The Privacy Canard: David Lazarus and the Evils of Facebook

In the Los Angeles Times today, columnist David Lazarus, a writer I admire, wrote an oddly bitter piece inspired by the Facebook IPO, wondering why so many people under 30 just don’t care about privacy:

It’s not just that we no longer feel outraged by repeated incursions on our virtual personal space. We now welcome the scrutiny of strangers by freely sharing the most intimate details of our lives on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites.

Why is this new attitude to privacy so bad? Because, he says, it can get you in trouble. His example is a Georgia school teacher fired after posting “photos of herself on Facebook enjoying beer and wind while on vacation in Europe.”

What happened to her is bad, yes. But is the root of the evil here an issue of privacy, or of bureaucratic intolerance and social hypocrisy? If we focus on the privacy problem in this case, aren’t we ignoring a much bigger problem?

For Lazarus, there are “serious consequences” to the fact that if you Google someone’s name, “you can see things they’ve posted online.” As he concludes with a sardonic flourish,

No worries. Privacy is so 20th century. Get over it. Better yet, post something online. What could be the harm?

It’s a little odd to hear a columnist for a major newspaper advise readers “don’t tell the world anything about yourself.” That, after all, is what columnists do for a living. Lazarus, for instance, writes frequently about his experience with Type I diabetes—surely an “intimate detail” about his life.

This seeming contradiction makes me wonder about why he objects so passionately to all those people doing what he does: writing about their own lives. Is he worried about their privacy, or about the competition?

That’s a cheap shot, no doubt, as it is to suggest that arguments about preserving privacy are really just canards, sleights of hand aimed at keeping us from seeing bigger problems.

But here’s my question: If it’s OK for him to tell the world about himself, why is it such an unwise choice for everyone else?

My February Challenge: 10 Tweets a Day

It’s somewhat sad, I suppose, that my only effective mode of self-improvement is to set arbitrary goals. But it works.

Last November, I challenged myself to write a blog post a day. I am happy to say I met my goal. Although I subsequently fell off the wagon in December (8 posts) and January (5 posts), it still feels like a significant achievement.

This month, I’m setting my sights on Twitter.  I think of myself as an active and enthusiastic user of the platform, but when I actually calculate my daily tweets, the number is unimpressive. A visit to How Often Do You Tweet? tells me that I’m averaging 0.7 tweets a day. That ties me with the estimable Paul Conley, but leaves me well behind even the moderate output of new-media mavens Rex Hammock (7.0) and Adam Tinworth (7.6). And if I can trust the MediaPost claim that average Twitter users tweet 0.5 times a day, that makes me only slightly better than average.

Now, to be fair to myself, I rarely used Twitter for the first year or so after joining in April 2008. How Often Do You Tweet? calculates your daily average by dividing your total number of tweets by the total number of days since joining Twitter.

But even calculating my output for the last six months yields just 1.4 tweets per day. Clearly, that’s not enough if I want to consider myself a genuine participant in the conversation.  But how many daily tweets is enough?

According to Dan Zarrella, “Users who tweet between 10 and 50 times per day have more followers on average than those that tweet more or less frequently.” Now Zarella notes that the optimum number of daily tweets appears to be 22 (and can it be sheer coincidence that the the wily and ultra-productive Mark Schaefer tweets exactly—you guessed it—22 times per day?)

Realistically, I will never hit that level. It’s just not in me. But 10 tweets a day should be doable.

I’m not sure one’s number of followers is a good proxy for effective use of Twitter, but let’s assume that it is. If I tweet at least 10 times per day, how many more followers will I have, I wonder? My count as of February 1 is 255. Let’s see where I end up on leap day.

No challenge is complete, of course without a few rules. Here are mine:

  • Every day I must post at least 10 times on Twitter. Ideally I will spread my tweets throughout the day, but I won’t rule out the occasional barrage at 11:30 p.m. (Just hope you aren’t awake and on Twitter then.)
  • Retweets and @replies count toward my daily goal; direct messages do not. Twitter’s not strictly about originality or broadcasting, but about sharing. If the world can see it, it counts; if not, it doesn’t.
  • Exactly three of my tweets must be self-promotional. I want to follow my formula of one-third of my daily tweets being conversational, one-third curatorial, and one-third promotional. For me, the last of these quotas is the biggest challenge; not, as for many others, because I need to cut down on promotion, but rather because I need to increase it. Marketing does not come naturally to me.
  • Escape clause: One day a week, I can make up any deficit for the previous six days (but by no more than 10 tweets total). I hope I won’t have to exercise this one, but realistically, I probably will.

Will my challenge make me a more prolific Twitter poster in the months ahead? Perhaps not. But that may be OK. We also serve who only sit in the back of the classroom and take copious notes. As one Douglas Ferguson of the College of Charleston commented in reply to the MediaPost article cited above,

Defining “activity” by messages “sent” is misleading. Twitter is also for receiving messages. In fact, much of what counts in the media world is concerned with receiving messages, not sending them. No one holds YouTube to the same standard as Twitter, so it seems unfair to focus on messages being sent.

Still, one wants to encourage those students in the back to share their thoughts more often. So here goes my humble effort. (And if you want to check on my progress, follow me. And on the other hand, if you don’t relish the thought of 1000% more tweets from me every day, feel free to unfollow!)

Introducing the New-Media Survival Guide

New-Media Survival Guide

Today I’m both pleased and relieved to announce the publication of my first e-book, the New-Media Survival Guide. (If you just can’t wait to buy a copy at the bargain price of $2.99, click here now. Not that impulsive? Then you might want to read more about it here.)

My goal in writing this e-book was to give people trained in traditional media—journalists in particular, but also people from public relations, marketing, and other areas—an easy-to-read, practical, and concise introduction to the new-media revolution. If it’s successful, readers will understand that the ways of new media are not be be feared, but to be welcomed.

If you’re skeptical or concerned about new media but want to understand it better, this is a great starting point for you. And if you’re a social-media maven, you may not need this book, but you probably know someone who does. Here are a few reasons why you may want to read or recommend it.

  • It can be read in one sitting.
  • Though it’s short, it provides numerous sources for further reading.
  • To my knowledge, there’s nothing else quite like it (or if there is, please note it in the comments—this is an equal-opportunity blog!).
  • For the moment, at least, it’s very up to date.

In coming days, I’ll be reflecting on the process of writing and self-publishing an e-book and why I recommend it. In the meantime, I hope you’ll learn more about the New-Media Survival Guide and let me know what you think of it.

Paul Conley: Has the Content Marketing Dream Become a Nightmare?

Paul Conley

Paul Conley

In the trade magazine business, not generally known for early adoption of new-media developments, Paul Conley is something of an anomaly. He is, as he puts it, “hypersensitive to how new technology opens up opportunities in old worlds.” He was among the first in the trade press to recognize the significance of social media. And though he is now beginning to question its potential, he was an early advocate for content marketing as a promising new career path for journalists.

As early as 1996, not long after the birth of the World Wide Web, he founded a business-to-business internet news service. Though that effort failed, it provided the foundation for a subsequent career in new media, beginning with CNN’s web unit, CNNfn, and then key roles with Primedia, Bloomberg, and About.com. Conley is best known, however, for his subsequent work, starting in 2004, as a consultant and blogger. Throughout the last decade, his blog was required reading for anyone concerned about the future of trade publishing, and has made him, as he puts it, “weirdly famous in some cool media niches.”

In 2008, Conley’s focus began to shift from traditional trade journalism to content marketing, which at one point he described as “the most exciting part of the B2B world today.” By last year, he said, his working life was “consumed” by content marketing.

In a recent interview, however, Conley told me that he has begun to worry about the viability of content marketing. While “the biggest opportunities in B2B media are clearly in content marketing,” challenges to its potential as a new outlet for journalism are growing rapidly:

Much of my business in the past few years has involved helping non-publishers enter content marketing. And my experience has been that the overwhelming majority of these companies don’t have a culture that is open to journalism. These companies don’t have the stomach for news and the confrontations it can promote. They panic when someone complains. They’re afraid of controversy.

Journalists by the hundreds—both newcomers and legacy—are being recruited for these jobs. But once they get there, they find that their skills and their mindset are not appreciated.

Though he once hoped that content marketing “could be a new form of journalism,” and that it would both employ journalists and serve readers well, he’s less sanguine now. With a few exceptions, such as CMO.com, he says, “content marketing has turned out to be nothing more than a slightly cooler, slightly hipper form of marcomm and advertising.”

It doesn’t help, Conley adds, that traditional publishers are also entering into content marketing.

What they’re selling in the market is the ability to co-opt their journalists! Legacy publishers are telling advertisers that journalists will create content marketing for them. And the journalists who balk at this find themselves facing an enormous amount of hostility from their bosses.

This situation is rapidly turning into a nightmare in B2B. Marketers claim to be journalists. Journalists are hired as marketers. Publishers sell the use of their editorial staff to the same companies that buy advertising. Readers can’t tell if they reading editorial content or vendor content or vendor content that’s written by editors and then published by a magazine brand or editorial content written by editors but published by vendors or vendor content written by vendors but edited by editors and then published by a magazine brand as a column. There are some verticals in B2B now that are completely polluted by this crap.

Conley does not seem to have given up all hope for content marketing as a robust alternative to traditional journalism. But, he says, “finding a way to navigate this new world will be the biggest challenge for B2B journalists and readers for the foreseeable future.”


Paul Conley is one of eight new-media thought leaders profiled in the forthcoming e-book, the New-Media Survival Guide. More of my interview with him, in which he describes the ethical challenges facing B2B publishing, will be has been published soon on the ASBPE National Blog.

“Content Is Power”: Q & A with Mark W. Schaefer

Mark W. Schaefer

Mark W. Schaefer

A couple of years ago when I started B2B Memes it was my plan to focus exclusively on trade publishing. But as I looked around the blogosphere/Twitterverse, it didn’t take long to realize that the most enthusiastic and informed discussions about B2B communications involved not publishing, but marketing.

For me, a journalist, this came as a jolt.

In more than 20 years as a B2B editor, I worked frequently with both public relations and marketing people. Though I liked and respected most of them, the alliance was always uneasy. Our goals were fundamentally different. To put it hyperbolically, I was looking for truth, they were looking for sales.

As I familiarized myself with B2B marketing blogs, though, I realized that while these goals may never fully align, in the social-media era they are coming closer together. For me, no one better epitomizes this trend than Mark Schaefer.

The reasons why might not be immediately obvious. Though he majored in journalism in college, he has built his career around marketing, and that remains his focus. But on Twitter and his blog he ranges far more widely than what we usually think of as marketing.

Even when he wasn’t yet the expert on social media that he is now (see his excellent primer, The Tao of Twitter, for example), his dispassionate looks at new-media platorms and personalities were both entertaining and informative. He sees his subjects with a wonderfully journalistic eye.

I don’t buy everything he says—such as his position on ghost-written blogs—but I always admire the way he argues his case and the respectful and constructive way he engages those who disagree with him. Journalists and marketers alike have much to learn from him.

For that reason, I’m including a profile of him my forthcoming ebook, the New-Media Survival Guide: For Journalists and Other Print-Era Refugees.  In preparing the profile, I recently conducted the following email interview with him. I offer it here with his permission.

What’s the most important message you have for people regarding social media?

Use your head. For a company, it should not be about “the conversation” or the hype. At the end of the day, it’s about the money, about creating shareholder value, as all marketing and customer efforts should be. Don’t act on an emotion of fear of being left behind. Learn enough about this new channel to ask the hard questions and integrate with your strategy as appropriate. Of course there are many uses and strategies for the social web, but at least with the businesses I work with, that is the biggest piece of advice I can give them.

What was the key pivot point, the moment of revelation for you, in your understanding of social media?

I was trying to figure out Twitter several years ago and noticed a trending topic of “new name for swine flu.” When I clicked, I saw a stream of hilarious ideas from around the world like “hamthrax and “the aporkalypse.” It was funny, but I also realized I was witnessing a real-time, global brain-storming session. Wow. That could not have happened just a few years ago. Think of the implications!

What’s the key issue motivating you now, the thing you most want to do or change?

I am in a fortunate position where I have had a foot in both marketing worlds, traditional and digital. Through my classes (I teach at Rutgers) and speeches, I help people connect the dots and that is very rewarding.

You were a journalism major. After graduation, did you go into journalism first, or directly into marketing? Why did you end up in marketing?

Journalism is my first love but I was increasingly interested in business. So I got into PR for awhile and then migrated to sales and then marketing. Marketing is the front line of value-creation. I love that!

In the minds of most people, journalism and marketing were once diametrically opposed. Has that changed in the social media era?

That is a complicated question, and an excellent one! Ultimately, journalism is the quest for truth. Marketing is the quest for “my truth” or a product’s “truth” that will resonate with consumers. For both areas, content is power on the social web and to the extent we can create it and move it virally through a network, we will be successful. So both fields are absolutely in the content creation business these days. Although the goals are still not the same, I think they are getting closer because for a brand to have integrity and be successful, it can’t be spinning the truth around any more. There are a million watchdogs out there now and they can all expose you. The deer have guns.

I was working with some marketers for a hotel chain and we were discussing negative hotel reviews they had received on a consumer website. “We don’t mind them,” they told me. “It makes us more real.” Interesting. Truth as a marketing strategy.

What do you think of the prospects for young journalists today? Will new media lead to brighter or bleaker career options?

I often speak at universities and journalism schools and I am struck that almost everywhere, enrollment is up!

Where are these folks getting jobs? New media. The hunger for content is nearly insatiable. I couldn’t have known it at the time, but my journalism education was the best possible preparation for new-media marketing.

I’m relieved to say that my questions were intelligent enough to prompt some further thoughts from Mark. You can find them—and much else of value—on his blog, {grow}.