By most metrics, I spend far too much time on Facebook — which of course means I think it’s just enough.
I consider my posts there “pencil shavings”: scattered puns, absurdism and issues that quickly capture whatever’s crossed my mind. Questions I ask about politics or culture often kick off lengthy debates among interesting people. They may bottom out in angry stalemates or fall victim to Godwin’s Law, but I find they help me work through what’s bugging me most about the issue.
One topic I come back to again and again is a type of content that Facebook eats up: flawed stories that gain momentum through shares and likes, usually with a strong political bias, usually repeated by like-minded sites, usually anecdotal, sometimes invented under the guise of satire but repeated as truth.
Whether they’re on Breitbart.com or Daily Kos or sites that are smaller and/or even sloppier, there’s more wrong with these stories than I can cover in one post. So I’ll concentrate on a simple journalistic skill that seems to have been forgotten in the era of reporting on others’ reporting: picking up the telephone and calling primary sources.
Odds are this post will seem anachronistic six months from now, but I’m still excited about the flash of interest in social-media upstart Ello, inspired in large part by Facebook’s continued incomprehension of some sociological fundamentals.
As I’ve noted in a few forums, Ello has picked up new accounts started by tech-savvy users, people who use stage names and other pseudonyms, and even news sites in the wake of a dust-up over Facebook’s draconian enforcement of its real-names policy to exile drag queens and other users who employ monikers other than their birth names (disproportionately targeting the LGBT community).
Facebook VP of Product Chris Cox last week ran a post apologizing for the crackdown and attributing it to one user reporting hundreds of drag performers. While the rules will remain the same, Cox wrote, the company will apply them with more sensitivity.
Cox’s assurances may have worked. (And I actually believe he’s being honest in his dismay about the unintended consequences of Facebook’s rules and the company’s wish to do better.) Anecdotally, I’m now seeing less interaction between users I’m following and Ello’s admittedly Spartan feature set.
But I’m still rooting for Ello to persevere, both because I’m enjoying the adventure of a new platform and the opportunity to think hard about Facebook’s critical mass in social media. Whatever Cox and Facebook consider the spirit of company policy, the letter remains very restrictive — and its enforcement hinges on enabling any user with any agenda to derail the account of another with a single confidential complaint.
I horrified a lot of Facebook friends yesterday when I admitted I’d never seen an episode of “The Sopranos.” Until I got Verizon FiOS recently, my access to premium channels was limited; my kids have had dibs on the TV for a couple of decades; and I’m not great at sitting still or scheduling viewing times.
Nevertheless, I know how important the show and its late star, James Gandolfini, were to a vast audience. So now that the news of his death in Italy has broken, I’m waiting for the second wave: the swell of tangential stories that tie the even to everything from technology to automobiles to dining. It’s a mighty act of triangulation, and it’s something every one of us in the content industry has done at one time or another. There’ll be stories about tourism in Rome, sights to see in New Jersey, the 13 best cars in “The Sopranos,” and on and on.
“If you name the band after yourself, you can never get fired.” That bit of rock-‘n’-roll wisdom prompted me to call my company “Matthew Rothenberg LLC” back when I limited my liability and procured my EIN in 2008.
But lately, I’m beginning to think that what was good for the Jimi Hendrix Experience may not be so hot for my corporate profile. In fact, I’m inclined to decouple the name of the company from the name of its founder.
Wigberto Serpa. Tanya Cheeks. Ty-Shonn Evans. These are all names stamped on the bottom of brown paper bags I get at restaurants and retail shops. It’s become a habit of mine to look under my bag and find the name of the person who made it, so I can wonder about what else they do or find a match for a name I already know.
I don’t know what the manufacturer had in mind, but the personal moniker is a cool touch of humanity that reminds me real people are making this stuff. I’ve Googled the bag makers and learned a little about them. (If you look up “Wigberto Serpa,” you’ll see I’m not the only person who’s interested in his name.
(My buddies over at Contently included an essay of mine in the latest version of their Content Strategist magazine. I’ve been doing a lot of content strategy work for different clients … and I’m watching the term turn into a catch-all for anything from editorial to marketing to body copy to UX. Here’s a stab at sorting out the mess.) “Nowadays, ’content strategist’ is another phrase for ‘unemployed editor,’ “ my colleague laughed.
Ouch! There’s a sting of truth in those words. Granted, the title is better defined in some sectors — such as digital agencies, where it’s closely aligned with user experience. In other spheres, it’s quickly been devalued as a catch-all phrase for any activity that generates blocks of words.
That’s especially true for companies outside traditional publishing, where words haven’t been a source of revenue. These enterprises are accustomed to content marketing, and they’ve heard that content strategy is important. Nevertheless, they may not see a role for customer communications beyond “brand enhancement” or “thought leadership.”
The result? Many job descriptions for “content strategists” that aren’t strategic at all, and lots of corporate microsites half-full of articles that live in isolation from the actual business of the company.
Think about it: A manufacturer of cleaning products launches a WordPress blog and hires someone to populate it with articles about housekeeping. Is this strategic content, or is it simply commoditized copy that is (a) disconnected from the business of driving glass-cleaner sales and (b) just another small voice in a Web already teeming with household tips?
There’s a better way for companies to approach content — one that’s truly strategic. To me, the key to genuine content strategy is integrity, both in aligning with the company’s brand and its business goals.
There is at least one Rothenberg who’s taking real advantage of blogging as a tool for personal branding: my 81-year-old father Jerome Rothenberg, a lion of experimental poetry with more than 80 books to his credit.
My parents’ participation in the “little magazine” movement during the 1960s and ’70s inspired my own excitement about the DIY power of early desktop publishing in the 1980s. (I remember blue-lining literary magazines from about age seven.)
My folks have not slowed down, and my father hasn’t lost his interest in new ways to spread the word. He started his own blog, “Poems and Poetics,” in 2007, and he has built a substantial following based on his own reputation and his steady attention to adding new content that combines poetry with personal insight and autobiographical detail.
Jerome Rothenberg recently added a Facebook account to his arsenal, quickly picking up a set of fans along the way, and has been using it to great effect to promote the work on his blog. Next stop, Twitter?
Like Geraldo Rivera prying open “Al Capone’s vaults,” I broke a few electronic locks on this blog and slid into the dusty darkness. And like Geraldo, the results are pretty underwhelming — a few bottles here, some mummified rats in the corner, and not a lot of content.
For a blog titled “matthewrothenberg.com” — a blog that bears the domain of someone with decades in the business of communicating, mostly via the written word — this place really sucks. To start cleaning up this mess, I might as well consider how it got so musty and flyblown in the first place.
Confession #1: I only set up this blog as a container for my resume. Back in October 2006, my friend and then-Hachette colleague Chris Herring pointed out that while I’d been happily participating in social media for years (including curating the user-generated content for ZDNet News), I’d never gotten around to taking this simple step toward self-promotion. D’oh!
The last night of our tour, in Chicago, our host at the bookstore introduced Marc as CEO of TheLadders — then began to read off my bona fides as social technologist for Flickr! I stopped her and cleared up the confusion.
It was actually a great object lesson in our career guidance to Google yourself, the better to be ready for any identity UFOs.