Sunday, August 31, 2014

5 Management Lessons From My First Year At NARA

Screenshot via LeadershipFreak

When I took the job of Digital Engagement Director almost exactly a year ago I had in mind to "live blog" the experience of being a senior, second-level executive with two dozen staff. I thought that it would be cool to make the experience transparent, in all its ups and downs.

Quickly I learned that this was not a good goal to have, because in a job where you're essentially focused on management as opposed to communication content, you need to think about organizational dynamics a lot. And if my experience/training has taught me anything, it's that if you're constantly turning the kishkes (intestines) of a place inside out, it ceases being able to function. Nevertheless, I think the following 5 lessons are both generic enough and specific enough to be meaningful:

1. A person is happy in a job if it suits their personality.  I like mine because I am "commanding, problem solver, want to make a difference, collector of data, adaptable" (from my StrengthsFinder results). What this means is that in most career planning conversations, there is too much emphasis on the type of work a person does, i.e. whether you are a marketer or a welder or a healthcare administrator. (For more on this see Penelope Trunk's career blog.) I appreciate that my boss not only recommended the SF but also ensured we had access to the book and the test itself. I have long been a fan of personality testing, Myers-Briggs, even astrology to align person with job and StrengthsFinder is by far the best.

2. Leadership and management exist on a continuum. Leadership is articulating "where we're going" and demonstrating the will to get there - e.g. taking action to enforce the vision, holding people accountable. Management is ensuring we get there in a measured way, and that people are well taken care of, supported, motivated, understood and provided with clear expectations and a fair system of organizational justice. You can't have one without the other. You may have to adjust one in consideration of the other, e.g. mindless management where you keep the train running on time, but it effectively goes to Auschwitz, is ridiculous and doesn't meet any good goal whatsoever. There has to be a dialogue.

3. You have to know how to listen, but not listen at the same time. In every organization there is going to be a stratosphere of talk. People need information that is not necessarily forthcoming. People want to have information they don't necessarily need. People want to become more important through the positioning of themselves as bearers of information. In every place, there is miscommunication, disinformation and sometimes confusion, because the right people aren't talking to each other or don't understand what the other is saying. You have to take what you hear with a grain of salt, always, understanding that necessarily, "you don't know what you don't know" or what you think you know, you might be getting wrong.

4. Respect for self, other and community are the basic values of every organization. These are values taught at school and they apply everywhere. The organization has to care for the person at the individual level regardless of how "busy" things are. There has to be enforcement of basic human decency between people, mechanisms for not only establishing what we mean by "order" but resolving the normal conflicts that crop up all the time. And recognition of the fact that we exist in a place populated by other people and groups that we will never see, but who are part of our world. This can happen through the establishment of affinity groups, internal social networks, and so on. But ultimately (though work is about work) it has to be about the relationships between people and modeling the highest quality of these.

5. In the end you either like the culture or you don't. I like it at NARA. A lot. It's not so much about the mission, although I could have a philosophical conversation with you about the critical nature of preserving history and how we can't have a democracy without access to "what really happened," at least to the extent we can preserve it. I could talk for days and days about the Google nature of our cultural knowledge and how people search superficially for headlines to gain quick understanding rather than actually looking at texts to draw slow and careful conclusions. I could go on and on about the importance of contextualizing information rather than always abstracting and comparing it with "like," a passion archivists have that is not well understood by people on the outside. But it's not really about all of that, if I am to be truthful. It is about the fact that NARA people are extraordinarily smart, and funny, and cognitive, and low-key and kind and socially appropriate. It is a joy to be in the room with them. It is an honor to work with some of the most respected people in Washington. Although people can't really understand how I fit in there...I see in the culture the qualities that I aspire to have and be known for. And I empathize with the struggle they are going through right now, one in which you recognize all the problems but have to prioritize and triage which you're going to deal with and when.

About being in management.

I saw a really good thing the other day about being an executive, about how you have to accept a kind of superhuman load of responsibility. It's not a job for people who want to clock in at 9 and out at 5. And what I see at NARA, as I saw at USAID and at CBP and the OCC previously - all the federal agencies where I've worked - is that our most senior civil servants take their job extremely seriously. They aren't fat cats living off the taxpayer's dime. They are sitting up at night worrying about how to carry the load effectively.

About civil servants versus political appointees.

It has been sad for me to watch criticism directed at the Administration somehow conflated with what our civil servants are doing, because these are two very different mechanisms and need to be understood each in its own context. Each has its problems that require fixing, but they aren't one and the same.

It also wouldn't be a bad thing to recognize the good work that gets done every day. Maybe it's sort of fun and exciting to criticize the government endlessly, but running a country well is a pretty hard job and not one that you can automate.

* This post was written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

When Passion Gets In The Way ("Close The Yeshivah")

Having almost been a victim of a child predator in a Jewish day school, I have a bias when it comes to religion.

I can't set food inside a synagogue without cringing. I feel like my skin is on fire. I look for the exit sign. For a clock. For my husband to signal when it's time to leave.

Being an almost-victim is not a non-victimization. I reported to my mother that this rabbi was "pulling my pigtails." I recall that he used to "hug" me. I can't remember any of it well. It doesn't hurt any less for the non-remembering.

My mother ran into the principal's office, screaming. I remember being with her in the car, and the sound the wheels made when they skidded onto the sidewalk. How her short and wide body lumbered up the stairs. For her, that was running.

It's hard to talk about. It's hard to think about. 

The love my mother has for me is simple, clear and passionate. She knew that "something" had happened to me, even if to others it would seem like "nothing."

I heard her yelling at the principal. My dad had a quiet meeting that I only found out about thirty years later.

Nothing happened. He hadn't "done" anything to me, had he? (No he hadn't) and so their hands were tied. 

In those days nobody understood how child predators work. That they "groom" children, slowly break boundaries. It's not an immediate thing.

Unfortunately, people now know. The Jewish community is hearing about widespread pedophilia enabled by the yeshiva system. Some rabbis have dedicated their careers to fighting it, such as Yerachmiel Lopin and Nuchem Rosenberg. There is also "Failed Messiah," a blog dedicated to exposing Jewish religious corruption and efforts to fight it.

And there are many reports of abused Jews who either dropped religion, killed themselves, or self-destructed while remaining alive.

David Gordon tried to fight back. He wrote "Secrets Don't Get Any Better With Age," the title of which is self-explanatory. He joined the Israeli Defense Forces though, and as Rabbi Jason Miller noted in a blog post, died under circumstances alleged to be a suicide. (Suicide by joining the army.)

In his post, Gordon wrote:
"Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, said 'Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.' Trust me, they do."
In my story, the rabbi in question ended up getting fired, because abusers never stop. He slapped a kid very hard, right across the face, in front of the entire class. That was it for him.

There's a big debate going on in the Jewish community about what we say to victims of child sexual abuse. There are those who don't believe it is real. Those who say "suck it up, life goes on." And those who blame the community for sheltering and enabling it. 

I am one of those people. But it is good to see that change is happening. The community is starting to say "enough." See this blog post and the comments.

A disturbing parallel that comes to my mind. The U.N. set up schools in Gaza in theory to provide a safe place for children to learn. But in reality the schools were used by Hamas to hide rockets used to launch attacks on Israel. 

Similarly, the Jewish community set up yeshivas to provide a "safe haven" from secularism for their kids. But the perpetrators hide among beautiful innocent souls and launch an attack on the Jewish community through them, literally by using their bodies. So that they can't be part of things as adults.

This was not the vision for our religious schools, obviously. The great rabbis centuries ago recognized the potential for yeshivas' corruption. They said, when corruption hits, you have to shut it down.

The Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), a Jewish sage, once explained to an educator why his request to open a yeshivah was at first ignored, then approved:
"One who makes a Yeshivah may not harbor any personal vested interests. His sole purpose in opening the Yeshivah is to disseminate Torah-nothing else."
Passion is often good. But it also interferes with good judgment. One has to recognize when bias is getting in the way of things and take positive action to set things right again.

That is the discipline of management. It is distinct from leadership completely, although the two are often conflated.

Here is a related story. In the UK, police hesitated to arrest Muslim rape gangs who turned 1,400 children into sex slaves because they didn't want to be accused of racism
"Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.”
Here is a report on the subject from the Law and Freedom Foundation. It notes that the authorities ignored blatant facts about the systematic abuse of non-Muslim girls by Muslim men:
"The perpetrators have been overwhelmingly men from Muslim communities, and the victims have been overwhelmingly girls from non-Muslim communities (Sikhs, Christians, Atheists). Yet the professionals never deemed it important to declare this, or even denied the pattern existed."
Silence was enforced brutally. The report quotes the UK Daily Mail:
"A girl had her tongue nailed to the table when she threatened to tell." 
The number of victims is estimated at 1,400 - and as much as the perpetrators are at fault, as the Washington Post notes, it is "the system that failed them."

And despite the sensationalist headlines, moderate Islam is far more prevalent than the extremist version. (Check out "Muslims Condemning Things" on Tumblr.) Within Islam itself, it is clear from even the most cursory review that terrorists have hijacked the religion's "brand."

In Becoming Enlightened, the Dalai Lama wrote that there are "troublemakers" in every faith. They are enabled by an over-focus on passion and insufficient focus on simple objectivity in the application of values to practice.

From a management perspective, perhaps we should be most passionate about objectivity. It is not an issue specific to one religion, one school, one police department, or even one country. It's about recognizing that although passion has its place, the quality more desperately needed in most organizations is mature, adult, dispassionate judgment.

* All opinions my own.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Queen Esther/Hadassah & How To Live As A Jew In A Christian Nation

Queen Esther - A Proud Jewish Woman.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe visits North Carolina, Dec. 31, 1989

Jewish people believe that your Hebrew name is important. It is deeply linked to who you are. 

My Hebrew name is Hadassah. It was one of the names of Queen Esther, who overcame her fear to beg the Persian King Achashverosh to save the lives of the Jewish people. This is why Jews celebrate the holiday of Purim each year, to commemorate our salvation.

With the support of the Jewish community, which had been praying and fasting for her, Esther revealed that one of the king's advisers, Haman, was the architect of a plot to kill all the Jews in the kingdom.

Esther knew this from her uncle, Mordechai, who had raised her and who had been targeted by Haman for refusing to bow down to him. (Jews only bow to G-d.)

The question comes up, why did Esther have two names. Briefly, "Esther" refers to her bringing spirituality into the physical world, where it is normally concealed. In fact the essence of her activity in the Purim story is how she managed to conceal in order to reveal the truth.

  • She was a Jew among non-Jews, the queen, and had to maintain her identity and be part of the kingdom. 
  • She had secured a place of relative safety, and was terrified of being killed. 
  • She was aware of the grave danger that her uncle was in, but she couldn't walk around showing it. 
  • And she knew that Haman was both crazy and evil, yet she couldn't simply walk into the king's office and tell him, or he could have her killed. 

That's why "Esther" is also "Hadassah." Technically a "hadas" is a myrtle, which is sweet. In Judaism this refers to her righteous character. Her dedication to doing the right thing.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe briefly explained what the name Hadassah means in particular.

"Hadassah was the name of Queen Esther, who was not afraid to live among non-Jews and to show an example of how a Jew must be proud of his or her inheritance, and to live everyday life in the same direction, with happiness and much success." - The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1989

As a child I joined the Lubavitch/Chabad "Tzivos Hashem" movement, which was about doing mitzvot (good deeds) as a way of "fighting" for G-d in a world full of evil, pain and anger. Fighting with deeds not weapons.

As a grownup I was for a very long time afraid to own my Jewish identity publicly, for a lot of reasons. One of them was the common idea (among religious Jews) that we don't want to stir up "trouble," meaning anti-Semitism, because America is a predominantly Christian nation.

I've gotten over that. It's important to me to be Jewish, and Jewish publicly, and to own my beliefs and opinions the same way everywhere.

Hadassah was afraid too.

* All opinions my own. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

At JFK, A Lesson In Diversity

I'll be honest. I miss New York.

Spending time up here today wasn't just a throwback to the sights, the smells, the culture.

I miss the sheer variety of people. Literally every nation on earth, hanging out at the Welcome Center at JFK. Or so it seemed.

There was the usual array of "interesting" behavior. 

One guy kept yelling, "Where's Air Train 3?"

There was PDA.

And the usual "I'm staring at me staring at you," suspiciously. (Are you hovering over my backpack for a reason?)

But the nicest thing about today's visit nice the people were. Not rude at all, like I remember.

I accidentally ran luggage over someone's toes and he didn't yell at me.

A lady gave my daughter plastic cutlery across a crowded line. She couldn't reach it but hadn't asked.

A waitress let us sit in the diner longer than we should've, and gave us two scoops of vanilla ice cream, the second complimentary.

Amid all these different people stood the El Al ticket counter and the Emirates one. Religious beyond religious people on both sides. Not only weren't they fighting, they barely noticed each other.

Peace can happen. Today showed it.

* All opinions my own.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Inner Shame, Your Greatest Career Asset

Image via Some ECards
I hate vampire shows, but for awhile they were a monster, moneymaking trend. 

A few years ago, Maureen Dowd wrote about her long-ago "suppressed" passion for these fanged fiends (sorry!) in her New York Times column. She concludes:
"Sometimes the thing that’s weird about you is the thing that’s cool about you." 
And she offers some career advice:
"What needs to be nurtured is the stuff that’s different, that sets you apart from the pack, rather than the stuff that helps you blend in."
This is Branding 101. Relevant differentiation. Positioning.

She says:
"Let your freak flag fly."
Mary Lambert is riding the trend with her song "Secrets," which just hit the Billboard charts.

Here are some of the lyrics, via When I heard them on the radio I was literally startled.

"I've got bi-polar disorder/ My shit's not in order/ I'm overweight / I'm always late / I've got too many things to say/ I rock mom jeans, cat earrings / Extrapolate my feelings / My family is dysfunctional / But we have a good time killing each other."

Celebrating dysfunctionality is why Justin Batemen is having a new moment.

As is Melissa McCarthy.

I love the show Married on FX, which completely celebrates the dysfunctionality and married life.

Plus it's about my friend, whose husband is the producer, who said, in a recent interview about the show:
"Nick Grad [President of Original Programming at FX] took me out for a long sushi lunch and really pushed me to do something really personal. And that lead to 'Married.'"
There are tons more examples. I could do a dissertation on Penelope Trunk and her inner struggle over giving up a promising career to be a full time mom, to overcome an admittedly screwed up childhood.

Twenty years ago Queer Nation was ahead of its time with the slogan "We're Here! We're Queer!"

Remember that?

Screenshot via Windy City Media Group
Now is the time.

Whatever you are, just be.

* All opinions my own.

Overcoming The Cumbersome Clearance Process for Social Media In Government

FYI #2 for today. A bunch of related ideas here. All opinions my own, as always.


Urgency: What Great Government Communication Requires

FYI. All opinions my own.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Future of New Media (In Government) - In 20 Quick Hits

This week I gave a talk for the Potomac Forum on the Future of New Media. We ended up covering some classic ground so maybe we should just think of this as a moment in time.

Most of the clips are to a YouTube playlist with clips from the event.

1. Openness is an attitude not just the content of what one shares. Government communication needs to open up in order to be more engaging, and get away from the traditional idea that to be "proper" and "dignified" we should be boring.

2. Boring communication doesn't get read. The marketing communication model is better. Your goal is to get the customer's interest directed at what you want to say. The only way to do that is to be engaging.

3. Accept that great communication generates flak. You either need a lot of courage or a great corporate culture to support it.

4. The taxpayer is the customer. If we're serving the public, communication should never be seen as a burden. The insecurity of private sector jobs also instills a sense of urgency. We can learn from that.

5. Everyone loves to poke fun at the government or point out its mistakes. We still have to pay attention to their feedback. More than that, we have to understand that we are talking to a cynical audience.

6. Solutions to communication problems (and all organizational problems) are best generated organically, through group interaction, not by a single figurehead.

7. One of the best things about the federal government is how we help each other. We ask, who's doing it well, and then we copy that. The Coast Guard Public Affairs Manual is awesome. If you don't know what to do, just use that.

8. It's a great time to be in social media in the federal government. It's considered serious business, at the highest levels - i.e. White House. And the people who support it are top-notch. It's something I really appreciate.

9. Social media is inherently experimental; "we build the plane as we fly it in the air."

10. Frustration and the founding of Govloop (and Young Government Leaders). (at 1:45)

11. Social media is a rapid conversation and you have to answer with what you know at the time. Be careful, because they'll challenge you on the most minute details of what you've said as you responded rapidly.

12. In terms of the social media approval process, mainstream agency culture is still cumbersome, archaic and you'll get in huge trouble if you issue any public communication that's not approved. It'll get easier eventually, but in the meantime it's challenging to live with.

13. I'd rather talk about fixing management problems through technology than argue public affairs strategy, or try to move things forward through hot-button words like branding or innovation.

14. At the end of the day, "social media" just means talking to people.

15. I'm not a huge fan of agency initiatives that try to unify at the highest levels, e.g. "One" (insert name of agency). People relate better to a small group of colleagues.

16. Citizens want to interact with federal employees, and that's the kind of energy that belongs in social media - either responding to criticism or telling people what is offered. Bureaucratic clearance processes hamper that natural energy.

17. We in government communication could learn from "America's Got Talent," reacting immediately when our outreach results in the figurative "big red X."

18. It's important to explain how you made a decision, not just that you made a decision.

19. Government social media best practice and private sector best practice is the same thing. We just have to hold ourselves to the same metrics.

20. Government employees should be proud - because we are excellent.

* All opinions my own.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What Great Corporate Cultures Have - 5 Short Personal Observations

1) A very strong sense of purpose. The idea being that we are a unified force in a "war" to achieve something under incredible odds, pressure, etc. 

2) A 50-50 focus on people and operations vs. 90-10 operations vs. people. (I get that it's hard to trust because you don't want to get hurt; trust issues are why most organizations prefer to focus on technical things and hard numbers.)

3) A commitment to process - order, fairness, clear expectations, etc. I've worked in the private sector where literally, you would walk in one day and someone was gone, and you wouldn't know why. It was horrible. People need to have a sense of fair play in order to feel safe enough to work.

4) Emotional intelligence, inclusion and diversity - freaking hard even for the experts, but deliberate attention is required, because often an employee's strengths are not immediately apparent on the surface. When you harness everyone's skills you have genuine, not token inclusion, and it creates the team spirit you truly want.

5) Communication - this is routinely devalued, as if it were something you just "do" rather than an art form that requires tremendous skill, experience and training. So we deal with it by not dealing with it. But reaching out is critical to making people feel welcomed, connected, valued, etc.

* All opinions my own.

Here, Let Me Check That Tweet For You

Today I was thinking about work, and how some people just find it easy to roll through it, just take the money and run. I wasn't ever one of those people. 

It's insane to watch from the outside, actually, because I work in the government and very often the people who do best are quiet, they have some kind of passion outside of the job, and they do what they need to do without getting worked up about it. 

They know that the red tape can kill you if you take the time to get tangled.

But I have never been too bright. 

And so here is a story, a true one about an experience I had some years ago with Twitter.

There was a crisis that day, I recall. I'm a dramatic sort and the crises always marshal my attention.

"We've got to Tweet about it," I told my boss at the time. "Say something!"

So she crafted an artful status. Much thought went into those few words.

It had to go to her boss for approval.




By noontime still no word.

I don't know what we ever did with those precious little characters. 

Maybe we framed them or put them on a little piece of paper and stuck them in a fortune cookie.

The world never got to hear those strategically communicative thoughts.

Did anyone die? No.

But it would have been nice to send the Tweet out without so much thinking about it. 

We could have saved a bad story from getting worse.

* All opinions my own.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What I Would Have Said To Robin Williams

Hey, there is sunshine ahead of that bleak tunnel.

We think of you as our family. We being everyone, just...all of us. 

You are still with us.

I am sorry that it was lonely in there. That your head and your heart were too big for this world to contain.

You aren't the only one to look at things with such sad eyes.

You made me laugh and the thought of you makes me cry.

We would have done anything to save you, had you just told us what was going on.

Please rest your eternal soul in peace. You have earned it.

* opinions as always are my own 

Cross-Cultural Illiteracy, The Invisible Engagement Barrier

Tyrant is a character-driven show about a fictitious country in the Middle East that is painfully lumbering toward freedom. Every episode shows the characters confronting some external conflict that brings up painful memories, unresolved conflicts, and inner motivations they'd rather not confront.

As an adult raised cross-culturally, the most interesting thing about this show is watching the difference between how Americans think and how people from the traditional Middle East do. 

For example, Tucker, a "State Department" official, is stationed in the country to represent U.S. interests. Leader A, Leader B, what's the difference, he seems to think, as long as it looks good on TV.

From an American perspective, the diplomat's mode of operation is perfectly legitimate: Westerners separate  the professional and the personal. But from a traditional Middle Eastern perspective, he is sleazy, amoral, and self-serving because professional and personal are indistinguishable. 

The commingling of identity in the traditional Middle East explains the attitude of Jamal, the older brother, who's running the country. He pushes his wife away in favor of his younger brother Barry, saying over and over, "Don't get in between me and my brother." 

Jamal and Barry (Basam) are "blood," they are tied by a kind of intense, deep loyalty that nobody on the outside can understand. Whereas Americans think about "boundaries," in the Middle East these don't exist.

The attitude towards women. In the traditional Middle East, women are a completely separate world, somewhat a lesser class to men, but almost like a different species. The show portrays two sexes/genders, versus in the U.S. we recognize, support and honor a spectrum that has a very real androgyny in the middle. 

In the show, traditional women have their own language, their own culture, and their own class and caste distinctions, and they are divided very clearly into those class-based roles just as the men are. They are brutalized differently, but equally.

The concept of "feminism" exists, in a sense, but is subordinate to the cause of the family, and the women serve the men simply because that is their job. 

The women haven't forgotten power though: The character of Leila, Jamal's wife, represents the traditional wife who exercises it through her husband, versus Molly, the American wife who acts as herself but lacks insight into her mate. 

Tyrant is a great show, because its creators don't pass judgment on what is going on. They simply show you the characters in all their human dimensions. It drives the point home that if you want to engage successfully with other people, you really have to understand what's going on, not only in their minds but also in their cultures.

* All opinions my own.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

5 Laws of Social Media You Aren't Following Right Now

This past year has been a stunning opportunity to learn from the highly skilled people on my staff at the National Archives about what social media excellence is. I'm participating in an educational panel (in my own professional capacity**) in D.C. next week and will be drawing on some lessons they've taught me about how to do social media well. Here are a few key highlights:

1. Start with the subject matter, not the method of delivery.

My agency is essentially in the business of preserving our nation's cultural heritage artifacts and then making them as widely available as possible. Interestingly, the most successful social media efforts at my agency such as the wildly popular Today's Doc on Tumblr, begin with a passion for history, not an obsession with social media. Kudos to Darren Cole who heads that up.

2. Master the tools at a microscopic level.

Just because you studiously avoid obsessing about a particular kind of social media outlet doesn't mean that you ignore its unique capabilities. At my root I'm a communicator, and tend to focus mostly on words and pictures. But to do that is to ignore the vast range of technical possibilities that the different social media tools offer. I learned from my staff the importance of exploring, enjoying and using those to the maximum. I remember once that my boss, Chief Innovation Officer Pam Wright, described the "sweet spot" of social media as living at the intersection of subject matter mastery and mastery of the tool, and she was right.

3. Talk in the local language.

When I arrived at the agency I had a strong understanding of the importance of social media for digital engagement and an appreciation for the most popular tools out there. However, I did not fully appreciate the subtleties of each ecosystem. I learned from my staff to embed oneself deeply in the world of the "native" rather than impose oneself from the outside with a "message to share." Our local expert, in the Wikipedia world, is Dominic McDevitt-Parks and sometimes it is actually hard to tell which world he identifies with more, Wikipedia or that of our agency. (That is a good thing.)

4. Be data-driven.

Our social intranet expert is Kelly Osborn and she's spoken several times about the multitude of best practices she's learned in developing one. I've seen her deliver this talk and it is an astonishing experience, one that could easily be the basis of a book. What stands out for me is how methodically she has researched others' efforts and combined that information with a knowledge of online community-building and the culture of our agency specifically. Many people, myself included, make the mistake of taking the "hammer to a nail" approach to social media - e.g. because you're good at one particular thing, you bring that thing to each environment. By being data-driven, Kelly has managed to create a community that actually generates the spontaneous engagement most organizations dream of.

5. Put yourself out there.

This is a more general lesson. Very often social media staff are instructed to disseminate the message in the most appealing way possible. It's not about them - it's about the content that the organization wants to share. In contrast, a number of employees, including Dominic, actually live in the virtual interchange that takes place on social media. It's so important to be human, but more than that to simply be learning in front of other people, not to be shilling for a cause. (That is propagandizing.) It's humanizing, interesting, and shows that you are a credible person with integrity.

I hate to end the blog here because there really is so much more one could share. Suffice it to say that it's an honor to work with such a great team. As time goes on I see more and more how true it is that we do not "lead" other people to success. We only step back and shut up so that they can lead us.

* All opinions my own - not written on behalf of my agency.
**I won't be speaking on behalf of the agency, but have been granted time and permissino to speak and will share some lessons learned.

Friday, August 8, 2014

When The Client Just Won't Listen

A few weeks ago we were walking around the neighborhood and a little girl ran up to us.

"I'm lost!"

She was about six years old and very cute even though she was sobbing. She had these little tears and a little stream of snot near her nose from the crying. She kept wiping her face through her sobs, and talking through the wiping. 

"I'm lost! I'm lost!"

Her little brother stood next to her. If this kid was cute he was even cuter. He had mosquito bites all over his legs. One shoelace was untied. He seemed less unnerved than she was at the situation. He was scratching his head and looking around as though he'd never seen that street before.

"What's your name?" She told me her first name.

"Is that your brother?" "Yes." "What's his name?"

She told me.

"Where do you live?"

"In Brooklyn." (Geographically not close.)

I stood there worrying that we were talking to two very little children absent two grown-up parents. I did not know what we were dealing with. 

But we had to help them. They could get kidnapped or even killed G-d forbid, the way drivers go without even stopping or looking.

"You came from up there," I gestured. "Why don't we walk back up." We started walking. 

There was just one slight problem. Her little brother would not follow along.

She walked next to me - he ran forward, up to the next block.



He wouldn't stop. I lost sight of the kid. 

But what could I do? He wasn't mine, right?

I couldn't grab him like a sack of potatoes and hold him. 

So I started running, not all that fast at my age, but running.

Finally we got to the house where they were staying and handed the kids off to Mom, who waved thanks.

I thought of that incident this morning, because somebody asked me about crisis communication the other day.

And I mentioned how very often I can tell when a problem is coming. But more often than not, the person on the receiving end of that information just doesn't want to listen.

This is true whether we're talking about a personal conversation or a work one.

There is just something about the fact of warning another human being that leads them to reflexively say, "No thanks."

One last story. I had to go to the doctor the other day, and I asked a question about natural healing. About a supplement I had seen online and the research showing why it worked.

He took off his glasses and looked at me.

"I'm sitting here with more than 30 years of experience, and you think you can just Google what I know?"

I wasn't surprised as I've had doctors act defensive before, but it was the intensity that sort of shocked me. 

Looking back on it now, I realize that there is a "best way" to tell someone something they don't want to hear.

Don't tell them about it in the first place!

Of course that is normally not possible. Because you'll need their permission to move forward.

So - assuming you're not dealing with a very little kid - just tell them in factual terms what needs fixing, and that you'll need their approval in order to proceed.

Your best is the best you can do.

* All opinions my own.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

On The Distinction Between Messaging & Branding

I just thought I would spend a couple of minutes clearing this one up as the terms tend to be used interchangeably. They're related but somewhat different.
  • Messaging = saying something in a very specific way. As in: "We are working with local authorities to ensure citizen safety."
  • Branding = creating an impression in people's minds. As in: When you walk into the fitness center, it's glass and mirrors and every employee looks skinny and 22.

Messaging and branding both need to be consistent:
  • When different people explain an event the same way, they reinforce one another and increase credibility. (Unless of course they are lying.)
  • When all parts of the company, the individual, the product or the service leave you with the same impression, branding can be said to be taking place in an integrated manner. (Doesn't mean it's a good strategy or that it's working.)

The distinction though is how messaging and branding are carried out.
  • Messaging = top down, and from the middle to the center. It's the military paradigm: chain of command.
  • Branding = technically formal and structured, but has to appear spontaneous. It can be top-down but works better bottom-up or outside-in. It's organic and people learn the rules then implement them on their own. You cannot force it.
Every communication shop should know and do both messaging and branding. To do it well it's important to be aware of the distinction.

* All opinions my own.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Control Your Emotions, Control Your Brand

All great comedians have one thing in common. They see the world in a crazy way. And they make you see it their way, temporarily. But they don't lose control of their emotions in the process.

Think of anyone: Howard Stern, Roseanne Barr, Howie Mandel, Joan Rivers, Russell Brand, Jerry Seinfeld, Lucille Ball. They're neurotic. But they've sharpened it to a fine point. You know what's coming, and you laugh.

Laughing with, not at, is the mark of a relevant brand.

Branding is conveyed through a lot of things. We call those "touch points" - how you look, what you say, color, font, a consistency of process.

And yet all of those things can be copied, which is why they are essentially worthless in the end.

The one thing that cannot be copied is your emotion. It's like your fingerprint - it makes you unique and uniquely valuable to the people you touch. Nobody, in the end, can truly be you. Which gives you a tremendous advantage.

So far so good. But the next part is where people often get messed up. Admittedly it's a hard balance to strike.

In your effort to be authentic, you don't want to go overboard. For example, at work, it is wise to avoid displays of rage - even if you're the type to enjoy a good rant.

On the flip-side, you don't want to over-control your self-presentation, to the point where you seem like cardboard.

It's difficult nowadays. The bar on brands is incredibly high. The expectation encompasses all of you, the whole person. Separate parts of one identity, yet all of it is of a piece.

We are entering a new age of branding now. Privacy is dead, and you are always discoverable in some context: Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, LinkedIn. Your family, friends, and employers.

A trail of breadcrumbs tells your tale.

You may as well be yourself.

* All opinions my own.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Is it all just random? No, it isn't random, I say.

So the rabbi says to me that she thinks bad things are "random." (The philosophy of Woody Allen and his very expensive "shrink.") But what do I think?

I say they happen to me because I am bad. It's not that G-d hates me, but I am messing up and I need to learn.

She resists this explanation. I find her blessing comforting though, enough that it elicits heaving sobs.

What is the point of it all? The other day we had a conversation at home. I said the same thing and my husband goes, "No preaching now. Please!"

I get it. I just can't focus on anything other than why.

Sometimes I get the answer in a dream. Other times it comes to me naturally. Most of the time it has to do with a character flaw, with something lousy and stubborn and painful in myself that needs work.

It hurts all the time to face it but it feels better when you grieve the self you wanted to be, but somehow failed at. And come out the other side.

* All opinions my own.

Monday, August 4, 2014

5 Digital Engagement Lessons From The Trenches Of My Personal Life

It's been an interesting weekend. 

Over the past 48 hours I've been on Twitter speaking my mind about Israel. All opinions my own, always.

I've met folks who agreed and others who argued passionately against my point of view.

For the most part the questions aimed at me were harsh. A few were hostile. One guy said I was a "Zionist bitch." 

Another said I should be "thrown into the ovens" like Hitler did to the Jews in the Holocaust.

But there were rays of beautiful too. I believe as Anne Frank said that people are basically good.

One person who said angry things about Israel, and Jews, turned out to be genuinely questioning. We discovered together that he is actually Jewish by birth.

Another prompted a discussion of Jewish law, colonialism, Buddhism, and the religious and philosophical background behind the current Jewish State of Israel.

A third shared a map of his own complex heritage and said he supported #Israel and #Jews.

I learned so many lessons this weekend and just wanted to share a few.

1. You can't take criticism and insults personally. At the same time if someone is abusive you should block them. It's a fine line.

2. Social media is about both facts and heart. It depends who you're talking to. But you must stick with the truth even if it hurts, and you must respect the other person at all times.

3. Digital engagement means engaging, not shouting, monologueing or insulting.

4. You can't know all the facts going in. You will have to do some research, from multiple sources.

5. Don't defend yourself against people who just want to hate on you. Focus on the key point you want to make, drawing on the facts. At the same time, answer genuine questions genuinely.

I do believe that we are all "children of the most high G-d" as Joel Osteen says and that we will end war voluntarily, before armed conflict eats us alive.

Peace can begin with respectful interaction on social media.