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“Five Things We Can Each Do To Make Social Media and the Internet a Kinder Place”, With Paige Arnof-Fenn

I grew up in the Deep South so exhibiting good manners has been part of my life since childhood. I have seen that minding your Ps and Qs really does make a difference in business. To illustrate: a client who hired us early on told me that he had spoken with a number of potential […]


I grew up in the Deep South so exhibiting good manners has been part of my life since childhood. I have seen that minding your Ps and Qs really does make a difference in business. To illustrate: a client who hired us early on told me that he had spoken with a number of potential firms and that while every one of them could do the job, in the end, they picked us because our team had the best manners online and off by far. He added, and I quote, “We always hire for manners because everything else can be learned on the job.” It’s an interesting hiring strategy, to be sure. Wouldn’t your mother be thrilled? Who would have thought that our unique value proposition in winning business would be manners? Although business protocol wasn’t actually taught in any business school I considered, maybe they should start.


As a part of my series about how we can make social media and the internet a kinder place, I had the pleasure to interview Paige Arnof-Fenn. Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Paige! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a large multi-national business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started my career on Wall Street in the 80s and had a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Being an entrepreneur provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, I have time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and work out every day. It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am the accidental entrepreneur. I knew I had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on my business a few years after I started it, we were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before my company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance).

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

In the first few years of my business I had pitched a CEO about a month before I ran into her at a networking event where she was the keynote speaker and her topic was about being a woman leader in a traditionally male-dominated business. I had followed up after sending my proposal several times via e-mail and voice mail but the CEO never returned any of my messages or even acknowledged receipt of the proposal requested. You can imagine my shock when she announced at this event as part of her speech that she believes it is important to put your money where your mouth is and for women CEOs to support other respected & well-run women’s businesses and that is why she has hired my firm to handle all her company’s marketing & PR! Everyone congratulated me after, it was a better endorsement than the New York Times because she was very well known and had the reputation of being very tough with high standards so I got a LOT of business from people in the room that night because they thought if I was able to impress her I must be very good 😉

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It can be hard to laugh at mistakes but looking back I remember one week early on when I had 3 or 4 talks lined up over a couple of day period so I went from one evening event to a breakfast the next morning to a lunch and evening talk the following day. I enjoy public speaking and get a lot of referrals and business that way. The morning after my final speech I showed up at a meeting with a prospective client along with a few of my colleagues and I realized I was completely out of business cards. I was so embarrassed and my team laughed at me since I always remind them it is important to be professional and prepared all the time. I ended up sending a hand written thank you note to the prospect with my card enclosed and we won the business so I turned my mistake into a good outcome plus I have never run out of business cards again!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I think every project is exciting! That is the beauty of running your own business, if you are not genuinely excited by the work then you can pass on it. I only take on work that I find interesting and worthwhile. We are doing thought leadership for a university, design work for a startup, strategy for a non profit and branding & positioning for an early stage tech company just to name a few. Finding the right words and pictures to tell great stories that attract more customers to our clients’ products and services is incredibly fulfilling.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?

Sadly yes I have had trolls try to bait me online by posting comments from fake accounts challenging my credibility or questioning my reputation online. You have to monitor sites carefully these days. I was mad and frustrated that there were not more checks and balances to catch them earlier.

What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?

I took immediate action and contacted the site administrators to bring it to their attention to shut them down right away. These people are never as smart as they think they are.

Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?

I really try not to do that!

When one reads the comments on Youtube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?

No one likes being criticized or shunned but everyone wants to be heard . People want to be accepted and belong so it can be tough to feel you are being attacked for your views. Online communities should allow for differences in opinions and healthy debate where various perspectives can be shared. The goal is to surface the arguments not hurt anyone’s feelings.

Do you think a verbal online attacks feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?

I think Taylor Swift says it best in her song You Need To Calm Down:

You are somebody that I don’t know
But you’re takin’ shots at me like it’s Patrón
And I’m just like, damn, it’s 7 AM
Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out
But you say it in a Tweet, that’s a cop-out

And I ain’t tryna mess with your self-expression
But I’ve learned a lesson that stressin’ and obsessin’ ‘bout somebody else is no fun
And snakes and stones never broke my bones
You need to calm down, you’re being too loud
You need to just stop
You need to calm down

You are somebody that we don’t know
But you’re comin’ at my friends like a missile
Why are you mad?

What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?

In the best case they get stronger but it can be everything from anger & embarrassment to PTSD to suicide so words can be very powerful.

Many people who troll others online, or who leave harsh comments, can likely be kind and sweet people in “real life”. These people would likely never publicly shout at someone in a room filled with 100 people. Yet, on social media, when you embarrass someone, you are doing it in front of thousands of even millions of people, and it is out there forever. Can you give 3 or 4 reasons why social media tends to bring out the worst in people; why people are meaner online than they are in person?

In my experience they are not nice and/or happy people offline either. Technology just makes them more extreme versions of themselves and puts them in front of a bigger albeit virtual audience.

Hiding behind technology just makes them feel bolder and the screen provides distance, which removes them from their target. I think they get hooked on seeing their comments go viral so it encourages more extreme positions to get likes and followers.

It becomes compulsive and addictive. They lose perspective.

If you had the power to influence thousands of people about how to best comment and interact online, what would you suggest to them? What are your “5 things we should each do to help make social media and the internet, a kinder and more tolerant place”? Can you give a story or an example for each?

I grew up in the Deep South so exhibiting good manners has been part of my life since childhood. I have seen that minding your Ps and Qs really does make a difference in business. To illustrate: a client who hired us early on told me that he had spoken with a number of potential firms and that while every one of them could do the job, in the end, they picked us because our team had the best manners online and off by far. He added, and I quote, “We always hire for manners because everything else can be learned on the job.” It’s an interesting hiring strategy, to be sure. Wouldn’t your mother be thrilled?

Who would have thought that our unique value proposition in winning business would be manners? Although business protocol wasn’t actually taught in any business school I considered, maybe they should start. So what can you do to incorporate a little Emily Post into your daily routine? It’s not as hard as you think.

  • Responding quickly — following up in a timely manner and especially when you say you will, it is amazing how low the bar actually is today. Just getting back to someone by the end of the week when that is what you committed to can be considered good manners when others let dates slide and do not respect deadlines.
  • Putting down your phone and giving people your undivided attention in meetings and at meals, it is rude to stare at a screen when a person is in front of you.
  • Stop ghosting people, just own up to it and move on.
  • Show appreciation and gratitude by acknowledging people’s time and effort, saying thanks.
  • Apologizing when appropriate people screw up sometimes, just say you are sorry and move forward.

I for one am glad there are still people out there who appreciate and exhibit good manners. Call me old fashioned but I think it is a lot nicer to live in a world where civility counts both online and off. I am certain I would not last long in Washington, DC these days.

Freedom of speech prohibits censorship in the public square. Do you think that applies to social media? Do American citizens have a right to say whatever they want within the confines of a social media platform owned by a private enterprise?

We are not allowed to yell fire in a movie theater or bomb in the airport security line so I believe there should be a code of conduct on social media too and just make it illegal to use hateful and racist language online. It is time to set some boundaries here, enough is enough!

If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?

I believe in the freedom of speech but I would create a set of rules of conduct for the community that shuts down all violent videos, hate groups and racist comments period. Restaurants can post a sign that says no shirt, no shoes, no service so I would just say that kind of language and sentiment is not tolerated here.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This quote really resonates with me:

I am strong because I have been weak

I am fearless because I have been scared

I am wise because I have been foolish

It is an important reminder that stumbling is part of the journey to success. As an entrepreneur you just have to keep going and pick yourself up and be smarter every time you get up and try again. It was true for Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Sara Blakely and it is true for me too!

Another one I really like is “you have to make mistakes to find out who you aren’t.” Again, making mistakes is just part of the process. Brilliant.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

There are so many people I could pick for this — Richard Branson, Sarah Blakely, Tina Fey, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Donna Karan, Arianna Huffington, Reese Witherspoon but I would choose Ellen DeGeneres right now. She is killing it. Like Ellen I grew up in New Orleans. Ellen has become more of a force in Hollywood now as a host, producer, spokesperson, activist, etc. than she ever was when she started her career as a comedienne. She is authentic and has already tried to start a kindness revolution with her show and is a force to be reckoned with. She has stayed relevant for decades in a tough industry and I am sure she could teach me a few things and has some great stories to share!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My LinkedIn profile is: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paigearnoffenn

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