“Have the courage to say no.  Have the courage to face the truth.  Do the right thing because it’s right.  These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.”   – W. Clement Stone

I listened to a presentation recently at a conference where I was lucky enough to hear Joe and Jason, from TalentAnarchy speak on, ‘letting your freak flag fly,’  After sitting in a zen-like state of brainbuzz, I realized an incredible truth:  When we do not fear for our future, our hearts and minds expand exponentially more than when we allow our fear to rule our motivation and decision.  If I could go back to any period in my life, I would go back to high school, look the crowd in the face and demand better of myself.  I worried too much about what others thought.  I was stuck in the noise.  I never rose above.  I promised myself I would never sacrifice my individuality, my fearlessness and my personality to fit in with a crowd again.  It’s taken me weeks to get the presentation out of my head and longer still to understand the feeling of awe behind their words.  I am continuously humbled to learn from those around me and to borrow a bit of their passion to propel my dreams forward.  I realized then, the emotion behind my un-named exuberance was, “gratefulness.”  And it is exactly one of the words that is missing from the culture of Social Networking, lately.

I don’t believe in riding waves.  I don’t believe in shutting my mouth to look better, or feel better, or be a silent flag-waver in the back of a parade that someone else is leading.  I believe in creating momentum, disturbing the peace and being a thoughtful tornado, the kind that knows the doors need to get blown open, and does so, with minimal damage.  After speaking with the insightful, (and all too intelligent for her age, Diane Kulseth,) we found a perfect term and then, I noodled on it’s implications for days, before I wrote this post.

Social. Media. Cannibalism.

Hard to say, harder to type, but very easy to explain.  Marketing has lost it’s edge while self-preservation is on the rise like never before. We’re creating campaigns and speaking about buzz words like, “authenticity,” but we are tearing others in our industry apart.  We’ve segregated, and joined into cliches and gangs while we start our own ‘groups.’  We’ve become so segregated with our labels, “Blogger. Social Media Marketer.” That we have literally lost the fine art of what brought us together to begin with: Humility and Grace. In the past 2 weeks, I have heard almost a dozen stories of local marketers’ ploys to get each other’s contracts, some even going as far to call into people’s workplaces.  Suddenly, some are developing their own, ‘rival’ get togethers,

Mitchell Hislop, has one of the best minds in web and media development.  His words spoke to me directly:

“I have heard the stories about social marketing cannibalization, although being at an agency, it hasn’t really happened to us. Personally, I think its a stupid practice. The gains to your bottom line do not outweigh the hit that your reputation will take when it leaks that you are playing the game like this. There is no need for us to all compete as cutthroat as this – there is more than enough work out there, and it is not a zero-sum game.  Think about it. How many businesses are there in the cities? How many need digital help?  Then, why the hell are you trying to steal a coffeeshop from someone who could be an ally in all of this?  Sometimes, my favorite things are working with people who should be my competitor. It keeps me sharp, focused, and frankly, I enjoy learning from them.  If you hear about someone trying to outright steal business, take note. Make sure you stay away from that person. There are a lot of great people in interactive around the Twin Cities, and there is no reason to associate with those that feel stealing a contract is better than earning one.  There is a huge caveat here, though. Sometimes, companies approach us when their current agency is not cutting it. In this case, thats a good thing – however, if we were to go on the offensive, and try to actively steal business, that is a whole other story.”

Animals eat their young because they fear competition.  Those that practice this behavior, which is classified as, “infanticide,” often perceive themselves to be the strongest and largest.  I spoke last year at Imation headquarters for Social Media Breakfast.  I begged us to look around the room and encourage each other and inspire each other to demand more from ourselves.  Networking meant taking the recent grad out to coffee and listening to her energetic wisdom and it meant acknowledging forethinkers in your own industry.  What I have seen since, has been a sorry misrepresentation of selfishness, greed and rivalry.  Jealousy, anger and negativity will not overcome any personal or business problem.  The only keys to open the doors in which you want to walk through are: humility, grace and emotional intelligence.  Your follower counts will not matter if people can see through you.

Diane Kulseth, one of my favorite people to bounce ideas off of commented:

“I’ve lived in social media for over 7 years now. And my experience in curating social media strategy and executing upon that strategy has existed just about as long, if not longer than those same people. Yet, because of the title of student, there have been many who seem to feel that my experience somehow lacks compared to theirs. It does not matter that I have worked with this medium longer than they have, or that I contribute to the discussion of social media relevance in my school as a marketing major, as long as the title of “student” is attached to my name, my credentials must therefore be lower, and my work, subpar to those who are “experts”.  It’s disheartening for someone wanting to break into the industry when I see professionals trying to take over the work I’ve spent my precious time developing and getting results for, just because people say “oh we have a student from St. Thomas assisting us with that” when people ask about their social media strategy. It’s not an industry I want to be in if people hold little regard for the efforts of each other. We do a wonderful job about lauding ourselves and our efforts through a variety of lists, but actions speak louder than words in this sphere. It’s time to start showing respect to the people behind the social media efforts and respect their work. Give them advice if you feel they would appreciate it, but don’t try to take their work. The economy is rough as it is, without trying to jeopardize someone’s side or main source of income.”

Is this the message and outlook we want to present to our future graduates?  That they are somehow less because their credentials do not match yours?  Social Networking tools, such as Twitter, Facebook and others, will fade then evolve into something else entirely.  If we are too busy becoming, “experts” at the tools and not “experts” at creating and establishing meaningful relationships, we are the ones who are going to be truly missing out.Some social media, “marketers” have become ambulance chasers.  Calling each other’s clients, or looking to ‘steal’ sales.  I appreciate and applaud a country in which consumers have the choice to choose the best solution.  I shake my head at the transparency that some will go to land another contract, or destroy their INTEGRITY Resume, (the one that truly matters,) by thinking that adding another name while losing their soul for it will win in the long term.  Real professionals recognize the difference between using others and bringing out the BEST in others. Those that do the latter are the ones that create differences, while the first might only be lucky enough to create monetary wealth.  Which one matters more to you?

Maybe it’s me.  Maybe my desire to create something more and to nurture the ideals in the stages of infancy has me too ideological and not sensible.  But I do know one thing.  I didn’t get to coach at Keith Ferrazzi’s RMA, or Master’s Forum, by keeping my mouth shut.  I got there by being fearless and grateful.  I have been unabashedly blessed by the wisdom of others and the inspiration around me.  I’ll be damned if I see a bright future for our industry be killed for a lack of creativity and humility.  It’s time someone said it.

Bring. It. On.