Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby? 24


fight club 300x225 Aint nothin like the real thing, baby?

If you’ve spent much time in the technology/marketing/PR side of social media over the past couple of years, you’ve probably read your share of blog posts about “authenticity” and “realness” and “transparency.”

You’ve also probably stumbled across a few “real” personalities who pride themselves on a hardcore lack of editing.

This is often treated as a badge of authenticity, as with the old uncle in every family who says all sorts of chauvanist and racist things… but is generally (and fondly) referred to as nothing more than a “character.”

This is the “real” that is the topic of at least one panel at every unconference, the “real” that riddles the backchannels at SXSW, and the “real” that people demand — with pointy blogfingers  — from any company or public figure they think might be more conscious of their PR than of living in a suitably glassy house.

But is all this “real” getting us anywhere good?

Where are the limits?

Is it okay to engage in major verbal battles with people in public channels because you feel the need to “call them out”?

Is it okay to blast companies for the slightest infractions in customer service before you give their normal channels a chance to work?

Is it okay to tweet publicly about your boredom during sessions or talks that you find less than interesting?

Is it okay to leave diatribes in comments that, if delivered face to face on a street, would leave someone trembling in shock… or land you in the ER, needing stitches for your fat lip?

Is it okay for you to reveal information about others in public channels that simply isn’t yours to share?

Is it okay, in other words, to wade into social media like a toddler with Tourette’s?

It’s a tough balance to strike, sure.

Some people love the gritty, “Fight Club” feeling in their channels, where anyone can say anything, and all that matters is the pursuit of dirt — err, truth — while others are a little taken aback by the amount of people who want to put “badass” in their bio.

Knowing your goals and your audience will ultimately dictate how you feel you need to behave and interact with others. And maybe you want to take off your shirt and brawl.

But I want something else.

What I want from companies is not to bow and scrape whenever the slightest thing goes wrong. I want them to give the best service they can, and to respond politely with help when I come politely with a concern. Someone in Head Office shouldn’t have to don sackcloth and ashes because a flight attendant forgot to bring me water. Norma Rae wasn’t dealing with long lines at the Apple Store. It’s tempting to wield your public voice like a bat, but when you’re constantly forcing damage control over real evolution, you’re not doing anything to improve a brand.

What I want from the people who read my blog or listen to me speak is to offer constructive feedback or opinions, delivered with respect. Or to find a way to communicate with me privately if they can’t help but “tear a strip.”

What I want from people who offer editorial and criticism in this space is to value sensitivity and integrity as much as they value traffic and provocation. To give me views and ideas without the shock tactics. To stop shouting into the canyon to hear their own voice bounce off the rocks. Why force your readers to wade through tabloid language to find the point… if there was one, all along?

What I want from people who cover news in this space is to respect journalistic ethics. If they want to be taken seriously, they should take their responsibility seriously.  I shouldn’t have to wonder if a story is being covered because the editor had a beef (even if this is a major problem in the MSM, too. After all, aren’t we trying to do better?)

What I want from people who go to community gatherings is to engage with the opportunity, and show some empathy to the people who are willing to stand up and share what they know, instead of acting like the late show crowd at an improv open mic night.

Politeness is not synonymous with fakery.

Grace isn’t “blowing smoke up someone’s ass.”

Dignity isn’t opaque.

And the ability to say something isn’t always tantamount to the wisdom of saying something.

I’ve erred on the wrong side of the balance more than once. I’m sure I will again (with apologies.)

But I’m still wondering if it’s time we tried for a better kind of “real.”

  • http://mandiggingahole.com/ John Pruitt

    With anonymity and distance comes the flame wars. This has been part of everything since the 80's on AOL and Compuserve. As long as a person can't get their face pushed in and can talk behind a shield of the Interwebs, the loud mouths will have a forum.

    It would be nice if people acted under the golden rule while on the internet. Maybe someday or only in venues like facebook where “you” are usually really you so a control of language and expression takes place.

  • http://twitter.com/jmctigue John McTigue

    Amen.

  • jeremymeyers

    Beyond all that, I think that so much focus has been put on 'social media is the opposite of traditional media' that it seems like it implicitly makes it okay.

    That said, there are some real frustrations that people have with companies, and a real danger to those kinds of companies putting themselves out there to basically stand in the line of fire while society realizes it has a single account or website or whatever to vent their frustrations at.

    This is why I've been talking a lot about Getting Your Own House In Order, before engaging publicly with consumers.

    That said, people who are all “I'm unfiltered, man! I dont play societies games that tell me whats appropriate and what I should say! Fuck you if you can't take a joke!” All those people? Assholes. And, of course, inauthentic.

  • tombunzel

    Civil dialog and respect for opposing points of view?
    Can you say President Obama?
    It may be too late for that, however. My guess is you must be over 40.
    We're dinosaurs.

  • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog Whitney Hess

    You probably already know that I agree with you, so I won't bother going into all the reasons I think you're awesome.

    But I think it's worth pointing out that most people are just dead awful communicators. Our education system fails us, especially when it comes to English. As a result, few people know how to write a clear sentence, let alone express depth and complexity and tact and reason.

    I don't want to make excuses for people, but the reality is that the web, and in particular social media, makes it infinitely easier for poor communicators to reach a very wide audience. Those who would never before have been given the responsibility to interact with customers are tasked with “managing the brand” simply because they know how to use a textbox. I don't believe that they're all ill intentioned. They're just very imprecise, and the medium allows them to be with seemingly no consequence. This applies to individuals as well.

    It may not be immediately apparent, but there will be a long-lasting effect of their poor choice of tone and unrestrained rhetoric. It's instantly indexed and forever accessible. Our words will come back to haunt us one day, and perhaps then is when we'll start to remember that there are real people on the other side of the screen, even if we can't quite see them.

  • http://www.shapingyouth.org ShapingYouth

    Completely agree on the transparency/anonymity corollary. At Shaping Youth I try to 'take the high road' and quote from Johns Hopkins Dr. Forni's 'Choosing Civility' book/site, but all too often I get trolls a flamin' and every single time it's been an anonymous hit-n-run.

    Even in person the other day, a jogger breezed by me and cussed out my new shelter pup, whizzing by without a second thought.I chose to test my theory, thinking, 'this is NOT ok'…and sure enough, when I'd looped around and headed him off eye to eye with an apology (not a confrontation) for my pup's zeal he was so flustered and ashamed he literally couldn't handle remaining on the same sidewalk, waving me off, 'no problem, np'…and circling back in the other direction.

    Hit and run viper-tongues are cowards, just like digital bullies and trolls, hiding behind a mask of bravado. Reveal the identity (or trackback the digital prints) and the nakedness brings some modicum of civility. (we see this with virtual world/avatar chat often too. Just ask the folks at e-moderation!)

    Real and raw can be fine when it's civil confrontation in healthy debate…But devolved discourse is like a sniper with a power scope, which can even be deadly. http://tinyurl.com/2v5bq6

  • http://twitter.com/ozinn Olivia Zinn

    Great post. These questions have been on my mind a bit lately as well.

    I know I've probably erred on the wrong side of things too. It's almost always when I've been too quick to come down on one side of an argument, I've noticed.

    In some cases, I have to wonder if the medium — specifically Twitter — is having too much of an impact of how people come off. This seems particularly true when people start tweeting about how boring/poorly constructed/overly basic someone's talk at a conference or event has been. I've always found that to be really tacky and just flat-out rude, but I also know it's hard to be constructive in 140 characters. Since Twitter is so convenient, much more so than emailing or talking directly with the speaker, I think people find it too tempting to tweet rather than choose another medium that doesn't make it seem like they are shooting off their mouth so much.

    Or maybe they really are just jerks, regardless of character limit. ;)

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  • smodlin

    Bravo! Well said and worth saying.

  • http://www.sametz.com/roundthesquare/ Tamsen McMahon (@Sametz)

    These are such hard discussions for me–I completely agree with your points, and at the same point ache for tolerance, mine included.

    In order for any group to perform to its fullest, it has to self-develop the rules of its own governance. In the case of social media, we're seeing group dynamics on a positively glogal scale…group dynamics complicated exponentially by the fact that new members join the group every day. That means the traditional pattern of group dynamics–forming, storming, norming, and performing–get disrupted any time a new and (for whatever reason) powerful voice comes along.

    It feels to me like we are largely in the storming stage, where a group fights out competing ideologies. Which styles (broadcast or engagement), which values (moderation or extremism), which purpose (relationship building or selling) will win out?

    But what scares me is that some groups never leave the storming stage–and that, I think, would be an epic loss in this case, as the power for harnessing the power of community towards change has never been greater.

    The solution–at least so say the organizational behavior experts–lies in tolerance and in discussion.

    But where is the flame-free forum? How can we find a way to understand, to find the middle ground? How do we convince ourselves to move beyond our first instinct, the one that tells us to stop the conversation, rather than continue it?

    –Tamsen (@tamadear, @Sametz)

  • http://cookienotes.blogspot.com/ Scattered Mom

    Excellent post. Over the summer my family witnessed something rather…um…awful at a particular hotel. We had received good customer service, but witnessed something happen to another guest and it was handled poorly.

    At one point, I was just irate with the hotel because when I filled out a customer survey, I noted the incident on it and the person who replied came across as if I didn't know what I was talking about, and proceeded to tell me what happened. At the time I was poised to write a scathing review of the hotel, but decided to hold back. In retrospect, I'm glad I did. Not only did the hotel explain things and we worked it out, but I feel that it would have been unfair to the employees that work exceptionally hard, as well as the manager, to publish it. I was angry; but I got over it AND it was partly my own fault for over-reacting.

    That's probably a lesson everyone could use. Give it a few days, even a week before you hit that publish button. You just might change your mind.

  • megfowler

    You guys! Amazing comments. I am preparing a follow-up post on the same topic. I agree that much of the conflict online comes from inexperience, misunderstandings, miscommunications and the raw nature of how we express ourselves when we are acting on impulse.

    That said, many of us continue to ruffle the same feathers many years in, without learning from our mistakes — sometimes willfully so. Those are the people I wonder about. :)

  • smodlin

    Bravo! Well said and worth saying.

  • http://www.sametz.com/roundthesquare/ Tamsen McMahon (@Sametz)

    These are such hard discussions for me–I completely agree with your points, and at the same point ache for tolerance, mine included.

    In order for any group to perform to its fullest, it has to self-develop the rules of its own governance. In the case of social media, we're seeing group dynamics on a positively glogal scale…group dynamics complicated exponentially by the fact that new members join the group every day. That means the traditional pattern of group dynamics–forming, storming, norming, and performing–get disrupted any time a new and (for whatever reason) powerful voice comes along.

    It feels to me like we are largely in the storming stage, where a group fights out competing ideologies. Which styles (broadcast or engagement), which values (moderation or extremism), which purpose (relationship building or selling) will win out?

    But what scares me is that some groups never leave the storming stage–and that, I think, would be an epic loss in this case, as the power for harnessing the power of community towards change has never been greater.

    The solution–at least so say the organizational behavior experts–lies in tolerance and in discussion.

    But where is the flame-free forum? How can we find a way to understand, to find the middle ground? How do we convince ourselves to move beyond our first instinct, the one that tells us to stop the conversation, rather than continue it?

    –Tamsen (@tamadear, @Sametz)

  • http://cookienotes.blogspot.com/ Scattered Mom

    Excellent post. Over the summer my family witnessed something rather…um…awful at a particular hotel. We had received good customer service, but witnessed something happen to another guest and it was handled poorly.

    At one point, I was just irate with the hotel because when I filled out a customer survey, I noted the incident on it and the person who replied came across as if I didn't know what I was talking about, and proceeded to tell me what happened. At the time I was poised to write a scathing review of the hotel, but decided to hold back. In retrospect, I'm glad I did. Not only did the hotel explain things and we worked it out, but I feel that it would have been unfair to the employees that work exceptionally hard, as well as the manager, to publish it. I was angry; but I got over it AND it was partly my own fault for over-reacting.

    That's probably a lesson everyone could use. Give it a few days, even a week before you hit that publish button. You just might change your mind.

  • megfowler

    You guys! Amazing comments. I am preparing a follow-up post on the same topic. I agree that much of the conflict online comes from inexperience, misunderstandings, miscommunications and the raw nature of how we express ourselves when we are acting on impulse.

    That said, many of us continue to ruffle the same feathers many years in, without learning from our mistakes — sometimes willfully so. Those are the people I wonder about. :)

  • http://twitter.com/ozinn Olivia Zinn

    Great post. These questions have been on my mind a bit lately as well.

    I know I've probably erred on the wrong side of things too. It's almost always when I've been too quick to come down on one side of an argument, I've noticed.

    In some cases, I have to wonder if the medium — specifically Twitter — is having too much of an impact of how people come off. This seems particularly true when people start tweeting about how boring/poorly constructed/overly basic someone's talk at a conference or event has been. I've always found that to be really tacky and just flat-out rude, but I also know it's hard to be constructive in 140 characters. Since Twitter is so convenient, much more so than emailing or talking directly with the speaker, I think people find it too tempting to tweet rather than choose another medium that doesn't make it seem like they are shooting off their mouth so much.

    Or maybe they really are just jerks, regardless of character limit. ;)

  • smodlin

    Bravo! Well said and worth saying.

  • http://www.sametz.com/roundthesquare/ Tamsen (@tamadear @Sametz)

    These are such hard discussions for me–I completely agree with your points, and at the same point ache for tolerance, mine included.

    In order for any group to perform to its fullest, it has to self-develop the rules of its own governance. In the case of social media, we're seeing group dynamics on a positively glogal scale…group dynamics complicated exponentially by the fact that new members join the group every day. That means the traditional pattern of group dynamics–forming, storming, norming, and performing–get disrupted any time a new and (for whatever reason) powerful voice comes along.

    It feels to me like we are largely in the storming stage, where a group fights out competing ideologies. Which styles (broadcast or engagement), which values (moderation or extremism), which purpose (relationship building or selling) will win out?

    But what scares me is that some groups never leave the storming stage–and that, I think, would be an epic loss in this case, as the power for harnessing the power of community towards change has never been greater.

    The solution–at least so say the organizational behavior experts–lies in tolerance and in discussion.

    But where is the flame-free forum? How can we find a way to understand, to find the middle ground? How do we convince ourselves to move beyond our first instinct, the one that tells us to stop the conversation, rather than continue it?

    –Tamsen (@tamadear, @Sametz)

  • http://cookienotes.blogspot.com/ Scattered Mom

    Excellent post. Over the summer my family witnessed something rather…um…awful at a particular hotel. We had received good customer service, but witnessed something happen to another guest and it was handled poorly.

    At one point, I was just irate with the hotel because when I filled out a customer survey, I noted the incident on it and the person who replied came across as if I didn't know what I was talking about, and proceeded to tell me what happened. At the time I was poised to write a scathing review of the hotel, but decided to hold back. In retrospect, I'm glad I did. Not only did the hotel explain things and we worked it out, but I feel that it would have been unfair to the employees that work exceptionally hard, as well as the manager, to publish it. I was angry; but I got over it AND it was partly my own fault for over-reacting.

    That's probably a lesson everyone could use. Give it a few days, even a week before you hit that publish button. You just might change your mind.

  • megfowler

    You guys! Amazing comments. I am preparing a follow-up post on the same topic. I agree that much of the conflict online comes from inexperience, misunderstandings, miscommunications and the raw nature of how we express ourselves when we are acting on impulse.

    That said, many of us continue to ruffle the same feathers many years in, without learning from our mistakes — sometimes willfully so. Those are the people I wonder about. :)

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