Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Got Trolls?: Understanding and Evaluating the Effectiveness of Your Virtual Brand

Not able to attend the Popular Culture Association’s annual conference in Indianapolis? No worries. Here’s what I said:

Topic area: Virtual identity, self-promotion and individual branding.
The creation of a virtual identity for self-promotional purposes requires strategic and intentional development. The two primary user needs met by social media, belonging and self-presentation, are not at the heart of creating a virtual identity. In fact, putting too much of yourself ‘out there’ can have negative consequences by harming your professional reputation and damaging creativity.

Do you want to ‘self-promote’?

I’m not referring to an ongoing show of look at me posts. You want to promote your abstracted self, a representation of your work. Not your true self, but an intentional, crafted version of yourself. You aren’t self-promoting, you’re interacting in a public space in a consistent and participatory way.

You’re providing people with an understanding of who you are, what you do, and what you stand for but you are also bringing others together. Its your party; you’re the host, so the event is bigger than you and again, its not about you. Its about the common interests of those present. Just like a party it’s your task to bring people together and if its been a good time, they will talk about you and, your content, behind your back. 

As an academic, why worry about virtual identity and brand?
So you can:
• build a community around your scholarship and make it easier for others to find your scholarship
• establish credibility by creating a canon of your work, events, and conversations
• make it easier to argue for your expertise as important to your discipline
• more effective for you and administration to argue for merit-based salary and promotion 

Do I have to do it? Make a virtual brand?
You can’t really get out of it. Once you put yourself out there, people will define you.

The resulting ‘brand’ serves a purpose unique from a casual or personal online presence. When promoting a brand, you’re functioning more like a business than a ‘regular’ user. You aren’t a regular user, even though you may appear to be, and so evaluating the effectiveness of your brand requires a specific understanding of how brands are created and perceived.

Consider the B2B vs. B2C contexts. These social media posts are perceived differently by users due to the way the posts are decoded by users/audience.

B2B posts are perceived as less emotional, more rational, and with higher stakes. Users perceive these to require higher levels of cognition than B2C posts.

Topic area: Trolls, cyberbullies and silence.
One-person, virtual identities are received differently than identities resulting from corporate or institutional brands. This complicates on-line interactions. The academic, public figure brand is not a business but is using the virtual public space with a business mindset. 
When evaluating the effectiveness of a brand, its essential to keep these differences in mind.
We’ll consider, silent users, commenters, cyberbullies, and trolls.
Silent users:
Characteristics of non-commenters:
⎯ Roughly 40% of online users fall into the silent category.
⎯ Less likely to express Dark Tetrad (Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, sadism) personality traits.
Just because they are quiet doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Don’t devalue the ‘quiet’ ones. If they follow you, they are engaged whether they speak or not. 
Commenters:
Characteristics of commenters:
⎯ Roughly 60% of social media users fall in to this category.
⎯ Men comment more frequently than women.
⎯ 24 % of commenters prefer to debate issues. 21% prefer chatting.
⎯ Average 1 hour a day commenting.
⎯ More likely to express Dark Tetrad personality traits, with the exception of narcissists who do not comment. (Machiavellianism, psychopathy, sadism)
⎯ More likely to be a troll than non-commenters.

Commenting is slower, reflective, highly involved and more of a cognitive process than liking, which is intuitive and reflexive

Commenting patterns will be influenced by the presence of other comments as well as the types of other comments. Therefore, commenting requires a decoding of the post but also decoding of the contextual (other) comments.

Given that the number of people who favor chatting for debate is relatively low, lack of comments should not be considered a problem.

Viewers in B2B environment are less likely to comment on posts than in B2C environment. Thus, creating a B2C feel, will generate more comments but isn’t necessarily more effective in the long run. 

Cyberbullies:
Characteristics of cyberbullies:
⎯ Known to victim.
⎯ Engage in intentional, specifically targeted harassment.
⎯ Show high levels of neuroticism and emotional instability as compared to trolls.
⎯ Cause psychological pain equal to that of bullying in real life.

If it feels like bullying it probably is. The cyber-bully attack is personal and motivated by an actual or perceived personal relationship. The psychological damage is real and will be counterproductive to emotional well-being and creativity. My suggestion, it doesn’t matter who they are, block them.

Trolls:
Characteristics of trolls:
⎯ Most often men, with the exception of location based dating apps.
⎯ Motivated by deception and meaningless disruption.
⎯ Seek to cause psychological distress, target unknown and irrelevant.
⎯ Express high in levels of openness to experience as compared to cyberbully.
⎯ Most likely to express Dark Tetrad personality traits, most often sadism. 

Significantly, the troll attack is not personal. The troll seeks to harm, but not a particular person. The troll seeks to disrupt the community and conversation, but doesn’t care who or what.

According to the GAIT assessment and research, the more meaningful or good the troll perceives the environment to be, the more motivated they will be to damage it. It’s for that reason, the presence of a troll can be an indicator that you have achieved something powerful.

Occasional, situational, trolls also exist. These are users who are experiencing a bad mood or are influenced by context. When a post is immediately followed by a troll comment, subsequent posts are more likely to contain additional troll comments. It’sfor that reason you may want to delete troll comments. Troll comments are effective in their intended purpose, shutting down conversations. And so, if you desire conversations and interaction, deleting the troll comments can be beneficial.

Arguing with the troll is not likely to be successful. They’re not motivated, as some commenters are, by the desire to prove themselves right or smart. The committed troll operates under the cloak of deception and so truth is irrelevant. In fact, truth and openness are contrary to the troll’s persona and goals. Arguing with the trolls does, as you’d guess, give them additional satisfaction and the argument is proof of success. Again reason to delete their comments.

Topic area: “Best practices and implications.

Characteristics of social media users:
⎯ Extraversion and openness to new situations are most common of the Big Five personality traits among users.
⎯ People who are emotionally stable use social media less frequently.
⎯ There is speculation that those who show a clear mismatch between online and offline behaviors are attempting to compensate for any perceived or actual deficiencies in social contact and peer relations. 

It’s significant to note that visible online interactions are performed by a specific group of people who express a specific set of personality traits. Thus, much of what occurs visibly is limited to and dominated by a specific group. For example, emotionally stable, introverted women are underrepresented in comments while extroverted men who have a high level of openness are overrepresented.  And so, many of the people who are out there, reading and engaging with your brand, you won’t hear from and many of those you do hear from come from a specific group.

Forge ahead.
It’s not about you. It’s about the community you are creating.
Your approach should be fun, sustainable and incorporate all your work or areas of interest.

Do what you like, what seems right, not what people tell you. In fact, Id say if someone tells you not to do it—do it. 
Be:
Consistent – * Links and cues for similar info, so they already have context.
Authentic – * Sustainable
Focused – * Reduce the amount of time needed to decode.
Outgoing – * Give them something to talk about.

Avoid: 
Being too specific – You want to build your brand over years. You will change.
Topics only – Doesn’t give an abstract to glue it all together. 
Personal things – Complicates things, harms you and others.
Promotional/commercial. – Avoid the hard sell. 

The creation of an effective brand depends on the creator’s willingness and ability to efficiently fragment and abstract their identity. 

Borrow from business models - think about crowd culture and how you can use momentum that’s already out there. Work to create and build a community of “superfans.
Superfans live in crowd culture which comes in two sorts: 
➢ subcultures--which connect 
the intersection of unique interests, specific values, beliefs, practices, aesthetics  
➢ art worlds--which push against
creative breakthroughs often come from contrasting and challenging ideas, testing limits and “conflict’
In both instances, the ideas of people influence and move. 
Crowdculture depends on ideas and the intersection of ideas - not a person. The person may represent a collection of ideas, be a brand themselves, but it’s the ideas and values the person represents that draws ‘fans.’

Next steps?
1. Evaluate the culture, its values and interests. Be intentional.Your audience should include people from all areas—other academics, those who work in the industry, pure fans, anyone interested in what you’re interested in.
2. Look for opportunity, make opportunity.
3. Do it, start posting.

Ongoing:
1. Innovate, use new opportunities but be consistent.
2. Ignore ‘trends’ which are concrete, with start and end. Instead focus on the culture, its ideas and values.
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