What I learned when I created an Instagram profile for my cats

Yes I’m now one of THOSE people. I have an Instagram for my three cats where I post their latest exploits and, yes, pretend at times to speak in their voice. Many think I’m crazy- and I’m really fine with that because this account has helped me remember how fun social media can be. My cat account is my outlet. It’s where my feed is full of other cute cats doing silly things like riding roombas, sticking their heads in bags and looking aloof. It’s also a place of interacting with a passionate community.

For example:

All three of my kitties are rescues and two of them were rescued off of the “kill list” from an NYC shelter by an amazing foster mom in Brooklyn. Both are black cats which decreased their chance of adoption and one was misidentified as vicious- most likely because she had survived the streets for 3 months and the shelter had no time to work with her to calm down. August 17th was National Black Cat Appreciation Day and it was awesome to see my feed fill up with Black Cat love. We shared stories and photos as well as raised awareness of the low black cat adoption rates. It was awesome to see the community come together in support of each other and our cats.

And guess what? On my cat Instagram there’s no mention of politics. You’d have no idea that this is a vicious election year. I have no idea how many Drumpf or Hillary supporters I may be interacting with because it doesn’t matter. My cat Instagram account is a sanctuary- a place where I can go to remind myself that there are still shared interests around which I can interact with others.

This isn’t escapism. It’s part of being human. We all have many identifying markers and it’s never been more important to embrace those. In terms of career many in my field preach that it’s futile to try to have a personal life and preach the glories of “hustling”. You are your work, all other is secondary. Most “thought leader” social media accounts reflect this.

But here’s the thing-we choose to make our accounts work and career-focused. We choose to blur that line through personal branding. We choose to submerge certain aspects of our personal identity. As I’ve written about in prior posts (here and here) this can be absolutely fitting. But we need to keep in mind that by choosing to build communities with a very specific work-centric identity, we risk loosing other aspects of ourselves.

I’m not talking about the whole “I’m totally transparent” thing because are you, really? Humans are weird. All of us have hobbies or pasts that are secret. So as much as you say “I’m transparent” on your feed, you’re not. You have an internal censor that thinks carefully through what you post and curates a balanced feed. Your offline self knows all about treading carefully through appropriate conversation topics (Thanksgiving anyone?)so don’t try to pretend that your online self is suddenly free to discuss anything you want.

That’s why it’s been so freeing for me to create an entirely niche account on Instagram where I’m only focused on one aspect of my identity- my love of cats. Many people take a break from social media to get back to their identity, if, like me, that’s not for you then I’d strongly suggest making a completely niche social media account. I’d also suggest that you check out Instagram to do so because it reach lends itself to the niche community- for examples-check out Urban GardeningFoodies or Fitness.

Bottomline: Social Media can be freeing and let you explore different aspects of yourself. So do it! Make your social media experience fun again. 

And  of course if you want to see the antics of three kitties named after Harry Potter characters come on over to @3kittiesinthecity 

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Featured blog image via xkcd.

Personal Branding Is Much More Than Self-Marketing

I hate the term personal branding. It’s one of those catchphrases that by now has been written about ad infinitum. Much of what’s out there tends to carry the same message- to the point that there’s even a wikipedia article on it. Personal branding is equated with the term “self-packaging” with the goal of marketing yourself along the lines of a company with the goal of furthering your career.

This definition is a major turn-off for many people- myself included. It’s rather ironic. Most of these articles begin with some form of argument about how you ignore your personal brand at your peril and yet the definition of a personal brand is incredibly narrow and appealing to only a certain subset of personality types.

But they do get one thing right: You do ignore personal branding at your own peril. The information is already out there and anyone who googles you will make a set of assumptions based on the information available. Don’t try to tell me that you don’t care about this- you absolutely do. Think about your personal brand as an extension of your offline personality. We all spend considerable time and money presenting ourselves in the most favorable light from fashion choice to speech pattern to what we reveal about ourselves in different situations. Personal branding doesn’t have to be about sales or trying to get ahead in your career. It can be as simple as making sure that your online footprint is consistent with your offline.

That being said, the quest to discover your personal brand can also be an opportunity to think through who you are as a person. In our fast-paced and career-centric world this often gets overlooked.

Here’s the exercise I use for my Social Media and the Brand Course:

During this course, I have my students work on a semester-long personal branding project. The goal is to hep them put together and implement an online extension of their offline personality and then experiment with how to engage with others around this personality. They choose a single platform that they can easily monitor through analytics- Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest.

I give them the following guidelines:

  • Be authentic: People can always spot someone trying to be something they’re not
  • Don’t overshare: Set boundaries just like you do with your offline circles.
  • Be mindful of your audience: Prospective employers & VCs will see this. Humanizing yourself is great. Being off-putting is not.
  • Have fun: It shouldn’t be a chore to post content

I then have them go through two group activities. To encourage conversation I switch up the groups between each exercise. We also come together as a class between each exercise to hear what each person came up with and offer feedback.

First activity: Talk about ideas for your personal brand. Who are you? What do you want others to know about you. Put this into 140 characters.

Second activity: What platform are you going to use for your project and why? What type of content can you share to introduce yourself to others and communicate your personal brand?

They then have a set of 4 milestones during the project:

  • Introductory paragraph: Taking what they discussed in class and coming up with an overview- the platform they’re going to use and why, the type of content they want to share, any additional ideas they have.
  • 1 Page Strategy Document: A more formalized document going over what success looks like for this project. This includes their goals and how they anticipate accomplishing them. (note: they are not graded on achieving these goals- rather the insights the draw from working towards them)
  • Weekly Check-in document: They turn-in 3 screenshots of content created the past week and 2 insights they can draw from how the content performed. This encourages further self-reflection.
  • Final Report: This is where they look at their initial strategy and draw insights from the overall project. I also ask them to think about the next steps for their brand. This can be anything from starting a blog, working on another platform, applying what they’ve learned to their start-up accounts, etc.

My goal for this project is to help my students establish connections between their offline and online personalities. I also want to empower them to get used to posting content on their accounts according to a set strategy to get that personality to come through. This is an opportunity for them to find online communities that they can tap into and engage with.

Personal Branding is important. As I’ve written elsewhere– it’s an insurance policy and one that’s come to my aid more than once. BUT it’s about far more than self-marketing or humble bragging. It’s figuring out who you are and translating that online to engage with others. After all, that’s how genuine relationships are actually built and those are the ones that will come to your aid as you work to advance in the future.

Enough with the Pokémon GO Hate Already!

Pokémon GO. It’s the app that’s taken the country by storm and sent masses of people running around trying to “catch ‘em all”. This had led to both some hilarious and Darwin-award worthy results. It’s also created a significant strain of haters, writing blogs and posts on various platforms strongly decrying this app as both stupid and dangerous. The fact is that there is an important discussion to be had here but all the hate against the hype is overshadowing it. The articles can be broken into two camps:

The first is a reaction to the game itself. Look. Pokémon GO is a game. It’s based on a ridiculous children’s show from the ‘90s and the subsequent craze that went along with it. The premise is simple- there are these creatures called Pokemon and you go around the fictional region as a “trainer” catching them. It’s not designed to be sophisticated.

So if you think it’s stupid- that’s fine. No one is claiming it’s anything other than a rather simple game. Those of us who enjoy playing it on our DS’s and other platforms do so because it’s fun and silly. Whether or not you enjoy it is a matter of your preference. there are plenty of popular games that I find to be ridiculous- Minecraft is one of them, Candy Crush another, but that doesn’t mean they’re stupid. It just means that it’s not my thing.

The second, however, is important because it’s a reaction to the app as the first widely used example of mobile Augmented Reality. For all of app’s warnings to stay aware of your surroundings the fact is that an AR app by it’s very nature nature requires us to be less aware. The information provided by an AR app is designed to supplement our surroundings and divide our attention from the physical reality. Other apps such as Blippar are working to become as widely used in the day-to-day. These apps present themselves as adding to our experience but they require that we look at the world through our phones.

As I wrote in a prior post, for an app to get widely used it has to be addictive. An addictive app (see Candy Crush) is one that we want to use all the time. So is it any wonder that these accidents are happening? While Candy Crush has led to some bizarre self-injuries , AR apps that encourage us to interact with our environment as we move raise the stakes considerably.

We need to talk about these negative consequences and put together a game-plan before it’s too late and other addiction AR apps arrive on the scene. Pokemon Go presents this opportunity but as long as you’re caught into the hate against the hype that’s what the conversation will center on. So let’s move on to the real conversation and leave people to hunt Charizard in peace.

Being Human in 2016: A Year of Decision

Trying to predict trends in the New Year is a publishing tradition. With the rapidity of technological innovation,  these posts increasingly concern innovations in technology. This occurs both directly, such as WIRED’s “2016 Will Herald the End of Google (sort of)”, or indirectly, like Inc.’s “6 Predictions for the Most Disruptive Tech Trends”  and “The 5 Most Undercovered Marketing Trends for 2016” in Forbes.

But there are other trends in the world that dwarf the promises of emerging tech. Problems that can’t be solved by an algorithm or rich guy’s donation to “charitable purposes”.

There are certain points in human history that we look back at and see as pivotal turning points in our collective experience. These are years when politics, culture, economics, and technology come together to create an unstoppable force of transition around the world. One of the most recent such years was 1968. These years force change. They do not “disrupt”, nor can they be fixed through new apps. They come out of the fundamental aspects of our human nature and the way in which we relate to one another. Most importantly, they are moments of choice. We are headed towards such a moment.

Global inequality is the principle challenge of our time. On average in developed and developing countries, the poorest half of the of the population controls less than 10% of the wealth. This is not something that will be wished away by the Sharing Economy or fixed by a buy-one-give-one model. It is not something that Elon Musk can solve.

Worldwide population displacement is at an all-time high. According to the UN Refugee Agency, “one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.” This is not a tenable situation, particularly as it coincides with domestic calls to raise borders trapping these refugees in horrific situations such as the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. There is no crowdfunding this problem away.

In the midst of these issues, the threat of global terrorism and conflict loom. There are enough articles out there so I won’t go into everything here. But suffice it to say, when taken together in a single equation, we are facing a crisis — one in which technology, for all of its shiny promises, can only play a minor role in solving. These are human problems that require human solutions. 

These solutions do not come cheap. Nor are they likely to create opportunities to be the next big unicorn. They will not revolve around the creation of a new economic paradigm. Rather they will be focused on empathy. Remembering that hard work had nothing to do with where we were born and the opportunities that it afforded us. Remembering that no matter how bad things are there is always someone worse off than you. Empathy does not need to be blind. But it does require taking the time to listen, to learn, to understand, and at times simply providing a shoulder to cry on. Technology can assist in the creation of solutions but, to be effective, our ultimate goal must be helping others, not turning a profit.

My 2016 prediction is that this year will be simultaneously one of exciting innovation and deepening inequality. I challenge all of us to not turn a blind eye to the world’s problems. We live in an increasingly connected age with access to myriad sources of information. 

Let’s make 2016 the year of empathy. 

 

 

Our Shared Rainbow Moment

Only a few days in my life can compare to the feelings of pure joy and solidarity that I felt on June 26, 2015. It’s one of those markers that I believe is going to go down in history as collective memory- a “what were you doing when you heard” moment in time that we share with each other in years to come. Events such as those make us want to come together as humans- introverts and extraverts alike- to be with each other. Sharing those moments with others is a major part of the experience and we see spontaneous congregation in city centers to be with each other. Everyone wants to be a part of it.

On June 26th we saw the way that Facebook and Twitter in particular have become virtual city centers. Within minutes of the announcement profile photos across the social space were redone in various shades of rainbow. Tons of Brands joined in with, in my opinion, no real visible marketing strategy, rather they seemed to be motivated feeling that they should be a part of this momentous occasion. (A H2H moment!) And while Facebook didn’t change their logo they launched the “Celebrate Pride Tool” to create a rainbow filter of your profile picture. By the end of the day my Twitter and Facebook feeds were full of rainbows. A visual testament to our unity at a momentous time in history.

What does this mean? Probably not much in the long run. A bitter election campaign is right around the corner. Our profiles and feeds will be full of various opinions and divisions. Statistically unfollowing and de friending WILL occur. But let’s remember this moment. The field of rainbows- each an individual decision to create. Each representing a moment when we made a very human decision- to stand up and be counted and unite our voices together in celebration of equality.

Yes I’m waxing eloquent and no I don’t care. Blame it on the rainbow.

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