Pretty Stinking Cool
Some of you may recommend the therapist’s couch after I share this, but sometimes I hear a little voice. Let me start by saying I believe that life – daily life – should be driven by faith, effort, and optimism. I also WANT to believe that people are fundamentally good and that they are worthy of trust. But if you lie to me? You’re done. I’m working on forgiveness, I really am. But in the meantime, the BS meter is active. And when the BS meter goes off, the little voice can be heard.
I’ve learned that if you’re a natural cynic, the internet is a frightening place. I know people who have posted twenty-year old photographs as their profile picture on Facebook. Personal profiles are full of hyperbole, and resume-padding is rampant. Among authors, there are a million people claiming to have written “bestsellers.” Is that according to the New York Times, or a vote of your household members – at gunpoint? I’ve seen ads where you can buy one thousand Twitter followers for $14. So the next time you’re impressed with someone’s ten thousand Twitter followers? They may have swapped a dinner for two at Ruth’s Chris for a phony flock of followers. Yikes.
The other challenge is imagining someone’s personality based on their blog posts, tweets and Instagram pictures. Some people try so hard to be sarcastic and surly, that if they’re really that curmudgeonly in real life, I hope there’s a line of people at their door waiting to slap them silly. And then there are the opposites, the ones that you really want to like. They can’t really be that nice, funny, clever, or cool in real life, can they? Invariably, just as I start laughing, retweeting, and enjoying the banter back and forth, I’ll look at their icon and the little voice says, “You better not be lying to me.”
I had a great opportunity to validate a fave or uncover a fraud when Twitter kindred spirit and Facebook friend Gini Dietrich came to town. I wrote a blog post earlier in the year entitled “My New Best Friends,” where I wrote about Gini, Dan Blank, and Marcus Sheridan (if you write or have any interest whatsoever in marketing and / or social media – find them and follow them!).
When I discovered Gini, I learned she was a PR professional (President of Arment Dietrich) and a social media maven. I liked her. She was funny. Interesting. She had a dog named Jack Bauer (who wanders into videos, writes an occasional blog, and has his own Facebook page). Her business blog, SpinSucks, became a must read for social media insights, and its quirky, but lovable, perspective on business and life.
And now she was coming to South Florida for two days. I had arranged for her to speak to two of my Vistage groups, on consecutive days, with a dinner sandwiched in between (no pun intended). I’m normally cautiously optimistic when a speaker steps in front of my Vistage CEOs. A bad speaker can make for a miserable morning. But the stakes were different this time: I was emotionally invested. I wanted to like her. I wanted her to be good. But the little voice was saying, “Just don’t be a fraud.” As she began speaking, I held my breath.
Gini’s presentation was entitled “Social Media Boot Camp: Making Sense of it All.” She covered the basics of Social Media and described the uses of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, corporate blogs, and introduced a variety of useful tools and apps. She challenged everyone to take some first steps, or “next steps”, and told them not listen to marketers who say you can’t measure ROI in social media. The audience of CEOs ranged from those who eagerly embraced social media to those who were openly hostile to its very existence – and everything in between. She was engaging. Insightful. She challenged their way of thinking. At the same time, she shared her mistakes. She admitted she’s learning every day – just like the rest of us. She was great.
As she left, the little voice was more remote, but I heard it nonetheless. It said, “She’s given that presentation a million times. She probably gave the same presentation to a Boy Scout Troop in Dubuque yesterday. I bet she mailed it in.” If I could have punched that little voice, or drowned it out, I would have. No such luck.
The voice got louder later that day. Gini was meeting me for dinner, and I asked my daughter, Carla, to join us. Carla is the SEO Manager and former Social Media Coordinator at Blue Interactive Agency. I hoped that the dinner wouldn’t degenerate into socialmediaspeak, because I knew I’d be lost. But I also knew that Gini was one of Carla’s professional heroes. Suddenly the paternal gene kicked in and the voice was growling, “You better not disillusion my daughter.” Oh, that would be so much worse than lying to me.
The dinner covered a variety of topics related to business and family, and then we moved on to disappointments, do-overs, and dreams. The filters were turned off. Midway through the meal I realized that we were having the kind of conversation you’d have with a good friend. And as Gini asked my daughter questions, with the hopes of learning something new from a twenty-two year old business neophyte, I finally leaned back and relaxed. This was the person I met on Twitter. The one who makes me laugh on Facebook. The one who makes me look at the world just a little differently when I read her blog. The one who can be Carla’s hero. And mine.
The next day Gini started her presentation in the same manner, but as questions surfaced, her talk went in a different direction than the day before. New sites were discussed and new anecdotes shared. She didn’t have it on auto pilot. She was bobbing and weaving – and enjoying every minute of it. I was also conscious of something that she does that won people over: she was informative, without talking over our heads, and was passionate, without being pushy. Her talk was laced with comments like “this is so stinking cool” and “this is going to either really amaze you or really freak you out.” In any case, she made people smile. And she invited them to learn.
At the end of the first day’s presentation, I made a public comment to the Vistage group about Gini. I said that if I were headed into a fight, I’d want her with me. I don’t know where that came from and it probably left my Vistage members scratching their heads. It wasn’t until several days later that I understood why that comment was so appropriate. If you’re headed into a fight (or headed into the arena for you Hunger Games fans), you want a partner:
Who is tough. Gini left a lucrative, successful career with a national company, to start her own PR firm. She then had a corporate near-death experience in the throes of the recession, only to emerge stronger and more focused. In her presentations, she’ll handle any question the audience can throw at her, but also is not afraid to admit when she’s giving her opinion, or merely throwing darts.
Who is resourceful. Gini has changed her business structure when it was already successful, and changed her blog format after it had won industry accolades. She listened to peers in the industry, CEOS in unrelated industries (she belongs to Vistage), and a graduate student / part-time employee. She even sat at dinner and asked advice from a 22 year old with one year of experience in interactive marketing. In the brave new world of social media, watching Gini learn and apply tools on the fly to benefit her clients is like watching MacGyver build a bomb with paper clips and a ball of twine.
You can trust. Through nine hours of meetings and dinner, after dozens of questions, on and off the record, I think I saw the real Gini Dietrich. She is remarkably similar to the one I met online a year ago. I’m guessing that there are at least twenty people I now follow on Twitter because Gini recommended them, said they were cool, or laughed with them – sometimes at her own expense. I know I’m not alone – she’s building an army of loyal followers.
As I watched Gini in action in her second day of presentations, the voice returned. It whispered, “Pretty stinking cool.”
Gini recently published a book with co-author Geoff Livingston, entitled Marketing in the Round. The book takes a holistic approach to successful marketing in the digital age. The premise is that corporate strategies and communication (both externally and internally) need to be synced, and can no longer afford to be developed -and executed – in silos.