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Friday, June 11, 2010

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Reputation: Safeguarding Your Equity in Social Media

I don't like to blog too much about blogging anymore. The focus of this journal is life, not the lens through which I observe it. But I'm still passionately interested in the evolution of this medium, and I do love a lively conversation about it. There's one going on right now at Liz Gumbinner's site, which has become a go-to source for great commentary. I've come to think of Liz's site as a favorite trade journal. Blogher, my advertising network of choice, is another.

The piece is in response to a recent post on Blogher that seemed to suggest it's a blog-eat-blog world out here. I read it when it came out, and as I wrote in Liz's comments, I thought, I must be on some other internet. It hasn't been my experience, nor has it been Liz's. The gap in perception reminded me of the complaining that has become kind of a tradition after each annual Blogher conference. There are always those who have had such a miserable time, you have to wonder if they were at the same event as everyone else.

That horse has been pretty well beaten to death by now, and I won't whip it again here, except to say, above the bottom three tiers of the human needs pyramid, people pretty much get to create their own reality. It kills me to see people entering themselves in a contest in their own minds, and then declaring themselves the biggest losers. Please don't do ever do that to yourself. If you are new to blogging, or to conferences, or really, just about anything, don't set yourself up for a terrible experience with unrealistic expectations and unfair comparisons. Don't exhaust your spirit trying to break into established social media networks. Work on building a new one instead, and don't use the popularity contest as your blueprint. Reach out, not up.

Some sabotage themselves by completely overlooking the social part of social media. As I said in Liz's comments, relationships are what make this world go 'round. Yes, there are some schemers, cutthroats and cheaters. But this is one sphere in which karma is accelerated. I wish we talked about reputation half as much as we discuss brand. Think of traffic and followers as the stock portion of your social media portfolio, and reputation as the bond. A good reputation is not as thrilling as thousands of hits or followers. There's no site meter to track credibility, honesty, kindness, generosity or reliability. And yet those assets are the equity that will sustain you over the long haul. They may not be what advertisers look at (though they should be), but they are what your peers in social media look at when deciding if it is safe to invest in you.

I am the last person in the world qualified to preach on manners. I am absent-minded, frequently pre-occupied, and sometimes just plain thoughtless. Nobody's perfect, and I don't expect perfect behavior from anybody. But in social media, in particular, because there's not much else to go on, good behavior matters. Certain things raise a flag with me. Play the victim much or attack others with your tweets? Flag. Passive-aggressive updates? Flag. Repurpose something I shared with you, and don't mention its provenance? Flag. Quick to take offense where none was intended? Flag. Defensive? Testy? Catty? Flag, flag, flag. (No flags for unfollows/unfriending by the way--everyone gets a pass on that with me. I assume you have your reasons.)

Not one, or even a couple of those kinds of things gets a conviction in my book. But string more than couple together, and they make me go hmm. In the big, little town that is social media, even a small-time blogger like me, with readers in the hundreds, not thousands, can have some influence. Not to break or make a career; no Colbert bumps here. I can't convince anyone, no matter how much may they like me, to create an opportunity for someone where none exists. But sometimes, even a small-time blogger like me can help connect people with an opportunity that does exist. And enough mental flags around a name will keep me from suggesting it. Not out of retribution; but out of vigilance for my own reputation.

It seems like all this would go without saying. I'm sure for most it does. Yet everyday I see people throwing away goodwill, damaging their reputations, and draining their own social equity in ways that their site meter will never reveal to them. Opportunities missed that they'll never know were so close. Maybe the very kind of opportunity they were scrambling toward over somebody else's back, or spewing jealousy about.

And I hate that for them. Because believe it or not, most of us want each other to succeed. If this is a contest, it's a relay race on field day. Plenty of prizes for everyone, and nobody wins on their own.



Blogger Mom101 said...

"I wish we talked about reputation half as much as we discuss brand."

This is wonderful in a million ways.

I've always tried to be a glass half full gal myself; not everyone is. Maybe that's where the discrepancies in perception come in.

12:18 PM  
Blogger mothergoosemouse said...

There are far too many parts of this post that I absolutely love for me to quote them all.

Suffice it to say, your wise words here are why I gravitate toward you and my other friends and acquaintances I've met through this medium.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Adventures In Babywearing said...

You have said so many things that are in my head right now- I say right on and almost copy/pasted the paragraph to quote you again here (about the whole absent-minded/manners, etc- this is me, too!)

Basically... ME TOO.

And yes- you have finally said the word that scratches The itch- reputation, reputation, reputation.


12:48 PM  
Blogger Mike Mueller said...

The new communication paradigm (fueled by technology) is about openness, honesty, and collaboration--from corporations down to individuals bloggers. Your reputation hinges on the attitude that nothing and no one is too big to fall...or too small to make a difference. Just my two cents.

Kudos to you, my friend.

1:25 PM  
Blogger sweetsalty kate said...

I love this - but feel a need to pipe up and add that brand *is* reputation. Allow me to riff a bit, and know that it's not prompted by you but by the tone of what I've read lately.

The vast majority of people don't understand what branding is, or how it's interpreted in social media. So they insist that branding will turn the internet into a commercialized dystopia, that branding + social media = selling oneself and tweet-pimping, that brand is unchecked ego at the expense of authenticity.

All of this makes for lusty manifestos. It gives those people who don't understand the concept a rallying cry, a springboard from which to declare themselves above such contrivances. But none of it is true. Branding is not a contrivance. It is none of the above. Branding is personality and clarity of voice and the result of behaviour that aligns with aspirations. It doesn't mean that you're false or boring or restricted or 'the same as everybody else'. Branding is exactly the opposite.

I'm droning on now but all this is to say that I love your thoughts on it:

" social media, in particular... there's not much else to go on, good behavior matters."

This IS branding. A big part of it, in this context. Great post, Kyran.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Kate is a smartypants.

I feel too not smart to be on this thread.

1:40 PM  
Blogger sweetsalty kate said...

Ha ha, Liz. You have no idea. I've been to your post, like, ten times. And it's great but I have nothing to add beyond plentiful nods. And so ten times I've had to restrain myself from adding this comment:

'But it IS a competition. For who has the best tits. Right? Wait. I'm confused.'


1:51 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Kate, I agree it's all of a piece. Perhaps I should have said I wish we discussed reputation half as much as we ARGUE about branding. I may never come around entirely on the word, branding, but I'm 100% on board with the concept.

Also, can "Lusty Manifesto" be the name of our grunge chick band?


1:54 PM  
Blogger rachel said...

Too much great stuff here for me to pick one thing to quote! It saddens me how often blogging is "competitive": bloggers who are generous with kudos, linking, publicising others in their field are the ones that catch my eye most often...

2:07 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Amen. I added my two cents to the discussion on Mom101 yesterday so I'm not going to rehash that here, but I love your sentiments.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Gerbera Daisy Mom said...

Bravo Kyran!
I'm afraid to say anything more, for fear of sounding stupid...but...I don't have time to play "mean girl" on social media or to compete -- I just want a place where I can share my love of books, talk about what I check out at the library and hope someone reads something I recommend and says, "thank you -- that was great!" I feel there is a huge amount of pressure in the "book blog world" to have challenges and X number of books you need to read in a weekend, or the number of authors you need to interview. Geesh people -- I have three kids I adore, a husband that hung the moon, a job I love (I won't mention PTA, I could do without that) -- and on the side, I like to read in a big, oversized chair. That is enough for me.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

OMG, I must be pms'ing but your last line just made me teary eyed! Such a perfect analogy though!!!!!

2:47 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Harper said...

This is probably my favorite post that you've written Kryan and I've thought more than a few were outstanding.

REally well done!

5:49 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Harper said...

So sorry about misspelling your name, it's late, I'm tired and a little careless. :-(

5:52 PM  
Blogger Busy Working Mama said...

Maybe I'm missing the whole competitive aspect and if so, THANK GOD. I have only even tried to help fellow bloggers (despite being new myself) and if I'm pissy or cranky and about to write a blog post...I step back. No one wants to read that crap. I know I don't want to read crank/nastiness on other sites - I get enough at work! Blogging is my hobby, a break from the 8-5 life! So...thank you for your post and thank you for making me see I'm clearly following/reading the right, happy, helpful people :) TGIF!

7:16 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

Fabulous post! I have really been thinking about quality over quantity lately and while it can be a quieter road, I prefer it. This is my first visit to your blog. I'll definitely be back.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Busy Mom said...

I'm puzzled why reputation isn't talked about or even noticed in some situations.

There are times where I feel I'm the only one with my mouth agape as I am implored to heed the wise counsel of someone who is, let's say...ill behaved.

7:44 PM  
Blogger The Ertl Family said...

I loved this post. As I'm a relatively new blogger (I got started earlier this year), I greatly appreciated the positive thoughts you have and are sharing on it all. I especially enjoyed, and will remember for myself, "Reach out, not up." Have a great day!

10:23 PM  
Blogger Angelynn said...

This was a wonderful post to read. Big thanks to @schmutzie for pointing me to your site. I'm relatively new to blogging and Twitter. My readers aren't even in the hundreds, and posts like this confirm what I've come to doesn't matter. I love connecting with people. Like you said, "Reach out, not up."

11:59 PM  
Blogger Neil said...

I have been thinking about this post all night, and I feel like adding my two cents, even when I don't have a clear-cut idea of what I would like to say. I guess I still don't quite get this subject. Don't most of us read blogs from writers we find interesting? How does reputation come to play? Do we only interact with nice people? I know many terrific writers who are complete jerks, and some wonderful people with boring blogs. Are we talking about "professional reputation?" Those interested in professional writing vs. those interested in traditional mommyblogging? Are we talking about tone? Political commentary vs. crazy humor ala The Bloggess?

Maybe this subject makes me uneasy because I am not sure of my own reputation. Do I have one? I act like I would probably act in the real world, with some exaggeration because of the creative nature of the beast. If I would be controlling my brand or reputation, then I would not be the real me.

I agree with one of the commenters who said that there is too much negativity and drama online. But, as we all know, that is part of life as well. I actually prefer reading about real life angst than seeing another blog post with photos of perfect families shot like in a glossy magazine. If everyone is going to be worrying about their reputations -- and only want to show the positive side to themselves under the guise of being "uplifting" -- then won't the life be sucked out of blogging?

Of course, if by reputation we are talking about how we interact with each other, that is a different matter. I just hope that people can make the distinction between writing and personal interaction. Someone who writes murder mysteries can be a tea-loving kindly grandmother in real life. And some spiritual guru can be sleeping with his young female followers.

So, what reputation are we talking about -- that of creative content or that of personal behavior?

12:54 AM  
Blogger Mariellen said...

Great post, and oh, so timely!

4:36 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Neil, to be clear, this is not about being "nice." The world is full of "nice" people I wouldn't trust as far as I could throw. Some pretty sketchy behavior has come from those who radiate nothing but sunshine on their blogs.

This is about trust between colleagues. There is the issue of trust and expectations between a writer and her audience, which is how I understand "brand," but that's not my focus here.

As a reader, I don't care if you are a sumbitch who is rotten to his family and cheats everyone he meets. My relationship is with the writing, not with the writer.

But here in new media, the reader-writer relationship isn't always vertical. I may be your audience, but I am also your colleague. Our lateral interactions are the connective tissue of social media. When I link to you, when I suggest you for a media or pr opportunity, or when I otherwise endorse you, that's when reputation comes into play. Just as if I was recommending you to someone in any traditional media or industry -- to the best of my knowledge, are you of good character? "Nice" has nothing to do with it. Yes, it's about professionalism. If you don't care about professionalism, fine, but then don't lament that professional opportunities don't come your way.

Now, maybe yours is such a unique genius that I can say, he's a royal pain in the ass and totally insane, but well worth the possible trouble of being unpredictable/backstabbing/difficult to deal with. Wouldn't we all like to be exempted on those grounds?

But only the very, very gifted are, and even they can only take that free pass so far. I wouldn't recommend anybody count on it.

In other words, stay classy. ;-)

9:15 AM  
Blogger Amy B. said...

I have to agree with what Kate said.

I almost didn't chime in, because since branding and reputation management and community building and all those buzzwords du jour is what I do for a living, it could come off as self-serving. But call it what you will. Pick whatever buzzword offends you the least. Every last bit of it is branding. Deciding what to wear in the morning and whether or not you'll put on makeup is branding. So is deciding how you will raise you children. Basically, discovering who you are, spelling it out, and then living by that is branding.

When your branding doesn't match your true self -- whether it's the way you present yourself to your friends or your professional branding in the online space -- that's when BS detectors go off. Once you create that disconnect, you sink your reputation. And as Kyran put it so well, in the end, it's the reputation that matters.

But I think for many women the discomfort is when branding is the first step in marketing. (Branding can happen without marketing, but marketing can't happen without branding.) Yes, we feel discomfort in marketing ourselves. But let's face it, we also get flat-out angry and jealous sometimes when we watch other women market themselves well and -- heaven forbid -- get famous or rich in the process.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Branding is just one component to a more complete marketing strategy.

But all too often these days, it is seen as a destination in and of itself, while ignoring other components of sound marketing strategy.

Branding is should be subservient to marketing, not the other way around.

10:41 PM  
Blogger sarabethjones said...

Very late to this - read your post a couple of days ago and it keeps coming to mind. I think the part that is sticking with me most is the part about our ability to create our own reality (in certain areas)...

I have come to understand this to be true more and more the older I get - and it's such a lovely lesson to learn. Thanks for saying all you said here so well.

11:29 PM  
Blogger JCK said...

Beautifully said!

11:02 PM  

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