Blog post#6: Is that really you?

FB- really you

Most of the consumer images that are put in front of us have been modified in some way before they are distributed: photos get touched up and videos get edited (yes, even “reality” TV is edited).  Through the editing process, a new, a more enhanced version of reality, is shown.  If you are not familiar with how “enhanced” reality can become, I invite you to check out this photoshoot and this videoshoot to see the process in action.  However, if you have taken a graduation photo or a family photo recently, chances are you are already familiar with the process as photographers are becoming more adept at touching up their digital shots to make us look “flawless”.

The evolution of web 2.0 now makes it possible for us, the common user, to create and enhance multi-media content.  You, me, everyone can “edit” their life and make it more impressive before putting it on public display.  To some extent this is encouraged through ideas like personal branding and online image management.  However, there is also the risk of taking this too far, of creating idealized versions of ourselves and our lives.  It’s in these instances that we go from communicating with an audience to performing for an audience.  Research shows that young people in their teens and early 20s are particularly sensitive to this as they are at the stage of forming their identity and close social ties.  In some cases, they can begin to compare themselves against the idealized “personas” which has a negative impact on their happiness level, their self-esteem and their offline relationships.

For those of us who need some tips on how to create content like the pros, I would like to share the following links:

Crafting your social media presence

Start the crafting process by collecting all the “artefacts” (images, bios, resume info, etc.) that you want to be part of your public digital life (since this page is actually part of a larger collection of materials on social media, you will also find tips for getting started with Facebook and Twitter).

Crafting the perfect Facebook cover photo

No you don’t need Photoshop, you can use a free software program to help you create that awesome Facebook cover.  Need some inspiration, check this out: Facebook Timeline Cover : 40 (Really) Creative Examples.

Crafting posts

Remember that social media is like a soap box, not a diary.  Know your audience. Post something they care about.  For Facebook, be positive.  For Twitter, make an effort to write properly. For Pinterest, pin vertical shots without people’s faces in them. Need a reminder of these dos and don’ts, check this out: How to create Perfect Posts on Social Platforms.

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Blog post#5 Survival of the fittest or the just fit enough?

While doing research on personal branding, I came across a few interesting discussions regarding the distinction between brand and image.  According to some, a brand is a promise.  It tells people what they can expect from you.  It broadcasts information about your abilities, your character, your performance.  Image on the other hand, is a collection of attributes people associate with you: your hairstyle, your clothing, your overall physical appearance, your sense of humour (or lack thereof), your favourite book, etc.  In an ideal world, both are in alignment (what people expect is actually what they get).   Whether the experts on branding make a distinction between the two or not, they all seem to agree that paying attention to these elements are important.  Essentially, we should all be proactively trying to influence what other people expect of us and to live up to those expectations as often as possible.

Unfortunately, try as we may, we cannot always be the only influence on other people’s expectations of us.  So what happens to your personal brand when you are in a situation where there are additional expectations, ones that you did not create, that are not based on you as an individual, but based on the role or position you are in?  Can your personal brand exist in isolation from a role/position brand?

For example, let’s say your personal brand is about being a great leader, a good collaborator and a hard worker.  Let’s also say that you are looking for a job in the not-for-profit sector.  In the not-for-profit world, there is often the expectation that people who work there must be passionate and self-sacrificing (i.e. money doesn’t matter), at the same time there is growing expectations that these same people become more hard-nosed and  business-like (i.e. money does matter, now show me how you cut overhead and produce returns on investment).  So, if you are being interviewed for the position of CEO of a hospital or President of a university or Executive Director of a national charity, what type of personal brand/image do you lean towards?  Do you expand your personal brand/image and adapt to the expectations?

As a professional, you often have to deal with multiple stakeholders.  You do not have the luxury of dealing with just one target audience, one set of expectations.  Unlike a product or service, you are not static or designed to appeal to one specific demographic or clientele.  Moreover, regardless of the sector in which you work, the job market itself has certain expectations of you—which must be taken into consideration if you plan to change employers or careers at some point (see examples from the Hay Group and the Institute for the Future).  It appears that some degree of versatility of “personal brand” is needed.  So, could personal branding, narrowing in on one set of traits that differentiate you, actually be detrimental in the long-run?  In other words, if you get known for X, is there a risk that others will assume you can’t do Y?  It’s the mini-wheat dilemma: if you show the whole wheat side, no one sees the frosted side. And if you tell the world you’re a mini-wheat, they will most likely put you in a bowl of milk and keep you there.  So what kind of personal brand is most beneficial in the long-run?

Blog post#4: Do you feel connected?

Ambient awareness is the experience of knowing what’s going on in the lives of other people — what they’re thinking about, what they’re doing, what they’re looking at — by paying attention to the small stray status messages that people are putting online.’ –Clive Thompson

I recently came across an article by Clive Thompson called Brave New World of Digital Intimacy.  In the article, he talks about the rise of social media and how little pieces of information, when taken together over time, can make us feel like we are close to people without actually communicating with them one on one.  In the past, this type of experience wasn`t possible because no one would bother to phone their friends and family to talk to them about the daily minutiae of their life (and friends and family wouldn`t necessarily want to hear those apparently insignificant and mundane bits of information—e.g. ‘Waiting at the bus stop and it`s freezing cold!’).  However, with social media, you can broadcast the details of your life to friends and family and they can tune in (or tune out) whenever they choose.

Some argue that there are a number of benefits to this change in the way we communicate and interact with others.  For starters, all this constant updating and broadcasting is creating a culture of people who know much more about themselves.  The social media users Thompson interviewed allowed him to see that ‘the act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act.’ Essentially, users become more mindful of what they are doing and, as they disclose more information about themselves and their lives, begin to wonder about how others may react to that information.

Some also argue that it improves one-on-one time because conversations can become more focused: you spend less time on idle chit chat because you’ve checked out their social media profiles and updates and can move the conversation more quickly to the next level.

The downside to this however, is that some social media users can begin to develop parasocial relationships instead of deep social relationships.  Parasocial relationships are the types of relationships we develop with fictional characters, like those on TV shows or in books (e.g. Twilight saga or Fifty Shades of Grey), or with remote celebrities we read about in magazines (e.g. Justin Beiber`s YouTube Channel).  Since social media allows us to observe  the lives of other people without necessarily being involved, we can develop relationships that are nearly parasocial—we know a lot about the lives of other people in our network, but they don`t nearly know as much about our life; we feel connected to them, but they may not.  Parasocial relationships can quickly eat up our time and emotional energy as well as crowd out real-life people (i.e. we never really go offline and engage in one-on-one conversations).  Face-time with people in real-life is important to developing deep social relationships.

Another downside is that other people may begin broadcasting information about you.  This is referred to as the revival of small-town dynamics, where everybody knows your business.  This was actually the way things were for most of human history.  Drifting from town to town and relationship to relationship is actually a very modern phenomenon.  So, just like you have to manage your reputation in a small-town, you have to manage your brand or persona online.

The take home message: think about why you want to be present online and remember that when you reach out and create content for others—or as Eric Qualman suggests: learn how to behave correctly in this newly opened society.

Blog post#3: Who are you?

Corporatizing the individual

Do I need a personal branding strategy?  According to what I’ve read online, apparently I do and so does everyone else.  It would seem that after not being social media savvy, not having a personal brand strategy might be the second most shameful thing one can admit to.  It’s like a fashion faux pas.

So why is developing a personal brand strategy so important? From what I have read so far, it seems that the process of developing a brand has a number of positive outcomes.  For starters, it allows you to do some self-discovery, to unravel your unique talents and gifts.  It also allows you to articulate the impact you want to have and the difference you want to make in the world.  Pretty powerful stuff.

There is a downside however.  This process requires a significant investment of time.  As anyone who has ever been involved in a corporate strategic planning or branding process can tell you, this is not something you can pump out on a Friday afternoon before leaving for the weekend.  It is also not something you can do once and for all. It’s ongoing (that’s why there are “re-branding” processes!).  It also requires time to implement and follow through on.

A common recommendation online is that if you don’t have the time to develop your personal branding strategy, find someone who can do it for you (hmmm, I wonder where this is going… first a strategist, then a stylist, then a photographer, then maybe a publicist… in a few years will I need a whole entourage to maintain my Facebook page!?! ).  A quick online search for personal branding consultants in Ottawa revealed a list that was much shorter than I expected.  It did however give me a few examples of what a “personal brand” can look like on the new web 2.0.  Check out Joelle Hamilton’s page: http://joellehamilton.com/

Anyone else find good examples of a personal brand?

Blog post#2: A new way of interacting with others

SM- FB and you

The Social Network

I recently watched the movie The Social Network for a second time.  As many of you probably know, the movie tells the story of how Facebook came to be.  What caught my attention this time round was how important it was to Mark Zuckerberg that Facebook be free from corporate advertisements until it reached a certain critical mass.  It had to be perceived as “cool”, which meant it had to be free from the pervasion of corporate brands.  Once it got big enough, a corporate advertising platform was unveiled.

According to Computerworld, Facebook’s advertising strategy has three components: “the first will allow businesses to build pages on Facebook to connect with the consumers they are targeting. The second will include a system that supports the spread of marketing messages virally through Facebook Social Ads. Finally, the system will allow the businesses to gather insights into users’ activity on Facebook”.

In his book Socialnomics, Erik Qualman suggests that the corporate world have a presence on social media to monitor what is being said about their products and services and to participate in that conversation.  He foresees that the new inbox will shift away from email and move increasingly towards social media as conversations through this channel have an “easier flow to them and replicate a normal conversation” (I guess it also helps that social networks have inboxes of their own that replicate and replace email).  This means that companies have to shift away from the traditional one-way communication model and begin a two-way dialogue with their consumers.

Jay Baer suggests that companies approach this conversation with the attitude of helping the consumer and not just selling a product or service to them.  Essentially, a company has to build a consumer’s trust and become part of the community.

The movie also highlighted another important feature of social media—watch what you say and do online because it can have both personal and legal ramifications.    Qualman underlines this as a big challenge for both individuals and companies.  Individuals have a tendancy to “act without thinking” and companies to let their legal departments “suck the life” out of their marketing and public relations departments.  Social media is therefore forcing everyone to reconsider how they present themselves to others and how they develop their relationships.  There is undoubtedly a growing need for authenticity: to have one’s private and public personas come into alignment… or as the young lawyer said at the end of the movie: “You’re not a *bleep* Mark, you’re just trying really hard to be one”.

Blog post#1: Tapping into web 2.0

Who’s online?

Apparently, almost everyone.  According to the CIRA,  “Canada has one of the highest Internet penetration rates in the world. With nearly 8 in 10 Canadians online, the vast majority of those daily users, Canada is within the top quartile of countries globally.”  CIRA says that the majority of Canadians who go online do so to access content from YouTube and Facebook.

Prior to assuming my current role with a children’s charity, I had the opportunity to talk and interact with a number of key players in Ottawa’s hi-tech industry.  They often expressed that their key concern–what kept them up at night—was figuring out how to keep Canada’s IT infrastructure globally competitive.  To consume and produce online content (i.e. to actively participate in the evolution of web 2.0), you have to be able to access it quickly and at low cost.  Canada just barely made that global top quartile (it ranks 19 out of 20). If you want fast and cheap internet access, go to South Korea (it ranks number 1)—you’ll be able to watch Psy’s video for Gangnam Style as often as you want and upload all the photos from your vacation to your Facebook page without worrying about whether you will exceed your monthly data plan allocation.

One reason I bring this up is because I recently moved to a small, rural area and getting connected to the internet is not as straightforward as it seems (smartphone use also has its challenges).  When I want to use social media, I will typically wait until I get into the city where the connection speed is faster so I can avoid the pain of video buffering and playback problems as well as long download and upload times.  It’s strange to consider that I may be one of the 2 in 10 Canadians not online (at least at home)!  This has definitely impacted how I access and how often I use social media.  That said, I am happy to know that when I am online, I am doing what most Canadians do: watching videos and checking-in on friends and family!

Another reason I am interested in these stats is because some of the clients of the organization I currently work for live outside of the downtown area.  It’s important to know how they will be accessing any content the organization publishes online. Also, the organization has limited resources to invest in its online communications and marketing efforts—it cannot use all social media tools—so it has to pick and choose which ones it will develop.

A couple of articles I found that talk about the increase in video consumption online and our growing use of Facebook:

Many Canadians Cutting the Cord on Traditional Cable

Canada’s Love Affair With Online Social Networking Continues