The Tyranny of Images: Why Instagram and Pinterest Worry Me

This photo has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of this blog post. Which in this case, oddly, is precisely the point.

Today’s news that the mobile photo-sharing platform Instagram has been acquired by Facebook for $1 billion underscores a trend that’s been gnawing at me for the last few months. Mark Zuckerberg clearly understands that images are an increasingly important element in social discourse. So do the founders of the visually oriented Pinterest, which in less than a year has leapt from obscurity to become the third most popular social network on the web.

Why should this worry me? I’m a reasonably visual guy. I’ve been a serious photographer since my childhood, and my years as a magazine editor taught me the importance of balancing words with images.

I guess I fear that the emphasis now being given to the visual is upsetting that balance.  Increasingly, words alone are seen as inadequate or insufficiently appealing. As Joel Friedlander says, explaining why he plunks a large photo into the top of every post on his blog, “it’s a given: blog articles attract more interest with photographs and other images.” Pinterest only intensifies this need for images. In fact, as Tony Hallet pointed out last month, if a blog post has no images, it essentially doesn’t exist in Pinterest’s eyes.

Knowing this, any blogger that wants to be read will find an image to go with the words. That’s great when an image enhances or reinforces the meaning of the words. But all too often it doesn’t. Finding a picture that explains an abstract concept is difficult, especially if you limit yourself to images you have a clear-cut right to use. As a result, bloggers frequently face this choice: go without an image, or settle for one that looks good but has little to do with your topic.  Increasingly, they will have no reasonable option but the latter. It’s the tyranny of the image.

I agree, as Tony Hallet says, that “it’s arguably the photographer, the illustrator, the graphic designer, maybe even the infographic creator who will hold the key to much of what lies ahead.” It’s another question, though, whether the key opens the right door.

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?

Personal vs. Corporate: Six New-Media Principles, No. 3

In last Wednesday’s post, I described how new media make the reader an equal partner in journalism, able to talk back to, as well as compete with, the journalist. The same dynamic similarly changes the journalist’s relation to his or her employer. Journalists no longer need a traditional publisher in order to talk with readers.

Formerly, most journalists were, to readers, little more than a name on a page. But in the social media world, they have an increasingly personal and direct connection to their readers. In the terms of commerce, journalists are becoming brands, potentially the equal of their employer’s corporate brand.

Having a personal, conversational relationship with an audience inevitably means having a distinctive voice and point of view. To traditionally trained journalists, this may seem not simply unfamiliar, but unprofessional. Vadim Lavrusik, Facebook’s journalism program manager, puts it this way:

“As journalists, we often squirm at phrases like ‘personal branding.’ But the reality is that social media, and the social Web in general, have created a shift from the institutional news brand to journalists’ personal brands . . . [and] a consumption environment that encourages conversation as much as content, and the personal as much as the professional. It’s a shift from the logo to the face.”

As all forms of media become more personal, the bonds that link media professional to corporate employer become weaker. At the same time, the connections to social networks grow stronger. For journalists the implications of this trend are simple: embrace social networking, or say goodbye to your career.

Social Media and Ethics: An Interview with B2B Editor Maureen Alley

Maureen Alley: Never tweet what you wouldn't say in person

In preparation for my talk in an ASBPE webinar on ethics next week, I’ve been speaking with B2B editors about how they use social media. Though it’s true that the trade press in general is decidedly behind the curve in this respect, there are notable exceptions. One is BNA Tax Management editor and former ASBPE president Steven Roll, with whom I spoke last week (you can hear some of our conversation on his latest blog post).

Another is Maureen Alley, the editor of Cygnus’s Residential Design + Build (RD+B) magazine. Like Steve, she is an outspoken advocate of social media and an active blogger and Twitterer. I sent her a few questions on the ethical use of social media by e-mail just for background research, but her responses were so insightful and revealing that, with her permission, I’m posting them here.

Do you use your personal twitter account (@MaureenEditor) in your professional role as editor of Residential Design + Build?

Absolutely. I don’t believe there is much of a distinction between personal and professional when it comes to the Web. It’s very fluid. There have been studies that show people respond better to people versus brands. Because of this, I manage the RD+B account as the place for news, events, articles, reaching out to readers, listening to readers, etc. But I use my @MaureenEditor account as the face of the magazine. I want people to know there is a person behind RD+B who they can connect with.

Do you manage a social media account for your magazine? If so, how is your use of it different from your personal accounts?

I do manage RD+B’s Twitter account plus my @MaureenEditor account. I use HootSuite to do that successfully and easily. As I mentioned, I use RD+B Twitter for straight reporting—little opinion. I’m also careful so it doesn’t look like I’m promoting advertisers/manufacturers. If I tweet something from the magazine’s account that is from an advertiser/manufacturer I make sure it provides value to my readers first—just like print B2B.

I also manage RD+B’s Facebook page. Facebook is a different animal from Twitter so I keep that in mind when posting anything to this page. My goal with the Facebook page is a place to provide more content than 140 characters—enhancing information that was provided in a tweet. I don’t want people who are our fans and follow us to see the same content and decide to only follow/friend one of the media.

LinkedIn is actually huge for my audience: custom builders, designers and architects. This is a high-level group where being with influencers is important to them. They strive to stand where the influencers are so they are recognized for their work, develop a reputation, and get word-of-mouth marketing. Our LinkedIn group is very active and important to these members. They use it to find what CAD software is best, and to share projects they’ve just finished, and even press coverage they’ve received.

How do you deal with potential ethical conflicts between your personal and professional use of media?

Well, I try to keep my opinions to my personal account and away from the RD+B account. Again, I try my best to keep RD+B to straight reporting. As for my own, people want opinions, so I do provide that on my Twitter account. For example, I live in Madison and there is a huge budget/political scene right now. I follow a lot of people in Madison and therefore I participate in the conversation regarding what’s going on. I would not share that opinion on RD+B’s account.

You talk about a wide variety of topics on Twitter, including your personal life, your work life, the weather, politics, pop culture, builders’ issues, and a lot more. Do you have any explicit or implicit guidelines about how you cover these topics on your personal accounts?

Great question. I taught business writing to college students last semester and my number one rule was ALWAYS remember who your audience is. I have many different people following me: Madison residents, writers, editors, journalists, PR reps, builders, designers, architects, associations, teachers, and some of my past students. I try my best to post tweets that reach out to each audience. It’s a hard task when I have that many different audiences, but it keeps things interesting.

In regards to guidelines, I keep it professional at all times. I think of it like when you’re at a cocktail party—you never know who is who and you want to make sure you are representing yourself correctly. I never tweet anything that I wouldn’t say to someone in person. And I stand behind all my tweets. No passive aggression here.

I also try to keep some space between Twitter and my personal life—although it may not appear that way. I don’t tweet pictures from inside my house that show a lot of detail—for security reasons. I never tweet when my husband and I will be gone on vacation leaving our house empty. I never say exactly where I live, and so on. I try to keep it safe. I am a woman and this is very important to me.

To the extent you’ve thought about it, what would you say are the differences, if any, between traditional journalistic ethics and social media ethics?

Journalism ethics are important and they do cross over to social media ethics. I show an opinion in my tweets or, as I see it, personality. But not when it comes to reporting on my industry (home building): I keep it straight reporting. And I think that’s a must. Just because we have different ways to share information doesn’t mean we throw our journalism ethics out the window. Our readers need good reporters—even in B2B. And I would argue that B2B is easily becoming B2C. For example, I can send a tweet about an article I wrote on the housing market and a local reporter/news station can see it, pick it up and run with it. It’s important to provide good, quality content to our readers with good ethics backing them up. They deserve it.


Eight Resources for Building Your Expertise in Social Media and Business

Social media means business

Social media means business

So now that we’re over our passing fears that social media are just a big productivity drain, how do businesses actually use things like Twitter and Facebook? For people in B2B media, this isn’t an idle question. Our readers and advertisers are increasingly engaging with each other via social media. Whether we stay relevant in that interaction depends on how well we understand the ways they are or aren’t using those media, and how well we use them ourselves.

With this in mind, I’ve gathered eight online sources that, together, can get you up to speed with how business  is using social media today or how it is likely to do so in the future.  All of these sources are reasonably current, and cover the topic from a variety of perspectives and in a range of formats.

Businesses Getting Social

1. 10 Small Business Social Marketing Tips (Mashable, 10/28/2009)

This article by Mashable guest columnist Ross Kimbarovsky gives an excellent overview of social media marketing opportunities, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, and other tools. For each of the ten suggested opportunities, Kimbarovsky offers both basic and advanced strategies for using these tools. I suspect that even the tech-savviest reader will learn at least one new trick from this roundup of tips (for me, it was learning how to connect my blog posts to my LinkedIn profile.)

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