Live and Learn…Social Media Style

Ever since the early days of the internet, you know back when we were all innocent, happily posting away, giddily anticipating as the square with the lightening (complete with sound effects) gave way to the one with the triangle…(or am I the only one who remembers the early days of dial up AOL?) There have also been warnings, few and quiet at first, becoming stronger and more dire as the years flew by…protect yourself and more importantly, your INFORMATION! Hackers are EVERYWHERE and they are looking for YOU!
As a college student I took the warnings with a grain of salt, taking the usual precautions: anti-virus software, awesome (I thought) passwords. Later as I became wiser and more involved with social media; I became a blogger, then later a public affairs officer and then a social media consultant; I became even more savvy to the evils of phishing, trojans, keystoke viruses and web/spider trawlers A.K.A. Hacker scum with nothing better to do than ruin your day, week, life…

However, as aforesaid social media consultant I had grown comfortable with my knowledge…a dangerous thing. I assumed I was safe..it would never happen to me…until it did.

Sometime yesterday my GMail account was viciously hacked. 623 emails (EVERYONE in my address book) was sent an untitled email with a link that appeared to be from Google but was actually a virus. Not only was this bad for my social life, but the emails that went out also went out to people I had sent resumes to, people that trusted me in my network (including government, politics, the military, social media and the entertainment industry) now all exposed for the world to see. The link was also conveniently posted to my Facebook, Posterous, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIN and FriendFeed pages just in case you somehow missed the email! I was not only angry I was mortified!
To top it off when I decided to be proactive and change all my passwords I discovered my Google account had been disabled for a violation of TOS (since my ADsense address is also in my address book, Google was also sent the virus!) And I guess they don’t appreciate that sort of thing.
Well I immediately contacted them, Facebook, Twitter and most of my other services to let them know what was going on. Thankfully Google did not take the most extreme measure which would be to ban me forever from all Google services, but I did get a really stern email about taking preventitive measures in the future which made me feel about two inches tall. And I of course had to send out about a million emails, tweets and posts to apologize for the hacking, which more than a few did not take lightly.
Well, what’s done is done. Did I learn anything? Hell yes. Am I a little humbled by my experience? Absolutely. Am I getting new virus software, changing passwords and encrypting the hell out of everything? Duh.

Live and Learn.

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Facebook Isn’t Going Anywhere…

There are approximately 6.9 billion people on Earth and some 2 billion of them are online. Currently Facebook has 550 million users, expanding by 700,00 new users every day. Facebook will likely reach all 2 billion internet users within the next five years.

I read the above in an article by TIME Magazine – their 2010 People of The Year piece on Mark Zuckerberg. (I realize I am probably a little late reading the magazine but it was a hand-me-down from my mother-in-law who I’m convinced gives me all her People and TIME magazines because she is convinced I would have no clue about pop culture or current events otherwise. As I have no television, she may be right.)

Despite my lateness I was both fascinated and more than a little creeped out to read about Facebook’s meteoric rise and how it will likely continue to grow…like the weed that you think you can just yank out of the ground and then you discover it has feeder roots spreading out in every direction 20, 30 and 40 feet from the original plant. Facebook is everywhere, those little blue and white boxes urging you, luring you, silently coercing you to LIKE them no matter where you are on the web. Thanks to Facebook Connect two million websites are already affiliated with Facebook and 10,000 new web sites integrate with Facebook every. single. day. And we are not talking web sites with only a few readers here. Facebook counts The New York Times, Amazon, YouTube and even social networking rival MySpace among the sites that allow you to not only log in using your Facebook Login, but also to comment publicly on the site using your Facebook Public Profile as an Avatar.

The logic behind this is that as you use Facebook and surf the web every person’s profile becomes customized to their individual preferences, and there is no guessing involved. The scary part is that the customization is eerily accurate because it is based on actual choices, clicks, LIKES. If you get an ad on your page for REI Outdoor Adventure Apparel – it is because you somehow indicated that as an interest. Therefore your page won’t look like your neighbor’s page or even your best friends. Your preferences will not only show up as ads on your sidebar but as items in your News feed on your wall. Even better for advertisers is that it also appears on your friends News feed – as a personal endorsement from you. As TIME puts it, the holy grail of marketing and advertising – you do the work for them.

When I first read about Facebook Connect in May 2008 I was both impressed and freaked out. While I have strict privacy controls on my own Facebook account I will admit to being just like anyone else when it comes to sharing. At times you feel compelled – it is like writing a good review for good service and who wouldn’t want to do that? (I spent approximately 10 years in one aspect or another  of the service industry so  perhaps I am slightly biased…) It goes the other way to. If you receive bad service you want the world to know about it lest the same thing happen to anyone else. Facebook also allows you the platform to sympathize/rejoice/bitch with one another about anything under the sun.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Truth about Facebook and Shared Shopping Experiences…

Say you had a great cup of coffee from a small unknown retailer – talk about it on Facebook and next thing you know five of your friends have had a similar experience, the store starts to receive increased business, offers a Facebook discount which leads to another good Facebook post – the circle continues. This can be great for the small businessman. However say you bought a purse from well-known retailer but they forgot to remove the security tag. you call and speak to the manager who assures you that all you need to do is come in and bring your receipt. You explain that you will do that but want them to know that you are going out of your way to do this and that you bought the purse for a special function that evening and will not be able to use it since the store is closing in ten minutes and you can’t get back down there until the following afternoon. You head down to the store the next day and are stopped at the door when you set off the anti-theft alarm. Despite your attempts to explain you are escorted to the back room where you are interrogated by security. The manager you called is not on duty and didn’t leave any kind of note. You finally get it sorted out but by the time you leave you not only have missed an appointment but are also twenty minutes late for the next one. When you finally get there the first thing you do is flip open your Blackberry and tell the whole world via Facebook about your experience. By that evening twenty of your friends have commented on the situation and you have pretty much decided you will never shop there again. Your friends on campus commiserate with you and promise they will stop shopping there as well making a public pledge on Facebook. By the time 24 hours has gone by a fan page dedicated to receiving bad service at that particular retailer has been created and over 100 people have become a fan, leaving comments either supporting you or leaving their own bad experience. Facebook allowed you the platform to single-handedly make a dent in the local customer base of a large retailer. Thanks to the social aspect of everything we do, including how we shop, the store lost not one, but probably more than a dozen customers. Powerful stuff.

What’s next for Facebook?

So back to the article. Zuckerberg was asked what he thought the future of Facebook was. Would it go public? Would he ever sell? Would it eventually take over the world? He didn’t seem to think that Facebook would go public anytime soon (he doesn’t exactly need the money) but was more interested in how Facebook would expand. For someone who values his own privacy to the point that you can’t even become his friend on Facebook he seems to have an almost obsessive need to connect everyone else, whether they want to play or not. (One of the latest features of Facebook is that your friends can “check you in” to places if they see you out somewhere without your permission and without you knowing…unless you un-check a box in at least three different places. So much for keeping your recent visit to the Ob-Gyn private, somebody saw you!) More people are on Facebook than any other social network (550 million) with Facebook having the population of a small country (3rd largest) and claiming more than 700 billion online minutes a month. One out of every four American page views is for Facebook even though 70 percent of its user base is outside the United States. In seven years we have gone from having Facebook be a college co-ed’s distraction to an entity that outranks Google with the terms “Facebooking” and “Facebookization” being recognized and used just as Google became interchangeable with Search.

Final Thought…

For as many people who love Facebook you can find almost as many who despise it and the way it has changed the way the world works. However the one thing everyone can agree on is that it has changed things…and there is no going back.

What do you think about the way Facebook is changing the way we do things? Will Facebook become the new Google and will it eventually reach every internet user? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Being Green in Theory v. Practice

the ridiculous-nous of a dollarI must say that I am so tired of getting pile after pile of JUNK mail from groups (that for the sake of this post shall remain nameless…well that and I happen to be a card-carrying member of a few of them) that claim to want to save the planet in some form or fashion, whether it’s dirty coal one day or drowned polar bears the next…they fill your mailbox with pleas for your hard-earned dollar but seem to ignore one of the most basic and vital resources known to mankind as a species…clean air…produced in part by the very trees (some of them OLD GROWTH) cut down so that they could mail out their solicitations, most of which will never even be read, much less recycled and will likely wind up in some landfill taking up even more space and causing even more problems for these groups to complain about creating a new impetus for them to send out a whole new round of solicitations about these “new” problems to an uninterested public!

Whew! What an opening rant…

Ok, now let’s get serious folks. Yes I may be a hard-core environmental fanatic, but I make mistakes, have my failings, am outright lazy once in a while.(I sadly admit that even I have thrown away recyclable items without a twinge of remorse when tired, in a hurry with screaming toddlers strapped to both hips….) But, for the most part, I am working to be a responsible citizen, not just of my community, or even my country, but of my planet. I try to instill in my children the basic moral principles that less is more, and that homemade is from the heart. We avoid the big box retailers when possible, rarely eat junk, recycle regularly, endure the dirty looks we STILL get as we haul our cloth bags, walk more than drive and bundle up rather than crank up the thermostat.

Despite all these efforts, they can’t seem to avoid the barrage of mail we receive on a near daily basis asking for our support (which means money) and the really slick and cool ones promise that if we respond in 30 days we get a lovely reproduction 1930’s explorers backpack! How cool is that??

Just make sure you read the fine print…(you know the one that tells you that in exchange for that awesome backpack, only 5 cents of your $30 donation will actually help save the imperiled penguins, drowning polar bears or whichever cause it happens to be this month.)

Now please don’t assume I am bashing the wonderful work done by such groups as the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy or the World Wildlife Fund. As a contributing member I do receive an annual report each year with an informative breakdown of how their money is spent each fiscal year. I study those charts and graphs ( and I am NO math major) and think to myself that a better use of such a  large chunk of  the money dedicated to marketing (to gain new members, raise more dues, and other advertisements) could be better spent on actually reaching out to college advocacy groups (the ones that are not afraid yet to write their congressmen and women and march on Washington in protest), providing grants to grassroots groups making real changes in communities,  etc.

To me it just makes more sense to spend that large  ( and I do mean large….well it is certainly many times more than I and probably most of my entire  staff make in a single year, but then I am a state employee so I guess I am probably not the best example to go by)

So for those of you out there…what are your thoughts on this???  Even using 100% recycled paper, should these organizations cut back their marketing and PR funding and maybe divert that money elsewhere where it might do more good? Please leave your comments below and let me know the following:

  1. Should these organizations reallocate their funding  to include more grassroots/ college advocacy movement workshop/events?
  2. Do These groups spend too much on marketing/PR/postage/etc?
  3. Is adequate research being done to ensure quality ROI for money and time spent?

I look forward to your time and answers. and if you feel more comfortable sending a more in-depth but private response, please feel free to email me a personal response.

I look forward to putting together these answers and then crafting a very nice letter to the presidents and CEO’s of some of these organizations, many of which I have faithfully supported in excess for more than 20 years. I want to know just how MY money has really helped (if at all beyond padding his or her salary while I struggle to feed my family) and whether or not they are truly following their own green  advice in both practice as well as theory…..

Until we meet again…..

Can Your Online Persona Strengthen Your Brand?

UPDATE:this post first appeared back in November. Due to a wordpress/human (??) error a first draft of it was re-posted on December 26th. I apologize for the double posting – still great info but the November final draft was much better.

Not long ago I was involved in a  discussion  about how many of us bloggers have a unique online persona, one we share with the “world” as it may and one that may be different than our random everyday personality. Good or bad, it does happen and if you do it right, this may just help you to succeed in the craziness of the online social media world.

From the feedback I received I realized that this idea is hardly new. Since the dawn of Hollywood and before, people have been using their public image to enhance their brand. I may not be a movie star, but many of the same techniques still apply. As a PR person, I learned many of these tricks and tips in school and thought I would now share them with you. So here is just a quick refresher on how to use your online identity (public persona) to help solidify your brand.

1. How important is a name? If you make a point to use your full name in all of your online interactions, that’s great…but remember that not everyone will agree and using your real name can inadvertently create enemies. As long as you remain thick skinned, this should be alright though. Another important thing to remember – if you use your name, all of your revelations whether they are professional or a rant against an insane boss are all linked to you. This can come back to bite you so if you choose to use your real name….be aware of the consequences that come with it. It is a good idea to go ahead and purchase your own domain while you’re at it. (oh and if you are curious…Google yourself and see what comes up – apparently I am an exotic dancer/stripper in Texas….who knew?)

2. Always use the same Avatar for all your online networks. We are a visual species. We associate images with ideas and with people, that’s why ads have crazy, easily remembered images that pop out at you every time you turn on your TV. Also if you have the same avatar then no matter where you comment anywhere on the web, people will automatically associate the image with your blog/website. Applications like Facebook Connect and Disqus really make this easy.

3. There are many great resources for additional information about personal branding. The magazine put out by Dan Schwabel is wonderful as is his book, “Me 2.0” – if you are serious about building your personal brand. Take a look around the internet and invest in a few resources.

Have other ideas? Feel free to share!

Can Your Online Persona Strengthen Your Brand?

Not long ago I had a very interesting conversation via TweetChat with someone who is excellent at one thing, Branding.  We talked about how many of us bloggers have a unique online persona, one we share with the “world” as it may and one that may be different than our random everyday personality. Good or bad, it does happen and if you do it right, this may just  help you to succeed in the craziness of the online social media world.

From the feedback I received I realized that this idea is hardly new. Since the dawn of Hollywood and before, people have been using their public image to enhance their brand. I may not be a movie star, but many of the same techniques still apply. As a PR person, I learned many of these tricks and tips in school and thought I would now share them with you. So here is just a quick refresher on how to use your online identity (public persona) to help solidify your brand.

1. How important is a name? If you make a point to use your full name in all of your online interactions, that’s great…but remember that not everyone will agree and using your real name can inadvertently create enemies. As long as you remain thick skinned, this should be alright though. Another important thing to remember – if you use your name, all of your revelations whether they are professional or a rant against an insane boss are all linked to you. This can come back to bite you so if you choose to use your real name….be aware of the consequences that come with it. It is a good idea to go ahead and purchase your own domain while you’re at it. (oh and if you are curious…Google yourself and see what comes up – apparently I am an exotic dancer/stripper in Texas….who knew?)

2. According to Erik Qualman (@equalman) the author of the incredibly awesome book, “Socialnomics” , if you choose to develop your online brand based on a singular persona, (real or not) it is very important to have a singular image across all of your social media outlets. This may be a logo or even a picture. I really had no idea that one image could be that important, and then I felt silly since this is one of the first things hammered into your head in all advertising and marketing classes. We are a visual species, and more than remembering what is written, we will remember an image whether it is on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, FriendFeed or a blog. Therefore, pick an icon/image/photo that truly represents your brand and use it across the web. Soon, those who are interested in you and what you stand for will begin to read your online responses, or notice your “ads” simply because they see your icon, regardless if they are actually interested in the topic of the blog post or article.

3. No matter how “big” you become online, remember that you have a life…in the real world. When approached or contacted to speak, give presentations, be a guest-poster etc, remember that you are representing both your online persona (the person/brand the world is familiar with through your blog) and you as a person. If there is too much of a gap then your brand awareness could become tarnished. No one wants to feel they have been lied too or led on. While this may seem contradictory, one of the main things I have learned is that although I have deveoped a brand through my work online, I am still me and that is the person that I want people to respect.

Have thoughts? Has your personal brand ever interfered with your personal (off-line) life? Please feel free to share.

’till next time!

Just how much SHOULD be online?

This particular topic is the cause for frequent arguments in my household. With the seemingly omnipresence of the Internet – everyone is online, often living out a completely separate life via social networking sites such as MySpace, LinkedIN, Twitter and Facebook.

At the same time identity theft is on the rise, as well as other online threats. Which leads me to my question….just how much should be online?

I did a post a while back about living a transparent life. While I still agree that networking and having an online identity is good and even necessary in some cases, I am beginning to see the merits of the argument for the opposite side.

Just to stop and to clarify, I am on the borderline between Gen X and Gen Y and have a very active online life. And although I came into the game a little later than many of my Brazen pals. I readily admit that I am addicted to email, blog on a regular basis and really enjoy catching up with pals on Facebook.

However, I have also been the victim of a selfish, unprofessional and slightly vindictive reporter, so I am also aware of the dangers of having too much information available for the world to see.
So how much is too much?

I do not publish under a false name or identity as some bloggers do. I am proud of what I write and what I am contributing to society. Lately though, I have begun to wonder about the world that exists outside my online community, which of course includes my family, my job and life.

There are some things the world maybe does not need to know about. For starters, having too much personal information regarding your family, particularly your children, is never a good idea. As paranoid as it may sound, we live in a different world than our parents did and kids are no longer immune from from media hounds looking for a story, or predators for that matter. And I don’t just mean children of celebrities. It seems that just about anyone can become a person of interest in this day and age and if you have kids, they are considered fair game for that person trying to dig up information on you. So it would seem, that keeping them offline entirely is probably a good idea.

Something else to consider, personal, financial and employment information. This seems like a no-brainer to me, but I heard recently about a fellow blogger who was duped (incredibly so, because she is a very intelligent person) by someone claiming to want to help her with her blog. She had posted information about what she did for a living and even what the salary ranges are for her particular occupation. I will respect her privacy and not go into more detail, but I realize that the only reason she was tricked was because of the extent of the information that the online predator had about her. (collected from Facebook, her blog and LinkedIn) Curious I did a google search on myself and was somewhat surprised about the amount of information out there. I can honestly say that maybe I have been a little too lax in allowing my personal identity to be broadcast to the world.

I often wonder at times just who is reading my blog and am beginning to think that maybe having an online life is not always the greatest thing. I mean, should I worry about mentioning my professor, or my boss? Are they reading and will they seek retribution? Am I worried for nothing?

I enjoy blogging but have been told that I sometimes cross the line with my posts.

I want to continue doing what it is I do, which hopefully is reaching out to other bloggers, PR students, writers, and anyone really who is on the same wave-length as me. I do not want to put my children or career at risk however so I have much to contemplate.

Does anyone else experience this dilemma or have I finally let Big Brother get to me? Feel free to share your own experiences, positive or negative. We are all online these days and a part of a larger world than our parents ever could have imagined. Is this good, bad, or nothing new? Maybe I am a little crazy, but without comments I may never know!

Just how much SHOULD be online?

This particular topic is the cause for frequent arguments in my household. With the seemingly omnipresence of the Internet – everyone is online, often living out a completely separate life via social networking sites such as MySpace, LinkedIN, Twitter and Facebook.

At the same time identity theft is on the rise, as well as other online threats. Which leads me to my question….just how much should be online?

I did a post a while back about living a transparent life. While I still agree that networking and having an online identity is good and even necessary in some cases, I am beginning to see the merits of the argument for the opposite side.

Just to stop and to clarify, I am on the borderline between Gen X and Gen Y and have a very active online life. And although I came into the game a little later than many of my Brazen pals. I readily admit that I am addicted to email, blog on a regular basis and really enjoy catching up with pals on Facebook.

However, I have also been the victim of a selfish, unprofessional and slightly vindictive reporter, so I am also aware of the dangers of having too much information available for the world to see.
So how much is too much?

I do not publish under a false name or identity as some bloggers do. I am proud of what I write and what I am contributing to society. Lately though, I have begun to wonder about the world that exists outside my online community, which of course includes my family, my job and life.

There are some things the world maybe does not need to know about. For starters, having too much personal information regarding your family, particularly your children, is never a good idea. As paranoid as it may sound, we live in a different world than our parents did and kids are no longer immune from from media hounds looking for a story, or predators for that matter. And I don’t just mean children of celebrities. It seems that just about anyone can become a person of interest in this day and age and if you have kids, they are considered fair game for that person trying to dig up information on you. So it would seem, that keeping them offline entirely is probably a good idea.

Something else to consider, personal, financial and employment information. This seems like a no-brainer to me, but I heard recently about a fellow blogger who was duped (incredibly so, because she is a very intelligent person) by someone claiming to want to help her with her blog. She had posted information about what she did for a living and even what the salary ranges are for her particular occupation. I will respect her privacy and not go into more detail, but I realize that the only reason she was tricked was because of the extent of the information that the online predator had about her. (collected from Facebook, her blog and LinkedIn) Curious I did a google search on myself and was somewhat surprised about the amount of information out there. I can honestly say that maybe I have been a little too lax in allowing my personal identity to be broadcast to the world.

I often wonder at times just who is reading my blog and am beginning to think that maybe having an online life is not always the greatest thing. I mean, should I worry about mentioning my professor, or my boss? Are they reading and will they seek retribution? Am I worried for nothing?

I enjoy blogging but have been told that I sometimes cross the line with my posts.

I want to continue doing what it is I do, which hopefully is reaching out to other bloggers, PR students, writers, and anyone really who is on the same wave-length as me. I do not want to put my children or career at risk however so I have much to contemplate.

Does anyone else experience this dilemma or have I finally let Big Brother get to me? Feel free to share your own experiences, positive or negative. We are all online these days and a part of a larger world than our parents ever could have imagined. Is this good, bad, or nothing new? Maybe I am a little crazy, but without comments I may never know!