Thinking Out Loud: But I’m not a “personal brand!” I’m a person!*

I am pretty sure this post is navel-gazing. I don’t care.

I’ve been blogging for about 10 years. Holy crap. My life has changed both a lot and very little since I started. I don’t blog as often as I’d like, but when I do it, it always feels like home.

I’m a writer, even when I am not writing for money or even an audience. I blog to get things out, creatively, emotionally, whenever I need to. I’ve met great lifelong friends because of it, I’ve gotten a couple of jobs and numerous unpaid speaking gigs because of it. I fell into my current career in part because of it. So yeah, I owe blogging a lot, and I’ve never been ashamed to call myself a blogger, even back in the days when “real journalists” would sheepishly mutter the word “blogger” under their breath.

I attended the Blogalicious conference this past summer. Very cool , passionate people here and it was nice to take the time to recharge and remember why I am doing this in the first place. As my friend Maura says, it’s about community, and connecting and expression, that’s at least why I started blogging. I wanted to write and maybe have other people read it. When I come to a conference like this, though, and people ask “hey, what is your blog about” I usually answer: “I dunno. Stuff.” And then the “personal brand” discussion starts up and I tend to wig out a little.

I struggle daily with the gray area between my personal and professional life online. There is still quite a bit I don’t share regularly online, I do save such detailed information for my actual friends, and despite the fact that I blog, that I’m on Twitter, etc. I still consider myself to be a very private person and a bit of a wallflower, which I am OK with. So being in a position where I deliberately present a public presence, doesn’t come naturally to me.

I do things online to connect with my friends, and I am happy and excited to make new ones, but when I think about what I do personally being consumed by an “audience” and thinking of it as such, it still makes me uncomfortable. It freaks me out to think that present and future employers may be checking out the times when I live-tweet a Converge show or publicly ogle Dolph Lundgren or snark about the emo geek boys on OK Cupid or fret over my family or talk about bourbon.

Yet, here I am, doing it.

But (especially with Twitter) my personal use morphed and evolved into a professional use so quickly and so organically that there was never an opportunity for me to comfortably separate those two sides of my life. Also, I can’t really separate those sides of my life. Many of my professional colleagues are also trusted friends. For example, I started a “professional” Facebook account for the sole purpose of managing Facebook fan pages. Two of my friends found me in a half hour. D’OH!

Now I know some people may be reading this like “whatever social media so-and-so. Tough life, navel-gazer, Go check-in to Foursquare or something.”

Fine, fair enough. But the convergence of my professional/social life was not something that I thought I was getting into when I started getting into web design and blogging a zillion years ago. And that convergence is happening to us all, I think. For today’s babies and toddlers, an online persona is being created for them before they are even old enough to decide if they want one. But for those who work in the so-called “social media space” it is expected to be out there on some level. To be”genuine” and “real” and craft a specific “personal brand.” (Man, that’s a lot of quotation marks)

So, once again, just thinking out loud, but I’ve been continually struggling with this for awhile now and trying to figure out how to continue doing the work that I do, express myself creatively while still maintaining my sense of self for the real life people I care about.

*ironically, this was originally posted at my personal blog

I read a book: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Until recently, Clay Shirky was best known as the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The book  was widely praised (seriously, Boing Boing calls it a “masterpiece”) and is still referenced  by social media strategist/expert/guru types as a must-read for anyone looking to explore the social dynamics that drive the use of technology, which at the time (and even now, to a certain extent) is not what drives most conversation about the internet and social media in particular.

Rather than focusing the catalyst of online social behavior on specific technologies  (i.e. what makes Facebook so popular?) Shirky argued that social tools facilitates common group behavior, conversation and social interaction. At the time, the beginning of Facebook’s online dominance and in the midst of growing fascination and panic about social media from the mainstream press. Shirky presented a reasoned, articulate and well-researched argument that the idea of “crowdsourcing” was not a new idea, but actually rooted in common, even traditional social interaction. The Internet just made that interaction happen more widely and more rapidly.

If you talk to any social media/internet  “expert” or “enthusiast” these days, this perspective is seen as common knowledge, but without Shirky’s well-presented theory and research to bolster this theory it wouldn’t have taken root.

In 2010, you’d think that this argument wouldn’t need repeating or clarification, but as traditional media continues to evolve and digital use continues to grow and become more ubiquitous, the panic of social theorists and mainstream media commentators continues unabated. The continuing debate of whether the Internet makes you smarter or more stupid seems to have a new chapter each day, but in Cognitive Surplus, Shirky’s latest book, he does add fuel to that fire, but also offers a modified version of his Here Comes Everybody thesis: The Internet has given us the tools to create, publish and share media  faster, cheaper and with more people than ever before

Shirky’s revised thesis is the reason that I think Cognitive Surplus is a must-read (there’s that term again) for media professionals in every field.

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2010: the year when fandom becomes serious business

Around  about the end of last year,  all the big shit web 2.0 blogs started to pull together their prediction list for 2010. I was very close to pulling up such a list myself until I concluded that there was absolutely nothing that I wanted to put out there as a sure-fire prediction? Everything in this online world changes way to quickly for anyone to have a real handle on what the next big thing is, and it’s all subjective anyway.

But yesterday, i started thinking about many of the online trends in fandom, and specifically many of the topics we’ve covered here at The Learned Fangirl,  and they all seem to point to a particular trend that may come to a head in coming year.  So, here’s my one prediction for 2010:

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Thinking Out Loud: Is Social Media the new Pink Collar Ghetto of Tech?

If you live in Chicago and work in online … anything really, you know that there are about 5 – 10 events going on each week geared toward technology and social media. Tweet-ups, networking functions, parties, demos, you name it.

I went to one of these events earlier last week, a social media focused event, and noticed that most of the attendees (about 75%) were female. Honestly, that wasn’t a huge surprise to me considering that’s the make-up of a lot of social media events I go to these days. Later that same week i went to another, more “traditional” tech-focused event (i.e. mostly developers and the like) and noticed it was the reverse – about 3/4 male.

Noticing the gender disparity of both events got me thinking about social media – most specifically social media and general online marketing -and its role in the hierarchy of  the tech industry  as a whole. I wonder, as the social media world becomes more and more female-driven (after all, social media power  users tend to be female) will it become “demoted” in the tech industry, seen as a “soft” profession with lower comparative salaries and less room for professional advancement/leadership? Has that already happened?

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Planet Money: NPR’s digital stepchild?

So I wasplanet-money-200x200 late to the game regarding the giant kerfuffle between NPR reporter Adam Davidson and Congressional Oversight Panel chairperson Elizabeth Warren. If you didn’t hear it, here it is, but to make a long story short, on the May 8th production of Planet Money, Davidson and Warren sparred heatedly about the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). It didn’t get personal, but it was pretty damn close.

Some PM listeners were offended by the aggressive tack that Davidson used to question his guest. It did get a bit FOX news at times and Davidson did cross the line a couple of times into condescension (would he have been so cavalier with a male guest?) Overall, it was a rare misstep from what is normally an informative and even-keeled production.

Alicia Shepherd, the NPR ombudsman, weighed in after an investigation of the production:

Planet Money is a relatively new venture for NPR, and the network is still experimenting with the format. “Planet Money has been an extraordinarily successful, popular project, with all it does,” said Uri Berliner, deputy national editor who edits Planet Money. “If you look at the way it has built an audience that responds and is engaged, it is pretty much without precedent at NPR.”

Here at TLF we are both fans of Planet Money, as a production, and as an effective model for traditional media outlets to engage listeners via social media projects. So it dismayed me (K.) to read the following:

Planet Money’s podcast does not have the same degree of radio production or intense editing and supervision as NPR’s regular shows.

In my months of listening to Planet Money, it did not occur to me that the podcast was not subject to the same level of editorial scrutiny as any other NPR broadcast. Honestly, I never thought of PM as anything less than an NPR show, albeit a show that was not being aired on terrestrial radio. Davidson was appropriately repentant, and  even admitted that he chose to edit the interview in a way that highlighted its most confrontational moments. But it did trouble me that Davidson, for whatever reason felt like Planet Money was a good place to check his journalistic integrity at the door. Because, you know, it’s only a podcast.

The admission of NPR’s ombudsman that the organization sees the podcast as a “lesser entity” of sorts is a bit disheartening for me as a listener, because I afforded the podcast producers the same level of trust, despite its digital roots.

In general, I do think NPR handled the situation well, by making the entire interview available for listeners, but I do feel like this is a bit of a blow for Planet Money‘s journalistic reputation and for the reputation of online-only news podcasts to be respected as real journalism, rather than just being a digital playground for amateurs. I keep making the argument that it’s about the content, not the medium, but if NPR doesn’t see Planet Money as “real NPR” then why should I?

What Non-Profits Could Learn From Fan Culture About Social Media

chuckHaving worked in the non-profit sector for several years, and being a fangirl all my life, I can say – seriously! – that fan culture and the non-profit world would have something in common: both often rely resource of highly motivated, passionate individuals using their time (and sometimes money) to spread the word about their cause – for non-profit volunteers, that cause could be human rights, for fans it might be keeping “Chuck” on the air.

I’m not going to place a value judgment on this, though I know a common criticism of fan culture is that “the world would be a better place if [fans] would spend that kind of time/energy working on less frivolous projects: volunteering in the community, politics, etc. (Probably not 100% fair or accurate, and Henry Jenkins has already formulated a very eloquent response to that critique in Textual Poachers)

What I do know is that when it comes to using social media, fans are savvy about using social media to organize and motivate groups to action, and fan culture may be a useful lens for non-profit professionals using social media to view their own campaigns.

No really, hear me out.

Build proactive allies/supporters through social media, not just “volunteers”

Fans are pretty self-motivated when they are excited about something, they’ll spread the word about a band/TV show/movie/ book series they’re into without even needing to be prompted or instructed to do so. Take the The Leaky Cauldron, the Harry Potter-focused fan website that has grown to become a sophisticated fan news outlet and online community, with active forums, blogs, a weekly podcast and fan- organized conferences. All of this was done with the indirect blessing of Potter author J.K. Rowling.

Or consider the “Save Chuck” campaign. When NBC’s nerd-spy show Chuck was on the bubble for cancellation, fans started a grassroots campaign via social media to inform Chuck‘s parent network (NBC) and major sponsor (Subway) about the show’s fan support.  Using Twitter, icons and badges, fans were mobilized to spread the word about Chuck online, and also used their fan power to raise money for The American Heart Association, a partner charity of Subway. The We Heart Chuck Campaign raised $10,000 for the AHA in one week, and Chuck was also saved in the process.

It’s about community, and it’s personal; consider giving people the tools to spread the word in their own way.

I think nothing gets a potential supporter jazzed quicker than feeling like they can DO SOMETHING NOW, even if it’s something small like posting a badge to their blog, or retweeting a message.

Some organizations seem to focus their social media efforts on acquisition: bringing traffic from Facebook to a website. But what about taking a “street team” approach to social media? That means giving supporters/volunteers the resources and space to spread the word themselves in the ways that they feel most comfortable and effective and to create their own communities of supporters with friends and family.

I’m not saying non-profits should give volunteers carte blanche to create their own online communities without any professional input. My point here is that fans  took it upon themselves to create and build a community of support from the ground up, supplying  fellow fans with the appropriate tools  help to take their message viral.

So how can non-profits inject some of that spirit into their own social media efforts?