Don’t lose yourself in social media

Commuting

A genuine blog is more than sharing formal articles, it’s an uncomfortable gaze into the life of its author. Personal posts are usually the easiest to write as the words flow but the hardest to publish. The words below formed in my mind whilst travelling home late last week. It describes the struggle of balancing social media with more “fulsome” activities such as reading in-depth articles, books or digesting podcasts.

Sometimes it’s easy to be caught in the trap of updating social media for no purpose at all, always waiting for that next update. Balancing this personal relationship with social media whilst following online at a senior career level… well, it requires a degree of self-discipline. Some online professionals choose to almost completely disconnect themselves from social media in their personal time; I don’t, I can’t understand how you can or would want to.

Online has formed part of my identity, a real and virtual life. What you see is what you get. You may be able to relate to the words below, or not. In truth? I don’t mind, it provides a snapshot of the journey I find myself on.

Don’t lose yourself in social media, balance it with life.

***

Stop what you’re doing. Just think.

Endlessly scrolling down your Facebook feed to find that little explosion of ‘social’ endorphin is a drug that will get you nowhere.

Do you even remember life before Facebook and social media? Really, how long has it been now? Over 10 years, thousands of status updates and online interactions later.

Friends have come and gone. Life has fundamentally changed socially and politically. Passions lurk as embers waiting for ignition but are threatened to be extinguished by the power of that ever-scrolling news feed. Benighted conundrum, the mind has a tantrum, social media continues to be updated, life flashes before your eyes – it’s come and gone.

Meanwhile the drum continues to beat, online has become a U.S. monopoly and a commercial feat. Where is this going? From the humble beginnings of Miniclip to building grassroots online communities. We used to build our villages but now they have become faceless cities. Pawns locked into a game of cat and mouse; our personal lives fuel transatlantic riches and the cat purrs.

This used to be the game, the escape and it’s now the king. What do you think the balance looks like? Face in the looking glass and life is beginning to look a lot older. Millions of keystrokes later, trading information for social kicks. How is this world set to grow? Will it swallow all or will a balance be found?

Am I alone? Is this addiction? Does any of this matter?

Before you pick up your smartphone, think. What has changed?  

For PR success, have a rest

I feel on top of the world! Out of breath, struggling up a boggy slope. That’s exactly what an office lifestyle will do to you if not balanced with some honest exercise. It was worth it for the view, the Lake District really is god’s country. I took the below photos, it was effortless for the camera.

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Why is it that the most beautiful places in the world don’t have mobile signal? It’s either a coincidence or a reason why they are beautiful. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then my eyes require less internet connected fodder. At times I still found myself mindlessly scrolling through social media updates, an unhealthy habit that only teaches me that 90% of the social media shares are nonsense, irrelevant or worse, uncalled for.

Before going to the Lake District I popped over to one of my favourite travel bloggers, Adventurous Kate. I had the privilege of meeting her face-to-face in Rotterdam at a travel blogging conference in 2013. A lot (I gather in both of our lives) has changed since then, but I still make an active effort to keep on top of her posts. Funnily enough, she published about her trip to the Lake District in January. Having returned from my holiday, I can picture some of the spots where she may have captured those landscapes. After a long weekend staying in a quaint cottage sitting by a fire, only a week would have been long enough!

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The point of this blog post is this; sometimes to be professionally successful, you need to disconnect. This is especially true in the PR industry where we tend to be tied to emails, contractually responsible for social media, and (if agency side) constantly changing subject and sector topics in the mind. It’s demanding but rewarding, but will take its toll on the body unless you take the opportunity to disconnect. Unwind by admiring the rolling hills of the English countryside?

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See beyond your age: 26 life lessons at age 26

lonely playground

lonely playground

Last Monday I hit the beginning of my late-twenties and started to think about life lessons.

I find it difficult to comprehend that I was 18 years old eight years ago. Family photos show the quick transition from boyish complection to manhood. Time stops for no man; the years are racing.

For me right now, life is a treasure chest of opportunities. Whether that is translated through my appreciation of philosophy, joy of reading, understanding of the arts (yes, I’ll include heavy metal in this category!). After years of curiosity, I’m even turning my hand to amateur photography for the first time.

Whilst an enthusiast for life, I’ve also experienced some tough life lessons. Losing a close-friend, turmoil of relationships as people transitioned from university, the depression of being stuck in a job that wasn’t right. Sadly, natural parts of life and more to come.

At the end of the day does age matter? Not in my eyes. It’s your attitude, thoughts, and actions that really count. In my head is an excited eight-year-old chasing dreams and the surly older man who is told that he thinks beyond his years.

So in a similar style as Stephen Waddington’s wise observations from middle-age, I’ve contributed some of my own life lessons below. Broadly categorised into the main things that matter in life; purpose, relationships, career, learning, approaching life.

Perhaps when I hit middle-age some of my approaches to life will change? I’m still learning. The below shows where some of my thinking currently stands.

Purpose

#1 Live for pleasure

The primary form of intrinsic good in life is pleasure. It’s safe to be directed by a hedonistic lifestyle if it operates within ethical guidelines.

#2 Be lead by convictions

The most turbulent personal years was when I hadn’t formed my own convictions. Be true to what you believe in and put this before everything else.

#3 Freedom of enquiry

Be thankful that you live in a liberal society and don’t be afraid to approach life as a sceptic.

#4 Be inspired by others, but don’t imitate

When it comes to role models, life is full of potentials. Be inspired but don’t try being somebody you’re not. Perfect yourself.

#5 Challenge perceptions of success

Your life is not an advertisement; material gain will not bring you happiness. Your journey through life might be a mess, you will have to work hard.

Relationships

#6 You’re never an expert

I’m certainly not.

#7 You’re not singular

Where possible put yourself before others, act as a couple and contribute to your communities and society. Self-obsession makes life impossible.

#8 Build bridges

Do not burn them. Treat people as you would like to be treated. Don’t let emotion overcome you in difficult situations.

#9 Keep calm. Carry on.

You’ll meet lots of different people through life. Don’t count your friends, value the relationships you have.

Career

#10 Do what you love

This goes back to #1 ‘live for pleasure’. You’ll spend almost ¾ of your life working, make sure you enjoy it (this is the secret to success).

#11 Beyond money

Whilst it’s not always possible, try to think of money as an outcome of enjoying work. This is challenging in the entry-level roles of a career, but I’m certain it makes a difference. Being motivated by money alone is not attractive.

#12 Be prepared to work

Nothing in life comes for free, you have to work for it. Rather than aim for the successes in life, think about what you’re willing to struggle for. Do you want a big salary? Then be prepared to work through late nights for it.

#13 Respect

Everyone is different. Everyone knows something you don’t. Don’t be quick to pass judgement, you have no idea what people are dealing with behind the scenes.

#14 We’re all human

We all face the struggles of life. We’re all naked under our clothes. When things get tough, realise that the world is much bigger than the contained situation you’re dealing with. I find perspective alleviates stress.

Learning

#15 Learn something new each day

Try to learn something new each day. No, Google is cheating. Actually talk to people and leave the confines of the home and office. True learning is through experience.

#16 Never give up

Nothing was worse than struggling with dyslexia as a child, but having a passion for reading and writing. It was frustrating, but I beat it. Today I manage and almost hide my dyslexic traits entirely. How? I can recognise the way I think and know the mistakes I make.

#17 Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

I’m not telling you to mess up a multi-million company merger. Just don’t be afraid to try new things, receive advice from others, and build on your abilities. Learn from your mistakes, create something incredible.

#18 Listen

Stop talking. Listen. You’ll learn a lot.

#19 By guided by passion

In life I’m a child lost in a sweet shop, chasing interests and being guided by curiosity. Let your learning be guided by your passions.

Life lessons

#20 Balance

Technology has merged our careers with personal life, try to keep these separated. Use the off button, otherwise what’s the point in living?

#21 Dealing with hardship

Life can be difficult; some situations are tough to understand. Stay true to yourself and eventually try to use experiences to help others. That’s why I made the decision to contribute this post to CALM last year.

#22 Support

You’re not giving up by letting others support you. Always be willing to support others. The human race is biologically one big family.

#23 Actions

There is a difference between action and intention. Make things happen in life, otherwise you’re just speaking empty words.

#24 Look after yourself

Sadly, we’re not immortal and the decisions we make with our health today may impact the rest of our lives. I’m still trying to look after my body better.

#25 Love

Without love, life is not possible. Nurture love, try not to understand its complexities, but appreciate it.

#26 Age

See beyond your age. Don’t let it sway your approach to life.

My three words for 2016

Michael White, Lansons, Berlin

Happy New Year! Another year, 12 months to make a difference.

If you’ve been following my writing for the last few years you may know that on January 1st I focus on three words that I use as a guide for the rest of the year. I use these words to refocus my efforts as the months roll on.

The dates for ‘my three words’ span from my University years, through various stages of my career, to now; a digital account director. A lot has changed over the years, priorities change. One thing for certain, it’s been a real adventure and I’m damn lucky. Some people wish away their entire lives, surviving for the weekend. Not me.

Click on the dates for the blog posts written at the time:

2015: Charity. Creativity. Insight.

2014: Balance. Contribute. Health.

2013: Stability. Growth. Decisiveness.

2012: Missed this year. It was also fairly unsuccessful.

2011: Understand. Grow. Support.

Deep down I knew one word would be change for 2015. I changed my job, where I lived, and possibly matured my mindset; it’s incredible how different I feel from my 24-year-old (2014) self.

I’ve provided consultancy to 40+ organisations, including charities and social enterprises. This was only possible through support by family, friends and colleagues – plus tireless revision/reading. It was a year full of charity, creativity, and insight.

Now it’s time to look ahead to 2016; over the next 12 months what should my three words be?

My three words for 2016

Coaching – Without the help, support, and belief of family, friends and colleagues I wouldn’t be where I am today. I never forget this and must now owe the world something in return, by better supporting the personal and professional journeys of others. I consider this one of my most important career objectives for this year.

Charity – For the first time ever I’m repeating a word from a previous year. You can never have enough charity and I can always do more. Last year I did more charity based work than 2014, in 2016 I want to make a bigger impact. Perhaps even commit to a cause I’m passionate about? We’ll see.

Adumbrate – This is a deep one. It’s possible to know the mere outline of yourself, of your personality, but require it to be ‘filled in’. By this I mean building on my passions such as philosophy, critical thinking, and getting involved in causes I believe in. Having a more personally wholesome New Year.

Michael White, APPC quiz

So there we go, my three words for 2016. Let’s hope the year lives up to 2015.

The story of Death in Tehran

Every year I decide on three words that I will focus on as my goals for the New Year. My three words for 2015 were charity, creativity and insight. This blog post is about my focus on insight.

Each day I spend about 10 – 14 hours on the internet. This means that this year I’ve easily spent around 2,100 hours staring at a screen of some sort. Without referring to research, this is not healthy for the mind.

It’s time to revaluate, and without being too personal in this blog post, change how I am living my life. Why? Because my current internet-based existence is far too woven into my professional and personal life – discovering they both have a distinction is important.

Passivity leads to a kind of intellectual apathy; leaving the mind lethargic as it swallows short form internet based content, most of which designed to influence or evoke response. A healthy body is akin to a nourished mind. Primary school teachers know this about their pupils, but it’s now something I’m discovering about my own life.

There is a time and place for social media, but it must be balanced with physical and mental fitness.

I recently came across the story called Death in Tehran: 

A rich and mighty Persian once walked in his garden with one of his servants. The servant cried that he had just encountered Death, who had threatened him. He begged his master to give him his fastest horse so that he could make haste and flee to Teheran, which he could reach that same evening. The master consented and the servant galloped off on the horse. On returning to his house the master himself met Death, and questioned him, “Why did you terrify and threaten my servant?” “I did not threaten him; I only showed surprise in still finding him here when I planned to meet him tonight in Teheran,” said Death.

It’s possible to read many messages from this story but the one I take away is this; sometimes our actions, or lack of action, have absolutely no bearing on the outcome we desire. Even when a situation seems dire, we tend to automatically assume the worst, when actually the polar opposite may be true. To add credence to these words, some of you may recognise this story as told by Viktor Frankl in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, a psychologist who survived the holocaust (one tough guy).

In today’s society, which Frankl draws parallels up to the 90’s, our search for meaning is largely based on achieving success – when this is really an outcome from finding a meaning in life. When the servant escaped death, he instead secured his fate. You could say he should have stayed in the garden (following ‘his meaning’ rather than running for success).

I’m not a believer in hard determinism, our actions have outcomes. I know through better health and a balance of internet based activities, I’m discovering that meaning again. It will take time and it’s all positive – my mind and body already feels fresher.

When I worked for competitor of infidelity website Ashley Madison

She dripped of sin, blonde hair waving behind her as she headed for the meeting room. The adulterous heiress; marketing manager for a dating website that specialises in infidelity. I sat opposite her, as a student on work experience, and found it difficult to believe that this young woman could be considered ethically responsible for tempting men and women across the country to cheat on their partners. How could she be so happy? Seem so content with life? As a PR student one of the main questions asked by lecturers in class was, “Would you work for an oil company?” I knew in that meeting room that this blonde lady was my oil company, the oil company of breaking relationships, dismantling love, for profit.

Then there was me, contractually obliged to give her advice that would tempt even more men and women to give up on love. The agency I was gaining experience at was measuring the results of their campaigns well. In the last month we had driven 5,000 new user registrations to the debaucherous site – just how many relationship breakdowns did that account for? To me they were just numbers. That was my shield to hide me from the ugly ethical truth. Today I would be more vocal, protest and refuse to work on the account – at the time I was on paid work experience. I suppose it was a utilitarian argument; the greatest good was furthering my career.

I would also tell myself that surely the dating site couldn’t be held completely accountable for a relationship breakup? Something in a couple’s personal life must have happened first. That register button is just a button, no voodoo, click or leave it. Now that I’m 25 years old and surrounded by friends who have made the leap to marriage my view is less laissez-faire.

To some the internet is just a ‘hive mind’ of opinions. Others see the internet as a valuable collective resource that could enhance humanity. I believe in both of those things to an extent, but mostly the internet is data. When running digital marketing campaigns, I see ones and zeroes, behaviour flow paths that are typical of certain website structures. Psychology and code dictate 90% of online behaviours. The trick to running a successful social media campaign is knowing the data you’re analysing are real people.

If you want to help somebody cheat on their partner, make sure you are serving advertisements on the correct pornographic websites. Keep showing these images and videos multiple times to tempt a click. Contextualise social media updates to appear next to the correct arousing accounts. Redirect people without their input to registration pages. Let people use false identities and validate them using payment details. It’s the dark side of the internet and it will never go away.

That’s until a website becomes too big and a community gets unruly. It’s highly likely that one of the hackers who infiltrated the online cheating site Ashley Madison worked for the company; at least that’s what The Guardian is saying. They are holding the company to intellectual data ransom due to a disagreement with a line in their policy. Having what I would call an ‘informed ethical judgement’, having worked for a competitor of Ashley Madison, I hope the data does get leaked. It’s this side of the internet that only ruins the value of our lives and makes me doubt the internet can be a force of good in the world.

Why I’m never getting involved with online dating again

Can I just start this post by saying the whole thing was just one big mistake? It was never really meant to be a date. I was just being kind. I never thought that this girl would actually want to meet up in real life – our conversations were never with expectations. It just happened. This wasn’t Plenty of Fish, nor Tinder; Bebo was the offending social site. Way back in 2004 when the site was still functioning as a semi-decent social network, before Facebook was open to the public. At the time I was quite religious, sharing ill-informed views about UK news. It was before anything about PR or digital marketing had entered my mind. Although I was a keen programmer who ran several gaming related websites. Little did I know that this knowledge would serve well as a fulltime paid career in the future. I was just fooling around with websites and code.

It attracted the attention of one girl. Naturally one thing led to another; Bebo to MSN Messenger (remember that?). She clearly had confidence issues, that was certain. You know the type; searching for flattering comments at every conversational turn. I was happy, but hesitant to oblige. To me she was another username, another internet user – the thought of her being an actual person seemed nonsensical. This isn’t meant in a weird misogynistic way. I genuinely did not keep in mind that she was a real human. Imagine my surprise when she wanted to meet up locally, in Sutton. Over my school years a large part of my education was about not trusting strangers. “Don’t get in people’s cars”, “Don’t accept strange gifts, especially food or drink”, or “If you do meet, always do it in a public place”; so this is exactly what I did. If I met this strange internet based girl in Sutton high street then surely this would save me from being murdered? That’s how my brain worked anyway.

So we met and she was kind, but sadly there was no connection and regretted meeting in real life immediately. What had I done?! What was the point? I don’t even find this person attractive. Still, make the most of it and I tried. Then she asked me surprisingly innocently “So, when would you like to have sex? My place is close”. My blood ran cold. I had to GET OUT. It got worse. She started asking about baby names and families. People often blame the internet for being an unintelligent hive mind of stupidity. At this very moment I realised that this was just one very stupid, possibly mentally unstable, mind. The internet can be a very good mask for hiding who we really are. I made an excuse to leave which she bought – it had been an hour or so.

Heading back to the bus stop using the shortest route available, going through the graveyard. It was at this point a gang of around eight guys, most on BMX bikes, surrounded us. Whatever the lead guy was on – it wasn’t legal, he wanted a fight. Continuing to walk, moving faster. That’s when I felt it. A hammer was thrown straight at me. By lucky chance the handle only hit the square of my back, just a couple of inches short from the back of my head.

In hindsight, being found dead in a graveyard having met a stranger on the internet for an accidental date wouldn’t have been the most suitable of deaths. The guys really wanted to fight – kept following, egging on, provoking. Even then I had a fairly thick skin and I knew a fight was not the answer. Mostly because 8 on 1 isn’t fair. Even if it was 1 on 1 I would probably lose. My skill was doing internet wizardry, not fistycuffs. Eventually we got away, heading back to the high street as fast as my tiny little 2004 legs would carry me.

I never met that strange girl from Bebo ever again. This happened a long time ago, when I was 14 years old. That’s enough though. Never will I do internet dating again.

If you’re interested then Bebo is now back! After the site started shedding users after AOL’s $850 million takeover in 2008, the original owners bought back the site for $1 million in 2013.

Why a Public Relations (PR) degree is worth your time and money

Printing newspapers

My parents have three sons. All three of us have achieved first class degrees, except mine isn’t in law or science, it’s a public relations degree. A degree I would describe as 50/50 academic and vocational. It’s for this reason that I’ve never had a problem with employment.

Before I graduated I had a job waiting and it’s been like that ever since. Every month I’ve had a salary hit my account as a direct result of PR related work. I don’t intend to boast. I’m from the University of Gloucestershire class of 2012 – entering education as the recession laid agencies to waste. The world hadn’t recovered on graduation.

Like most, I had little understanding of PR before studying. It was a last minute choice after my passion for computer science was extinguished after seeing a class of overweight sweaty males tapping away at computers during a university open day. I escaped to my true passion. The one I could not live without; writing.

A journalist at the University of Lincoln explained how most people live their life in a box: they drive to work in a box, type in front of a box, go home to watch the box, and then eventually end their life in a box. A life of a journalist would allow you to escape the box.

I was sold. However, had real concerns about choosing journalism as a degree.

So instead opt’d for PR after being convinced by the top-class teaching at the University of Gloucestershire. Crucially my degree also had the backing of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). An institution that is pushing the PR industry forward and isn’t afraid to join important debates. Alongside the CIPR was the PR student community driven magazine, Behind The Spin, of which I’ve just been made an associate editor.

My degree was probably cheaper than yours, tuition fees stood at £3000 a year (plus accommodation costs). Today a PR degree will cost you up to £9000 a year and that’s for an industry whose average salary is £33,680. Whilst other professions will earn you more, I’m willing to bet that employability in PR will be higher than other subjects such as law or English. Although this is an assumption.

My own course had a sandwich year, which was a one year placement in industry. Without a doubt this year is worth it. In my case I was earning a decent salary and could wave decent work experience on my CV to put me a step ahead of ‘academic experience only’ competition. My sandwich year also kept me in plentiful supply of cigarettes and alcohol for the final year of University! The first habit I’ve now kicked. The second has flourished.

So yes. Big success story. Sound the trumpets. A PR degree will give you glory, as it did for me.

Maybe.

I cannot praise the value of a PR degree enough but also realise that it’s been a while since I was a student – so how has the standard CIPR accredited degree changed? Also, the PR industry is changing so rapidly, is it possible that now other degrees are becoming more important for the survival of the industry? Ultimately, PR’s first aim is to win the budget battle in the company boardroom; by proving its value.

My role today is purely digital and social media. I work in an integrated team that offers online and offline solutions. Just because it’s integrated doesn’t mean that it’s balanced, digital projects keep coming. It may just be that the computer science degree I first rejected is becoming more important than my PR based skills. The amount of online data that digital teams need to chew through to reach client solutions is astounding and growing in complexity. PR degrees must offer in-depth digital marketing training; including social media, search engine optimisation and online advertising to be of real value.

So you tell me, are PR degrees still worth it today? I hope so. But only if digital accounts for 50% of work. And yes, the other half should all be about creative writing, media relations and researching.

I wrote this blog post after being inspired by Live Love Laugh PR’s ‘10 blog post ideas for PR bloggers