SXSW Panel Picker season is upon us again! Last year, I was privileged to be on a panel with friends from FUNimation, Capcom, and some other great companies discussing how we speak to our niche audiences.
This year, I corralled some friends (and they corralled some friends) to put together a panel about some of the issues that we face as community managers. The darker side of community management, if you will. Here’s the description of us & the panel:
This is the true story of five community managers picked to work on a brand, fixing problems and engaging with the community to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. Katie Morse is the music-loving technology geek. Active in the dubstep scene, she snagged a role a Billboard only to learn you do not cross Lil Kim fans and live to tweet about it. Nick Ayres is happy-go-lucky, and potentially the nicest guy on the interwebs. He’s also been one of the social media voices behind two big brands that really like orange (like, a whole lot) – The Home Depot and InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). The question is: can the man with the million dollar smile keep a cheerful grin when things go awry? Kellie Parker is the ragtag rebel ruling the male dominated world of gaming. When you think Sega you think blue hedgehogs, but Kellie gets to see the darker side of gamer behavior– like all those penis photos. Sam Haseltine can commonly be found standing on a chair at a football ground orchestrating hundreds football fans in glorious song. The ultimate in community management. The same can be said for him online, but without the chair. Anna OBrien is the typical left of center creative girl, with a background in numbers and web analytics. She once made waves in community management for Citibank, but can she survive the challenge of managing brands in a new country? Welcome to the The Real World, Community Management.
We’d really love to make it to SXSW so we can share our stories and advice. I also personally really want to hear Katie’s story about Lil Kim. So please take a second and vote for us, won’t you?
Television is starting to embrace Twitter. Hallelujah! But not everyone is doing it right.
For a lot of us, talking on Twitter while we watch TV isn’t new. We’ve been talking on Twitter about televised events for years now. The 2008 US Presidential elections, sporting events, season finales, and more were all discussed among fans online using Twitter and hashtags. Then it started happening not just for major events, but for regular episodes of shows. We used to gather around our TVs in person to experience and discuss television shows together. Now we do it via Twitter and hashtags. And what’s perhaps most interesting is the mainstreaming of hashtags. In the examples that have below, nobody is going out of their way to explain what hashtags are or to specify that they are for Twitter. Consumers are just expected to know, and most of them do. Given how slow mass media can be to embrace technology (how long was it before people stopped v e r y s l o w l y pronouncing the http://www. in a URL on TV?), this is a major moment.
So while talking on Twitter while we watch isn’t new… what *is* new is that the networks and shows themselves are starting to embrace and even instigate it themselves.
Doing it Right: MSNBC, Fox, Logo, TNT
Rachel Maddow from MSNBC is on Twitter. Her show and staff have severalaccounts that they update. Conversations about the show while it’s airing (and sometimes for hours after) happen at #Maddow. So when the show was putting together their iPad app… what’s the next step? A “watch party” function, of course. You can tweet directly from the Rachel Maddow Show app. You can also read the tweets made from the app, tweets from the “All Stars” (TRMS staff and frequent/notable guests), and all tweets with the #Maddow hashtag. They’ve taken what was an organic third party experience and found a way to make it not only easy and convenient for their fans, but to bring it under their own branding.
Content on the left, conversation on the right.
Other networks are starting to embrace hashtags too. A few months ago, I noticed that #Fringe was watermarked on my screen throughout the first episode (and every one thereafter) of the spring 2011 season. This was already happening organically (I know, because I’m a big Fringe nerd), and instead of trying to create something new of their own, they just promoted what was already happening. And I don’t know what the numbers were, but I can tell you from my own personal experience that the number of conversations skyrocketed. Fringe was the perfect candidate to try this out on, because the audience is most likely to be into technology and open to embracing it. (Essentially, we’re all big nerds.) I started noticing this on other shows, too… especially other Fox shows. #Glee is another obvious choice, given their rabid fanbase. (Ahem.) #DragU on Logo is also employing a similar strategy.
It hangs there, all spooky-like. Must be from the other universe.
But even when shows embrace what fans have created, well… fans keep on creating. One example of this is the show Rizzoli & Isles on TNT. (Wow, you are really getting to know a lot about my TV watching habits, huh? Sorry about that.) If you’re not familiar… go immediately and watch all of Season 1 and the first two episodes of Season 2. Notice anything? Like maybe how the two lead actresses — Angie Harmon (Jane Rizzoli) and Sasha Alexander (Maura Isles) are… well… close? Like, really close? Like, your gaydar is WHOOP WHOOP WHOOPing like crazy… close? Well, you’re not the only one who noticed. The lesbians, we went mad insane for this show (which besides featuring two beautiful and kick-ass ladies, is actually a really good mystery/crime show) in a way that we haven’t since Xena. So when the new season of Rizzoli & Isles started up this summer, just having #RizzoliandIsles was not enough. The wonderfully brilliant and hilarious Dorothy Snarker from AfterEllen decided we needed a more… specialized hashtag for all the lesbian sub-text and discussion about the show. So she created #Gayzzoli, and it’s a very lively conversation each week. The stars and people who do social media for the show know about it, and while they don’t participate, they also don’t interfere. Which is just the right thing to do.
Ms. Snarker might be a complete genius.
Doing it Wrong: Lifetime and Project Runway
So all of those are great examples of TV embracing fans and Twitter discussion. But can you take it too far? I saw one example last week that just made me cringe. And that’s the new season of Project Runway on Lifetime.
But first, a short lesson in hashtags. The value of a hashtag is that it organizes content from many different sources but about the same thing in one place. So, logically, you’d want everyone to be using the same hashtag in order to create a conversation that is active, rapidly updating, and has as high of a usage spike as you can get. You want to centralize your efforts on one hashtag and drive all your efforts toward a single goal.
And that is not what Project Runway has chosen to do. Instead of pushing #projectrunway or even something as bad as #projectrunwayS9 (for “season 9″), they created an individual hashtag for each of their 20 designers and promoted all 20 hashtags on the show. Which, to me, is just way too much diversification. They are in essence creating 20 smaller conversations instead of one big conversation. They are dividing their audience into silos instead of bringing them all together to talk about the show. They are making it about the individual contestants, not about the show.
And the format of the hashtag is awful, too. Hashtags should be short and easy. They should be accurate and representative of the subject and nothing more. So using the format #pr9<designer name> is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Project Runway is not commonly abbreviated PR, so they are basically taking all the value out of their brand name by doing so in their hashtag. I get that the 9 is for season 9, but honestly I couldn’t have told you this was season 9 if you asked, and I’ve been watching every episode since the very first one. Even to a pretty big fan, that means nothing to me. And we already discussed that each designer has their name in their own hashtag. #PR9Becky (for example) is just a horrible hashtag (but I think the designer is cool, despite the fact that I keep accidentally calling her Betsy Ross instead of Becky Ross. (Get it? Because she sews? Oh never mind.))
Hey #pr9becky, can you sew me a flag dress?
They are using it as a way to use Twitter for “fan favorite” voting, which is a cool idea. But they missed a huge issue with the conversational aspect of Twitter in doing so. It’s probably too late to change it this season, and while I applaud their effort to embrace Twitter and hashtags, I hope they adjust their strategy next time.
All in all, I’m looking forward to seeing what the fall season brings with Twitter and hashtags and online viewing parties (oh my!).
Greetings from SXSW! The conference is over, and my panel is done. I spoke today on “Speaking to Geeks” with some friends from Capcom, Funimation, and other cool companies. It sucks to have the last panel of the last day, and we really appreciated the folks that delayed their end-of-conference partying to hear what we had to say.
I saw a lot of great stuff in the last few days. The “Worst Website Ever” panel was definitely a standout. (I really hope those slides get put on slideshare, because “the fap store” and “40 chan” were truly hilarious.) I got to see Matthew Inman, who writes and draws The Oatmeal, a site that I read nearly every day. He’s just as funny in person, and I’m glad I stayed even though I was in the beginning stages of a bangin’ migraine. My friend Kelly Feller from Intel also did a great presentation about using contests for social marketing. But the most validating and one of the funniest presentations I saw was from Gary Vaynerchuk about the same subject as his new book, The Thank You Economy.
I have been a fan of Gary’s for a long time. He’s an engaging and energetic speaker, he knows his stuff when it comes to community and social media, and he swears a lot… just like me. One of the reasons his session was so validating for me is that his new book is about how brands need to be humanized, and genuinely interact with their fans instead of just shoving marketing down their throats. This is so much of what I do in my day job, and it’s something that my team and I are really dedicated to. We work really hard to be human — we respond to comments, we make small talk, we share behind-the-scenes of our offices. We know the fans that interact with us by name, and our fans know us by name, too. We let our personalities shine through and we have reaped the rewards for it. Yes, we market too — it is part of our job, after all. But brands that think of Twitter as 140 character press releases are simply doing it wrong.
One of the things Gary mentioned in his session… something I truly thought was not an actual thing that would ever happen… is brands exploiting the tragedy in Japan for their own gain. But as I am catching up on my social media streams from the last few days, I was shocked to see that this really is happening. It’s incredibly tacky and crass. And (hopefully!) it’s about to bite these brands in the ass in a big way.
Bing (and Microsoft) have already apologized for their RT campaign wherein they pledged to donate $1 per RT of their content/link, up to $100k. And they just donated the $100k. Mastiff, a video game developer, is pledging to donate $100 for every 100 people that “like” them on Facebook, up to $25,000. Voskos yogurt is also pledging to donate $1 for every “like” they get on Facebook. And I sort of get where they are coming from. Especially in the current economy, not everyone can afford to give money. A lot of people want to help out, and beyond giving money, they don’t know how. So it’s easy for a brand to see it as a win/win — they get to donate money to a great cause, they get new people to market to (or, in the case of Bing, get their name and content out), and people get to feel like they did something to contribute without actually paying out money.
But what’s really easy to miss is how incredibly tacky this is. It smacks of opportunism, of holding relief dollars hostage for selfish marketing purposes. Because essentially, what a company like Mastiff is saying is that they are willing to donate $25,000 to the Red Cross, but if they only get 500 new fans, they’ll only donate $500. So, you know, it’s our fault that the Red Cross (and the people of Japan) missed out on $20,000 because we didn’t click the “like” button. That’s why Bing did the right thing with their apology — they gave the full $100,000 they had pledged.
If you are going to give money, give money. If you want to donate profits from sales of your product, do that. All of those things are perfectly noble and acceptable. But exploiting victims of a terrible tragedy for your own marketing purposes is just reprehensible. These companies should be ashamed.
OK, now that that’s out of my system, I need to go pack. Since, you know, I have to get up in 5 hours to go the airport.
Since it’s been almost exactly a year since I updated this blog, I thought it was time to update my theme and say hi again. So… hi! It’s been a busy year full of work, travel, drinks, friends, and fun. Lots of things have changed in the world of online community and social media. We’ve got #NewTwitter (is anyone else surprised they haven’t forced that change on everyone yet?) and at least one new iteration of the Facebook profile. I actually really like the new profiles, and just today they’ve started rolling them out to Pages. We’ll see how that goes… I’m not totally sold on some of the new features yet.
When I started this blog, it was mostly to talk about online community and social media. I spend a lot of my time blogging and writing for my day job, and I knew I didn’t want (and frankly, couldn’t keep up with the demands of) a type of news site. What I wanted was a corner of the web that I could carve out for myself. A place to put my thoughts down (in a longer format than Facebook and Twitter allow) about things I find interesting in online community, social media, or whatever else comes my way. I didn’t think it was right to have a single-subject blog for myself… I generally don’t do well with restrictions, but more importantly, it just feels inauthentic to me. And if anything is true about community, it’s that one of the biggest sins is to be inauthentic. I am me, and that includes a lot of facets. I am passionate about my job in community and social media. But I also like to cook and travel and use technology and lots of other stuff. This blog is a little bit of everything about me for the same reason that I’ve never made different profiles/twitters/whatever for personal and professional uses. For the same reason that, even in the communities I run professionally, I’m known as “kellie”. Wherever I am, however I know you, you get me. All of the nerdy, complicated, silly, neurotic, hard-working, hard-playing, whatever that is who I am.
All of which is to say that I’m not going to be afraid to post more non-community & social media stuff here anymore. Speaking of…
One of the things I’ve become kind of addicted to this year is the show Glee. And one of the things that I like the most about the show is its treatment of fat characters. Now, the last time I wrote here it was about Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines’ “Customer of Size” policy. And while this is not going to turn into a blog about size issues (there are already many great onesout there) it is something that I notice and feel strongly about.
Mercedes, as played by Amber Riley
For those not familiar, one of the main characters in the show is Mercedes. She is a larger girl — certainly larger than most female characters in popular TV shows. Larger than the other women on Glee, at least until recently. And her size is really just never mentioned. Whether in street clothes, a costume for a performance, or a cheerleading outfit, it’s just no big deal. When she was on the cheerleading squad, there was no snickering or drama about the fat cheerleader. When all the female Glee club members are wearing the same thing, she’s right there with them. Not the knock-off, plus-sized version… the actual same thing. While that may not be very realistic, it’s fantastic to see this be a non-issue. In fact, Mercedes is one of the most fashionable characters on the show. (Seriously, how cute is that outfit?)
But it goes beyond that. In the Rocky Horror episode, she played Frank-N-Furter (the character played by Tim Curry in the movie). Which is just awesome right there. I mean, if you can’t have a little gender play in your Rocky Horror, what’s the point? Well, not only did she play the part, she was amazing. And she was wearing shiny pleather and fishnets.
Amber Riley as Mercedes as Frank-N-Furter
I mean, really. How often do you see a woman who is not TV-skinny in an outfit like this? And without even a smidgen of a mention of size? There was no “but what would I wear” or “is it too sexy” or whatever. There was no snickering about how she should not be wearing that. It just was. Without drama and without apology. She’s not treated like a fat character. She’s just treated like a person. How sad that this should be a revolutionary act, but there it is.
Another character has been introduced this season — Lauren. And she’s fat. What is sometimes referred to in size acceptance circles as deathfat. And given the generally great treatment of the Mercedes character, I had really high hopes for how they would treat Lauren. And while it’s not all bad, it’s not all good either.
Lauren is always eating. Always demanding food. It’s the running joke that’s just not funny to anyone — it’s either offensive or totally taken as a given (of course she eats everything that’s not nailed down!). She was given a box of chocolate for Valentine’s day, which she said was terrible, but ate all of. When asked about this, she said that she had to make sure they were all terrible. On the one hand, it’s so expected and typical and unimaginative that I almost can’t summon the energy to get upset about it. On the other hand, it’s really stereotypical and sad and offensive.
Ashley Fink as Lauren Zizes
But things are looking up for the treatment of Lauren. Well, sort of. One of the most popular guys in school is after her, and not on a dare or a prank. Lauren is about as confident in her body as any high schooler could possibly be, which is awesome. Lauren is not being cast as desperate for romantic attention, but instead as someone who is not willing to settle.
On the most recent episode, the glee club was singing love songs. Puck, the guy after Lauren, sang “Fat Bottomed Girls” to her. On the one hand… Queen! And an awesome song! On the other hand… WTF this is not a love song!! You barely need enough brain function to blink your eyes to make the connection fat girl + love song = Fat Bottomed Girls. Get it? She’s fat! So it’s perfect! Never mind that all the other girls get songs about how they are pretty and stuff. When the song was over, Lauren said it was the first time she’s been sung a love song, and it made her feel like crap. Which I totally got right away, but I doubt that most people did.
I want to be loved. Not in spite of my fat. Not because of it. But because I am me.
UPDATE: Both Kevin Smith and Southwest have made more blogs on this situation. Please see the end of the entry for the links and updates.
Many people have probably heard of Southwest’s controversial Customer of Size policy. And a lot of people have probably heard of the recent issues with Kevin Smith getting booted off of one of their planes for (according to them) violating this policy. Kevin laid out the entire story in a recent SModcast, but here are the highlights.
Kevin Smith is flying to Oakland for the day. He buys an extra seat because they are cheap, and he prefers not to have someone in the seat next to him. (I think anyone that has been on a plane can understand that feeling.) On the way home, he arrives early and asks to get bumped to an earlier flight, which is pretty common with Southwest. He gets put on standby for an earlier flight, and gets on it. However, there’s only one seat available for him, as it’s a nearly full flight. No problem, he says, I only really need one seat. He gets on the plane, buckles his seatbelt (no extender), puts the armrests down, and is approached by a flight attendant. The flight attendant pulls him aside to say that the captain has deemed him a risk because of his size. Despite falling within Southwest’s policy, he was not allowed to fly. Kevin tweets about it, and here we are.
If you’ve met me in person, or maybe seen photos of me, you know that I’m a large girl. This is a complex, and sometimes emotional situation, that I think has 3 separate facets. I want to look at it from all three.
The idea behind the policy sounds logical. You paid for a seat, you should have the space that you bought. It’s to make sure that other people are safe and comfortable. But while that sounds good in theory, there are several problems with it in execution.
First, I do think it’s discriminatory. I fly a decent amount (~25 times a year) and I have had to endure a lot in those flights. Just yesterday, I flew from JFK to SFO and sat next to a young man who had a wild time the night before. He smelled like booze and was clearly hungover. I’ve sat next to people with really bad body odor. I’ve sat next to drunk people (both that boarded the plane drunk and got drunk on the plane). I’ve sat next to chatty people who won’t shut up. I’ve sat next to babies with dirty diapers. I’ve sat next to kids who can’t sit still and smear jelly and other sticky snacks all over the place. I’ve seen people in wheelchairs, people who have casts, and other medical ailments. The point is that while some larger people do take up more than one seat, there are other behaviors, situations, and physical issues that also make people take up more than their allotted room, make passengers uncomfortable, and pose potential safety issues. Yet there are virtually no policies about people in those situations. And the policies that do exist focus on behavior (such as getting drunk before boarding a plane), not on physicality (people using crutches, etc). Large people are easy to spot, easy to single out, and don’t garner as much sympathy from people as someone who needs a wheelchair or crutches. We’re easy targets, both physically and morally.
And if you’re supposed to get all the square inches that you paid for, what about people who recline their seats? Seriously, I’ve had people in front of me recline their seat so far that I could do dental work on them. I’ve nearly had my laptop screen destroyed by people who recline suddenly and without regard to what is going on behind them. Their seat encroaches on the space I paid for, so by the same standard as the Customer of Size policy, the recline function on all seats should be disabled. (I actually do hate when the person in front of me reclines their seat, and I do think it should be disabled. But I know lots of people who vehemently defend their right to recline their seat. Probably some of the same people who would defend Southwest’s Customer of Size policy, which is interesting.)
Second, the policy leaves too much open to personal interpretation. It’s just too subjective. Many people fly on Southwest and are never approached by anyone asking them to buy a second seat or checking to see if they fall within the Customer of Size policy. And then one day *bam* they get hit with it. Whether they violate the policy or not, it starts with one employee’s judgement of that person, and whether to talk to them and investigate their size or not. A policy that starts with individual judgement cannot be uniformly enforced.
Third, and something that thin people probably don’t notice, is that not all seats, not all armrests, and especially not all seat belts are made equally. All three of the planes listed on SeatGuru (a site that helps you pick the best seat on the plane) show that the seats in the back of the plane are narrower than the seats toward the middle. What if a person fits in one of the seats toward the middle, but ends up sitting in the back of the plane and gets kicked off because of it? The armrests on exit row seating usually don’t lift up, and are instead a solid piece of plastic all the way to the bottom of the seat. This can make the seat narrower by a few inches. For some people, this is the tipping point. Finally, and the thing that is so wildly divergent, is the length of the seatbelts. It can vary from seat to seat on the same plane. I’ve had times where I can easily buckle the seat belt, and times where I struggle. You just never know what you’re going to get. I have an extender that I take with me just in case I need it simply for this reason — you just never know. But if your policy is predicated on seats, armrests, and seatbelts, how can that policy possibly be fair when all of these things vary depending on what seat you are in?
The Social Media & PR
Let’s turn from the policy aspect of what happened to how this is being played out online. I first learned about it because I follow Kevin Smith on Twitter. He was obviously angry and the tweets were hard-hitting and coming fast. As the main Twitter person for the SEGA US team, I know what it’s like to have angry customers coming out of nowhere on Twitter. I also know what it’s like to have that situation be something you didn’t know about, can’t control, and/or can’t discuss. So I have empathy for the woman that was on Twitter duty for Southwest when this thing blew up. I will say that I think she did a great job, quickly letting people know that she had seen the tweets, that she had read them all, and that a VP would be following up with Kevin Smith personally. (Whether that actually happened or not is another story. Last I heard, he says he has not been contacted.) But so many companies’ first instinct is to clam up and don’t say anything. No comment… a resounding silence while they scramble to work up a statement. Southwest jumped right into the fray to let people know that they heard and were aware. So thumbs up from me to Christi Day, the Southwest Twitter person, as I think she handled the situation as best she could as it was breaking.
Unfortunately, that’s where my thumbs stop pointing upward and start pointing downward. Southwest then issued a statement (I don’t really think you can call it an apology) on their Nuts About Southwest blog. Straight from the title, I think it’s a little disingenuous. I get that Southwest likes to be quirky and put personality into what they do. But there’s a time and a place, and this is not it. Making a joke upfront just says that you don’t take the situation very seriously. Especially when the joke is somewhat of a negative play on the person that you’re supposedly apologizing to. Yes, Kevin Smith’s character is of Silent Bob. But using “Not So Silent Bob” as your headline implies that he’s being a loudmouth… which is true, but probably not an insinuation it’s okay for Southwest to make. The rest of the statement is just a classic non-apology apology. It’s a “We’re sorry” followed by all the reasons that what they did was right and justified.
I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes there, obviously. I am friends with Paula Berg, who until recently was the leader of the PR/blog/community/social media team at Southwest. She is a good and reasonable person who is very knowledgeable about this stuff and really does care about customers. So I do know that not all Southwest people (or at least former Southwest people) are bad. I also know what it’s like to have to stand behind a company statement or communication strategy that you don’t agree with. So I don’t assume that Christi Day (who wrote the Southwest blog entry and manages their Twitter feed) wrote or agrees with that blog, even though her name is on it. I’m guessing that the statement was scrutinized, agonized, modified, and approved by several people before being given to her to post. And it’s a shame, because it’s a sharp downturn from the positive (well, as positive as it could be) trajectory that she started on via Twitter.
I hope Southwest can go back to a proactive, people-oriented, customer-centric path in resolving this issue. I’m not sure that anything they could do would make Kevin Smith (or lots of other people) fly their airline again, but they have got to try. Stop trying to defend yourself and start making bold moves to take care of your customer, and by extension all of your fans and customers.
Anyone who has met me in person knows that I’m a large girl. So I understand all too well the emotional and personal aspect of this issue. I have never been subjected to Southwest’s Customer of Size policy, but honestly I try to avoid Southwest because I figure it’s just a matter of time before I’m asked to demonstrate that I fit within their policy.
There is no one way to be fat. It’s easy to lump all fat people together as the same thing, but it’s just not true. My wife is about the same weight as me, but we carry it totally differently. I have wide hips. I generally wear tops that are 1-2 sizes smaller than my pants. I never have problems with things fitting over my neck, shoulders, or arms. I always seem to have a hard time with things fitting over my hips. I am pear shaped, and I carry my weight on the bottom. My wife is apple shaped and carries a lot of weight in her arms and upper body. She worries about necklaces being too small and sleeves being too tight. Consequently, although we weigh about the same, she rarely has a problem with seat belts and arm rests, and I am more likely to. Even in the fat world, we come in all shapes and sizes.
In his podcast, Kevin Smith said that as a fat person, you have to navigate the world differently. And it’s so true. You always have to think a few steps ahead. And almost nothing is as easy or simple as it should be. I am constantly aware of my size — getting into a car, riding a crowded bus, or trying to get in an elevator. There’s always a thought of disaster in the back of my mind. What if I sit down on that chair and it breaks? (I saw it happen to someone once… they sat down on a wooden folding chair and it crumbled to the ground. My heart broke because I know that’s the nightmare scenario.) Even simple things like fashion are complicated, because there are only 4 stores in the entire city of San Francisco where I can buy clothes. So if I’m told that I need something at the last minute, even if it’s fairly basic, it’s a mad scramble to find it. If I show up to an event and someone hands me a T-shirt to wear, there’s a good chance that it will be too small. (Especially when the largest size is a large.) It’s just always something.
When you’re not dealing with that, you’re dealing with people constantly judging you. It honestly gets a bit tiring to hear how if I would just put down the Big Mac and pick up a carrot everything would be fine. If it was that easy, don’t you think we would all do it? And just like there’s no one way to be fat, there’s no one way to get there, either. Yes, some people do over eat and under exercise. But some people (like me) have medical conditions that lead to larger frames. Some people (like me) have genes that pre-dispose them to being overweight. Some people have had to take medicines that cause weight gain. I shouldn’t need to pull out the medical condition card to make it okay or excuse my size. And people really need to stop assuming that I’m fat because I eat an entire buffet table twice a day. I’ve had people moo at me when I’m exercising. I’ve had medical technicians take my blood pressure 5 times in a row because they just can’t believe that it’s lower than the standard for normal. I’ve had waitresses passive-aggressively bring me diet soda when I asked for regular. Some days, it feels like the whole world is against you, and it’s not paranoia if they really are after you.
If we’re going to focus on health (which I think we should), then let’s do that. But the first step is to get rid of the ridiculous notion that skinny = healthy. As big as I am, I have none of the medical conditions that one assumes I have because of my size. As I mentioned, my blood pressure is below the standard for normal. My cholesterol is fine. My blood sugar is rock solid. Except for a few minor things (that are in no way caused by my weight), I’m healthy. But I’m not skinny. If I stopped eating, started purging, or got addicted to crack, I could get skinny. But would that mean I’m healthier? Uh, nope… I’d be less healthy. We need to focus on helping people be healthy regardless of their size.
This opens the door to a whole other complicated set of issues. I won’t get into them here, but they include access to healthy food (something my friend Kristie just did an amazing video/blog on when she tried to find healthy food in her district in Boston), designing cities and neighborhoods to be walking-friendly instead of relying on cars, and eliminating discrimination in health care. I am lucky that I live in a place where I have access to fresh organic produce and the money to purchase it. I live in a city that’s fairly friendly to walkers and outdoor exercisers. I have health insurance and can pick a doctor who listens to me and understands me. Not everyone is so lucky. If we really want to solve the problem instead of just bitching, judging, and pointing fingers at people, these are the things we need to start working on.
Finally, there’s the issue of dignity. Kevin Smith said this in his podcast, and it really struck a nerve with me because it’s so true. As fat people, we are constantly being put down, made fun of, and generally told how awful we are as people. But when you’ve been humiliated — be it from someone mooing at you on the street, a chair breaking under you, or getting kicked off of an airplane — you have two choices. You can go in the bathroom and cry, or you can own the moment. And at the end of the day, for your own sanity, dignity, and self-esteem… you HAVE TO own it. I know that it can’t be easy for Kevin Smith to share his Southwest story, no matter how much he makes jokes about it. I heard the story at the end of his podcast about the girl he sat next to on his flight home and it broke my heart, too. I can’t imagine what it’s like to see news stories, comments, and headlines about such an embarrassing and humiliating moment, and about something so personal. It reminds me of Joy Nash and her great series of Fat Rant videos, particularly from the video below. She said that fat hate is one of the only forms of prejudice where the people being subjected to it think they are getting exactly what they deserve. And it’s so true.
I know that this was somewhat of an epic and wandering tome. But it’s a complicated issue that needs to be dealt with from a few different angles. I hope that Southwest revises their unfair and poorly implemented policy. I hope they get back on a customer-centric communications strategy that gives them a chance to turn this into a huge positive for everyone. I hope that people start focusing on issues of health instead of just painting all fat people with the same brush of ignorance. I know that the internet affords anonymity that people use to say whatever mean and hateful thing wanders through their mind and out their fingers. I ask you all to please be better than that. Please treat others with the dignity and respect that all people deserve.
Southwest rep Linda Rutherford finally reached Kevin Smith to talk about the issue. Unfortunately, from what I can tell by reading the blogs on both sides, Southwest is closer but not quite there in terms of making it right.
Kevin’s blog says that Linda did actually sincerely apologize, and admitted that the situation was handled poorly. He says that she also told him that the pilot did not single him out as a safety risk or ask that he be removed from the flight. She said she would update the blog, and all he asked for was that Southwest admit the mistake that they made, and tell the truth that he was not “too fat to fly”.
Linda’s blog says that the captain did not make the judgement call to remove him, and that their staff made a “quick judgement call” that he “might have needed more than one seat”. But she never says that they were wrong, or that he was in fact NOT in violation of their policy. (Something that would have taken ~ 30 seconds to verify.) And then basically reiterates their policy again, and that they stand by it. Like Christi earlier, Linda apparently started off well, and then couldn’t quite stick the landing. All Kevin wanted was for Southwest to admit that they were wrong, and say so in public. Which is really not that much to ask.
Remember earlier when I talked about dignity, self-esteem and needing to own the moment? I think we can all agree that Kevin Smith has a healthy self-esteem and confidence. And he’s not been shy in owning this and discussing it. But I suspected how much it hurt to talk about this experience and have it splashed all over the news, even though it was important. Well, Kevin ends his blog entry talking about “grasping at dignity straws” and how this is going to haunt him for the rest of his life. Even for someone as self-confident and self-actualized about his physical being as Kevin is, there are still deep-running emotions here. These types of situations leave lasting scars.
I’m going to be presenting at NewComm Forum 2010! My session is on April 21st and is about corporate uses of Twitter. If you’ve been thinking about coming to the conference, which is April 20 – 23rd in San Mateo, CA, I’ve got a discount for you.
One of the questions that I get asked most often about SEGA’s community outreach is how we build and maintain our Twitter audience. My first and best piece of advice is to have a conversation, not just push marketing out to them. Notice the “just” in that last sentence — we do push marketing, either in direct tweets or through linking people back to our blog. We are giving updates on our games and corporate activities. But we also re-tweet fan photos, tweet about fun stuff going on in our office (free donuts!) and sometimes not-so-fun stuff (another fire drill!). We reply to most everyone, even when the answer is “I’m sorry, I can’t answer that”. We try to be as, well, human as possible.
But the program that helps us grow the most, and most community managers are interested in, is Free Stuff Friday. It started as a way to get rid of swag that was for older games that was just going to be thrown away, as it had little PR value. We started rescuing these items because we couldn’t bear for them to be thrown out. We needed to do something with all of this, so we started the Free Stuff Friday program. It’s been wildly successful, and has gone from a way to get rid of stuff to a planned part of our strategies.
How the Giveaways Work
The SEGA Twitter feed is run by the community teams in the US (that’s my team) and the UK. We each update the feed during our normal business hours. In order to make the administration of the giveaways easier, as well as give more opportunity for people around the world to participate, the US and UK team alternate Free Stuff Friday weeks. Last week’s giveaway was done my me during US business hours, and tomorrow’s giveaway will be done by the UK team during their business hours. There are generally 6 prizes per day. For each giveaway, we’ll tweet an item, a number, and a phrase. For example: “Giveaway! Sonic the Hedgehog T-Shirt, size L. 5th person to DM “Sonic rules” wins!” And, as you would expect, the 5th person to DM “sonic rules” to us will win the shirt. We follow everyone who follows us, so all of our followers can send us DMs.
Where We Get Stuff From
The items that we give away really come from all over. Some things were created for promotional use and we get some of those. Sometimes we partner with other organizations, and we get free items through that. (For example, in the video I have below, I’m showing off some shirts and coupons that we got from Chiquita through our partnership with them on Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll.) Sometimes we get samples and other items from our licensing group, who handles relationships to get Sonic on a t-shirt, for example. We sometimes give away copies of games. We also sometimes pick stuff up on our own to give away. For example, one of our community managers was in Chicago over the winter break and found some old SEGA Visions magazines at a retro games store there. So he bought them, and we gave them away. As you can imagine, we get a diverse pool of prizes because of this, but I think that keeps it fresh and interesting for our followers.
The Preview Video
To promote the week’s giveaways, my team makes a video each week to show off what we’re giving away. It’s also a chance for our community to see and hear us, and that makes us more human. We’re not the big bad faceless corporation, we’re people.
We generally do the videos in one take. This is mostly because I am not a very skilled video editor. But it’s also because the video is supposed to be a little homemade looking. It’s not supposed to be a slick, shiny trailer-style video because that might make it seem less authentic. We generally leave the camera running while we are setting up and deciding who is going to say what about which item. We’ve captured some really funny moments by doing this. Then we film the main segment, where we describe the items. Finally, we’ll leave the camera running while we’re done if we’re still milling around playing with the items or if we’re in need of anything funny.
In terms of editing the video, I use iMovie on my Mac at home. I put some titles on it, put some titles at the end with some music, and add a funny (we hope) bit at the end just to leave people with a laugh. Sometimes they are outtakes, sometimes they are jokes… whatever we had that week.
Here’s the video that we did for last week, and this is fairly typical of our videos.
We upload these videos to our YouTube account. We also blog them, and that blog link gets sent to our Twitter feed. We were putting the blog link on our Facebook page for a while, but we found that our Facebook fans (at least the vocal ones) had some animosity toward Twitter, so we stopped.
Once we started doing these giveaways, word spread pretty quickly. We started gaining lots of new followers. We’ve been doing these giveaways for about a year now, and we typically gain 500 – 1000 new followers per week. And although I have no metrics to back it up, I feel pretty confident that we get more new followers on Fridays than any other day. The giveaways are a win for everyone — our fans get some free stuff, we have an outlet to create content and connect more directly with our followers, and we have a way to giveaway stuff that’s of little value to the company but tremendous value to our community. It takes just a few hours of my time every other week, and we see tremendous return on that investment.
How You Can Implement This
Not every company has fun T-shirts or toys to giveaway, and I understand that. But nearly every company has a product. And nearly every company has people who are fans of it. Even just your company logo on a keychain will excite people. But do you have free product you can pass out? Can you feature someone on your website? Basically… what can you give back to your fans? I’m sure if you think about it, you’ll come up with a few things you can give away.
Take these ideas and make them your own. Mold them to the needs of your company and your fans. But it’s a way to use Twitter that’s made us pretty popular with our own fans, so I wanted to share this great idea.
I am happy to answer questions about our Free Stuff Friday giveaways in the comments, so please ask away!
I know it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, and I sincerely apologize for that. It’s not that there’s been no news that has grabbed my attention, it’s just that it’s sometimes hard to carve out a cohesive idea and blog post based on news or an article when all I want to do at the end of the day is lay on my couch and watch American Idol.
That said, I do have some updates! First, I’ve added some new speaking engagements for 2010. I’ll be at the New Communications Forum in San Mateo from April 20-23rd, and at the Social Media and Community 2.0 Strategies conference in Boston from May 3-5th. To see all about my past (and future) speaking engagements, including quotes from conference participants and video, head over to the speaking page.
If you’re planning to attend the Social Media and Community 2.0 Strategies conference but haven’t registered yet, I’ve got a discount code for you! Just use the code SOCIAL10KP when you register for the conference. Hope to see you there!
You’ve probably seen them all over Facebook or Twitter. It seems like nearly every other person these days is calling themselves a “social media expert” with little to nothing to back it up. They have no professional work experience in community or social media. (And no academic education either, because it doesn’t exist.) Their main qualification is that they have a blog, a twitter account, and 500 Facebook friends. It’s annoying, and frankly it’s insulting, to someone like me with over 10 years in the business.
In my reading the other day, I came across a link to this article on Social Media Explorer by Jason Falls. It’s about the explosion of so-called “social media experts”, and Jason’s opinion is that we all just need to get off our high horses and stop being worried about them and what they are doing to our industry. And I don’t think he could be more wrong.
I’ve never really been engaged in a serious business conversation with one of these folks, as I’m usually pretty good at scaring them off once they realize that I actually do know what I’m talking about. But I’ve always imagined the conversation to go something like it does in this video.
Jason opens his article by asking “can we please get off the ego-driven, high-horse pedestal and shut the hell up about “social media gurus?” to which I can only answer… NO. Because this is important.
These so-called experts are giving all of us a bad name. The problem stems from the same problem that caused them to want to hire an expert in the first place. They don’t understand social media. At all. So they don’t know what to look for in an expert. I mean, I don’t know a thing about accounting, so I doubt that I’d make a great hiring decision on our next corporate accountant. So they hire an “expert” that looks good on paper (and the internet), and uses all the exciting buzzwords. And they probably do a few things — make a Facebook page, set up a Twitter account — and that’s it. The company may or may not feel ripped off… but they basically were. These “experts” are preying on people’s inexperience with social media and their fear of getting it wrong (because they’ve seen others do a big painful bellyflop and want to avoid that at all costs).
Jason’s point is that we shouldn’t attacking (or in his words, “whining” about) these people because they are young and trying to make their way in the world. Well, yes but no. In some ways, the influx of “experts” is inevitable because there is huge demand to hire people who are knowledgeable about social media, but there’s no formal education in the field. You can’t (to my knowledge, and I’d love to know about it if I’m wrong) get a college degree in online community or social media. The only way to get experience is to do some stuff ad-hoc (be a moderator on someone else’s forums, for example) or to get on-the-job experience. Take that small bit of experience and combine it with the hiring manager’s inexperience with social media, and you get where we are. So I don’t mind young people trying to make an honest start into the field. In fact, I try to help them along as much as I can. But I think a lot of these “experts” aren’t trying to make an honest start into the field, they are trying to make a quick buck preying on inexperience and fear. I also have an issue with taking on the label “expert” right out of the gate. It was only after 10 years of experience that I started to feel comfortable with that label. Thinking you’re an expert because you have 500 Facebook friends is like me saying I’m a doctor because I’ve seen every episode of ER. It just doesn’t work that way.
So how do we solve this problem? There are a lot of components, and it’s more complex than it seems.
1. Academic education. We need to start seeing actual academic degree programs on an undergraduate level, so that young people can get the background they need to make a solid start in the industry. I have beaten this drum often before, but it’s because I think it’s so important and nobody else is talking about it. The program could probably take from existing business, public relations, and marketing courses, but will need some custom-designed courses. Things like reputation systems and metrics could make for whole courses in and of themselves. Until we start giving people proper education and training for the jobs that are out there in community and social media, they will continue to invent their experiences out of thin air to compensate.
2. Corporate education. Someone, somewhere in every organization needs to know enough about community and social media to make a good hiring decision. They don’t have to be experts, but they need to know enough to spot the actual expert in a field of bullshit buzzword artists. Companies need to stop hiring the first person that sounds like they know what they are talking about because they are so afraid of doing nothing. Until companies stop hiring these “experts”, they will continue to burn companies and sour them on the idea of social media expertise at all.
3. Mentoring programs. Until we do implement the academic programs needed to make this career path sustainable in the future, we need to do something with the new people filling the demand for social media expertise today. Because there is no formal education available in the field, most people’s stories start like mine, with “I fell into it by accident when…”. We all have to start somewhere and climb our way up, and we’re working without a net in this industry. The more experienced among us need to work with people who are just starting out to help them get established, get experience, and get a solid foundation that will serve them (and their employers) well into the future. Until we start sharing our knowledge and experience with up-and-comers in the industry, we won’t have any growth of actual experts in the field. And that hurts all of us in the long run.
4. Certification program. I was at the Online Community Summit last week. During lunch, I was sitting with a group of friends that I do consider to be experts in this field, and the conversation turned to all of these faux experts. One of the things proposed to help solve the problem was some sort of certification system whereby people get accredited as experts (or knowledgeable or whatever) and can use that as currency when interviewing for a job or taking on new clients. I think that this idea has a lot of potential, but also a lot of pitfalls. It would be great to have something that companies and hiring managers can see and rely on when hiring someone. It would also help up-and-comers have something solid to put on their resume. And it’s a decent stand-in for pre-employment education. But who oversees and administers the program? How to they and the program gain the respect necessary for the certification to carry real weight and meaning? These are all things that would need to be worked out.
So yes, I do think that the influx of social media “experts” is bad for our industry. That someone with so little experience calls themselves an “expert” is insulting to the years I and many others have worked in this industry. That companies are falling for their schtick is a big problem. I agree that we can’t be afraid of the new wave of people in this fast-growing industry, but I think that us first-wavers have an obligation to differentiate actual experience and expertise from anecdotal expertise. I also think we have an obligation to continue making the pathway more smooth for others who follow in our footsteps.
I was in the doctor’s office last week (I injured my shoulder) browsing the magazines, and the cover story of The Economist caught my eye. The story was “Sex Laws: Unjust and Ineffective” and it’s an in-depth look at how we classify and punish sex offenders in this country. And, as the title suggests, we don’t do it that well.
As I mentioned in a previous entry, I have a BA in Criminal Justice. Although it’s not the main focus of my work these days, I maintain more than a passing interest in the issues regarding the law, the courts, and the prison system.
It’s never been popular to be against sex offender laws. Certainly, no politician could ever get elected (or re-elected) by being against them. But thankfully I am not a politician. And I am, for the most part, against the current laws most states have regarding sex offenders.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of terrible stories about children being harmed by real predators — including Megan Kanka (for whom Megan’s Law is named after) and Adam Walsh. But just as real are the stories of people who are branded sex offenders for what most people would believe are minor offenses. According to the Economist:
A report by Sarah Tofte of Human Rights Watch, a pressure group, found that at least five states required men to register if they were caught visiting prostitutes. At least 13 required it for urinating in public (in two of which, only if a child was present). No fewer than 29 states required registration for teenagers who had consensual sex with another teenager. And 32 states registered flashers and streakers.
These are not violent offenders. These people are not harming others. And they are certainly not harming children. Yet most people automatically assume that all sex offenders are violent child rapists and molesters. And why wouldn’t people paint all sex offenders with the same big brush? Their government and laws certainly do. Again from the Economist:
The Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board, an official body, assessed a sample of offenders on the registry last year and concluded that 65% of them posed little threat. Another 30% were potentially threatening, and 5% were clearly dangerous.
Yet there they all are, lumped into one big pile and treated as if they are all the same. And in most states (and thanks to a 2006 law passed by the US Congress, soon all states) these registries are available online for anyone to peruse, map, and generally freak out over. This is also ultimately ineffective. More from the Economist:
Publicly accessible sex-offender registries are intended to keep people safe. But there is little evidence that they do. A study by Kristen Zgoba of the New Jersey Department of Corrections found that the state’s system for registering sex offenders and warning their neighbours cost millions of dollars and had no discernible effect on the number of sex crimes. Restricting where sex offenders can live is supposed to keep them away from potential victims, but it is doubtful that this works. A determined predator can always catch a bus.
So, at this point you’re probably asking yourself why, outside of just stating my opinion, this is on my blog. It’s because of all the hysteria surrounding sex offenders on social networks like Facebook and MySpace. It’s about Facebook removing registered sex offenders from its registrations. Which, on the surface, sounds like a good idea. We want to keep kids safe online, right?
Well, no. Because again, it’s very easy to get on the registered sex offender list for something as simple as urinating in public. And most of the offenses that land a person on the sex offenders list have nothing to do with children. And most of the people on sex offender lists pose little threat.
But it’s more than that. The bias and fear-mongering are right there in the words they use to describe the situation and the reasoning for it. From MSNBC:
“The message … is [that] Facebook has an equal stake in solving this problem of protecting children,” said Blumenthal, who along with North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has led an effort remove sex offenders from the social networking Web sites.”They have an equal stake in the predator problem and its solution.”
What they won’t tell you is that registered sex offenders make up approximately the same percentage of Facebook and MySpace registration databases as they do the general population. Barring all registered sex offenders from social media won’t protect children any more than requiring someone who was caught visiting a prostitute to live 1000 feet away from a school protects children. But none of that sounds like good PR.
I think we all genuinely want to keep children safe from predators. But we have to do what reasoned research tells us is right, instead of taking the shotgun approach that we have in the last few years. We need to act logically, not out of panic or outrage. Treating all registered sex offenders like lepers and cutting them off from the online world is just not the best way to achieve the goal, and it’s incredibly unfair to the people who get lumped in along the way.