Newbie bloggers are often given this advice: Find your tribe. There was even a terrific panel dedicated to this at BlogHer last year. The blogosphere is all about niches and community-building after all, so seek like-minded bloggers and band together. Maybe you do this for personal satisfaction, maybe in hopes of creating the critical mass attractive to advertisers. Maybe both. Maybe neither! Maybe you start looking for kindred bloggy spirits just for the fun of seeing whether there even IS a tribe out there that would have you as a member.
I would like to announce publically that I am seeking a blogging tribe. I am as naked in my need to belong as Kevin Costner’s ass cheeks in Dances with Wolves. He found a tribe and he can’t even act, surely it’s not that hard.
Maybe I’m too schizophrenic. I kind of want to be all things to all people. This is a good skill to have in PR as you are constantly required to straddle the needs of clients, media influencers and parent company overlords. But maybe it’s not helping me in the blogosphere. I probably need to focus a little. And since I can’t expect my tribe – whoever and wherever they may be – to show up on my doorstep bearing flowers and vodka, I am going to be proactive. I am going to grease the skids, as they say.
I submit to you my Top Ten List of Blogging Tribes I Feel Qualified to Join to help you, the reader, better assess whether or not we are destined to be tribal soul mates. All you need do is see if you fit into any of these categories:
- PR people who secretly want to be full-time bloggers earning Dooce-like coin
- PR people who do way more than just plan events and do publicity (pffft)
- PR people who swear on their children’s lives that PR is totally not like “Kell on Earth”
- Moms still losing the baby weight (even though the baby is in elementary school)
- Moms of boys who (literally) climb walls (Audrey McClelland, that one’s for you)
- Moms who can recite entire episodes of “iCarly” word-for-word and think Spencer’s hot
- Moms referred to by their offspring as “Dude” or “Devil Woman”
- American women married to Russian men who argue regularly about parenting tactics
- Droid owners married to iPhone owners who argue daily about those Luke Wilson AT&T ads
- People who are on Facebook because they feel they have to but secretly wish they could shut the account down and just hang out on Twitter
Leave me a smoke signal in the comments if you want to be in one or more of my tribes. Or if you’d like to publically declare your own tribal aspirations.
I had a ball at the Mom 2.0 Summit in Houston last week. The highlight? Moderating a VIP panel – or perhaps I should say VIB (Very Important Blogger) – and living to tell the tale. Did I mention Heather (aka Dooce) Armstrong was one of those panelists? More on that in a minute.
Here’s how it went down. I had submitted a panel idea to the conference organizers about “Bloggers, Brands and the New Publishing Paradigm.” The topic sprang from a post I wrote last year about how marketers and PR people need to rethink how they approach bloggers; it got nice response and you can read it here. I was jazzed when the idea was accepted and designated the closing keynote panel. I figured I’d be one of the panelist and that was great.
Several weeks later I got a note from Laura Mayes (one of the Mom 2.0 organizers and a thoroughly spectacular human being) that I’m actually going to be the moderator and the other panelists will be announced shortly. I’m excited and just a teeny bit anxious because good moderating takes some prep and I now need to work this into my hot mess of a schedule.
Another couple of days goes by and then I see this In Laura’s Twitter stream:
Zoink. I’m moderating three of the most popular bloggers known to man including Heather Armstrong who (for those of you who don’t know) is arguably one of the most famous (and often controversial) bloggers in the galaxy?
My moderator prep anxiety has now gone defcon level 5. And here’s where I must make a confession. I’m a pretty cool cucumber when it comes to professional stuff but you know who gives me the willies? Male CEOs and Very Important Lady Bloggers. Don’t ask me to explain, it’s complicated and for all I know rooted in Freudian issues. Suffice it to say I was nervous about reaching out to Heather, Maggie and Gabrielle to get the ball rolling on panel prep.
But I did and in my neurotic hyper-organized way — as if preparing an important client for a presentation — start hurling emails into the ether with suggestions about discussion topics and Q & A and conference calls…want to guess how well that went?
Right. Not terribly.
Very Important Lady Bloggers are important for a reason. They are busy. They are focused on their blogs (which are their businesses) and their families. With three weeks to go before the conference my anal-retentive discussion guides were not yet a priority in their minds.
Well, they were MY priority and there’s the problem. I was not reading my audience. I was prepping on my terms, not theirs. Which leads me to the most important advice I can offer to anyone preparing to moderate a VIP panel:
It’s not about you. It’s about them.
I don’t care how fancy-pants you are, if you’re moderating a big-deal panel you will be eclipsed. As it should be. You are not the headliner, you are the facilitator who if you’re smart will make the headliners look great.
Cutting to the chase, I will tell you the panel went off really well. It all came together perfectly (if not a little last-minute.) Heather, Maggie and Gabrielle were lovely, created content that made the presentation visual and dynamic, and generally rocked the dais.
Moderating a panel of this stature is kind of like being a jockey – or maybe a rodeo rider is a better analogy (we were in Texas, after all). You climb onboard that filly and do your best to stay on. You listen, you listen some more, you roll with the punches and adjust the questions based on the flow of the discussion. You take the mike only to ask the next question or to clarify a point.
You are not the show. Did I mention already that it’s about them, not you?
I’ve been in the audience for panels where the moderator hogged the spotlight. I’ve been on the panel when the moderator ceded control of the discussion to unruly audiences. My goal was to make sure neither of those things happened and based on the crowd reaction, I think we just may have accomplished it.
[Image via Sarah Hubbell]
UPDATE: More great posts about Mom 2.0 from women a) I want to be when I grow up except that I’m older than all of them; b) should come to my house for a slumber party so I can braid their hair and c) I am inspired by constantly…
Gabrielle “Design Mom” Blair (from the aforementioned panel) here
Maggie “Mighty Girl” Mason (also from aforementioned panel) here
Liz “Mom 101” Gumbiner here
How come when I’m asked to post at someone else’s blog the words flow freely from my fingers? It’s kind of like how I don’t mind doing the Thanksgiving dishes when it’s someone else’s house. Everyday tasks are more enjoyable when I’m doing them on someone else’s turf.
The Mouthy Housewives hang out on pretty awesome turf. Their advice site is hilarious and smart and kind of like having your best (funniest) girlfriend sitting on your shoulder 24/7 whispering encouragement and wisdom in your ear. I first encountered Wendi and Kelcey, two of the four Mouthy Housewives, at the BlogHer Humor panel last year. I was struck dumb by their brilliance, or maybe by the sauna-like heat in the panel room. I’m not sure which. It’s a quick hop and a skip from Wendi and Kelcey to Marinka who not only is wicked funny but is Russian. As any regular reader of this blog knows, I have a soft spot for Russians. Though Russian women scare the s*** out of me so maybe Marinka was sent my way to help me sort through my issues. As for Heather, I have not yet connected with her personally but she quotes Nietzche and Jung on her home page. And says bad words. Which makes her a well-read badass, so naturally I want to be her best friend.
You can imagine my delight The Mouthy Housewives invited me to guest advise because while I am not a housewife I am seriously mouthy. And I have been known to wear curlers though mine are velcro not foam because I’m quite modern that way. Here’s the post. I enjoyed doing it though I’m still afraid of lady bloggers who quote Nietzche, Russian women and people who appear on fancy BlogHer panels. I think the Housewives owe it to me to let me hang out with them more so I can sort out these issues, don’t you?
Ugh, I am the world’s laziest blogger. I didn’t manage to hit any of the usual bloggy post milestones — no “Happy holidays to my readers,” no “Year in Review,” no “Predictions for the Year Ahead…” I’ve been too busy this holiday season shredding my carpal tunnels playing Guitar Hero and poisoning the Russian with turkey tetrazzini I made with, uh, slightly aged turkey leftovers.
HOWEVER. I do want to take this occasion to wish you a very heartfelt and belated Happy New Year. I can also say to all my Russian friends (and those who love them) — Merry Russian Christmas. I wish everyone who comes in contact with this blog all the best for a healthy and happy 2010. Thank you for reading my scribbles. It means a lot to me, it really does.
To make myself feel a little less slackerific and prove that I have actually thought recently about this industry of mine (not just turkey salmonella and Guitar Hero), I am sharing a video interview I did before Christmas with the one and only Owen J.J. Stone a.k.a. “OhDoctah.” For those of you who don’t know, Owen is a brilliant vlogger and social media consultant who actually knows his stuff and doesn’t spout jargon at you all day. No snake oil, just smarts and a WHOLE lotta charisma. To know him is to love him, which I learned the moment I met him at the 140 Character Conference in LA last fall. You can find him here and here on Twitter or at his company website (IQMZ).
Anyhowdy, we sat down to jaw about public relations and social media; check out our conversation here.
The wall behind Patti’s desk was covered floor-to-ceiling with Donna’s press hits. For all I know Patti started tacking them up there when Donna first started the company and never stopped — by the early 90s, when I was there, several layers of magazine articles and photos and newspaper clippings had already accumulated. It was a gorgeous pastiche, and I’d pore over it whenever Patti got wrapped up in a call and forgot I was sitting in front of her. One day I asked Patti why she wasn’t in any of the photos to which she replied, “A good publicist is never in the picture.”
That stayed with me for years. Not only did I put it into practice, sidestepping photos with clients at public events whenever I could, I also passed it along to the many young publicists I went on the manage at other companies. Somewhere along the line, Patti’s advice morphed into this:
“A good publicist is never part of the story.”
Except now…we are. Or at least, we can be. Sarah Evans talked about this during a panel discussion I moderated recently on how Twitter has changed journalism and PR, and one of the points she made was how boundaries have blurred among PR, journalist and blogger roles. There are journalists who blog, bloggers who do PR consulting, PR people who blog… It is in fact quite possible for PR people to participate in on-line conversations about their client through blogging, micro-blogging, status updates, photo sharing, and so on.
So all due respect to Patti, I believe it’s okay for the publicist to be part of the story, or at least the conversation. I do it, but only with disclosure. I’ll tell you if I’m blogging or tweeting about a client, and it’ll be an honest reflection of my feelings. For example:
I started taking pictures recently at the client events I attend. I’ve got the Droid megapixels, why not? There was a time when those pictures would only have been shared internally at the agency but now, why not share publicly? Especially when apps like Whrrl make it so easy. Here’s how I captured the action at a client’s launch event last week:
So what do you think? I’d love to hear from other communications professionals on how they’re handling the transition from being behind the conversation to participating in the conversation about their clients and brands.
Oh how I wish I had been at Blog World Expo this year. For one thing, I would’ve like to have seen Guy Kawasaki drool over Jenny “The Bloggess” Lawson up close and personal at the closing keynote. With Chad Vader on the same stage, no less. For another (and perhaps more professionally appropriate), I wish I had been a spectator at the fascinating “Future of Journalism” panel hosted by Brian Solis and featuring CNN anchor Don Lemon; NYU journalism professor and PressThink blog author Jay Rosen; conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt; and Current TV COO Joanna Drake Earl.
There was a lot to this discussion (including some hostile questions from a blogger who – heaven forgive me – looked like he hadn’t seen a shower or the outside of his mother’s basement in a while), but what was most valuable to me were these three distinctions:
Professional vs Amateur
Vertical vs Horizontal
Broadcast vs Share
The Numbers Please: According to Solis, there are 400MM tweets published in any given month. There are over 2 billion pieces of content shared on Facebook each week. Twitter has more monthly uniques than cnn.com and nytimes.com (by the way, if those stats are inaccurate please blame Solis. I was merely watching innocently at home via web video. In my PJs.) That’s a LOT of information swirling around the interwebz. The question is, how reliable is it as news?
A Hybrid Approach: News may unfold on Twitter, but you don’t get the full depth of a story the way you would if a professional news organization were behind it. A hybrid model seems to be what’s emerging, or at least that’s what Current TV’s Earl suggests. You still need an editorial point of view and journalistic rigor (fact-checking, anyone?) to bring shape and structure to the mind-boggling amount of content being generated all around us. She describes this as “pro-am” journalism.
“The Wired Ecosystem”: NYU’s Rosen describes the blogosphere as a continuum between amateur (“citizen”) producers and professional (“traditional) media. Solis gives the example of NBC’s Ann Curry looking for information on North Korean missile test, getting nothing from her traditional sources but finding leads on Twitter. CNN’s Lemon asserts that even breaking news found through social networks requires double- and triple-confirmation before it can (or should) be reported. The point is, it’s one big ecosystem and the best content is generated when traditional and “new” collaborate.
From “Network” to Networked: My favorite distinction of the panel comes from Rosen. He cites the iconic scene in the film Network when deranged anchorman Howard Beale incites his viewers to fling open their windows and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” That image – millions of atomized viewers uniting in behavior not because they are connected to one another, rather, to a central mass media outlet – defines traditional media. The viewer-media connection is vertical and one-way. Now, thanks to technology, we are connected not only to mass media but to one another – so we still consume information vertically but can instantly share it horizontally.
I marvel at people who continue to dismiss social networking as a time-suck, or microblogging as self-indulgent narcissism. Well, maybe my dad can get away with it – but then again, he’s a retired lawyer and not a practicing communications professional. Those of us who fall into the latter group will do well to embrace the lessons of this panel and be aware of the boundaries collapsing all around us: between professional and amateur journalism, vertical and horizontal communication, and – crucially – broadcasting messages vs sharing stories.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m part of a group of NYC-area mom bloggers working with the team promoting Motherhood, a movie coming out in a week or so made by a mom, starring a mom, about a mom. No money exchanging hands (that’s for you, FTC), just access to the cast and director for interviews and some nice link love on the movie Facebook page.
So I’m waiting for the call to start this morning, making chit chat with the dozen or so bloggers on the line and enjoying the not-yet muted sounds of their home lives in the background. I hear cooing babies, barking dogs, toddlers clamoring for “Sesame Street.” My background noises, meanwhile, are those of the work-at-office mom: tooth-rattling jackhammers and sirens shrieking their way down Lexington Avenue.
Uma joins the call. Mute button on. Suddenly I’m having a moment. I AM ON THE PHONE WITH BEATRIX THE BRIDE. Holy Tarantino. The warrior mother, the assassin goddess, the woman who dispatches legions and murmurs, “Those of you lucky enough to still have your lives — take them with you. But leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.”
Ooops, I’m first up! I get to read my question myself. In my mind I’m saying, “Beatrix the Bride I love you and want to braid your hair and can I try on your yellow jumpsuit” but here’s what I actually say: “Uma! Hi!” She answers my question and the dozen that follow but Blessed Virgin Mary, this call is a hot mess. It’s all dropped connections, background noise, overlapping conversation…in other words, the absolute personification of motherhood itself. I don’t think a single one of us is sweating this fact because we’re used to chaos. It is our currency, whether we work for a paycheck or not. Moms all do a variation of the same juggling act, after all. Which sometimes sucks and sometimes is beautiful and joyful.
So here are some of my favorite bits from the interview:
Uma was asked where she feels the movie’s authenticity comes from. She said she loves that Eliza’s character is not there to cast the viewer’s attention on someone else – a man or a child. She is the heart of the movie, depicted honestly – with flaws and anger issues, but very much in love with her family.
She’s surprised when other mothers dismiss the topic of motherhood in film (as in “Why watch a movie about my own boring life?”) Uma wonders why we discredit ourselves so much that we’d think raising another human being isn’t worthy of pop culture attention.
My question was about a scene described by director Katherine Dieckmann as her favorite in the film. Eliza and her husband are sitting in a car. Emotional words are exchanged. I asked Uma to describe it and here’s what she said:
Eliza is digging into the source of her unhappiness, the fact that she’s lost herself in the minutiae of domestic life. She’s worn down by the tiny, grinding repetitive acts that make up her day. She no longer recognizes herself.
I want to see this movie for that scene alone. I predict I’ll hear myself in Eliza’s words, see myself in her frustration. I wonder what will happen for her and if she’ll find peace with the choices she’s made. I wonder too about the women in my life who don’t have creative or professional outlets, who lose a bit of themselves every day. The moms who – like Eliza – pour all their talent and energy into their families at the expense of their own aspirations. They’re the ones who deserve happy endings.
Motherhood is in theaters October 23rd.
Check out Eliza’s blog here.