Friday, July 31, 2015

Top Five of 2015 (So Far)

Half the summer might be gone, but there's still time for beach/cottage/weekend reading. Here are five of the books published this year (so far) that I've enjoyed the most.

1. The Just City by Jo Walton (Thessaly #1.)
What is presented as a grand experiment involving the goddess Athene to recreate the Just City as described by Plato's Republic, is also a well-constructed narrative about consent as more than how it relates to sex. Walton's passion for the discussion and cast of interesting, relatable characters from throughout history—including Sokrates—make it a satisfying read. While the story does takes a few chapters of alternating viewpoints before it finds its feet, The Just City remains one of the best books I've read this year. ( | Kobo )

2. The Apple Throne by Tessa Gratton (United States of Asgard #3.)
I still feel this is one of the best ends to a YA trilogy that I've read; I'll miss this world Gratton constructed. In The Apple Throne, she weaves together threads from the previous two novels and the three novellas to give us the fate of Soren Bearstar (everyone's BFF) and Astrid Glyn (the Lady of the Apples.) In addition to the conclusion of that love story, and updates on characters we've previously met, there's a new tale about the various kinds of strength young women have. The narrative reinforces Astrid's agency and its importance while valourizing kindness. ( | Kobo)

3. The Awesome by Eva Darrows.
A feminist take on Supernatural, this paranormal focuses on a Mother-Daughter team of monster hunters and celebrates being comfortable in one's own skin. Maggie Cunningham is loud, crude, and kind of a jerk—but she's got a good heart. This is also one of the few YA's that has a young women unapologetically owning her sexuality. There are so many books about boys on quests to lose their virginities, and it was long past time we got one that features a girl doing the same thing. ( | | Kobo)

4. Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge.
Hodge's second book finds its inspiration in a mix of Little Red Riding Hood and The Handless Maiden set in an alternative history France (or a second world largely inspired by historic France.) Only Little Red is a member of the king's guards who hunt the wolves while bidding the time before they succumb to being them, and the Handless Maiden is a prince. Both seek to stop a magic dark forest the wolves serve from invading the kingdom. Hodge is one of the best at crafting intricate puzzlebox books; while the structure of this one isn't quite as tight as Cruel Beauty, Crimson Bound's mystery and reveal are expertly executed. ( | | Kobo)

5. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.
From Harry Potter references to royal residence facts, The Royal We is a love letter to the way we all get swept up sometimes in the doings of Will and Kate. This romance novel tackles and realistically portrays what it would be like to become a princess—the good and the bad of it. With complex characters you'll care deeply about and the Fuggirls's signature celebrity-culture commentary, it's a perfect weekend/cottage/beach read. ( | | Kobo)

This upcoming fall is full of superb YA titles, many of which feature goats, so look for full reviews of what I've been reading early to come soon.

My unpopular opinion about free content.

Earlier this month, I happened to tweet that I had read and enjoyed Patrick Ness's THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE. Mostly this was to get the recommendation out quickly, so that I could take my time to do a more expansive review in the future.

Part of why I enjoy the book is that it discusses not needing to be The Chosen One. It refreshingly features a story about living a good life outside of the spotlight, which resonates a great deal with choices that I've made over the past year.

The tweet started I had a quick exchange with a former colleague who plans to talk up the book at every opportunity, and soon after the author favourited it, because I had tagged his account and he happened to see it.

Then someone I didn't know favourited the tweet. As I tend to do when random strangers come favourite things and it's not immediately clear why they're doing it, I clicked on the username. Found out it was a verified account and thought "a BuzzFeedUK staff writer who does book stuff favourited my tweet about a book." Then I thought how that would probably thrill someone who wasn't me. I mostly found it suspicious.

I find BuzzFeed mostly suspicious in general. I know that's a state of doublethink because it's not like I've never read or shared any of their stories. But when I read them, especially the complied/crowdsourced list ones, I always feel a bit...concerned about how they repurpose posts from other sites. It nudges awake that same instinctive response I have to raise my eyebrows whenever someone says "social media is public domain!"

Yes, what you say on social media is in public view. But too often when people are declaring things public domain, they're actually saying "But why can't I casually exploit people for free content? They put it on the internet!" This is not a new problem, either. Being old as the sun, I remember the early art theft days of DeviantART. It's one thing to share content; it's another to profit off it.

The only way BuzzFeed could thrill me is if they added "get permission and then notify people of use" to their company policy. (And replaced staff writers who wouldn't adhere to it.) That's unlikely, because it means changing a model that their business is built on. A company that made $100 million last year isn't going to fix what it doesn't believe to be broken.

Earlier this week, a follower messages me about being on a list. I click the link thinking she's written something and is letting me know she used my tweet. Nope. It's a BuzzFeedUK article about 35 Brilliant Books to Read This Fall written by the staff writer who had previously favourited my tweet. I'm not the only one; as I scan the the article looking for which of my tweets was used, I see at least ten other users have had their tweets included.

For thirty seconds I blame the writer for the death of ethical journalism before I take a deep breath and remind myself it's not entirely his fault. I think it's unethical to use other people's content without their consent to write your stories, but it happens way more than any of us probably realize. Who knows how many BuzzFeed lists I've had tweets in? It's not like they notified me, and I wouldn't have known about this one had someone else not pointed it out.

Given that Twitter doesn't have the technical capabilities (yet) to allow me to disable external sites from embedding my tweets without my permission, it falls to the writers of these crowdsourced pieces to ensure they have received permission to use the tweets and/or—if they don't believe permission needs to be granted—notified the users their tweet has been featured.

Favouriting my tweet does not grant permission to profit from the use of it on an external site. And he did profit, because he's a paid employee of BuzzFeed whose job is to produce these articles. Not notifying me that my tweet had been featured is additionally frustrating, because the follower who told me then also provides BuzzFeed free labour.

The question I had to ask myself was if telling this writer that I thought he had been a bag of dicks unethical would accomplish anything other than hand-delivering him hate. Given the current state of the internet, I decided if it garnered any response someone else would escalate it into an argument that diluted the actual issue. Yes, I could've emailed him. But he's not the issue; he's an example of the issue.

With respect to the fact he did as much as he felt ethically required to do when he favourited the tweet, I've left his name out of this post. Do me courtesy of not sending this to him or contacting him on my behalf in some mistaken attempt to "help" or because you need your daily hit of conflict.

Anyway. I did what I felt was the kinder thing for both of us, and I deliberately did not take a fight to his door. Instead I quoted the tweet that notified me so I could clarify that it had been done without my consent and I'd recommend reading a different book than the ones on the list.

I don't subtweet people. If I didn't bring someone the fight, it's because we aren't having one. (Also, I know people are just as likely to go look at the list anyway.) I trust you'll make your own decisions about what you read, because you're an autonomous human being. Maybe I make you a recommendation, but you're going to be the one who makes the final decision.

Not everyone is aware of the process involved when a site like BuzzFeed uses your content. My follower was surprised that I hadn't been asked. Also confused as to why I didn't think the writer using my tweet was a bad thing.

I invested several hours in reading the Patrick Ness book. I considered carefully how to phrase the tweet, because I included the author in it and I knew at least one member of the publisher's marketing department would see it. When I write about books, I've got my marketing hat on. I'm bookselling.

Writers—all creative professionals, really—get told that our passion ought to be compensation enough. That we should feel grateful if someone "showcases" what we've done. Some writers are happy to be showcased. Some writers review books with no intention of being showcased.

When I do a review, yes, part of it involves a love of that book. But I also get to practice my critical analysis skills. If it's an early review, I probably received an ARC from the publisher or author. Getting to read the book early is the compensation for helping to market the title. I'm digitally hand-selling it each time I message someone to recommend the book. I'm doing work.

I know how much authors appreciate what I do. I know how much publishers also appreciate it. I used to get paid to do this. Now I do it as a side-project. I'm grateful we all continue to work together. I'm also well-aware of how much work I'm willing to do without financial compensation.

This isn't about how BuzzFeed wanted to market a Patrick Ness book. It's about how I didn't agree to go without compensation for the part I played in it. Between me and the staff writer, only one of us got paid for that story—and it wasn't the person who invested the time into reading the book and then tweeting about it.

When I tweet a review to an author or a publisher, I've given implied consent for it to be used. I didn't tweet to this BuzzFeed staff writer. I wasn't answering his ask for crowdsourced opinions. I didn't use a hashtag he created to collect book reviews.

I don't subscribe to the notion that just because I put content on the internet means you are allowed to profit financially from the use of it without even notifying me you've done so. But there are people who do. There also people who haven't thought about or questioned it, so they don't understand why anyone would have a problem with it.

I guess the TL;DR is if being showcased by BuzzFeed is on your bucket list, good luck and godspeed. However, being exploited by them was never on mine.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

What makes a good community manager?

In an interview last week, I was asked what I thought was necessary to being a good community manager.

First: I think you have to be good with people. (And if you're not great with people, you should at least be willing to learn how to be better.) The internet is made of people, and if you aren't good at relating to others or working with them, then you're signing up for a struggle. Because it's people work, done over social media, day in and day out.

Each month we see examples of brands/people misstepping on social media and receiving a giant backlash because of it. Making a mistake when you're the voice of a brand carries a weight that making a mistake as a person doesn't. It's why one of the first things community managers learn (or get taught) is when not to engage. That's more than just knowing how to listen to people and evaluate what's being said, it's understanding which conversations aren't for the brand. There's also a ratio of responding/not responding, and it's not a one-algorithm-suits-all kind of thing. (That's why brands employ people to make those judgement calls.)

However, when brands are tagged into conversations and legitimate concerns are presented... it becomes a brand reputation risk not to engage. Not engaging can be seen as "not caring" or "ignoring" these legitimate concerns. A community manager learns quickly how to acknowledge people and make them feel that their concerns have been heard.

A good community manager puts out fires. Constantly. At the merest whiff of smoke, they're there to evaluate the potential issue. Stop it before it spreads, before the conversation mutates into something that has their brand attached to it but is no longer even really about what may have happened. Sometimes the difference between EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE and an even-toned discussion of how to resolve the concern is beginning a response with "I'm sorry you feel that way." (I am sorry people feel upset or have had a bad experience, because that sucks. Who wants to have a bad day if they don't have to?)

The degree of crisis management involved varies brand to brand, but it's always beneficial to be able to keep calm and remember comments received aren't personal. They're about the brand, and a community manager serves the community in order to preserve the integrity and good reputation of the brand. (Most brands also have commenting policies that help to protect community members—and the brand—from abuse.)

Second: The most important thing in your life is you. Or the best life advice I ever got from a job interview:

• First you take care of yourself.
• Then you take care of your loved ones (partner, family, friends.)
• Your job comes after all of that.

In service roles a large percentage of time is spent expanding energy on the needs of other people. To be generous of spirit, empathic, and professionally courteous, we have to take care of ourselves before we get to work. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Do things that make us happy. Live life.

But that's good advice for any career.