Online Bully Defense

Yesterday I wrote about how one’s email address has become their online identity. As I think about online identity, it occurs to me that a difference in strength of identity might be enabling online bullies. Just as a physical bully seizes initiative to exploit another’s physical weakness & lack of vigilance, online bullies can operate in the same way. If your whole online life revolves around one site, and the bully has a stronger presence, bullying is enabled. It’s a difference in strength of online presence and reputation.

The internet is so new, has moved so fast, its not surprising that this is happening. Even well-funded corporations who have devoted huge resources to PR are still challenged to manage their reputation online. No wonder kids can find themselves exposed.

Helping my kids develop a stronger online identity, in advance of them really needing it, will help them be more bully-resistant. Having their own place to publish content is also a hedge against social sites changing terms or moving from free to paid. At the end of the day, what will matter in the long run is what comes up when someone types my daughter’s name into a search engine.

I’ve pulled their firstnamelastname.com domains, and when needed we’ll develop sites for them. They have control over the content, and can build whatever presence fits them. They can probably manage the SEO of their own site well enough to make it place higher than Facebook or other pages, which is a hedge against the inevitable, regrettable social media content. It can be the site they mention to prospective employers (preferably, investors) or whoever else they need to impress.

They can still enjoy all the fun and drama that comes with Facebook and other sites, but they will have their own presence on the web as the anchor. This is the same strategy recommended to businesses, and the same logic is applicable to personal brands as well.

Your email address is your identity

It seems like I’ve had the same conversation several times lately. Someone asks me for help with Linkedin, or blogging, or some other aspect of social media. They’ve signed up somewhere and let an account go dormant, and now they’re finally motivated to get it going again. This is pretty common, especially with Linkedin.

Anyway, as they try to get the old account going they realize it’s connected to the email at their last job. After all, Linkedin is a work thing, right? Why not have it connected to work email?

But they’ve forgotten the password, and while Linkedin is happy to send it to them, it’s going to go to an email address that is now dead. They didn’t realize that on the internet, their email address is their identity.

Your email address is your identity

I also come across people who are interested in an opening where I work, or what me to pass something on for them. They forward a resume, or pass on their contact info. And then I notice their email address – bigv8speedr@hotmail.com, or it’s the spouse’s email address, or worse yet it’s the spouse’s work email address. These folks also don’t realize that their email address is not just their identity, but their brand.

Many sites, like Linkedin, use email addresses to identify users – really as the unique identifier. On Twitter you can login using your email address or your screen name, and that’s quite common. The wonderful thing about email addresses is that they are unique, so it’s nice when I go to a site and they’ll take my email address as the username. I know I won’t end up being swduncan51 or some other oddball thing.

So, if your email address is both your identity, and the most basic brand that you will have, shouldn’t people take it more seriously? They should. The problem is that people still think of the Internet and their online presence as new, fangled, and therefore not really permanent. But it is and if you don’t think so now, you will the next time you have to change email addresses because you changed jobs or internet service providers.

Control your identity

Get yourself a permanent email address that has a decent, neutral brand. You won’t have to change it, ever. It will project a simple but clear brand: I am who I am, and I can communicate reliably. It will cost you as little as $10 a year, and you can get it done inside of an hour without hiring anyone. That hour includes the time necessary to find, and read more detailed instructions on exactly how to do it. Here’s the high-level:

  1. Go to a domain registrar, like godaddy.com, and buy a domain. A domain is the part of an email address after the @, and the part of a website address after the www. Your first name followed by your last name is a great choice, but not always available. I use swduncan.com because it was available and short, but .net, .org, .us, .cc, .biz and all the others work perfectly well. You can also use something nonsensical or a unique word – I used to use lornitropia.net – but keep it short and easy to spell phonetically. A domain costs about $10 per year, if you go year to year. Not bad for your own, never-changing identity.
  2. Either use the registrar’s email service, which might cost $5 a year, or go to a more serious provider like Google (free), Yahoo, Fastmail.fm, or one of the many others out there. This could be free, or cost as much as $100 per year. The advantage is that you will get good email support, lots of storage, and great uptime. Note that you are NOT stuck with whatever provider you choose. You can start with the registrar’s email, switch to Google, and maybe switch again later. Your email address will be the same.
  3. You will have to ‘point’ your new domain to your email provider. This is done by editing the DNS settings at the registrar’s site, specifically adding MX records. The details of doing this are fairly easy to find via google, and it’s really just filling out a form. Your email provider (that would be google, fastmail, etc) will tell you the names of servers to enter in MX records. Sounds hard, but you just enter in 3 to 6 server names and you’re done.

That’s it. At this point you have a functioning email address. It’s yours, and you can repoint the DNS records to point to whatever email provider you want just by re-editing the MX records. It takes a while for DNS servers to talk to each other and these settings to get all over the globe, but within 24-48 hours it’s a done deal.

Now the trick is to transition all those people who send you email to the new address.

  • Send an email to your friends with the new email.
  • Forward ALL of your non-work addresses to this new address, and change to your new address on the various sites that need to send you email. Make sure you change to it everywhere. A nice tip is to set your new email reader to show emails that have been forwarded from your old address in bold or a special color so you remember to notify that sender.
  • If you’re provider has the feature, use an auto-responder on messages that arrive using an old address. Sometimes the ‘on vacation’ feature will do this. This will help with those folks who need a lot of reminding.
  • After 6 months or so, and you are getting few if any messages coming to old addresses, you can let them drop.
  • Relax, knowing that you now have your own identity and brand, and that you won’t have to change it ever again.

Here’s a special Linkedin tip – always, always add whatever functional emails you get to Linkedin, including your work address. Linkedin uses those addresses to identify you when someone invites you to connect, and having these addresses in there prevents a new account from being created when someone invites you. However, make sure the primary email address in Linkedin is your new personal address. You want to do this so that if you unexpectedly get laid off you know your still going to get messages from Linkedin, and receive any password resets. If you really want to get the Linkedin emails at work, that’s fine – just set up a rule to forward them there. That way you’ll get them at home as well.

Another bonus tip: When you have your own email domain, you own all the users in that domain – everything before the ‘@’ in an email address is the user. This means that you can make up and use new addresses on the fly. At some store and being asked for an email address? Just give them one. I was at 2nd wind fitness and they asked for an address. I told them 2ndwind@swduncan.com. This is nice because I will know if they sell it, and I can block email coming to that address later if I want to.

David Pogue and the power of a single tweet

David Pogue, a writer for the New York Times, apparently found my new site NumberQuotes.com, and tweeted about it at about 10:30pm last night. I realized something was up because all of a sudden I got a huge traffic spike. I had gotten one a few weeks ago when Michael Hyatt tweeted NumberQuotes, but this one was a bit steeper. I noticed that the hits all seemed to be direct – as if people were entering the address rather than hitting a link on a site somewhere. I know that this is how hits from a tweet show up, so I went to twitter and did a search.

Sure enough, David Pogue, with 1.3 million followers, had tweeted it. Then a boat load of other folks retweeted it. Mr. Pogue clearly has a lot of quality followers!

The result? Over 2,500 uniques and growing. All from a single tweet. Thank you Mr. Pogue, for giving my fledgling site such a boost!

I think I need to beef up my twittering!

You need to look at more profiles.

Today I got an email purely because a local training guru noticed I’d looked at her profile. I often look at random profiles just to look at profiles. I might pick up some interesting language, or a photo idea, or some other tidbit. I’m sure I came across her looking for local 2nd-level-connection marketing folks. Anyway she sent an email and now I’ve got more of a connection to someone interesting. Cool!

Then it hit me – the first thing I do when I log into Linkedin, and I suspect I’m not alone, is to look at who’s been looking at my profile. Call me vain, but I’m curious. Anyway, when I look at a profile I show up in someone else’s ‘Who’s Viewed My Profile’ list, and that is a form of advertising. Now, most people I see in my WVMP list are coy, and I see a list of items like ‘Someone in the Executive Leadership function in the Public Relations and Communications industry from Greater Chicago Area’ – sort of interesting, but ultimately not very useful. I’ve always had my Profile Views setting (it’s under Privacy Settings) set to show my name and headline, and boy am I glad.

You need to look at more profiles, and let people know who you are.

I imagine that if I was job hunting, I’d be looking at the profile of every HR person I could reach!

Yep, blogging will make a comeback

Blogging is coming back.

Via Rick Klau I learned that Don Loeb thinks that blogging will make a comeback. I agree, for more reasons than Don cites. Yes Twitter will spawn some new bloggers, but I think we will also see a researgance of old bloggers.

I, like many I suspect, was caught up in the social media fervor and ditched a lot of blogging time to play with facebook and spend more time on linkedin. Now I look back and think I might have put that effort to better use.

I’m going refocusing on blogging more.

Why?

  • I own the content. No spelunking through terms of service or worrying about who owns what, or when it will dissappear, or how to delete it.
  • I control the terms of use. If I want ads, I can have them. If I want to block a user, I can.
  • I get metrics. It’s a joke to call linkedin a marketing platform when you have no metrics on how it’s working for you, more importantly how it isn’t.
  • It’s all me. Good, bad, or otherwise I’m it. Blogging is an expression of ego, and I don’t want to share the screen with others 🙂
  • Less distractions. No hurling sheep or poking people, or another channel of distribution that calls for more content. No new applications to figure out, worry about, or maintain.

If social media hasn’t jumped the shark already it is on the ramp. Facebook, Twitter, and linkedin will continue, but as folks learn the real value proposition for themselves their usage will diminish, and blogging’s value will be rediscovered.

Linkedin Killer? I don’t think so.

Jason Alba posted that he thought examines whether the new WSJ Connect product might be a Linkedin Killer. I don’t think so.

As companies increasingly ban social networking sites in general, and as Linkedin becomes fully Facebookified, making it even more bannable, I believe social networking will become less and less work oriented. The market will see consolidation, and it will consolidate around general-purpose social networking.

People are going to want something that has some of the social aspects of Facebook, but also a small amount of business flavor – like a spot to put one’s resume, or a few tidbits about their accomplisments. Maybe an ability to identify connections as primarily social or business.

Jason points out that Linkedin has been slow to adopt new things. I believe that chasing new features has been their undoing. Linkedin was nice because you could maintain it easily and without spending a lot of time on it. As each new feature is added, more work and time can be soaked up by it, and companies see it as a distraction and ban it. Once these systems are banned, getting them unbanned is hard. How do you prove a business justification?

90% of the visible value from Linkedin seems to exist in finding freelance work or a new job – neither are viewed by empoloyers as a high priority for employees. It can be tremendously valuable for other things but it’s hard to prove well enough to get it unbanned.

So, if people are doing most of their social networking at home, on their own time, they’re not going to be focusing on business alone.

Given all this, along with the general saturation of social media sites in general, I think WSJ Connect is doomed.

The Death Of Social Media Marketing

Social media is a popular subject in marketing, and has been for a while now. As we see usage of Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and similar sites rise, people can’t help but see opportunities for advertising and marketing in general.

In many ways it would seem to be ideal. We’re trying to build relationships, after all, and these sytems embrace relationships – actually they depend on them. They are measurable in many ways, viral, or potentially so, and are cheap.

The problem is that their success is their downfall. As they become more popular their use is increasing limited in business environments.

As the economy crumbled and people feared for their jobs social networking has become more popular to build an insurance policy against a layoff. Folks who have ignored networking for years are suddenly getting interested. Of course in tough times companies work harder to eliminate waste, and activities like social networking are often viewed as waste. It’s silly, as networking can be very powerful, but we’re dealing with perception here, not reality. Apparently when a company networks it’s powerful, when an employee networks it’s waste.

The ironic part is that the same companies that are banning these sites are probably starting social media campaigns. They hope to woo customer personnel to join their networks, read their tweets, and generally be good pals, all to the benefit of the bottom line while at the same time they’re denying their own employees the ability to do the very thing they ask of others.

How long do you think this will last?

Social Media Has 18 Months…

I predict that within 18 months the use of social media on company networks will be banned by most of American business, and the participation by business people during working hours (and thus the 80-90% of the marketing value of social media) will collapse.

When this happens, it will change. It will become far less focused on companies, and lot more focused on individuals. As people lose the ability to administer their networks on company time or with company resources, they will also lose the urge to use their networks to company benefit. If you’re busily trying to keep your Linkedin page up to date at 10pm, are you going to worry first about how you’re representing your company, or yourself? When you’re sitting at your desk you’re far more likely to keep the company’s interests in mind.

Similarly, when your participation in these sites comes purely at your own expense, are you going to follow your vendor’s or customer’s pages, or stick to family & friends?

I hope I’m wrong.

An interesting Linkedin question

An ex-colleague of mine asked an interesting question today:

What are your observations regarding AEM member companies’ 1) attitude toward social media 2) adoption rate of social media 3) ‘wiifm’ based interest in social media?

This was interesting to me because when I listen to Total Picture Radio, or read many blogs, it’s easy to get the idea that only a few gnomes living under rocks have yet to get onto Linkedin. Everyone else has been indoctrinated that social media is a Must Do, therefore the adoption rate is exponential, and of course ‘What’s in it for me?” is a punch-line.

The people on TPR and on most blogs are enlightened, web-savvy folks who’ve been using social media since its birth. It’s second nature, and we’ve all been using this stuff for so long it’s easy to brand the folks who haven’t as backward.

The problem is that the ratio of us to ‘normal’ people is still 1:50,000 or so if you consider the whole population. Normal people look at us as, well, hobbyists. Over enthusiastic technophiles. Maybe even cult members – which is easy to understand when you listen to the most vocal zealots for social media. Normal folks don’t quite get social media yet. They hear about a lot of not-quite-tangible benefits, but hard evidence that being on social media is a must is not easy to come by. I even know a Gen Y’er who didn’t really know what Linkedin was, even though Facebook was old territory.

It is easy to see how social media carries risks. We are drowning in stories of teenagers posting stupid things and getting in trouble so bizarre our legal system doesn’t quite know how to handle it. It’s easy to see this stuff as scary. With no clear upside, it’s easy to see the people who are deep into it as a bit reckless.

So, while the questions asked above might seem a little silly, I don’t think they are. Most of the working world still doesn’t see social media as a Must Do, and that’s a fact that all of us enlightened web savvy folks need to keep in mind. For every dot-com startup or tech company there are hundreds of small manufacturing and service companies. Internet use is widely restricted, and many social media sites are blocked.

In answering the questions I will first state that AEM (my employer) has nothing to do with my replies, although they have a social media effort underway. I will also restate (as I do in the ‘About’ page) that these are my views, not my employer’s.

The attitude about Linkedin seems to have shifted from ‘What’s Linkedin?’ to ‘Yeah, I heard about that. You aren’t actually on that, are you?’ to ‘Yeah, I probably need to get on that one of these days.’ Maybe it’s more accepted lately. In the current economy, everyone will flock to anything that might give them an edge in the job market.

I see the adoption rate as generally inversely proportional to age and level within the company. Older folks higher on the ladder arguably have less need for social media, and they certainly have more to lose. They do have a lot to gain, but most of them didn’t get where they are by being stupid, and social media isn’t yet something all smart people do.

Overall though, the adoption rate is higher now than it was before. I see people joining Linkedin now who never would have a year ago, and many seem to be paying attention and doing it with their eyes open. I see less dead accounts than I used to, but part of that is less usage of Linkedin on my part (I don’t do as much research as I used to) and that I shrank my network a while back.

The ‘What’s in it for me?’ attitude is there, but it’s there in smaller quantities than you might expect. Unless you are a spammer it takes a lot of work to be a visible pain on the internet, and it takes a lot of effort to get a network large enough to really cause annoyance. Most WIIFM people aren’t so industrious, and even so once they make it clear they’re in it only for themselves, they’ll see their network shrink faster than it grew. The good news is that for anyone who wants to make an extra buck or two coaching people, these folks will be easy customers who probably won’t require much after-sale support.

In my experience, the benefits from blogging and social media have been totally unexpected and unpredictable. Along with persistent effort, social media and networking take a lot of faith. The lazier folks just don’t stick with it.

This also makes social media in general a hard sell for some people. They want to know what they’re going to get out of it – that’s only logical, right? The idea of putting personal info on the web seems crazy, and therefore the payoff must be immediate and huge. When they hear that it isn’t, they balk. It’s not hard to see it from their point of view, but it can be hard to get them past that.

Did I answer the questions?

The printing/YouTube saga continues

I never thought I’d see the day when printing got too hip, but I think we may be there. Just kidding. Actually, none of my table-mates at lunch here at Print Outlook ’08 had seen any of these videos.

I watched the “I love PIA/GATF” video earlier today, and I think the printing industry has probably now exceeded at least a few other industries in terms of hipness. It started with Pazazz Printing’s video that was campy but genuine and (with regard to printing) original.

Now we have another video. Longer. Less genuine. Less original. While I think it’s great that another printing industry player is gutsy enough to make another video, I think it’s maybe time to suggest a few guidelines to all those folks who are writing the next printing industry video:

1. Foul language is no longer shocking or funny. Bleeping it out actually makes it more obtrusive. Even Mike’s joke about foul language seemed a bit worn.

2. We’ve got one guy spreading ink on his toast and another kissing his printing press and sun-bathing under a UV dryer. Nobody is going to demonstrate a love of printing more than that. How about loving quality? Or customers? Or binding?

3. Less than four minutes long. At least no more than six.

4. We all love funny stuff, and what works best on YouTube is funny stuff. What’s really funny is something that people in any industry will understand. Even those yet to enter industry. A group of non-printers at my home roared at the scene in Pazazz’s video where the father asks the son if he’s done his printing exercises yet, and the son’s head drops out of embarrassment. Who hasn’t been nagged by their over-zealous parents to embrace one silly thing or another?

I hope we’ll see more videos. I hope we’ll see enough videos that folks outside of printing are talking about them, and see printing not as a dinosaur industry but a critical industry that’s in touch with current times.