Justin Rubner

Archive for the ‘social media’ Category

Did Someone Mention Social Search?

In public relations, social media on 10/28/2011 at 3:09 pm

If you’re using Google Alerts or individual sites to monitor what’s being said in the social-media sphere about a company, product, person or topic, you’re probably wasting time. More importantly, though, you’re probably missing critical sentiment.

That’s because Google, even with recent social-media enhancements, isn’t as good as a site that focuses on social-media search. And searching every site is near impossible.

There are plenty of media-monitoring services that are great for keeping track of realtime social-media sentiment for B2B companies, such as Radian6. But if you don’t need that kind of serious automated capability, there are free sites that are actually quite good.

I recently tested a bunch for a PR agency, using the terms “Salesforce.com”, “Reed Hastings” and “software analytics”. You might think these sites would be more or less the same. They’re not.

Here are six that stood out, ranked from best to worst:

  1. Social Mention
  2. WhosTalkin.com
  3. Addict-o-matic
  4. 48ers
  5. Surchur.com
  6. Joongel

The last two, Joongel and Surchur.com, offered little B2B value.

Joongel, “Internet, the easy way,” is a simple web application for searching and navigating through the most popular sources on the Internet in different categories. The service says its search method is based on the geographic location of the user and traffic-ranking analysis. Sources include every major one except Facebook and LinkedIn. After a test, nothing came up for “salesforce.com” or “Reed Hastings”. Plus, it seemed glitchy at times.

Surchur.com, which describes itself as “realtime discovery, realtime search and realtime social,” is catered to seeing what’s trending more than anything. For most B2B applications, it has limited results. But it could be powerful for consumer issues.

Now on to the good ones. The one site I’d recommend somewhat is 48ers. Bottom line: Wasn’t great, wasn’t bad.

48ers, “which was created to help you search for what’s happening right now,” says it trawls conversations from all the major social networks to bring back “nuggets of information” to help you:

  • Discover what people are saying about your company or brand.
  • Find out what other people think of the TV shows you’re watching.
  • Be the first to find out about breaking news stories.
  • Tap into the public mood about the latest sporting events.

Sources include Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz (no thanks!), Digg and Delicious.

The site ranks searches by time posted and displays them in a  Google-like format. Searches on the three topics yielded somewhat relevant and timely results, but they weren’t as exact as I was hoping for.

As for usability, Twitter results, perhaps because of the sheer amount of content, vastly outrank other results on the first page, so you have to click the other sources to see them. That’s a bit cumbersome and not really practical.

There are better social media search sites, including…

Addict-o-matic is pretty good and the most fun

Addict-o-matic

Addict-o-matic, the coolest-looking site of the bunch, “searches the best live sites on the web for the latest news, blog posts, videos and images.”  It’s the “perfect tool to keep up with the hottest topics, perform ego searches and feed your addiction for what’s up, what’s now or what other people are feeding on,” the site says.

Sources include Google Blogs, WordPress, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Wikio, Ask.com, Friendfeed and more…but no Facebook or LinkedIn. It also searches regular engines such as Google News.

My observations? WordPress results are old and seem to have no ranking logic. Google Blogs results, however, are up to date and seem comprehensive. Twitter also seems up to date—latest post was 8 minutes old.

Usability was strong. It’s visually appealing and intuitive with its modular design. You can select which sources to use and can bookmark search terms and settings. It’s a bit annoying that the results contain so few words—you have to actually click the link to get a real view on what’s being said. It’s particularly nice, however, to come back to the site to have the results waiting for you.

Upsides? Segmented results, tremendous flexibility in searching, strong search capabilities, and a fun user experience.

The downsides? No LinkedIn or Facebook and having to click onto the actual sites.

WhosTalkin.com has the best Facebook and LinkedIn results

Who’sTalkin.com

Who’sTalkin.com is a social media search tool that allows users to search for conversations surrounding the topics they care about most, “whether it be your favorite sport, favorite food, celebrity, or your company’s brand name.”

Sources include 60 sites, including Facebook and LinkedIn.

WhosTalkin.com breaks searches down by category, like  Social Mention, which is analyzed below, and you can also search by source. Twitter results were only 10 seconds old. Facebook results all seemed timely and relevant. The LinkedIn search was also solid. (I must say that in the weeks following this analysis, search results have occasionally taken a long time).

As for usability, it doesn’t look impressive, but this site is the only one reviewed that delivered consistent results for all major networks. However, subsequent uses have yielded painfully slow results.

Upsides would be that its sources include Facebook and LinkedIn.

Downsides would be that you can’t create alerts, it’s slow sometimes, and is just an average user experience.

Social Mention

Social Mention has the most capability

Social Mention is the clear winner here, although I also like Addict-o-matic and WhosTalkin.com. Social Mention describes itself as a “social media search and analysis platform that aggregates user generated content from across the universe into a single stream of information. It allows you to easily track and measure what people are saying about you, your company, a new product, or any topic across the web’s social media landscape in real-time.”

Sources seem to include every major social site, including Facebook and LinkedIn. Plus it offers basic sentiment analysis capability (you should check it out), daily social media alerts and a buzz widget.

On a search for “salesforce.com”, with a parameter of the last 24 hours, it brought up 97 Twitter results, 26 Stumbleupon results, three for Bing, one for Facebook and one for Google Blogs. However, another search did not deliver any Facebook results and a subsequent search brought up 19.

The sentiment analysis section is impressive looking, but it would take repeated use to determine how accurate it really is. It can tell you how many results appear to be negative, neutral or positive. Given recent bad publicity around Netflix, the sentiment analysis for its CEO, Reed Hastings, seems as if it would be pretty accurate.

Rather than separating by source, Social Mention lets users search by category, such as blogs and networks, which actually makes  sense. If you want, you can click the individual source after a search.

For some reason, Facebook results were glitchy. Sometimes they showed up. Other times they didn’t. But that could very well be an anomaly. I can deal with this, though.

Another great feature of Social Mention are alerts, which are like Google Alerts, but they are, as of this writing, not available.

As with anything free, no site is perfect. The site with the most power, functionality and context is Social Mention. The site that has the best Facebook and LinkedIn results, at least during this testing, was WhosTalkin.com. The best user experience, especially if you want instant results automatically, is Addict-o-matic…but it has limited sources and is the distant runner-up.

For those who want just basic social-media monitoring, would like some sentiment analysis, and don’t mind a little manual effort, your search should end at Social Mention.

What Pink Floyd Can Teach Us About PR

In marketing strategy, public relations, social media on 08/16/2011 at 9:00 am

Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe PR people aren’t good at publicizing the benefits of PR. Either way, the longer I spend in this industry, the more I’m reminded of one of my favorite Pink Floyd-isms:

“If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”

In this case, the meat represents tactics: A strong message, solid writing, thought leadership, press relations, social media.

The pudding is the reward: More conversions, name recognition, instant credibility, media coverage, brand engagement.

So many companies spend all of their resources on direct product marketing and collateral and expect big returns. These tactics are crucial. If done well, they will help increase name recognition.

But as I often tell clients, PR accomplishes this goal and establishes credibility. Social media, on the other hand, brings brand engagement to the mix. And a strong message? It’s the glue that holds everything together.

If you ignore or even downplay these tactics, how many rewards are you potentially missing?

After all, any company can advertise. But when a company is mentioned in a respected news outlet, it establishes an instant reputation that no ad, press release or whitepaper can. And when a company is doing a good job at social media, it’s  engaging people–exponentially–in a way no story can.

However, if you’re contributing to only part of this list, your marketing efforts will likely suffer. All social media and no PR will not garner nearly as much credibility. All PR and no social delivers little engagement. A strong message with no way to promote it is downright useless. And a strong promotional machine with no message is like yelling in the wind. In Northern Saskatchewan.

In other words, strive for balance.

My recommendations:

  1. Develop a core message that resonates with potential clients.
  2. Develop talking points for media relations.
  3. Use this messaging consistently.
  4. Write well. The other day, I read a case study with a major grammatical error in the lead sentence. Almost as bad, it, like many others, was mind-numbingly dry. There’s no reason for either. Bad grammar or dry writing negatively impacts your image or at the very least causes people to not read your material.
  5. Focus your PR efforts on thought leadership, accomplishments and near-term expansion plans–not your product.
  6. Identify trade publications and opportunities for coverage.
  7. Identify local media outlets, paying close attention to editorial calendars. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll be seen as too small by getting local coverage. Unless it’s a story on your company picnic, local coverage–from small capital raises to large expansions–establishes credibility.
  8. Identify national mainstream outlets that cover your industry. Don’t think you absolutely can’t get national coverage. That’s where your focus on thought leadership will help.
  9. Don’t treat social media as a push channel. If you’re not finding ways to engage people, you’re really not using it to your full advantage.
  10. Find ways to promote marketing collateral such as whitepapers through PR and social channels.
  11. Find ways to make your company more than just another brick in the wall.

- Justin Rubner

Do Scoutmob and Groupon Users Come Back?

In advertising, social media on 06/01/2011 at 11:07 am

If you could have hundreds of new customers checking out your business and the only thing you had to do was honor a discount, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

You’d get a creative, well-penned write-up sent to tens of thousands of geo-targeted shoppers who already indicated they liked businesses like yours. And, you only had to pay the company doing this a fee based on how many coupon users actually paid you.

Or, if you could receive market research without spending a dime, wouldn’t that be a good thing, too?

You’d get free publicity from people who liked you and free unfiltered advice from people who didn’t, along with an online listing and directions to your locale.

Scoutmob

It's not for every business, but a service such as Scoutmob can bring in thousands of new customers

You’ve likely noticed I’m talking about sites such as Scoutmob and Yelp.

What you’ve probably not noticed is that some, maybe many, restaurateurs answer “no” to both of these questions.

The other day, I saw a Scoutmob 50-percent-off coupon for a nearby sports bar and decided to give it another try after being disappointed the first time. Despite the reviews on Yelp–more than half were negative–I went anyway. After the meal, which was OK if you’re wondering–not great, but decent–the owner said she didn’t accept Scoutmobs after 2. It was about 2:45.

That stipulation was no where on the coupon.

After complaining about how us “Scoutmobbers” never came back after the deal (how would she know if this was the first day?) and that she was losing money on my lunch because of the discount, she reluctantly agreed to honor what it said. She also brushed off Yelp reviewers, saying anyone with a keyboard could do such a thing.

I’ve had similar experiences with other restaurants, whether I was using Scoutmob, or its more established cousins, LivingSocial and Groupon.

At a Chinese restaurant recently, I felt instant contempt from the owner as soon as I said we had a Scoutmob. In fact, the owner had a sign saying “All Scoutmob users must pay in cash.” What’s next–segregated seats for coupon holders? Like the other owner, she had a last-minute stipulation that wasn’t on the coupon. Unlike the sports bar, I didn’t argue.

Another time, I ate at a pizzeria that was completely unprepared for the onslaught of new customers. The order took nearly an hour, and then the owner told me he was unsure whether it was even worth it because he didn’t know if anyone would be back.

In the pizzeria’s case, I won’t be back. But that’s not because I’m a Scoutmobber. It’s because the pizza was mediocre and wouldn’t be worth the 10-mile drive. (I drive about that distance to my favorite pizzeria in Atlanta, Antico Pizza Napoletana. It’s so good, I’d drive 20.)

In the Chinese restaurant’s case, I will most definitely be back–the Mongolian Beef was that good–even though the owner was a bit rude. And the sports bar? Probably not, because the owner was even more rude and her food wouldn’t be worth it without a coupon because it’s way overpriced.

I’ve been using Scoutmob and Groupon for more than a year now and I must say how often I hear “we” never come back. How ridiculous. Do some not come back, even if the food, price and service are good? Yes. The dissatisfaction of some businesses losing money on these deals is also well documented.

But if you deliver an above-average product at a respectable price, it’s misguided to think you won’t benefit. In fact, what you’re really saying is, customers who use coupons are lower-caliber customers.

Think Proctor & Gamble, which spent $4.18 billion on media in 2009, complains that no one buys their products at full price after using clip-out coupons from the Sunday newspaper?

P&G coupons

P&G coupons

Then there are user-review sites such as Yelp, CitySearch, Google Places and Kudzu. After having clients with negative reviews on these sites, I know it’s a challenge. No one wants to see themselves, or their clients, get slammed on a website.

But here’s the deal. If you’re great, most people won’t say bad things. Sure, some will. Some might have gone to your business on a bad day. Or, maybe some might just be yahoos with no taste. But all of my favorite restaurants, Antico Pizza included, have mostly glowing reviews on Yelp.

If you’re not great, what an opportunity to improve. You can take the common complains on Yelp, CitySearch and other social media, and analyze what you can do to improve.

The sports bar, for example? Nearly half complained about one of the same things I did–high prices and being nickel and dimed on extras.

I do hope the sports bar heeds some of these reviews. If they did, I’d give them a third, and final, chance…

Despite being a Scoutmobber and all.

- Justin Rubner

Do You Really–I Mean Really–Need a Blog?

In social media on 10/28/2010 at 6:08 pm

Even God can't read everyone's tweets

Yesterday, I attended a great social media presentation by Internet consultant Joey Smith.

I agreed with a lot of his points, and he gave me some serious food for thought. Like the psychological power of the social web. And (he may or may not disagree with this take away) that too many social media advocates are way over-advocating the extent to which companies should be embracing the blogosphere. More on that in a bit.

First, the power part:

“With traditional sales or marketing,” Smith asked the audience, “how many times do you have to meet with a client before you get a sale?”

Some said four. One said seven. In other words, it takes a client several different “touches” to trust you and your product or service before they’re converted.

With social media, a potential client can have six different impressions of you in 60 seconds, he said. Think of your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo, blog and YouTube page. Further, he said, psychology dictates that it doesn’t matter if those touches came within 60 seconds…or 60 days. The trust factor is similar.

Smith also talked about alignment, something near and dear to my heart. Basically, if your social media channels aren’t in alignment with your or your company’s real personality, you will fail online. In other words, be honest. Don’t be afraid to relax and show some personality…but make sure it’s in alignment with the other channels, and, of course, your real personality.

However…his presentation also made me think about how so many consultants, some of whom get paid for designing or ghostwriting blogs (more on that in another post), are telling clients “You must have a blog!”

No you don’t!

That is, if…

  • You don’t have the time to spend on a blog or aren’t putting out decent content.
  • You don’t have the educational spirit to truly educate readers.
  • You plan on blogging on nothing but self-promotional news.
  • You aren’t comfortable taking a stand on an occasional basis (which is OK–not everybody likes putting themselves “out there”, but some controversy does make for much better reading).

Blogs improve search engine rankings. But there are other ways to drive more traffic to your site if you don’t happen to have the time commitment for a good blog. Like setting up an industry news feed. Or putting out frequent press releases. Or, by far the best way, getting mentioned in the media!

I think we’re facing an unprecedented time of an unbelievable amount of information available to us, as well as serious information overload, thanks to the blogosphere, and now Twitter–which is an invaluable channel that has also become overrun with noise. Because of the high amount of noise on Twitter–think frivolous posts about where you’re eating, etc.–I can’t seriously follow 20 people, let alone 200. I know I’m not alone with this conflict.

If you are thinking of starting a Twitter campaign, I would give the following advice:

  • Make sure your tweets are thought-leadership focused, not PR focused.
  • Make sure you commit time resources into the regular publishing of tweets.
  • Make sure your tweets aren’t too random. I’m not saying you have to stay on target all the time–showing your personality is good–just make sure if you decide to tweet on intellectual property, for instance, that most of your tweets have something to do with law and technology and innovation, not how much you like arugula on pizza.

As for blogs, I would take this a big step further. Blogs, unlike a Twitter channel, are a serious time commitment. So, you might want to ask yourself the following:

  • Why do I want one? If you can’t answer this, or if your only answer is “Because one of my competitors has one,” you might want to reconsider. That blog, like many others, will likely become an abandoned project.
  • What am I going to blog about? Copycation is about corporate communications and the media. Stuff like public relations, copywriting, message strategy, marcom and media trends. Copycation is not about football, music, entrepreneurship or cooking–four things I love.
  • How much time do I have to spend? The great thing about blogs are, there are no rules. But I would offer this rule of thumb (you may disagree)–For a corporate blog, one or so a month. A CEO or thought leadership  blog, every two or three weeks. A personal or group blog, every week or two. An industry blog, every week. A news blog, several a day.
  • What’s the tone I’ll take? Serious? Technical? Newsy? Edgy? Humorous? Irreverent? Stick with your tone. This becomes more difficult with a group blog, but some consistency should still be maintained. Your tone is your brand. People don’t like schtizo brands.
  • How will I promote it? Get with your friendly marketer on this one.

Not everyone needs a blog. There are too many blogs out there, many of them awful or fluffy, others pitifully-abandoned orphans. Bad blogs are not enjoyable. Orphans are downright sad.

In the end, if everyone had a blog, what would be the point? We’d all be so busy opining on everything and being our own publisher that we’d never have time to read anything else.

-Justin Rubner

The Sad Saga of Golden Beach Hotel and Why Anonymous Postings Should Disappear

In business communications, social media on 09/22/2010 at 11:39 am

A story broke Sept. 20 about a British couple kicked out of a hotel because of an allegedly negative anonymous review on the popular site TripAdvisor.

Two days into their three-day stay at Golden Beach Hotel in Blackpool, England, a manager apparently told the couple to leave…without even giving them a refund, according to this story in USA Today. The manager was so barmy (couldn’t resist) over their review that he supposedly called the cops to escort them out!

This is how not to win customers

Undoubtedly, the PR and social media world will tar and feather the hotel, and rightly so. Clearly, the better solution would have been to respond to the review online in a constructive way and try to fix the problem the couple was disappointed in. Even more clear, kicking the couple out was a bad business decision, an even worse PR move, and gives the impression the hotel isn’t too interested in changing its ways.

The hotel’s reward for the bad decision–going from a harsh review that might be read by a few hundred users to harsh headlines in major publications worldwide that will be read by hundreds of thousands.

By the way: The guy who was kicked out is recovering from cancer.

With that out of the way, does the hotel have any valid point worth mentioning? I think so: Anonymous posts.

BBC is reporting that other hoteliers in the area are now joining in a fight against TripAdvisor and anonymous reviews. Their argument–that harsh negative attacks accompanied with no identity is cowardice. I agree completely, but would venture a guess that many don’t want any negative comments. I would also say that for every person who was turned away by an anonymous posting, there are 10 others who became customers. So, by potentially suing TripAdvisor, they are biting the hand that feeds them.

Several months ago, I wrote a post, An Injured Duck, a Tragic Death and Anonymous Posters, about the absurdity of allowing nameless readers to post trashy comments on news stories. The post mentions the elaborate process of getting a letter to the editor published in contrast to the ridiculously easy process of getting an online comment published. Online, all it takes is a few seconds, and your anonymous comments–smart, silly or hateful–are published…sometimes in the biggest publications in the world!

If interactive media really is all it’s cracked up to be–I believe it is–then why don’t we give it equal treatment with print media?

With all the good that social media has brought us, it has also brought us a flood of thoughtlessness and hate in the guise of anonymity. Do you ever read the comments in news stories or YouTube? I often wish I could watch YouTube videos without any comments. One anonymous zombie comment always seems to beget other anonymous zombie comments.

This practice does nothing for brand engagement, or freedom of speech for that matter. Instead, it sullies the reputation of websites that pride themselves on quality content. It also makes it difficult for businesses to effectively defend themselves.

Why not require users to set up accounts with full names and put in some system to help ensure they’re legit? Yes, fewer users would do it. But as a user of these sites myself, I would be far more interested in reading 20 thoughtful, by-lined reviews–positive and negative–than 200 mindless ones. In addition, if a business were serious about customer service, it could offer incentives to negative reviewers to try to win them over.

This is not possible on the nameless Web.

Requiring posters to use their real names would enhance brand engagement. As a fully identified member of an online community, I take pride in my posts. I bet most others do too. Conversely, if I’m using the handle zombie112, I’m not going to feel like I’m a real member. And I’m not going to take the extra time to ensure my thoughts are as fair or as logical as they should be. Others, frankly, will be far more hateful. In addition, enacting identification measures would substantially lessen the highly unethical, and somewhat common, practice of competitors illegitimately trashing your company on review sites.

However…the part about anonymous posts is where I draw my line for support of this hotel. In the picture, you can clearly see management’s alleged responses to users as aggressive, unapologetic and downright combative.

Sites such as TripAdvisor are a boon to businesses and consumers. They convert cold leads, deliver unfiltered feedback so businesses can better serve customers, and offer the collective power of past customers’ experiences so new ones can make better decisions.

These sites, however, require that businesses engage posters in a positive way. Be genuine. Be humble. Often, that is all it takes to win an angry poster over. Certainly, not being apologetic and calling posters names isn’t going to win you any points with anyone reading the reviews.

I hope interactive media sites are seriously exploring having some ID systems in place down the line.

Until we apply the same discipline to the social Web as we do traditional media, I fail to see how they ever could be on the same level.

-Justin Rubner

It’s Not Just Your Product–Why Engaging Content and Brand Advocacy Are So Important

In marketing strategy, social media on 08/26/2010 at 4:06 pm

People trust the Internet more than they do salespeople

Did you know 83 percent of consumers are “somewhat to much” more confident about purchasing something after conducting online research than they are talking to someone in a so-called brick and mortar store?

That’s according to Lauren Freedman, President of Chicago-based e-Tailing Group, who spoke yesterday at an Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association event on e-commerce.

Freedman presented findings of a recent 2010 e-commerce trends survey her consultancy released.

The 83 percent example clearly shows the need for online content that accurately and easily explains your product’s or service’s value proposition. It also shows the need to create and maintain brand loyalists (and getting positive press in the media).

One trend Freedman mentioned was that product pages are increasingly emerging as a top destination for users. That means these pages must be compelling! Pictures and quick descriptions are no longer acceptable. Consumers are wanting those products to be explained and differentiated. They’re secretly hoping to be convinced.

It’s really simple–investing in content creation helps. If you’re looking to buy a stereo receiver, for example, and one retailer has in-depth content on what makes it so good, and another has just a few technical details, you’re going to be more attracted to the first retailer.

Another trend Freedman mentioned was the importance of user-generated reviews. With numerous review sites around, and especially Facebook and Twitter, reviews from customers can have a make or break impact. According to her company’s research, 72 percent of retailers say user-generated reviews have the biggest impact on buyer behavior than any other factor!

Here’s a quick quiz:

You’re looking to purchase a product or service. You’ve narrowed it down to three companies:

  1. Company A has 40 reviews, 35 of which are positive, and an active Facebook following with frequent company posts and user comments.
  2. Company B has one review, which is positive, and no Facebook following.
  3. Company C has 40 reviews, only five of which are positive, and a Facebook account that hasn’t been updated in four months.

Which are you going to choose, presuming the products and prices are somewhat similar?

Company A, I’d hope.

Company C clearly has issues–88 percent of customers had bad things to say and the company appears to not be very interested in connecting with them because of the lame Facebook page. Company B has only one real fan out there–yes, a 100 percent success rate–but what does that say about the company’s brand engagement? Company A, on the other hand, seems to care about connecting and 88 percent of customers rewarded it with positive reviews.

It’s clear from these examples that in a user-generated world, ignoring problems won’t only go away.

I recently heard of  a great company with a bad problem. It had more than 100 reviews on various sites such as Kudzu–almost all of which were blisteringly negative. But hardly no one was complaining about the product or customer service. They were instead complaining about overly aggressive sales tactics. Seems to me that of all things, sales tactics and after-the-sales-call tactics can be altered somewhat in a world where anyone can stew you alive in a blog, message thread or review site.

Overwhelmingly bad reviews are not going to bode well for long-term success. The company may have the best product in the world. But if prospects don’t know that, they will likely make their minds up with reviews.

Of course with social media, you are not in control–the user is–so there’s only so much you can do. But that does not mean you can’t help drive those users to become brand advocates.

Why not engage customers and prospects on Facebook and encourage them to write reviews if they’re happy? Why not offer unhappy customers the chance to write their complaints first in private to the company itself–instead of on Kudzu or Facebook, where the whole world can see? Why not engage unhappy reviewers online where you can help solve their problems? This goes a long way toward quelling future bad posts.

Another tactic to improve online reputation is keeping fresh content continually going to lower bad hits on Google.

And last, but not least, why not listen to these online complaints and adjust the things you can adjust?

Oh, and if you are interested in learning more about e-commerce trends, including mobile, I suggest you check out the e-Tailing Group survey here.

Until next time,

-Justin Rubner

Four Ways to Save Facebook from a Slow, Inglorious Demise

In social media on 10/30/2009 at 5:25 pm

Every day, millions of adult Facebook users interact with each other and learn a little about their friends and colleagues–as well as the world they live in.

Also every day, a growing number of users turn Facebook into a wasteland of corporate communications and a dumping ground for all of their social media feeds.

This latter sect will lead Facebook to either a slow, inglorious demise…or some place that only marketers go to talk about how great they are to each other.

icon_facebook

Is Facebook doomed?

Facebook is a great place to promote your company and to better engage customers. Setting up a business account or fan page is an effective way to release company news…and build new brand advocates. I also think, as does social networking blog Mashable, that Facebook has a strong potential for targeted ads.

But…

You may have seen the recent news that younger people are using Facebook less. Facebook has witnessed a 20 percent drop in college students. Really? Wasn’t Facebook founded by a college student for the purpose of keeping college students connected? What’s happening?

One reason is the fickle nature of teenagers; what once was cool is now passe. Another reason is the entrance of new social networks. Yet another reason is that when kids see their moms, dads, aunts and uncles posting vacation pictures and updating their statuses, Facebook is suddenly…lame.

Now, I fear, the same thing is starting to happen with 20, 30 and 40-somethings who are growing weary of their Facebook “friends” posting never-ending PR reports and automatically-regurgitated Twitter communications.

Twitter is a different site with a different goal. From a personal point of view, Twitter is an easy way to voice your opinions and learn from others. From a business perspective, it’s a great medium to communicate to clients in real-time, resolve issues, publish announcements, and enhance thought leadership.

However–and I know many disagree–these tweets should not be automatically linked to your personal Facebook account…at least if you plan on using Twitter as a regular communications tool.

It almost makes me not want to log in sometimes when the entire screen is filled with the pushed tweets of one person communicating to clients about their new software.

I want to read more about you than your software.

I’ve talked with people who have “blocked” or even “de-friended” users they highly respect because of this Twitter spam. And it is spam.

So, I have four steps we all can take to save Facebook once and for all:

  1. Examine why you’re on Facebook in the first place. If you’re not comfortable sharing personal information, or you have no desire to, then there are great business networks available such as LinkedIn and Plaxo focused exclusively on business.
  2. Launch your company’s Facebook campaign smartly. I view business pages and fan pages as “opt-in” marketing. When I become a fan of your company or product, I am saying “I want to stay in touch with your brand.”
  3. Don’t “friend” users you’ve never had interactions with. Seriously! What’s the point of having virtual friends you never interact with? The point with sites such as Twitter is mass exposure. The point of Facebook, at least in my opinion, and I know some will disagree, is interaction with people you know.
  4. If you plan on using Twitter as a place to communicate with customers–and Twitter is an amazing platform for this–seriously rethink linking those tweets to your personal Facebook page.

Facebook is a great network for both personal and business interaction…because people want to do business with people they know about. But if Facebook goes all business, it’s going to become a rather lonely place.

-Justin Rubner

An Injured Duck, a Tragic Death, and Anonymous Posters: Part II

In news media, social media on 08/25/2009 at 9:21 pm

A crucial issue is being debated right now in multiple courts and in public opinion: Anonymity on the Web.

An aging model who was called a “skank” by a blogger on Google’s Blogger service, for example, recently won a legal battle to unmask the anonymous poster. And just recently, an anonymous and controversial blogger by the name of PittGirl lost her job after her identity was revealed.

I do believe that if you’re going to attack anyone online, you should at least be identified. Many courts disagree with this however. The right to free speech is “construed as also protecting the anonymity of the person doing the speaking, provided that the content, be it spoken or written, violates no laws,” according to this article in ars technica.

Is it time to take our masks off?

Is it time to take our masks off?

OK. But what about other people’s publications and blogs? In my previous post, I wrote about a boy who had been killed while rescuing a duck on a rural road. In the comments section were an array of side arguments and nasty religious / political posts. Comments that had absolutely nothing to do with the story.

Is that speech protected? Absolutely. As it should be.

But why do respected newspapers like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch let readers go wild? If a reader wants to submit a letter or opinion column for the print edition of almost any publication, he or she has to go through a gauntlet of preconditions. But to submit an online comment, all that same reader has to do is make up a fake name.

I’m reminded of a hasty, half-true, half-incorrect comment I recently made on a friend’s marketing blog. My handle was my real name, Justin Rubner. Not some made-up name like SpyderWeb. Or even justin87645.

My (real) picture was even attached to the profile.

The commenter who razed me, however, had neither. Just a fake name to hide behind. He called me “insane” among other things.

I’ve been called worse. I didn’t lose sleep over it. But this does raise an interesting point.

Would this person have called me names if his comments were published with his real picture and his real real name? Probably not. At the least, he (or maybe she) would have been more tempered.

But this was just a blog. What about a major urban daily newspaper? Well, the same nonsense goes on. Much worse, actually.

I recently saw some unbelievably racial comments written about Mike Vick in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. It took a while for them to be removed, likely in response to a reader’s complaint.

I’m no Vick fan; I love my dog. But the racially-charged comments on that particular story sullies the AJC. And the comments on the duck story makes the Post-Dispatch appear second-rate. Ditto for any other publication that allows carte blanche, laissez-faire access to everyone with keyboards…and grudges.

As the news industry prepares to eliminate the use of dead trees so that it can fully enter the online world–that day is nigh–the industry will have to deal with interactivity in a much smarter fashion than it has already. It cannot simply not provide this interactivity. (I’ve increasingly noticed that publications have abandoned their comments sections, most likely because the comments  require too much policing.)

Conversely, the news industry cannot provide unlimited access for readers to publish silly, hateful or nonsensical comments. It belittles any publication. As much as I dislike what Vick did, to see posters calling him a “monkey” (and worse)–in one of the biggest metro dailies in the country–is mind boggling. Again, how many people would say those things if those things were right next to their names, locations and pictures?

Any major media entity–whether a high-subscription blog, a daily newspaper or a weekly magazine–ought to start developing systems that:

  • Require all posters to use real names and locales–just like the print edition.
  • Verify e-mail addresses and identities–yep, like the print edition.
  • Encourage the addition of real pictures. I don’t know how real pictures can be verified, but it’s worth a try for smarter people than me to figure it out.
  • For larger publications with the manpower to do so, once the computers do the filtering, then humans should do some editing themselves. Some already do this. But not enough.

Yes, I said it. I know a lot of people will disagree, especially those who feel that social media is the solution to all of society’s ills. But my answer to this?

Publishing your thoughts in someone else’s publication is a privilege. Not a right.

I also know that as publishers, we all crave reader comments. We may get a lot of readers. But when our stories or opinions elicit responses, it… somehow…validates us.

So, I know that providing these restrictions will hamper some readers to make the effort. But these restrictions also will make your content that much better.

I also know that there are some instances that require anonymity for the safety of the source or reader. But these instances are few and far between.

I’ll end with one smart Post-Dispatch reader, David11:

“StlToday.com/moderator/whomever – WHY are stories like this even open for comment??? These tragedies are NOT political issues and families/friends of victims should NOT be subject to idiotic, judgemental, insulting, and just plain insane comments. Just report the story and leave the comments off.”

An Injured Duck, a Tragic Death, and Anonymous Posters: Part I

In news media, social media on 08/21/2009 at 1:32 am

When you want your letter to the editor to be published in almost any newspaper or magazine, your letter is screened–often edited–and your identity is verified before your views grace the pages.

We have a right to free speech, not anonymity

We have a right to free speech, not anonymity

When you want to publish your thoughts online in the same publication, however, you make up a fake name and write anything you want. Many times, your comment isn’t even screened first–it instantly pops up for thousands to read. Smart comments. Stupid comments. Vulgar comments. Untrue comments. It doesn’t matter.

Seem weird?

Well, today, I found a sad story that caught my eye and captured this disparity perfectly:

Boy, 9, killed while rescuing duck from the road.”

Hardly a story that would attract profanity, mean-spirited theological debates, and name-calling, right? Well, read on.

The story, published online in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, goes like this. The boy was driving down a rural road with his mom. He sees an injured duck in the middle of the road. He asks his mom if he could rescue it. She pulls over. He picks the duck up and finds a safe spot to lay it down.

But when he crosses the rural two-lane road to return to his mom, he’s killed by an 18-year-old driver. The driver, the police said, was not at fault. Just a tragic accident.

Then I take a look at some of the 80-plus online comments. I couldn’t believe the very first one, from a reader with the handle “SpyderWeb.”

“you would have “lost her to god”? What the hell? Just exactly WHERE was god? Protecting the duck? The kid? Or creating a scenario where everyone loses? Leave “god” outta the picture…”he” ain’t worth mentioning under the best of circumstances.”

His rants–apparently there were more with profanity that were removed after reader complaints–came after a bunch of people wished God’s blessings on both families. Well, Spidey’s rants caused others to rant.

“Spyderweb, it is scum like you that is not worth mentioning under any circumstance, so let this be the last time you are mentioned. Your thoughts and opionions are irrelevant to decent people, and your “what the hell” question should be “whose in hell”? That will be you, soon enough.”

Another:

“SpyderWeb: You are really some kind of low-life, pond scum.”

I could go on.

Other readers lashed out at the mom. A few lashed out at the driver, claiming, incorrectly, that the teen was speeding. Some readers actually lashed out at God. There were also political comments that were removed for being “off topic.”

“What’s wrong with these people?” you might ask. “This is a touchingly sad story about a boy whose compassion got the better of him. Why are so many readers so angry?”

The question you should be asking, however, is “What’s wrong with the Post-Dispatch?

Seriously. These comments disparage that newspaper more than the anonymous posters disparage themselves.

That’s because they’re anonymous!

If you’ve read anything online lately, you’ve been bombarded by much worse stupidity and hate. Especially political stories. Forget about YouTube. Sometimes I don’t even want to go on that site, as cool as some of the videos are, because the comments sections are filled with so much mindless trash.

So, what’s wrong with the Post-Dispatch?  The same thing that’s wrong with many other publications.

They have no idea how to implement social media.

When people are anonymous, they can get crazy. They talk to others in a manner they never would if they were identified. They say things they never would normally in person. They write things without thinking. They write things that aren’t well written. They respond to stories they don’t fully read. Or understand.

They slash, poke, incite–mindlessly.

Cowardly.

It’s time to radically re-think online interactivity.

Yes, it’s (gasp!) time to examine whether social media in the newsroom is all it’s stacked up to be.

In the next post, I’ll explore this topic as well as give some solutions.

In the meantime, can I ask one favor? Whether you’re on TechCrunch, The Wall Street Journal…or your favorite celebrity gossip mag, talk online as if the recipient of your comments was right in front of you. Talk online as if you knew there was a chance that anyone could attach your words to you, the person, not the avatar.

And if you’re responsible for reader interactivity at a publication, well, I hope you’re smarter than the Post-Dispatch and the countless other publications that let readers run wild–all over those mastheads’ reputations.

Until next time.

-Justin Rubner

How to Get People to Not Buy Your Stuff

In business communications, social media on 06/24/2009 at 9:43 pm

Like many of you, I’ve been moved by the news coming out of Iran. The Iranians’ struggles against the Tehran-backed security forces and their authoritarian government is a struggle we all should be following.

And many of us are. Which is why one bonehead charged with marketing a UK-based furniture store called “Habitat” decided to exploit the situation…to, what else, sell furniture.

Truth, freedom...and furniture.

Truth, freedom...and furniture.

According to a June 24 story in the BBC, Habitat recently started a Twitter campaign and on more than one occasion used the Iranian situation to its advantage. One Twitter post read:

“#MOUSAVI Join the database for free to win a £1,000 gift card!”

For those of you not familiar with Twitter-ease, the number sign, called a “hash tag,” is a way to improve the likelihood that your post will be seen. In other words, when someone searches for “Mousavi” on Twitter, the tweets with hashtags will be viewable first. It’s like SEO for Twitter.

For those of you not familiar with Mousavi, he’s the guy many people say ought to be the legitimate president of Iran. His “defeat,” and the regime’s refusal to let outsiders view election results, is what’s ultimately driving the revolution and subsequent crackdown.

Unless Habitat has a new line of leather sectionals called Mousavi, and I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, then this thoughtless–and soulless–act will undoubtedly cause uproar. As it should.

And it is.

Alex Burmaster, communications director at research firm Nielsen Online, harshly criticized the tactic.

“They have used a political and human situation that many people are concerned about to market their products and services and that is not right,” Burmaster told the BBC.

A search for #Habitat yields similar results.

Well, it turns out Habitat has issued an apology:

“We would like to make a very sincere apology to any users who were offended by last week’s activity on Twitter…” the company told the BBC. “This was absolutely not authorised by Habitat. We were shocked when we discovered what happened and are very sorry for the offence that has been caused.”

The company did not, however, give details on who was responsible. A clueless PR firm? A green intern? A rogue employee?

In the meantime, let this be a lesson for anyone remotely considering  exploiting human tragedy for corporate gain: If social media has the power to mobilize a revolution for freedom, it also has the power to mobilize a revolution against bonehead marketing decisions.

-Justin

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