Communications Nightmare

I noticed the other day that rather than becoming easier, corporate communications have become significantly harder. The dream has always been one universal way to contact people and share information that allows everyone who needs it to get it, while maintaining corporate security.  Instead of creating this, we’ve ended up with a Tower of Babel in which we are forced to seek out and actively watch numerous applications.

For example, on any given day these sites/apps/programs for Corporate Communications

  • The Slack Channel for my local dev team
  • The Slack Channel for my global dev team
  • Skype to converse with a specific team in India
  • What’s App for management discussions
  • Google Hangouts to interact with the Customer Support Team in India
  • Corporate email
  • Text from a handful of management types who don’t like any of the previous options

The Corporate Communications NightmareThere are more that I use less frequently.  My point is that rather than simplifying communications over time, we’ve complicated them, and in doing so, increased the likelihood that important messages will be missed.

The problem is that rather than committing to that one “killer app” which has failed to materialize, we’ve Balkanized our communications and compartmentalized our information.

What’s needed?  I’d say that one “killer app”, but time has shown that’s not the solution.  Better, we need to be smarter about what we use.  While it’s nice to let teams choose their apps to help facilitate communications that will work for them, we need to remember that we can also be creating barriers within our organization.

The solution comes down to people making better decisions.  We all need to collectively stop asking “can we” and think more in terms of “should we.”

Just a thought…

Welcome to the “Leper Colony”

Google + and Facebook both present an interesting question to us eventually; what do we do when we are asked to (or already have) friend someone we’d really rather not have amongst our friends.

Blocking a user is rather extreme, and often, I don’t want to take the chance that someone might find out I blocked them. Often I have trouble with people who are too verbose, posting 30 tech articles a day that I have no interest in reading.  Other times I friend people I haven’t seen in 20 years, and the first post I get is “Check out this deal!” (and so is the second, third and fourth…).  Then again, there are the folks who send endless Farmville or Mafiawars requests.

Here is how to remove that stuff so you never see it again, and how you can do it without annoying someone who you might actually need to deal with again in the real world.

Removing Mafiawars and Farmville Requests
  1. The next time you get a request from one of these (or any other app that posts directly to a Facebook wall) click in the main field of the message.
  2. You will see a gray box appear at the right side of the post.  Click that.
  3. Select “hide all by <Mafiawars, Farmville or whatever app you want to remove> (or just hide the user)

    The application to remove would be Fan Appz (Sorry, I've had FV and MW blocked so long, I can't easily get a picture of how to remove them)

The Leper Colony

If you don’t mind the offending user seeing some of your posts in Google + you can create a “Leper Colony” list/circle.  This works very nicely to allow you to block certain users from seeing certain posts, looking at your photos, etc.

In Google +:
  1. Go to circles
  2. Create a circle called “Leper Colony” or something like “Unknown”
  3. Drag and drop offending users into that circle.  Do not leave them in any other circles.
  4. Now they will only see public posts…so be careful what you post publicly.
Facebook:

While Facebook used to support privacy rights by friends lists (the sublists you can create from your “manage friends” page, I was surprised to find that this feature has gone away.  You can either “hide <username>” as outline in the Mafiawars section above, or you will need to block them.  Way to go Facebook…changing privacy settings…again, without letting me know.

The Golden Rule

The big thing with all social media is this:  never, ever, rely on the systems privacy settings.  If you don’t want someone to see something, then you better not post it.  Ever…

Think of it this way: Google has a very, very long memory.  Even of the stuff you’ve deleted.  Merely sanitizing your own Facebook profile or Google + account before you fire off that resume for that dream position at Acme Inc. doesn’t mean they won’t find those pictures of you doing belly shots off an Asian Hooker when you were college.  What happens in Vegas will most certainly dog you all your days if your boneheaded frat bro tags you in a pic that shows you wearing a diaper and drinking been our of a baby bottle during initiation.

 

Thoughts on Google + After Limited Use

Okay, I’ve used Google + for a couple days now which makes me utterly qualified to render summary judgement on it.

I like it.  At least enough that I’ll keep using it for the short term.  I think it quite possibly will bridge the gaps between the public stream which I use Twitter for, meatspace friends who I keep on Facebook and the working world which I avoid on LinkedIn.  Here I can have them all and keep them segregated in circles, allowing me to keep the Tech Gurus from filling my steam with their daily flood of posts (looking at you, Om…) but still allowing me to essentially aggregate their stuff for casual reading later.

What I like:

  • Posts can be edited.  Wow, welcome to the 21st century…but this is one of those things Facebook sorely lacks.
  • Simple interface that given a little time anyone will be able to use.  Things are right where you would expect them to be.  Unlike on Facebook…
  • Sparks gives me an easy way to find content on topics I am interested in.  Totally lacking in Facebook, with it’s silos.
  • I can finally create a group for sports teams so I only send my stuff when I’m game tweeting to them.  That ought to please Matt B.
What I don’t like:
  • When G+ makes friend suggestions, it’s merely listing anyone I followed on Buzz or showing me anyone I ever emailed from my gmail account.  That’s lame.  I mean, suggesting I friend the complaint department at Sears?How about analyzing my circles and finding the commonality and making suggestions based on that?
  •  It’s yet another place to connect with the same people.  Time will tell if the real folks make it over.  I’m hoping they will.
  • I’d like to be able to change my default stream circle from all my friends to just my friends circle.  My tech circle will turn the stream into a cesspool if I let it…
Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Adventures in Comment Moderation – How to be “That Guy” on Facebook

Most of us never even realize it, but Facebook allows us to moderate the comments that show up against our posts.  In the base usage, it is very important as it allows you to remove the comments your college roommate posted containing links to the pics of you doing belly shots off an Asian hooker in Vegas last week when your boss thought you were home sick.

The problem is that it makes us all Online Community Moderators, and even worse, untrained, and potentially unprincipled Online Community Managers at that.  Luckily, most of Facebook users appear to get it;  they leave their comment stream alone, or only delete the occasional offending post “for cause.”

…when you attempt to control the discussion, it ceases to be a discussion, it becomes a lecture…

There are others, however, who treat their comment stream with a more Stalinist view.  It’s “agree with me, or you won’t be seen with me” for them.  You’ve probably run across them in the past, and not even noticed.  Have you ever posted a comment, only to find hours later that it disappeared?  Does it happen every once in a while, generally with the same Facebook “friend”?

You’ve run into “That Guy.”  You too can be “That Guy” by following a few simple tips (in Madlib format, select the one that applies):

  • Have an agenda.  We all want to hear all about being (conservative/progressive/a grateful dead head/transgender) all the time.
  • Flood our streams with your words of wisdom.
  • Take us to task for not being as (conservative/progressive/grateful dead head/transgender) as you are.
  • TYPE IN CAPS because we’re too stupid to read your missives in lower case.
  • Accept no comments other than “Right on”, “You rule” or “I wish I was you.”  Delete the rest.
  • If you are unfortunately called out on something simple, like the fact that bipeds walk on two feet, not three, delete the post and all the comments, rather than fessing up.
  • Routinely suggest that anyone that disagrees with you should be (flogged/shot/tarred and feathered) then blame everyone else for fostering a culture of violence.
  • By all means, block anyone that appears to disagree with you.

Here is the sum of my 16 years in Online Community Management: when you attempt to control the discussion, it ceases to be a discussion, it becomes a lecture, and that pisses people off and makes you look like a fool.

 

Twitter Just Became Relevant

I’ve got a long and storied history with Twitter.  At first, hated it.  Then loved it…and recently have been somewhat ambivalent.

Personally I think the short form blog, which is what Twitter is, appeals to some of the very things that are wrong with modern society.  It’s designed for the ADHD generation, feeds the growing cults of personality, and in general, is a prime expediter of the dumbing down process.  The whole thing was designed to be scanned, not read, a very fact against which the writer in me is compelled to rebel.  Beyond that, I attribute it to the ongoing decline of blogs and blog commenting.

That was until I saw a new app for the iPad called Flipboards (free).  This app takes your twitter and facebook feeds, as well as just about anything else RSS and on the fly retrieves the summary data from the links which are embedded and constructs an online newspaper format for you to read it in.

So now, instead of reading a limited 140 character post, with an unintelligible shortened url, the app pulls down all the content, pictures and all and creates a very user friendly representation of the data.

That’s the point at which the world changed…

Now instead of this:

I get this:

(Sorry for the blurry photo – it’s actually visually stunning, but I had to take the pic with my iPhone in my dark cubicle and with my hand tremor in full force today, that’s as good as it gets)

Overnight, that makes Twitter (and Facebook) a crowd-sourced news clipping service which brings me all the news that’s fit to link.

Oh, and by the way, RSS is dead as a reading format.  It’s now a cross-site content transfer language.

Try it, I think you’ll be as blown away as I am.

Boston Biz Journal: Companies Vulnerable to Social Media Threats

It’s may be well trod ground, but it’s still a topic that needs to be considered:  What to do about reputation-damaging tweets or critics mobilizing on social media websites like Facebook. This week we get a brief glimpse into the world via the Boston Business Journal. In their survey, they found that 33% of PR professionals said their companies were not prepared to deal with social media attacks.

“Online threats to corporate reputation are escalating the social media imperative when it comes to the new skill sets and experiences required of today’s CCOs,” said George Jamison, one of the survey’s creators, in a statement. “Credible experience in this area has shifted from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’ for the most desirable corporate leadership roles.”

Local companies say that it’s key for firms to establish a presence on social media sites before issues arise – not after.

Indeed, you need to “be there” before the problems occur. The problem is this: everyday it becomes harder and harder. SM staffs tend to be the first ones cut when the budget needs to be slimmed down, more and more services reach that critical level where they really need to be monitored. Last year we didn’t care about Foursquare, and the year before Yelp didn’t matter.  How about today?  What is going to really matter tomorrow?

Also, we miss a couple important facts: not every “dissatisfied customer” out there is going to be someone we can “fix” via social media. And, even worse, there are some we really shouldn’t be trying to fix.  Face the facts, in business you do your best to please most of the people most of the time, but the threat of social media is that someone who doesn’t really understand will start to expect that we’re going to magically please ALL of the people, ALL of the time.

I think the best path forward here for business is to adopt the prime tenet of the Hypocratic Oath: “Primum non nocere – First, do no harm.”  In short, we do our best to be conversant and transparent in our dealings with customers.  An even hand goes a long, long way.

However, we need to remember the world is full of trolls and miscreants, and some of them love to dog a brand.  One thing I can tell you from experience: engaging/enabling a troll is a recipe for pain and heart ache.

Here are a couple of things I learned from managing online communities that you should consider:

  1. Your commitment matters – commitment lets you set standards for users.
  2. Lead – your position makes you a leader.  Be a good one…
  3. Nastiness isn’t allowed – let people act towards each other or towards you in an uncivil manner and the good folks run for the doors.  Don’t accept rude treatment in Social Media, either.
  4. Check your ego at the door – your company isn’t perfect, neither are your products, or even yourself…get over it.
  5. You can’t control the message – nor should you try.  You can correct falsehood and solve problems, but think more in terms of “good results” as baseball stats (.400 average is outstanding) vs. nuclear war (a single loss is a total loss).
  6. Embrace the community – no one likes to feel left out.  Be inclusive, not exclusive, wherever possible.  Kewl Kid Marketing often alienates as much as it inspires.

Further reading:

7 Truths About Running Online Communities

Forget Disclosure and Transparency – We Crave Honesty

5 Lessons from a Social Media Campaign Gone Horribly Wrong

Manifesto for Social Media: Stop Talking and Start Doing

Monetize This…

Repeat After Me…

Okay, all you wanna be corporate social media flacks, repeat after me:

  1. Brands don’t blog…people do.
  2. A new theme doesn’t make up for lack of compelling content.
  3. Do not expect your developer/designer to make up for your lack of a content strategy.
  4. If you can’t find one person in the corporation worthy of blogging in the first person, you shouldn’t have a blog.
  5. If you  fancy yourself the market leader, then blog like it, damn it!
  6. We do not do “flavor of the month” development.
  7. I will not let my developers replace functional, working systems just because they want to.
  8. I will not open my mouth in meetings unless I have something worthwhile to say.
  9. I will speak up when I hear a really bad idea, and I will explain clearly why its a bad idea.
  10. Any idea involving bacon, cup cakes, lol cats or a bar tab bigger than the company ad budget is not worth anyone’s time.
  11. Simply parroting someone else’s good idea is not the same as having a good idea yourself.
  12. Just because you’re now working in social media doesn’t mean you invented it.  There were a lot of us here a LONG time before you were.

Okay, let’s see some worthy additions in the comments section…

So What the Heck is Twitter?

I’ve been using Twitter now for 2.5 years.  Honestly, I’m still grappling with the question: what the heck is Twitter?

Wikipedia, never short for answers has this:

Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service, owned and operated by Twitter Inc., that enables its users to send and read other user messages called tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page.

That’s not really what I’m looking for.  You see, I certainly know what it is, in terms of that dry level of description.  What I’m looking for is more of a contextual view of where it fits, and that is where we go down the rabbit hole…

I’ve always hung my hat on “it’s a tool in the web/community developer’s toolbox”.  That’s true, but what kind of tool?  Obviously there’s a gulf of difference between a sledgehammer and a micrometer, and in Social Media, there is probably even more of a divide between some of the tools.

In order to put it into a little more context, perhaps a history of the general trends I’ve seen in Twitter might be of use:

  • 2.5 years ago, it seemed to be mostly people tweeting about social media, cup cakes and bacon.
  • 2 years ago, the hash tag began to appear in greater prominence.  It had been around since almost the beginning, allowing us to work our way around the obvious failing of the system in its lack of categorization.
  • 1.5 years ago it was all about the fail whale.  Twitter’s down, oh my God…the world is ending.
  • 1 year ago, the anti-Social Media backlash started to play in.  Too many wannabes, posting information that was wrong, self serving, or outright plagiarized.
  • .5 years ago – the rise of accounts on auto pilot.  They randomly tweet quotes, but strangely never engage with anyone.  And somehow they get right around 54k followers in couple months.  Spam spam spam spam…

In that time, many of the folks I used Twitter to converse with have come and gone.  The burn out rate must be staggering…I really would love to see some stats on that. From my point of view, the folks that stick with it tend to be the folks with a common interest, such as my friends from the Red Sox hash tag.  Simply being on Twitter to be there doesn’t seem to be enough to really engage users long term.

Having watched over the years at the open rates on the links I can share, I can definitely say a couple things:

  • The open rates on links are way down.
  • That may be due to me posting more information that is arcane or of interest to a very limited audience.
  • I suspect it really as to do with a fundamental change – I think Twitter is becoming even more of an echo chamber and most users are more interested in the outwards flow of information.  They’re here to lecture, not converse…

The whole idea of brands on Twitter has been a failure for me.  I go to Twitter for conversation.  I don’t want to talk to a #$%@ing brand, I want to talk to people.  If I want to buy something I Google it and go get it.  Period.

Content brands are a different story. I do like getting news alerts from sites via Twitter.  For me, the pitch has to be right.  CNN does a good job, so does Drudge, but I found I had to drop TechCrunch and several others who simply flooded the stream with stuff of little to know value for me.  I can’t tell you what is right for you, but I can certainly tell you when you’ve crossed the line.

So, what the heck is Twitter?

  • A good back channel communication stream
  • A great way to open discussion on formerly closed communication streams like TV, sports and events
  • A lump of clay that maybe you might mold into something useful
  • A system in search of a reason raison d’être

That I’m still asking the question, this far in, is in part the answer.  It is, at least in part, a failure, in that it hasn’t managed to truly define itself after several years of existence.

So I ask you all, what is Twitter to you?  Fill the comments with wisdom…

“I Coulda’ Had a V8” – Social Media in the Real World

It’s been a while since I’ve dealt with the substance of Social Media.  There’s a reason for that.  Mostly its become that which I always said it would: simply a tool in the toolbox of the community developer.

So where are we now, really?  We’ve certainly passed the point where Social Media was the next big thing.  While not all the cool kids have moved on, there are signs that even the most ardent NMDBs are tired of the endless prognostication and the vapid cries to “join the conversation.”

So let us pose this question: what if we tossed up a social media community and no one showed?  Is that the point that we realize that there’s more to this thing than A round financing and having a kickin’ launch party?

Case in point (how to do it wrong): DeKupers launched a community last fall for bartenders.  On the surface, all the things we might have told them they needed to have: profiles, friending, pro tips, internal messaging, facebook connect,  etc.

It died quietly in its sleep about a month ago, with under 2k users (from what I saw in the user stats, just prior to the lights going out).  Even among those users, on the few times I checked in, I have to admit I never saw anything that approached a meaningful conversation.  However I do know that Tammy from Philly’s favorite drink to mix is a Screwdriver.  High art, that mixing of vodka and orange juice…

A second case in point (how to do it right): American Express built “Openforum.com” – the place where businesses (who use the Amex card) go to “Join the Conversation” about  “A new solution to help businesses get paid faster.”   Egads, it sounds as though they didn’t even bother changing the names off the Social Media 101 presentation they watched. Luckily, they appear to have worked their way through that faux paux.

Inside, they’ve got compelling content from the likes of Guy Kawasaki, Adam Ostrow of Mashable, Shira Levine of Business Insider, etc.  Since we certainly don’t have any other place to go to grab that content.  Heck, Guy is so stretched thin over the net, he’s has not one, but two, ghost tweeters handling his twitter stream.  Forget “joining the conversation” just pay someone else to do it for you…

The two spikes in traffic I believe are tied to media spends, particularly tv ads I saw during those periods.  Amex touts the site as a success, and I won’t disagree with them.  But let’s consider this: three years to grow to this point, from a captive audience of businesses using the Amex “Open” credit card of…(sorry, can’t get details on that, but it’s got to be substantial).

My point is this: American Express had a boat load of dollars, a captive pool of members, and it took them 3 years to get to a relatively comfortable traffic level.  What we don’t know (and can’t know from Compete.com, the numbers just aren’t good enough) is how active the members are and how often they turn up on the site.

Rubber Meets the Road

So where are most communities falling down?

  • Hey gang, let’s put on a show” – the idea is utterly ill conceived and not thought through.
  • Build it and they will come” – communities don’t spring up in the middle of no where.
  • Set it and forget it” – it may work for Ron Popeil , but it doesn’t work for communities.
  • The overgrown garden” – Like good gardens, good communities must be tended.
  • Marketing, we don’t need no stinkin’ marketing” – yeah, who’d actually want to publicize their community.
  • Welcome, please submit DNA sample here…” – the age old issue – mile long registration forms that’d make the IRS green with envy.  We’ll know everything about our users.  Both of them…
  • Okay, we’re launched, where do I cash my check…” – best of luck to you.  The big secret is that most Social Media communities run in the red…for years.

Moving Forward

So where the heck do we go now? The shine is off, and we’re starting to realize that this stuff is, uh, real work.  Even better, it’s got a real possibility of it crashing down around our heads if we screw it up.

I see us at the same point we were at in 2002.  Yes, some folks made mistakes and tanked.  It happens.  From here out you’ve got to get all your stuff in line.  No screwing around…be serious or stay home.  CupcakeCon, NMDBcamp and any place that bad powerpoint presentations go to die is a waste of your time.  Find the people who are really doing it and learn from them.  Hint: those won’t be the big names in SM.

Best advice:

  • Have a niche and a natural path to community – owning computers is no longer enough of a reason to bring a community together.  Find a niche that is under served and serve it.  Or find one that is poorly served and steal it.  The trick will be to be narrow enough in focus to keep it real, but not so narrow that there are only an handful of potential users.  Think about that natural pool of users that American Express has…
  • Find the three key features that the community needs – look for the features that the community needs and doesn’t have.  Don’t worry about anyone copying your idea…do it, then add more.  Let them all play catch up.
  • Devote resources (people) to running the place – everyone wants to belong to a place where they’re made to feel at home.  Have people to help, especially if you’re dealing with a less tech savvy bunch.  Moderate, curate and cultivate…
  • Preach the Gospel – yeah, you have to get the word out.  You’re gonna live this thing if your going to make it a success, so be your own ringmaster.  Market in every possible way…

In summary, is Social Media dead? Absolutely not, but it is certainly changing.  The “new car smell” is gone, and as developers and community managers, we need to adapt to survive.