Category Archives: Social Media

Things the Internet Can Teach You About Yourself

Quote from a book - the lesson you need to know about the Shakers is that they all died out.

In case you were wondering, this is always the lesson. Also they invented the flat broom, the seed packet, and the three-legged stool. Additionally, this has nothing to do with this post AT ALL, but does show that I know a fair bit about the Shakers.

Because I am vain when I meet someone new who I think might google me, I google myself to see what comes up (after internet snooping on them of course).

I’ve worked pretty hard on my Google presence for the last couple of years.  Not because I had done something internet bad that I wanted to hide but because I unfortunately share my name with a woman who was murdered by her husband several years ago.  While I don’t think people will confuse the two of us, it seemed like a prudent move to try to kick the story off the first search page.

A few things I realized/was surprised by in my most recent google-though:

  • While I definitely dominate “Kathryn McLellan”  (sorry other Kathryns!), I lose out on “Kat McLellan” to another Kat, one who unfortunately was a grad student at UIC, also interested in women’s studies and material culture.  She seems pretty cool but this is actually potentially confusion-making.  Sadly, although I go by Kat, I’m thinking I probably need to give up on that one and use Kathryn for all my public online crap.
  • Another issue is that this blog doesn’t show up under my name at all. While I’m not always the proudest of this thing – particularly my inability to hit the publish button on anything – that seems like an oversight.
  • I really, really, really need to update my poor website.
  • The most pleasing realization is that one of my professors in grad school credited some of my work in a footnote in his book (!!!!) This is, sadly, probably my biggest academic “professional” accomplishment.

Hashtags as Parenthetical Commentary

I have been sick in bed for the last week and took the opportunity to read way way too many odd vampire/supernatural YA books.  As I was composing a Facebook update on the situation I found an almost unnatural urge to hashtag the hell out of it.  Specifically:

I have spent the last week sick in bed reading trashy YA fiction.  

#noshame #wellsomeshame #no #noshame!

It’s unnatural because I hate hashtags.  They look ugly, tend to pile up at the ends of things, and seem like yet another way to sell yourself, SEO your social media up the wazoo.  However, I do love parenthetical commentary (the act of adding a somewhat random or underemphasized comment to text).  #seewhatIdidthere #alsowhatIdidthere

There’s a certain allure with saying something without “owning up” to saying it. Hashtagging how I feel about reading trashy YA fiction allows me to indicate my mixed feelings without actually having to own up to either the reading or the mixed feelings.

I wonder if, as we live increasingly in a text-based atmosphere where vocal and body language nuance are stripped out, if this sort of sub-conversational comments will increase.  Even as we’ve moved to platforms where there is less text-based information such as Instagram, hashtags have become even more popular.

Note:  While this occurred to me unprompted, I am not the first person to note this behavior.  Language Log; NYT; Gizmodo; New Yorker.

Is There an Authentic Way to Sell Yourself?


I really loved this recent post on self-promotion by Aubrey at Barcode Alternative.  In it, she explains her problems with self-promotion, starting with advice she was given about using Twitter to manufacture relationships and ending with a recent situation where she bought an advertising package on another blog.  When she discusses it, her unease drips off the page:

I felt like a fraud because I was paying for someone else to interview me. It would have been different if they wanted to interview me, share my posts, etc. It made me constantly wonder, if my stuff was shared because I paid for it and nothing could stop that questioning because money was involved.”

I get her unease.  Paying for promotion that crosses the line from a clearly marked ad that we all know is paid for to something else that, well, isn’t as clear can feel really fake.  Am I just paying someone to pretend to be my friend?  Is it clear that this is just advertising?  Are we acting as business people or pretending at friendship (or actually becoming friends?)

But at the end of the day, Aubrey is also a potential small business person and, at some point, she will probably need to promote herself (and, well, eat).

So my question is:  is there an authentic way to sell yourself?

I think there is.  Aubrey mentions that making a good product and promoting good products is a way to create a new dynamic.  I like the concept but, unfortunately, we don’t get to live in that world.  Even if you and I can or do live at that level, there’s a lot of people and corporations who are just pretending. We live in the world where the saddest and best piece of advice is to brand yourself and to constantly promote brand you.  I have some ideas that start with and come back to:

Own your shit.  Don’t claim that professional decisions are personal ones.  If someone calls you on something you did, own it.  You don’t have to be embarrassed if you’re not, but don’t pretend you didn’t do it.   For that matter, don’t pretend to have emotions that you don’t have.  Don’t say you’re something you’re not, especially if you’re not even going to try to be whatever that is.  If you have ulterior motives behind what you do, at least don’t lie to yourself about it.  Try not to lie to other people about it either; people generally get upset when they’re mislead, especially if it feels personal.  As someone (approximately) said in my thesis research –  if I find out X was pretending to be female and we talked about comics I don’t care, but if we talked about childbirth I’d be pissed.  Don’t fake friendships for profit or because you think it’ll make you look better.  Give credit where credit is due, and don’t take other people’s toys.

Make good stuff.  Something where, at the end of the day, you’re proud of yourself.   That doesn’t mean that thing has to be perfect; works-in-progress or beta are always acceptable.  In some ways, they’re even better.  Engage experts, peers, and/or your consumers in a meaningful and actual way to improve who you are and what you do.  If you want to be fancy, you can call it market research, crowd-sourcing, or UX.  It can also be a way to promote yourself – if people like how you take their advice, like what you created with them, like you, they’ll probably share/brag to their friends – but don’t ask them to do it.  Don’t work with people just because you think it’ll be free publicity, do it because you actually want to work with them, which leads to….

Only work with people you respect and that respect you.  Ideally, you should also like them, but that’s not a requirement.  Work is a lot easier and better when you’re not constantly inner-eye rolling and counting the minutes until you can grab a beer and complain to your best friend.

Ask and emphasize over and over that you want people to be honest about you.  Negativity is ridculously hard to stomach but it makes the positive even sweeter.  It’s also a good way to learn about people: what do they value?  Do they use the opportunity to be helpful or vicious? It’s your right to feel however you feel about their honesty, but keep in mind if a lot of people say it, it’s probably true and important.

Give your stuff away, sometimes.  Let people try it for themselves and make their own opinions.  Value those opinions.  Don’t tell people how they should feel; even if it’s good work, maybe it’s just not for them.  Be flattered if someone did like it.

 Make your own line in the sand, be honest and open about it, and let people know if it changes.  Maybe that’s paying for an ad on someone’s blog and a giveaway, but not an interview.  Or a giveaway but you’re very clear it was paid for.  (It took me the longest time to realize that bloggers were paid for hosting giveaways).  It could be only taking advertisers whose products you already use, or ones that your friends and family like, or even just ones that you don’t necessarily like but don’t hate either.   Just make a decision and own it.  You don’t have to come out and say I hate product X but they’re paying me and I need to eat, but don’t pretend you’re doing it because you wuv them so very very much.  If you have the opportunity to be even more honest about your sponsors or clients while continuing to pay your bills, do so.  That ends up helping everyone.

I know these aren’t easy things to do.  I’ve done a lot of crappy embarrassing work with other people, usually with people I didn’t respect.  I’ve certainly had epic happy hour bitch sessions, and we all know that I’m bad at being confrontational.  Sometimes you need that job, that client, that contact.  Most of us don’t have the luxury of completely getting out of the self-branding and promoting, performative-friending, fake it ‘til you make it environment.   Just start by owning your shit, at least to yourself if no one else.  You’re definitely never going to get anywhere near authenticity by lying to yourself.

dino is proud of who he is

dino is proud of who he is

Lit Review: Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook


Stutzman, Fred, Ralph Gross, and Alessandro Acquist.  “Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook.” 2012.  Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality, 4:2.

“Access to increasingly granular settings, to determine  which profile data other Facebook users get to peruse, may have increased a member’s feeling of control and direct her attention towards the sharing taking place with other active, non-silent, members of the network; in turn, perceptions of control over personal data and misdirection of users’ attention have been linked to increases in disclosures of sensitive information to strangers”

Summary: Stuzman et al. use a private, long-term data set of Carnegie Mellon Facebook users, finding that over time users have looked for greater perceived privacy, but have in fact increased the information available to advertisers and Facebook itself, i.e. “silent listeners.”    Although the overall trend is to share less private information over time, they do find an uptick in 2009-10 which they credit to changes in Facebook privacy policies increasing users’ cognitive burden.

Analysis:  One particularly interesting point was that of “incidental data,” the creation of new data without actual creation, e.g. that aps pull information from users and users’ friends without an active choice to share such data.  They also mention that social media users consistently underestimate their audience size, being aware of only 27% of their audience. I see a lot of potential in further research that forces users to think about and analyze such choices.

The dataset has several limitations, sadly unavoidable in the context of having such “long-term” information.  The profile elements they analyze are very basic, such as birth date, phone, and favorite media.  Additionally, they don’t address the issue of how their participant pool ages, particularly the effects of leaving college on privacy seeking behavior.  They also mention that they couldn’t determine between non-disclosures based on hidden information versus information that was simply not given at all.  Despite these, having an unique longitudinal dataset makes this worth reading.

Overall:  It will make you feel really paranoid about your own Facebook behavior, but also pique your interest.  Also the lit review is really amazing in terms of summerizing the research on multiple presentations of self.

Lit Review: Word Usage and Community in Twitter

There are some things I really miss about academia, specifically engaging with people about new ideas.  I also realized a couple weeks ago that I was really unaware of the current literature outside of economic educational and infection disease stuff.  I’m trying to read something weekly and to share it as a way to get caught up/create discussion/get smarter.  I have to say it’s surprisingly hard.  I’ve been really struggling with some writing recently and have to come to miss my past academic-skillz.  The below was easier for me, ironically, because it was so math-not-theory-based.


Bryden, John, Sebastian Funke, and Vincent AA Jansen.  “Word usage mirrors community structure in the online social network Twitter.” 2013.  EPJ Data Science, 2:3. 

“This indicates how the language we use bears the signature of societal structure, and is suggestive of the enormous potential in using topological analysis to identify cultural groups.”

Summary: Bryden et al. use a dataset of 250,000 Twitter users, trying to find linguistic links inside communities, e.g. those who @ed each other.  They conclude that communities use unique language patterns beyond basic subject terms, particularly word length and endings, and find a way to predict community involvement of a Twitter user based on word usage.

Analysis:  I love the idea of created spaces using language.  One of my big interests in college was kawaii culture and how specific terms and ways of talking created an individual/safe space for a sub-set of women in Japan.  Unfortunately most of their examples don’t seem to be all that unexpected.  For example, one language pattern is the use of Twilight terms in the Twilight community.  Another is the use of phrases such as n**ga, poppin, and chillin together; language that is created off-line and then brought online.

That said, there were a few examples where the online community itself (if not specifically on Twitter) was creating linguistic trends, such as the interaction between the words bieber, pleasee, and <33, which they define as “lengthened endings (repeated last letter).”  I’d love for Bryden et al. to present more unusual examples like this for greater analysis, maybe some qualitative to understand what those linguistic patterns mean to the community that uses them, particularly in in-group vs. out-group interactions, how people learn the language, etc.  There also seems to be a lot of potential in looking at community drift, both in the language a community uses over time but also how language used changes when a Twitter user enters or exits new communities, based on changed interests, life experiences, etc.

Overall: short and sweet if math-heavy; the charts are worth checking out on their own.

Who Owns the Story? Update

A great “field” example of my previous post just popped up.  It’s based on another divorce – this of the couple behind Apartment Therapy and shows the variety of reactions that readers can have to news about someone they don’t (technically) know but are invested in.  Again, there was a lot of sadness and “I knew its” but there was also the idea that we the readers have certain rights because we read:

Rocza summed it up most succinctly  “When you give your privacy up in exchange for money, on the premise that the exchange allows people in to your life, you don’t get to suddenly say “thanks for all the money and we’re going to lock you out now.” That simply is not how commerce works.”

The question is, of course, why?  Why don’t bloggers get to control what they sell and what they don’t?  I’m not sure – there definately is a feeling of ownership and being owed based on emotional investment.  There also seems to be a strong streak of schadenfreude.  What do you think?  Do you feel like you’re owed something by the people you read?  Why?

Who Owns the Story? Pt2 – being sold

The problem is once people have bought you, in this case becoming regular readers with the metrics and clicks and whatnot that brings, well they feel they deserve something.  Two recent examples come to mind (strangely both involving divorce):

1)  As I’m sure most of you know, Heather Armstrong and her husband Jon (of Dooce) are getting divorced.  Dooce is by far the most popular personal blog and the news hit far and wide (even in the NYT!)  garnering thousands of people’s opinions.  Heather is no stranger to sharing her private life with the world; she shared her difficulties with post-partum depression for example.

The responses to the news were widespread and ranging.  There was a lot of sadness, of “I knew its”, and even joy – one of the top results for dooce and divorce is a post “Dooce is getting a divorce.  And I’m glad” But, in reaction to a request for privacy and understanding, there was a lot of “why do they think (they deserve) get privacy now”?  In some ways, since Heather had been open before, she was seen to have lost the right to be private now.  Her life was assumed to be public content and  although she provided very little information, people constantly analyzed, cited, and demanded more.  I’d love to know how she navigated that, giving just enough information for her audience/customers but not more than she could personally handle.

2) Chaviva (who I once hired for a job a bazillion years ago) also recently got a divorce, inpacting how she viewed and acted as a Orthodox Jewish convert.  She got a fair amount of negative feedback on some of her life decisions leading her to take down her entire blog – years worth of posts.  This is particularly notable since, like Dooce, she makes her living off of social media and blogging (although to a much lesser extent).  She, in essence, trashed her resume.

Her life was public enough where people felt like they could comment and judge her on her behavior.  She’d set it up that way – becoming a public voice on converting and being an Orthodox convert, but her posts didn’t divert from that – they were on the new religious difficulties that she faced.  But her narrative didn’t match what people expected from her even though it was still coherent, it still made sense to who she had been and who she was becoming.  It makes me think of the out cry when Harry and Hermione didn’t end up together and makes me wonder if there’s a convergence between real people who seem more fictional/narrative and fictional characters who become more real in our lives.

Either way, for both of these women, they lost control over their stories to their audiences – their lives became public consumption to be critiqued.  The reader became the consumer, feeling free to demand something for their attention.

Who owns the story? Pt1 – learning how to sell.

I’ve been having a conversation with Alex recently about the role of the internet, social media, and blogging in our lives – the good, the bad, and ugly   In her case, its internet behavior – she channels Emily Post like no one’s business.

For me, it goes back to who owns the story.  If many bloggers are writing about their lives and are marketing themselves (which many are) and if consumers own brands (which I believe heartily), then well who owns the story?

No one owns my story – at least now.  My three regular readers (I love you guys!) includes probably my sister and others that I’d tell the same things to, email the same pictures to, who are invested in the story but only because the story is ‘me’.

This hasn’t always been the case.  A long time ago, in a land far away (LiveJournal), I was involved in a clique.  For the people I knew, ‘the’ clique.  It was a ratings community, choosing its members by their writing, power struggles, and whim.  There were expectations of us, to write certain things and ways, to lord, just a bit, over those who didn’t make it but tried and tried again to get our approval.  And to some extent my story stopped just being about me but my performance.  What would ‘sell’ in Peoria, in LA, NY, and hundreds of computers in between.

I’m sure this sounds ridiculous to you, but what I was doing wasn’t so different from what a lot of other bloggers are doing now – tracking which posts get the most hits, comments, track-backs.  They do it for the potential cash (and yes, there are really that many people trying to make ‘it’ whatever that is from their blogs), and I did it for the ego rush during a bad time in my life, but at the base it’s the same.  We work on our marketing, packaging, and PR to sell our product (our stories) to the consumer.  And once it’s sold, well that’s where the problems are….

Pinterest legals and ethics pt 2 – ethics

So Pinterest ethics.  The biggest one is that it is so easy to take an image or idea away from the original creator and leave it either un-cited or cited to someone else.  That’s one of the first things they taught us in grade school, right, to cite the original source?

Not citing correctly sucks for both pinners and pinees because: a) everyone likes to get credit for their own awesome idea; b) it’s hard to find more information if you’d like to learn more about the picture/idea; c) it makes it a lot easier for people to… borrow ideas.  This isn’t just about Pinterest – Allison reports that she had issues before, but Pinterest made it like “trying to put out a wildfire one measuring cup of water at a time”.  Can you imagine seeing your stuff everyday wandering around without you?  It’s especially horrible because Pinterest is otherwise such a great source of exposure for bloggers and artisans.

So credit for original materials check.  What other ethical responsibilities do we have as pinners? Frolic suggests (though not specifically for Pinterest) that we cite not only the source but how we found it.  I have to admit that’s something I’m particularly bad at – mainly because I’m often not sure where I found the link (I’m a bit of an open tab pack rat) and that I’m not sure how to do so gracefully.  I feel like it would just be a long path of x via y via z, via a, b, c…. It’s something I’m definitely going to now try to keep an eye on.

Killa b gives several more suggestions on ethically pinning – going beyond crediting to suggesting that we should add solid descriptions and hashtags.  I feel almost though like that’s going a little too far – where is the line between promoting others and also making sure that Pinterest is working for you?  I.e. I hate hashtags, hate how they look, and don’t use them.  If I would never use them, do I still have a responsiblity to use them for other people?  I’m not sure where that line is and I think it might be different for different sources – maybe not for a picture from Anthropologie but maybe for a tutorial from an independent blogger?

Further reading:

My previous post on the legal issues

What if it’s private pictures you don’t expect to see other places? (Instagram)

definitely a topic for another ethics post – do you post an item for sale as a DIY? (do it yourself)

Pinterest – legals and ethics pt 1 – Legal implications

There’s been a lot of chatter about ethics and Pinterest recently.  While following the discussion, I learned some surprising things about the copyright rules and legality.

I’ve been following a long conversation about the ethical responsibilities of Pinterest – how to pin, how to credit, but I hadn’t really thought about the legal implications until I read this from DDKPortraits.  In short, Cold Brew Labs technically owns the copyright to anything you pin.  You can be held liable for anything you pin that you don’t have rights to and anything you do they can use. (if you want more legal details, definitely check out the link).

I find this particularly interesting since Pinterest is the new big thing for companies.  Everyone wants to be on Pinterest, being re-pinned over and over.  It makes sense – it’s really good, free publicity right now.  But for companies that are so  paranoid about intellectual property, it seems odd.  It epitomizes the issues that companies have sometimes with social media – they’re so desperate to be there and using it that they don’t think it all or even some of the way through. Notably, smaller places/individual artisans are thinking about these issues, so it’s even more of an oversight imho.

Pinterest is clearly aware of and interested in the use of it as a sales/influence tool with the release of Pinerly – a tool to track the influence and spread of pins. Pinterest also called DDKPortraits to get her suggestions after the linked post so it’s probably safe to assume that changes are to come.  (which is awesome since I’d hate to have to delete my own boards).

Pinterest ethics to come on Wednesday.  Until then, here’s some more links on the legal issues of Pinterest.

Pinterest calls DDKPortraits

Pinterest editing pins for (their) profit

Another take on the legality of pinning

And for a bit of self-pimping – my Pinterest boards