Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Facebook Nation

Last month Facebook counted more than 900 million active users. This information was supplied by Facebook in a regulatory filing.

Facebook admitted that about 5 percent of those accounts were likely fake accounts, but even so, they now have more users than most countries have citizens. That means if Facebook were a nation, they would likely be a superpower.

Can anyone say "world domination?"

Despite earning a cool $205 million on $1.1 billion in sales, there are so things to consider when it comes to Facebook's astounding growth: it can't last.

Look, there are only 6.8 billion people on the planet at the moment. Facebook already has one billion of them, or a little less than 15 percent of the total human species head count. The numbers show that Facebook is already begin to slow down when it comes to growth.

Last year Facebook had a record growth rate of 58 percent, which was absolutely unheard of. This year that rate has slowed nearly 50 percent, to just over 30 percent. A 30 percent growth rate is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but it is a sure sign of things to come as Facebook gradually eats itself to death.

If Facebook growth slows to zero does this foretell the end of the company? Of course not. But it does change the way everyone will be looking at them. How will they handle their business when their business is no longer based on growth? What will they have as a business model once (or if) they capture every available set of eyeballs?

There is certainly nothing wrong with a business model built around a core audience of one billion people. I'm pretty sure that's what keeps the Vatican open. But how Facebook leverages this base; what they can do with all these users-how they can KEEP them-will be paramount to their success.

With the Facebook IPO expected in just a couple short weeks, all eyes are on the social media behemoth, and all minds are wondering what all this activity is worth. One billion dollars? Ten billion dollars? One hundred billion dollars?

Investors also have to gauge the value of that stock as an investment. Not just, what is it worth today, but also, what is it likely to be worth tomorrow? Next week? Next year?

My guess is Facebook the company will be here for a long, long time. Their social media network, however, I think, is far too subject to the whims of its users. One stiff breeze of "something new" and they'll be off to the races. As long as Facebook knows how to turn a profit, they can stay in business and succeed in spite of diminishing users.

And that's what investors need to know.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Social Media Marketing: What's Your 'Carrot?'

If you want people to come your way, you better give them a good reason. I call this reason, the 'carrot.'

The fact is, the Social Web is flooded with all sorts of people offering all sorts of things. If you expect someone, anyone, to come your way, you need to make it worth their while. That doesn't mean you need to buy more ads or flood their streams with links, that tends to have the opposite effect. Instead you need to differentiate your product/service through some other means. Offer them a 'carrot.'

What other means? Well, it depends on what you have to offer.

Knowledge is the first thing I look at when I approach a client. What is their knowledge base and how can this be leveraged to bring more visitors to their Facebook page, web site, blog or whatever? This knowledge comes in a variety of forms. It might best be offered in an advice column, a Q&A on Reddit or even through the use of knowledged-based social media networks like Quora.

It is also possible that their knowledge can be more practical, like a service based analysis of their home, car or even their online network.

If a client has a product, like an ebook, it might be a good idea to offer that free to people who visit the Facebook page, sign-up for a newsletter or do some other thing my client would like them to do.

All of these things (and more) can become the 'carrot' which entices people to move in the direction which you want them to move in. It is not effective to use the 'stick' approach in social media, especially when you are trying to build relationships. You can't beat them for not Following you on Twitter (no matter how much you might want to) so you need to find some other way to bring them into the fold.

In essence, using the 'carrot' is the best way to promote your brand because it usually represents what you do best.

Everyone has a different 'carrot' to offer, so everyone can use this technique to differentiate themselves from their competitors. This differentiation is what makes people 'Like' dozens of different Pages, bookmark favorite websites and read specific blogs, even if they all follow the same or similar themes.

There is absolutely no reason to duplicate what someone else is doing because the chances are, if they have been having success at it, they already have a built-in core audience which gives them a definite advantage over you. Instead look for something which is uniquely yours; something you have and nobody else does. Then dangle it front of your prospective visitors like a carrot.

Try this, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Social Media Success Requires Agility

If you want to find social media success you better be agile enough to take advantage of every new twist and turn in the market.

 Social media moves at the speed of 'click.' That means any second now a new trend could develop that your business needs to take advantage of.

Will your business fail if you don't immediately take full advantage of these new trends? No. But then again, it will not reap the full benefit of social media marketing either. The question you are likely asking yourself is how to become more agile and/or what exactly am I talking about. Fair enough.

First, let's talk about the what. Trends in social media are not difficult to spot, if you are properly monitoring your social media network. They might be a new 'meme' like the one which developed in the aftermath of the new Google+ 'white spaces' debacle. It might mean joining the conversation about a new awful viral video, like the 'Hot Girls.' Or it might mean simply being ready to respond to questions, comments or concerns being posted on your own network. Whatever it is, it will happen fast, and your network administrator is not agile enough to keep up with them, you will miss these gold opportunities.

Now, let's talk about the how. How you stay abreast of what is happening on the Social Web is by participating in the social web. This may or may not be possible for you if you are running your business AND managing your social media network. That's why I recommend outsourcing your social media management. You have a social media marketing campaign, or at least a social media network because you recognize how effective it can be at promoting your product, service or brand. You are already aware of what a powerful tool it is. With this in mind you need to sit down and calculate what you think this network is worth to you. Not only what it is worth right now, but it might be worth to you in a month, a year, etc. That will help you set a benchmark for what you can reasonably pay someone to manage that network.

Social media managers make it their job to monitor social media trends, stay up to date with the latest technology; innovate and update your network so you can capture the widest possible audience for your brand. That's their job. When they do their job correctly you can better do your job and the whole system works flawlessly, producing measurable results and taking full advantage of new opportunity that comes across the Social Web.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

'Olympics' Seeks Social Media Gold

We've seen the success social media has wrought for major sports here in the states and abroad. The NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB, plus the impact social media has had for Cricket and Soccer fans around the globe has produced increased exposure and increased revenue. So it makes sense that many are expecting similar social media success from the forthcoming summer Olympics.

Advertisers are already jumping in with both feet, organizing massive social media marketing campaigns to take full advantage of what they expect will be massive online chatter about individual events.

NBC is planning to go one step further and fully embrace the Internet by offering live streaming of all 302 Olympic events, then re-airing the most popular events during their nightly television Olympic coverage. NBC has said their experience has shown that live-streaming some popular events then re-airing them later helps build buzz for the television broadcast.

To be clear, we are talking about big-money, comprehensive social media advertising campaigns. The UK already has a 90% social media marketing usage rate among businesses, so you can bet with the summer Olympics being based there those businesses already have at least some of their campaigns in place and active. But international advertising players are also jumping in, wielding multi-million dollar budgets.

It is safe to say that a fair percentage of the money being spent now on social media marketing would have been spent on television advertising in the past, but it remains to be seen what, if any, impact that will have. Especially since the television networks are likely waging their own social media marketing campaigns (and in the case of NBC at least) using the Olympics to build their own brand awareness.

Interestingly, I think this is the first time advertisers and the mediums they traditionally used to advertise with are campaigning against each other for the hearts and minds of consumers around the world.

My question: What sort of impact will all this attention have on the Olympics itself?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Affluence Influences Internet Usage

A new Pew research poll shows that 20 percent of U.S. adults do not use the Internet because they have no interest in it.

This in and of itself is interesting, but when you dig a little deeper you see that the research shows it really has more to do with their education and affluence than self-interest.

The study shows, among other things, that 60 percent of those without a high school diploma do not use the Internet. Also, 40 percent of those with an annual income under $30,000. According to Pew, for folks making less than $20,000 per year there is even less interest in the Internet.

As a social media manager this is interesting news as it tells me that the people I am trying to reach online probably all have money to spare. As a human being it tells me that a significant sector of our society is being left behind while the rest of us move forward to better lives.

This blog is not about altruism, it's about business, however, there is a relevant point to make which concerns everyone doing business on the Internet: We are missing a full 20 percent of the available market.

There is also another interesting piece of information from the Pew report. I quote:
"Among adults who do not use the internet, almost half have told us that the main reason they don’t go online is because they don’t think the internet is relevant to them. Most have never used the internet before, and don’t have anyone in their household who does. About one in five say that they do know enough about technology to start using the internet on their own, and only one in ten told us that they were interested in using the internet or email in the future."

Obviously these individuals have yet to see, hear or find anything on the Internet which holds their interest. Strange, especially when you consider every interest is now accessible online.

When you consider the power of Social Media Marketing specifically, and Internet Marketing in general, and then consider it is only operating at 80 percent of capacity, it is easy to see the benefit we would all receive if we could bring even half the number of people not using the Internet online tomorrow. I am not saying it is possible for us, as marketers, to make this happen. I am merely pointing out the fact that sometimes, doing the right thing, the altruistic thing, is good for business.

It seems to me if we want to derive the most benefit from social media or any Internet marketing, at least a small portion of our efforts should be directed at growing the online audience and capturing that missing 20 percent. How we do that, however, is open to debate.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Stop Marketing And Start Creating

Some days I feel like a broken record. Clients come to me and want me to devise a social media marketing strategy, only they don't actually have anything to market. I try to explain this to them in terms which make sense. I use examples of the most effective marketing strategies and how they are based on regularly updated content; how web sites work best when they offer something different every day instead of the exact same thing; how easy it is to produce fresh content and how integral it is to an effective marketing campaign. But some of them still don't get it.

Perhaps they have a blog with a handful of posts from last year; or maybe they have a static web site which gets updated once a decade; or their business does absolutely nothing except sit there and wait for someone to come along and buy something, but what they do not have is a reason for people to come to their site and visit more than once a year.

How am I supposed to market nothing?

Before you answer that with something witty like, "that's your job!" I posit this: Perhaps not everything should be marketed.

If you really want people to come to your blog, write something interesting, informative and exciting, and update it at least three times a week (every day is best, but at least a few times a week.) The same goes for your web site. A static unchanging page is a recipe for an incredibly high bounce rate. Why? Because people have already seen it, why do they need to see it again, and again, and again?

It's like the highest rated episode of 'Seinfeld.' How many times do you want to watch it? Should they put it on every night, same time, same channel (or every channel, every hour of the day) and expect that people will tune in to watch? How many times will you need to watch it before you are desperate to watch something-anything-else?

Anyway, I can at least take solace in the knowledge that my problem is likely shared by a good many marketers doggedly pursuing social media success for their clients. How do I know this? Well, take a look at this hilarious, yet informative graphic from The Oatmeal. It pretty much sums up everything I have been saying all along.

Click here for The Oatmeal graphic.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Latinos Use Social Media More (And Wisely)

There is a new report out today by uSamp which shows Latinos continue to flock to social media, with more than 90 percent of those surveyed saying they regularly use services like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to stay connected, build communities and surf for news.

This is not the first report which has shown that Latinos seem more interested in using social media than other demographic groups, but it is the first to show definitively that they are more careful how they use it. For instance, according to the uSamp survey a little over half of the Latino participants they spoke with were willing to use their real names on social media, compared with almost 90 percent for non-Latinos.

This reticence to reveal too much personal information via social media is something more commonly seen in groups which are new to social media. They fear sharing because they are unsure what results they will receive from the sharing. But Latinos has consistently been among the most active social media users, so they should understand how sharing works.

Perhaps then their dis-interest in sharing personal information comes not from fear of the unknown but in knowledge of how costly this sharing can be. The cost stems not only from identity thieves, as some fear, but also in repercussions felt from specific posts, Tweets or comments. They have seen what can happen when the wrong message goes viral and wisely have chosen to avoid such confrontations by masking their identity.

There is certainly nothing wrong with caution. In my opinion anonymity does not diminish the full impact and value of social media. It should not be a mask we use to disguise ourselves, however, but a shield we use to protect ourselves from retribution. Many employers, governments, agencies and even individuals have used social media as a weapon against those whose opinions they disdain. They actively seek out differing opinions and raise armies of discontent against the individuals who express them.

Social media is undeniably the world's most powerful communication tool. Unfortunately the humans who live here are not quite ready for a forum where everyone is entitled to their opinion. Unfortunately, not everyone realizes this. Fortunately, it seems Latinos do, but they're cautious about how they do it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Google+ Redesign (Does It Really Matter?)

I signed into my Google+ account yesterday and was surprised that it looked completely different. I was unsure when exactly it had changed since I don't check it every day-there simply isn't enough activity there to make it worth my daily effort.

Needless to say I immediately noticed a few interesting things which have not gone unnoticed by other users. First, they have changed the format, squeezing your tools and status updates to the left, leaving a huge vertical bar of white space on the right hand side of the page.

Within hours (perhaps minutes) of the release new memes began sprouting up mocking the redesign and its seemingly illogical use of white space. Some featured everyday objects placed strategically in front of the computer screen, like a boot and a potted plant, while others used images of themselves hanging, or even star Betty White, with the hashtag #BettyWhiteSpace.

Here is my favorite, and I believe, the most relevant:

Obviously Google has a reason why they squished everything to one side of the page, I just wish they would let us know when we can expect it.

Second, they have removed the YouTube button which many users had been enjoying. It was a quick link to their favorite videos and made clear the connection between Google+ and YouTube. Some users believe the idea is to replace the YouTube button with a Google Play button, but since there is already a "Games" button that seems unlikely.

And finally, despite the format change there is still the problem of very little interaction, and the huge vertical bar of white space is not going to help that at all. I can spend hours on Google+ trying to connect with like-minded individuals and not find as many as I could doing the same thing on Twitter for five minutes. For whatever reason, whether it's the design, the features, the fact that Google+ is so in-your-face, or something else altogether, people simply are not using it the way they do other social media sites. I don't care if Google+ claims to have 170 million users--they simply are not very active.

However, as I have stated before, Google+ isn't going anywhere, any time soon. It's like a war of attrition--eventually, perhaps, we might all flock to Google+ simply because they'll be the last social media site standing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

NHL Gets Social Media Fever

The NBA did it. The NFL did it. The MLB did it. Now the NHL is doing it.
And it makes sense.

The National Hockey League is going all out to promote its league and its upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs via social media with a host of apps, interactive pages and tools. The goal is to get fans to take the hockey message to their networks and increase the visibility of the individual franchises.

This makes sense, especially in light of the string of social media successes experienced by every major sports league. Even cricket matches in India and Pakistan are using social media tools to promote their sport and connect with fans.

Hockey has consistently been the also-ran when it comes to sports in the United States. Even soccer has seen more promotional play than hockey and it's the also-ran of also-rans. Despite this lack of interest in many states, hockey has a HUGE fan base across North America. Their fans are legion, and more importantly, fiercely devoted. They brave the cold, the packed arenas, the flying pucks, just for a chance to see their favorite teams duke it out on the ice. Using social media to connect with these already committed fans is simply making good use of existing resources.

I often see examples of businesses using social media to reach new customers, while neglecting the power of their existing fan base. The goal is to wield social media in such a way that both those groups feel welcomed.

A great example of this exists in traditional marketing strategies which offer sign-up incentives to new customers yet provide no benefits for existing customers. These tactics often fail to motivate, and the few new customers they bring in are off-set by the existing customers who leave in disgust at being ignored.

Hockey has an opportunity to grow its fan base making good use of its existing fan base by giving something to the latter which they can in turn pass on to the former. This is a complicated way of saying, they're using digital media to treat all their customers right.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Twitter Targets Tweetadder (And Others)

Twitter is cracking down hard on spammers, who in turn have been taking shots at the integrity of the micro-blogging site.

If you're an active Twitter user you've likely Followed at least one or two accounts which seemed legitimate on the surface, only to discover their Tweets were essentially a stream of affiliate links, or some other type of Internet spam.

This is annoying, at best. At worst, it clouds your stream with garbage which you are not interested in.

Personally, I use my Twitter account to promote my writing with links to my posts, and offer glimpses into my life; pictures, videos, news and general observations. I respond to @mentions and Direct Messages and engage like the actual human being I am.

Spammers pretty much just send out reams of affiliate links.

Spamming has become such a problem for the world's second most popular social media network that they are beginning to strike back, in a big way. Last week they filed a lawsuit against some of the biggest providers of tools used to make spamming easier on Twitter. Among these are Tweetadder, TweetAttacks, and Tweetbuddy. These services make it easier to Follow and be Followed by others, which is exactly what spammers want. The more Followers they have the more likely it is for them to get some clicks on their affiliate links.

However, Tweetadder is also used by people trying to legitimately grow their Twitter accounts by providing relevant search terms that help users find people they might like to Follow. At least, that's how I use it. I have connected with thousands of writers and social media managers using Tweetadder. I don't spam, nor do I push affiliate links, but I use Tweetadder.

I am also very much aware of the spam problem Twitter is having and I applaud their decision to take action. It makes sense. As someone who has used Twitter almost from the beginning, I miss the days when it was mostly spam free; when you could Follow someone without worrying that they might fill your stream with affiliate links, and could rely on Twitter to be a go-to source for news and information that was interesting.

I also remember the days when Twitter would regularly go down. The Fail Whale was a common occurrence in those days and something we all dealt with. It was annoying but we were all confident Twitter was just experiencing growing pains and would eventually solve their growth issues. The spam problem, however, is something altogether different. Left unchecked, spammers could eventually make Twitter un-useable, or at least an annoyance rather than an effective communication tool.

Like millions of other people I am anxious to see how this all works out; whether or not this tactic works and helps Twitter control spam on their service. I am not convinced this is going to have the big impact we all hope it will, but only time will tell.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dr. Evil Does A Double-Take As Facebook Buys Instagram For $1 BILLION

Photo sharing made easy. That's been the hook that has made Instagram one of the most popular photo sharing apps for the iPhone. Last week they made their free app available for Android phone users and it was downloaded 1 million times in the first 24 hours.

This week Facebook bought the tiny company for $1 billion. That's billion with a 'B'.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the company has no intention of altering Instagram in any way, other than providing further integration into their system, and Instagram founders say they are staying fiercely independent despite the purchase.

Personally, I don't believe either of them.

In my opinion, and it's just my opinion, Facebook is looking for a new Pinterest, one that they control. Instagram has the best chance of becoming the next Pinterest simply because it is already popular; doesn't yet have a hard and fast infrastructure which prevents alteration and offers a host of interesting photo adjustment tools which makes taking and sharing photos easy and fun for users.

News broke last week that Pinterest is already the 3rd most visited site on the web after Facebook and Twitter. Clearly this news did not go overlook at the headquarters of either of those companies. Twitter already has a photo sharing tool, and Facebook IS a photo sharing tool, and Instagram falls somewhere in between.

By purchasing Instagram Facebook gets an already incredibly popular photo sharing tool and narrows the gap with Pinterest. There are currently about 30 million people using Instagram and that number will likely jump now that the app is available to Android users.

(On an interesting side note, some iPhone users actually complained when Instagram opened itself up to Android users, because they preferred it as an 'Apple only' tool.)

I am anxious to see how Facebook integrates Instagram and whether or not they stay true to their word that they will alter little, if anything, about the app. I am also anxious to see what will become of Pinterest, as it is quickly growing into a major social media player all by itself.

What are your thoughts and do you see Instagram becoming a marketing tool any time soon?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Pinterest Rising To The Top (But For How Long?)

A new Experian Marketing Services report out today shows that Pinterest is the third most visited site on the web. It is surpassed in visits by only Facebook and Twitter, and handily beats LinkedIn and Google+.

What I find interesting about the Pinterest interest (I couldn't resist) is how self-fulfilling it all is. First, the site struck a chord with users who were becoming more adept at sharing the nifty little pictures they found laying about the Internet. They had already been sharing them on Facebook and Twitter, so when Pinterest came along and offered them an entire site devoted to pinning and sharing, it was a natural fit for what was already going on.

Then marketers started to take notice. Suddenly they were not only setting up their own Pin Boards but also encouraging everyone they knew (fellow marketers, clients, potential clients) to do the same thing. No doubt this had at least something to do with their sudden rise in usage.

So, now that we're all on Pinterest, what's next? What exactly are we all going to do once we've shared all our pictures and looked at everyone else's pictures? How does Pinterest intend to hold on to all the attention it has received? If they stray too far to the left or right, expanding their social media nature, then they begin to encroach on territory already well mastered by the current social media behemoths, Twitter and Facebook. If they do not innovate then it seems certain that eventually, once everyone has had their fill of the "next big thing" they will move on to the next, next big thing.

I don't have an answer for the problem Pinterest is facing, and I can't say with any degree of certainty when that migration away from them will occur, but I do know it's coming.

What do you think?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

'Kony 2012: Part 2' Fails To Motivate

Within the first 24 hours of its release, 'Kony 2012' garnered millions of views on YouTube. For a 30-minute film, dedicated to the capture of an African warlord few in the West had ever heard of, the response to 'Kony 2012' was astounding.

Yesterday the same group responsible for the first viral video, Invisible Children, released a follow-up video titled, 'Kony 2012: Part 2.' In the first 24 hours it has received a less than stellar 302 views.


There are a number of possible reasons for the success of the first film, followed closely by the failure of the sequel. First, as any Hollywood producer will tell you, sequels almost never fare as well as the films which inspire them. But I think the problem runs a little deeper than that.

Second, the very public meltdown of the first film's narrator and co-founder of the 'Kony 2012' campaign, Jason Russell, has certainly damaged the reputation of the campaign to some degree. It can be argued also that Russell's public meltdown in the midst of mounting criticism of Invisible Children was a sign that something was not quite right with the group.

Third, but far from least, is the short attention span of most social media users. The fact that the original 'Kony' campaign needed more than a week or so (about the maximum amount of time you can hope to capture someone's attention with a viral message) to be accomplished has been working against them from the beginning. People who use social media have become accustomed to immediate results. If they cannot have satisfaction quickly, or at least soon, they will lose interest and move on to the next thing.

This is what I believe has happened with the 'Kony' campaign. People don't seem overly concerned with questions about 'Invisible Children' or even the meltdown Russell suffered. But they do care that the whole thing seems like a lesson in futility. They can donate. Big deal. They donate to things all the time and yet the problems continue. What they had been hoping for, I believe, was a swift strke against Kony, his capture and an end to the conflict they had learned about in the video. When this didn't happen, and they began to realize it wasn't going to happen any time soon, they moved on.

There is a lesson here for anyone trying to use social media to capture the attention of the audience: Keep it short. Whether it is a contest or a campaign, set a specific time limit and duration for the event and be prepared to provide immediate knowledge of the results. If you don't, if you try to capture and keep their attention indefinitely, your campaign is likely doomed to failure.

Or at least, greatly diminished results.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

More Fallout From 'Rapey' Belvedere Vodka Ad

Just when you thought the Belvedere Vodka ad fiasco couldn't get any worse. It gets worse. Much worse, in fact.

First, in case you are unfamiliar with what happened: Last week Belvedere Vodka posted a new advertisement on their Twitter stream and Facebook Page. The ad was an image of a woman with a horrified look on her face trying to jump up from a couch, while a man, sitting on the couch and grinning maliciously, tries to pull her back. The tag line for the photo was, "Unlike some people Belvedere Always Goes Down Smoothly."

Ouch. The ad was pulled down shortly after being posted, but as we all know (or should know by now) social media communication happens at the speed of a click. Both sites were deluged with criticism from Followers/Fans who quickly started calling the ad "rapey."

Belvedere quickly issued an 'apology', saying they were sorry if their ad offended anyone, but the damage was done.

Except....it turns out the photo used in the Belvedere ad was actually a frame grab from a comedy video, and Belvedere used it without proper permission. Now the actress featured in the 'ad' is suing Belvedere Vodka for improper use of her image. She claims she has suffered as a result of the ad. She has reportedly said she was disgusted by the ad and the fact they used her image without permission as a part of the ad.

Belvedere has so far remained silent on the pending legislation, and for good reason. Not only was the ad itself clearly an example of poor judgement, but if it turns out the image was indeed used without permission, well, that just adds insult to injury.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Social Media Forces Transparency

Social media is a multi-faceted tool. It empowers consumers by allowing them unprecedented access to their favorite brands and companies, and it also provides them a loudspeaker for complaints, which gives them leverage over these same companies.

But that's not all!

Social media is also forcing something which few of us expected: transparency.

In the past, companies, organizations, clubs, politicians, leaders of all kinds have had the ability to pull a blanket over their doings to keep the general public from ever having a completely clear view of just what was going on. But those days are quickly going away.

Today social media allows anyone with an internet connection to report, post; snap a picture of what's really going on, and generally speaking, pull back the blanket of secrecy. Companies who have made it their business to do things in secret are not going to have an easy time of it in the Digital Age.

I read a story today about how this type of forced transparency is changing the ski resort industry. It seems that they can longer exaggerate the amount or frequency of snowfall because skiers who are on the mountain are quick to post pics of what's really going on.

So, what's the best practice for a company who has a legitimate right to secrecy? Should they ban all cell phones and social media? Should they engage in mind control tactics to force their employees not to divulge their secrets? Or should they just learn to deal with it?

Guess which one I am going to recommend. That's right, learn to deal with it.

We are all living in a new world. An always on, fully engaged, need-to-know-right-not, world. Unless you plan on setting up shop on Mars this is the world you live in. From the Outback of Australia to the beaches of Zanzibar, wireless connectivity is everywhere; nearly inescapable.

With this in mind it is important for all businesses to re-evaluate their stance concerning how they interact with customers; what they reveal and what they attempt to keep secret. Honesty is new currency and it is valued higher than it's ever been. If you attempt to deceive, you will eventually be busted by the Social Web. In that case you will be much better served by a policy which demands honesty in all your business dealings; designing a system which does not require a blanket to be pulled over your work; an atmosphere of openness and truthfulness to the best of your ability.

People are likely to let it slide if you are protecting copyrighted material, a new invention or a secret recipe. What they won't stand for, however, is being lied to, deceived or prevented from knowing the truth. And social media gives them the power to know more about what's going in the world than ever before.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Social Media For News: Reliable Or Not?

This weekend an April Fool's Day prank perpetrated by Forbes.com proclaiming that Mitt Romney had withdrawn from the race for the Republican Presidential nomination spread across the Internet, buoyed by social media users who immediately picked it up and sent it out to their networks, ad nauseam.

In fact, before the story was withdrawn it had reached the #1 spot on Google News.

Some are pointing to this as an example of just how ineffective and untrustworthy social media, and the Internet in general, are for news. Unfortunately, this simply is not the case.

As a former reporter I can attest to the fact that hoaxes, falsehoods and outright lies are a common pitfall for the news industry. That's why reporters are supposed to vet their sources, fact check and triple source every thing before they call it a "fact." Even then, mistakes happen and things which are not true slip through the cracks.

Because news is communicated via human beings it is flawed from the start. Everything we do, everything that happens in the world, is open to interpretation and that's where the trouble starts.

Social media is no more or less culpable for spreading untruths than any other news media. It just does everything faster so we become aware of it sooner. When a newspaper prints something wrong they issue a correction, usually on a back page, and then move on. Due to the nature of social media these errors cannot ever be fully retracted. They live on, being shared and passed around by people who simply don't yet know they are spreading erroneous information (or do so simply to cause havoc.)

Social media is just a tool. It cannot be defined as good or bad, only the ways in which we use it can be defined in this way. To that end I strongly recommend you carefully consider every piece of information of post, share or Tweet. Double-check your facts, triple check them if possible and be certain you follow-up later to see if someone has posted a comment refuting your post, or questioning its veracity. In this way you become a responsible social media user, rather than a conduit for falsehoods.

Mistakes happen and some mis-information is likely to get through at some point. That's OK. So long as there was no malice in your initial post you can offer a correction, maybe an apology, and move on. The worst thing you can do is argue a wrong point, deny culpability or simply ignore it and hope it goes away.

Honesty is always the best policy. When that fails, the best follow-up plans are those which involve admitting the mistake, taking the punishment and moving on.

With social media, there's always something new to move on to.