All I Really Need to Know I Learned While Skydiving… or, Top 10 Reasons Why Skydiving Is Like Social Media (part 1)

First and foremost, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention and thank Peter Shankman, in all his Skydiver glory, for his recommendations and hyper-excited lobbying in making my first skydive happen… it was for my 3rd year anniversary, and ultimately my wife’s idea, but also a life-changing experience for both of us.

The more I look back on it, the more I feel there is a ton to learn from Skydiving (SD) and specifically, the parallels I saw to Social Media (SM) struck me as no coincidence at all… read on, and I welcome thoughts, comments, edits, and will gladly offer a guest post to fellow skydiving and social media enthusiasts… Peter Shankman looking right at you bro. Either way, without further ado:

All I Really Need to Know I Learned While Skydiving… or, Top 10 Reasons Why Skydiving Is Like Social Media

(Part 1)

#1) To do it right you will need training and mentorship…

–          SD: Your first skydive has several options; the most common is the Tandem jump, where you’re strapped in to a professional and jump out together with them doing most of the work. You can go at it alone if you choose, but that 15 minute training turns into a solid 6 hour session/crash course (har har har), without which you will most certainly flop (har har har).

–          SM: This rings truer and truer each day for those not yet in, or just looking to get into, the social media space. The days of early adopters are gone… what you need now is some key mentors from that ‘era’ whom will help you find and understand that which you can’t on your own. Think of those folks as your parachute, the bigger that circle the better off you are.

#2) It takes trust to succeed…

–          SD: Your tandem master (yes, that’s really the official title) holds the key to your life… from packing the parachute to stabilizing your initial free fall and finally the landing… trust them, that’s all, it really is easier just to trust them. Moreover, statistics say that skydiving is the safest sport (safer than skiing, bungee jumping, rollerblading, driving, flying, etc.), you really have to believe in those metrics too when you’re dropping from 13,500 feet at 120 mph.

–          SM: Trust in social media builds communities and trust cements brands, personal or otherwise. Because social media is crowdsourcing on steroids, you have to trust the masses decision, even though you can nudge and tug in any direction you choose, the final push is really up to them to make.

#3) All good things come to those who wait…

–          SD: You have to take time when making the decision to skydive, even before you get there. On top of waiting for ‘the day’ and that precious first appointment date/time, you wait upon arrival; there are 7 back to back pages of consent/release forms. Also, you can’t skydive until you’re at least 18 — though in certain states you only have to be 16 with parental consent — chances are you won’t know how to truly use social media before that age either (would love to hear arguments otherwise here).

–          SM: At a recent book (CRUSH IT) signing event with Gary Vaynerchuk (@GaryVee) he talked about doing daily posts and segments on Wine Library TV for 18 months before pushing it out. His advice was pace yourself, do it right, wait for the right moment… sounds like a sure way for better skydiving to me.

#4) At these speeds everything seems to stand still…

–          SD: At 120 mph you would think you feel like the floor gave under you and the stomach is in your throat. In reality, all you feel is the pants flapping, the wind gusting, your cheeks compressing… and yet, the earth doesn’t seem to get closer and everything seems to stand still, almost like you’re in a block of jell-o. It’s by far the most serene experience I can point to, mainly because of the irony of it all.

–          SM: The ‘real time’ speed of Twitter, Facebook and all the other major a social media tools/platforms is undeniable and is unlike any other medium out there… However, if you are indeed entrenched in following a topic or theme (and any true Twitter hashtag addict can tell you) the updates come at you seemingly in slow mo…

#5) You can’t sue…

–          SD: The 7 pages of back to back release forms are all legal speak telling you in 1000 ways that you may die or get hurt as a result of the jump… the document dances around this theme over and over, but they do make one thing crystal clear though: you sign, you CANNOT SUE, so don’t even try.

–          SM: Never underestimate the power of the freedom of speech which to me is a cornerstone of Social media… don’t get me wrong, you may get in trouble (Amanda Bonnen’s story comes to mind) or even hurt (i.e. #iranelection) in the process, but never forget you are in the right, always. Negatweeting is our right, nay duty… remember?!

In the long while since I’ve updated this blog, I’ve done 2 tandem skydives (within 8 days of each other, and in 2 states), so I decided that my entry will also be in two parts… the second set of Top 5 Reasons Why Skydiving Is Like Social Media will funnel later this month. FYI, Sonya and I have at least 3 more planned for the spring… WHO’S IN?!

In the meantime, please enjoy the video of my first dive… Wooooooo.

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Did Twitter Save Brand America…?

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One of the things that I’ve been following as part of monitoring for major trends that impact corporate reputation (I do corporate PR, remember?), is the so called ‘fall of brand America,’ in lieu of the perceptual waning based in part on Bush’s years in office, as well as the economic crisis leading to a global downturn that followed. The trend is not new, but looking at America as a brand is something I haven’t done before seeing it through the lens of public relations and communications.

I will note, I always looked up to America as an image and pillar of democracy, opportunity, and freedom; after all I am a naturalized citizen, who had to survive communism to get here (born in Moscow).

It’s no secret that the Bush years wreaked havoc on the image of America, both at home and abroad, so what changed? Is it possible to reverse at all, or is the damage too long lasting (two wars going on, an endless recession, etc.)… My thinking is a resounding yes; like the old Spanish phrase about food, a little bit often (shouldn’t that just become Twitter’s motto too?!).

In my opinion, first step was electing Barack Obama… love or hate him and his policies, the 180 degree change to the Bush tenure was needed to start a process of global reconciliation on the right foot… moreover, I credit the Obama campaign for bringing twitter and social networking into the fray of politics (sorry Mr. Dean), a necessary final step in its full democratization for the masses.

As Victoria Esser recently wrote, in her fantastic byline for Politico:

“Is social media diplomatic window dressing or can the U.S. Twitter its way into the hearts and minds of other countries? While the answer is somewhere in between, the U.S. cannot afford to wait while these channels are perfected in order to direct them in service of President Barack Obama’s priority of renewing America’s global leadership. Indeed, Mr. Obama can use the themes and technologies that helped him generate huge grass-roots support in his presidential campaign to build support for America on the world stage.”

Mrs. Esser continues to source Pew Global Attitudes Survey finding broad anti-Americanism around the world, with the image of the United States declining in 26 of 33 countries since 2002; while characterizing the U.S. image as ‘abysmal’ in most Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia… so far down has the image fallen that not even the newly elected government could make a dent in the negativity (read: Poll: Obama Not Helping U.S. Image In Iran)

So what’s step two? For me, step two came not during the watered down ‘social media town halls’ from the Obama administration at the onset of his presidency, nor from the YouTube/CNN debates earlier in the campaigns. Rather, it was the election in Iran, and the social media/citizen journalism combo, into what I call open source protesting.

The telling sign of this was the #iranelection crowdsourced outrage over the election results (read: Staggering #IranElection Stats: 2 Million+ Total Tweets), where the world joined hands where the president could not… I’m not blaming Obama at all, diplomacy is hard and not black/white, but I will say that he could have said what he said louder and faster.

By following the conversation on Twitter, we saw American citizens showcasing US ideals in 140 characters, with RTs, links, photos and genuine care for the cause of freedom… without Twitter it would not come to be, and the Iranians would not be able to see the willingness to collaborate and unite in cause, as long as that cause is just. Because of the flat world and the access to open (somewhat, I’m looking at you China, Iran, et al) communication platforms, the ‘face’ of a nation is no longer just based on its leaders, but also the interaction of it’s citizens.

Of course, Twitter never was and never will be the tell all solution to everything, and  I’m not claiming it to be either. I just think that without it, there would be no such level of interaction… a solid building block. I agree with Mrs. Esser, when she concludes her poignantly intellectual analysis of the situation with:

“There are limits to this virtual dialogue, and so it must be continued on the ground with engagement in “retail” public diplomacy — the critical dialogue with political leaders, opposition, minority groups and others needed to demonstrate that the U.S. is willing to come to the table.”

I could not have said it better myself, so I won’t. I will agree though, a ton of work is yet to be done, mainly on the ground, because even the most solid of foundation is not enough… now it’s time to build.

To be sure, however romantic about the topic I may sound, I am NOT endorsing the notion that Twitter founders should receive a Nobel Peace Prize for rescheduling planned maintenance… regardless of that though, didn’t Twitter save Brand America?

If not yet, then it will… just watch.

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