Friday, March 23, 2012

Facebook Weighs-In On Password Debacle

Employers thought they were being savvy when they began asking prospective employees for their social media passwords, but according to Facebook (the most sought after social media profile by employers) they are violating the law.

That's right. Facebook is defending its users by suggesting that by soliciting password access employers are violating terms of service and personal privacy.

This seems like a strange stance for a company who has made it their business to make as much of the information posted by its users public as possible. The suggestion that a users personal information is public only so far as Facebook is concerned is certainly questionable, but at least they are seeming to come to the defense of their users.

And they have a valid point.

Many people are hungry for work and as new job openings come along they are eager to do whatever they can to secure gainful employment. If that means surrendering their personal right to privacy, so be it. But just because someone is desperate and some unscrupulous employers are willing to exploit this desperation doesn't mean the rest of us should look away, especially the company being wielded as a proverbial weapon.

Look, I understand the importance of knowing as much as you can about your prospective employee before you commit resources necessary to train them, enter them into your system and get them started. I have hired and trained thousands of people for a variety of positions and a good number of them didn't work out as well as I had hoped. But not once did I think I would have been better prepared for them had I been able to snoop around their house, look in their closets or interview family members. In fact, in a good number of those instances I would have been led to believe the employee was a bad risk and not worth my time, when they actually turned out to exceed expectations and become a valued member of the team.

This is because everyone is entitled to a fresh start. Where they have been in the past or where you think they might end up in the future has no bearing on who they are right now. Plus, invading someone's privacy is illegal, immoral and unethical. It brings no value to the table beyond painting a picture. And while a picture may be worth a thousand words, there is no way to know whether or not those words are lies short of putting them to the test.

People who allow this intrusion into their privacy because they "have nothing to hide" are doing a disservice to themselves and their country because they are surrendering rights which others have fought and died to secure for them. And employers who think they are simply protecting their own best interests by asking prospective employees to surrender these rights are not gleaning anything useful about whether or not this employee is a good match for their company, just whether or not they can find a reason to dislike him/her before getting to know them.

Facebook was right to step into this fray and they have done much to counter the image that they do not value their users by defending them on this issue. They have fought long and hard to create a social media community built on trust, and certainly don't want to see someone else come along and spoil that trust.

Before you start thinking about following the lead of some unscrupulous businesses, be certain you are not trampling the Constitution and leaving yourself open to litigation by doing so.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Social Media Makes Television Better

There was a time not so long ago when television network executives viewed social media as the enemy. It was threatening to steal precious eyeballs away from the all important prime time viewing slot and providing entertainment options that had never existed before.

Times change and even network executives can learn from their mistakes. That is what has given rise to shows which promote social media use rather than fight against it. Programs like "The Voice" and before that, "American Idol" have been successful at using American's social media attachment to their own benefit.

Today nearly every show on television has its own Facebook page; actors, producers, writers and just about everyone involved in creating television programming has a Twitter account or at least some social media presence. They leverage this social media presence into ratings, some better than others, but the potential for big wins has been proven over and over again.

Recent studies have shown that teenagers are turning more to the Internet, the Social Web in particular, instead of the television screen. But similar studies are showing that although teens are using social media during prime time viewing slots, they are also likely letting the television play in the background, and commenting with friends about the program they are both watching together.

This synergy of media is creating a boon for television, and providing a brick and mortar relevance for social media. Both sides are winning as viewers are consistently using one to promote the other, or at least sharing both simultaneously.

This type of thinking, that there is room for more than one form of electronic entertainment, is leading to ever greater technological abilities. Suddenly we are no longer faced with a "one or the other" mentality; new doors are opening up for us every day and new ways of thinking about entertainment are creating an abundance of new opportunities.

Social media then has begun not a replacement media, but a unifying force for all media. It has become the glue which binds us together and helps us become something greater.

Perhaps that's an oversimplification, or a "pie-in-the-sky" view of what is happening, but it's my view and I am sticking to it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Social Media And Social Conscience

One of the best uses of social media (in my opinion) is the ability of users to improve the world we all share. There is simply no better way to communicate a message these days than through social media. You can reach more people locally, nationally, international; by specific peer group, demographic or location.

So, with all this communication taking place, where is the good? Everywhere. In fact, companies like Chipotle which has a specific social message it wants to push, are using social media to reach the largest possible audience. But Chipotle isn't the only one. Local businesses, like Little Cupcake Bakeshop, and major industrial complexes like General Electric, are also using social media to improve their world.

Before you start feeling all warm and mushy inside it is important to note that there is an ulterior motive for all this socially responsible behavior. Studies have shown that consumers prefer companies who exhibit socially responsible behaviors. They don't want to buy shirts made in sweatshops, or buy their fuel from companies that pollute the oceans. They want to buy goods from companies that do good.

That is what makes social media such a powerful tool when it comes to self-promotion of the good things you do. Messages can be spread virally, reach farther and improve the overall positive feelings people have about your company, brand or service.

In fact, in my opinion, social media users are constantly looking for these types of positive stories to promote. They want to share good news with the people in their network and they aren't worried about where that good news comes from, so long as its good.

If you want to craft a social media message which stands the best chance of going viral, first think about the aspects of your business which promote your social responsibility. If you don't have anything which fits the bill, then perhaps it's time to create one. Look internally at your processes, or choose a socially responsible movement you can support and which fits the mission statement of your company. You don't have to "save the whales" to reap the benefits of a socially responsible message. Start small. Clean up a local river, promote volunteerism in your organization or start a campaign to raise money for a local food bank.

Unfortunately, in the world we live opportunities to do good, help someone in need, are more than abundant. They are ubiquitous.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Kony 2012: When Great Social Media Marketing Goes Bad

It was hailed as the most viral media message of all time, but just a week or so after its release the "Kony 2012" video message has lost some of its initial luster.

This can be attributed to a number of things including questions about the finances of the group which backed the video, Invisible Children, and a very public breakdown by the film's creator, Jason Russell, who has since sought medical treatment for "dehydration" and "stress."

The fact that Kony 2012, a 30 minute long video message meant to increase awareness of serious problems in the Uganda region of the African continent, attracted more than 80 million views on YouTube in less than a week cannot be overlooked. As a rule, most viral videos are 2-3 minute long shorts meant to quickly convey a message or impression about a very specific, easy to understand point. Kony 2012 shattered that rule by demonstrating that if the message is correctly crafted you can capture the attention of viewers for as long as you need it.

Unfortunately, the Kony 2012 creators forgot a very important rule for social media marketing: Be prepared. Before you start seeking attention, welcoming people to hear your message, visit your web portal or your brick and mortar business, be certain you are ready for them. Invisible Children invited intense scrutiny, but they seem ill-prepared now to handle it. Questions are being asked about what they are doing, why and who is paying for it, and rather than having those answers ready, Invisible Children appears to be dodging when it can and ignoring when it can't.

In fact, it seems like the entire thing has been little more than a waste of time. This is evident in the fact that despite continued coverage views of the Kony 2012 video have nearly come to a standstill and criticism of Invisible Children is mounting.

This is not the way to handle any marketing campaign, much less one of the most successful social media marketing campaigns yet devised. Successful, yes, effective, well, maybe not.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Facebook Users Dig News

When it comes to digital news, Facebook users are more likely than Twitter users to use the service as a news resource.

This comes from the latest Pew research poll which indicates, among other things, that despite this fact, Facebook is still playing catch-up when it comes to the digital news game.

Despite questions about privacy and a penchant for re-inventing its interface on a seemingly never-ending basis, Facebook has solidified its place as the world's most often used social media network. It has done this by helping people build networks of friends and family and allowing them to interact with those networks in an assortment of ways. Because these networks are comprised of what users feel are their most trusted sources of information, it stands to reason they would be more inclined to follow news links they see posted there. Even if the news may not be of interest to them, by staying abreast of what their friends and family are interested in they are better able to relate and join the conversation.

Posting news links on Facebook is practically a guarantee that at least someone in your network will click through. In fact, if you are like me you are regularly looking for interesting news links you can share with your network. This works for both individuals and businesses.

In the meantime, even as Facebook experiences continued success and other social media networks such as Twitter, Tumblr and Google+ continue to grow, mainstream news gathering sites, most notably print news industry web sites, struggle to integrate any sort of social media interaction. This doesn't sit well with me, as a former journalist, because even as they have been reporting on the success of these social networks they have continuously ignored the wide ranging benefits of story sharing which social media offers.

Social media sharing of posted articles is a win-win for social media users and for the people who posted the original stories because it drives traffic. If you are online you are there because you want to attract visitors, and if your stories get shared on social media, that is a great way of driving those visitors to your site.

(Bloggers, take note.)

So, if you are managing a social media network be sure to include relevant news links in your stream. And if you are a news creator, be certain you leverage the power of these same social media networks to get your message in front of as many eyeballs as you possibly can. Starting with Facebook.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Social Media For The Next Generation

Saw an interesting Infographic at talking about the impact of social media on customer service, especially among the key demographic of those between the ages of 16-24.

The reason this is my 'key' demographic is because these are the people who will become the next key demographic of those who are between the ages of 18-35.

Anyway, enough confusing demographics. What I want to talk about is the fact that what you are doing today on social media is all about setting yourself up for the future. If you create a social media campaign and immediately begin reaping benefits, great! But the chances are you are just laying the groundwork for benefits yet to come.

Like customer service.

As this infographic shows, 15% of those between the ages of 16-24 prefer to interact with customer service via social media. Those numbers, both the percentage and the demographic, are only going to increase as we move forward. More and more people are using social media, and expecting that social media will become more useful. That means your existing is fine and dandy, but it needs to be ready to handle growing numbers of people in the future.

What began as a marketing tool is quickly becoming a service and response tool. People expect your social media network to be something much more than a promotional tool. They want to interact with you via social media, yes, but they also expect to be able to resolve issues; have questions answered; order products and find out about new products.

Is your social media network ready for that? Have you thought about the ways it integrates into your overall infrastructure; your sales funnel, your customer service resources and every facet of your business? If you haven't, or if it doesn't, you are not going to reap the benefits of Generation D; those who have grown up fully immersed in the Digital Age.

Your audience is not right now, it is tomorrow, next month and next year. Unless you've built a business model that is only interested in profiting from the latest fad, you need to have an infrastructure which grows to meet the demands of an ever-changing audience. And the audience is demanding more effective uses of social media; tools which help them deal with your business on every level, not just pitch them products.

If you have an existing social media network, or are getting ready to build one, be certain it is flexible enough to handle what is needed now and what will be needed next. If you don't, you risk falling behind and missing the next window of opportunity, which is just around the corner....

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Don't Give Up On Google+

Let me be clear: I am not a fan of Google+. Given the variety of social media sites available today, Google+ simply does not deliver when it comes to interaction with others.

As a social media manager, however, I encourage every client to create a Google+ Business Page as a matter of course. I always make clear to my clients that they should not anticipate much, if any, interaction from their G+ page, but that does not mean they shouldn't have one. In fact, I think now is the perfect time to create a Google+ page, before the site grows huge, which is what I anticipate will happen, eventually.

I have written before that I am firmly convinced that Google+, while not the wildly successful social media site everyone thought it would be, is not going away any time soon. Google has made it quite clear they are pleased with the success they have seen thus far (much more than they received from Google Wave or Google Buzz) and are committed to making it even better by wrapping it around their entire suite of offers. In fact, as time passes Google is likely to continue to improve, integrate and enhance its fledgling social media network.

Thus I have come to the conclusion that eventually (likely later, rather than sooner) Google+ will indeed become the social media network many hoped it would be. If you can get a foothold in the site now, you'll stand a much better chance of being at the forefront when it does finally take off.

But be warned, your efforts on Google+ today are not likely to produce many, if any, positive results today, so don't go thinking it will. And don't start promising your clients positive results either. As it stands now I don't charge my clients for the Google+ work I do for them simply because it tends to not produce measurable results. When Google+ starts to produce something measurable I will re-assess my pricing accordingly. Until then, however, it's just a place holder.

What about you: How is Google+ working for you or your clients?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Social Media Can Save (Individual) Lives

Social media has already proven it can help topple dictators, organize massive relief efforts and bring mass atrocities into the public consciousness.

It has also proven to be helpful for individual users by helping spread the word about their plight, and bring resources necessary to keep them alive.

This week a group of Georgia students began a massive social media campaign to help a fellow student stricken with a kidney ailment who is in need of a transplant. The student's friends hope their social media efforts will find him a donor kidney sooner than medical professionals, and there is precedence to believe it will.

Remember Amit Gupta? Gupta is an Internet entrepreneur who was suddenly diagnosed with acute Leukemia. He underwent and immediate chemotherapy treatment but was desperately in need of a bone marrow transplant he wanted to fully recover. Unfortunately (as far as finding donors is concerned) Gupta is from southeast Asia, an ethnicity which is severely under-represented in the donor pool, so his chances at finding a match were very, very slim. To increase Gupta's odds, his friends launched a massive social media campaign to increase awareness of both his specific plight and the plight of others in his same situation. The effort produced an overwhelming response; more bone marrow donors signing up than ever before and finally, a match for Gupta.

The fact is, whatever message you have, if it is worthwhile, people will not only respond, but also spread it around to their network. This then is what we describe as a viral message. In Gupta's case, as in the case of the Georgia student in need of a kidney, the message is urgent because the situation is dire, so don't expect your message about a sale on widgets to have a similar viral effect, unless it is tied to a similarly important cause (and even then it may seem to be pandering, which is bad.)

So, two lessons here: 1. Social media is a great place to launch your (potentially) viral message because it can motivate massive amounts of people to do great things. 2. Viral is only going to happen to the most important messages with a definite (positive) end in sight.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Yahoo! Wants Facebook Out-Of-Business

The most interesting part of the patent infringement lawsuit Yahoo! has directed at Facebook is what they want: Everything.

It has become fairly clear to everyone on the Web these days that truly new and innovative tools are few and far between. Just about everything you can do on the web--with pages and ads and interactions and security--has already been done. If you do something "new" you're really just doing something "old" and putting a fresh coat of paint on it.

This has created an unwritten rule among tech companies that they not sue each other for patent infringement. By filing suit against Facebook Yahoo! is violating this "rule" seeking nothing short of all-out Armageddon.

Yahoo! alleges that Facebook has violated patents for personalized advertising, custom portal pages, custom news feeds, recommendations to connect with other suggested users, spammer screening, social music applications, messaging applications, and authorizing some users (but not others) to see different sections of your personal content.

If Yahoo! is successful in their suit against Facebook, the world's largest social media site will be reduced to nothing more than a collection of names and contact information. Everything that makes Facebook, well, Facebook, is made possible through the use of one of the services Yahoo! is trying to force them to stop using.

Yahoo! has been in the process of rebuilding and re-branding itself. No longer a leader in search it is looking to re-invent itself as something more. Perhaps a new media purveyor, perhaps something else, but whatever it is, it's not a social network as we know it so it seems unlikely they are hoping to fill niche that would be left empty if Facebook shut down.

Facebook, on the other hand, is looking to further solidify its standing as the world's most popular social media network. Already it boasts more than 900 million active users around the globe. This alone makes it unlikely that they will be forced to shut down, especially when you consider Yahoo! has had years in which to file a lawsuit, or even complain about patent infringement. To find against Facebook in this instance would be tantamount to unraveling the Internet as we now know it, forcing companies to start again in building the World Wide Web.

However, it is possible Yahoo! could win some monetary compensation from Facebook, perhaps even a hefty compensation, leading to the likelihood that even more patent infringement suits would be filed, resulting in online Armageddon (as I mentioned earlier.)

Seems to me it would make more sense to follow the precedent which has already been set and let sleeping dogs lie. Of course, this is just conventional wisdom which is far, far different from the letter of the law.

I will be interested to see how this plays out in the courts and what repercussions we all all suffer as a result.

Monday, March 12, 2012

CNN Buying Mashable And Why This Matters To You

News is expected soon of a reported deal between CNN and internet news site Mashable worth $200 million.

Mashable was started in 2005 by Pete Cashmore who has said something to the affect that covering Internet news was the easiest way for him to work from bed. Cashmore was so committed to his idea that he dropped out of college at age 19 to pursue it. In the past several years it has expanded from covering just social media news to become the preeminent Internet news site.

CNN has already been partnering with Mashable, whose stories often appear under the Technology news section of the CNN web site, so it is not too much of a leap to believe there is logic in the move.

This brings me to my point: One blog can go a long, long way.

That's what Cashmore started in 2005. It was one blog against the world, so to speak. Cashmore's genius was in identifying a growing trend and focusing his blog squarely on that niche market. He didn't try to be all things to all people, or simply do what everyone else was doing. He found his own way, created his own "thing" and did it better than anyone else.

There are lessons for every blogger in Cashmore's success starting with his commitment to excellence. Rarely have I seen a Mashable post retracted or corrected. careful study of the facts; research, editing and presentation made his blog successful, garnering his respect from readers and industry insiders. It also made him and his blog a household name (in households where social media and technology is an oft-discussed topic.)

This was his recipe for success and it resulted in a successful business model that brought him the recognition and respect he deserves. It also seems to have brought him a $200 million buy-out offer from CNN.

Considering he has only been in business for seven years, that means, in addition to the revenue Mashable earns him from the 20+ million unique visitors it gets every month, Cashmore has made almost $7 million a year for his investment of time and effort.

Not bad for a blogger.

Now, take a look at your own blog and ask yourself if you're following in Cashmore's footsteps or blazing your own trail. Either way, at least you are on the road to something, right?

Friday, March 9, 2012

What Social Media Marketing Can And Can't Do

If you expect social media marketing to drive sales you might be in for a disappointment. The ability of social media marketing to drive sales has more to do with the product or service you are promoting than it does with the effectiveness of this particular technique.

If you are selling plumbing supplies you need to consider that there are only so many people in need of plumbing supplies at any given moment. Sales may or may not respond accordingly so in this way social media marketing is not as effective as some businesses hope it will be.

What social media is most effective at is brand recognition and what I like to call "mind placement."

By having an active social media presence you position your brand in front of the largest possible audience. Combining just Facebook and Twitter alone gives you a potential audience of ONE BILLION people. This in and of itself may not result in an immediate influx of new sales. It does put your brand front and center and places your particular product or service in the minds of people who may one day need it.

Mind Placement means that when they do need your product/service, or hear from someone who does, the first thing that comes to mind is your brand. That's the true power of social media marketing.

Lots of marketers are trying to push you on the idea that social media marketing can increase conversions and for some businesses this is likely true. But not for all businesses. Also, this is social media's most effective use. Once again, social media marketing is a tool which must be leveraged correctly in order to gain the most use from it. Not only that, but you need to have your expectations in line with what can be delivered (and so should your clients.)

If you promise your clients that social media marketing can increase their sales, you are setting yourself up for failure because you cannot control what people will or will not buy, or when. If this were possible traditional advertising would have figured out how to do it long, long ago. Instead, focus on what social media marketing can do, which is to put their product/service/message in front of more people than any other form of marketing. Once you do that, once you are increasing brand recognition and "mind placement" then you can start to analyze why sales might not be increasing.

Because ultimately, that is what social media marketing is good for: getting the attention of audience. After that, all bets are off.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lawyers Perspective On Social Media Marketing

I happened across a fantastic blog post this morning from Minnesota Lawyer talking about the ways some in the legal professional have leveraged the power of social media marketing to gain new clients.

I thought this post was great for two reasons: First, it shows quite clearly that some in the legal profession are indeed having success using social media marketing. And second, it also shows that using social media is not a recipe for disaster when it comes to legal professionals.

To be fair, the post only spotlights the use of social media by what they call "solo attorneys", so it would be difficult to gauge the impact on law firms, however they use data collected in 2011 from the American Bar Association

The post goes on to interview several social media experts who point to the ways legal professionals can use and are using social media marketing effectively. This is great news for those in the legal profession who have pointed to the risk to current clients if they Tweet or update a Fan Page, as a reason to avoid social media marketing.

That argument always rang false with me anyway. No one in their right mind is going to post sensitive or protected information unless they are out of their mind, in which case the client would actually benefit because this would be a sure sign of just how ignorant they are.

Do I sense a sea change when it comes to the use of social media marketing within the legal profession? No. Am I seeing some individuals making in-roads and putting the world's most powerful communication tool to good use? Yes.

There are lessons here to be learned by anyone using or thinking about using social media to market their service, product or brand. It demonstrates quite clearly that social media is a tool, and if it is used wisely it is a very beneficial tool. However, like any tool, in the wrong hands, or used in the wrong way, it can cause damage.

Proper social media management then makes all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Blogging Is (MUCH) Harder Than It Sounds

Everyone wants to blog these days. Businesses recognize the importance of creating new content daily and the addition of a blog to their web site seems the easiest way to make this happen.

In theory. In practice the operation of a daily blog is time consuming, labor intensive and something best done by someone who understands the nature of the subject being reported or at least needs to be heavily researched.

As a social media manager I am often asked by clients to create daily blog content. This content has run the gamut of subjects from retail to technology; automotive to financial, and just about everything in between.

I have often remarked that I wish I could blog about Zoology so I could say I've blogged on topics from "A to Z".

Unfortunately, with these blog assignments come the conversations detailing just how much effort is required from me to maintain these blogs. It shocks me how some clients are under the mistaken belief that posting to a blog is "between 5 to 10 minutes" and anything else is overkill. As anyone who does it knows, that's about how long it takes to properly format and post the finished blog entry. The time it takes to research and write the post is much more.

Blogging is a great tool for promotion. It is perfect for creating daily content on an otherwise static homepage, but it requires a great deal of effort on the part of the Blogger. First, there is likely a good deal of research to be done. Not just on the subject but in finding topics which are relevant to the current state of the business I am blogging for. I need to search current news and information, create an angle which is fresh; consider the impact this news or information has on my client and then produce the actual content presented from the point-of-view of my client.

Consider this: Sit down every day and write 500 words on anything. Any subject you want, off the top of your head. How long will that take you each day? Now, consider you have to write about a more specific subject, one you know nothing about. How long will that take you?

The other problem I run into is the belief that blogging is a part of social media management. It certainly is an integral part of an effective social media campaign, but only in the same way running gas station is an integral part of driving a car. It is simply not the same animal.

It is imperative you understand just how labor intensive producing an effective blog is and take this into consideration before committing yourself, or your resources to it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fact: Pinterest Is Not For Everyone

Pinterest is arguably the hottest social media site around at the moment, but that doesn't mean your company (or clients) should be jumping in the deep end.

While Pinterest is definitely growing by leaps and bounds, it's format and its users are beginning to show signs of fitting niche markets only. Specifically, crafts, home decor and visual media sites are among the most popular pin boards in use. And people who follow such things comprise the bulk of Pinterest users.

So, what does this mean for your business? Well, if you deal in gardening, art, photos, home decorating or remodeling, or even auto detailing, you have the makings of a decent Pinterest marketing account.

If, however, your business is less visual, let's say you're an accountant or a tax preparer, or do something which doesn't lend itself to visuals, you might have a tougher time setting up a Pinterest account. And would likely derive less from it.

Does this mean you can't find a work-around; a way to post interesting photos and links to your "CPA" Pin Board? No. However, if you look at the demographics of the people who are using the site (no need for a careful analysis-just go to the site and surf around for awhile) you will quickly discover that those are not the Pin Boards people are interested in seeing and interacting with.

Once again I have to go back to a point I make all the time: social media is a tool, not a solution in and of itself. You can't use every tool for every job you do. Sometimes you need a hammer and sometimes you need a wrench. There is no point in trying to use a wrench when you need to drive a nail into a board, or reaching for a hammer when you need to tighten a nut.

Now, have I used a hammer to help loosen a nut? Yes. Have I used a wrench to bang on something when it was the only tool I had available at the time? Yes. That doesn't make either of them the best tool for the job I was doing however.

Pinterest is the same way. It might help you promote your business, depending on what your business is and who you are trying to reach, or it might not. But don't think that it will solve all your problems (if it is) or that your business will fail without it (if it isn't.)

After all, it's just another tool in your social media marketing tool box.

If you are using Pinterest, post a link to your board in the comments section below and let me know how you use it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gartner Speaks But Will Social Media Listen?

Gartner Inc., "the world's leading information technology research and advisory company" released today a report detailing some issues they feel are critical to the continued importance of social media.

According to their most recent report, soon nearly every company in the world will be using social media to promote their brand, market their products or vet their employees and potential employees. If this use of social media as a business tool is to succeed in the coming years, Gartner says, social media sites will need to start making some fixes to how they work.

Specifically, Gartner talks about the existing levels of anonymity on the Social Web. This, they say, works against companies who need to rely on these services as legitimate business tools. This is a point in favor of Google+ which has put severe limitations on the ability of users to create accounts under nicknames or pseudonyms. It is also a wake-up call for all social media sites to start thinking about the way businesses use their services, and not just individuals.

Lately I have been grappling with the new Facebook Timeline feature for Business Pages. I don't like them. I realize I am in the minority (at least I feel that way) but I have good reason. I don't like Timeline for pages because it blurs the line between individual profiles and business profiles (pages.) What works for one, should not and likely will not, work for the other.

Individuals and businesses have specific differences in the way they use social media and want to use social media. The Pages feature is clearly trying to bridge this gap, so I think that sends the wrong message.

Personally, I use social media (Facebook in particular) to connect with my friends and family. I like knowing that my page is my own and distinct from a branded page which many writers and social media managers use.

People know the difference between a personal profile and a brand page because of the way they look. A brand page is made for people who want to interact with the brand. It allows (or rather, it did) the business to create and organize the page however they wished. Now, everyone, people and businesses alike, use the same format with severe limitations in how they can make their page/profile look different.

It seems to me, if I am understanding this Gartner report correctly, that Facebook made a big mistake with its latest move. Instead of helping companies find a way to further legitimize their use of social media they created a new format, a new design for them to follow, and did some things which have severely limited their ability to individualize their page. (Specifically, the Centerpiece photo, but also the way their Timeline, if they are a new business, will reflect that point rather obviously.)

Gartner made some very valid points about the increasing use of social media by all businesses and the benefits they may derive from it. But they also pointed out some serious flaws in the way the Social Web currently conducts business. If they expect to be treated like a business tool, they need to start acting more like a business tool and less like a cool place to hang out.

I am curious: Am I the only one who sees the new Timeline feature as a limitation for business? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Racing To Win The Social Media Wars

NASCAR racer Brad Keselowski Tweeted during a crash delay of the Daytona 500 this week, giving fans an inside peek at the race, netting an additional 100,000 Followers and generating a surge in social media attention for the sport of racing.

Interestingly enough, NASCAR is one of the few sports that is encouraging its participants to take to social media to interact with fans; connect and encourage participation. In the NBA and NFL players are banned from Tweeting during games, and cautioned against using social media even in their off hours. In this way NASCAR is bucking the trend and making good use of the world's most powerful communication tool.

Keselowski took advantage of the break during Monday's race to Tweet. He interacted with fans, answered questions and chatted about what he was doing while he waited. One man, one smartphone, one social media tool, and he reaped nearly as much social media attention during the one hour interlude as the Super Bowl LXVI Social Media Center accomplished with an army of volunteer social media managers.

NASCAR is praising Keselowski for his use of social media and for bridging the gap between racers and fans. They are glad for the attention he brought (and continues to bring) to his sport and they are encouraging other racers to do the same.

However, and here's the rub, how will they react if a racer complains about track conditions, the fairness of the rules or the way they are treated by NASCAR? That's the true test of social media willingness. Everybody wants, needs and appreciates good publicity, regardless of whether it comes through social media or the traditional print media. But the power of social media to promote can also be used to deride, and that's usually where brands draw a line.

For now, Keselowski is a NASCAR publicity hero. Good for him and good for NASCAR! But I am more curious to see how they react when they have someone Tweet something negative, and pick up 100,000 Followers for it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Facebook Timeline For Biz Pages Means More Changes

Just when you thought you had a good handle on how to leverage your Facebook Business Page for your business or client, they change the rules.

And this time, not only has the game changed but the whole board has been turned upside down. Just about everything related to a Business Page is altered in some way. Some folks have said they "love" the new Timelines, while others are still too busy trying to figure out how to fit their existing page into the new format to express an opinion.

The biggest change I see is the elimination of "Landing Pages" and the requirement that your main picture cannot contain any promotional text. These two things are what differentiated business pages from profiles. Specifically, a business page is meant to promote a business. With Timeline, Facebook has essentially reduced the way businesses can use these pages for promotional purposes.

The Timeline feature of the way posts stream is also not conducive to businesses. There is an option to pin a couple posts at the top of the page, as if Facebook designers understood they were limiting the usefulness of Business Pages and wanted to offer their users a cookie as appeasement.

In case you didn't know, the push for Timelines was meant as a way to emphasize the visual features of Facebook. This is great for businesses which have a means of developing visuals. If your business does not lend itself to this type of interaction however, you're out of luck.

There is also a problem if your business is relatively young. If you have a history which stretches back years or decades, you can add as many post-dated photos and videos as you like to demonstrate your history. Again, this great for a user like Harley-Davidson which has 100 years worth of photos to choose from, and bad news for the company you just started last year.

Regardless of what I think of Timeline, it is here to stay and Facebook converts think it's the best thing since sliced bread. I believe Timelines for Biz Pages opens the door for a competitor to swoop in and create something which works better for all businesses, not just those with lots of visuals and a lengthy history.

It remains to be seen if anyone will do that, but as we have seen with social media in the past, every day brings something new and different. And sometimes, even better.

(By the way, in yet another shameless plug for my book I would like to point to this as a good example of why the social media tools you use today really don't matter when it comes to marketing and management. What matters are the basic principles; the understanding you have of how to interact with social media in general. Check out my "The ABC's of Social Media Management" to learn more, and be ready to roll with the changes that always coming.