Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What SWA (and everyone else) can learn from my cats

Until recently I didn't think much about my cats' behavior. After a busy day at the office, all I really noticed about them was that they were hungry. Now that I work at home, I watch them throughout the day. Today it hit me: they're great role models for social media! Here are some of the rules I've come up with.

1. Wait before you pounce. And when you pounce, don't hesitate. Getting social media right takes guts. Here's a perfect recent example: Director Kevin Smith got into a tiff with Southwest Airlines last week when they threw him off one of their planes for being, as he put it, "Too Fat to Fly." It's true that SWA seemed to snap into action--sending him an apology, offering him an (ahem) $100 voucher--what they really did was react, and rather ineffectually at that. Their attitude is summed up in the weak and painful post they later wrote with the snarky headline "Not So Silent Bob" defending their actions. What would my cat Mitzy suggest? Either jump on him right away and sink your teeth in with blood lust coursing through your veins, or stalk off in a huff. Nothing in between.

2. Move around the house a lot. One of the biggest dangers of social media is that it's actually pretty darn interesting a lot of the time. It's easy to become over-involved. We get into twitfights, retweet everything in sight, stay up nights worrying about whether Google has made too many changes to Buzz, read every Mashable post we can get our hands on... Then one fine morning in May we wake up screaming. Our spouse has to hold us back as we threaten to flush our iPhone down the toilet or toss our Macbook off the top of the Empire State Building. Try thinking of the social web as a sunny place by the window where you go to watch the world go by, talking to the birds and squirrels and (if things get dull) plants. After a bit, you jump off the sill and do something else, knowing it will all still be there when you return. And what better way to break up the day than to take a nice cat nap as my cat Clarence might?

3. Know when to sit in the shade, and when to sit in the sun. I've noticed that out on our back deck, there are definitely sunny spots, and then there are spots under the plastic lawn chair. More often than not, Clarence will have commandeered one of these spaces, while Mitzy or Shnitzy will have settled into one of the others. No one seems to mind who is where. Same goes for social networking. Sometimes you want to be in the center of a discussion. You want to be the one who starts a certain thread on Facebook, Twitter, your own blog, a community site because you've got something to say and you want to lead the discussion in certain ways. There are other times when it's more appropriate and useful to be a follower. Yet, what tends to happen is that people fall into one of these two categories habitually, based on their personality or level of influence. Don't be like that. Follow the flow of conversation, and know when to hang back or step up.

4. If you want attention, go and get it. My cats all seem to have been trained by the same assertiveness coach. If someone rebuffs you, ignore their rebuff and come pinging back up onto the sofa demanding a better attitude. Who among the humans does this? Ever heard of Gary Vaynerchuck? How about Guy Kawasaki? Timothy Ferriss? Seth Godin? Robert Scoble? These are not people who are known for being willing to take "no" for an answer. They plow ahead, ignoring the multiple knocks they get along the way and demand that the world notice them. Just like my cat Mitzy, who does not care how many times I throw her off my lap when she wants me to "groom" her. This is a rather unpleasant task as she likes to press her teeth against my hand while slobbering profusely. But nothing--and I mean nothing--will stop her trying to get me to do this when she sets her mind to it. That is, until she herself eventually decides to move on to another activity (see Rule 2).

5. Only meow when you really need help. When I started out in social media, I had so many questions. I wasn't sure how to go about jumping into the tweetstream, and became obsessed for a time with my analytics. I felt I needed someone--some guru--to help me every step of the way. Pretty soon, however, I became the person people turned to for this kind of advice. I now understood why I got so many brush-offs and blank stares. The problem is, social media is a complex arena. Anyone who claims to have it all figured out is kidding you, and probably themselves as well. So, before you call out for help, consider this--you probably just need to hang in there and figure most of this out as you go along. If you legitimately need some guidance, hire a professional.

6. Know when to use your claws. The online world has always had a bit of a rough and tumble element to it. Those of us who started out in forums, chat rooms and Yahoo! Groups remember the flaming that used to go on. That's settled down a bit, but there are still some pretty ugly smackdowns. Some of us are too sensitive and forget we even have claws. We let ourselves get walked all over. Others of us are just the opposite. We'll scratch you in the face before we recognize that it's all been a big misunderstanding. Know when to get involved, and when to back the hell off and retract those claws.

So you see, cats are amazing models of behavior that apply to myriad social media situations. Perhaps you have other rules to add to this list. If so, please feel free to use the comments field below. And Clarence, Mitzy and Shnitzy say they're also taking catnip donations.

Top picture: Mitzy and Shnitzy Mugrabi
Middle picture: Clarence Mugrabi
Photos: Leor Mugrabi


surreal neal said...

Haha, nice comparison. And cool kitties!

Sunshine said...

Thanks! These are some of my favorite photos of the cats.

alisa said...

You KNOW that I love this post, right?

Sunshine said...

Thanks! And what about your cats? Maybe they have something to add to the discussion?