‘Dot Complicated’ book review: A guidepost for our social era

Randi Zuckerberg’s new book offers wise advice on how to balance our personal & professional lives online

Target audience: Small and mid-size businesses, entrepreneurs, marketing professionals, social media managers, college students, job seekers, Facebook users and anyone navigating the social media landscape.

Cool your online jets, kids. You too, mom and pop. Step away from the habit of 24/7 smartphone gratification. Friend only real friends. Treat others with respect. And don’t try to carve out an Internet persona different from your real-world self.

Those are a few of the common-sense prescriptions Randi Zuckerberg offers for the legions of always-on overindulgers bingeing on a social media sugar high in her new book Dot Complicated (249 pages, HarperCollins), coming out tomorrow.

dot-complicated

Randi Z., Facebook’s former marketing chief, is profoundly bright, affable, empathetic and sweet in real life (IRL, as the kids say), and those qualities abound in her book. She also has an accompanying children’s book, “Dot,” and for the big kids there’s a cool DotComplicated website.

One part behind-the-scenes look at Facebook’s early years and one part survival guide for our connected lives, “Dot Complicated” rolls along sprightly with stories and anecdotes right from the opening scene, where Randi, a gifted storyteller, recounts the frenetic behind-the-scenes activities in preparation for President Obama’s live-streamed Facebook town hall in 2011.

Randi, the former Facebook marketing chief who now heads up Zuckerberg Media, keeps it down to earth throughout. She breaks our journey into roadside stopovers on identity, modern friendships, romance, family, career, community and where all of this is heading. (By the way, news flash: life-casting your first date? never a good idea.) In other words, it’s about how to navigate our tech-infused modern life in all its online and offline messiness.

Authentic identity means merging our online & offline selves

The heart of the author’s message centers on the theme of online identity. “In a world of authentic online identity, there is increasingly little difference between our real and our online selves,” she writes. “The two cannot be thought of separately.”

Randi has taken her share of criticism for this notion of authentic identity, but I think most of the criticism is misplaced. Facebook’s positive effect on online community today can hardly be overstated. Before Facebook, those of us who routinely revealed our real names and identities in our online forays were a distinct minority. Facebook’s lasting legacy, I think, will be the gift of authentication to the Internet — the simple idea of, Hey bucko, stand behind your words by telling us who you are.

Today, thousands of companies use Facebook’s authentication feature to put a real name to the person who just registered on your site.

The author urges companies to become social businesses by empowering employees to be good ambassadors for their firms. A 21st century company should welcome a multiplicity of voices and points of view within the workplace rather than insist on a single bland institutional identity. She also points out the rich skills that a new generation of employees is bringing to the office, particularly the social media-savvy staffer who becomes “a kind of PR representative for his or her firm.”

But “Dot Complicated” is geared less to the business community than to young professionals, parents and especially women who look to Randi as a digital role model.

Some wise counsel to new & longtime parents

The book is studded with little jewels and discoveries. It’s been years since I ran the show at BabyCenter, but I had no idea about this new wrinkle that new parents face:

“It’s perfectly normal these days to hear expectant parents say things like ‘I wanted to name my chld XYZ, but the domain wasn’t available, so we chose a different name,’” she relates. Who knew that baby naming had turned into a cutthroat land grab?

Kids need love, not search-engine optimization

Her advice: “Make sure you proactively secure your child’s digital identity as early as possible. Register e-mail addresses and a .com domain for your kid, and at least Google your baby’s name once before choosing it. … But don’t get carried away by this process. Kids need love, not search-engine optimization.”

She wisely counsels parents of teenagers to buck up — to be attentive and knowledgeable but not fearful of the Internet, which underlies much of our future, after all. “Let’s remember to stay focused on the light,” she writes.

How to balance the personal & professional online?

“In the era of smartphones, social media, and authentic identity online, it’s no longer possible to separate your personal and professional identities”
— Randi Zuckerberg

In webinars I’ve done in recent years, a question that frequently comes up is: How much of myself should I put out there in social media? What’s the dividing line between my personal life and professional life online?

The author makes a case for the proposition that there should be no dividing line. (It’s the same argument Mark Zuckerberg has articulated over the years.) She writes: “I am now convinced that the people who think we need to create a purely professional, one-dimensional brand online have got it totally wrong. … In the era of smartphones, social media, and authentic identity online, it’s no longer possible to separate your personal and professional identities.”

“In the era of smartphones, social media, and authentic identity online, it’s no longer possible to separate your personal and professional identities”
— Randi Zuckerberg

She calls this “360-degree identity,” where the personal and the professional blend seamlessly. Randi’s peers — at 31, she straddles the Gen X and millennial generations — grew up with social and know it’s no longer possible to compartmentalize our lives into neat drawers. And it does sound old school to think your professional life should reside on LinkedIn, your social life on Facebook and your mommy self on BabyCenter or CafeMom.

So you won’t get an argument from me there. Authentic identity is a compelling idea as a weapon against cyber-bullying, in bringing signal out of noise and in connecting our online and offline lives. Yes, there’s a place for anonymity when needed, for patients, crime victims, the marginalized, dissidents in repressive regimes and other examples — but these are the exceptions to the rule.

‘Always put yourself in other people’s shoes’

Randi also has some advice for journalists: “In a world where people can finally yell back at the television and be heard, those on the screen better be prepared to listen. … The media correspondent of the future will need to have a new kind of skill set: the ability to be a correspondent, a community manager, a curator, and a member of the audience, all at the same time.”

The workplace is still roiling with the unsettled question of how far corporate HR managers should go in evaluating a job candidate’s life stream. Should job seekers ditch the college party photos and sanitize their online accounts to make a better impression? The underlying premise of “Dot Complicated” is that, once millennials take the reins at these companies, those wild frat/sorority party photos will no longer be an issue. I hope she’s right.

We’ve read dozens of stories of employees being fired or job candidates not being hired because of social media indiscretions. “Dot Complicated” could have probed some of these issues in more depth. We get the example of the corporate CFO with a personal blog and Twitter account who overshared a bit too much about company activities and was a bit too flippant in his tweets. He was fired. But the author misfires here: “The answer to this, as I’ve discussed throughout this book, is all about being true to who we really are, both online and off.” Really? Seems like he was all too true to himself.

But this is a small quibble. “Dot Complicated” brims with great stories and wise counsel about sharing, social conduct and online etiquette.

Perhaps the wisest advice comes early in the book: “In the end, the new rules of the digital world are like the old rules: they center on empathy, understanding, and common sense. Always put yourself in other people’s shoes, care about the real people on the other side of the screen, and most important, always make the effort to invest time and attention in the people you care about.”

Thank you, Randi Zuckerberg, for reminding us of this simple truth.

J.D. Lasica was, among many other things, books editor at the Sacramento Bee. Cross-posted to Socialmedia.biz.

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JD Lasica
Written by JD Lasica
JD Lasica is an entrepreneur, author, journalist, photographer and blogger. | CONTACT