The other day I had lunch with someone who had been a good source for me. The first thing he said when we sat down was “where ya been? I don’t see you on Facebook anymore!” I could only smile as I replied, “well, I’ve been everywhere…just not on Facebook.” It’s a little sad to think a person would deduce you disappeared from the world just because you disappeared from a social media site. I wasn’t hiding. I just was playing on a different field.
Two years ago I abruptly posted a status update on Facebook that I couldn’t face it anymore and would be hanging up my status-updating spurs. I had a good time for about six years cracking jokes, baiting those on the opposite side of the political spectrum from me to get all upset and silly, catching up with long lost friends, acquaintances and co-workers and using the site to promote this blog. But then it stopped being fun. Good-natured disagreements devolved into bitter rhetoric. It started feeling more like work to keep up with expectations of an unspecified number of funnies, or at least near-misses each day. So I quit. But I’m not gone.
Yes, every once in awhile I’ll lurk and read what’s going on at the CNN Alumni page. Too often it depresses me when I see the latest notice of one of the extended CNN family has passed away. I only actually posted when my very favorite former boss at the network died and offered some personal thoughts. Actually it was a link to a blog post.
Once a year I’m humbled by the number of people who wish me a happy birthday and I attempt to thank each and every one individually. If they took the time, then I can too.
I thought I’d miss it more, but I don’t. Aside from the total time-suck, I’ve made room in my brain for other thoughts and ideas, instead of scanning all sorts of news sites for funnies fodder. Now I read the news…to learn the news. There are enough jokes in government who are walking punchlines. Some deserve to be simply punched.
I still get friend requests. I’m not rejecting you. I’m ignoring you out of respect, because what kind of a friend would “friend” you then never interact with you. I’ll save my ghosts for Halloween.
Will I ever go back? Not a chance. People who need to find me know how. Besides, I don’t trust Facebook with my personal information and if I want to be targeted, I’ll have a bullseye tattooed on my ass. It’d be hard to miss.
And if I do think I came up with something funny, I’ll probably just torture my family or a friend in person. They won’t have to post a comment that says, “wow, that sucked!” They can just tell me face-to-face, and then we’ll pour some Jack on the rocks and have an honest laugh..together..like real friends.
It’s been about a year since I quit Facebook cold turkey as a means of reclaiming my time and a bit of my sanity. I had developed a bit of a following for some mildly funny posts to the extent that when I attended a business or social event, my followers would give me warm greetings, engage in conversations, call out specific posts.
But then yesterday, while covering an auto industry event, I found out how fleeting Facebook “friendship” really is. One of my more ardent former followers…a fellow journalist..greeted me with a big “hi! and a smile. Then came the hammer. “You don’t seem to post much anymore,” she said. “Oh no,” I replied. “I quit a year ago.” Her face fell, then hardened, and then she curtly cut off our conversation and turned to speak with someone else.
Are people really that idiotic and shallow to the point of de-valuing your acquaintance simply because you choose to discontinue posting quips on a social media site?
I asked my daughter, who, in her late 20’s, is a social media savant ,if this was common behavior or simply a display of immaturity by a middle aged knownothing.
She gave me a very serious look while explaining to me in no uncertain terms, “you must maintain your online presence to build your personal brand.”
Now I ran social media communications at Fiat Chrysler for 11 years so I’m not exactly a novice at online branding and the working of social media, but for some reason this hit me like a shot. It just seems so horribly pathetic that human beings can be judged by such an ephemeral criteria. Luckily, I’m at an age where my reputation has long been made. I have no one else to impress except my family. In my semi-retirement I have no occupational aspirations other than to dabble here and there with freelance projects and my very nice part-time position at Automotive News. I do not wish to be some sort of social media personality and the only thing about me that goes viral might be a bacteria I catch in the locker room where I play hockey.
What this has all done is harden my resolve not to reverse course and resume my Facebook presence. Oh..I’m still online..through this blog and a very occasional tweet and posting links to some of my current work on Linkedin, but that’s it.
It was fun making people laugh and triggering some smiles during my time on Facebook, but it’s always best to leave the stage with the audience wanting more. That doesn’t make me worth any less. I still tell jokes…to my real friends…not on Facebook..but face to face.
It didn’t hurt a bit. With a couple of clicks I deleted my Facebook account after roughly 6 years. I had a good time using it. It was a platform to crack some jokes, comment on the news, tell some personal stories, support my friends during tough times and promote my work. In the end, though, it was also a place to waste time and open myself up to, at times, unwanted contact.
I didn’t spend big chunks of time on the site, but I did expend a lot of mental energy dreaming up posts that I thought (sometimes foolishly) that would be entertaining, put a smile on some folks’ faces, be a little controversial, or heartfelt. Sometimes posts would come to me in a flash, other times I blew 10, 15, 30 minutes scouring news and other websites for Facebook post fodder.
This isn’t what I intended when I opened my account. I thought it would just be a fun way to keep up with my friends and maybe reconnect with those with whom I lost touch. The problem began when I started receiving very favorable comments about some of my posts. Gradually I started accumulated followers and was expected to be somewhat entertaining. People would tag me so as to bait me into coming up with a funny comment. Some suggested I go into standup comedy. I appreciated, very much, the kind words but then I placed pressure on myself to come up with something witty or emotional or meaningful or inspiring or, ofttimes, idiotic, at least once a day. It became work. I didn’t need more work.
Of course the election brought out the worst in people. Shallow, narrow-minded people who can’t take a joke or poke a little fun at themselves or who threaten to unfriend you if you don’t believe every moronic thing coming out of their keyboards. Who needs that?
The sad part is I love to write and I do love to entertain. I’ll be doing here on this blog for now on. I hope you’ll check in every now and then and find something worth the detour. I can also be reached via Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/egarsten and Twitter @EdGarsten. Thanks very much. Ed
How many times have you read or heard about cultivating your “online brand?” Oh, maybe 42 billion and 6, including the note I saw in a job-getting advice story in today’s Detroit Free Press. As part of that advice, job seekers are urged to start their own websites or blogs.
I started this blog a little over a year ago and have been active on Facebook and Linkedin, less so on Twitter. It got me wondering how my online brand is perceived. Surveying my scribblings over the past 8 or 9 years I would conclude my online brand falls somewhere between insanity and Silly String. This revelation may reveal why I’m seldom sought after by recruiters who would prefer a prospect’s brand be closer to Wonder Bread and beige.
When I first started cracking wise on Facebook about 6 years ago it was simply a lark to see if I’d get any sort of reaction. After a few successful posts I was branded by others as a potential standup comic. That was very flattering but standup comics are, for the most part, insecure train wrecks. I can admit to occasional insecurity but I always stop at railroad crossings.
As the head of Fiat Chrysler’s digital communications, social media is a big part of my job. I enjoy giving speeches, but I don’t offer a lot of advice online. The one time I did tweet something the then head of social media at a competitor cracked on Twitter, “oh, Chrysler’s social media guy is finally being social.” Nyahh. Nyahh. I replied that I was paid to promote Chrysler, not myself. Another guy jumped in saying I should posture on Twitter as an expert. I countered that a lot of people who posture as experts are full of crap. He responded “let’s have coffee some time.”
I regularly careen between serious, sensitive and stupid. When I feel I’ve been stupid, I often delete those posts. I have deleted dozens of posts over the years when, on second thought, I personally decided my online brand would devolve to “dumbshit.”
The fact is both in my real and professional life I’ve always taken chances and looked at new challenges as something I could handle. Would a company want someone like me who is not bound by culture or convention? Generally, it’s a tough sell, but I don’t care. I’ll tell you this. If you’re considering what your online brand is, it should be the same as your offline brand, and your off-duty brand, and your real life brand. It should be a brand with a simple name, “Me.”
I never intended to stay for 10 years..or even two. I just wanted to take a short break from news, try something different, then return to the streets to hunt and write stories. But what happened instead was the opportunity to build and develop a team in a corporate setting that pioneered the concept of “corporate journalism” by developing an in-house digital newsroom complete with field crews, reporters, social media channels and feeding into our top-rated media website.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. That isn’t the job I hired on to do. I was hired to launch, manage and be essentially, the ghost writer for then PR chief Jason Vines who wanted to start a new blog aimed directly at automotive journalists. Jason wanted an auto writer in that position who understood the business of both autos and journalism. So, feeling restless after three years of covering General Motors for The Detroit News I though the job sounded like fun and a nice short-term break from news. Blogging was still also relatively new with lots of promise for corporate use, so I wanted to get in on this emerging form of communication.
We called the blog TheFirehouse.biz, named after the Detroit firehouse Chrysler always turned into a bar and grill exclusively for reporters and guests during media preview days at the North American International Auto Show each January. The blog was an extension of the firehouse’s purpose of building relationships with the media.
TheFirehouse.biz made an immediate impact for two reasons. One, we broke every rule of blogging by only allowing working journalists entry to the site. That won us universal hatred from self-appointed “experts” who said there are no rules in blogging, then tried to hold us to one.
Second, we took on issues no company would touch, especially in a news release. The most impactful was one where we pilloried so-called “Big Oil” for artificially propping up fuel prices. That piece appeared, or was cited, in more than 2,000 publications and websites. Indeed, it was the lead story in the next day’s The Detroit News.
I remember giving a speech at a PR conference in Wiesbaden, Germany introducing European corporate communicators to TheFirehouse.biz’s unique “voice.” During the Q/A session one gentleman asked, “how do you get away with such repugnant rhetoric?” Then at lunch he sidled up to me and whispered, “I am so jealous of you. Congratulations!”
But that was just the beginning of our pioneering journey into a unified digital newsroom. About 10 months after launching TheFirehouse.biz we did our first product reveal via live webcast. Since there was no department dedicated to this, it fell in my lap. About this time I had applied for the long-vacant broadcast communications manager” position and before even being hired, was given those duties. I was promptly told by the person who temporarily held that responsibility the entire budget for the year was blown..and it was July!
That sparked the next chapter. With no money to hire a production company to create a video news release for an upcoming story, nor funds to finance distribution, we purchased a small mini DVD camera from a big box store and shot it ourselves. YouTube was just emerging and I thought, what if we just posted the VNR for free and sent out the link to the media? Well..that worked out pretty well since it cost us nothing to distribute the video and we won coverage as a result. All of a sudden my portfolio was growing , but I had no idea how much bigger it was going to get.
Mike Aberlich, who was second in command, had a brainstorm that would change my life and open the door to everything we accomplished over the next 10 years. He told me that not only would I be hired for that broadcast job, but since I had been a journalist in basically every medium- TV, radio, wires, newspapers, blogging-he’d create a team that would merge all of those disciplines and make me the head of it.
Our new team, Chrysler Electronic Communications, also included the company’s media website. Over a period of several months we stepped up our video production activities and instead of simply shooting video or soundbites for the media to use, we created self-contained stories and features that could be posted on websites. We called what we were doing “corporate journalism” long before the term was co-opted by PR agencies and “experts.” A simple video feature explaining how a waterfall we used at autoshows that created the words “Jeep” and various shapes won over a million views on YouTube.
We then created a weekly video recapping Chrysler news called “Under the Pentastar,” named for the company’s trademark. The name was changed in 2014 to “FCA Replay” when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was created and use of the Pentastar was discontinued. The feature has won awards from Women in Communications, PR News and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).
In short order we created three new positions called “Multimedia Editors,” who are essentially reporters embedded in the company. They cover beats such as brands, corporate matters, labor, technology , and are responsible for creating social media and video content as unique stories, or to create a multimedia package that augments news releases. Our Multimedia Editors, accompanied most times with a videographer from our team, cover stories the same as a field crew at a station or network. Our content is available for any media to use and is also posted on our blog, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube channels. It can also be found on our groundbreaking site, FCA Content on Demand, which is a constantly changing aggregation of internally and externally produced content that contains company news, features, blog posts, product reviews and videos.
All video we produce is hosted on our in-house video portal found on our media website, making it quick and easy for journalists to find the content they need and immediately download it.
Rounding out our multimedia activities is our Livestream webcasting channel, “FCA Live” and regular use of the smartphone webcasting apps Periscope and Meerkat.
Our evolution from a single blog to a self-contained, media website/social media/video production/ corporate news organization was only made possible by a team of creative and courageous individuals who never say “no” to trying new ideas and have the talent and skills to execute them successfully.
Our team is now called FCA Digital Media, but our mission is the same as it’s always been—contribute to the company’s success by creatively and strategically using digital means to communicate the value of its products, technologies, policies and people.
It gives me great pleasure to think about all we’ve accomplished as a team over the past 10 years. But that was then. We’re not nearly done.