Life with a Scarlet Letter

This blog post is running in support of my Punish Geoff Fundraiser: CivilinationPlease consider a donation to support better online conversations. At the time of publishing, we have raised more than $3,000 for the Civilination Academy.

Long-term readers know I have attempted to evolve my language to become more mindful of others. Part of that reparation is learning to live with that negative reputation publicly — my proverbial Scarlet Letter — and handle new disagreements.

At SxSW two different people informed me how a person was telling everyone what an A&^hole I was every time my name came up. It’s no coincidence that this person is someone I wrangled with on here and elsewhere. He’s not the only one. So the damage continues long after the matter passed.

The way I see it, I have two paths; one is to leave the interwebs, walk with some shame, and live a quiet life as a marketer behind the scenes. As entertaining as that seems many days, this path lacks courage.

Part of  acknowledging the problem for me means moving forward in the face of it, and continuing to exist in the ecosystem, albeit in a more productive fashion. I have things to say, and can contribute to the larger conversation.

To do that, I have to accept the repercussions. For me, that means openly acknowledging my mouth, and acting more responsibly. A tainted reputation means you have history. You can’t run from history. You can only openly acknowledge it, make your amends, and live with the outcomes.

I counsel clients who have public errors to do the same. There is no pushing issues under the rug. In fact, that exacerbates the problem.

So you own it, and accept your scars. You let your new actions speak for themselves, good or bad.

New Disagreements


While I have stopped taking people’s name in vain, so to speak, I do still have disagreements. And you know what, sometimes I feel like I’m right, and I won’t yield.

I’m not going to hurt someone’s reputation directly, but I won’t openly encourage folks to engage in negative actions towards me just to people please.

I was wrong in the past. That doesn’t mean I’m interested in becoming a public or private punching bag as a penance. Change necessitates a more moderated approach, not a complete pendulum shift.

Instead, I choose to detach, distance or ignore. I suppose I have become colder, and less passionate or emotionally invested in issues. I’d rather not feed the negative, instead walking away and turning to a more productive activity.

People that receive this cold distant shoulder can easily say, “Hey, he is the same guy.” And that’s fine, it’s part of living with the scarlet letter. I have to take those hits. Folks can say what they want, but believe me, all parties are living easier without my proverbial cannon locked and loaded.

It’s the path I choose to walk so I can stay public and look myself in the mirror with comfort. As time evolves, I am sure my approach will change, too.

How do you handle the impact of your past errors?

Featured image by ErinJane7284

Punish Geoff Fundraiser: Civilination!

My former colleague Andrea Weckerle is organizing a fundraiser to build a Civilination Academy for Online Conflict Management. She asked me to help, given my past history, and of course I am delighted, so welcome to the second Punish Geoff Fundraiser: Civilination!

I have struggled with civility since I started blogging in 2006, and began openly discussing the matter over the past two years. For the most part I have overcome my mouth, though there is always progress to be made.

I don’t want to preach. So the above video tells you why I made the moves, mostly out of a desire to become a better man, but also a result of consequences.

Below I explain why I am supporting Andrea’s cause and think you should, too. And last but not least are the incentives, a $1000 match, and the yet to be mentioned punishment for reaching my goal of $5000.

Why an Academy?

A lot of people think civility means the nice police, and I have said as much in the past. However, I now realize this is not at all true,. It’s more of a rationalization that I used to justify hard shots.

Civility, just like civilization, is derived from the Latin word, civilis, which means of or pertaining to citizens or public life. While civil conversations are polite, it is because they are for public consumption in larger communities.

In my mind, discourse of opinion should be waged without assassinating character. Frankly, rough characters assassinate their own reputations well enough without the help of name calling and vigilante muckraking. A skilled communicator should be able to make a point without a Howard Stern shock jock style.

It took me a couple of years, but I learned how to levy points without calling out names or smearing wholesale belief systems. I wage public discourse using pause mechanisms when I am angry, by thinking through points on a greater level, exiting conversations that become too toxic, and frankly by insisting on additional editing to work through harsh points.

The Civilination Academy is intended to be a resource for everyone online, everyday Internet people, family, friends, business executives, experienced professional communicators, as well as social media and online community managers who are often at the forefront of managing online disputes. Civilination wants to build a library to help people learn how to handle the various misunderstandings, clashes, and reputational hits that occur online. God knows all of us who work online deal with these situations regularly.

I love this idea, and wish such a resource had been available to me when I made my decision to become more mindful in my speech.

OK, What’s the Punishment?


When I first came up with Punish Geoff, it was a sideways acknowledgement of my civility issues. Today it’s to champion mindfulness, and I am quite happy about that.

During the original fundraiser, I ended up dressing in drag as a punishment. And after asking my Facebook community, it seems folks wanted a redux, not just for a 30 minute hangout, but for a full day.

Well, a full day in drag and endless photos published on the Internet that I will never be able to live down is going to cost you. If we raise $5,000 in your donations by the end of the week, I will go to work a full day in drag. Yeah.

In addition, I will personally match the first $1000 in donations. Finally, anyone who donates $100 and emails me the receipt to geoffliving [at] geofflivingston [dot] com will get an autographed copy of my first novel Exodus as soon as they ship. These incentives are in addition to Andrea’s rewards for various donations. That same $100 will get you a second autographed copy of her book, Civility in the Digital Age.

So what are you waiting for? Donate now and PUNISH ME!

Geoff’s Market Research Bulletin – 1st Edition

Welcome to Microsoft Research building 99
Image by Robert Scoble

In an effort to better serve readers with value added content, every month “Geoff’s Market Research Bulletin” will be sent to interested readers. The Bulletin encapsulates all of the new interesting market research studies over the past month that seem worth sharing in one place. Sign up today if you are interested in this free email newsletter.

The below is an abbreviate version of the first newsletter sent to subscribers yesterday.

Geoff’s Market Research Bulletin, September, 2011

Curated by Geoff Livingston, written by Henry T. Dunbar

Social Networking Growth Slows

A new study from the Pew Research Service’s Internet and American Life Project reports 65% of all American adults online are using some social networking site (which is up from 61% a year ago). This is the first time we have seen social media growth drop to single digit rate, indicating the late majority and final phase of adoption has begun.

A more interesting milestone might be that for the first time, a majority of ALL Americans are using online social networks (there being a small percentage that don’t use the internet at all). Furthermore, the growth is coming largely from older demographics. The under-30 age groups were stable while the 50-64 age group grew from 20% to 32%. Finally, the study also reported that most users gave a positive response when asked to describe their experience in social networking, indicating that once they’ve tested the waters, many are opting to stay.

Like It or Not: You May Be Defined by a Single Search Term

For an interesting peak behind the curtain of marketing research, read comScore blogger Eli Goodman’s August 29 post. In it he reviews three sets of comparative search terms and demonstrates how market researchers can parse the demographic data available to help deliver relevant results (read ads) to the searchers. This is a practice he says is being used increasingly and with more sophistication.

By breaking down the data on who searches for Google+ vs. Facebook, iPhone vs. Android, and Red Sox vs. Yankees, Goodman shows how market researchers quickly deduce from that lone word that a Google+ searchers are younger and wealthier, cellphone searchers are generally about the same, and that Yankee fans are much more geographically diverse. While is generally known that this is going on (we all see the interesting ads that pop up on our screens) it’s another thing to see how they do it. It is also enough to give us pause we turn to our browser to find the latest new gizmo.

Location Apps Are Popular

In looking at groups of location-based applications on mobile devices, the Pew Research Service’s Internet and American Life Project recently reported that 28% of American adults have used at least one of them. The services included using phones to get directions or recommendations based on their current location, using phones to check into geosocial services such as Foursquare or Gowalla, and setting social media service to automatically report their location.

Most cellphone location service users fall into the first category, with latter two of these activities only representing single-digit percentages of cell and internet users (5% and 9% respectively). Digging a little deeper into the report, there are some obvious finds (younger people use location services more) and some interesting divides (whites are more likely to seek location data while minorities — particularly Hispanics — are more likely to disclose their location).

3rd-Party Apps Usage on Facebook Reduces Engagement by 80%

There’s an old adage that if you want results, you have to do the work. There are no shortcuts. And it applies to social media, too. A new report from the makers of EdgeRank drove this point home last week, noting that its analysis of more than 1 million Facebook updates on 50,000 pages show that when users post updates using a 3rd-party applications like Hootsuite or TweetDeck, engagement drops, on average, by about 80%.

Theories abound as to why there is such a huge drop (that Facebook penalizes the apps or collapses their content, or even that communities regard these posts as spam), but the fact remains this is a big blow to effectiveness. What good is saving time on posting if the messages are only 20% effective? (On the other hand, using 3rd-party apps will save a lot of time on the back end because there will be no comments to respond to.) Bottom line: social media is like anything else, you get out what you put in. Take the time to manage your posts, tweets and updates from within the platform.

Mark Horvath on Punish Geoff Fundraiser Impact

Mark Horvath sent this video last night to thank all of the people who donated to and shared The Punish Geoff Fundraiser. Thank you to the 30 donors who have made $2055, and a significant impact on InvisiblePeople‘s drive across the country. Every dollar counts against a matching grant offered by the Pierce Family Foundation.

BUT WAIT. We’re not done yet.

There’s still two days left, and one punishment left to accomplish… Making me walk in front of Congress wearing a sandwich board that says “I wrote two social media books, PLEASE hire me!” We’re roughly $1100 away, less than what you collectively contributed Thursday and Friday of last week.

There are three things you can do:

1) Please Donate

2) Realize Your Impact

If you want to see’s work, simply watch this movie trailer (coming out in 2012). It is incredible how Mark is raising the visibility of homelessness. You can help continue this fantastic project!

3) Have Fun

The Geoff Punishments will be metered out next week. We’ll have a lot of fun with it, promise! Stay tuned for details.

Most importantly, thank you for your support.