Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gwyneth does what she wants, so can you

People magazine has a headline that poor Gwyneth Paltrow has to "defend" her website where she posts info about diet, her workout, recipes, health topics, things to do. Because that's what she likes writing about, and she thought others might just want to read it. (Good for her!)

A blogger (about TV) who gets thousands of comments on his blog says this about his decision to require registration for comments: "Well, it’s fixed. Wish I would’ve thought of that sooner. Basically, the losers who snipe and just come on boards to curse, you all ... can go somewhere else now, since I know you don’t have the balls to register and post on the site. And If you did, I’d just delete anyway. I’m not doing this because of people countering what I say. I could care less. Hell, go back and look at the comments for the last few weeks. Plenty of you disagree with me, and that’s fine. It was the people today that decided to post the same stuff over and over again, cursing, being ridiculous, and just trying to stir up trouble. The only way to weed them out was to go this route. And I’m glad I did. Ahhhh. This is like a breath of fresh air. Never have to worry about those dolts again .... How I didn’t think of this sooner is beyond me."

Remember that Far Side comic where a sheep stands up with its hooves in the air exclaiming, "We don't have to be just sheep!" Well, we don't ...

1. Your blog and site and can whatever you want it to be.
2. Don't like jerks in your comments section, don't let jerks (or spammers, or marketers, or those wanting to be obscene) in your comments section.

You aren't required to conform in social media any more than you're required to conform in your real life, or in your association. Blog about what you want to blog about (like Gwyneth). If you don't have all the time in the world to be monitoring your own site, then take advantage of the tools that are available to you to make it workable for you - if you want to. Or don't.

Just be authentic. We don't have to be just sheep!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The "Ethics" of Online Comments

I was recently involved in an interesting discussion about association and individual response to online postings inclusive of misinformation or negative information that could have a counter-point. Specifically, online media reports with public comment sections. Secondarily, blogs of individuals and non-media organizations - recognizing those are frequently "opinion" based and preaching to the choir (or trying to inflame the choir) versus online media sites which deliver "news" to the public.

The discussion included:

1. When an association has information to refute details in a news media article, should corrective info be immediately provided - and if so, under what name?

2. If a group of individuals wants to be alerted that there may be an online news article about their industry/profession that they may want to provide personal comment to - is it entirely appropriate to use a name like all other commenters "Brad from Anywhere" or "Cairn Owner from Chicago" (or even anonymous if that's allowed) versus using a real name?

It also took about 30 seconds of discussion to figure out who in the group routinely uses social media, including reading online comments regularly, and those who only have opinion about it (but don't actually engage in it).

1. Online comments are not print "Letters to the Editors". While print media has rules about specifically identifying who has written a letter to the editor, including their credential if that applies, it definitely doesn't apply in the online world. Many online do not reveal who they are, on purpose. And online media sites don't require it.

2. Ethics, shmethics. One person thought it highly unethical for anyone to not clearly state their name, rank and serial number if they are in the industry commenting on an industry article. It's true the online world includes a mighty smart bunch who can unmask an online name, so pretending to be a member of the public when actually an organizational official doesn't make much sense - BUT a regular, grassroots person wanting to provide personal opinion on an industry topic may not have some random ethical standard on a site where everyone else posting is under an assumed name. Or do they? Are "ethics" for any given site ultimately defined solely by that site's owner (including option of no rules)? I think yes.

3. If you're the expert, then be the expert. If an association has facts that can clarify, refute or support an online media report then it does add to the credibility of the comment to identify the source of the information - and to become recognized by that online community.

4. It's ugly out there. There really isn't much quite as ugly as when a bunch of online commenters all turn on each other inside a comments section. It's surely info-tainment to the readers, but those who have never experienced it may want to start with their fake online name and see what their comfort level is for receiving personal attacks to online comments.

5. Whither thou goest, I will go. If the public is reading comments to online media stories, and online media sites have really large audiences, the rationale for not being in that space escapes me. But a few suggested that.

6. Choosing to ignore online bullies. There are bloggers who try to grow an audience by intentionally being the online equivalent of a high school bully daring you or your organization to respond to some inflammatory remark. Should online bully response mirror real-life bully response: i.e., ignore them? Absolutely no organization needs to engage in responding if they don't want to, or if it's clearly just someone trying to pick a fight. If bullies can't get a reaction then they failed. Even if (just like adolescents) a bunch of others join in to egg it on too - always consider the "so what" test before responding. And yes, there's a difference between a major news program being inflammatory and an individual with their own agenda being inflammatory. Pick your battles wisely.

So the real question is ... when associations discuss approach and policy to participating with online comments, should it matter if those in the discussion are already into social media or does that slant it entirely in a direction that may not be what will ultimately be acceptable if there's a large percentage that wouldn't agree with it (i.e., due to the unknown)?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Great Advice on Cover Letters

For the past few days, the New York Times online indicates their article on cover letters for job applicants is the most emailed. Obvious reason: It has great advice.

These among the tips in the article:

1. Yes, you need a cover letter;
2. Specifically tailor your cover letter to the company, the way you can't with your resume;
3. Use a decision-maker's name; or if a blind ad, "Dear Sir/Madam" (i.e., no informal "Hey there");
4. Keep it short - 3 to 4 paragraphs;
5. Explain why you are writing, what you have to offer the company, qualities you have that may not come through in the resume (but applicable to the position), and friendly end;
6. If electronic ad, you can place the cover letter before the resume if sending as one document - or send as an attachment;
7. Send a hard copy with a handwritten note that submitted by email;
8. Common mistakes - typos, bad sentences, misspellings (have people proof it!); discussing how the job will help you - not how you will help the company; including any reason about why you shouldn't be hired in the cover letter (e.g., "I know I lack ... " or "I can't ... ") Don't help someone decide to not interview you.

If I ask for a a cover letter in a job advertisement, and then a resume arrives without it, I wouldn't even considering interviewing that applicant. With a recent position, half didn't send one. If someone can't follow a basic instruction at the outset, it's not a good sign for the future performance.

Job applicants should take advantage of communications opportunities in cover letters.

Monday, February 16, 2009

More Random Travel Tips

A few more random travel tips:

1. If you carry a digital camera or a cell phone camera - take a picture of the sign nearest your car in a parking garage; the nearest street sign/building where you park your car; or your hotel room number. Then you can refer to your camera/phone if you can't find your car/room later.

2. Those pill organizers can organize more than pills - especially if airtight. Such as moisturizer.

3. These life/travel tips from a survivor of the "Miracle on the Hudson" flight (his experiences as posted on a listserv) - [emphasis mine]

"For now I have 4 lessons I would like to share:
1. Cherish your families as never before and go to great lengths to keep your promises.
2. Be thankful and grateful for everything you have and don't worry about the things you don't have.
3. Keep in shape. You never know when you'll be called upon to save your own life, or help someone else save theirs.
4. When you fly, wear practical clothing. You never know when you'll end up in an emergency or on an icy wing in flip flops and pajamas and of absolutely no use to yourself or anyone else."

I think high heels can be as impractical in emergencies as flip flops too ....

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Let me call you sweetheart, association staff ....

Two interesting valentines arrived at our association's for-profit subsidiary office yesterday ...

* A handwritten letter on hot pink and red paper - with the words "A Valentine for You" and a list of ten things they appreciate about the staff. Included these -

1. Always return phone calls promptly;
2. Willing to help without losing your patience for those of us technologically challenged;
3. Your phones never seem to ring more than 3 times;
4. Whenever I stop by, you always take the time to help with a problem;
5. You appreciate constructive comments so that we can all get our job done better;
.... and 5 more ... then it ends with "Happy Valentine's Day" and signed by a member office.

* A quartet of men arrived with roses for two of the staff, from a user who had to have his "hand held" through a number of technical processes - and he wanted to say thank you on Valentine's Day. And the quartet sang "Let me Call you Sweetheart" and "When I'm 64".

So, I'm a believer. Taking the time to really personalize a thank you, and to recognize those who do things for you really does mean a lot to those who did it.

Today is Valentine's Day. Why not pull out some red paper and send your own thank you list?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

When free is an option, will people pick free?

A publishing association lost a large and influential member organization due to the economy. A leader from that same organization had criticized non-members for taking a "free ride", but then they did it too. If a free ride is an option, isn't there a chance that people pick free - especially in a declined economy? (I didn't find this article myself, Kevin did.)

I used to buy the New York Times every Sunday. Have to admit I love the wedding story they highlight each Sunday (here's my favorite). But then I started reading it online too, and grew to like features the online version has much more than the print version - such as the "Most Popular" list/links and the fact I can read the wedding story late Saturday night instead of waiting for the Sunday newspaper. (Sometimes they even have extras too - like video.) So now I don't buy the newspaper anymore. And I don't pay for the online version. It's a great "free service".

So I'm always intrigued with the argument that if the public demands everything free, then the correct approach is to give them everything free. That's right, give what costs a lot of money to develop free to everyone. Then be surprised when they don't need to pay for the association anymore because it's all free anyway. Is that how it works?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

An old email being delivered years later - uh oh?

A past president forwarded to me an email that I sent to him several years ago, that arrived in his email box this week. He had not seen it before.

It could be that it was stuck in a server this long, someone could be in an archived email location and accidentally sent it (along with other emails), or maybe it was just out there in cyberspace waiting to be delivered. Nonetheless, it's four years late.

Reminds me of those made-for-TV movies where (postal) letters get lost somewhere and are delivered many years later -- and they end up changing someone's life. At least on television, those letters delivered years later may include a declaration of love, location of wealth, explanation of big family secret or the like. I'd have to assume there is some of that sent by email too.

Few thoughts:
1. Email really never is gone for good.
2. Sometimes email does get delivered late - really late.
3. An email can get lost forever. If you never got a response to something important, consider the possibility that it was never delivered.

This particular email was only asking about a speaker for a designation program, nothing life changing. But it would have been more interesting otherwise. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Social media: Dissing what you don't use

In two recent conversations, one person said LinkedIn is a far better professional tool than Facebook (but he's never used Facebook); another said he doesn't allow anyone in his company to text message (while admitting he doesn't personally like or use text).

And then the next line that always comes up, "I don't have time to manage so many forms of communications."

Aren't those questions the real problem with discussing social media with non-users: Does it save us time, or take even more time? (It's tough to argue the taking time point.) Does it build a community at the expense of other communities? Is there such a thing as "better" if community and networking choices are often personal preferences - whether online or live?

Do choices have to be made with what to adopt? I think yes.