Last week a middle-aged social media consultant whose name I won't share (but which rhymes with "This Boor")—divulged to his 4,364 Facebook friends that people just aren't quite measuring up these days:
You know what I find odd. How many times I invite people to my house, my events and other activities and how infrequently it is reciprocated. ... I forget how self centered and eogistical people are. Maybe it's a good thing that this surprises me, that I have faith in humanity and our sense of community. But I am more mature now and don't have time for people's immature or petty bs. It's not that I'm jaded per se, but I am taking a close look at who I consider to be my friend and expect that list to see a drastic reduction before summer is over.
I get this is my own unique challenge because I care about other people deeply and not everyone can reciprocate, because I give a lot to others without asking or expecting much in return, but of late the welcome mat has been worn thin. ...
I always knew that healing the world would be tough work, I just misunderestimated the personal toll it would have on my soule and psyche.
Most shocking about this post is that none of his Facebook friends replied to it critically. Likely, they were too self-centered and egotistical to bother.
Well, I guess I just care about other people too deeply—and am too dedicated to healing the world—to let a post like this go. On behalf of every single one of the social media consultant's friends, I write this open letter:
Though it's kind of the first thing a social media consultant should know, you've left me to break it to you: People think about themselves from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to bed. (And then until they wake up again, they dream about themselves.) This self-centeredness afflicts serial killers and social workers, animal rescuers and elephant poachers, New York City firemen and social media consultants.
In the course of thinking about themselves, people often think of others. They value some human qualities over others, but generally, they think well of people who think well of them, and ill of people who don't.
As for "reciprocating," that's a tricky one. You start keeping score on people, and you open yourself to people keeping score on you. Try to imagine what would happen in your social media consultant brain if someone invented software that would tally the number of people whose bogus promotional posts you have "Liked," but who have not "Liked" your bogus promotional posts. Your social media consultant brain would go up in electrical smoke. (As my mother used to say—about everything—"It's not a contest.")
You sound like the guy who doesn't have a girlfriend these days, and complains that women only go for jerks, rather than the nice guys like you. Except, you have more than four thousand girlfriends. And now you're calling us a bunch of shallow bitches. I'm no social media consultant, but that does not seem to me to be a good social media strategy.
Whatever you thought you were doing with this post, I'm sure it's not consistent with any spiritual or humanist philosophy. Perhaps in a prolonged caffeine frenzy, you made all these "Friends." Now you find us overwhelming and draining. Hey, the best four thousand friends in the world can make a fellow feel that way! This is on you, Bub. And if you want to pare down the grandiose social life you have made, you should go about it quietly.
Feel free to start with me.
It is one thing when some corporate marketing department declares it's going to create "content" that is "bold," "edgy" and "awesome." From such places, banal hyperbole is to be expected.
It's another thing when the nation's second largest producer of public radio programs—Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media—comes out of a board meeting as it did last month with this as its first priority:
"We lead with Awesome Content. At our heart, we are a content, programming and creative organization, and it is imperative that we are constantly thinking about how all of us contribute to the creation, delivery and support of Awesome Content."
First of all, how could a radio operation possibly need to remind itself that "content" is "at our heart." Imagine mom and pop at the butcher shop huddling for a weekend and reporting to the employees on Monday, "Boys, it's all about the meat." Eureka!
Second: The accountant, the IT director and the receptionist are not going to be "constantly thinking" about how they contribute to the creation, delivery and support of Awesome Content. If they were, they wouldn't get any accounting done, computers fixed or phones answered, and you would have to let them go. Your advertisement for their replacements would include the phrase, "must be willing to focus primarily on own function in organization."
Third: "Awesome"? I've heard a lot of wonderful radio shows over the years, but none that I would have described to anyone older than 12 as "awesome." And a lack of awesomeness is part of the beauty of public radio: Public radio at its best is intimate, it's subtle, it's thoughtful. It is not "awesome" in the mind of anyone other than a bubble-headed young marketing geek who also calls his parents awesome, his dog awesome and the free car wash he gets with his oil change awesome. Is that who's in charge at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media?
Finally: "Content." As the program chairman for the Content Marketing Awards, I have had, with grinding teeth, to accept "content" as a term corporate marketers need to describe stuff they produce that's neither corporate communication nor advertising. But when a radio station or a magazine or a website describes its product in such bland terms ... well, let me quote American Public Media's own Garrison Keillor.
A few years ago, Keillor was asked how he creates "content" for his variety show, A Prairie Home Companion.
"I sure wish we could get rid of that word 'content' to refer to writing, photography, drawing, and design online. The very word breathes indifference—why would one bother about the quality of work when it's referred to as 'content'? ... I loathe the word. It's like referring to Omaha Beach as a development."
Reader, do you agree with the above Content? How would you rate it on a scale from one to 10, 10 being Awesome?
To my astonishment, I just realized that in the last 12 months, I have visited 22 U.S. states and three foreign countries. And on no one mission or type of mission—and in fact no two or three or four.
Am I searching for something, running from something, or just suffering from a kind of spiritual spasticity?
I don't know. But it seems to me I'm getting to an age where a person should start organizing his energies, pointing them in one general direction, and not a dozen.
I'm resolving to make this the year of that. I'm going to be home more Sundays this year, and read more of my favorite kinds of self-help articles, the New York Times obituaries.
Everything I do, I'll ask: Does this fit into the obit? (Perhaps I'll invent a machine to wear on my wrist: the FitObit®.)
If it couldn't possibly—or if it shouldn't ever—I'm not doing it in the first place, because I don't have time.
Yeah, that's gonna be my slogan for the year. David Murray: Writing my obit every day.
Yeah, more on that later. I'm off for an early-morning round of golf.
"An avid golfer, Murray liked to tee off at dawn, to get to his writing desk by nine ...."
Here's the epic story of Scout's and my blue-highway journey from Bozeman, Mont., up through Glacier National Park, across the lonely "Hi-Line" road across northern Montana, into North Dakota, down through South Dakota and back to Chicago. Join us as we trespass on private land, try to derail a train, and screw around with lots of wild animals.
I recently returned from a long road trip with 10-year-old Scout. We had the time of our lives.
Across Montana, North and South Dakotas, Nebraska and Iowa, pretty much everybody we interacted with for more than a moment remarked on how much fun we seemed to be having, and what a good idea it was to take such a trip, just the two of us.
And then, if they were middle-aged (and in the West, most hotel workers, hotel employees, gas station clerks and waitresses are), they inevitably turned to me and added something to the effect of, and not much more subtle than, "Enjoy this time, because she's going to hate you soon, and she'll keep on hating you until she's in her twenties."
I wanted to say, "Thanks. I hope you enjoy this time too, Marge, because in just a few years, you're going to be suffering from some combination of heart disease, arthritis, and premature senility."
My dad remembered sailing into the port at Le Havre, France in WWII, and passing another ship carrying soldiers back from the front. The grizzled veterans (all still 19, of course), yelled across to the terrified greenhorns, "You'll be sorry!"
Is that the filthy and familiar human impulse that these parents are indulging in when they warn me that the very light of my life will soon go black, perhaps to re-ignite someday in the distant future?
Or are they really just hoping that I appreciate the happiness I have, because maybe they didn't know what they had until it was gone.
Well, I do know what I've got. I've got a beaming powerplant of enthusiasm and curiousity, brightness and love. And what I've got is standing right here and listening to you—and you, and you, and you, and you—tell her that despising her parents through her teen years is inevitable (and hence, not despising them would be deviant).
I'm sorry you had such a hard time with your kids, but I don't need the warning, and Scout doesn't either. You can tell by her uncomfortable and confused smile. And mine.
At the first World Conference of the Professional Speechwriters Association in May, the notion surfaced of a "speechwriter's code of ethics." The notion struck me as both intellectually intriguing, and a promising concept for an article in The Onion.
I was put in mind of the idea yesterday, when I read writer Amy Westervelt's public vow to stop writing "content" for companies, in part because "I’m tired of making rich, white dudes seem more thoughtful than they are. Yeah, I said it."
Westervelt decries the "usual 'let them eat cake' attitude corporate types have toward creative types in general ('I know! Why don’t we hire a journalist to write this think-piece? They’re all desperate for cash, they’d be happy to take this on for way less than we pay anyone else.')"
It’s not that I don’t see the value in executives writing about their perspectives and their work. I’ve worked with plenty of really smart CEOs (that’s why I took these gigs in the first place), and their take on things is interesting and well worth a read, especially in business publications. I’d just prefer to see them writing more of it themselves (okay maybe with some help—let’s face it, not everyone can string sentences together convincingly), and sticking to their own areas of expertise. I’d also like to see less space being given to these stories than to unbiased, reported work. These pieces should flow naturally as an outgrowth of a person’s experience and expertise, they should not be a whole additional job for either the executive or, as is the case now, the person they hire to impersonate them. The trouble really begins when marketing departments and PR firms push CEOS for a blog post a week—that’s something no CEO worth his or her corner office has time for, nor should they—and when they get sucked into thinking they need to philosophize on topics well outside their purview.
I don't disagree with a word she says. She's right. As a writer and just as a citizen, it's bad to live in a media marketplace where underpaid (and under-experienced) writers are inventing brilliant messages for CEOs in compliance with a command that a speechwriter once called, "Write down my ideas as if I had them."
But the thing is, we don't live in such a world. Yet. (Do we?) In the world I live in, anyway, CEOs are reluctant pundits who don't hire starving journalists to write their speeches, op/eds and blog posts, but who use speechwriters to do so. When CEOs give the speechwriters access to their calendars and to their minds, they wind up looking as interesting in public as they are in person, and slightly more polished. When they shut their speechwriter out, they wind up spouting platitudes that no one listens to.
What they definitely don't do is mouth compelling or influential ideas conceived by writers out of whole cloth.
Writing for executives is often a pain in the ass that people put up with because it pays. So I understand Westervelt's decision to "never again pen a 'thought leadership' piece or a corporate blog post. I refuse to have even one more conversation in which I explain to a publicist or CEO why I will not connect them with editors I know, or why it would be impossible for their 'contributed content' to appear in The New Yorker. I can’t take it anymore."
Good for Westervelt.
But just because CEOs are often dumb about media and thoughtless about communication ... well, that doesn't mean they don't deserve communication counsel. It means they deserve better, and more assertive counsel. That will come not from journalists taking a content gig to make a buck, but from people—among them ex-journalists—who have given themselves over more fully to the task of making good leadership communication.
"Maybe if we all jump off the 'content' bandwagon," Westervelt concludes a bit pollyannaishly, "maybe CEOs and their publicists will stop worrying about establishing themselves as thought leaders in the media, and actually be thought leaders. You know, in their actual industries, writing one or two really thoughtful, great pieces per year."
Well, that would be great. But it's probably not going to happen. And if it does, it won't be because one or many struggling journalists stopped ghostwriting for CEOs, though I generally agree that they should do so.
No, an improvement in leadership communication will happen when a few serious speechwriters begin having honest conversations with their CEOs, about sustainable thought leadership. More on this concept later. But meanwhile, thanks to Amy Westervelt for a thoughtful post about a personal decision. May her byline proliferate.
From a DNAinfo story last month:
They'll call the 138,000-square-foot indoor sports training facility with a $15 million price tag, the Pullman Community Center.
But really, it's way more than that, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said.
"This is a game-changer all day long because of what it will do for the development of kids in the area," Beale said.
If the Pullman Community Center is a game-changer all day long, then it must also be the biggest no-brainer in the history of the universe, am I right?