Johnny Rotten or Beethoven?

Last week I picked up on a tweet from someone via a conference which said ‘Social HAS to loose the anarchist tag – will never go mainstream otherwise. Need to move from punk rock to classical. #e20s’

I thought this a somewhat narrow minded view so I retweeted and said so. Shortly after I received a reply saying ‘You’re welcome to your opinion #e20s’, and perhaps rather bluntly I replied ‘Ta – I don’t particularly welcome yours, punk and classical, we can have both’. In quick succession I then received ‘I’ve no problem with challenge or criticism Doug. I’ve dished out enough of both! #e20s’, followed by ‘I don’t particularly enjoy being hashtagged all the time though’ and finally, ‘I just find the hashtags a bit #naff and #petty Doug’.

I tried to respond with ‘If you can’t stand the tweet heat – stay out of the kitchen’, but the person had blocked me, so I couldn’t. Of course we’re free to follow, unfollow and block whoever we choose and I couldn’t help but feel the final response and subsequent and immediate blocking of me was perhaps, in the tweeters own words, a bit ‘#naff and #petty’.

Definitions of Anarchy

Leaving aside our squabble, I think anarchy sometimes gets a bad rap. As well as being ‘A state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority’ it is also defined as ‘Absence of Government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal’, and I’m sure you’ll find other definitions out there too. There are times when people question how much help Government is (regardless of its political hue), and despite all the challenges the concept of absolute freedom of the individual does at times have an allure to it, doesn’t it?

Of course there is an element of rebellion about social media. I expect Starbucks would rather people hadn’t hijacked their #SpreadTheCheer Twitter wall at the Natural History Museum and tweeted ‘Pay your fucking taxes’ right across it, but the mood of the day turned against them, and they got a taste of a ‘State of disorder’. I think this is more a case of recognising that you don’t own and control hashtags and the responses to them once they’re out there, rather than outright anarchy.

Starbucks Pay Your Fucking Taxes

I found a few other examples of the Dark Side of social media (you’ll doubtless have plenty more), which I shared recently at the Workplace Trends Social Media for Business Conference. This was an interesting opportunity for me as in the main; I have a very positive experience of social media. Nevertheless I went searching for the dark side, and I found myself in the sewer soon enough.

I found plenty of examples of disjointed organisations proudly displaying their silo mentality for all to see, including a fine one courtesy of Qantas. As Qantas launched their #QantasLuxury competition to win a pair of Qantas pyjamas, what their marketing department failed to consider was their current public image following the decision taken to ground the entire fleet during an industrial dispute. The online furore that followed was of Qantas’ own making, and you can’t help but feel that a bit of good old fashioned talking between departments beforehand could have saved a lot of embarrassment.

We delved into the tragic tale of Sandy Hook from the perspective of Ryan Lanza. Ryan Lanza, estranged brother of the gunman Adam Lanza was incorrectly named as the killer by CNN News. Fox and CBS quickly followed suit while Ryan continued to work at his desk in New York City, until his social media feeds lit up with false accusations and his world changed.

We then considered Mary Beard, the sometimes controversial Cambridge Don who was vilified on social media following an appearance on BBC Question Time. In this case – the attacks were more about her appearance rather than her intellect, and I wondered, if Mary had been male, would such a thing have happened? As she reflected in an interview with The Independent, Mary Beard said:

“I think we’re still in the process of learning how to deal with all that. I suppose I feel, perhaps naively, optimistic that we’re just not yet quite clear about the rules of how you communicate online publicly. If you do respond, and say quite calmly, ‘I don’t think I actually said that,’ quite often you get a real response.”

Is she right? Watch this space.

My journey took me to some dark places for sure, and in summary this is what I was reminded of:

  • You don’t own hashtags so use them by all means – at your own risk
  • Despite the open nature of social media we see loads of businesses still completely siloed inside. When is business going to understand that it’s all about the conversation – not just in silos, but across and beyond the organisational boundaries?
  • Check your facts

People can be and are hugely irresponsible at times, and they certainly don’t need social media to achieve that.

Perhaps more importantly – there was a brief aside to the squabble I referenced earlier when another contributor said (re: punk v classical), ‘how about New Romantic?’ How about it indeed. In fact – why not a bit of each and every musical genre (except maybe Phil Collins)? If the culture of social can’t be an inclusive, broad church, then it’s not a culture, it’s a cult.

It’s Good To Talk

I’m in London today running a workshop on Managing Difficult Conversations with Boyes Turner. Conversations are a critically important part of my work and I’m intrigued to see how the day pans out. One of the reasons why people find certain types of conversation difficult is that we’ve simply fallen out of the conversation habit. Modern work relies heavily on email, and whilst email currently has a place for exchanging information, as the following figures* show, it doesn’t serve us well as a conversational medium, at least not if we want to be clearly understood.

How Well Do We Communicate

When you’re busy and your inbox light is winking seductively at you – it might feel tempting to resort to a hasty note and a quick press on the send button, particularly if the subject matter looks a little…awkward? But if you want to prevent awkward becoming difficult and difficult becoming even worse, why not pin this little chart on the wall as a reminder that when you want to be understood, it’s good to talk. 

* Source: Profs. Justin Kruger of New York University and Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago

The Power of Personal

I’m tidying my desk – how totally rock n roll is that! I’ve found this photo (taken at Reading Rock Festival with hangover in full effect) sent to me many years ago by Paul McEvoy, who is sadly no longer with us. On the back of the photo is a handwritten poem:

Another day, another year

I’ve seen you laugh and shed a tear

They say that time waits for no man

So have your fun while you still can

What’s done is done, don’t look around

Keep your hopes up high, your feet on the ground

But whatever the future might send

Don’t forget that you’re my best friend

Happy Birthday – love Paul

I’ve also found some wonderful coupons that Keira made for me last year, here is one of them.

Hug Coupon

It’s so easy to be in touch electronically that we sometimes forget the power of the personalised, handwritten note. I sometimes send people things in the post. Sketches, notes, little gifts, nothing major, just small things that are all part of the importance of keeping in touch. And often I’ll get an appreciative call from someone who has received something I’ve posted to them, and I’ll remember the power of personal.

I wonder if you can find the time to drop someone a hand written note in 2013?

Happy New Year.