Warning: this is going to be a rambling, self-referential post with lots of whining and talk about feelings. If you don’t want to read it, just move along…
Today was a rough day for me, emotionally. I guess it all has to do with how much of my life I choose to put on the web – a lot. There’s very little that I don’t share with the people I’m connected with on the web, via this blog, Twitter, or whatever. But it came back to bite me today, and I’m smarting. I guess it’s just an unpleasant result of putting my life online.
Earlier today, I was in a meeting where some people from the marketing group were presenting on what they’re doing in the world of social media. Anyone who knows me knows that this is a sensitive topic, because I believe very strongly that there’s a right and a wrong way to use social tools for marketing. There were lots of buzzwords flying around in the meeting, and of course, I couldn’t resist making some snarky comments on Twitter. Some of the other people in the meeting are on Twitter, too, and we started a little bit of backchannel banter on the topic.
The conversation then moved into the comments of a post on Michael Brito’s blog (Michael works in the marketing department at Intel), and continued in a pretty heated fashion for the rest of the day (Michel turned off comments on that post a few minutes ago). You can go read the thread yourself, to see what was said.
Now, i can’t speak to how anyone else in the thread was feeling, or what they were thinking, so the rest of this post is going to be about my thoughts and feelings. I don’t want to put words into anyone else’s mouth.
I started out frustrated, and finding it hard to make sense of what I was trying to say. I had a very strong feeling and idea I was trying to communicate (about the right vs. wrong way of marketing, having a human voice, and other crap you can go read about). I felt strongly so I spoke strongly, and at first, it didn’t work at all. It seemed that everything I said only make people defensive, raised hackles, and provoked retaliation – comments about how I should look in a mirror, etc.
But, as is usually the case during a debate on a complex and emotionally charged topic, after a while, through thinking about it and talking it out, I felt like I settled on a way to clearly and calmly communicate the point I was trying to make the whole time:
I’m giving you feedback and criticism. I’m not trying to attack you personally, but I’m trying to make a point. I can understand you feeling defensive. I’m saying things that make you uncomfortable. But the reason I’m saying them is not to attack you. I promise.
I’ve been doing this “social media” stuff since before it was even called that. Years and years. I know how to connect with people and build community. I know how to use those skills in marketing – to build an audience, share information, etc. I know what I’m doing. One of the reasons I’m getting so frustrated is that I wish I’d get a little respect for the things that I know and have done. I’m not the new kid on the block here.
I just noticed something – your voice became human in these comments. You’re talking like yourself. You’re letting your feelings show through. We’re having a conversation.
I know it’s hard to preserve that “human” voice when you go to write a blog post. I struggle with that, too. I always ask myself “how can I write this so that it doesn’t sound like a press release, or something written by the marketing committee”. I don’t always succeed. I probably succeed less often than I think I do.
But I try, because I really, truly, fundamentally believe that I should sound like a human when I write. Because I know that if I don’t, it’s a lot less likely that people are going to want to have a conversation with me. And the reason I write, on my blog, on Twitter, for ISN, or wherever else, is to have those real conversations. To make those real connections with other people. It’s what I live for. I believe it’s the RIGHT way to market to people – connecting with them with respect, humility, and in my very own human voice.
Another reason I get so frustrated with how Intel and other companies are using/abusing/exploiting “social media” is that they use the same old command and control techniques, and treat it just like it’s another channel or medium for them to deliver their message into my brain.
It’s an antagonistic view. The terminology is military, brutal, warlike. Tactics, strategy, campaigns. I am NOT a target. I resent being “targeted”. I am a human being. Connect with me. Converse with me. I’m telling you how you (collectively) can do that. And I get pissed off when I’m ignored, and still treated like a target or just another set of eyeballs.
Conversations matter because they build relationships. Links between people. And as you build more and more of those links, you start getting something really, really cool and powerful and worthwhile – community. To me, that’s the golden ring.
But it’s possible to do things that hurt those connections, and thus hurt the community. Talk down to people. Target them. Treat them like nothing more than recipients for the message you want them to get. Don’t listen to them.
And on a more subtle level, you can do things that don’t necessarily hurt the connections and the community, but don’t do anything to build them, either. Things like being boring or uninteresting. Not providing any human surface area for people to connect to.
In my opinion, that middle ground is the most dangerous place to be. It’s where we (and I’m definitely including myself) get complacent, lazy, and (yes, I’m going to say it), arrogant.
I’m sorry this whole thing spiraled into whatever it was. It’s not fair of me to judge you as a person based solely on what you write on your blog, and I apologize for any offense that was given.
I’d like to get to know you better – to connect with you in a meaningful way. But I’m frustrated because I can’t find much human surface area to attach to. It’s all business and marketing. So I guess what I’ve been trying to say, and ask for, is for you to provide me (and others) a little more of your human voice, so we can build a better connection.
Does any of that make sense? Or am I really just crazy, and talking nonsense? I feel that way sometimes…
I felt calmer after posting that. I felt like I had gotten to the bottom of the argument I was trying to make, and had found a way to say it that hopefully wouldn’t be too prickly and raise too many hackles. I was, honestly, feeling like I had accomplished something in the midst of the arguing and debate.
I really felt like I was exposing myself, emotionally, when I wrote that. I was sharing my true feelings, without varnish, without buffer. I’ve found in the past that putting myself out there like that was scary, but worth it, because if I didn’t, I’d be a hypocrite, telling other people to be human and share their real, human voice if I wasn’t willing to do it myself. And people are usually respectful, and tend to open up themselves after I’ve done so.
But this time, it backfired on me, and I got hurt.
In the comments that followed, a coworker that I consider a friend, someone who “gets it” (and who I don’t even want to name here, for fear of appearing like I’m trying to lash back at her or something, which I’m not) had this to say:
Josh, have you ever considered the reason you lack respect is your voice? You come across as condescending when you discuss how you invented…I mean…discovered social media before anyone else. Yes, there must always be a pioneer. And thank you for your efforts in that arena. But noone will take you seriously when you continue to tout your position as social media guru (even if you don’t use the words) and talk (or throw around labels like arrogant) at people instead of with people. That’s what makes this dialogue so ironic. You’re doing exactly what you claim to abhor.
(Here comes the mushy part where I talk about my feelings – you’ve been warned!)
It really hurt to read that. I felt almost like I had been physically smacked upside the head. I felt that way partly because it was unexpected – coming from someone I consider a friend, and partly because it made me start thinking “maybe she’s right – maybe I’m arrogant and condescending and no one has ever bothered to tell me before”. No one had ever said something like this to me before. No one had ever stated or implied that I act like I “invented” social media at Intel. The thought never occurred to me, and I’ve never tried to be like that. But what if she was right?
I posted a response, talking about Intel’s dog eat dog Focal review culture, and how if I didn’t take credit for things I had done, no one else was going to give me that credit. But that’s not what I was really thinking about…
Now, I mentioned earlier that there are very few personal details of my life that I don’t share on the web. My life is pretty much an open book. But one thing I’ve never really talked about online is how I’ve always struggled with my sense of self worth. Or rather, than I have a very persistent, severe tendency to get down on myself, to start thinking that I’m not doing anything right, and feeling like I’m not worth anything. Yes, I’ve sought professional help. I feel like I generally keep these feelings under control, but they’re always there, under the surface, and I don’t know what it was about today – the passionate nature of the people involved, or my own strong feelings on the topic, but once I read those words, I couldn’t think of anything else.
Usually, when I get like this, I just withdraw from my online life – I stop blogging, leave Twitter alone, and find something to do to get through the rough spot. It would be easier if I drank, or had some other mind altering vice (Ben and Jerry’s doesn’t count, does it?). I’ve been embarrassed to talk about “my feelings”. I figured there’s got to be SOMETHING I keep to myself, and don’t share with the world. And yet, here I am, writing this blog post. Consider it Self Therapy by Blogging.
So I need to ask you a question. Besides all of my own self-loathing issues, I need to be sure of something. I need to know if there’s something I can do better, to make some real change come out of all this. So I need you to tell me if you think I’m arrogant, condescending, take credit for things I didn’t do, or otherwise behave like a jerk.
I want to know so I can stop doing it, and correct any wrongs that I’ve done. Not because I’m feeling sorry for myself, and I want you all to pile on. And not because I’m feeling sorry for myself, and I’m fishing for complements and pats-on-the-back to make myself feel better.
I honestly want to know, so I can become a better person. You are my friends, and I value you what you think. if I had spinach in my teeth, I’d want you to tell me. Same thing here. 😉
Leave a comment, or drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’d rather talk in private. Thanks for listening to me talk about my feelings!