Mentoring young pros is noble — ridicule is not

I probably shouldn’t say this, but…

Since I’m in the midst of rolling out a video series featuring one of social media’s most strident critics, it’s as good a time as any to level a little criticism of my own. And, sadly, it’s aimed at three bloggers whose work I’ve admired and learned from over the past 3 years.

Last Thursday, while checking Twitter feeds, I came across a string of messages posted by 3 thought leaders in PR/social media circles. The comments were in reference to this blog post by a young entrepreneur named Lauren Berger. The screen shots below will give you the gist of it. “That one” in the first tweet is a reference to Lauren.

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It started with BL Ochman’s tweet, bounced to Shel Holtz, with a complementary shot by Ike Pigott. All are acknowledged thought leaders in PR Web 2.0. Links are to the actual tweets, and there’s much more to the thread if you care to sort through it all. I wouldn’t bother.

Joking or not, the message is clear: Our dogs are smarter than this girl!

The jokes are aimed at 25-year-old entrepreneur with a pretty impressive record from where I sit  — at least if her blog bio is even half true. Lauren, who’s just a few years out of college, claims to have done 15 unpaid internships in her time at Florida State. Best any student of mine has done is 5.

Lauren became known as the “Internship Queen” in Tallahasee, a title she parlayed into a business that helped others find internships. Enterprising — or at least I think so.

Look at her blog and website and you will likely conclude, as I did, that this is an impressive young woman. I’ve not met Lauren, but I’m fairly certain Shel, BL and Ike haven’t either. As with so much in this wired world, the website and blog become first points of reference, and in Lauren’s case they’re positive.  And she’s a whole lot smarter than any dog I’ve met.

Lauren’s recent post states, “I decided a few weeks ago that I was to become not only The Intern Queen but a social media expert.” She proceeds to offer some SM advice, most of rudimentary, likely what triggered the cynicism of the three “gurus.”

I interpret Lauren’s statement about “becoming an expert” as a goal, not something she’s already done. Maybe you’ll see it differently. BL, Shel and Ike apparently did.

Let’s be honest. We all play the role of “mean kid” at one time or another. But when our comments are etched in digital stone with links back to the very people we’re ridiculing, well, it reminds me of the new adage: “Think before you tweet.” (See Peter Shankman‘s excellent post in a similar vain.)

Do these online messages constitute hypocrisy? Of course not. They were written by good folks who’ve contributed more to this online discussion than I ever will. It’s banter among three seasoned professionals who — for a moment — forget where they were bantering.

I slept on this post for three full days, hopeful someone else would write it and save me the grief that may follow. But I’m a teacher, and this is a teachable moment. Let’s all learn from it.

Do we really need another reminder that online communities are the proverbial glass house?

Apparently, we do.

Update: Lauren dropped me a tweet to say she appreciates the support. She also invited you to check out her new internship site, quarterlife.com. As I said, this is an impressive young professional. Follow her on Twitter @internqueen.

36 Responses to Mentoring young pros is noble — ridicule is not

  1. Ike Pigott says:

    Bill, full disclosure time:

    I never clicked the link in BL’s Tweet.

    My answer to Shel, meant for BL, was a reference to an aborted 2006 April Fool’s joke.

    I was working on a blog for BL’s dog. The premise was that BL’s dog was branching out with an SEO practice, and would offer bad advice counter to what BL was preaching. All inside humor, in the vein of the “Pepper-Rubel” t-shirts that were circulating around that time.

    In an odd karmic twist of circular irony, it was the arrival of Strumpette in mid-March that put the SEO Dog Blog on ice. The resulting whirlwind of controversy and heavy discussion of anonymity and transparency played a major role in pulling the plug.

    That said, there are a few realities we need to address on the record:

    1) There are one heck of a lot of people hanging up shingles. They’re entitled, but it makes me wonder when by an order of magnitude there are more “experts” than there are case studies.

    2) I abuse humor, often to make a point. Yes, it can be a little confusing to people who jump into a conversation, but I would hope that after a bit of exposure they can glean the context. Do you *really* believe that I think I have the greatest Personal Brand on the planet? I certainly don’t. But I can make a better point about the hollow limitations of Personal Brands by taking it to the extreme. That includes the haughty indignation and the arrogance that often accompanies.

    3) I can’t speak for Shel or BL, but I’m fairly certain they’ve made a few moments for an intern or two over the years. I can’t begin to tell you how many interns I’ve helped along the way in broadcast news and now in the broader field of communications. I will say this about the PR interns: they are on the aggregate better behaved and more gracious students. I have yet to have a PR student tell me they expect to have my job straight out of school (which happened a bit on the TV side.) I support interns, and I support anyone who comes seeking advice or a sounding board.

    And finally, Lauren, if you are tracking this, then please know I mean you no personal offense. The free market has a funny way of giving those with talent and hustle the last laugh.

  2. Colin Fast says:

    Great post Bill. Personally, I’d rather be an ambitious — if somewhat naive — neophyte than a kool-aid guzzling snob.

  3. Ike Pigott says:

    Gee, Colin. Do you read comments much? If you think I am a snob, then you know less about me than I did about Lauren.

  4. Rob Jewell says:

    I agree with Ike in the sense that it has been my experience that most people in journalism, PR and so on are willing to help young people entering the field by providing advice, mentoring and intern opportunities. And actually, all of the resources available now on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. is in some way an extension of that.

    The point, Bill, that you are making about Twitter (and you’ve said the same thing about Facebook) is really the bigger issue. Be careful what you say because it can matter professionally. That was the point Barack Obama made the other day in an interview with John King on CNN. Obama is lobbying to keep his BlackBerry, despite a host of legal and security issues. He said that people should just kind of relax about it. He says he never hits the send button without thinking about the consequences.

    And by the way, without knowing anything about Lauren and her background I hope she does well. Sounds like she will.

  5. Jenn Mattern says:

    Bill, I don’t know what each of their intentions were personally so I can’t comment on that, but in general when I hear someone put down young professionals I just sit back and smile.

    It happens a lot, and not just in PR and SM. When I see ignorance like that I prefer to stop and think about all of the twenty-somethings (and even teenagers) I know who are out there actually pioneering some of these SM advances that the “gurus” are so proud to be experts in–not to mention quietly running very successful Web ventures that would put a lot of professionals to shame. That’s not to say older professionals don’t bring something to the table obviously, but rather that anyone making judgments based solely on age has a lot to learn about business today, especially as it pertains to the Web.

    You know… being an ambitious 25-year-old worked wonders for me and countless others, and even though I don’t know Lauren personally, if she holds onto that it sounds like she’ll do just fine.

  6. Jill says:

    There is an odd feeling when you’re Twittering that it’s private. You’re often alone when you’re doing it — just you and your keyboard or phone. And not many of the people you’re involved with in real life are likely to Twitter — not your spouse, not all that many of the folks at work, few of your relatives or friends. Not the real human people you know — the ones with mothers, kids, dogs and feelings. So it’s easy to forget that it’s actually public. But anyone can read your tweets. Even people who aren’t following you. It’s the proverbial open mike. .

  7. David says:

    Well said Jill! If I may tie this together, it brings me to the Amanda Chapel character. Why is the AC twitter stream filled with personal attacks? Attacks that are rude and meant to hurt feelings. Where I am from that is rude and it just undermines completely AC’s often smart and spot on observations. I hope Bill addresses this in his series.

  8. There are a few things going on here, I think…first, over the last few weeks I’ve sensed a real “circling the wagons” tone amongst some who advise on social media, and specifically Twitter. I don’t know if it’s turf protection, or if they have been encountering more competition for services, or just the recent spate of “I can teach you how to get a lot of followers on Twitter”-type promotions from fairly recent entrants, but it’s definitely there. I clicked BL’s link, and I read it the way they did–that’s she’s declared herself an expert. Why? I’m not sure why I read it that way rather than the way you did, but I think it has to do with again, the recent burst of experts.

    I have a tendency to prefer those who are more modest–Todd Defren has a great post on this. But, I fully admit that I’m Gen-X and have some issues with the entitlement mentality I do see in *some* Millennials–which probably colored my perception of what she was trying to say.

    Thanks for the reminders about kindness and mentoring.

  9. B.L. Ochman says:

    Bill – I certainly see your point, and it was a little harsh to include a link to Lauren’s site.

    And, over the past 13 years that I’ve been working online, I have mentored dozens of young people, and given away volumes of information, resources, case studies, etc. on my blog; in articles on a wide range of sites including AdAge, Media Post, ClickZ, BusinessWeek and scores more. I have spoken at dozens of conferences and webinars where I’ve given detailed case studies and resources for people to use to learn more about new media marketing.

    I have said many times that I believe knowledge is useless until it is shared, and I always try to be generous with what I’ve learned from experience.

    The reason for those tweets is exactly as Ike said: there are a huge number of people hanging up social media consultant shingles who have no case studies to prove that they are in fact “gurus”.

    My point was and is that someone else should call you a guru. That’s not something you should be calling yourself.

    And of course, we all have to start somewhere. But I take issue with someone who decided to become an expert offering advice after three weeks in the space.

    Let me add that I hope Lauren becomes a huge success. :>)
    BL

  10. After passively watching others use Twitter for quite some time, I recently set up an account for my fledgling business, hoping to connect with other enthusiasts and network with future customers.

    Most of us, I believe, have heard the phrase over the years “This will go down on your permanent record,” usually in a school context. But as a new user, that is exactly how I am approaching Twitter — this is the “permanent record” for myself and my business. There will be potential customers who will go back and read every single tweet in my history. I know it’s true, because I’ve done it myself. I keep that in mind as I use the service. Perhaps others should as well.

  11. I like Jenn’s point– how many 20-something’s out there know more about SM INHERENTLY (i.e. they are not, nor were they ever, part of a learning curve–it just comes natural) than most of these guru’s? Let’s face it, there is no such thing as a social media expert; this space is just too new.

    I know how it feels to be disregarded as a young and inexperienced communicator (I, too, am 25). In this space, though, our years of experience often trump even seasoned communicators. Alot of the social media freelance work I’m getting is from organizations who want a young, knowledgable, fresh communicator to show them the ropes; they have plenty of seasoned professionals.

    What kind of effect does behaviour like this have in the blogosphere? At the end of the day, Bill has peaked my interest in Lauren (I’ll be following her on Twitter, for sure) and reasserted that I’m not missing much by choosing not to follow Shel or BL.

  12. Ike Pigott says:

    Brandon, there are plenty of voices out there that are tipping the Noise end of the scale instead of Value. You’d be remiss to put either Shel or BL at that end of the spectrum.

    Bill’s original point was based on the premise that Shel and BL (and to a different degree, Ike) need to be more careful about their commentary, because they DO offer a lot of value and owe it to others to be fair.

    I know many “young, knowledgeable, fresh communicators” who don’t have any sense for traditional communication strategy, business goals, or market reality. Nor do they have a notion of internal politics, and how to successfully blend what they know with traditional corporate culture.

    If your statement about “I’m not sure I’m missing much” is indicative of your true feelings, then you are guilty of a far more egregious sin of haughty hubris than anyone else here.

  13. B.L. Ochman says:

    Brandon – Sorry, but until a self-proclaimed guru – young, old, or in between – has case studies to prove a track record, inherent knowledge isn’t enough.

    Most “seasoned communicators” don’t have track records in social media either. My issue is with calling oneself a guru, at any age. Show us the case studies.
    BL

  14. Jenn Mattern says:

    B.L. – Sorry, but until someone can point out where Lauren actually refers to herself as a “guru,” points are looking rather moot to me. That term’s being thrown about a lot in this discussion – oddly by everyone but Lauren. Looking beyond just the first sentence of her post, she makes it very clear that she’s on a journey to build expertise in social media, and not claiming that she’s there yet.

    While I don’t think inherent knowledge is everything here, I also think it’s foolish to dismiss it in any way. I’ve worked a lot with creative professionals, many of whom use social media very successfully (including helping musicians to land publishing deals with major record labels). These aren’t folks who go out building up numerous case studies – they’re the ones using social media as it (seems to have been) originally intended, to socialize and network for themselves. The fact that they may have fewer case studies than someone working with a firm has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they have talent, or dare I say it “expertise” stemming from that experience. In fact, I have no doubt that some have been effectively using social media longer than some of these firms have dabbled in it, or been in business for the newer additions.

    I’d strongly suggest anyone wanting to get involved in social media should spend some time following these independent folks (musicians, independent filmmakers, authors, etc.). They’d learn a lot about the value of turning customers into true fans, staying ahead of the curve in the SM game, and building true relationships in SM. No, they don’t call themselves “experts” or “gurus,” but their inherent knowledge is more than enough.

    In your defense, I won’t pretend to know what Lauren’s “inherent knowledge” includes, nor do I think she qualifies as one of those dreaded gurus by any means. I just also can’t find any claim from her that she thinks she already does unless I put blinders on when reading that post – making me wonder why there’s a controversy here in the first place.

    Lauren’s not a “guru.” Neither are B.L, Ike, Shel, or any other SM professional. The fact that people throw around a word without much thought doesn’t make it true. Maybe in time that term will have validity in the field… but that time isn’t now.

    As for Brandon’s comments – don’t refuse to follow someone, or stop following someone, just because they said something stupid, intentionally or not. We all do it, and we don’t always come across as we intend. Just look at this case. I doubt Lauren realized people would take her post in two contradictory ways, and then we have a comment where the same thing bit someone on the ass with people making assumptions about a tweet. Fortunately, all 3 do add value to the overall conversation on SM issues, and you’d be missing out to ignore them. And besides… “social” isn’t about following people you like. In the real world social situations present allies, enemies, and everything in between. It’s no different on the Web. If it were, what a boring place this would be.

  15. Brian Moran says:

    Bill,

    Excellent reply to an ignorant tweet. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Lauren for the last 4-6 months. In fact, we are working on a program now which will allow high school students from the inner cities to post their resumes on her site, learn more about writing business letters and network with corporate America. In my personal opinion, she is well on her way to mastering the art of Social Media.

    In reading B.L. Ochman’s two tweets about Lauren, I saw it as nothing more than someone who is watching the future pass right before their very eyes. It’s the only justifiable answer to the ugly and condescending comments. “Our Dog knows more about social media than most social media gurus. That one’s been a guru for 3 weeks.” It’s ugly and it’s crap. Pure and simple.

    Brian Moran

  16. […] degree learning 19 01 2009 Bill Sledzik reminds us of how social media can be used to ridicule rather than support those who may know less […]

  17. Bill Sledzik says:

    It’s rare for me to let a thread run this long without joining the conversation. But since this one isn’t about me, I’ve decided to reserve comment until all of you have your say.

  18. Ed Lee says:

    just wanted to jump in and say that having an objective to become an “expert” in something in a year is a very laudable and commendable one. Peter Drucker, management guru that he was, made it his goal to become an expert in one new subject every year. he is probably the only person to be published as a management expert and as an expert in japanese paper.

    if only more people would look outside of their comfort zones we wouldn’t have all of this navel gazing. myself included.

    ed

  19. Breeze says:

    I have to go with Jenn on this one. Not only does she never call herself a “guru,” the term appears nowhere in her post. You lose on that one, B.L.

    If one reads only to the end to the second paragraph of Lauren’s post, they’ll see this:

    “These are things that I’m trying to do on a daily/weekly basis to expand my knowledge of this new world. I think as entrepreneurs we are all responsible for keeping up with the times and learning how to communicate and grow our buisnesses [sic] in this new environment.”

    As Ed points out, this is a laudable goal. To seek knowledge, to have an interest and want to share it–which is clearly Lauren’s intention here–is to be encouraged rather than (as Bill rightly stated) ridiculed. Lauren’s post is about becoming a social-media expert–not declaring that she is one. Perhaps more attention should have been paid to the phrase “expand my knowledge” than to the word “expert.” Context does matter.

    I’m also rather surprised to see that, in all of the lengthy listings of justifications, rationalizations, and mentions of mentoring, not one of those responsible for this issue has apologized. Wishes of success, a no-offense-intended, yes. But no one has stepped up and said, “I’m sorry. I got it wrong.” Own up. Like context, credibility also matters.

  20. @Ike – “egregious sin of haughty hubris” – Well, any thoughts I may have had of you sounding condescending (in Lauren’s case) have just tripled; what kind of communicator strings together a sentence like that?!
    You are absolutely correct, though, in saying that young communicators- and any young professional, for that matter- stand to learn plenty from experienced one’s. That’s why I follow folks like Bill. My issue is with those who forget that they, too, were once 25, ambitious and new to a career.
    The beauty about the SM space is that everything has the potential to go viral. And this just did.

  21. Lauren is a smart, eager, enthusiastic young entrepreneur. She in no way displays any sense of entitlement. And as the original remarks show, feeling entitled is hardly solely a Gen Y/Millenial trait.

  22. Ike Pigott says:

    Brandon. I checked out your blog.

    You and I would agree on so many things.

    Had you checked out my online catalog, you might have noticed the same.

    Instead, you took one line from my comment here, applied its context to my entire online existence (not to mention assumptions about my personality), and used it to form an opinion about who I am and how I treat people.

    See how easy it is?

    “What kind of communicator strings sentences like that?” One who knows the audience to which he speaks. Be honored that I didn’t feel the need to dumb down language.

    And let me know if you ever wind up down my way. First beer is on me, ninja!

  23. Breeze says:

    Wow, Bill. The teachable moment you initially spoke of has grown into a host of them–albeit mostly examples of what not to do.

  24. Judy Gombita says:

    I’m proud to declare the three young(ish) commenters (Jenn, Brandon, Ed) as both my valued (online) subject experts and friends. We learn from and challenge one another, just like Heather Yaxley suggests in her 360 Learning post.

    I don’t know Lauren Berger (although I’ve now visited her blog/twitter account). What she is offering her “community” (to use an overworked SM word) is obviously appreciated, valued and wanted. Ergo, what was tweeted probably doesn’t matter overly much in terms of her reputation. Likely her “twitocracy” doesn’t even know about this other clique. But the tweets *do* seem unnecessarily mean, or at minimum thoughtless. I’m with Breeze, direct apologies (most suitably as separate tweets) would be so much more “instructive” than a stream of excuses.

    Lauren seems to be on the way up; who knows which people she’ll pass by as she ascends. As it happens, I’m reading a (recommended) book right now that basically outlines how no frog/person should be discounted when it comes to networking and future opportunities, that likely your very best resources/contacts will come from unexpected sources:Work the Pond

    Although that wasn’t the reason you wrote this post, Bill, I bet my bottom dollar that Lauren Berger is going to reward you in some way–probably in a totally unexpected fashion–down the road. And the rewards will be well-deserved. Thanks for continuing to be a truth-seeker in this bloggy space.

  25. Bill Sledzik says:

    Earlier in this thread I promised to return — when it was all over — and add my two cents. But I don’t know that readers need my interpretation at this point. And as we all know, there aren’t many readers at this point anyway.

    You can draw your own conclusions from what has been said, and from what has not been said.

  26. This thread illustrates one of the perils of the medium — when you are being authentic and honest in a public forum, some people will take offense; some will misinterpret and some will use the opportunity for self-aggrandizement.

    Experts should have a combination of theoretical grounding and experience — when running the communications internship program at Goodyear, our students had great grounding but lacked the experience to be great communicators. Seldom did I see in 4 years anyone who could come to us in fine enough shape to take a permanent position (Just one Bill — I think you know whom…)

    For social media, we’re applying theory of longstanding in other media that may or may not apply. No one has a large enough body of experience in the discipline to know, nor has the academe more than scratched the surface of potential research into social media’s effectiveness. For news media, direct communication, investor or government relations, and internal communications, that war’s been fought and won. We can demonstrate value based on outcome research. The jury is still out on social media.

    That means that there really are few gurus — people whose body of work demonstrates their expertise. There are the Ikes and Shels and KD Paines, but there are still widespread disagreements among these gurus on a variety of details surrounding social media.

    It may be that the talented newcomer, steeped in the medium from childhood and possessing an inherant understanding of its application, might be the next wave of proof in the pudding.

    Go get ’em, Lauren. But make sure you’re measuring business outcomes and not settling for outputs or eyeballs.

  27. Alan Stamm says:

    Ahem . . . don’t be so sure, Bill.

    Brandon Carlos correctly reminds us: “The beauty about the SM space is that everything has the potential to go viral. And this just did.”

    You jump-started a valuable dialogue now in Week 2.

  28. Bill Sledzik says:

    And I thought this thread was dead and buried. Thanks for stopping by, Alan.

    I really didn’t mean to jump-start anything. I only wanted to remind folks to be more careful about how we toss around insults and gossip in a very public online channel. I documented some boorish behavior and can only hope some apologies were exchanged in the back channels. They were not presented here.

    The whole discussion about “Who’s a guru?” was unintended, like so many conversations we have in this space. But I think the responses from the U-30 crowd show that a shift is taking place in the PR blogosphere, and that influence is moving toward a younger breed of practitioner. While these 20somethings may not be long on professional experience, they’re digital natives for whom social media is life, not some new tool in the marketing arsenal. They understand it as I never will.

    Folks like Brandon, Ed and Jenn represent this new wave, and I’m damned excited to have them on board. And here’s hoping they can teach this old dog a few new tricks.

  29. Breeze says:

    I, for one, have been checking back on this thread often, waiting to see if there was anything more being added. I’m glad to see it’s still alive, because I’m still waiting to see whether the pros in question would take the time for a credibility moment. No such luck thus far.

    While I appreciate Judy’s agreeing with me about the need for just such a moment, I don’t concur that it should only take the form of tweets. Especially in light of the fact that Ike and B.L. initially made their way here to defend themselves, I think it would be appropriate to hear from them in this space as well. We know they know how to get here.

    I do agree with Alan that this is a valuable dialogue, which is why I hope to see it continue. Like I said, the teachable moment Bill spoke of has bloomed — and I don’t think it’s done growing yet.

  30. Ike Pigott says:

    I, for one, had completely forgotten about this thread and had moved on, until reminded from an email notification that slipped through the filter. I’m glad it’s still alive, because I’m waiting to see if the echo-chamber 20-somethings who are being hyper-sensitive will establish once and for all what they deem to be “appropriate” behavior.

    Since, as Bill pointed out, NONE of you are privy to any backchannel communication that might have occurred, I can only assume that your criticisms are based on statements or attitudes laid down in this forum.

    What none of you has grasped is the difference between what you term as “online behavior” and what would be classified as “reputation management.”

    Your Utopian and Kumbaya notions of “online behavior” seem to dictate that anyone whose feelings get hurt online is automatically entitled to a public ass-kissing.

    If any of you have actually paid attention to the debate AND the best practices of Online Reputation Management, you would understand that the vast majority of online complaints do not rise to the level of response, and deserve to be ignored.

    Breeze — BL is not here, I would surmise, because you are now engaged in comments about her reputation and her character. Which, by her silence, she deems UNworthy of response, retaliation, nor comment. (After all, you are NOT signing with a real name. Why again ought she respond to an anonymous detractor?)

    It is inconsiderate and unfair for you to demand from her as a practitioner a behavior or action that would run counter to the very responses that good PR people would recommend to their clients under similar circumstances. BL and Shel are not in business to do things they would not responsibly do for their clients. You can’t have it both ways.

    As for me, Breeze? I pondered this quite a while before stepping back in. I would not have, except I have an inner desire to participate in “teaching moments.” And this is one of them, where we can instruct students on recognizing competing interests, as well as the value of NOT communicating at times where there is no value for them.

    If I did NOT respond in this manner, this teaching moment would never have been articulated. THAT is the source of my credibility, my motive.

  31. Jenn Mattern says:

    As a 20-something whose notions are about as far from “Utopian and Kumbaya” as they can get, my opinion might not matter to you. But here’s what would be “appropriate” as far as I’m concerned: Think before you speak. Keep it honest. And own up to your mistakes.

    That’s the simple version. In a general sense, I’d advocate the following “rules” – Note that unless I specifically mention otherwise, the comments are of a general nature rather than related to this case. I really couldn’t care less about this one anymore for the most part, as Lauren’s intentions seem relatively to anyone with enough functioning brain cells to be able to read and comprehend two little paragraphs:

    1. Read before you post something stupid.

    2. Make sure you fully understood what you read / heard before you say something stupid about it.

    3. Don’t respond to someone else’s stupid / ignorant / childish snippets of text without making sure you understand the context of what they’ve said, and how your own post will likely be construed because of that.

    4. You don’t have to be nice all the time. Frankly, there’s a lot of crap out there that doesn’t deserve a warm and fuzzy response. But then make it about the issue rather than personal, or have a damned good reason to make it personal (had Lauren actually referred to herself as a “guru,” I’d say comments would fall under this rule).

    5. If you do royally f* up and say something stupid, inaccurate, etc. Then have the balls to apologize – and not in the backchannels. If you can make someone else look like an ass in a public medium in front people you have influence over in any way, and it was either inappropriate or misguided, you better be able to suck it up and show that same audience that you’re capable of screwing up. Anything else, as far as I’m concerned is dishonest. (Coming from someone who’s habitually harsh and who’s made it a point to give folks credit when due, I promise, admitting you’re wrong or someone deserves more credit than you originally gave them isn’t that hard… and it doesn’t hurt as much as someone else making the correction for you.)

    6. No, you shouldn’t always respond every time someone makes a negative comment about you. But there’s a big difference between someone simply having a negative opinion about you or something you’ve said or done, and you actually being wrong, being called out, and ignoring it hoping it goes away (or god forbid someone’s ego being blown so far out of proportion that they can’t even see the error of their own ways). The first generally doesn’t warrant a response. The third will rarely bring one. In this case Ike probably didn’t need to respond. As for B.L., I’ll get to my thoughts on that. Shel fell somewhere in between.

    Ike, more directly, I actually find the whole utopian / kumbaya comment amusing in reference to young professionals (in a literal funny-haha, made me grin kind of way). I had a personal exchange recently about the whole “everybody play nice” crap going around and how pathetic and misguided it was. The majortiy of comments I’ve seen of that nature have actually been from older professionals, save a few here I believe. That’s not to say there aren’t some young idealists that fit the bill. I’m sure there are plenty in the under-30 crowd with equally gagworthy things to say. And for the record, there are no more echochamber millenials than others.

    Back to one thing you said on this particular issue – I find real fault with this (no anonymity needed): “It is inconsiderate and unfair for you to demand from her as a practitioner a behavior or action that would run counter to the very responses that good PR people would recommend to their clients under similar circumstances.”

    If B.L. wouldn’t suggest that her clients apologize in a public medium after throwing around that particular kind of public, pathetic and personal insult tied to their company / professional name, then frankly she’d have no business consulting with that client at all. Managing a reputation is about doing the right things, and fixing things when you’re in the wrong – not being tight-lipped after those kinds of comments (the kind with a simple remedy which would have likely ended the criticism then and there). Of course, every cloud has a lining. In this case, another “teaching moment”–teaching clients how not to behave in the world of social media if they truly want to better manage that online reputation (which can indeed be affected by simple “online behavior”). I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ll at least applaud that.

    Personally, I’d rather see more “idealists” of a different kind in all age groups – ones who aren’t wasting their time with these little bullshit types of exchanges with their tweeps at all hours of the day, and who are instead out there exercising critical thinking, working towards changes to bring some respect back to PR b/c they believe it can happen, and not sitting around playing with whatever they think the next hot little tool is, caught up in their perpetual obsession. But if the collective “they” must spend hours on end in the twittersphere with their sniping and griping (and plenty of “look at me!” links back to their blogs and back-pats to boot), then at least avoid tweeting under the influence of ignorance. By all means, don’t be nice all the time. But if you’re going to be nasty, for goodness sake, be nasty with some substance!

    Folks on all levels have lost touch with the fundamentals in favor of novelty, and getting caught up in that novelty and the ease of “communication” has made it too easy to open our mouths instead of first opening our ears – where perhaps ironically, increased interaction sometimes has a tendency to lead to more one-sided conversations.

    The value in all of this is that it provoked debate. It also serves as a reminder that your intended audience isn’t the only audience watching you. In this case, the comments may or may not have mattered to Lauren. It’s irrelevant. They mattered to an educator working with Lauren’s peers – someone with influence over the people who are entering this field and who will eventually control its fate. My only hope is that he, and others like him, have more influence than those who would make comments directed at further alienating them.

  32. Bill Sledzik says:

    Jenn,

    I told you back when you stopped posting to the PR blog how much my students missed “the naked chick.” So do I.

    Civility is one thing, but so long as we stay focused on the issues, there’s no reason we can’t drop the gloves once in a while and mix it up. You were always able to do that, and it never got personal — just like today.

    I’d lobby you to bring back Naked PR, but sometimes quality of life, personal sanity and making a living have to come first. You’ll always be welcome here.

  33. Judy Gombita says:

    Bill, as you mentioned how much your students have missed the naked chick, it brought to mind something I’ve been curious about: Are you discussing this post in your class(es) and, if yes, how are the students viewing the “PR” efforts (or not) of the four principals involved.

    (I’m not surprised none of them have chimed in here, given the labels some expressed re: their generation, but hopefully they are candid with you and willing to have their colletive views aired here.)

    Thanks.

  34. Breeze says:

    Ike, you wrote:

    Breeze — BL is not here, I would surmise, because you are now engaged in comments about her reputation and her character. Which, by her silence, she deems UNworthy of response, retaliation, nor comment. (After all, you are NOT signing with a real name. Why again ought she respond to an anonymous detractor?)

    If there’s any comment about B.L.’s reputation or character I have made here, it’s only been my surprise that she would stake those things on taking the time to defend her inconsiderate actions, and then fail to correct them. I’m still unclear why that’s an unreasonable request.

    As for “anonymity,” well that’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it? She’s free to assume that I’m unworthy of a response, but that also assumes that I’m of no influence–here or anywhere else. As Jenn correctly pointed out, there are plenty of people paying attention, whether you’re aware of them or not. Word has a way of spreading, for good or ill, well beyond where it’s targeted.

    It is inconsiderate and unfair for you to demand from her as a practitioner a behavior or action that would run counter to the very responses that good PR people would recommend to their clients under similar circumstances. BL and Shel are not in business to do things they would not responsibly do for their clients. You can’t have it both ways.

    I think Jenn also ably handled this sentiment, but let me say that your inclusion of the word responsibly speaks directly to what’s been my point all along–theirs were not responsible actions. That Bill blogged about it to begin with should have been indication enough, but the error has been demonstrated in further detail here in the comments. Comments that make clear that people are in fact paying attention. That should be all the reason they need to set the record straight.

    As for me, Breeze? I pondered this quite a while before stepping back in. I would not have, except I have an inner desire to participate in “teaching moments.” And this is one of them, where we can instruct students on recognizing competing interests, as well as the value of NOT communicating at times where there is no value for them.

    Ah, but value for them is only one half of the equation, isn’t it? I would think the value for them would have been to put this whole issue to bed as soon, and as cleanly, as possible. I would also think that the value for the audience (those here, and anyone else who’s listening in) would have been to see how, as you say, “good PR people” step in and skillfully handle an unfortunate situation. Now THAT would have been a teaching moment of value… to all involved.

    If I did NOT respond in this manner, this teaching moment would never have been articulated. THAT is the source of my credibility, my motive.

    The fact that you’ve responded is surely to your credit, but your motive was and is to defend what you, Shel, and B.L. said about Lauren. Which was off the mark at the time, and remains so.

    Brian “Breeze” Wooley
    PRKent, Class of 1995

  35. Bill Sledzik says:

    Judy,

    I have discussed this case with my PR students, but we’re only in Week #2 of the semester and I have lost 2 of 4 classes because of the MLK holiday and the snow storm. I haven’t had time to bring it up in the ethics class, but plan to do that. Students are a lot like me, they’re interested, but the time they can spend online is limited thanks to classes, work etc. It’ll take a few weeks to get on track.

    Brian,

    Breeze has stepped forward with his identity now that’s he finds himself being questioned. Bravo. I’m pleased to host a gloves-off discussion here at my place, and happy to see folks on both ends willing to spar a bit.

  36. Breeze says:

    Just saw an Ad Council PSA about cyberbullying; the tagline at the end made me think of this thread’s topic:

    If you wouldn’t say it in person, why say it online?

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