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I was inspired by Chris Brogan’s post today in which he discusses confidence and conviction. Before you read my comment (below), go check out his post and come back. Here are some highlights:

The guest at the table next to mine asked their server, “What do you think of the halibut special?”

The server replied, “I’m not really sure. What did you have in mind when you came in? You know, people really are much happier when they have something in mind. I think it’s okay. I’ve sold a lot of it. I haven’t personally tried it, but it looks good.”

All I was thinking was, if I were the server, I’d say this:

“It’s a great presentation: crispy top and served over our lime rice. I’ve sold lots of it today.”

[…]

No waffling allowed.

Confidence and conviction are the key to many things in life.

A frequent critic (and someone I admire a lot), Ben Kunz, once said something like this about me (not his exact words): “What I hate most about you is that you always sound like you know exactly what you’re talking about, and that’s dangerous.”

I took this to be a great compliment. Again, I admire Ben a lot. He doesn’t let me rest on my laurels.

I take great pride in my confidence and conviction in matters that are important to me. I use confidence as a leadership trait all the time. And I admit when I’m wrong as often as is necessary to make those two traits worth a damn.

This got me thinking. This is a pretty important topic, especially given Ben’s “dangerous” comment thrown in. It may not seem like it, but confidence and conviction are two of the most important building blocks of professional competence. And in an “industry” (Social Media) drowning in incompetence, the danger isn’t that someone should speak with conviction about what they are competent in. Incompetence posing as competence is the danger, not confidence and conviction. Here is my response to Chris’ post:

Reminds me of rule #3: Know your sh*t. As a waiter, an executive, a cultural anthropologist, a politician, a teacher, a doctor or whatever. Just know your sh*t. A waiter who hasn’t tasted everything on the menu isn’t taking their job seriously.

Knowing exactly what you’re talking about isn’t dangerous. It just means that when you bother to open your mouth, you aren’t just making monkey noises for the sake of getting attention. You speak with purpose about something you know about. I’ve watched you in action, Chris. If the common advice is to listen 80% of the time and talk 20% of it, you have the uncommon trait of pushing the ratio to its limits: You listen about 95% of the time and talk 5% of it, if that. That tells me that when you DO say something, I had better listen. And so far, even what you think is just improv is still seeped in insight. You have good instincts, Chris. It’s why you rarely say something dumb.

Likewise, when you don’t know something, you have no problem saying “I don’t know but let’s find out,” which takes confidence as well, and lays the foundations for conviction when someone asks the question again next time and you actually know the answer.

With all due respect to Ben, the danger isn’t to speak with confidence and conviction about things you know. The danger is to speak with false confidence and a facade of conviction about things you don’t know well enough. Too many people choose the latter as their MO. You don’t. It’s why I read your stuff.

We saw this last year with the Social Media R.O.I. debacle, which few of the self-professed “experts” and “gurus” who blabbed about the “mysterious” acronym bothered to even look up in wikepedia, much less learn about from a business class or an actual management job. Instead of either learning how to define R.O.I. or (god forbid) tie to a P&L, many just made up their own versions. Others dismissed the need for R.O.I. completely. Precious few admitted that R.O.I. was outside of their expertise, which was the right thing to do. The professional thing to do.

Here’s a tip: Community managers don’t necessarily need to be experts in R.O.I. – Case in point: If you’re an expert in customer service on Twitter, or community management, or online reputation management, speak with confidence and conviction about that. The guy responding to negative comments on facebook doesn’t need to be an expert in doing anything but creating content and managing positive and negative comments. The R.O.I. piece, let it go to someone better equipped and trained to deal with it. Leave the stuff you don’t know to people who DO know. Businesses need real expertise, not smoke and mirrors and made-up “expertise.”

As an aside, you will get a lot further in life by learning how to get good at something than pretending to be good at something you suck at.

Don’t lie. Don’t make it up, hoping you won’t get found out. Learn what you can, be honest about what you know and don’t know yet, and make sure that you know what you’re talking about before opening your mouth. In other words, just know your sh*t.

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I was in France when I shot this video.

In it, I talk about differences in Social Media adoption rates between the US and Europe as well as between B2B and B2C companies.

Also in this video, some thoughts about understanding your business first, Social Media second, and a quick little visual tour of the Suquet (the setting for the video). Shot in Cannes, the week after the 2010 Cannes Lions. Enjoy.

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The world before social media

Back in the day, most people were disconnected from the world. They lived in small family groups, peer groups, villages and neighborhoods, seldom connecting with the outside world. Aside from merchants, soldiers and sailors, few ever really scaled their reach beyond a few miles from home. Yet people were social in ways that we aren’t today. Life was by its very nature social. We didn’t watch TV or surf the web or read magazines. Laundry was washed at the local laundry fountain, where all the women washed their clothes together. Without adequate refrigeration, food had to be purchased daily from crowded markets. We lived and worked in close quarters. Neighbors lived much closer to us than they do today. Our homes were less spacious, the streets narrower, and the world was something that existed well beyond a horizon we hardly ever had a chance to discover. Annual festivals, celebrations, catastrophes and cultural events pulled us together at regular intervals and cemented our bonds with each other. Some might say that we were more social then than we are now: Pressed together in an analog world where little distracted us from human interactions and bound by strong social ties, we lived and breathed together as full-fledged members of our respective communities.

Then came the industrial revolution, and mass transportation, the telephone, television and the internet… and it all changed. We grew apart. Our homes became more spacious, our yards broader, and suddenly our neighbors were little more than strangers. We turned away from each other, preferring other modes of entertainment to basic human contact. Books, magazines, television, the internet, video games, portable music, cars, sports… We essentially became anti-social. We erected walls. We separated ourselves from the community and reconnected with it only on our own terms. We stopped writing letters and began writing emails. Our daily interactions became more and more impersonal. We isolated ourselves in comfort.

Then Social Media emerged from the antisocial communications machine and changed everything.

Yesterday, Edelman Digital’s Maria Prysock and David Armano asked “would a world without social media be more social?” It immediately made me think of this clear separation between the analog world of old and the new digitalized world. Having spent the last few weeks in Europe – much of it with my parents, both born in the 1930s’ – I was reminded of how much things have changed even in the last 50 years. People of my parents’ generation seem to both marvel at the way Xers and millennials adopted communications technologies but in the same breath bemoan the fact that digital connectivity is eroding our basic social bonds. Our ability to be comfortably content in each other’s company without having to push a button or interface with a device. Imagine how 13th century Europeans might have felt had they witnessed modern day people spend half their day fiddling with objects rather than talking with other human beings.

While it might be tempting to think of the answer to Maria and Dave’s question in terms of quality vs. quantity of social connections, it really comes down to a far less philosophical point: simple reach.  The world before Social Media may have seemed more social, but it was also clustered. Social had very little reach. It didn’t scale. It was limited to rigid, often closed social groups with their own power structures, rules, and limitations. The web may only be a proxy medium compared to say, the village well, the tribal long house or the local market – each a face-to-face medium – but it has served to significantly extend Social‘s reach (globalizing and liberating it, even) without stripping away its basic nature. Social Media’s ability to connect people globally, in real time and on their own terms redefines the very nature of the term “social.” It shifts it from a localized, tightly controlled phenomenon to a global and highly adaptive one. And in that, it is a cultural revolution unto itself.

Think about it this way: 200 years ago, what was the size of a typical person’s social circle? (The very term “social circle” is pretty telling.) 30? 50? Maybe 100 people? Your family, your neighbors, the butcher, baker, blacksmith and other tradesmen? The local clergymen? Your shipmates? Your troop? Your fellow students? More to the point, what was the size of that social circle’s geographic footprint?

See where I am going with this?

Compare it to today: Users of Social networking platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Linkedin and YouTube (to mention only a few) haven’t just broadened their social circles and turned them into complex webs of connections and interactions, but extended their reach geographically to a quasi global network as well. Social hasn’t just scaled. It has been redefined.

So I suppose at the very center of the “would a world without social media be more social?” question lies another question: How do you define social? Or rather, how do you separate old-world social – that focuses mostly on depth of connections – from the new, digitalized social – that focuses on breadth as well?

The thing about it is… digitalized social (social networks and socialized media) doesn’t and cannot replace the age-old social interactions generations of humans grew up with. Nothing can replace the nuances and impact of face-to-face communications, of one-on-one interactions, of handshakes, of hugs, of sharing drinks and stories and the warmth of a fire. Not video conferencing, not foursquare, not even augmented reality. Just as a newborn baby needs to map out her mother’s face with her own eyes, we need to press flesh and eat together and experience a bit of road together in order to form the bonds that our communities, businesses, organizations and social ties need to keep from coming apart. You still need to visit grandma and hug her. You still need to pet your dog. You still need to visit your parents and your friends every time you get a chance.

This is why Social Media fans rush to conferences where they can meet in person – the ultimate irony of the Social Space being that most of the money being made under its auspices still happens offline: #sxsw. #Blogworld. #LeWeb. #140Conf. #Social Fresh. #Blogwell. (Should I go on?) The same social dynamics are why remote meetings don’t work as well as on-location meetings. It’s why working groups who can’t be in the same room are typically far less efficient than working groups who can share the same space. Contracts are signed in person. Important meetings are worth traveling to. People still like to look a client or partner in the eye before pressing on with a relationship. Here in Cannes this week are the Cannes Lions, one of thousands of events that would never happen if we didn’t have a need to come together at regular intervals to celebrate what makes us tick.

More than 80% of human communications are non-verbal, still. The web hasn’t changed that. Ask an emoticon.

What the industrial age tore apart in our once simple and finite social habits is now being patched up by the socialized web and social technologies. Our need to be social isn’t affected by twitter, blogs or facebook. It isn’t affected by mobile technologies or the web either. How social we are as individuals isn’t dependent on our access to technology or lack thereof, but our ability to choose between being locally social or globally social is. And that’s the crux of this whole discussion: technology is just a tool. It provides a medium. Enablement. Socialized media are channels, nothing more.

Social technology is simply a proxy medium: The town square, the tribal long house, the hunting party’s fire multiplied by millions and touching every part of the planet equipped with an internet node. “Social” is a behavior first and foremost. The technology, the apps, merely pipes and real-estate.

Would a world without social media be more social? Yes. No. In a way. Social would simply take on a different form. A different meaning. Without the web itself, without cell phones, without Twitter and Foursquare and email, without TVs and earphones and shopping malls, perhaps we would turn away from the outer edges of our world and once again turn inward to our own local peer groups, to our neighbors, to our local social networks. Maybe. But those of us with social wanderlust would still find ways to reach out over the wall and the next forest and the next hill, by telegraph or carrier pigeon or corked bottle, knowing that half a world away, someone was dying to reach out to us as well.

Before Social Media, we built walls... and sand castles.

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The unfortunate yet necessary business of getting punched in the mouth

You learn a lot about yourself during your first fist fight. Especially when you know for a fact that the other guy is going to mop the deck with your face just because he can.

And that’s just the thing: It’s one thing to get into a fight you’re pretty sure you’ll win. It’s another completely to get into a fight even though you’re pretty sure you’ll lose, and still find the courage to stand your ground and see things through.

Close your eyes and hold that thought. We’ll come back to this in a sec.

Okay, so I know… this may seem like an odd topic for a blog that deals mostly with brand management, social media, business strategy, etc., but as I found with my “21 things” blog last week, there is a deeply human side to making inspired business decisions that we need to start focusing on a little more (not just here – in general). Why? Because business decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. People make these decisions. Human beings, with good days and bad days, filled with courage and plagued by cowardice, swelling with passion and weighed down by apathy. People as imperfect and flawed and riddled with self-doubt as you and I. Yes, the Steve Jobs, Jack Welches, Henry Fords, Walt Disneys, Bill Gates, Richard Bransons and Julius Caesars of the world are just as human as the rest of us, with their own problems, their own doubts, their own insecurities and their own challenges to overcome. But one of the things that separates them from the majority of people is their willingness to step forward even when the odds are squarely against them, and risk taking a very public and humiliating beating if things don’t turn out as they had hoped. But even they can come to a professional impasse if their “education” along the way skipped the essential rite of passage known as the boyhood brawl.

The first thing you probably need to get from this post is this: Because decisions cannot be divorced from the people who make them, who we are as human beings impacts those decisions at least as much as what we do professionally: A CEO is a role, not a personality trait. A general is a rank, not an emotional profile. A manager is a job description, not an indication of natural leadership. In other words, don’t let the cover story fool you: a title printed on a business card doesn’t reflect an individual’s ability to lead, inspire and show cunning any more than the size of their bank account or the make of their car.

What does a title really tell you about someone? If you live within a regimented corporate or military culture, it tells you something about where they stand in the pecking order and what power they yield over you and others, but that’s really about it. In matters of leadership, courage, integrity and mental fortitude, a job title doesn’t really tell you a whole lot about someone’s mettle. More to the point, a job title doesn’t tell someone a whole lot about themselves and what they are capable of when the chips are down.

The importance of dangerous tests and contests

Back in not-so-ancient times, boys were routinely tested as they grew up: Going into the woods alone for the first time. Climbing the tallest tree. Swimming across the river. Diving to the cold dark bottom. Catching your first fish. Killing your first fowl. Standing your ground against the older village or neighborhood kids. Tribal rights of passage. By the time a man reached adulthood, he knew exactly who he was. He knew his own strengths and weaknesses.

And the rest of the community did as well.

Via regular social tests and challenges, stars rose, stayed stagnant, or fell from grace. There was no hiding from it. The pecking order in human communities was always in flux, with the smartest and strongest leading, and others following, hoping for their chance to prove themselves someday and improve their position.

Only now, it seems that such personal tests, the ones that cemented not only reputations but confidence, self respect, courage and wisdom have fallen mostly by the wayside. Just for the record, graduating from kindergarten is not a rite of passage. Landing a 20% off coupon isn’t either. Neither is unlocking a fifth level prestige badge in COD Modern Warfare 2 on X-Box Live.

Here’s an observation. It isn’t a judgment. Just an observation: None of the people I have ever worked with or worked for while I was in the corporate world had ever been in a real fight. None had ever fought back when the bully shoved them in a locker or stole their lunch money. None had ever stepped in to help someone being mugged. None had ever finished a fight that some drunk jerk forced on them or one of their peers. And… coming from France – a country where little boys haven’t yet been taught that getting into the occasional fisticuff is a sign of deplorable behavior – I found this both surprising and unfortunate. Not because I find fights to be particularly edifying (I don’t enjoy them a whole lot, especially since I am not Chuck Norris), but because fighting – which mostly amounts to dealing with fear, confrontation, pain and the social pressures not to quit or lose – has been part of young mens’ “education” for tens of thousands of years. Like it or not, fighting each other is baked into our DNA. Men need these types of experiences in order to move from childhood to adulthood. Sport can be a decent substitute for some time, martial arts as well, but ultimately, nothing can truly take the place of actual combat. By creating an entire generation of men who have never experienced the fight or flight gauntlet of a knuckle duel, I am not certain that we are properly preparing young men for the types of mental and emotional challenges required of them in high stakes leadership positions.

Asserting yourself in a business meeting, negotiating a settlement, managing a takeover, speaking to investors, presenting to a crowd of bloggers and journalists, convincing banks to back your next venture, these things don’t go well unless you have a certain level of quiet confidence about you, the kind of confidence that frees your mind to get the job done rather than worry about whether or not you’re up for it.

Reassuring the American people that the country is safe, customers that it is still safe to bank with you, drivers that your cars won’t accelerate out of control and explode, investors and employees that your company is still a sound bet, and the public that you have the oil spill under control can’t be left to folks who haven’t tested themselves to find out what they are really made of.

Remember Michael “Brownie” Brown, the guy in charge of FEMA during the Katrina crisis? His impeccably pressed, perfectly white dress shirts? Not a hair out of place while the people of New Orleans drowned and starved to death? Nice guy, I’m sure. Smart too. Probably great with the whole IAHA Arabian horse thing, and corporate luncheons and country-club brunches, before being appointed to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Except… Wrong guy for the job. Why? Hmmm. You tell me.

Now put a military officer – especially an Iraq or Afghanistan combat veteran – in his place to do the same job and see what happens. My bet: Night and day. The difference between both men? One made a point to put himself through the gauntlet time and time again. The other, not so much.

Rites of passage matter. They matter a lot.

Fight Club is only a novel. This is real.

If I am starting to sound like Fight Club’s Tyler Durden, so be it. There is a reason why Chuck Palahniuk’s novel struck a chord when it came out. As much as the novel itself may be an unapologetic exaggeration of the death of masculinity in modern times, its message is dead on target. And the impact that a generation of untested men in leadership positions has already had on the corporate world may be in great part responsible for some of the trouble we are in: Enron. Wall Street. The massive oil spill in the Gulf: All arrived at by decisions made by not by incompetent men, but rather untested, socially and emotionally incomplete men.

Think this is a stretch? Possibly. But consider that mid-life crises tend to happen to men riddled with complexes and self-doubt. Far more than an overcompensation or an indulgence brought about by professional success. Any decent Jungian psychotherapist can explain the link between mid-life crises and a common mother complex in men: Adult in form but not in heart. Boys whose bodies grew up but whose souls didn’t. The erosion of significant, terrifying, often violent rites of passage from childhood to adulthood, particularly when it comes to my gender, is a problem that doesn’t only impact divorce rates and Porsche sales in the US, but also the business world and the economy as a whole: A man who isn’t whole cannot effectively lead. He is a Fisher King, an impotent, lame-duck regent whose wound infects his entire kingdom and drags it down with him. When captains of industry are drawn drawn from among the ranks of untested men rather than those who can and should lead, the system breaks down: Exploration, experimentation and progress come to a grinding halt. Strategic planning takes a hit. Appearances begin to overtake substance. Nepotism prevails. Good old boys networks take root. Mediocrity, hypocrisy and corruption begin to poison corporate and political cultures. The safety of artificial comforts replaces strife. Warm cocoons of denial begin to form and thicken.

There is something missing in a man who hasn’t pushed himself far beyond what he thought were his own limits. Something we look for in leaders. Something without which our faith in a man cannot ever be truly realized. We all felt it in the school yard. On the playing field. In boot camp. And yes, in the board room. A phony is a phony. The real deal, however, walks wrapped in the knowledge of who he is as a man, because at least once in his life, he walked deep into the dark recesses of his cave and found what really lurked there.

Growing up in France in the 70’s and 80’s – and having been raised in a family of combat veterans and citizen soldiers – making it to adolescence without a few black eyes and busted knuckles wasn’t an option. Not that I was pushed to go looking for fights, but let’s say that certain circumstances were occasionally brought up around the dinner table as acceptable reasons to find out what I was made of. For many little French boys, playing cowboys, cops and musketeers wasn’t just play. It was preparation for an inevitable school yard confrontation that would determine much about the types of men they would later become.

A quick word about the French and silly stereotypes

Not that the French fight a lot or win a lot of wars, or anything. Aside from the Foreign Legion (mostly composed of foreigners at that) and a few key Police and military units, French culture isn’t exactly known for its warrior spirit. The Gauls were pretty solid warriors, but the Roman legions dealt with them in the end. Twice in the last century the Germans cut through our borders like a warm knife through butter. So yeah, sure, we invaded England back in the day, we’ve had bloody revolutions, and Napoleon helped us unlock our very own bloody conquests badge on Foursquare, but in general, the French are relatively well-behaved anti-violent people. Even our soccer fans are pretty tame compared to England’s. We also aren’t particularly fond of violence in sports and entertainment (Americans, in contrast, like their sports and movie heroes to be full-contact – while tennis doesn’t exactly require helmet and shoulder pads). We don’t really like guns. The French, as people of the world go, are not high up on the socially violent list.

Yet, in sharp contrast with many of my American peers who grew up on violent entertainment and a glorification of rogue warrior tales, my childhood and early adult years were not without incident. Starting with a few kids at my school trying to work the pecking order to their advantage to street thugs in downtown Brussels looking to score my wallet, from angry boyfriends looking to save face to drunk French soldiers aiming to prove themselves by knocking out a few sailors, I’ve had to deal with unfortunate contests of the knuckle-to-face variety a number of times. Before I go on with my tales of clumsy hand-to-hand combat, let me make it clear that I didn’t always prevail. I am not Jean Claude Van Damme. Quite the contrary. My roundhouse kick is weak. My karate chop is clumsy. My punch often misses the mark. So by default, the lessons in this post have nothing to do with winning or beating the odds. We’re talking about something else altogether today.

Which brings us back to that mouthful of blood thing. You learn a lot about yourself, shaking off the pain of a punch to the mouth. It’s a simple fight or flight reflex: Stunned and dazed, your blurry surroundings spinning around you, searing pain flashing across your face and a dull ache spreading deep into your skull, you are at once confronted with two conflicting emotions: The first – back off and hope the punishment is over. The second – get back on your feet and feed the other guy a Royal McKnuckle-with-Cheese sandwich out of principle, even if it earns you another trip to the cold, hard deck.

Fight or flight: DNA, tens of thousands of years of evolution, and the importance of not running away

Fight or flight. It’s a simple choice. And, as my friend Ben Schowe would say, “it’s just science.”

In terms of personal tests, this goes well beyond the simple (yet grueling) act of surviving boot camp, completing your first 5K, passing the bar, or completing an Ironman triathlon. In fact, in a very real way, getting into a fist fight teaches you as much – if not more – about yourself as summiting Everest or swimming across the English Channel.

Why? Because there is a huge difference between walking to the sidelines and running from a fight. You can quit Ranger school. You can quit an Ironman. On a mountain top, you can stop and turn back to base camp. But walking away from a fight once the first punch has connected, that’s a very different thing. It’s fight or flight in its purest form. It’s the difference between a dog baring its teeth and having another go at some melee carnage… or lying on its back with its tail coiled up between its legs.

In war, you can hold your ground and engage the enemy or you can throw down your guns and run away. Same thing. Except for most people nowadays, at least in the Western world, war is something other people get paid to deal with. It’s something that happens overseas and on TV. There’s no draft anymore. Violence is being erased from “civilized” civilian society. It has become entertainment. A stylized fantasy. You get to see the moves and hear the sounds, but you don’t get to feel the pain. And yet the pain has something to teach.

Like I said, you learn a lot about yourself during your first fight. And your second. And your third. What you learn is – what you learn first, anyway, is – whether or not you have any real fight in you. When that first punch in the face hits you and your eyes flash just as what feels like a brick flying at 500 miles per hour turns the entire front of your skull into a flaring, throbbing strobe of pain, you get your first glimpse of who you are. Before you even land on your ass, your brain is already trying to decide if you will simply lie down and hope the fight is over, or spring up and hit the guy back twice as hard and see how he likes it.

What my first fight taught me

I remember my first fight vividly: Second grade. Parc Monceau. The biggest kid in my class decided he was going to use the smallest kid in the class (me) to cement his Alpha status for the school year. Words were exchanged, shoves ensued, and next thing I know, we were rolling around in the dirt, scraping our knees and elbows, trying land a solid hit on the other. Planting a solid punch at that age would have surely ended the fight – to the delighted cheers of our classmates – and would have secured immediate popularity for whomever emerged victorious. As it turns out, neither one of us did. But the other kid, desperate to break free from the scuffle, accidentally head-butted me in the face, knocking me clear off him. I remember hearing the ugly thud sound of his skull bouncing off my cheek, my head snapping back, and my little French behind landing squarely on the hard-packed dirt. The other kids immediately fell silent and stared at us to see what would come next. I tasted blood in my mouth, from where I had bitten my tongue. I was surprised by the taste… And by the fact that I was more excited than scared.

Up until that moment, I had imagined that being on the receiving end of a head-butt would be the worst thing in the world. Yet there I was, realizing that the other guy wasn’t as strong, as mean, as dangerous or as invincible as I thought he was. And, equally important, realizing that perhaps I had more of a fight in me than I originally thought. Fighting back tears of pain and fear, I got back up, swallowed a mouthful of blood, and threw myself at him. Though he was a lot taller and bigger than me, I tackled him and knocked him to the ground. The rolling around and wild kicking and punching resumed, but before either one of us could land a solid punch, the fight was broken up by our teacher. We were both sent to the principal’s office – the dragon-like Mme Gomez – and sat there for about fifteen minutes before she finally called us in.

Those fifteen minutes were invaluable: The entire time, not once did the other kid dare return my stare. After a quick inspection of my knuckles and clothes, and after having pondered what punishments would follow both at school and at home, I looked over at him and caught him quickly blinking away. Feeling that I was still staring at him, he didn’t look up again. It was at that moment, not before, that I realized I had won the fight. Not because I had beaten him, mind you – I hadn’t. What I realized was that, for me, the real fight wasn’t against him. It was against myself: Fight vs. Flight.  Flight lost. I wanted more. Test passed.

From then on, I knew I would never again be too afraid to stand my ground. That moment of clarity is something I have taken with me into every difficult, stressful situation since.

Going through something like this, as simple as it may seem, is a defining moment in a man’s life, and one that far too many boys today never get to experience, to their own detriment, and that of society as a whole when they eventually join the workforce.

To this day, I don’t remember a thing about what the principal had to say or what my punishment was. I grinned from ear to ear the rest of the day, beaming with pride and excitement at the realization that there was more to me than just pretend courage. Later, what I remember from being walked to my mother’s car by my angry teacher wasn’t the fear of punishment or the embarrassment of the public escort, but the looks of awe I saw in the other kids’ eyes. Still grinning at my scowling mother after my teacher explained what had happened, I hopped into her Autobianchi and told her my side of the story: He started. It wasn’t my fault. I was only defending myself. He got what he deserved. I took a skull to the face and it still hurt a lot, but it was okay. She lectured me all the way home, but I know that behind the stern threats of being sent to Jesuit boarding school if I couldn’t behave, was a quiet pride that I hadn’t punked out. Later that afternoon, my father  inspected my swollen black eye, obviously amused by the entire incident, and probed me for details until my mother reminded him that the brawl wasn’t something to be proud of. Yet it was, and all three of us knew it.

The kid never bothered me or any of my classmates again. I don’t even remember his name anymore. It doesn’t matter.

Contests of this type happened again over the years, each one teaching me a little bit more about myself, until I graduated to the more subtle and underhanded type of political combat favored by many corporate types.

Leadership from the outside-in: Understanding the mechanics of the pecking order

Here’s the thing, and be sure not to underestimate the potency of the metaphor: We are all either lions or lambs. Men walk into a conference room, a basketball court, a bar, a gym, the first thing they do is size each other up. Hierarchies are established before anyone takes the initiative to speak. Body language, stress hormones, eye contact and behavior help determine the social order in a matter of minutes if not seconds. Before the lions begin to fight for the top spot, the lambs aremarked and set aside. Few of us ever talk about it, and for many men, the process is completely subconscious, but it happens everywhere men go. This has probably been going on since long before we lived in caves.

Care to see a fine example of the process? Watch the first twenty minutes of Ronin, John Frankenheimer and DavidMamet’s tale of trust and betrayal among intelligence operatives. In any group of men, a pecking order must be established before the group can function. Though the process now takes into account job titles and artificial leadership, lambs are not lions. A leader in title only is a liability to himself and the group he is responsible for.

Riddle me this: How can you earn the trust and respect of a company of professional soldiers if even one of them thinks he is more qualified than you to lead them all? If he thinks he is a better soldier, a better leader? Stronger, faster, tougher?

While you ponder the question, here’s something to think about: How is a group of men in uniform any different from a group of men in suits? Each culture may emphasize certain leadership qualities differently, but the principles are the same: If a leader is imposed on the group rather than arrived at by mutual selection, then the leader must prove his worth, or his tenure is doomed from the start. If the guy in charge, when sized up by the rest of the men in the room is found… wanting, you are looking at a dangerous level of inevitable dysfunction that will result in disaster somewhere along the road.

The weakest guy in the room can’t be the leader. Regardless of what his business card says, it just doesn’t work that way. You can’t get rid of thousands of generations of evolution just because we’ve decided to trade spears for pens and caves for cubicles. It may seem silly, but it’s also true and well worth acknowledging.

The true value of a mouthful of blood

I know this is going to sound strange, but a CEO who has put himself through the gauntlet – whether it was a fist fight, a combat tour in Iraq or a wrestling match against a great white shark knows how to be fearless in the face of uncertainty. He can look his competitor in the eye, say “bring it,” and mean it. He can look at an economic crisis as an opportunity to prevail against adversity and cement his company’s reputation by taking market share rather than merely hoping to hold on to what it has.

A man who has the confidence to stand his ground in the face of adversity, a man who has learned the value and excitement of fighting for something he believes in, a man who knows that no amount of pain or fear will weaken his resolve, this kind of man can lead any company away from defeat, towards success.

The guy who has never been punched in the face doesn’t yet know how tough he is. That man doesn’t know if he should get up or beg for mercy when his lip gets split. He doesn’t know what he is made of yet. Take him by surprise, upset his routine, put him in the hurt locker, and he sits there wondering what he should do next. He sits there stunned, gagging on a mouthful of his own blood, wishing he weren’t in so much pain. For precious seconds, he hesitates, not yet knowing what to do. Indecision: The antithesis of leadership.

The CEO, the Senior VP, the Director of this and that, untested, are all liabilities. Lamb playing at being lions.

The truth of it is this: What you learn fighting off bullies in your childhood, learning to stand your ground and take real hits comes back to either serve or haunt you later in life, when faceless enemies set their sights on your endeavors. Knowing that you can overcome physical adversity and survive your fear of the unknown arms you with the ability to make intelligent decisions in the heat of the moment. It teaches you to keep a cool head when everyone else panics. It teaches you not to retreat unless you absolutely have to, but to instead make your way through the storm and find calmer waters waiting beyond it.

The real beauty of it is that once the people who look to you for leadership realize that this is the type of leader you are, they will follow you anywhere. Their loyalty, their dedication, their support will be assured. And that, when it comes to building strong brands, isn’t something you can either buy or do without.

So parents, teachers, law enforcement personnel and passers-by, consider this: Next time two little boys decide to brawl, don’t stop them right away. Let them throw a few kicks and punches. Let them sort it out on their own, even if only for a few seconds. What they discover about themselves in those short, precious, terrifying moments could help shape them into formidable leaders someday. I know it sounds pretty weird, but trust me: They need to put themselves through it, black eye, mouthful of blood and all.

Cowards make lousy leaders. Give your kids enough space to learn not to be.

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I was digging through the vault yesterday, when I stumbled upon this fantastic post from Chris Brogan I had bookmarked almost a year ago:

I believe we’re going to shift back to thinking customer service and community management are the core and not the fringe. I believe we’re going to move our communications practices back in-house for lots of what is currently pushed out to agencies and organizations. I believe that integrity, reputation, skills, and personality are going to trump some of our previous measures of professional ability. I believe the web and our devices will continue to move into tighter friendships, and that we will continue to train our devices to interpret more of the world around us on our behalf.

Read the rest here.

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. In his post, Chris also talks about bringing value-add and core competencies together – which is a drum I have been beating for years.

This is by far the best piece of advice I’ve heard this decade, also from Chris:

Here’s a quick way to really turn around your clients: be helpful.

I know what you’re thinking: “Duh!” Right? But when was the last time you actually said those two words outloud during a strategy meeting or quarterly business review? When was the last time someone actually suggested this as a course of action? As a core competency? As a business objective? As a mantra?

And more importantly, with all the commotion around Social Media tools, platforms, channels, measurement, content and tactics, when was the last time you looked at Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, etc. from the perspective of being helpful? Of providing assistance and value to customers – instead of merely promoting your wares? Best Buy has. So have Starbucks, The Home Depot, Virgin America, Comcast, UPS,and scores of companies gaining traction in the space AND converting these net new positive interactions into new business and increased loyalty.  So my question to you is this: As a company, what are you doing to be helpful TODAY? How are you using communications platforms to be helpful? Phones, email, mobile, web, Social, print, radio, etc.? Where are you scoring high marks? Where could you do better?

Is the “just be helpful” mantra so simple, so obvious that we might have forgotten to make it a cornerstone of every interaction we have with the public? I hope not, but I’m thinking yeah, probably.

I think I just gave you your assignment for this week.

😉

Note: Chris and I will be speaking, listening and being as helpful as we can at the Like Minds conference and summit in Exeter, UK on February 26 and 27. Look for #LikeMinds on Twitter if you want to follow the fun.

Then on March 4-5, I will be answering questions in Chicago in an “open mic” style event at a #SohoSeminar. This will be kind of cool: Usually, I spend more time presenting than answering questions in a live forum, so being able to devote ALL of my time to answering questions is something I look forward to.  Click here to register for the event now. It should be well worth it.

Cheers.

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Judging by the close to 200 pages of comments left by readers on my last post, I guess we’ve hit on a pretty hot topic this week: That of “social media certifications.” (Who knew?)

So okay, let’s talk about it.

1. Do we even need Social Media certification?

To be completely honest, I hadn’t really given the subject much thought until a few days ago. To me, it seemed far too early in the game, not just from an academic standpoint, but from a practical one: Even if we happened to need certifications or accreditation for social media practitioners, there are no standards as of yet. No agreed-upon best practices for every business function and specialty that touches Social Media. There are no PhDs in the subject. No twenty-year veterans to teach anyone the ropes. In other words, there exists today no mechanism through which a social media “practitioner” might find himself or herself truly “certified” by anyone in any truly legitimate fashion, like, say, a PR professional, attorney, nurse, or even a hairdresser are able to be certified.

Part of the problem at hand can be summed up in the following two questions:

A. A “social media certification” would certify you in what, exactly? Your ability to create a Facebook fan page? Basic blogging techniques? Twitter usage? Social media measurement? Optimizing a LinkedIn profile? I could go on and on. So the question again: Certified in what, exactly? Some kind of general “Social Media expertise?” What does that even mean? (We’ll get back to that in a bit.)

B. Who would offer these certifications/accreditation and how? Accredited universities? Business schools? Professional organizations? Guilds? Private certifying companies? State boards? Software vendors? Consulting firms? Anybody with the ability to sell an online webinar? And who would develop and teach these courses? Academics with no practical social media experience? Internet consultants? Superstar bloggers? Who decides?

Check out this video and we’ll get the conversation started afterward:

If the video doesn’t play or open for you, go here.

2. A training certificate and a certification are not the same thing.

So, first of all, it’s important to understand the distinction between a Social Media certification and Social Media training. While training is… well, just training, a certification tends to be more structured. Standards have to be applied. Testing administered. Certification is a little more complex than just sitting through training. More often than not, certification is synonymous with accreditation.

To keep things simple, I hopped over to wikipedia and find this about the word accreditation:

Accreditation is a process in which certification of competency, authority, or credibility is presented.

Organizations that issue credentials or certify third parties against official standards are themselves formally accredited by accreditation bodies (such as UKAS); hence they are sometimes known as “accredited certification bodies”.[2] The accreditation process ensures that their certification practices are acceptable, typically meaning that they are competent to test and certify third parties, behave ethically, and employ suitable quality assurance.

One example of accreditation is the accreditation of testing laboratories and certification specialists that are permitted to issue official certificates of compliance with established standards, such as physical, chemical, forensic, quality, and security standards.[3]

The whole purpose of certifications and accreditations isn’t for social media practitioners to learn how to be social media experts. (You aren’t going to learn that by sitting in a class.) Rather, accreditation/certification is a process by which you are tested against specific industry standard and either proven capable/qualified or not. It’s a weeding out process.

And kids, that process has nothing to do with self affirmation. What it has to do with is separating professionals (with experience that can be demonstrated through an accreditation process) from people with no experience, no skills, and lacking the necessary qualifications to take on a social media management job, no matter how many fans they have on Facebook.

In other words, if certification/accreditation truly is needed in the social media world, its purpose is solely to help companies with very little understanding of the space get some notion of whether a consultant or job applicant has a particular skill level required for the job.

If you want to distill this down to its simplest form, think of this simply as third-party testing: Having a reputable certifying body vouch for the fact that you actually know how to do something. Period. That’s it.

Note my emphasis on the word “reputable” because this is an important point we will revisit.

Note: A certification/accreditation is not a substitute for real experience, demonstrable results or professional references. But it can help validate a candidate’s skill-set, which isn’t all bad. And it can also help ensure that an individual has sat through x hours of best practices training and demonstrated an ability to apply their training to the experience they’ve already acquired in the real world.

3. Social Media Generalist Certifications vs. Professional Certifications: Rebooting the model.

Where things get a little iffy is with the structure of a social media certification. What exactly should it look like?

Currently, many “certifications” tend to look at the social media “profession” as a form of general mass of quasi-expertise ranging from how to manage a blog, start a facebook fan page and customize a twitter account to how to measure ROI and manage online communities. (Pretty big and dangerously amorphous range, from my perspective.)

What seems more logical is a slightly more operational approach to both social media training and social media certifications/accreditation: Instead of looking at Social Media as some sort of broad ranging field of study with an endless list of applications, look at Social Media as a skill-set that applies differently to each function within a business. In other words, give social media training and certs specific professional focus.

Consider that a Public Relations professional and a Customer Service professional will probably use social media (professionally) in radically different ways:

While the PR professional will probably want to be trained in online reputation management, digital brand management, online monitoring, digital crisis management and some assortment of publishing best practices, their customer service counterpart will want to be trained in online keyword monitoring, digital customer relationship management, crisis management and some light community management. Will there be some overlap? Sure. But what we are looking at here are very distinctive tracks, leading to very distinctive certifications. In other words, a social media certification for a PR professional shouldn’t look at all like a social media certification for a customer service professional, or an IT professional, or a business development professional.

The specific nature of the jobs dealing with social media requires both specific training, and specific certification/accreditation – both in specifically relevant sets of social media competencies.

No more over-arching cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all social media certifications, please. If we’re going to get serious about this (and we should), let’s get serious about it.

4. The difference between established, reputable certifying bodies and… well… the other kind.

Okay, so in light of the fact that a certification process could now be geared towards specific types of roles as opposed to some vague “social media specialist” notion, let’s look at certifying bodies that might (at some point) be able to offer these types of certification for professionals. Is it possible that perhaps an organization like PRSA might be better equipped to certify Public Relations professionals in something like digital public relations management, maybe? As opposed to, say, a newly assembled social media certifying body trying to adapt its general certification to the PR profession? Something to think about.

Something else to think about is the fact that a certification/accreditation from a reputable organization or institution is pretty crucial here. Organizations like PRSA, AMA, and others of their caliber can’t afford to do this poorly. They HAVE to take it seriously in order not to tarnish their reputations. In sharp contrast, the social media space is filled with opportunistic individuals who would have nothing to lose and a lot of potential cash to gain. All you need to start certifying unsuspecting marks is a website and a Paypal account. Just create a social media certifying body out of thin air, create a series of webinars about whatever you want, charge a registration fee, and you’re in business. These types of operations are rampant in the US already.

So the point I am trying to make is that it would be great if the AMA, PRSA and other established and respectable professional organizations that already offer certifications for their members started moving in this direction – if only to ensure a pattern of legitimacy and accountability in the social media certification/accreditation process.

We could go on and on and on with this, but this is a good place to pause and get some feedback from you guys. The comment section is officially open. Agree? Disagree? Somewhere in the middle? Let’s hear it.

Cheers.

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Crottes de chiens 1

As I watched Scott Gould, Drew Ellis, Trey Pennington, Daren Forsyth and Maz Nadjm address a capacity crowd at Exeter’s  #LikeMinds conference two weeks ago, it occurred to me that not all conferences are created equal. In fact, I realized that conferences tend to fall into two very distinct categories: Conferences that provide real value, and conferences that provide very little value. Before I go on, let it be said that #LikeMinds falls squarely into the first category.

Since I was one of the speakers at #LikeMinds, it’s natural for some of you to assume that I might be… biased, right? Fair enough. I can understand how you might think that. But the truth is that I have spoken at a number of conferences now, and I have no problem telling you that not all of them have fallen into the “valuable” category. In other words, if #LikeMinds were just another conference with little value, I might not necessarily come out and say so, but I also wouldn’t tell you it is something when it really isn’t.

Moving forward, you can feel pretty confident that I am speaking my mind here, and not giving credit where none or little is due.

LikeMinds '09

LikeMinds '09 R.O.I. panel

So back to the topic at hand: The sold-out Like Minds Conference in Exeter, Devon (UK) on October 16th. The line of attendees outside before the doors officially opened, pretty much wrapping around the block. The impressive roster of speakers and panelists spanning two continents. The spectacular venue. The stunning live video stream. The twitter wall. The specific focus of the event. The global vibe. And perhaps most importantly, the £25 admission fee.

Yes, that’s right. Only £25. And £10 for students, as I recall.

Meanwhile, all across the US, social media-themed conferences typically charge what… $200? $500? $650? And for what? Wait… don’t answer that. We’ll get back to that in a sec.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with conferences, social media or otherwise, charging $200 or even $650 to attendees. All I ask is that in return for those types of fees, these events offer at least $200 or $650 in value (respectively). It’s only fair. Heck, if a conference wants to charge $2,000 for admission, as long as it provides equal or greater value, have at it. In truth, the Social media world needs high level conferences of this type, and I would GLADLY spend $2K to attend a social media summit that actually delivered real value.*

No, my beef with rapidly growing number of “social media conferences” is that their $250 or $650 admission fee only buys attendees about $25 worth of value, as opposed to serious conferences (like #LikeMinds) that easily provide $650 worth of value for a mere £25.

Moreover, the fact that pointless social media conferences seem to be popping up everywhere has me scratching my head and wondering when the idiocy will stop. Let me ask you a simple question: Do we really need a social media conferences every week?

Of course we don’t. But with everyone and their brother suddenly looking to rebrand themselves as social media gurus, the demand for a accelerated conference circuit has hit a kind of fever pitch in 2009, with many organizers and speakers feeding on a self-serving loop of crap. Explained in as few words as I can, the former are looking to make a quick buck off the Social Media craze while the latter are so desperate for exposure that they will do just about anything for ten minutes of it.

Watch this video and we’ll continue the discussion in a few minutes:

If the video doesn’t launch for you, go watch it here.

Okay, now that you’re back, let’s continue our little discussion, starting with some typical low-value conference dynamics:

A. The problem with an increasing number of social media conferences: An upside-down value model

As we just discussed, on the one hand, you have the growing army of would-be social media gurus looking to make a name for themselves. This is the crowd furiously sending emails and DMs to conference organizers, begging them for opportunities to speak at their events to get a few conference gigs on their resumes.

On the other hand, conference organizers see in this endless stream of guru wannabes a welcome cash cow: Those confident enough to speak will gladly fill up session after session of their conference schedules for free in exchange for exposure. Enter the “Return on Engagement”, “Tweet your way to success” and “What will we call Social Media in 2010” breakouts. Wonderful. As if the internet weren’t already filled with these kinds of remedial turds posing as legitimate expertise.

The rest, those not speaking, are evidently more than happy to part with $200+ for the opportunity to rub elbows with internet-famous bloggers and perhaps befriend an A-lister or two in the hopes of raising their own profile in the SM world.

Below, some X-Box Live friends help me illustrate a typical high yield, low value conference model: A small number of speakers with valuable content the organizer actually has to pay isn’t enough to offset the large number of speakers with derivative content who will gladly fill content gaps for free. This model minimizes cost, maximizes profit, and guarantees a relatively low conference value for attendees. This is quickly becoming the norm across North America. No wonder most businesses look upon the social media “crowd” as a joke.

conference 01

When you realize that an event that attracts 400 people at $200 per admission can gross $80,000, it isn’t hard to see why these things are popping up left and right, and for no other reason than to generate revenue. And as long as you, the folks who attend these types of events, are willing to fork out two bills to sit in a series of hotel meeting rooms for the better part of a day to listen to 20-40 minute presentations about how wonderful FaceBook is, how many people use Twitter, or how this company or that organization “engage” with customers using free tools you use in the exact same way and with greater success, these types of pointless events will continue to sprout all over the place. The margins are just too good for people to just stop putting them on out of… professional integrity.

What’s the solution? (Aside from putting on better conferences and events, that is?) A gut check would be a nice start. Stop going to every social media conference on the calendar. Become a little smarter and pickier about your choices. Start by looking at the overall roster of speakers. Then look for an actual point: Does the conference have a topic? A theme? A thread? Or is it just a mash of speakers covering every topic from how to network on LinkedIn to measuring web traffic using Google Analytics? Be smarter. Do your homework. Learn to spot the signs that a conference exists solely to extract money from your wallet.

Acceptable price-point: $0 – $75/day.

Next: A slightly better breed of conference.

B. The balanced Social Media Conference model: Investing in solid content pays off in the long run

In the model below, you have a more balanced approach: The ratio of established speakers (assuming relevant and actionable content) to aspiring speaker is slightly greater. In this scenario, the conference organizer is at least attempting to balance profit and content by mixing the really good stuff with some cheap filler. (Yes, kind of like the average bottle of whiskey on the middle shelf behind the bar.) This  balanced, democratized model ensures that attendees will enjoy a much greater quality of content  and networking for their money than the first model would have provided:

conference 02

As mentioned in the previous section, this type of conference should also have a point. This can be demonstrated either by creating an overall theme for the conference (measurement, integration in the enterprise, customer service, best practices, etc.) or several specific tracks within the conference that will allow CMOs, CSMs, ITMs and other attendees with unique needs to go learn specific things as opposed to being forced to sit through a disjointed soup of “worthless FaceBook is great”  and “let’s measure ROI in impressions” presentations.

Incidentally, conferences that charge upwards of $300 for presentations lasting less than 45 minutes are a waste of your time. Nothing can be covered in depth in under 30 minutes. If you spot a preponderance of 10-15 minute presentations on the conference schedule, skip it altogether.

So to recap, this type of conference’s three signature features are: a) at least as many respectable speakers as unknown speakers, b) a point/some kind of thematic structure, and c) presentations lasting more than 10-20 minutes apiece.

Acceptable price-point: $0 – $600/day, with $600 pushing towards truly outstanding content.

Next: The very best kind of conference – The summit.

C. The pinnacle of Social Media conference models: The best practices-style Summit

In this model, the organizer’s priority is obvious: Assembling the best minds on any given topic in the same place at the same time. The quality of the presentations, panels and discussions should be high as every speaker has been hand-picked for the quality of their content and delivery. This type of conference/summit is the rare gem that actually puts you in the same room as the world’s brightest minds and true expert. Bring a notebook or two, because you will probably be going back to the office with hundreds of pages of notes, all of which worth pure gold. If one of them pops up in your neck of the woods and you have an opportunity to attend, clear your calendar and get your ticket. No matter what this event charges, you will get your money’s worth by attending and learning as much as you can.

Unfortunately, many of these types of event are either by invitation only or put on for membership-only organizations, so make sure you are properly connected at all times. If you aren’t cool enough to receive an invitation, at least know someone who can help you secure one on the DL.

Acceptable price-point: $500 – $5,000/day depending on the level of the summit. Some focus on CEOs while others cater to VP-level execs. The price can vary greatly from one to the other. On average, shoot for $1,000 to $1,500./day (Considering that most of the presenters charge upwards of $2,000 per day, you’re getting a bargain even at the very highest end of that spectrum.)

conference 03

Why you will now only see me at conferences with a legitimate reason for being:

Why am I telling you all this? Two reasons:

The first is to give you a heads-up: Before you start spending your summer vacation money on a half dozen worthless social media conferences over the course of the next 6 months, be aware that you could easily be throwing your money away on a bunch of hot air. Do your homework. Don’t just attend social media conferences because they’re there. Research the speakers, the topics, and more importantly, ask yourselves this simple question: What will I learn there that I couldn’t learn for free or on my own by spending a little quiet time with our friend Google? Stop paying unscrupulous conference organizers to put on crap events. Please.

The second is to let you know that effective immediately, I will not be participating in any conference that provides little or no value to attendees (you guys), and this for three pretty simple reasons:

  1. I don’t need the imaginary validation some people believe comes from becoming a staple of the US social media conference circuit. It’s a self-perpetuating ego trip. Nothing more. It’s completely meaningless and stupid.
  2. There comes a point where spending more time speaking than actually doing becomes counterproductive… and frankly, a little suspect. Anyone who has time to speak at 40+ conferences per year doesn’t have a real business. They’re a professional speaker, not a professional doer. No thanks. That isn’t who I am.
  3. There is absolutely no good reason whatsoever why I should ever lend my good name to the type of event that isn’t truly serious about helping businesses from around the world better understand, develop, integrate, manage and measure social media. That’s what I do. That’s what I am passionate about. If speaking at an event doesn’t serve that function, then it is a waste of my time and yours. Why should I lend my name to an event like that?

In short (and in case you hadn’t figured it out) I am serious about what I do, which these days basically consists in helping as many businesses as possible not only recover from this recession but emerge from it in better shape than they entered it. What it does not consist in is trying to become Mr. hot sh*t Social Media guru by showing up at every odd conference I can smooth-talk my way into. So aligning myself to every tom, dick and harry who puts on a horse and pony social media conference makes no sense at all in my world. I hope you guys won’t hold that against me.

And to be clear, if some of you want to try and become the next big thing on the Social Media conference circuit, I won’t hold it against you. I’m sure there’s money to be made there in the next couple of years, and the masses need good advice and insights into how social media can help them improve their lives. But if you don’t take that role seriously, if you aren’t responsible with the trust the public puts in you and your relative expertise, don’t be surprised if you pop up on the wrong end of my bullsh*t radar.

Conference organizers, you have your work cut out for you. If you want to create relevant events that will endure for years to come, I’ll be happy to help. By all means, let’s talk. But if you’re in this game to make a quick buck, don’t even bother sending me an email. I want nothing to do with what you stand for, and we’ll all see you on your way down.

In closing…

Both the #Likeminds team and the audience/participants reminded me that conferences with a purpose are as wonderful and valuable as conferences without one are a waste of time and an insult to our collective intelligence. When the most valuable information to come out of a marquee social media conference seems to be that “social media “will probably be called “new media” next year, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we’ve lost our way as a professional community. We can do better. We should do better. We have to do better.

After having attended three social media conferences while in the UK and a funeral while in France (yes, we’ll talk more about that as well), I came to the realization that the level of discourse about Social Media in the US needs a serious kick to the arse, and fast. This isn’t a game. This isn’t a fad. While the Twitternets were busy RT’ing an article that a distracted Fast Company blogger wrote about all the cool parties he went to in Vegas for BlogWorld as if it were gold, while pundits discussed the finer nuances of whether or not “Social Media” should change its name to “New Media” in 2010, our European counterparts were busy asking hard questions about how to actually plug social technologies and processes into the enterprise. How to sell it to their bosses. How to actually measure it properly. How to budget and plan for it. How to train their staff to use it. How to create a working social media management structure within their organizations. How to adapt their management cultures to the new realities of a perpetually networked and socially-empowered world. In other words, how to move forward from here.

Yep, while the US social media conference circuit was busy navel-gazing and playing rock star to its own eager fishbowl, real businesses with real problems were asking real questions, out there in the real world, where companies make and lose real money, where jobs are either created or lost, and where the world of business either adopts new ideas or moves on without giving it a second thought. Not next year, not in six months but right now. This week. Today.

In light of this, I hope everyone had a blast partying like rock stars in Vegas. Where’s the next party? Los Angeles? New York? Miami?

We can do better. We’re going to do better. And yeah, we’re going to start right now.

To be continued…

* Such a global best-practices summit is currently in the works. Details soon.

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olivier blanchard

I had the privilege yesterday of being interviewed by Jason Baer (@jaybaer). If you aren’t familiar with Jason, he’s a frequent contributor on Marketing Profs’ Daily Fix blog as well as the mastermind behind Convince & Convert – the Arizona-based social media and email consultancy. I’ve been a fan of his Twitter interviews for quite some time, so it was a real treat to be invited to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Ann Handley, David Alston, Scott Monty, Joseph Jaffe, Valeria Maltoni and Danny Brown to name but a few. (Yeah, I am officially in very good company now.)

Jay’s Twitter 20 format is very simple: 20 questions with typically 3 tweets to respond. Easy enough, right? Wrong. Most of his questions are so on the money that they deserve chapter length answers… So coming up with an appropriate response in 420 characters or less is quite the exercise in reverse-elaboration.

Now I can’t wait to be on a panel with Jay so we can address some of the topics covered in this Twitter 20 in a slightly longer format. At any rate, if you didn’t get a chance to join our #twt20 discussion, you can get a cleaned up transcript of it by clicking right here.

Here are several of my favorite topics from the interview:

1. @jaybaer: How has the rise of social media changed the way you build brands? (h/t @nazgulk)

The approach has definitely changed. Brands now have to think about real engagement instead of just pushing messaging.

Also, brands have to completely rethink the way they look at communications. The old PR funnel is definitely eroding.

And there are also new issues of transparency and personal accountability to manage for most organizations.

6. @jaybaer: People come to social from all over. What are the core skills needed for a career in social media?

First, you have to look at social media as a multi-disciplinary field. Not all social media roles are the same.

Social Media roles can be strategic (management and development), tactical (execution) or analytical (measurement).

Within the tactical type of role, you may need some people to have cust. service skills or community building skills.

So… the skills really depend on what the specific role within a social media program will require.

Experience working in the social media space is definitely a huge requirement in my opinion. ;)

11. @jaybaer: Are you suggesting that prospective customers engaged with the company in social will close at a higher rate?

Yes. social media (used properly, that is, not as a push channel) is mostly opt-in. People who participate choose to.

Aside from an increased frequency of interactions, more mindshare, more exposure, more information about products, customers who become members of a brand’s community are much more likely to transact with that brand more often.

They may not “close” faster, but they should see high transaction rates in terms of frequency and yield. And, these customers should also produce more recommendations/positive WOM (helping bring more customers to the table).

19. @jaybaer: You were in the French Marines – the only #twt20 guest who was. Takeaways from that experience you use now?

1) In that type of culture, you learn really fast that bullsh*t has a life expectancy of exactly zero minutes. :D

2) You also learn very quickly that excuses have an effective range of exactly zero meters. ;D

3) It was my first job, my first management role, and it was tough as hell. I learned that adaptation is critical.

All in all, my experience as an officer in the Fusiliers Marins very much shaped my professional style and values.

Go check out the entire interview here.

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