The Rules of Engagement (or Why I Said Oprah Doesn’t Get Twitter)

A couple of weeks ago Ashton Kutcher gave me a virtual smack on the nose.  Don’t worry.  I don’t plan on making this my claim to fame.  I had tweeted moments before that he and Oprah didn’t seem to get that Twitter is about ‘tweeting AND listening’ and this was his response.  I’ll say here what I said to my buddy Ashton in my reply – I want to be wrong.  But I don’t think I am.  See, engagement is a two way street.  Social media isn’t taking off the way it is because we can more easily push information to the masses, that’s just part of it.  It’s become a social phenomenon because of the interactive element – we put information, opinions and content into the universe and people respond to it.  We have whole conversations, sometimes in 140 characters or less.  But we have them.  And sometimes we have them with people we might never have known or connected with had it not been for this digital network. I’ve always said that the web is the great equalizer – it gives us access to people and ideas that 20 years ago would have been impossible to touch. What’s more, because of the web, we can influence those ideas.  Social media has taken that a step further by adding immediacy to the equation.  I can tweet a question, a news link, an opinion, a conversation starter, and I get an immediate, and sometimes very diverse set of responses.  It’s conversation in real time.

Before I got too far down the road in this discussion I wanted to make sure that my perspective on Twitter was accurate.  What was the point?  I mean — I see what the value is, and how it has evolved, and how the audience has responded to it.  But I wanted to understand the thinking that was the impetus for Twitter.  I happened upon this February article from the Los Angeles Times that discusses that very thing – why Twitter came to be. The article is sort of fascinating. But the piece that I found really intriguing was this:

The whole bird thing: bird chirps sound meaningless to us, but meaning is applied by other birds. The same is true of Twitter: a lot of messages can be seen as completely useless and meaningless, but it’s entirely dependent on the recipient. So we just fell in love with the word. It was like, “Oh, this is it.” We can use it as a verb, as a noun, it fits with so many other words. If you get too many messages you’re “twitterpated” — the name was just perfect.

“Meaning is applied by OTHER birds.” My issue with Oprah, and even Ashton, is that this social universe isn’t just about collecting followers.  It’s about conversing with them.  It’s tweeting and listening.  It’s hearing  them. Real engagement happens between people, not from them.  So, while Ashton’s 1 million plus followers, and Oprah’s nearly 900,000 followers are impressive (to someone, I’m sure), they aren’t really the point.  When I responded to Ashton’s reply to me I also said that I worry that this kind of communication will just be an extension of the celebrity bubble. I can expand on that here, because it’s my blog and I get more than 140 characters.  Those beautiful people in Hollywood that entertain us on the big and small screens are called celebrities because we celebrate them.  They are created and supported like any brand and, after a while, they are so insulated from the realities of everyman that they buy into their own celebrity.  I mean, come on, how can they not?  It’s the only world they know.  And we’re as guilty of it as them – -we’re the ones who elevate them and give them this kind of power and hang on their every word.  So Oprah really demonstrated a kind of entitlement that must come with celebrity when she signed up for Twitter, tweeted other celebrities right out of the gate, followed only 11 people (to the 900,000 following her), and now tweets every few days about random stuff (when she remembers to tweet).  She’s not really responding to anyone.  She’s not hearing people respond to her.  Essentially what’s happening here is Twitter is another channel for Oprah to broadcast her wisdom. 

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m no different than any other woman in this country.  I love Oprah.   I would vote for her if she ran for president.  But I still don’t think she gets the *social* part of social media.  And that’s fine too.  She doesn’t have to.  She’s OPRAH, for god’s sake.  But what an amazing missed opportunity.  For her and for us.  Am I naive enough to think Oprah should respond to every nutjob who tweets in her direction?  No.  Am I stupid enough to think Oprah needs to bump up the people she follows to 900,000?  No.  But I do wish she’d take an interest in people that aren’t Larry King or Ashton or Demi.  Because that’s the beauty of what’s happening here.  It’s not our perfect figures or faces, our wallets or our celebrity that matter here (in the social media space). It’s our ideas.  It’s our participation.  It’s what we add to the experience.  It’s how we listen to and respect and interact with others. We’re just birds.  Oprah is just a lone tweeter. Tweeting at a wall.  A lone bird isn’t music. It needs other birds to create a sound that stops you dead.  That cacaphony.  That symphony that gets you looking up and smiling and realizing what happens when birds are truly engaged. Oprah needs other birds.

Keeping Your Kids Safe Online

The Geek Girls have had the privilege of working with and talking to a wide array of people over the last year.  We cover a lot of ground in our discussions and here on the blog.  I have to say, though, that there is one topic that baffles and disturbs me over and over again.  I can’t count the number of times I hear parents talk about how advanced their children are on computers and, by extension, online.  A good number of parents tell us that their kids know more about “this stuff” than they ever will and they basically let them handle it, mostly unmonitored.  I make it a point to never judge how people parent, because everyone needs to have the room to do their own thing.  But I do think that the web is no place to let a child, or an adolescent, run free and unfettered. And with the proliferation of mobile devices, the web is everywhere they are — which is, oftentimes, where parents are not.  I don’t want to mix words here – parents need to accept the expanding landscape of opportunity and potential trouble for their children, they need to embrace the technology around it and take an active role in monitoring their kids in the online space.

When I visited the Pew Internet website to get some statistics around the number of teens online I was struck by this quote in the sidebar of an article I was reading:  “Adolescents have been called “digital natives,” but data suggests that they are both comfortable with new technologies, and yet not always as technically savvy as we collectively believe them to be.”  This is sort of reflective of adolescence overall, isn’t it?  They are ready for responsibility, and yet not quite equipped to handle it all of the time. If we know they aren’t yet totally able to make the best choices, why do we give them the keys to the internet and trust they have the skills to manage anything they encounter when they’re out there? This post is probably the first of several.  This topic really requires relatively lengthy discussion and this is just a starting point.  As access to the internet becomes easier and necessary, this issue will become even more critical.  My first order of business is just encouraging the conversation. 

What is there to be concerned about if we’re separated from any potential problem by a device and distance?  Distance is easily surmountable and a device doesn’t protect you from anything.  Kids don’t think this through when they engage in behavior that their friends endorse.  Cell phones and rich media mean that compromising yourself on the web really just takes a few seconds.  And then it’s there forever.  By now, many of you have heard of ‘Sexting‘ — sexually suggestive text messages that may be accompanied by photos or videos of sexually charged behavior.  This topic is hot right now, and with good reason.  Teens are sexually exploratory by nature.  Sharing sexual materials via a computer or handheld device allows for a false sense of security.  For one, kids aren’t thinking about their futures in the moments when they might be making these questionable choices.  But when you’re talking to your teens about why this behavior is dangerous, its important to aknowledge that its not just about them making themselves sexually vulnerable, its also the fact that anything on the internet is forever.  While a sexually explicit message or photo might feel temporal today, the long term potential for damage is very real. 

Sexual predators are also a very real threat.  With global social networks experiencing massive growth, our kids are connecting to more strangers than we could possibly police.  Let’s face it, our children might have good instincts, but we know it takes maturity to really develop that 6th sense about people.  I like to think I’m a good judge of character or sincerity, and I still manage to surprise myself by investing in the wrong people every now and then.  Our kids need our help and we shouldn’t be apologetic about it.  The Geek Girls are often advising organizations about setting up acceptable use and privacy policies for social media. And yet, very few people ask about similar sorts of policies for their homes and families.  I think it makes sense.  Your family should have a set of values around acceptable behavior online.  You should be vocal about it.  Talk about what is appropriate and what isn’t and revise the list as necessary.  Your kids will roll their eyes at you no matter what you talk about, you might as well integrate online behavior.  But take it a step further.  Talk to your kids about how you plan to monitor their behavior online and what you’ll do if they push the boundaries you have in place.  Again – be unapologetic about your intention to friend them on MySpace or Facebook.  Oh yes — you are their friend! And there should be no social interactions online unless you’re right there.  In fact, here’s a list of 10 ways to keep yourself in the loop where your baby’s online behavior is concerned:

  1. Don’t allow laptops in the bedroom.  Desktops and laptops that are connected to the internet should be used in common spaces.  All teens want privacy, and that privacy can be exploited by predators.  You wouldn’t give your 12 year old the keys to your car.  Why would you give them a laptop with access to the entire world and let them take that behind closed doors?  Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones, your child is ‘perfect’ and you doubt they are at risk at all.  It’s not your perfect child you should be concerned about, it’s the experienced predator who manipulates his/her way into the homes and heads of vulnerable folks FOR A LIVING.  They are pros.  Your perfect kid is not.  Common space means your child is less likely to give a stranger the time they’d need to con them.
  2. Share passwords.  I know, its not a teen’s dream.  But if you raise them in an environment where this sort of information is shared as a matter of practice, it won’t seem so unusual.  Start young — when they begin using the web you establish their passwords for them and that’s just the way it is.  Make it clear that those passwords will be used to monitor activity because that is your job.  Again-be unapologetic about it.  Don’t give your kids grief for info you discover that isn’t dangerous.  Respect their privacy to the degree that you can.  Only respond or react to potentially dangerous or threatening behavior.
  3. Get on the networks your children are on.  If your kids are on MySpace and/or Facebook — so are you.  Don’t let them stay there unless they agree to friend you.  Be active, but not embarrassing.  I think visible parents are a great deterrent for potential problem friends.  But again, don’t say or do anything that your kid could be embarrassed by or this space will just cause conflict and you don’t need it.
  4. If your child is totally resistant to you being around for their online party – there are software options that are so stealth that you can monitor their every key stroke without them knowing.  I think it’s important to know this software exists, but I recommend a more open and honest approach because you get your kid thinking critically about their online behavior and it will help inform the person they become as they mature.  Encouraging that kind of open communication will also ensure that your child will talk to you if someone they don’t know or trust communicates with them online in a way which might be uncomfortable to them.  In fact that is the next point:
  5. Establish guidelines around when your child should inform you of certain behaviors or ask questions.  More is better.  Give them an open line for communication.  Commit to not freaking out on them for poor judgement if they tell you the truth about a person of concern.  Perhaps they did talk to that person and now they regret it – they need only tell you and you’ll pursue appropriate action.
  6. Children should never meet anyone they meet online in person unless you have prescreened that person and are able to attend the first meeting with them – in a public place.  Because the web is so integral in our communications it doesn’t make sense to expect that we won’t be making new friends online.  But there needs to be a screening process.  You should be sure of exactly who you’re meeting before that face-to-face meeting happens.
  7. One house rule needs to be – never share personal details with someone you think you know.  Full names, addresses, phone numbers — those are hard stops to conversations with strangers or new friends.  Unless you know who you’re talking to, this information should be deemed sensitive and not shared.  Once you have an established relationship, you should still avoid sharing this info until you can be sure you know who is receiving it.  Screen and meet in a public place. 
  8. Pictures and videos are easy to take and make and share.  We need to establish family guidelines around how those items are shared.  I’m a big believer in asking permission – encourage your kids to ask permission to share images.  Make them aware that if they don’t ask permission, you’ll find out anyway — you’re on their friends list, you have their passwords.  Talk about what kinds of pictures and videos are appropriate for sharing.  Check their images and videos.  Do not be afraid to enforce the rules you establish to the letter.  Better they have parental consequences to contend with versus long-term consequences of shared media that invites the wrong element into their lives, or demonstrates behavior they didn’t think enough about at the time.
  9. Be aware of where your child goes — check email, social network sites (the more likely place for interpersonal messages between kids), their cell phones.  Set limits on text messages and the amount and kind of media they can share.  Learn your way around a cell phone – not knowing how to text message is no excuse for giving your kid unparalleled freedom with their phones.  Get a family plan, review your statements closely, and grab your manual to learn how to send messages and media so that you can check their phones regularly.  Be open about it.  Remind them that this is your intention.  The shared passwords extend to the cell phone.  And your behavior guidelines apply to mobile behavior as well.  It’s all one web — at home and in their hands. 
  10. My final tip is probably the one I feel the strongest about — don’t leave the web to your children.  Don’t be resistant to the point that you put the burden of the web and technology entirely on your children.  This is the World Wide Web for a reason.  The technology is accessible.  You can do it.  And you can’t break it.  So don’t leave them out there to fend for themselves.  They need you.  The world is getting more and more complicated and noisy.  Your parental duty can’t stop because you’ve convinced yourself that young people know things you can’t possibly figure out.  Take the time to figure it out too.  Find online activities you can engage in together.  Don’t be sneaky.  Don’t act like this is coming from a place of distrust.  Just make transparency a family value and then enforce it.  You’ll all sleep better if you do. And, when in doubt, the Geek Girls are here for you.

Does Your Site Need a Makeover? Part I of II

Recently, at my “day job“, a client asked, “How do I know when it’s time to refresh our site?” She offered this analogy, “I don’t want our site to be the woman with the same hairstyle 30 years later.”

My reply? “Yes, but you also don’t want to be the grandma wearing skinny jeans and a Juicy couture shirt.”

Because many of our readers work in marketing and communications, I thought this topic would be helpful to cover here at the Geek Girls Guide. Quite often, those who are in charge of the budgets for web sites aren’t always confident in their own knowledge base on the topic. We’d like to change that. We’re working on a series of posts aimed at helping people evaluate their needs and make good decisions about their web site. We’ve also got some guest posts in the works from do-it-yourselfers — small or independent business owners who, because of budget, need to do things on their own.

So, back to the topic at hand: how do you know when it’s time to give your site a refresh? (I almost used the word facelift, but I really can’t stomach the plastic surgery analogy!) And, how do you know whether you need a refresh or an overhaul?


First, I suggest evaluating your web site annually.

  • Put a recurring event on your calendar so that you don’t forget, and in the description or notes section add the following list of my suggestions and any others that you think of that are specific to your site, industry or business.
  • Don’t schedule it around the first of the year; there’s too much other stuff going on then.
  • Pick a time of year when things generally aren’t overwhelmingly busy. Frankly, spring is a great time — schedule it between March and May and think about it as Spring Cleaning for your web site.


Review your site on three main fronts:

Your Audience

  • Do a gut-check on what your target audience is looking for. What are their goals and does the site still make it easy for them to achieve those goals?
  • Review your site statistics to see where traffic is heaviest on the site. Do you know why? Is that where you want traffic to be heavy?
  • Has your target audience changed since this site was launched (either has your company focused on a new/different target since then or has your existing target changed their habits?).

You, Your Company and Your Brand

  • Does the site still accurately reflect who you are as a company, both visually and in tone/content of copy?
  • Does the site fit in with internal workflow (does it get updated regularly or is it forgotten)? If you want to make updates, it is easy to do or are you at the mercy of the CEO’s nephew to make changes for you?
  • If search traffic is important to you, when you Google your company’s name, or important industry keywords, does your site come up in search engine results?

Your Competitors

  • Does your site still stand out effectively from the competition?
  • Have your competitors, or your industry as a whole, changed how they talk about themselves? Does anyone have any significant online offerings that you need to match or do better at?

Next Steps

An answer you don’t like in any of those categories may prompt you to:

  • make a small tweak (like optimizing the content for better search engine performance or updating the CSS with a slight style change to headlines);
  • an addition or reorganization (adding a new feature/section or moving pages around);
  • or a complete overhaul/redesign.

My next post on this topic will cover what to do once you’ve evaluated the site and come up short in one of those areas.

Why Sharing Slides is Crap

At a recent seminar, I was struck by the number of people wondering, “Will these slides be posted?” Struck because the nature of this presentation was such that, without the presenter, the slides wouldn’t do you much good.

It got me thinking about our constant use of slide-creating software, and I realized there are three things that really bug me about it.

1. Slides don’t tell me what I need to know.
Several weeks ago, I followed a friend’s Twitter link to a presentation on SlideShare. I dutifully watched it, but at several points found myself thinking, “Gee, I wonder what she talked about on this slide.” A big ol’ screenshot of a web site probably provided great fodder for her insightful commentary, but didn’t do me much good as a passive observer. If audio would have been included, it would have been a different story but SlideShare doesn’t include audio. Watching a presentation with no one presenting ends up feeling like listening to one side of a phone conversation: you get the gist, but not the whole story. And entire stretches remain a total mystery.

As my pal @rrazor said, “Slides are often (hopefully?) the most content-poor part of a presentation. SlideShare is just a tease.”

Put another way, if I can get everything I need from your slides alone — why would I bother coming to see you speak? And, if I can’t get everything I need from your slides alone — what’s the point of putting them on SlideShare?

2. I’ve had just about enough of slide culture.
I realize I’m swimming against a cultural tsunami that cannot be stopped, but I really wish we could scale back our use of slides. PowerPoint is the ubiquitous format for communicating everything. And I do mean everything. I recently got an invitation to an event that was — you guessed it — a PowerPoint slide. From what I can tell, the ability for this organization to animate the crap out of every piece of text and embed a soundtrack is what really sold them on this format. A nice, clean PDF simply stating the details of the event pales in comparison.

A colleague sent me a deck of slides that had no business being on slides in the first place; it really warranted several pages of text (like a White Paper). Cramming that amount of information into a set of slides is just silliness: it’s an attempt to bullet-ize information that shouldn’t be communicated in bullets. Thoughts that should be sentences end up as half-sensical phrases and groups of thoughts that should be paragraph end up as dense bulleted lists filling up the slide. Why even try to put that amount of data in a slide?

Something about our ADD/multi-tasking/Twitter-ized lifestyles seems to have made us loathe to communicate information in anything other than small, bite-sized chunks. But, guess what? Not everything can be communicated that way. In 2003, Edward Tufte wrote an article titled PowerPoint is evil. The guy’s got a point.

(He’s also got a longer piece on this topic, which I’d highly recommend, including a fascinating look at some slides from NASA about the space shuttle Columbia.)

3. If we really cared, we’d write it down.
Most of the time, when I hear people ask, “Will this be posted online?” what I think they are saying is, “Do I really need to take notes?” These days, we’re so busy tweeting and live-blogging during presentations that we’re only paying half-attention to the presentation itself. So, we want the slides to remind us of the half that we missed. Maybe I’m being old fashioned, but whatever happened to taking notes? If a presenter says something that you think is really important, WRITE IT DOWN. Is it really that hard?

There is one situation I can think of where I found slide sharing helpful. At an Adaptive Path seminar years ago, they distributed several workbooks. One of which was a printout of the presentation in small-slide format with an area for notes next to each slide. This was actually helpful; while the presenter was talking, I jotted down information related to what he was saying. There was so little data on the slides (compared to the oceans of data coming out of the presenter’s mouth) that the slides alone wouldn’t have been any good. The slides plus my notes were okay, but still not half as good as attending the seminar itself. So maybe that’s what’s bugging me: people mistaking the slides for the presentation. The two are not the same. And if they are, the presentation wasn’t worth whatever you paid to attend.

Am I wrong?
What is with our obsession with sharing slides? Maybe someone who voraciously devours presentations posted by other people can help enlighten me: what am I missing here? I can’t imagine asking Al Gore to send me the slides for his presentation, An Inconvenient Truth. Rather than striving to create slides to post for everyone to see, shouldn’t we strive to create presentations that are so engaging that our audience closes their laptops and listens?

I spend most of my time encouraging people to use technology. This week, I’d like to challenge you to not use PowerPoint (and Mac users — that means no Keynote, either). Let’s see how long we can make it.

[cross-posted at the MIMA blog]

Why Social Media Matters In a Down Economy

Whenever the Geek Girls are out and about talking to people about technology and tech tools that can enrich our lives, and maybe make them a little easier, we’re almost always asked about the amount of time investment required to jump on the social media bandwagon.  People are busy.  The economy is one bad news story after another.  Jobs are being lost.  We’re just trying to stay focused on caring for our families, keeping our jobs, keeping our houses and not getting panicked over our dwindling retirement accounts.  Who has time for social media?  Well, if you want to feel a little better, you do.

When we’re talking about Facebook, in workshops or panel discussions, I always suggest that Facebook can help you be a better friend.  I even wrote about it in a previous blog post.  When the economy is down we’re more disconnected from our social circles.  We socialize less, eat out less.  Leisure travel takes a hit.  The same sort of cuts are happening in our professional lives. Places of business cut back on spending and nix things like conferences, business travel, networking events. 

When I was a kid, my father belonged to a men’s club and a country club.  He was a lousy golfer, so the country club was always a mystery to me. But he was a man, so that club made more sense. But in retrospect, those two activities were my father’s way of keeping his fingers on the pulse of what was happening in town.  He even landed a pretty swank job because of a connection he made in the neighborhood, but really turned into something at the golf club.  This was back in the day when business people still made handshake deals over cocktails and 9 holes of golf.  Those people probably still exist.  But things are moving a hell of a lot faster.  There’s more to know.  And frankly, being on the golf course means you just might be missing critical information that matters to you.

Just yesterday I saw a number of folks I follow on Twitter tweeting about the power of positive thinking, and how businesses stay strong in tough economies by staying optimistic.  My friend and colleague, Gini Dietrich, the CEO of Arment Dietrich Public Relations in Chicago (@ginidietrich on Twitter), tweeted a link to a brilliant article about how positive thinking can actually boost your business.  It got me thinking about why all of this matters to our Geek Girls audience.  Certainly leaders need to stay strong in order to guide their teams through these uncertain times.  But who’s out there providing the encouragement that leaders need to boost their energies in that regard?  Other leaders.  How can we connect with them?  How do we tap into their advice and expertise?  How do we find out what they are doing, right now, to combat nagativity and defeatist attitudes in their work environments?  Social media! I always say, don’t give me lengthy dissertations — give me snapshots of information.  That’s the most valuable way for me to digest, and really use data.  Twitter is my dream resource.  Poo-poo it if you want.  But the people I’ve chosen to follow are (with a few exceptions) veritable fonts of professional wisdom and inspiration.  And, because I enjoy my work so much, and it plays such an integral role in my life, its a source for personal rejuvention as well. 

Facebook takes that a step further.  Yes, the information is still delivered in byte-sized packets.  But its more personal. Friends and contacts from a variety of areas of my life are connected and communicating on Facebook.  They are really investing in those relationships.  The investment is manageable.  We aren’t traveling to Tahiti together, or meeting up every Friday night, or heading to our home towns for slide shows of our recent family vacations.  But we’re still sharing things that really matter to us.  We’re still reaching out and engaging in a social way.  We’re still invested in each other.  And we’re all sort of in this together.  We’re sharing these moments with one another — the economy is precarious, there is real suffering out there, and yet, we have these moments of good to share, and hold onto.  They give us hope.  Whether they are personal or professional.  Your son scoring that winning goal in the recent hockey game.  Or landing that account you’ve worked so hard on.  They all matter and they all make a difference. 

It has been well documented that people need other peopleFriendships have a real impact on how people view the world, how supported they feel in it, and how they cope with the realities of it.  Articles are written every day about how human interaction eases anxiety and depression.  But everything is happening so fast.  This isn’t my father’s era.  He would have been stymied by how much information there is to keep up with and manage.  His way of keeping up was a couple of beers after work, or 9 holes of golf.  Now things move at the speed of light.  We have these tools at our disposal and they allow us to keep up with our little corner of this fast paced world.  Why wouldn’t we take advantage of that?  Are they the end-all?  Probably not.  Will there be something else that comes along next year to dwarf Twitter or Facebook?  Maybe.  Is that any reason to avoid the benefits of social media?  I’m saying no. Why would you avoid something that might keep you informed?  Tune you in to a job prospect?  Let you see a friend’s new baby on the day she was born? Hook you into the expertise of hundreds and hundreds of professionals FOR FREE?  The list of benefits goes on.  But my message stays the same.  The economy is in the tank.  But social media might just make you feel better.  It matters.  Really.



Podcast #2: Social Media Haters

Our second podcast (running time: 18 minutes and 7 seconds) is on Social Media Haters. Subtitled, “Maybe the Problem is You”, or “STOP HITTING YOURSELF IN THE FACE WITH A HAMMER”.

Listen Online

Click the cute little button below to stream the audio in your browser window.

Overview & Links

No time to listen? Yeah, we got a little yappy and went over 15 minutes (we’re going to keep it under 15 whenever possible). Here are the highlights:

Lately, like there’s been a whole lot of hatin’ going on with Twitter, not to mention the total pop culture explosion. Now that Ellen, Demi, Ashton and Britney are tweeters (and Jon Stewart and Barbara Walters are talking about it), it’s undergoing an interesting new level of scrutiny.

What’s interesting is that most of the haters haven’t given these tools more than a cursory glance before dismissing them. We argue that there is value beyond these negative perceptions, and that if the tools seem useless it might be that the people using them are, well…tools.

That’s not to say there aren’t some boring people on Facebook or Twitter, but there are boring people everywhere. Choose your (Facebook) friends and (Twitter) followers carefully, and perhaps you’ll find something worthwhile.

The Haters

Joe Soucheray of the St. Paul Pioneer Press says Twitter is “nothing.”

Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard says Facebook is “mind-numbingly dull.” We think the problem might be him (or his wife).

MSNBC: Twitter Nation: Nobody cares what you’re doing. NOT TRUE! My mom totally follows me on Twitter.

Gawker rounds up a bunch of sources that say we’re all a bunch of insecure narcissists. (Duh.)

The Attempting-to-Explainers

Barbara Walters (tries to) define Twitter. Favorite quote: “Why do people want to be on MyFace?” I don’t know, Barbara. Why do people want to be on your face?

Old man Stewart shakes his fist at Twitter.

The Founders

Twitter founders, Ev and Biz, on last week’s Talk of the Nation on NPR.

The Nerdy Details

Our second podcast was recorded at Clockwork World Headquarters in a carpeted room (to try to keep the echoes to a minimum). Worked pretty well, but next time we need to be closer to the Snowflake. Edited by Meghan with GarageBand with a bit of post-production help from Michael Koppelman (@lolife). Tweaked the intro a bit this time around based on feedback from the last one. Your thoughts and feedback are welcome, either in the comments below or at info [at] geekgirlsguide [dot] com. Thanks for listening!

Facebook Folly? That’s Up To You.

Recently Kristen Tillotson, a columnist for the Star Tribune, spent some time waxing on about Facebook and the distracting, even destructive, addictive behaviors we all engage in as Facebook members.  I admit, I am not a regular reader of her column.  In fact, I may never have known about this one had I not been headed to a meeting one afternoon, channel surfing on the radio, when I happened to stumble upon the Lori and Julia Show, featuring Kristen Tillotson as a call-in guest.  I didn’t know it was her.  I just know that I tuned into a conversation disparaging Facebook, specifically the “photo frenemies”.  According to Ms. Tillotson, “photo frenemies” are people who post photos (to FB) of themselves looking awesome and you, the hapless victim, looking like crap.  This makes them a “frenemy“.  In all fairness, the subhead for the column explained that “…Facebook imitates life in the realm of social faux pas”.  The problem with the essay overall, though, is the suggestion that life is still so much like high school, and “social faux pas” are the grown-up equivalent of the kinds of activities in which “mean girls” engage.  Frankly, the article rang familiar, much like the sort of defensive drivel I hear daily from people who are intimidated by Facebook and other social networks.  Instead of copping to the fact that they don’t feel equipped to navigate the unfamiliar waters of social media, they assert that the media is flawed by human pettiness and, as such, not worth their time.  In short — it’s bunk. 

I’ve talked about most of this in a previous post, so I really just want to address Ms. Tillotson’s take on Facebook in this one.  She talks about Facebook needing editors because of all of the “abuse”.  Here’s the difference between the world she’s used to living in and the world of Facebook.  If I don’t care about her column in the paper, it doesn’t matter.  If I buy the paper, her column is in there whether I like it or not.  Whereas on Facebook, if there are people I’m not interested in I simply delete them.  Or I drop them from my news feed.  Or I relegate their updates to the bottom of my pile.  They’ll never know. 

Ms. Tillotson calls out those people she calls the “oversharers”.  She suggests that there should be a status message filter that blocks out tedium.  I beg to differ.  That tedium really levels the playing field.  Frankly I think those people that are constantly hob-nobbing with someone cooler than you or updating their status from their spin class are full of balogna.  Humans are boring.  We have inspired moments, but for the most part we are all creatures of habit.  The important thing is to not try to prove anything with those status messages.  By suggesting there is something wrong with the average or the mundane, we’re rejecting authenticity.  We’re asking people to try too hard and that defeats the purpose.  Those status messages allow us little glimpses into the experiences we all share.  Here’s my advice: if you want to “overshare”, that’s fine.  Just keep it real.

As for the “exhibitionists”, they might bother you, but don’t be a prude.  You might not want to prance around in your boxers, so don’t.  That’s the beauty of it.  It isn’t necessarily exhibitionism.  I prefer “expression”.  Perhaps you should try it.  Your Facebook presence is a chance for you to express yourself in ways you may have never explored before.  Write a little, make videos, share poetry, update your interests, add photos.  You’re painting a picture of yourself, and adding depth to your brand, with every keystroke.  Take advantage of this opportunity and the blank canvas – and the 140 million others like you who are reaching out in virtual space trying to connect.

The “photo frenemies” aren’t frenemies at all.  Let’s face it, we all have those pictures of us in our scary mullets or the evil gingham prom dresses.  If getting older doesn’t allow you just a little bit of perspective, then throw in the towel.  This stuff is FUNNY.  Besides, when have you ever liked a picture of yourself to begin with?

Come on!  It’s not about labeling someone a “climber” or judging someone for the number of friends they have or don’t have.  It’s not about judging at all.  See, my thing is, if you can’t see the fun and value in Facebook; if you can’t really see that this technology is allowing us to reconnect with old friends, enrich current friendships, expand our communities and our views of the world, be more involved, network a little, have a say, express ourselves, share our stories and take some risks then I feel sorry for you.  If you think Facebook is just like high school, and not the good part of high school, the crappy-I-would-rather-forget-those-years part of high school.  Well.  Maybe the problem isn’t with Facebook at all.  Maybe the problem is with you.




The Truth About Twitter

Over the past year, Twitter seems to have hit its tipping point and truly entered popular consciousness. (@idpkbrian called it when he saw a reference to Twitter in a Wal-Mart ad in a movie theatre this summer.)

Just to be contrarian, I think it’s time I shared my Twitter peeves. Let the Twitter scroogin’ begin!

Twitter != IM
If more than half your tweets start with @, you might want to consider downloading an instant messaging client. Of course, if all those @ replies are interesting to your followers, more power to you. But, more often than not, @ replies consist of stuff like, “@ so-and-so, what are you doing tonight? I’m washing my hair!”

Know what I say to that? #annoying! Pick up the phone, send an email or use instant messenger.

Watch the re-tweets, Mister.
RT, or re-tweeting, is repeating what someone else said because you thought it was funny or interesting. That’s fine, but if more than half your tweets are RTs, what the hell are you doing? Add something interesting to the conversation, or don’t talk. (This from the girl who tweets pictures of her kid. Who do I think I am?)

Twitter is also not RSS
If all that you or your company are tweeting about is your latest blog post, please stop. If we want to read your blog, we’ll subscribe to your RSS feed. (If you sprinkle your blog notices among other interesting tweets, no worries.)

On a related note, if all you’re doing is @replying to people who mention you or your competitor, please stop. You’re killing me.

Quantity vs. Quality
This goes for tweets and followers alike. If you’ve been on Twitter for six months and you have thousands of tweets, you are either:
a) incredibly interesting and knowledgable
b) self-obsessed
c) in need of an IM client (see: Twitter != IM)

The answer is most likely b or c. Sorry.

Low or No-Value Tweets
When it comes to followers, I’m glad you have X-hundred or thousand. Good for you! Seriously, good for you. But, you don’t have to tweet every time another 5 people start following you. “I have 100 followers!” “I have 110 followers!” gets old very fast. As someone who’s following you, I obviously think you have something to say. Rattling off your number of followers is not that interesting. If I want to see how many followers you have, I can look at your profile anytime I want. On a related note, it’s really not necessary to publicly thank all your followers.

I am Not a Snob.
I saw a video last month decrying Twitter “snobbery.” The basic message was that if you have a ton of followers and don’t follow all of them back, you’re not social media, you’re solo media.

Um, no. I certainly don’t expect every blog that I read to also read my blog. Similarly, I don’t expect everyone I follow on Twitter to follow me back. I’m busy, they’re busy, we’re all busy, and keeping up with 2,000 tweeters may not be high on my list, or theirs. There are certainly people with thousands of Followers and Followees, and God bless them (see: @stephenfry). But, I have a full-time job, a blog, a husband, a house and two kids. I use Twitter to follow some friends and some industry people that I think are interesting. That’s it. And it doesn’t make me a snob, it just means I’m smart enough to know my own limits.

The Elite
It bugged me when bloggers did it years ago and it bugs me now that tweeters are doing it: lists of who is “elite” based on number of followers or number of tweets or other wacky methods. What bugs me is the “I’m more popluar than you” mentality that smacks of junior high school. The beauty of where technology is right now (Web 2.0, if you will) is that we all have a voice. Not everyone can start a radio or TV station, or start printing a newspaper, but anyone can set up a Twitter account, a web site, a blog, or a Facebook page — and if they have something interesting to say, they’ll find an audience.

If anyone has this kind of right, it seems like Mr. Tweet does. He looks at it in terms of influence and relevance, which seems right on the mark. Trying to calculate who is elite based on followers or tweets just seems silly to me. I’ve seen people who have made thousands of low-value tweets. That ain’t elite. Where Mr. Tweet gets it right is in understanding that it’s in the eye of the follower: what’s relevant to me may not be relevant to someone else. This is not high school. There is no “in crowd.”

The Echo Chamber
Just like in real life, there are clusters of Twitter users. Many of us follow many of the same people. The result is that I might get the same article tweeted 5 times in 5 minutes. (related: my RT gripe). @jongordon noted a few weeks ago that it seemed like Twitter was made up of 90% PR people and “social media experts” and sometimes, it sure seems like he’s right.

Everyone was all a-buzz about the Motrin Moms a couple of months ago, but only ONE DAY after the whole thing happened there were so many tweets ABOUT it that it was impossible to find the tweets that actually WERE it. Echo….echo…echo…

I got a lot of Amens this week when I tweeted, “the more people use twitter, the more it becomes a place for ego-tripping and butt-kissing. i’m ready for that to stop now.”

Here’s what I’m talking about: the ego-tweet is the standard annoying bragadocious comment. This was brilliantly parodied by @lolife who said, “Having lunch with @god, then a meeting with @obama and then drinks with @bono before my date with @superhotchick.” Ego-tweets are all a variation on that theme. #snore

The butt-kiss tweet is usually a reaction. It goes something like this: powerful client-type person tweets about their business. The bajillion vendor-type people who follow this person go into a tweeting frenzy, each one trying to prove their smarts and derring-do. “Why yes, @powerfulclient-typeperson, we are incredibly strategic and smart!” And then we’re all subjected to the equivalent of a group capabilities presentation in 140 character bites. Which makes me, and all the kittens in the world, weep.

The Circle of Life
Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter. It’s changed my life, cleared up my acne and I have lost 15 pounds since November. It’s just going through an interesting phase.

If you think about the arc that blogs have followed, it’s easy to draw parallels: began life as geek-only tool, gained popularity, users started defining crietria which make them “elite” to set them apart from all the newcomers, companies thought they were a golden ticket, blog ad networks developed and PR companies actively wooed bloggers, some bloggers were outed as shills and some managed to make a living at it, “real” journalists bristled but grudgingly started accepting blogs, blogs pronounced dead.

This same arc applies to Twitter. When I joined almost two years ago, there weren’t a whole lot of other people tweeting. Now that it’s hit the mass consciousness, the elite lists have started popping up, more and more companies are tweeting (and just like with blogs, a few are getting it right and the rest don’t know what to do), Twitter ad services have started popping up and will soon start to infiltrate. When I was watching CNN last month they were scrolling tweets across the bottom of the screen which means that sometime later this year, you can expect the “Twitter is Dead” headline to hit Wired.

Of course, blogs aren’t really dead — they’re just not the Next Best Thing anymore. Now, that mantle is carried by Twitter. We’ll see how long it lasts. In the meantime, happy tweeting. Follows or rotten tomatoes can be directed @irishgirl.

[cross-posted on the MIMA blog]

Note to new Geek Girls: if you need to know more about what Twitter is, you can check out my earlier post. There’s no shame in not knowing, but there’s no excuse for not learning!

Are Blogs Really Dead?

Recently someone asked me what I thought of this article in Wired Magazine.  Are blogs really dead?  My answer might not surprise you, since this ‘blog’ was started within the last year, but I don’t agree.  I’ll tell you what I told this person, and what I’ve said to countless other people — the stuff that works on the web is content driven.  If you’ve got good content, if you have something to say that people want or need to hear, if you have value to contribute to the vast resource that is the interwebs — go for it.  Frankly, I think it’s a matter of symantics as to whether you call a website with essays a blog.  You add video, does that automatically make it a vlog?  Toss in some audio and some imagery, which all of the solid ‘blogging’ software allows you to do these days, and voila! you’ve got yourself a WEBSITE.  Blogs and blogging software have evolved.  The software really just allows self publishing of content.  It’s the content that makes the website.

The really true geeks like to think they call the shots in terms of what matters and what doesn’t on the web.  But it’s the audience that decides.  And audiences gravitate to content that is compelling, that matters, that influences their lives.  Let the ubergeeks say the blog is so yesterday.  That just means more good stuff for the rest of us to explore, and argue about, and digest, and learn.

Facebook, It’s All Grown Up

If you’re reticent to try Linked In you might be curious about, but avoiding, Facebook.  Or maybe you’re on Facebook because some high school friend invited you, but you’re mostly letting people find you.  Rethink that.  Facebook isn’t just for your kids any more.  And if networking is your thing, there’s no better network out there.  While Linked In is, for the most part, a professional networking site, Facebook is that and then some. I really want people to stop poo-pooing social networks that work.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  With the job market being what it is and money being tight, these are desperate times.

I’ve recently started to really grasp the full power of Facebook.  In addition to the obvious features, including a friends/contacts list, photo sharing, links/content sharing, and messaging – instant and otherwise – the experience can be significantly enhanced through one or several easily installed Facebook ‘apps‘.  You can share and learn about music, books and films.  You can align with particular causes or charitable organizations, you can support local businesses and promote your business through ‘fan pages’. You can share data from your itunes for real time info about what you’re listening to or what you’re watching.  There are a number of very frivolous activities like giving ‘gifts’ and ‘drinks’ or ‘little green patches’.  The good news is, you have the option to ignore those things.  I am always sort of intrigued by the people that don’t ignore the silly.  But who am I?  Facebook also integrates with Twitter via a simple plugin application.  So, if you’re tweeting what you’re doing right now, it’ll automatically update your Facebook status.  This is really just the tip of the iceberg, but there’s no denying that Facebook is feature and content rich. 

Why am I so convinced that Facebook can add value to your professional existence?  Well, Facebook has spent the last year really working on building it’s member base.  And, according to information published by Facebook, they have more than 130 million active users.  More than half of facebook users are out of college, with the fastest growing demographic being over 25 years old.  Simply put, you will NEVER have access to that kind of network in any other setting.  Why is Facebook so powerful, beyond the sheer volume of users?  Because it allows users to share snapshots of their personal and professional lives to a broad audience of contacts.  Your list of ‘friends’ shares moments, victories, stories, interests and events with you, sometimes even as they happen.  This kind of an interaction suggests a kind of investment in those relationships.  There is an implied intimacy that people take pretty seriously.

We’re living through a period in history like no other.  Information is flying at us and its rare that we get an opportunity to stop and really pay attention to it.  Facebook gives us information on people we care about, have cared about or should care about, in small, digestable nuggets.  It frames it up in a way that makes it palatable.  Its that investment, whether personally or professionally (and let’s face it, these days, what’s the difference?) that makes Facebook so important. When we care about a person, even just enough to take in a morsel of information about them, we are more likely to want, and even invest in, their success.  We network because we want to, and with our network readily available to us, we network because its easy. 

People need to stop dismissing social networks as being fluff, or pointless, or time wasters.  They exist because we don’t have time.  They exist because we need access to the people in our networks, our communities.  They exist because we actually do want to be more connected.  Do I think everyone needs to have a profile on every social network?  No.  Am I selling Facebook for any reason other than the occasional usefulness of information?  No.  But I am suggesting that people who tap into a social network, especially one as huge and well established as Facebook, have an advantage.  If you are looking for a job, a deal on a car, a good insurance agent, a wedding dress, a babysitter – where better to look than right inside your own community.  And your odds are actually better online, because the community is broader.  Sure, you still have to apply the same common sense filters you would in any situation, but chances are you’ll get more useful information.

People have asked me why I like Facebook and I generally answer “. . .because I’m a crappy friend.”  I’m mostly kidding.  But there’s a grain of truth there.  With Facebook I can peek in on my friends lives and see pictures of their kids, find out about what books they’re reading, see what causes they are feeling passionately about, and comment on their latest flat tire or cold symptom.  I can do all of that in just a few seconds.  It keeps me current.  It makes me a better friend.  And, because my personal life bleeds heavily into my professional life, when I contribute content to this whole experience, I am really adding more color to my own story.  In this wildly connected universe we live in, we’re investing in our own brands –that brand called YOU.  If you’re authentic in voice and contribution, your community responds favorably.  They help you.  Professionally and personally.  It’s really what makes the web so useful and compelling.  The connections.  That’s why Facebook is worth your time.