a strategic communications plan for an initiative at work, I need to craft a strategic plan for how I consume and engage through my own personal social media contacts.

I suppose social media is like anything else – you need to put it in its proper place in your life, and remember that you get as much out of it as you are willing to put in. This little nap I just took is going to help me do just that.


What comes first, the truth or page views?

There was a really good article in the New York Times today that talked about the agony (or not) that many news outlets experience when trying to take advantage of a story that is picking up so much steam that any mention of it will boost their page views – even if it seems too good to be true.

I mean, if I pitched a fit on a plane and someone bought me a drink, I’d stop complaining. Mile high beers aren’t cheap.

Essentially, the article highlights some of the more recent hoaxes that took the world by storm over the past few weeks and outlines the conundrum that modern reporters face when fact checking the “news”, interviewing both modern-day journalists as well as some of the individuals who perpetuated the more recent hoaxes that went viral. The hoaxers claim they were never asked to verify facts by anyone in the press, which I only partially believe. Not one journalist figured it would be a good idea to DM Elan and find out if he actually did what he tweeted? We’re really going to take tweets at face value?

Then again, I can actually believe no one asked. With site visits, page views, time on site, bounce rates, retweets, and 5 million other KPIs ruling the day when it comes to advertisers and monetizing the Internet, the faster you can post a story that you know will drive eyeballs, the better. We don’t all wait patiently for the 6pm news anymore to get our news update of the day, nor do we wait until the paperboy tosses our newspaper in the general direction of our front porch in the mornings. If I want to find out what’s going on in the world, it’s really just a click or two away. Having news at your fingertips 24/7 is no longer a privilege, it’s a right.

In fact, today I saw a resume in which an individual bragged about writing approximately 500 news stories a day. That’s right. Five hundred. Now, I don’t know if I fully buy that, but if that’s true then that person isn’t putting a whole lot of thought or investigative journalism into each dispatch. They’re taking information already available, trying to make it seem as though they didn’t copy it word for word, and put it out on the web for all to see. You think there’s really time for that person to verify a source if she has 499 other stories to write that day?

The easy thing to say is that journalists are lazy and need to do better. Man, where’s Walter Cronkite when you need him? There’s too many Ron Burgundy’s running around! I believe we can all do better, and as much as we don’t want to admit it … we’re all a little lazy in our own ways. But let’s think about this for a second. Sometimes, people go through extraordinary lengths to conceal their hoax. I remember when I worked for my college’s newspaper, The Setonian, and in my senior year we covered a story that seemed supremely outrageous. Outrageously awesome. I don’t remember all of the details, but it had to do with students living off campus, boxes, and vandalism. It was something crazy – but we did our due diligence, went to all of the sources, checked our facts, and made it a front page story. We even devoted our collective opinion section of the paper, The Voice, to this story. Lo and behold, not long after we patted ourselves on the back for some good old South Orange, NJ investigative reporting, those same students came forward and admitted that they completely made it up. On purpose. To screw with us. And while not long after our advisor was taking us to task over screwing up, we felt like we did everything right. We live in a society that’s apparently “innocent until proven guilty”, so when we get the same take from everyone we speak to (yes, we talked to more than just the students who were allegedly “victims”), we usually believe it.

So what’s my point? Besides never trusting college students, there are always going to be hoaxes. There will always be stories that go viral that are completely made up. People will retweet them, share them on Facebook, Instagram, whatever the social media platform du jour is on that particular day. Understand that the need to get content out faster is never going to go away – that’s just our new reality. But leading publications, news websites, and news channels need to take the lead here and stand against this garbage. They usually have the staff to turn things around quickly, much more so than the mom and pop shop websites out there. They need to adamantly refuse to cover stories until they have verified the facts – what’s another half hour or so? Getting to be first to write about a story is largely dying, since things get posted instantaneously now. Sure, there’s still something thrilling about it, but if you ask any reputable journalist, they’d rather be right than first.

If you can be right and first, then hats off to you. But if you have to choose, choose the truth. Choose to be right. It may not win you the page view battle today, but it’ll earn you subscribers for days, weeks, months, and even years to come.

Automating #Twitter Gone Wrong

There’s been a recent tale of social media woe making its way around – wait for it – social media recently involving comedian Kyle Kinane and Pace Picante salsa regarding an ill-fated attempt to automate retweets of any mentions of the salsa in order to boost its brand awareness/recognition.

Here I was, ready to talk about why trying to automate this is a bad idea, and then it turns out to be a huge prank by another comedian. I guess all the comedy clubs were closed last weekend. Apparently Pace Salsa hasn’t reached out to the prankster who created official-sounding Twitter accounts without them being, in actuality, official or verified … I’m pretty sure he’ll hear from the company’s lawyers soon.

Outside of it being important that your company monitors if there are rogue social media accounts using your name, your product’s name, or some derivative of the two - and working to have them deactivated if it’s controlled by someone outside your company (or transitioned to your Communications/Marketing team if it’s by an enthusiastic employee), the original premise for last weekend’s Twitter war is something worth talking about.

The issue was that it seemed Pace Salsa tried to implement some level of automation so that anytime anyone mentioned Pace Picante salsa, its “official” Twitter account would retweet it. Of course, there are benefits to highlighting when people are actually mentioning your product or service in a positive light. In the technology world (and probably some others) we like to call those customer references. It also helps amplify to others that people enjoy your product/service. Engagement and expansion of brand – never a bad thing, if it’s for something good. All press isn’t good press. With that said, what happens if it’s something negative? So #PacePicante is clutch for my chips before the football game … that would be worth retweeting. #PacePicante makes me sick … not so much.

At my current company, we’ve been asked by well-intentioned colleagues if there’s a way that they can automate any tweets that our company sends out. Heck, there are services like dlvr.it that help automate posting of updates from an RSS feed to your own social media accounts. Can’t we do this with company mentions on Twitter? We haven’t found a way yet, and we’ve found that Twitter doesn’t encourage that type of behavior. If you find a way to do it and you’re caught, you run the risk of losing your account. 

Don’t get me wrong – I think that automation of certain aspects of processes is a great thing. Time is a finite resource. We’re all being asked to do more with less. If I can save 20 minutes a day retweeting stuff from my company, that’s 20 extra minutes I can check out Buzzfeed … rather … work on that high-priority project. But should we even try to automate that? I say no – because, as you’ve seen from this Pace spoof, automation leaves people’s brains and sense of context out of the equation. Computers aren’t always going to know what’s a good post to retweet and what isn’t – and even sentiment analysis tools need to be “trained” by whoever is the one in charge of using it to tell the tool if something marked “negative” is actually “positive”. Case in point - enter a tweet that says something “is sick” into your sentiment analysis tool, and see if it automatically knows that’s slang for “cool” rather than its literal definition. Or if it picks up that the “don’t” in “Don’t miss our next webinar on polar bear cub awareness!” isn’t actually a negative. It’s just a more imperative way to ask someone to “please join”. More often than not, the tool won’t pick those up as actually being positive. Yes, you can teach technology to do better – and sentiment analysis is no exception. With that said, especially in the fickle world of social media, one slip – whether it’s intentional, a prank, or purely accidental – can wreak havoc on your brand. All of this stuff with Pace? Sure, it was a spoof – but I’m sure it was still a nuisance for Pace’s PR people. Act accordingly.

That means making sure you have someone with a brain in charge of your social media. While you can schedule posts to go up at all hours of the day (and night) – and you should, as it’ll make your life easier – when it comes to the content of the posts themselves, take a few moments to actually curate those yourself. Only you can gauge if it’s best to just retweet someone who mentions you, reply, or do a mixture of the two. You will always know your brand better than a computer – don’t default to automation as an easy way out.

Isn’t a Charm Bar a Bracelet?

For many of us, technology moves very, very quickly. I feel that way and I’m a late-stage millennial(ish), so imagine how quickly it must fly for our parents and grandparents. While it’s pretty easy for me to move seamlessly among Apple iOS, Android, and Windows – it isn’t always as easy for equally intelligent (if not more so) people like my father.

Last Christmas, my mother bought my father a new laptop computer that had Windows 8 – at the time a fairly new operating system – pre-loaded onto it. As soon as she bought it and happened to read an article about how vastly different Windows 8 was from previous Windows operating systems (Where the hell is the Start button?), she emailed me and asked me if I could ramp up on it and show my father how to use it.

Working at a company that is heavily invested in delivering solutions for those deploying Microsoft technologies, I asked our IT department to upgrade my work laptop to Windows 8 so I could play around with it and be able to show my father the basics before I went home for Christmas. You know, opening Microsoft Word, using Internet Explorer, finding his email, and downloading games like Bejeweled. It wasn’t too bad for me, though at the time I generally just treated the opening screen as pretty window dressing and immediately went into the desktop so I could use what was most familiar to me so I could get my work done without using new technology as a barrier to that.

Now, before I get into our Christmas fun in giving my father a crash course on Windows 8, let me make clear my father’s an intelligent man. He’s a high school history teacher and has been able to evolve as technology in the classroom has evolved – from chalkboards and pencils, to overhead projectors and sharpies, and now to Microsoft PowerPoint and Word. He has a cell phone and has become a prolific texter, though he and my mother both adamantly refuse to purchase smartphones. I wish I had taken a picture of the look on his face when he first opened the package and saw that it was a brand-new Acer laptop.

“Wait, Windows 8?” he asked, taking another sip of coffee as he took some of Microsoft’s new instructions and glossary of terms out of the packaging. “Charm bar? What the hell is a charm bar? Isn’t that a bracelet??”

I couldn’t hear him calling for me because I was laughing too hard, but I can assure you that for the next couple of hours I was walking my father through the ins and outs of performing basic tasks using Windows 8. He was truly lost without his Start button at the beginning, and to be honest, that’s probably one of the better things Microsoft did with Windows 8.1 – if for no other reason than to give people a sense of normalcy.

As we get closer to the holiday season, one in which many of us will likely be buying some sort of technology – whether it’s a webcam, new phone, computer, or otherwise – for our parents and grandparents. All of that is great – one of the cool things about technology today is that it breaks down barriers to communicate with one another. Maybe we can’t fly home for Sunday dinner, but we can Skype or Facetime to at least see what Mom made for dinner (lots of pasta). However, my fear with all of the technology today is that because the learning curve can be as steep as purchasing Google Glass, it will deter people from taking advantage of all the great innovative technology hitting the market today. They won’t be able to see the forest from the trees of configuring their iPad Air.

Now I understand that Microsoft felt it needed to take a big leap in software with increasing pressure from Apple and Google (among others). But charm bar? Really? It’s one thing to be forward-thinking and cool, it’s another one to take it too far and be so outside the box that people don’t even remember there was one to begin with. Everyone knows when you try too hard – it’s why everyone makes fun of hipsters in Brooklyn.

It’s fun to get new gadgets for people – turning them on, playing with all the buttons and features, and figuring out cool things they could never do before is fun to watch. It truly is. But this holiday season, if you’re manufacturing technology to sell, make it simple to understand. And for those buying gifts, be ready to have a dose of patience to show them how to turn the machine on and perform the functions you meant them to use in the first place. It’ll help for people of all ages – but especially parents who equate charm bars to bracelets that they had as children and don’t want to buy from Pandora this Black Friday.

Riding the Wave of Social Ads

The proliferation of media today is a nightmare for many traditional advertisers. There is information overload, and it’s so hard to determine whether or not your message is actually getting through to the right people. Better yet, if it’s even memorable. It’s the stuff that drives marketers crazy – not knowing if the campaigns they’re spending tons of money on are getting any type of return.

It’s what is leading many to embrace the next wave of “targeted” advertising, in large part, going to where the people are … social networking sites, email, and blog sites. The question is, are people ready for that level of personal touch? This article seems to posit that many aren’t ready for it yet … but they’re not doing much to stop it.

Basically, anyone who uses Gmail can attest to this – emails that you send or receive seem eerily similar to the text ads that run along the top of your inbox. Facebook ads seem to make way more sense than they ever used to. Online coupon retailers are giving you veritable liquid gold – whether you want others to know or not. The story about the parents who only found out their teenage daughter was pregnant after they saw coupons come in the mail for baby-related items from Target is well-known and speaks to the power of big data. By crunching all types of factors – what people browse, when they do it, where they do it … it’s much easier to send a more targeted offer (pun slightly intended). By offering a more personalized experience, the hope is that the tendency to purchase will vastly increase.

While people may appreciate the in-context offers, do they appreciate the method by which they receive them? That’s the big debate today – the issue of data privacy has never been more relevant. With the explosion of the internet has come an explosion in transparency – and with that people understand now more than ever before just how much information is tracked. There are a lot of governing bodies worldwide that are trying to shore up data protection and privacy statutes, and the US is no different.

With all of that said, some people have no problem with their information being used. As long as they can opt out, it’s not an issue. And who wants to receive junk mail, anyway? All of this is meant to reduce the noise that is so prevalent today and give you offers you actually care about.

I can see both sides of the argument – but my personal opinion is that if you don’t want people using your information, don’t give it to them. The only way that you are going to be completely safe is if you hide under a rock. You can’t always depend on other people to be quiet, or computer systems to be entirely safe. The next wave of modern computing is going into wearable technology – using technology (almost) literally interwoven into the fabric of your every-day life. The future are these in-context ads and offers – and honestly, the future is already here. It’s just going to get smarter and more targeted. If there are things you’d rather not share – don’t share them. It’s as simple as that.

Why do we reward our own bad behavior?

I suppose that you can ask this question for anything – be it dieting, working, or otherwise – but this recent article puts it in the context of personal finance. If the general idea is spend less than you earn, why are so many people in debt?

The article has a few reasons that come from a clinical psychologist – some of which include:

  • money buys happiness
  • old habits die hard
  • we get it from our mama (and/or papa)
  • we’re depressed (related to the first reason given)
  • we’re trying to impress others or play a role

Granted, there are some who have legitimate emergencies happen that are very expensive and force them to go into debt, or they lose their job and can no longer afford the lifestyle to which they were accustomed.

The problem is, though, that if you are living out some of the aforementioned reasons for your debt – simple fixes like freezing credit cards in blocks of ice or shredding credit cards simply won’t work. If you want something bad enough, you will find a way to get it unless you change the way you think about it. You probably know your credit card number, security code, and card expiration date by heart. That makes online shopping a snap. It’s why addictions are generally hard to break, and many people consider them to be a disease. Spending money and driving yourself further into unnecessary debt on purpose, in my opinion, is an addiction to spending money.

You have to get to the root of why you spend – whether it is being a product of your environment, trying to be someone you’re not, or medicating some other area in your life that makes you sad and you feel is out of your control to fix. Usually that maps to some deeper root – whether it’s affirmation, approval, security, or control. If you understand that, it can be easier to begin to change the surface behaviors that fuels what lies beneath. So, if you spend money that you don’t have when you’re out with a significant other or someone who you want to like you, it could be because at the root you have a need for affirmation and approval. There is so much more to life than that – and I choose to believe that people can’t give you all the validation you need. You have to get it elsewhere.

If you have bad spending habits, what is it that drives you to continue doing them?

Who do you trust with your money?

There was a recent news article that brought up something that many have debated for quite some time – who can they actually talk to about their finances who is trustworthy and knowledgeable?

Wells Fargo has a new “conversations” campaign where any Wells Fargo member can speak to one of their financial advisers free of charge. I’ve considered doing this, as I’m a Wells Fargo customer, just to see what they would tell me and if it would be of help. I certainly wouldn’t want them to try to sell me some type of product they have, because it would make me think that they’re just trying to prime me for a sale as opposed to giving me legitimate advice.

Several years ago I used to be a member of the Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union (in New York State), and as part of membership you were offered a free session with one of the bank’s financial planners. I must say he did a good job at the time getting me to open up a Roth IRA and put some money into a Certificate of Deposit (CD), as the interest rates were still OK and hadn’t bottomed out yet (this was before the recession in 2008).

I’m always looking for more ways to improve my finances – for me personally, I’m fairly good at saving but I’m not very knowledgeable about investing. I can’t be an expert at everything, and I don’t have the time or desire to learn more than the high-level basics of investing. With Social Security seemingly always on the doorstep of death and the retirement age continuing to rise, looking for more ways to invest in the future but not lock up my money until I’m 65 (or older) is always of great interest to me.

When it comes to financial advice, I usually go to family members or close friends who I think know enough about these matters (and sometimes more importantly, know me and my personality well enough) to give me decent advice. Who do you trust when it comes to your money?