Top Five Mistakes Individuals Make on Social Media

Sally Struthers

Sally Struthers

After extensive research (time on Twitter) and deep study (that insomnia period between 2 and 4AM), I have compiled a list of the most common mistakes made by individuals on social media. I feel I should cite my sources so here goes:  Linda.  (Man, citations are a royal pain, aren’t they??)

Now, sure, we’re not all on social media for the same reasons. Some are here to network, to increase influence by building and engaging with people.  Some are here for shenanigans. Sometimes these two groups behave differently, and that’s OK. That’s what makes it interesting and fun.  Occasionally, the rules for all are the same, regardless of why we’re here.

Don’t cry, Sally. I’ll make this as painless as possible. 

1. No profile picture or, even worse, a horrible profile picture:

Your profile is part of your online identity.  It’s a key component to how people connect to you virtually. Now, I get it – we can’t all be beauty queens like Sally here. But, girl, work that selfie!  Show your smile, your personality, your quirk. Problem with a double-chin? Don’t worry – I have an angle!

Shenanigans people: so you want to remain anonymous, huh? We’re OK with that. Find something that speaks to who you are, even if it’s not your face. Find a cartoon character or a brand or an item. One of my favorite Twitter people uses a drawing of her made by her toddler. Another friend uses Yosemite Sam. Your favorite wine label. A killer high-heel shoe.  There is something out there you can find to help people make a visual connection, even if it’s not with your adorable face.  And Brandon??  Um, no.  Not that. Please.  I’m sure yours is lovely – I don’t need to see it.

2. Profile empty or incomplete:

After the visual connection of a picture, the content of your profile is the next most important thing. Whether it’s LinkedIn or Twitter or Jive – tell people what you’re there for, give them a reason to connect with you.

Shenanigans people: same deal, dawg. Make it edgy or funny or sweet. Just don’t make it mundane.  Anything but mundane. Most importantly, be original.

3. Locked-down privacy:

If you’ve chosen to engage on social media, you have to give ’em something. If you are so locked down nobody can see anything, you are sending a “No Trespassers” sign to those who may want to connect. Perhaps that’s your intent – far be it from me to judge.  To me, it’s kind of like going to church and when someone reaches out for the ‘Peace be with you’ handshake, you turn wearing a sign that says “I’m not here for the interaction.”  Put out a little bit of a welcome mat if you’re coming to the party.

Shenanigans people: let me in! Sometimes it’s the tightest locked accounts that have all the good stuff! You are the back room at the club where one has to be tapped on the shoulder and invited to get through the green door. You make us all curious, and a little nervous. Keep it up!

4. Taking without giving:

Social media is built on a system of give-and-take.  Sure, that big account doesn’t give you the time of day, even though your mama thinks you are a brilliant, shiny, unique snowflake.  But that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t pay into the system. Don’t worry about him – worry about yourself. Didn’t your mama ever teach you that? If he jumped off a bridge… well, never mind.  If you’re a taker – there to pimp out your content only without ever giving back to somebody – eventually people will be turned off by that.  I like using a rule-of-three.  For every 1 thing I push out, I take time to appreciate at least 3 things pushed out by others. Or maybe 10. Sometimes 20 or 30.  I like to give! It makes me feel less needy and greedy.

Shenanigans people: you’re attention whores – just accept it, make peace with it, and let your freak flags fly. Just kidding – this rule applies to you, too.  Give more than you take.  Good rule for humanity in general.

5. Over-reliance on the Like:

Yeah, we all use the Like a lot. It’s important – don’t get me wrong. It says “I was here.” It might say “I agree.” Or maybe just “I saw this.” and, go figure, sometimes it even means “I like what you shared.”  But what if the world devolved into a place where all people gave was Likes?  IT’S NOT ENOUGH! We all want interaction, the conversation, the discussion, the debate. Occasionally take time to engage beyond just the Like. Occasionally leave a comment or ask a question.

Shenanigans people: you’re there for the feel-good whoosh of attention and interaction. A Like isn’t enough for you – you want that deeply felt LOL or contemplative Haha.  It means something, man. A Like is one click. An LOL is only 3. Won’t you give 3 clicks to make an under-appreciated sit-down comedian feel better about himself? You can make a difference! Please give. (You read that while picturing Sally Struthers wiping a tear away, didn’t you? I hope so because that’s what I intended. CAN I GET A HA-HA?? This level of comedy doesn’t come for free, you know. Time to pay the piper!)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Social media is personal – do it your way. But make sure you are sending the signals you intend to be sending and behaving in such a way that is consistent with what you wish to get out of it.  If you want the connections and interaction, then perhaps one of these tips will make you think differently about your profile or what you give in to the system.

But hey – if you’re an enigma, a fiercely private person, anti-social… well, maybe consider one of these for your profile picture:

 

goopy-get-off-my-lawn

getoffmylawn

Social Personification of an Entity

WhatAboutBobWhat a dry title for a post, eh? Maybe I should call it “The Lizard that Sells You Car Insurance”.

But this post isn’t about lizards because ewww. It’s about “those people” – the nameless, faceless people that run an entity or a function. Nameless, faceless people are always suspect. Those idiots at the DMV (for those reading who are not US-based, that’s the Department of Motor Vehicles), for example. Nameless, faceless people are often idiots who are blamed for bad things.

Guess what? To someone out there, you are part of a nameless, faceless group. Think of it in terms of your work-life. Those idiots in IT. Those idiots in Accounts Payable. Those idiots in HR. (Just a bit of advice – never utter “Those idiots in Payroll” where you may be overheard. Bad, bad idea. Don’t mess with Payroll!)

One definition of personification is making the inanimate come alive. We see it in advertising all the time – the Geico lizard, the Pillsbury dough-boy, the Jack-in-the-Box who sells us cheeseburgers.

What I’m talking about is a little different than that. I lead a group who are sometimes referred to as “those idiots in Purchasing”. Hi, nice to meet you. I’m the head idiot. I’m talking about the personification of a group or entity. Bring that group to life!

The truth is that Purchasing or IT or HR or AP are all made up of people and probably 87% of them are definitely not idiots. Nobody knows that, though, because they just see it as one big nameless, faceless entity.

Enter Social Business.

Social business is personal – it’s not just a company or a department or a function. It’s the people behind it – the names and faces of many non-idiots. It’s letting customers (internal and external) see those faces and learn those names and it’s about creating engagement, connection, understanding, and trust.

In my experience, when your group is nameless and faceless, no one has any trust in what they are doing. You could have the most brilliant minds ever steering the ship, but if nobody can see that captain or the crew, they think the ship is being tossed about on a corporate ocean at the random whim of the prevailing winds. They will not believe in the course you have set until they see and know the people who have set that course and are steering that ship.

Social business allows us to do that. Quit hiding behind a generic entity name. Encourage the captains and crews to step out on the deck and say “Hi, I am the captain of this ship.” or “I am the crew member who manages the sails.” or “I am the crew member who monitors the stars”. (That is the extent of my sailing knowledge all poured out in that metaphor. I learned all I know about sailing from the movie What About Bob. In other words, not much. Hey, I’m from Missouri – we don’t sail on the Mississippi, people!)

My team at work has gained significantly in awareness, engagement, understanding, and trust since my company has implemented the Jive social business platform. We have made ourselves visible and vocal. We’ve put on our listening ears and we’ve collaborated with our customers. We have helped and guided and explained. It’s not like I expect a point to come where we will no longer participate in this way – it will be ongoing. But – and this is the important part – the more people we reach, the more visible we are, the lower the number of people who refer to us as “those idiots in Purchasing”. They know our names and our faces, they know we are steering the ship and adjusting the sails and watching the stars.

Trust is the golden cup here. Social business via Jive is the means by which we achieve it.

Emoticonfessions of a Social Media Person

emoticon crowdI started my online-social-networking life back in the mid-80s before such a term existed. Heck, back then the Internet hadn’t yet made it out of the science labs and universities. Windows v3 wasn’t yet launched and there was no such thing as the world wide web. Back then, we used 1200 baud modems and our regular phone lines and we dialed up to local Bulletin Board Systems (called BBS’s) because local calls were free and long distance calls were expensive.

I was a BBSer. I worked for a small computer company, and the technicians were all glorious geeks who opened up this world to me. I took my 1200 baud modem home to my IBM XT clone with its RGB monitor and I plugged it into the phone jack on my wall.

Back then, we used :- ) and ;- ) and they didn’t automatically turn into  and . Text smileys were all we had, so we got creative with them, and we liked it that way.

oldman

In social media today, the graphical emoticons have expanded and number in the many thousands. They are common on instant messaging platforms and other social sites. Some people love them so much, they make their content rain down with emoticons. Others – not so much. They see them as unprofessional, even juvenile.

Here is my confession: I love them. I recently let my freak-flag fly where emoticons are concerned in a blog post on my company’s social platform. I did it a little tongue-in-cheek (that means I was going for levity, if the phrase doesn’t translate globally). In fact, since I am often going for levity, perhaps that is why I feel the need to use them. Making a comment with a  and making the same comment without the  can yield very different results. I believe in using humor in the workplace and humor can be tricky with written word, so these little images help me not to be misunderstood – not to be taken seriously when I don’t intend to be serious.

Following my posting of that blog, a few people commented on use of emoticons. I was all ready to take grief for it, but the response was pretty much positive – people feel they add clarity, even levity.

I’ll confess further: I occasionally use them in business emails. Oh, not emails to customers, not anything official. I wouldn’t mind using them more, but I’m conservative in this regard. I use them to thank someone or say good job or even happy birthday. I have my own little folder of my favorites:

On the Jive platform at work, people see me use this one a lot, as I am the (self-appointed) queen of our social-network:

Iamqueen

People closer to me have likely seen some of these:

wow2thank-you-smileyprettypleaseplanefeedbackcongratscheersbirthday2centswinkpleasepick meluvhelp2bow

Some of the ones I love, I don’t use at work much, even if they accurately depict my mood in any given moment:

YAPYAPwaitingwhoopviolintapfoottantrumsumpinstomprolling pinsighnananonofingerwagdeadhorseboltbitenailsbackoutangry rant

You can see how annoying it could be if someone overused them. Where emoticons are concerned, less is more, I think. Use them sparingly if you’re going to use them.

I thought it might be an interesting discussion. Do you use emoticons at work? Do others use them? Is there a negative perception of them when they’re used? Do they have a place in business?

Sound off! Or just share your favorites – a picture is worth a thousand words, right??

Go With the Flow

 

white water raftingThe dictionary definition of flow is to move along steadily and continuously in a current or stream. That sounds about right when you’re talking about the physical world, but what if you are referring to the space between your ears?

A psychologist named Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (thank goodness for copy and paste) defines flow as the state of complete immersion. His exact words are “…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

As a writer, I know this term and I know this state of being. The words flow out of you without any effort on your part whatsoever. Those who pursue creative endeavors such as writing, painting, composing and the like are familiar with this. For athletes, it may be referred to as being in the zone. It’s a state of ultimate performance.

Is it a state you achieve inside your head, or does it rely upon external factors? Yes, yes, maybe, we don’t know. We are learning, though – we know more than we did before. In any case, the perfect storm and – BAM – you have flow.

It’s a super-power.

I’m not the right person to explain how it works in terms of brain-chemistry and all that sciencey stuff, but recognizing that it exists, I want to talk about how we harness it rather than just stumbling into it, whether for our own gain or for the success of our teams or businesses.

Can you imagine? What if you owned a business and you cracked the code for helping your employees tap into a flow-mode more frequently? You’d be sitting atop the Justice League of performance – you’d have an army of people with incredible powers at your beck and call. There would be no stopping you! How cool is that?

It’s not just about increasing productivity and improving profits. Heck, some managers do that with a whip and a threatening demeanor. This isn’t that. Flow is a positive state for your team, positive for individuals. If they can find their way there more often, they will be more productive, yes, and they will be more creative and innovative too. AND they will be happier.

Flow is a drug. It unleashes the brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) responsible for focus and attention. Ones that have those upper-effects we so desire.

I had a boss once tell me “It’s easier to pull someone back than it is to light fire under them and get them moving.” Motivating others through traditional means is challenging and often ineffective. It’s better to create conditions where people motivate themselves. Build a foundation upon which they can tap into their own flow and you can conquer the world, or at least the project you have built into your team’s objectives.

Think of it this way: if you have an 8-person raft on still waters, the amount of effort and coordination to get that thing moving down the river is considerable. And to get it moving quickly? Even bigger. What if there were a strong current beneath your raft? It would travel rapidly on the power of that current and the team members would be energized and infused with breathless excitement. Their focus would no longer be on moving the raft, but on optimizing the journey, keeping it upright, guiding it, getting to the finish line.

Not only would the result be superior, but the people on the journey would feel happier. They would enjoy a heightened level of satisfaction with the result. The amount of effort would feel less. The feeling of accomplishment would be significant.

Powerful stuff, eh?

We have a lot to learn about tapping into flow, but we know some.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi states that ennui is the acute opposite of flow. Ennui is defined as a state of utter weariness and discontent and it is, therefore, a mortal enemy to flow. Another enemy is distraction. If the menial detritus of life is taking up all of our head-space, we have no way to invite flow into the picture. We’ve all surely heard the saying ‘get in the zone’. It’s not ‘get in the zones’, which makes multitasking another enemy of the state.

Flow is the proper alignment between passion, purpose and the conditions designed to let them roar. Those conditions include freedom from too many distractions and breathing-room so one can focus on opening the channels and letting the energy flow in.

As an individual, I have not harnessed flow to the point where I can conjure it up at will. I recognize it when it hits me. With writing, for example, my brain goes into overdrive and the words and paragraphs tumble out, practically fully formed before my fingers can get them onto the screen. My body becomes merely a court-stenographer for my brain. I know when it comes, I need to simply let it. I can’t say “I don’t have time for that now, I’ll do it later.” It won’t be there later. I need to clear my schedule and let it flow.

Trying to find flow when it seem elusive is more difficult. For people like me, this is commonly known as writer’s block,. In my work life, it’s the block that doesn’t let me clear a hurdle, solve a problem. I haven’t fully discovered the secret to solving it, but I do have some tricks that help. Good sleep, enough head space, and most importantly freedom from distraction.

Have you ever noticed that when you are driving alone, or in the gym working out, that’s when inspirations hit you? That is because your physical world doesn’t impose distractions on you in these situations, your mind is immersed in thinking about whatever it is you are thinking about and it gets the cogs turning and gaining speed. You have created conditions optimal for flow. You aren’t interrupted by e-mail or phone calls or items on your to-do list in those moments. Instead, it is free to jump on a raft and ride the current.

Learning about how to invite flow into my life more often is important to me for all the reasons I give above. I want to feel that sense of ultimate performance, productivity, accomplishment. I want to create the space in my life and in my head, to allow for it. I want the energy it brings me. I want the results it delivers. I want all those things as an individual, and as a manager in business, I want that for my team.

Can you think of a time in your career where you worked on a project and it just seemed that every member of the project team was firing on all cylinders? Where the individuals felt energized, happy, and proud? Where deliverables were completed at a dizzying rate? Ideas were arising rapidly? The benefits are evident, shared between the individuals, the collective team, and the company and, yes, ultimately, the shareholders.

As a business manager, if you wish to benefit from the effects of flow, you are not powerless, especially when you have the support of those above you. Give your team a mission they believe in – a purpose. Share your passion. Passion is the gasoline that fuels the human engine. Give enough space to invite in the energy of flow, then buckle up and enjoy the ride.

You can’t force it. You can’t mandate it. You can’t manufacture it. All you can do is create optimal conditions and invite it, and when it hits? Well, congratulations on achieving whatever it is you and your team set forth as your mission.

With the power of flow, you can’t lose.

 

 

When Things Get Rough at Work

ImageWhen the going gets tough, the tough get going.

I’ve always liked that saying, more so to toss in the face of others when the going gets tough for them.  Don’t do it to me when I’m going through a tough time because I will make you sorry you said something so trite to me in the face of my very real challenging situation. You are risking Drama Girl if you go there. Instead, say “Oh, Linda. Your tough times are tougher than anyone’s. Trite sayings will never do. Here, let me give you a foot-rub and some Skittles™ and try to help you feel better.”

That sort of thing always works here.

Back to that saying…

Over the years it has changed. It still means the thing it was originally intended to mean: sometimes when things get tough, the resilient and dedicated among us roll up our sleeves and re-double our efforts and prove we are tougher than the situation.  We get in gear, we get going.  We do this when the result matters to us, when it matters to people we love, when it matters to someone.

In every natural disaster, the tough get going. When a little girl falls down a well or miners get trapped, the tough get going. When a loved one is fighting cancer, we get going.  We face it. We do what we can. We bring our A-game. We roll up our sleeves. We bake casseroles. We find time to actively help. We learn how to do new, hard things we’ve never done before.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

High-five to our tenacity, to our perseverance, our ingenuity, our willingness.

High five.

Here’s what I’ve noticed about that phrase,though. There is a second interpretation. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. They go. Buh-bye. See ya.

They leave.

The difference between the two groups is this: group one feels a sense of connection, loyalty, purpose, and passion toward the cause that requires them to ‘get tough’ – toward the person or situation or entity. Group two does not.

This is an important differentiation for business management who wish to lead their companies through tough times to better days. Companies need employees, but not just any employees. They need people who feel connected to the company, who feel passion and purpose. They need people who, when the going gets tough, are willing to be the kind that get going to help propel the ship past the storm and to calmer waters.

If employees don’t have that purpose or passion, that feeling of mutuality regarding care and concern, then people will get going by leaving. Why would they stay? For whom?  Their loyalty must be garnered, it cannot be mandated. It’s valuable and even necessary, but it must be earned.

Tough times call for tough decision-making and that isn’t fun nor is it easy. Employees may not like some of the decisions. They may not like flying in the back of the plane more often, free soda going away, or resource cuts. They may not like these kinds of decisions and they may groan and whinge, but eventually they will understand and accept.

But if decisions are taken that they don’t understand, that harm their own well-being at its core, that seem to waste their passion, drain them of their purpose, are fundamentally unfair, they won’t be able to get behind them. They will get going in a way that doesn’t serve the company.

The ones who are the most marketable, who have the most talent, who are most likely to bring innovation and ingenuity, will be the first to leave, because they can.

If the prize is at the top of a steep mountain, the first thing you do is make sure your climbers have everything they need to successfully reach it. You equip them properly. You let them know you care about their success, that you’re behind them and supporting them all the way. You help set the course, give them base-camp support. If you do that, they’ll get going and they will reach the top.

And if you don’t?

Well, they’re tough. They’ll survive.  They won’t climb this mountain but they’ll go find another one to climb to claim a different prize for another sponsor.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. One way or another, they get going. The difference is how they feel about the mission-leaders, based on how the mission-leaders feel about them.

Are you a mission-leader? What do your decisions say to your mountain-climbers about how you value them?

Brand Fan > Customer

Red-Lobster-Remodeled-RestaurantFact: Everyone selling something wants customers.

The corollary to that is we’re all selling something. Right here, right now – I’m trying to sell you on my savoir-faire.  On my writing, my business acumen, my social-business jen ne sais quoi.

On my amazing grasp of the French language.

When you’re selling something, what is the most important thing to have? A great product? An impeccable reputation? A good-looking sales force? 

Perhaps.

Surely the most important thing to have is customers, right?  RIGHT?

Maybe not.

Way better than customers are brand-fans. A customer will buy something from you and use it, but a brand-fan will become an extension of your sales force.  Even better – a horde of brand-fans become a groundswell of Crowd Marketing.

I’m writing about what, in essence, Malcolm Gladwell meant when he talked about The Tipping Point.

Companies are trying to figure out how to create that groundswell and find that tipping-point. I’m afraid you won’t find the secret formula here, even if you read to the bottom, mostly because there isn’t one secret formula. There are, however, some overarching concepts that seem to hold true for those who have achieved this highly-sought-after phenomena.  

Often, the brands that reach this nirvana weren’t primarily trying to make money – they were trying to provide something they truly believed in. They come across as genuine and 3-dimensional. In other words, they aren’t used-car-salesmen with overstated promises and an in-your-face sales style to the point where you avoid them like the plague. They care about you, their customer. Even if they don’t care about you as one individual customer, you see evidence they have shown care for other individual customers, which makes you think they probably would care about you if they had the chance to interact with you about something.

Here’s what many brands don’t get about social business: it’s not about overt selling on Twitter or  any of those social media platforms.  It’s about building your reputation in those places; winning individuals to become brand-fans.  We get to experience brands out there and see who they are, how they act.

And if they win us over? Watch out.

Because social business isn’t about Brand A selling to Customer B by tweeting a 15% off promo code.  Social business is about Brand A winning the heart of Customer B so that Customer B goes to Facebook and tells his 400+ friends “You have GOT to try this niche beer made by the local microbrewery! They are such a cool company and their beer is awesome!”

Let me tell you a story…

I participated on a message board in 2001 on a community site called ePregnancy that no longer exists.  It was a community for expectant mothers, allowing us to band together and compare our pregnancy aches and pains, ask questions, share hopes and dreams.  The forum we participated on was called Due In January and starting around the end of December, we all produced tiny humans – a few of us got more than one – and we moved, together, to the next stage in our journey.

Shortly after that, a couple dozen of us managed to assembled in one city and meet each other in person. The other 100+ members of the forum followed virtually on the message board while we shared photos and stories and wished they could have made it.  Here’s what it looked like:

the babies

Those babies are all turning 12 this month and we’re plotting to get together again and recreate this photo with a bunch of surly pre-teens. We’ll let you know how that goes.  Us moms are still together on a private message board community and still comparing our aches and pains and hopes and dreams.

There is a reason I am telling you this and it ties into social business and social selling. Hundreds of times over the past 12 years, I’ve seen the dynamic play out where one of the 100+ women comes into the community with a glowing endorsement for something, and each time, a subset of the community gets inspired and runs out to buy that thing.

When these January 2002 children were babies, one mom bought the Fisher Price Ball Blast toy and reported back how great it was and how much her little punkin-schnookums loved it and next thing you knew, there was a stampede of mothers who were desperate for ways to occupy their little punkin-sscnookumses and willing to try anything who ran out to buy it.

Next thing you knew, we had an army of small human beings learning to blast plastic balls all over the place and some of us  (perhaps only 1, ahem) eventually regretted chasing those stupid little plastic balls everywhere.

But I digress.

There have been many stampedes like this over the dozen years we’ve been together. Anything from make-up to books to gadgets to toys to kitchen appliances. I have been the follower of these endorsements, and I have been an endorser more than once.

Brand-fandom takes a happy customer to the next level – to become an endorser.  I don’t mean a person who writes a recommendation on Amazon, although that’s a good thing for brands to have too, but someone who stands in front of a crowd of people he or she knows personally and puts his or her stamp of approval on a product or service. The more third-party-endorsers (TPEs – it’s a thing, for real – GOOGLE IT!) a brand gets, the better its product does.

I’m no marketing person.  I don’t have Social Media in my title.  I’ve never worked doing PR.  But I know this much is true: the goal for any business is to convert customers too brand-fans, or it should be.  The methods?  Quit trying to sell so hard and instead try to build your reputation.  Engage. Earn trust. Answer questions. Solve problems. Make people laugh.  You cannot buy these fans, they must be earned.  There are no short-cuts.  Engage authentically.  Care about your customers and their problems.  Laugh at their jokes.  ‘Like’ their endorsements of your products.  Get social, bi-directionally.  Don’t just push your sales-blitz-promos out to them and wonder why it’s not effective.

I don’t follow many brands, but one exception is Mr. Clean because he makes me laugh and he never does a hard-sell on me.  You can bet there is a part of my brain that has a feel-good response to Mr. Clean and when I walk down the cleaning aisle at the supermarket, the fact that he’s given me occasional smiles with his humor mean his products have an advantage in my decision-making process.

MrClean

Therefore, I know that brands that are funny without doing a hard-sell are effective on winning me as a customer and potentially brand-fan.  I also know that brands that interact with me garner my goodwill.  A handful of times on Twitter, brands like Red Lobster and SlimJims have responded to my tweets that mention them.  I didn’t @mention them or tag them in the post, I merely mentioned their products in a silly tweet and they replied in an upbeat, friendly, and engaging way.

I won’t lie – it was a little bit of a buzz for me.

When brands interact with me in a positive way – without trying to commoditize me as a customer –  it creates an infusion of good feelings.  I like them better than I did before.  Hey, they noticed me, they talked to me. ME, little me! Wow.  Imagine more and more of that.

The truth is that I am already a brand-fan for Red Lobster. I plan to be buried in a casket filled with Cheddar-Bay Biscuits. I have taken a lot of grief for it over the years, but I sing my endorsement of their delicious biscuits from the rooftops.  I’m not ready to be buried in a casket full of Slim Jims yet, but I do feel fond of them and who knows what the future holds. Watch this space. Or the obituaries, maybe.

My most recent encounter is my favorite one yet.  Just last month, I made a joke on Twitter where I tagged two brands.  I never expected a response to the joke but one of the two brands did and this little teeny-tiny interaction totally made my day.  I love them for it.  I installed their app on my phone.  As such, I’m more likely to share their content on my social networks.  They won a little piece of my heart is what I’m telling you (even though they didn’t think my comedic genius was worth some Mountain Dew and Cheetos, which I vehemently disagree with!).

cheezburger

moutain dew

Let’s stop for a moment and reflect back on Malcolm Gladwell, shall we?  His book is subtitled How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

Companies all over are trying to force content to go viral.  They develop great content and have armies of people who pimp it out and, often, it falls flat.  What if Cheetos or Mountain Dew had jumped into this social-conversation with me and the Cheezburger brand?  What if it kept going? What if it got more hilarious? What if….

Come out to play with your customers.  Build your reputations. Build goodwill and trust. Build an army of super-fans who love you because you made them feel good and they will sing of their love from the rooftops and, hey, if something goes viral? Great!  If not, you still did the right thing.

You still did the right thing.

Me? I’m selling you my words.  More accurately, I’m giving my words away in order to sell myself.  Is that even legal?  I’m just trying to save up enough to fill my casket with Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits.

Your move, Slim Jim. 

Travel and the Myth of the Ugly American

trave parisIn my time with Thomson Reuters, I have had the good fortune to experience travel to a few countries I may not have otherwise been able to visit. Last year, I saw Bangalore and Hyderabad in India, London and Paris in Europe, and Buenos Aires in Argentina.

The photo here is of Paris. Lovely, right?

An American in Paris – the situation is rife with joke-material. Both the Americans and the French have a reputation for rudeness, but sometimes it seems each group is only aware of that particular reputation in the other. Recently, someone on Twitter made a joke about condescending French restaurant servers and it got me all fired up and inspired the post you’re now reading.

IT’S HIS FAULT!

Neither the French nor the Americans have cornered the market on rude and condescending behavior. Although it IS true that the British and Canadians are polite to a fault. (See what I just did there? I guess sweeping generalizations are fine as long as they are positive ones, but in fact they also perpetuate inaccuracIES so please consider that last sentence with a grain of humor, OK?)

I have friends from the United States who love to travel to other countries. When traveling, if asked where they are from, they don’t hesitate before answering “Toronto.” Canadians don’t have the same reputation as those of us from the lower part of North America. Some people from the US don’t want to be lumped in with people from the US. This makes me sad. I’d rather combat inaccuracies in this myth – or correct behavior if it’s accurate – than deny our homeland. If all the polite US travelers say they’re from Canada, it only exacerbates the myth.

Maybe Canada has the reputation of being polite to a fault because us Americans from the States are liars!

Is it warranted, though, this Ugly American myth? I imagine sometimes it is, but I do think the legend of it is bigger than its reality. Maybe I’m naive, but that is what I truly believe – that we’re not as bad as the jokes and comments would indicate. This is my second visit to France and I think their reputation for rudeness is overstated, too.

In my own travels, I have been honored to receive such amazing hospitality from all over. While I worry tremendously about being the rude American, I have never been treated as such. Not once.

And let’s face it – rude is contextual. In some countries, eye contact is aggressive and considered rude. In other countries, failing to make eye contact is rude. There is behavior that is woven into the fabric of our existence that is foreign to others. I am a typical American in that I tend to speak up, I gesture a lot, am rather direct. I try ever-so-hard to tone that down when I’m in other countries, but it’s difficult when it’s just part of me. And I truly believe that those who know me accept this as part of me and don’t expect or even want me to be different.

Which is the essence of this post, really. As a traveler to other countries, I feel obligated to do some research so I know about the local culture, what is rude and what is accepted, and I try to adapt my behavior so I am not the stereotypical Ugly American. On the flip-side, the people receiving visitors must also give latitude and embrace the differences of those visiting.

When there is graciousness on both sides, it works.

I hope I am worthy of all the hospitality I have been shown over the visits I’ve made to other countries. I hope I’ve done my part. I certainly have learned a lot about hospitality by being on the receiving end of it. If you ever come visit me in St. Louis, I promise I will take what I have learned and be a better giver-of-hospitality.

Let me know when you’re coming! I’ll bake a cake!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Discussion:

Have you traveled to other countries? What do you do to prepare for your trip so you don’t offend?

Have you extended hospitality to people from other countries visiting you? Are you inclined to judge or to understand when they exhibit behavior which is normal in their country but less so in yours?

Do you find the stereotype of the Ugly American or the Rude French to be accurate or over-stated? And what about positive stereotypes – the polite Canadian or Brit? Are those as potentially damaging?

I give a wide berth for humor and so I do enjoy jokes based on these, as long as I know the intent is truly just to make one laugh.