What I said (or, wish I said) to AP editors yesterday

Yesterday, I was on a panel during “social media day” at a national meeting of AP media editors. (Confession: I had to look up what a “media editor” is – news editors from media including print, online and broadcasting, as well as journalism educators and students.)

The panel was comprised of four people who are not editors at AP media company members — and how their companies (or, in my case, our company’s clients) use social media. In addition to me, the panel was comprised of a senior marketing person at a gigantic record label, the digital marketing director of a company that owns lots of cable channels, and a veteran of several journalism-related startups.

We did the panel twice, back-to-back, something I’ve never done before. (Sidenote: If you are attending something where a panel does something twice, go to the second one.)

Here are some things I said, wish I’d said, or thought of afterwards. If you are among the 12 regular readers of this blog, you’ll recognize some of them.

1. Tweet your beat: It seems confusing to some editors and reporters, but now-Twitter-employee, former WaPo journalist, @marksluckie pretty much spells out the basics of how reporters should use Twitter on this blog post. The guidelines can be applicable to all “social media.” (Perhaps the best example of a “tweet a beat” journalist: NPR’s Andy Carvin (@acarvin) — and I’m not even sure what his “beat” is. I know that he’s the go-to source for news from the streets of the Middle East.)

2. In my opinion, the term “social media” misses the point, sort of like when we used to call technology that revolutionized publishing more than anything since the advent of movable type, “desktop publishing.”

When a term can mean anything, it means nothing. If we insist on terms, I’d prefer the term “personal media,” as in the way we used the term, “personal computer” to differentiate it from “mainframe computer” back when personal computers first arrived on the scene. In my thinking, “social” puts too much emphasis on one specific facet of a great, big giant “shifted paradigm” — the facet being, the “group” or community interaction.

Of course, that is a critical facet of what is taking place, however, there a many things that are huddled under the “social” umbrella that have nothing to do with “social”: Here are a few: 1. Incredible new tools and channels that allow me to personally record, create and edit HD video, photography, audio, text and distribute them to a worldwide audience. It’s something individuals can do in a very unsocial way, if they choose. I think the term “social media” is yet another term that helps legacy media view themselves as bastions of something unique and above the babble — as if there is “mass media” and “the media of the masses.”

I have no hope of changing the term “social media” to “personal media,” so that’s merely an observation, not a cause.

3. As individuals, I think people should experiment with whatever types of new media approaches they hear is gaining traction (and a small segment of some of us should experiment with anything) — if, for no other reason, to intelligently articulate why you don’t like what something is, rather than saying you don’t like something because of what you think it is. Lots of things related to personal and social media is like “practice” — the best place to practice is at home, with your friends and family. When you get paid to do something, it’s more like “performance” — even when it looks like you are practicing.

Besides, there is a great degree of research that correlates curiosity and the willingness to learn new things to the delay of conditions that collectively are called “dementia” or Alzheimers. It’s still just theory, but there’s enough “truthiness” in such a theory, I hope it’s true.

4. As a company, I think social media activities should be for purposes other than experimentation. Social media activities are a major investment and commitment and cause of great angst and stress. As much as I am an advocate for and user of social media, my first advice is this: I you are going to invest company resources into them, they will never succeed unless you have a specific definition of success. If you can’t articulate the objective, then don’t engage in the activity.

I’m a fan of the “How Might We?” approach articulated in Tim Brown’s book, Change by Design. Bottomline: Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Learn to ask the right questions before applying what you think are the answers.

5. Related to 3, I believe a company that encourages or allows employees (from the CEO, down) to use personal media tools to engage in social media activities should provide training, on-going mentoring, and other guidance that includes not only, improving ones skills, but also focuses on understanding how those activities directly relate to a specific business objective. And I’m not talking “branding” or “eyeballs” — I’m talking specific, bottomline, reasons why each individual uses specific “social media” on behalf of a business. To not do this would be equivalent to thinking you need a baseball team for your city to compete with other cities — and deciding all you need to do is find some players you can audition like you would if putting on a community theater production. (Okay, I didn’t make up that example: It’s the plot of a running gag from the IFC TV show, Portlandia.)

6. Observation: If you run a gigantic business that makes lots of money and is the dominant player in whatever game it is you play, you spend much of your time trying not to fail or mess-up what you inherited from the folks before you. If you manage things from this type of defensive posture, you’ll become an expert on everything negative there is know about the downside of anything new or that challenges your status. (I think psychologists would describe this as a form of cognitive dissonance.) When it comes to social media, if you work at the company that is the dominant legacy media, your reflex is to collect horror stories about people who got fired because of social media and blogging and Twitter and forget all the wealth created and careers launched by social media.

7. It is with great irony — and perhaps with confusion to a lot of people at legacy media companies — that I say, if you are in business, you should know how everything you do is connected to the bottom line. If you have no idea what your bottomline is, you have an experiment, not a business. Experiments are awesome. The blog you are reading has been an experiment for 12 years.

8 Confession: I didn’t say most of this yesterday. I mostly said stuff that probably made little sense. But they were nice people and I enjoyed being asked to participate. Thank you Jack Lail for inviting me.