What’s a Facebook user to do? Acknowledge the reality of a flawed platform that we’re still going to use

By Steve Bell and Allie Friedman

Google [itself a provider of opportunities for intrusion] the phrase “What should people do about Facebook now?” and the first page of responses is all about getting off Facebook.

None are from this month, or recent days, however, when the revelations about Cambridge Analytical stealing your data emerged.

So, don’t say you weren’t warned. It’s called Facebook. Its DNA doesn’t have a privacy gene. And since it first appeared, critics of all persuasions warned it was a deal with the devil.

But, indeed, what do businesses and individuals do now?

Facebook rushed out new options to provide “more” control over privacy, and make it easier to find them. An NPR story from March 28 also notes that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg solemnly promised improved privacy options – in 2010. How’d that work out for you?

Face reality here. No one’s putting the Facebook genie back in the bottle. We may worry about air pollution and global warming, but most of us still drive a car. We know running will lead to injuries, but we still run. We may not love our jobs, but we need the money.

Point is, even if you’re not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and LinkedIn, even if you don’t have a smartphone and stay off the internet, your information is still out there for the plundering.

If you are a company or a non-profit, a school or college, your information is available in public. What can you do? Be smart, careful and thoughtful about what you share.

The lawyer and PR person’s admonition goes like this: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.” And former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer added “never put it in email” – advice he apparently could not follow.

NPR reported that Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan and Deputy General Counsel Ashlie Beringer said: “We’ve heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find and that we must do more to keep people informed.”

The changes make it easier for users to see what information they’ve shared, delete certain personal information and control ads that they see, according to NPR.

In the end, will businesses leave Facebook in any meaningful numbers? Not likely. Nor will individuals. The very currency Facebook prints its billions on is your information. It’s not going to stop mining that data. To expect otherwise is like telling a tobacco company to sell a healthy cigarette. A business or a person can limit access, but it’s counter-intuitive to think for a moment that you could stay private and stay on Facebook.

Or, that if you were to leave Facebook that your information would somehow migrate to a vault only you can open.

Facebook started and spread like the flu with the idea of sharing. We share where and what we eat; what we buy; where we vacation; what our children do; what we think today; what we love and what angers us.

Expecting Facebook not to share this information is like waiting for a subway train with no other passengers. Not going to happen.

In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that 83 percent of mothers and 74 percent of fathers say they agree or strongly agree that they get parenting information from social media. Where is Amazon, Kimberly-Clark, Earth’s Best, Baby Bjorn and Beech-Nut going to seek and find these parents?

What’s the key to the success of Amazon and Google? Data. How did Spotify turn the music business upside down? Data. All of these global companies that attract millions of users leverage the information they get from them, whether it’s the products they buy, the songs they listen to or the places for which they search.

That’s not a secret. And it’s most certainly not stopping people from online shopping. It’s part of what you sign up for when you download an app, create an email account or type “where to eat dinner downtown.” Whether you like or it not, it’s the world we live in today and we can’t place all of the blame on the company.

Even the supposed solution to, or inoculation against, Facebook’s sharing too much information is #deleteFacebook. It’s a hashtag, people. You’re sharing a decision on social media about leaving social media?

We know soft drinks are unhealthy; we know too much beer or wine is dangerous; we know cars crash and household cleaners are fatal if swallowed.

Reforms are needed in Facebook’s operations. Social – there’s that word again – pressure will drive change. The Federal Trade Commission may institute new rules and protections. And, Facebook itself, having lost almost $50 billion in market capitalization on paper in two days last week, will adjust.

Be wary, however, not of Facebook today, but what’s next. You can start your car with a phone app; you have a Google Home or Amazon Alexa at your house or Apple’s Siri on your phone and in your car; you may even have a camera in your refrigerator so you can see from the supermarket aisle if you need milk.

What’s next should be the bigger concern.

For more information:

https://digiday.com/media/facebook-has-a-real-problem-nbcuniversal-ceo-steve-burke/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=digidaydis&utm_source=publishing&utm_content=180328

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/28/technology/personaltech/social-media-timeline.html

Community Building 101: The Acid Test Every Message, Blog Post, Tweet and Idea Must Pass

If you’re in business, you understand value. You ensure every action adds value to your business goals or bottom line. But do you evaluate your community-building initiatives as stringently?

Why social communities are important

Social communities can make or break your business. Whether you’re in B2B or B2C, there’s no better way to “cut through the clutter” than having a community of customers, prospects and influencers that has your back.

Social communities are valuable and can be your brand’s strongest advocates. They can also be a big driver for bringing in new customers. CrossFit and SoulCycle are both great example of using the social aspect of their brands to differentiate themselves in an otherwise crowded market.

But social communities don’t happen overnight.

First, choose the right audience for your specific cause or topic. This is where customer service is crucial, no matter the business or industry. This is the group that should remain at the center of all your marketing and community initiatives. Some quick, but important, questions to ask include:

  • Is the audience appropriate for your business?
  • Has your audience changed since you first started building a community?

Keep in mind that irrelevant, legacy audiences can be a source of blind headaches when they voice their disappointment in the way the company has changed. On the flip side, relevant legacy audiences can be your best friends – especially in times of trouble.

Once you’ve nailed down your audience, you’re ready to nurture your budding community with these four methods:

Listen

If you’re not engaged in social media listening, you’re missing out on tons of insights about the people who are actively talking about your industry and brand. Keep track of what the top influencers and prospects in your industry are reading and sharing. What hashtags are they using? What types of content are they sharing? What do their bios look like? What are their pain points?

Autonomy

While you want to control every aspect of the community-building efforts, you can’t. Control what you can and act responsibly, but know that at time you need to let your community develop organically. Allow your newfound audience to build its own momentum.

Engagement

Once you’ve kept an eye on the pulse of activity within the community, opportunities to engage will present themselves. Ask and answer questions, comment on their posts, like their activities, share their content and follow them back. Over time, they’ll notice your engagement and appreciate it – and they will likely return the favor.

Reward

People love rewards and they love validation of their actions. Go ahead and thank people for sharing your content. Invite them to company events and webinars. Use your social platforms to maximize brand loyalty by first engaging your social community. Let them be the first to know about your brand’s news, rewards programs and more. This creates an exclusivity that people naturally crave. In turn, you can make your social media platforms the place customers are encouraged to refer your business through different contents, recognition and more.

Great! Now What?

It’s easy to forget that your business is not the center of your customers’ universe. Their lives are filled with experiences, information, relationships and stories that have nothing to do with you.

To them, you are an occasional blip on a crowded radar screen — and if you can maintain some frequency to your blip and some relevance to the audience’s radar screen, you’ve done more than most.

Focus on how well you engage those you attract.

Maintain awareness of your audience and how you want it to change over time as you continue to engage your social community.

To do this, we believe every social initiative, down to each tweet, should pass a quick “acid test” to evaluate its strength.

The Community Acid Test Every Message, Blog Post, Tweet and Idea Must Pass

  • Do we believe it?
  • Will it interest at least 50 percent of our target audience members?
  • Will they believe it?
  • Does it in any way risk making an audience member feel disrespected?
  • Will they feel good passing it along?
  • Does it build on themes our audience has already discussed?
  • Do we mind if the audience runs with it?
  • Can it impact the company in any negative way?
  • Does it add value to our audience’s life?
  • Does it help advance our cause or mission?
  • Does it help audience members feel good about their relationship with us?
  • Does it help build positive bias towards our brand in some way?

Depending on the answers to these questions, teams can easily decide whether to move forward with a specific tactical initiative, such as a particular blog post or tweet.

For example, suppose you sell energy recovery ventilation (ERV) technology for HVAC systems. Over time, you’ve built a social community of salespeople, facilities managers, HVAC equipment suppliers and commercial real-estate owners. For these audiences, you can offer tremendous expertise about HVAC, ERV and a host of associated benefits and opinions. You can start discussions about technology, help your audiences understand the competitive landscape and trade-offs, and opine about a wealth of topics ranging from clean-energy installations to various energy efficiency strategies.

As you can imagine, such an acid test varies from industry to industry. Creating and using your own acid test to evaluate your social content will ensure that you add value to the all-important intersection of your organization and your audiences’ lives.

In return, the community will add value to your business for the long term.

Advertising is the art of making whole lies out of half-truths. -Edgar A. Shoaff

When thinking about camping, a landscape of beautiful lush green trees and gathering around a fire comes to mind. This was very true for the first leg of our trip.

Last month, we set off on a family adventure from New England to Williamsburg, VA towing our 23’ hybrid (Big Roo) camper. The thick woods of Williamsburg were absolutely beautiful. In one week we visited Historic Jamestown, the Yorktown battle fields, Colonial Williamsburg and Bush Gardens. Everyday was a relaxing excursion.

For the trip home we decided to stop off in Pennsylvania and chose a campground after doing some research on the Internet.

As we approached our destination, the GPS guided us down a narrow road that had a HUGE power plant on one side and lead us over cargo railroad tracks. Thinking we must have made a wrong turn when suddenly, just ahead, we saw the campground sign. My husband laughed and said, “This is going to be fun!”. Thankfully it was only a few nights after leaving the beautiful woods of Williamsburg.

We set up in what looked like a field of campers – we could reach out and touch the camper next to us. The smell of cow manure was in the air on the hot summer evening. The grounds looked like we had entered a flea market – old mirrors thrown up at the end of the water slides, trash cans with cut-out gas tanks as a lid, common area buildings falling apart. Behind the pool was a foam pit (sounds like fun!) but upon exiting the pit, the staff sprayed everyone down with a massive hose. Think of a prison scene when the inmates are getting deloused…yes this happened and our son had blood gushing from his arm after falling in the pit. (That didn’t stop the spray down!)

As evening approached, we sat by the fire looking back at the website for the campground in disbelief. They hired a great firm because the photos online looked beautiful and nothing like the grounds. The agency should win an ADDY for pulling it off. In the eyes of my eight and nine year-old, “We had a lot of things to do, but the campground was a dump! Why would anyone come back here?”. Well kids, it’s all about the advertising!

Three Tips for Controlling Your Reactions

Gut reaction. Emotional response. Whatever you call it, it shouldn’t be a stretch to find a time when you’ve experienced it. Encountering an event of displeasure often causes a flood of immediate reactions derived from a place of thoughtless spontaneity. Unhelpful, to say the least.

As Jonathan Haidt illustrates in The Happiness Hypothesis, we are the rider on our elephant’s back. It can be a lofty challenge to control the quick and powerful swings of the elephant’s movement but learning to take charge of our elephant is a gradual process. Here are three steps to get you moving.

elephant-reactions

It’s annoying.
You’re engrossed in finding type combinations, finding the perfect image and… *biiing*, you’re interrupted by a pressing email. Pushing you out of your attentive state (we’ll revisit this in #3), you now have to handle that project that was supposed to be due next Friday, this Friday. Before handling it, you emotionally react, “That’s so annoying!”

So what? To start, you personally being annoyed is much different than an email (1s and 0s) that is annoying. The email you’ve received is in most cases, unaffectable, and in all cases, inanimate. On the other hand, your reaction is very much adjustable. You have become annoyed because of the email and thus have the ability to reverse course. Being willing and able to accept you are the one who is causing your own annoyance allows you to adjust and resolve with a more effective trajectory. That email didn’t do anything wrong.

It’s difficult.
Whether you’re the new kid or a seasoned vet, receiving an overly difficult or complicated task can cause a rush of emotional distress. Almost instantly you spill out, “This is too difficult.”

Think about the things you do that seem to come to you naturally. What is it that you do exceptionally well? You know all the steps; you know all the possible outcomes. When you receive a seemingly difficult task, you really receive a problem without a clear path to completion. Instead of shuddering in the shadow of the task, plot your course. What steps can you take to clear out a path? Where can you apply what you know and learn what you don’t? The difference between a task you can breeze through and one you stumble over is clarity.

It’s boring.
It’s 2:15 p.m. Tuesday is droning on. You’re glazing over a monotonous project. Perpetually distracted, you can’t seem to hold attention to what you’re doing. “This is boring…”

The default perception of boring most likely coincides with dull. And you might be right. But we can find a common thread to the pesky (inanimate) email in how we react to it. Take a wider view and decide what is boring and who is bored. Don’t hinder yourself. Being bored isn’t about a bad project, it’s a lack of attention. Try seeking out a unique approach to the typeface you’re required to use. Involve yourself in finding a dynamic image to fill a lackluster placeholder. Finding a detail or an approach to the project that you can find actionable and involved focuses your attention and reduces boredom. Sometimes you need to create an angle that allows you to be attentive, and that’s OK.

In the end, it’s not about what happens. It’s how you react to what happens. Your elephant may jerk left, and then jerk right, but it’s up to you to recognize a misdirection and bring your elephant back to center. Roll through the punches with an approach you can control and you’ll be surprised how little you flinch.

 

5 Ways the Corporate “Ladder” Is More Like Rock Climbing

Written by Katherine Eckenfels and Erin Mooney

We have all heard the phrase “climbing the corporate ladder.” Many believe career advancement looks like clear-cut rungs that lead straight upward. However, sometimes this path can be a wall full of different options and problems at varying levels – kind of like rock climbing.

      • You learn the art of maintaining balance.
        Picture this – you’re 20 feet off the ground, legs spread as far as they can, holding onto little knobby protrusions coming out of the wall. Sounds like life, right? Let me explain. In order to stay on a rock wall and progress upwards, you have to be balanced. Sometimes this means looking like a starfish, other times one leg is balancing out the opposite arm. Clinging to the wall drains your energy and makes it more difficult to make headway. Similarly, it is crucial to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Exercise, family and relaxation rejuvenate your mind and body and enable you to kick butt at all of those areas in life.
      • You embrace the challenge.
        Coming at the wall or your career with a positive attitude is essential. You need confidence that you are going to get to the top, crush that project, or get a promotion from the onset. Starting a climbing route you’ve never done or going into an interview can be daunting. Resolving to get to the top no matter what will wake up your desire to continue when it gets really difficult. Remind yourself how badass you are. Also – it’s totally normal to sweat.

rock_climbing_partners

      • You will fall.
        You’re climbing a route that you’ve been working on for weeks. No amount of chalk can make your hands stop sweating. You’re tired and losing your grip. Then, a poisonous thought enters your mind— “I can’t do it.” Just like that, you fall. Life is full of setbacks and failure. The symbol of a ladder, however, suggests that you start your career from the bottom and work your way up. Easy right? Well, sorry to burst your bubble but this isn’t Utopia. At some point you will fall. Maybe you’ll lose a big pitch, or maybe you’ll accidentally hit the ‘reply all’ button. Whatever the misstep be, learn to embrace the climb and everything that comes with it. Because the real success comes from the moment you get back up.
      • You build trust.
        Climbing isn’t just about you and the wall, there is also the person at the other end of the rope to make sure you don’t die. (Unless you’re climbing solo, then you’re just plain crazy and let’s be honest you probably will die.) The best teams are those that trust each other and believe in their teammates abilities. In most career fields you have to work with other people, and sometimes those people are the ones that help prevent you from falling.
      • You learn to solve problems.
        In rock climbing each route is called a problem. There’s never one easy way to get to the top and it may take a while to figure out a solution. If you’re in the creative field you can probably relate. When you hit a wall, the best thing you can do is take a step back and get a different perspective. Where did you get stuck? What are all the potential next steps? Once you’ve assessed the situation, you will be well on your way to climbing the top!

Erin transferred from the EMA office in Syracuse to join the Boston team. Katherine and Erin quickly discovered they shared an interest in rock climbing. The two joined a climbing gym and learned to belay together. Now the climbing spirit is spreading through the Boston office.

 

How to Survive the Workplace as an Introvert

shutterstock_273946274Full disclosure: I am an introvert.

How do I know? In grade school, my participation grades consistently tanked, despite maintaining straight As. Small talk drains me. I thoroughly enjoy spending time by myself. Oh, and a stack of personality tests tells me so.

Living in a country that is obsessed with extroversion presents a few challenges, including some that arise in the workplace.

Introverts live in their heads. I spend a lot of time observing, thinking and analyzing, and not a whole lot of time talking. Of course I want to contribute, but my silence is often interpreted as indifference. So how can an introvert thrive in the office? Well, being self-aware about it is a good start (case in point: this blog).

Tip #1: Develop relevant questions and ideas before a meeting. I’m the all-time worst respondent when it comes to spontaneous questions that require thoughtful answers. Anyone who has ever been in a marketing class with me can vouch for that. I need time to analyze situations in my head before speaking. Anticipating discussion points and writing down ideas or questions before a meeting is incredibly helpful.

Tip #2: Make your workspace work for you. I understand that open office spaces are all the rage right now, but they’re cramping introverts’ style. Look for areas in or around your office where you can spend some time working quietly and without distractions.

Tip #3: Network in small group settings. I recently attended a PR awards show with fellow HBers. Before I left for the event, my intention was to network and meet a few new people during the reception before the show. And then I got there and my mature, pre-professional intentions went right out the window. There were 200 PR professionals chit-chatting away over cocktails and appetizers. For an introvert, it was a standard case of what psychologists like to refer to as overstimulation. Find smaller events that aren’t so overwhelming and are focused on networking rather than small talk. Big award ceremony? Maybe not. Connecting over coffee? More like it.

Tip #4: Set an intention to have several social interactions with coworkers or industry professionals every work day. Building up your relationships is important in the workplace, especially when the time comes for you to work on a team with your peers. Show them that you’re interested in more than just climbing the career ladder by engaging them in conversations that go beyond shop talk.

Tip #5: Set aside time after work or on weekends to recharge. Don’t wait until you’re burned out to find time for yourself. By scheduling in weekly time to yourself, you’ll remember to do it, feel less stressed and be more productive at work.

Tip #6: Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Avoiding every situation that might push you out of your introverted limits would make for a rather uneventful and unprogressive career path. Catering to an introverted personality doesn’t mean letting yourself off the hook every time you’re faced with a situation you’d rather avoid. Be ok with failure and never stop pushing yourself.

Tip #6: Read Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.” Or at the very least, watch her TED talk. I always felt quite inadequate compared to my extroverted counterparts until I read her book. She points out introverts’ skills that are often overlooked or underutilized and this made me realize that what I thought were some of my flaws were actually some of my strengths. Cain ultimately makes a case for why introverts are just important as extroverts to society. It’s worth the read.

Is Boston Consumed by B2B?

boston_691x480

If you’ve read our previous HUBgrown posts or if you’re following our tumblr page, you may have noticed a trend—much of the content thus far has focused on Boston’s B2B tech scene. That is in large part because it’s the way I have approached this series, but that’s about to change. Why? Because the conversation around Boston and B2C is evolving, as it should be.

NextView Ventures’ Rob Go summarized the resurgence of consumer tech in Boston and how we, as a city, have the ingredients to build great consumer companies if we get past some of the cultural barriers. (Read his thoughts in more detail here…seriously, you need to right now.)

Back to HUBgrown, we saw glimpses of Boston’s consumer power come into play in our last post featuring Devin Bramhall. That’s just the beginning.

Our next post will feature C.C. Chapman. C.C. describes himself as a New England-raised storyteller, explorer and humanitarian. He is the co-author of the International bestseller Content Rules and is also the author of Amazing Things Will Happen. He travels the world speaking in front of audiences and encouraging them to do more to improve the world and teaching them how to understand and use content marketing better. Over the years of his career he has worked with a variety of clients including Nike, HBO, American Eagle Outfitters, ONE, Verizon FiOS and The Coca-Cola Company.

When I asked C.C., someone with years of consumer marketing experience, what it’s like living in a very tech, B2B-centric place, he (in a very polite way) asked me where I’m getting my information from:

“I’ve never thought of Boston as being B2B centric at all. There has always been a highly charged startup scene in and around Boston and yet we rarely get the attention that is deserved.”

He told me how he reads about new startups every day and, more often than not, most of them are consumer focused.

We plan on bringing you more of those stories in the near future, and more from C.C. in our next HUBgrown profile tomorrow.

 

HUBgrown: Q&A with Devin Bramhall

HUBgrown Image

Creator of The Master Slam and Executive Director of TEDxSomerville, self-proclaimed startup junkie Devin Bramhall recently sat down with HB to discuss her experience in Boston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, share advice for folks interested in startups and offer tips for creating kick-ass content.

Devin BramhallHB Agency: How did you get involved in the startup world?

Devin Bramhall: I always say that I got into startups by accident: The first startup I joined [Springpad] in 2009 was from a random Craigslist posting. But I don’t think it was really an accident. My life has never been “normal.” I was home-schooled for most of my life, so I sort of hacked my own life (and education) from the start, including going to college in Hawaii for a semester when I was 16. So even though my turn to startups was somewhat accidental I think it came from the very active role I’ve taken in my own life from the start. I didn’t go to school, where your path is laid out for you – I made my own path from a very early age, and that transferred into my career. To be honest, I’m quite critical of startups. In many ways it’s harder to move your career in a startup because of the lack of a traditional structure and opportunity to advance, but I think that’s partially why they’re perfect for me. You have to make the life you want.

HB: On top of your day job, you run The Master Slam. What was your inspiration behind the event series? How did you start it?

DB: I launched The Master Slam when I was at Springpad to solve a problem: No one in Boston really knew who we were or what we did. Instead of going to a ton of events, I thought why not bring the people to us? But when I started to think about event formats I got a little bored and a little depressed because they all felt the same. Why would anyone come to an event I hosted that was the exact same as all the others?

So I brainstormed. I do live storytelling on stage—like The Moth—where storytellers share a first-person story and I love it so much. When I thought about event formats, storytelling was good but wasn’t a perfect fit. Then I thought about debates and competition, and I thought hold on, what if we put them together?

When I got goosebumps, I knew I was on to something. But I still needed someone to help me launch this thing – someone well-known to get bodies in the room.

That’s where HB’s Mark O’Toole came in.

I sent Mark an email describing the idea and asked him to be the featured speaker. I was nervous because I didn’t know him yet, and I wasn’t sure what he’d think. He was so nice about it! He said he thought it sounded cool and was totally in. Early win! Looking back, I realize that it’s the little things along the way – the “yesses” so to speak, that let you know you’re on the right track. The no’s? They’re an opportunity to rethink what you’re doing and come up with a better plan.

Long story short, we did it! About 80 people came to the first one and the rest is history. I keep doing it because it’s fun for people. They like it. It’s different and it’s a great networking opportunity.

HB: You’re Co-executive Director of Boston Content, a local community for marketers. Can you tell us more about it?

DB: I connected with Jay Acunzo and Arestia Rosenberg—the founders of Boston Content—at a couple events and they invited me to be on the committee. A year later, I became Co-Executive Director. I love the Boston Content community so much because its sole purpose is to give back in a very specific way: to help marketers grow and develop their skills and careers. We’re doing a ton with the new blog and multiple events; it’s really taken off in the past year.

HB: Do you have any advice for people who want to join a startup?

DB: My first piece of advice is to think twice. Not because they’re not great but because it’s a challenge—a good challenge. If you want to join a startup do your research, especially on the leadership team. That’s important in any company but especially with startups because they’re so involved with the day-to-day. You can only learn so much in an interview and always remember, as much as they’re interviewing you, you need to interview them, too.

HB: What do you love most about Boston’s startup scene?

DB: I’ve been really lucky. I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of support from the community and from the people I’ve worked with at startups. Perhaps it’s because the community here is smaller, but I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the help and mentoring I’ve received. I’m not sure if that’s unique to Boston but that’s what stands out to me the most, I’m incredibly grateful for it.

HB: How should startups utilize content?

DB: Don’t just create content for the sake of creating content. Don’t make a blog because you think you need to have one. Companies need to start by setting their goals then figure out the right content based on those goals. Identify your target—your humans—figure out their challenges, and then identify how you can solve those challenges for them. From there, find out what they’re consuming and where, and figure out how you can reach them through those channels and get them to take action.

It’s not content first. It’s goals and humans first. Figure out how to help them out! Once you do the answer is pretty straightforward.

 

Why Every Company Needs a Chief Puppy Officer

In 2014 HB implemented a dog-friendly office culture and we love it. We even hired our very own Chief Puppy Officer, Obi-Wan Kenobi. As we celebrate his first birthday on July 6, we wanted to reflect on the positive impact he’s made on our team. We think every office should have a Chief Puppy Officer, here’s why.

 

Of Soviets and Starbucks

February 15th, 1990 was my father’s first day in America, and according to family-lore, the day he quit smoking. Two months ago I went home to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his arrival in the country. He made his way here during the waning years of the Soviet Union, leaving his home country of Ukraine for Austria and Italy, until he was finally granted permission to immigrate to the United States.

I’m always amazed at the admiration he has for this country, so in the spirit of his 25 year anniversary in the US, I asked my dad what word best represents his thoughts and emotions when thinking about America. In his noticeably Russian-accented English, he said, “inspirational.”

I was a bit struck after hearing that word. “Inspirational” is a nice soundbite, but more than anything it represents an abstract ideal. Don’t get me wrong—I know my dad meant it when he said it, and I admire him for it. But having come of age during one of the most polarizing periods in American politics, “inspirational” sounds like the hollow fluff you expect to hear from our politicians during election season.

Which brings me to my work in PR.

inspire

While interning at HB over the last few months, I’ve come to recognize that companies, particularly those catering to Millennials and consumers of technology, are increasingly promoting that abstract fluff over the reality on the ground. It’s the idea of the socially responsible but still profit-driven company adeptly navigating morality in the marketplace. Sometimes, the public will buy into a company’s social message. But the strategy isn’t foolproof. What starts out as a socially-conscious message could easily backfire. The recent PR debacle at Starbucks is a good example of this.

In March, the company implemented a new initiative, “Race Together,” where baristas would place stickers with those words on customers’ cups in hopes of jump starting a national conversation about race. In Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s head, this was a great idea, but it didn’t translate well with the American public, across the political divide of left and right. Starbucks was hammered by pundits and the average Joe for displaying poor judgement and naivete.

Uber, which promotes its societal contributions by stressing its outsized role in the sharing economy, was heavily criticized last November when Josh Mohrer, general manager of Uber New York, decided to a boastfully tell a journalist,“I was tracking you,” as she pulled up to their meeting. Uber’s privacy policy prohibits contract drivers from tracking customers, but it’s widely available to employees at the corporate level. The breach of privacy resulted in harsh criticism and damaged Uber’s reputation among the public and government officials.

If I were a betting man, I’d expect more such PR disasters to proliferate among companies that cater to Millennials and other tech-savvy and socially-conscious groups. This is not to say that running a business responsibly is impossible. But large companies like Starbucks and Uber will have a difficult time managing their image if they continue testing the waters with what Americans believe to be ethically and socially responsible.

My dad might never learn how to order an Uber or a tall, nonfat latte with caramel drizzle from Starbucks, but I know he’s always looking to buy from companies that do good and inspire. It’s up to companies to either live up to the missions they set, or get out of the business of morality.

It’s the responsible thing to do.