The World Forces Split Identities in Social Media

i-am-a-pc Hodge The Cat

Growing up on a farm, as I did, provides a freedom that never leaves you. My parents lived on and immersed directly in their work: the farm. It surrounded them, day in day out. I am sure I absorbed this environment in a way where I expect little to no separation between work and my personal life. From this stems workaholism and dedication. A deep protestant work ethic.

There are significant downsides to total work immersion. Especially in this new world of always-on social media. You tweet a response to a work related question at 11.32pm, and follow up with a tirade against an airline cancelling your flight. The seamless melding of what is work and what is your life is one of the beauties of social media. We are all connected.

Yesterday, one of the downsides firmly bit me on the bum. One of my personal opinions; a flippant tweet has caused an ongoing kerfuffle at Microsoft. This is not the first time I have come unstuck on the social media frontier; and sadly I am not alone. Nor am I the last to be bitten. There are many bums with bite marks.

Until now, I have resisted the urge to have separate twitter identities. To me, creating and using different identities is the antithesis of social media. To be frank, I wish that I could be one identity on twitter.; but there are forces in the wider world does not accept the separation of personal identity and an employer’s identity. As I found in recent events, there is always the risk that someone will take an utterance out of context, and use this as a cudgel in pitiful internal office politics. Or, as others have found, fodder for gossip.

The cleaving of identities is a topic upon which I have struggled throughout my Microsoft career. Being true to myself, whilst attempting to comply with the weight of an employer’s expectations.

As stated yesterday, I have created a new twitter identity @RealNickHodge which is a private, for people only account. Each follower is vetted. I am being careful not to let in bots and sensationalist journalists. I am also wary of "brand name" twitter identities. I follow real people; people who are smart enough to realise my opinions are mine, and mine alone.

My old twitter account is now clearly identified @NickHodgeMSFT, with a profile stating my position and employer. As at the time of posting this blog entry, it has 4803 followers. I do not imagine the follower count will increase dramatically. Thankfully, formal Microsoft accounts such as @MSAU are doing an outstanding job of presenting a formal social face of the organisation.

Within 24 hours of creating the new account, I have about 200 real followers, less noise and I trust more freedom to be real. Or at least the freedom from guilt in speaking as me, being who I am.

From @NickHodge to @RealNickHodge

I have been on twitter since February 2007 as @NickHodge. Nearly 4 years. In that time, my account has gathered nearly 5000 followers. Whilst I have no accurate data on these followers: it is fair to say a majority are spambots or dormant accounts. There is absolutely no way I am that interesting to 5000 people.

Considering my twitter persona has been cheeky and somewhat iconoclastic, even to my present employer; and the content of 90% of my tweets are not related to work — I find it surprising to gather so many pieces of moss.

5000 followers does put the @NickHodge account into the top 20% of Australian twitterers. Being an open (not locked) account, this puts my utterances on twitter into the funnel for social media monitoring engines. Their systems will determine my follower count (and retweet count, and other metrics) puts me into a "must watch" list.

I base this assessment on my work use of social media monitoring engines. Keywords, key people. Associated, and you are prime bait for engines to watch filter and report to their corporate stakeholders.

Some people crave this attention. In fact, it is their life blood. I am perfectly fine with their need for followers, readers, fans if you will. But this is not for me. The direct association between my employer and what I say and think is not direct. At best, it is loosely coupled.

There is no quick mechanism to completely delete all your followers, and who you are following in twitter. As an immediate solution, I have suspended posting from the @NickHodge account and created @RealNickHodge. I am being strict as to whom I follow; the account is locked.

For me, it is back to feeling free to comment without the fear of causing collateral damage.

You are being watched.


Only the paranoid survive. Even the paranoid have enemies. And the list of paranoid quotes goes on.

Within the last 18 hours, I’ve had two experiences with twitter that are worth sharing. If only for twitter bragging rights.

Firstly, whilst ABC1’s Media Watch was shown last night – what I considered a long “advertorial” piece about tablet devices and their impending saviour status for newsprint. I tweeted:

Someone should #mediawatch#mediawatch for 15 minutes of "Apple iPad" advertisement. NOT F***KING HAPPY MARK SCOTT

Within an hour, the host of Media Watch, Jonathan Holmes, responded:

@NickHodge ah! U work for Microsoft! Wondered why u were SO upset!

Oops, sprung. Well almost. My twitter bio is clear about my employer. As I had already responded to the iPad shills, I responded similarly to Jonathan. The ABC must be above spruiking products; it is a part of their editorial policy. I will admit that my tweet is tainted with the perspective of my present employer: for sure; no-one is truly independent from their source of income. But I do expect all commercial organisations: including Microsoft, to be treated equally in terms of publicity on our ABC.

A thankyou, Jonathan, for being concerned about your show and looking at “the stream of conversation.” This shows you care.

Second incident. Only a few hours later, in response to Tony Abbott appearing on ABC TV’s Q and A: a promising TV show that has fallen below my expectations. Tony, in response to a questions on Catholisism mentioned that another leader, Kristina Keneally – the NSW Premier, being not so harangued about her faith. My tweet:

ooh, @KKeneally is at least a serious Catholic as @TonyAbbottMHR ..#opusdei !!!

Very early this morning, 5:47am Sydney time, the Premier responded:

@NickHodge hi Nick this is an old and false rumour. I’ve never been a member of opus dei. My area of interest is feminist theology. Cheers

Oops, sprung again. My response to her was a public, hopefully graceful mea culpa. I doubt that I would vote ALP in the next State election – but that fact that Ms Keneally took time out to respond to mine – and other questions on twitter shows a level of care. And she spelt rumours correctly.

So, two famous people responded to my rather cheeky, specious and snarky tweets. In both cases, apart from the individual tweets these people do not know me. Nor the somewhat satirical/childish nature of my tweets.

In the context of “social media” for organisations – can personally responding to individual tweets like mine scale? Whilst NSW has 6 million residents, only 4000 follow her on twitter. If twitter goes mainstream like Facebook, one could expect a Premier of NSW to have up to 2 million followers (30% of Australians are on Facebook) . No one, magical person can respond to them all.

Here at Microsoft in Australia, a few product groups have been experimenting with social media monitoring tools. Watching the conversations, and responding where appropriate in a formal way. This also involves an escalation process for response to queries that include PR, Customer Service and Evangelism. I know of other organisations doing similar for their products and services – Internode, for instance.

So, be careful out there. You are being watched. And if your comment is not satirical, hopefully responded to. Personally.

2765 Words

For various reasons, I am on another sabbatical from Twitter. This is not my first, and I dare say not my last. Duration, unknown. Frankly, I am boring myself and slowly sticking my foot in my own mouth. To fill the now empty space, I have spent more time thinking and writing. So, for instance these are some raw numbers from the last few days. This is by no means scientific.


Average Tweets per day: 100
Average size of each tweet: 100
Total Words: 10,000
Estimated Percentage valuable (ie: valuable content): 10%
Words of Value = 1,000


Average Tweets per day: 100
Average size of each tweet: 100
Total Words: 2,765
Estimated Percentage valuable (ie: valuable content): 90%
Words of Value = 2,488

So, the question remains: are the conversations on twitter worth 2.5 times the publishing via blogs?

The Group Twitter Account Conundrum

On my Soapbox, I have been somewhat negative (and somewhat vitriolic) on blind group twitter accounts. My argument has been that no-one talks to brands; humans tend to and would prefer to connect with rather human. There is a perspective I missed: where organisations want people to represent them, and the individuals see themselves are distinctly separate from the organisation.

My particular job is unique; not all organisations invest in weird people who name themselves a Professional Geek and describe themselves as Iconoclastic and Mercurial. As a daily part of my job,  I becone a lightening rod in a small community for a large and historically faceless brand. At one end of the daily continuum there is kudos/whipping for everything that brand does; and the other I attempt to be whatever “me” is at this moment.

This is somewhat OK for me, but sometimes risky for the brand when I fly off the handle. As as wise man at Microsoft counselled me earlier this week, we are all human. Social media will mirror this humanity. Whilst fraught with misinterpreation, it is better than bland corporate-speak, any day.

Living the organisation you work for is a legacy of my on-farm upbringing. You live in the work environment. There is no escaping large or small jobs. That, or I have a form Institutional Stockholm Syndrome. Ultimately, I am doing what I am paid to do.

So how do individuals represent the organisation, service or product they work for when there are multiple individuals in the team where the individuals see themselves distinct from the organisation? There are valid reasons why a solution needs to be sought.

Lower latency conversational mediums such as twitter, there is no time to review a tweet by a group before tweeting on behalf of the said group. By the time the group has agreed, the conversation has moved on. l’esprit de l’escalier en twitter.

Enter The Multiple User Twitter Conundrum. I’ve seen a recent innovation on twitter which I support. It is a good compromise between my idealism, and the hard-nose marketing oriented “brand is everything” divide.

Let’s review the Microsoft Bing team’s Twitter Profile page. It shows the five people who twitter on that account/address, with a name and caret (^xx) underneath the pictures of the humans. xx represent the initials of each individual. Tweets such as “SteveB at D (video incl. Bing at AllThingsD) ^betsy” indicates Betsy, or ^BA tweeted this nugget. I now can identify a human behind that tweet, that conversation from the group twitter account.  This caret-xx only takes three precious characters out of 140.

As a further step to my idealistic people conversational mode of social media, it would be cooll if each individual should put their personal twitter id on this profile page. Or email address: ideally some mechanism to double check the identity of the person to stop twitter spam-bot miscreants.

Maybe in the future all we will just have twitter ids. They will become more valuable than ego URLs.

But then again, I am possible stepping back up to that very small platform of a soapbox.

Social Media. The Opera is dying, All Hail the Circus

Photo by bootload/Peter Renshaw

The Opera. Stages filled with ladies singing in a gruff germanic or romantic language, and men prancing around in colourful soldierly uniform. Stories so simple yet obscured by language; thankfully the Playbill(tm) details the plot. Plots of love lost and family betrayal, have remained unchanged in some instances for centuries. The audience silent in the stalls, listens and applauds at the appropriate places. It is all scripted and follows a well worn path.

Strong scripts, strident soaring songs and standardised characters are repeated year after year to an audience that dresses up to show off their cultural status. Baby boomers, once the bastions of cultural iconoclasm, now flock to the safety of the opera. The safety of the known story provides succour in a troubling and confused world.

The Opera is an appropriate mirror of a slowly declining, old power structure: standardised stories with a strong cultural understanding of expectations. There are few surprises, and the actors faithfully represent the characters as written. To stray from the culture will result in review rebuke, and potentially financial ruin. The utterances are known, and everything fits into the story.

In the modern, hyperconnected world where everyone wants to write their own scripts; to merely ape an old opera is stale. It no longer resonates, nor does it excite. The worn path may provide temporary comfort: but does not provide long term sustenance.

At the opera, the generously-proportioned female singer has begun her last stanza.

The Circus. I remember the circus arriving in our small country town. I, and the hoard of kids and teachers tramped down to the town’s football oval to oggle. The animals we eyed were from a distant continent. Lions, Tigers, Bears and Elephants. It was like a zoo, but the animals were smellier and close. Eating and stomping close.

Traditional circuses such as these are now rare. Circuses with the animal menagerie are rarer, as they have been hounded out of our towns by animal liberationists. A tradition, as cultural as steeplechasing, has vanished into the mist. The animals are happier.

Modern circuses are about people. The animals have been sequestered and retired to zoos and forests. Circuses such as Quebec’s Circ du Soleil give a medieval commedia dell’arte a modern flavour wrapped in a bright coat of 21st century globalised commercialism. Completely comprised of people, franchised to a culturally flattened world; therefore standardised to highlight human performance. These circuses are for people, about people and make a point of breaking the third wall to stretch the entertainment.

In more traditional circuses, clowns would regularly break the third wall. Throw faux water, in the shape of confetti, into a faux surprised audience. The circus entertains, as the sad clown provides a reflection on our mixed up, complex lives.

This forest we are navigating through: Social Media, is like a circus. It is a human centric institution, wrapped in new technology zeal with a hoard of clowns, mummers, so-called ring leaders and high-wire acts all screaming for your attention, laughs and money. Difficult to ignore when they are in town; and they can be smelly at the approach. Bright Lights! Shows! High wire acts with stars having incongruous names. Social Media has it all.

A true circus extends out from the focus on the tent and the highwire of show night. The canvas riggers and animal trainers transform into the spruikers of side-show alley. Crafty games of shooting, prowess of strength and precision take a fool from their money. Fairy floss, candy apples and fortune tellers return a future of rotten teeth and rotted minds.

In a similar way, Social media has a plethora of spruikers. The games they advertise remove you are after your gold. Some of these games have a large pay off; sadly many don’t.

To really enjoy the circus, you must experience the whole show, not merely snack on the fairy floss and candy apples.

Social networking is more than the latest crazes of Twitter and Facebook. In fact, it predates blogs. And the WWW, even if you could hand-code HTML. Even before the internet escaped from the university cage and it’s trainers, there have existed “social medias”. Email, Bulletin board systems, Talk-back radio. Small newspapers and magazines; telegraph wirings and Morse code; pamphlet and book publishing. All add to the social discourse. In fact, since the democratisation of communication that began with the printing press: where thoughts in the form of words could be etched and produced enmasse; a social discourse has existed.

What is different is the connectivity we all enjoy. We all are a few steps away from the humanity that encompasses the planet. At once in one large, multi-cultural circus. No one mono-culture can exist. Generalizations break down as individuals assert their individual characteristics, subverting the propensity for traditional hierarchies to classify, box and bucket.

The impact of this individual yet share instant experience is being being felt now across businesses and governments. Unrelenting forces for change are singing strident tunes from the opera, whilst the circus clowns laugh in mock humour at the futility on the grave of the generously-proportioned female vocalist.

Off My Soapbox of Self Righteousness

I love throwing words and venacular phrases together. This stems from the power of Split Enz to create visual imagery from common sayings. An extreme example: Another Great Divide (Judd/Finn/Rayner/Gillies)

Now how can I figure this equation, if multiplication’s the rule /
You keep subtracting me from you, and it just doesn’t add up at all

It should be further noted that there is always a Finn song for every occasion. Thanks @mediamum!

In the instance of Off My Soapbox of Self Righteousness, relates to battles and discussions that rage daily. Like all family dirty laundry, the exact nature will remain confidential.

But on a larger scale, it is my opinion that social media (whatever that is) is being misunderstood; or worse, mis-used by various less Cluetrained people. My fear is that the forces of oldskool will water down the potential for massive change that is blossoming. There are skirmishes being fought daily. The wider community does not see nor hear of these.

Sadly, those on the internal firing line are also copping friendly fire. Just sayin’

The strangeness is made more fictional when I have an internal voice that is shouting, not whispering, you’re also doing it wrong. There is a high-wire act going on in my head, and the fingers of sanity may be slowly letting go.

A random thought greater than 140 characters

“The greatest challenge to implementing social media within any organization is the willingness for that organization to accept the cultural change that will ultimately occur. And occur dramatically and at a rapid pace. Social media holds a mirror up to an organization from the external customers/clients/constituents that shows an authentic, and sometimes unexpected, face.”

Viral is Not Social. It is a Virus

You are a Marketing Manager. Your budget has been cut dramatically. Solution: look for a mechanism to get your "advertisement" shown to as many people as possible, without paying for TV placement.

Enter: video viral marketing. Copy an idea, write a short script, film with actors. Pop onto Youtube, initiate the viral campaign.

The only difference from traditional TV advertising is the cost. Production outlay, and that is about it. ROI: easy: saving hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV (and potentially radio) advertising. In the case of xxxMan (not going to provide too much juice), nearly 45000 views I would consider as epic fail.

On the face of it, if you present this advertisement as a bit of fun; make it slightly obvious it’s not real. Cool.

But this is not social media. Or positive in a sharing culture. There is no people to people connection between the company and it’s customers. Sure, it may generate both positive and negative comments in YouTube and the internet. The agency may respond and behalf of the customer. This is not social media nor a sharing culture.

People trust and like to speak to people. Put the best people in your organisation up front, and support them.

Viral is not Social, it is just a Virus.

Oh, by the way: Laurel is right on this matter. 🙂