Tag Archives: Social media

But Can We Trust the Trust Agents?

I was just getting back to the office yesterday, a Monday morning after a week away — 4 days of business, and 3 relaxing and invigorating days in Yosemite, which is really away — when Dan Levine (@schoolmarketer on Twitter) suggested I read The social media country club on Mark Shaeffer’s businessgrow blog.

Yes, I’m a sucker for contrary points of view. Get a group going, approach consensus, and I want to read the one who’s out in left field. If everybody else is right and this one’s all wrong, so what, I can work that out. But then how often is left field the right place to be?

Mark starts out objecting to rave reviews of Trust Agents, the book by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. It’s subtitle is “Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust.” I haven’t read it, but I’ve read a lot of favorable comments. Mark, however, says those favorable comments are the result of group think and myth making:

The “thought leaders” of social media marketing are a country club fearful of saying anything negative or controversial about another club member. The real commerce of social media is trading favors and a negative comment breaks the favor chain.

He paints a picture a lot like the fable of the emperor’s new clothes. You can see with this quote, under the general heading of credibility, that at the very least he’s making his position clear:

Take a close look at the credentials (if you can find any) of nearly any leading social media marketing “expert.”  How many have ever had a real sales job or have been actually accountable for delivering new value in a marketplace by creating, testing and distributing a product on a meaningful scale?   Very few.  Yet these are our marketing “gurus?”  In a communication channel already dominated by porn-peddling, get-rich-quick nimrods, it simply doesn’t help our collective credibility to have our most visible advocates spouting incredibly naive statements about marketing fundamentals they know little about.

I don’t know that I agree; it seems too harsh to me. I don’t think expertise is measured only by job history, or sales history, or middle management in a big company history, which seems to be laying just under the surface of the blogger bashing. And I wish Mark had said which statements in the book are naive. But it’s certainly a very contrarian point of view. And worth considering. So I’m sharing it here.

(Photo credit: STILLFX/Shutterstock)

The Landrush Problem in Social Media

I’m engaged in an email discussion that’s getting heated now and seemed relatively simple when it started. At the heart of the problem is what I call the landrush problem in social media.

I refer to the Oklahoma landrush. You might know the history. There were several movies based on it. On April 22, 1889, thousands of people lined up in a race to claim lands in Oklahoma. Based on the Homestead Act, what they claimed would be their property.

Today I’m seeing that happen in a number of social media sites. But, unlike the land rush in 1889, this one has no limits and no boundaries. Businesses are gaming review systems to get privileged placement. And, with the way that works, the rich get richer and established, and there are not a lot of safeguards.

Here’s how it works: you put up a site that brings some group of people together. Let’s say you want to create a social media site for entrepreneurs. So you create the site — I understand Ning and other vendors make it easier — for people to log in, post on the blog, connect with each other, and so on. It’s sort of a Facebook for your affinity group. And of course you have a system of tagging for likes and dislikes, approval links, and so on. Sounds cool, no?

Cool, yes, but easy to subvert. I’ve seen several sites like this go up, and you may have as well. I don’t want to mention names here because it’s awkward — every one of these sites that I’m aware of is there with good intentions, and none of them have figured out how to deal with the overt sales pollution problem.

Everybody likes the idea of reviews, interaction, thumbs up, and recommendations. But unfortunately, vendors, businesses with sales and marketing intentions, have a lot more incentive to get in and seed the thumbs-ups and kudos and reviews than individuals. So as a result,  the vendors flock to these sites and seed the reviews and end up turning them into sales platforms.

How to deal with this? I don’t know. It’s not like the sites will work if we ask vendors to stay out of them. But several that were among my favorites are now virtually useless to me, because the sales messages from vendors pile up to the point of making it too hard to sift through to the real messages.  And vendor-motivated responses to posts and comments dwarf individual noncommercial responses. Too bad.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia, from McClenny Family Picture Album)

Twitter As Big Brother and Sports Celebrity as Intoxication

This post isn’t about the football star who punched an opponent; it’s about sportsmanship in general, sports business as oxymoron, twitter, YouTube, millions of dollars, and the impact of the ultimate big brother.

The ultimate big brother in this story is a lot like George Orwell’s 1984 Big Brother, but without the malice. He’s just as threatening. But he’s accidental. Twitter et al. We can’t stop it or change it, and I don’t think we even want to. But I’m just in awe of how much the events surrounding this particular punch in the face reflect the huge changes I’ve seen in sports, media, technology, and our whole world in my lifetime.

Last Thursday night, after a game had ended, a college football star punched another player in the face. He’d had an extremely bad night; his team was humiliated and he played badly. He’d been quoted all over the sports media criticizing the other team. And the player he punched had been taunting him. None of that gets him off the hook. His punch was ugly. It was violence, not sport. And sports losses happen a lot, even humiliating losses, without people punching each other. But this post is about him or his punch; it’s about the speed of the information, the distortion of sports morphed with money morphed with very young people being rich and famous. Let me explain.

I watched that game on television Thursday night. After it was over, I turned off the television and moved to my computer to check the world out.

To my shock, that game was all over twitter. The web was following behind, short of breath, but twitter was already all over it. The impact of the punch had risen in twitter to a number one position in buzz meters, and continued so fast – it outpaced even Michael Jackson for a while – that a twitter search couldn’t keep up. I’d search the term, pause maybe 10 seconds to look at results, and twitter search was already telling me I had another 150 tweets to view with a refresh.

Until then I didn’t know about the punch. Within a minute or two, though, I’d even seen it on video. Somebody posted it on YouTube (it’s off now, because of copyright issues with ESPN).

No way to be sure, but I wonder whether or not that kind of thing was happening a few years ago with very few people knowing about it. What if the television cameras would have been turned off when it happened and the sports photographers would have been on their way back to the office to process their photos. If I found out about it at all, it would have been on a slow-moving rumor mill days or weeks afterward. I might never know about it. Would that be a good thing? I’m not sure. Was it as likely to happen years ago? I doubt it. Not as easily. The mix of sport and money has become steadily more money and less sport. And the fame and wealth showered on the stars has been steadily growing.

But this is 2009. So millions of people knew about it. 

As I write this, that football star is off the team. Until the punch he’d been a pro prospect with a pretty good chance to get a pro contract worth millions of dollars next summer. Today, he might still be able to get on a pro team anyhow, maybe, if he’s lucky, and works hard. And it won’t be for millions of dollars. His prospects are vastly reduced. And I’m not saying he got a bad deal or that we should all just look the wrong way. He’s not a victim. It was an ugly, violent punch in the face.  But did his fortunes ever turn around quickly.

  1. Our culture has lost the idea of sportsmanship and replaced it with obsession on winning. At all levels of sport. I let my season tickets drop this year for a number of reasons, but one thing I won’t miss was the spectacle of a whole stadium booing the opposing team when they take the field. That happens everywhere these days, and every time I find myself in a crowd that boos the opposing team, I’m embarrassed. I don’t mind so much the booing of a specific play or a coach’s decision or a bad call by the referees, although that’s also bad sportsmanship; but booing the visiting team just for showing up? That’s plain ugly. What’s even worse is the fact that this behavior has polluted kid sports too, meaning that parents watching their subteen children can be every big as ugly as a stadium full or raging professional sports spectators. Or more so.
  2. Sports business is oxymoronic, but it’s everywhere. For the players its win to get onto the high school team and again to get onto the college team and then again to get onto the pro team and then again to get larger contracts. And then become a coach and win some more or get fired in disgrace. I’ve seen high school coaches make decisions that hurt their kids while motivated, as plain as day, mainly by wanting to win so they could get into college coaching, which would then lead them to pro coaching.
  3. Fame and wealth and celebrity are very powerful intoxicants that our society pumps into some very young people, with very bad results.
  4. The advance of media is unstoppable. I’m not complaining about twitter — I love twitter. But I am saying that the combination of Internet and media and our society’s obsession with celebrity has some tough side effects.

(Photo credits: the first is a still shot from the YouTube posting of Apple Computer’s famous 1984 Macintosh SuperBowl commercial. You can click the picture to go to the video. The second picture is an image by ene from shutterstock.com)

Facebook Disaster: Don’t Bother Coming In Tomorrow

I’ve had a run-in on this before, including this one on the Huffington Post that got a lot of comments …  but still, look at this delightful post from thenextweb.com:

Author Zee, editor in chief at thenextweb.com, titled it: “Note to self: Don’t ‘friend’ your boss and then bitch about the job.”

After all, what part of the word “publishing” don’t you understand? Or maybe I should point out the word “media” in the phrase social media? Nobody violated anybody’s privacy here. You don’t get to publish it and then claim it was private. It didn’t take a hacker to find it. No snooping was needed. Just, perhaps, a lapse of common sense and self-preservation instinct.

Does Twitter Matter? Can It Possibly Last?

Yes, I think it does matter. And no, although it won’t last, not like it is now, it is the beginning of something that will last, but will be changing a lot. I could say the same about personal computing, the Web, and blogging.

Twitter is all the rage because it hit fertile ground. People like it, people use it, and because what it does catches us. The key to it is something related to publishing and broadcasting. It’s why I like writing this blog, why you like writing your blog, and why both of us read each other’s.

It’s related to instincts deeply embedded in our human nature.

Image by Carla16 on Flickr
Image by Carla16 on Flickr

The first of these is expression. When nothing else was possible, people drew on cave walls. That was about expression. So is telling stories, reciting  poems, and singing songs. It’s in our nature. We crave expression.

The second is curiosity. We want to see the pictures, hear the stories, know what’s up, and what’s going on.

And then, beyond these two basic instincts, there’s how much we like gathering, and shows, entertainment, and keeping up with each other.

All of which happens on Twitter. It’s not email, it’s not blogging, it’s publishing in 140-character pieces. Do it well and you have more people reading what you publish. Do it poorly and you have nobody reading what you publish. Make it interesting, informative, or funny and it’s good to do and people will follow. Use it to sell stuff or whine or share trivial life details and people will stop following. Use it to push sales talk at people and they will stop following.

Which–the click to follow or not–is the clincher, in my opinion, that makes Twitter more significant. I’ve seen some very interesting musings on Twitter’s future, such as Jeff Sexton’s piece asking is Twitter is digging its own ditch?  He says some of the Web’s bright and shiny new things (he mentions Digg and Technorati) burst on the scene, become popular, and then got manipulated, declined. The classic pattern is email with spam now killing it. He asks whether that might happen to Twitter.

And I think not. Because of both sides of the coin: the instinctive allure of posting like this, and reading the good posts, which is one side; and the ability to click and unfollow people, which is the other.

So please, follow me on Twitter: click here.

GDGT: No, Please, Not Another Social Media Site!

I read it last weekend on the New York Times website. It’s about a new gadget site to be called GDGT starting this week, developed by founders of other gadget site successes. Get this:

Their new site, called GDGT, will open to visitors on Wednesday. It differs from Engadget or Gizmodo by aspiring to be a gadget-oriented social network. Users of the site can create profiles and specify which consumer electronics devices they have, had or want to buy. Then they can talk about those devices with other owners, discuss new trends and tips, and decide how and when to replace them. (Emphasis mine)

Granted, Twitter changes everything, Facebook too, and Ning is sensational. But please (that’s a three-or-four-syllable p-l-e-a-s-e) — when does this end. Are there infinite successful new ventures out there from just taking any common interest (like gadgets) and making them into social media sites instead? Isn’t there a saturation point?

Take my case; and I’m getting older now, I’m hardly the advance guard. But I have username and password for three of the obvious mainstream social media sites, plus groups including Entrepreneur.com, Smartups.org, asbdc.net, the Business Week social site, and several others I can’t remember.

And that’s the active phrase there: “several others I can’t remember.

I love gadgets. My son-in-law Noah and I exchange links and such about gadgets all the time. But the last thing I need is yet another new site, with another new password and username, that I’m supposed to be checking for messages. Not that username and password are a problem — plenty of tools for that — but that’s just not going to happen. It’s not just logging in, it’s finding the time and inclination to log into all of these special sites.

And maybe it’s an overdose from my business plan marathon last Spring. Every other new business is building a new social media site to bring people together.

And I just don’t think that’s going to work. Build a group in Facebook, or a chat group in Twitter, or something else that uses the ties and links we already have. Don’t give us another social media site.

Big Brother vs. Social Media vs. Basil Fawlty

(Note: I posted this first on Huffington Post, and I’m reposting here because this is my main blog. Tim)

Secret cameras, secret Web utilities tracking employees’ Web use, secret phone recording and IM monitoring: that’s creepy. That’s BIG BROTHER: the Orwellian 1984 nightmare. But bosses reading your tweets and Facebook? What’s creepy about that isn’t that bosses might do it, it’s the rest of us complaining about it.

Frankly, my dear, stop complaining. Look up the definition of the verb “publish.” Because social media is publishing. Don’t be unclear on the concept.

Last week Deloitte LLP announced survey results: more than half the employees asked said employers should stay out of their Twitter and Facebook posts. And more than half the employers said exactly the opposite, that they have the right to read your stuff. Apparently few do — who has the time? — but they can.

Kudos to Deloitte LLP for doing the survey. It’s a growing issue. I noticed about a month ago, posting on SmartBlog, Drew McClellan asked: Is your social media presence really yours? She added:

A high-level ad exec puts a multimillion-dollar account at risk because of his tweet.  A long-time Eagles football team employee gets fired because of a Facebook update.  A student teacher is denied her teaching certificate for posting a picture of herself titled “drunk pirate” to her MySpace page.

Don’t tell me that your employer has no right to access, judge or discipline you based on your social media activities. It’s happening. And I suspect it’s only the beginning.

And I agree with Drew, and with the employers, and I kind of like this new development. I think it’s about authenticity. And transparency. And it’s not a bad thing. The world might need it.

I get privacy. I was a teenager in the 1960s, so of course I understand why we want protection from surveillance and rights to privacy. We grew up fearing the 1984 Big Brother nightmare. I don’t want the government or an employer listening into my conversations, putting me on hidden video, or even knowing what library books I read. That’s all the quintessential none of their business.

But privacy has absolutely nothing to do with publishing. It makes me angry. It reminds me of people complaining about caller ID on my phone — you’re intruding into my world when you call me, so don’t block your number. If you do, I won’t answer. What’s next, blocking the peephole in the hotel door because it violates the privacy of the person outside knocking?

We — we users, email addicts, Twitter lovers, website browsers, et al. — should have figured this out 10 or 15 years ago when we got immersed in email. Email was the ground breaker. It feels private, but isn’t. You think your email is private? Somebody minding your mail server can read it. And courts can demand it as evidence.

My favorite answer to this question is authenticity. Authenticity is being the same person most of the time, not different people in different contexts. For example, in his intriguing Me 2.0 book, Generation Y personal branding expert Dan Schawbel recommends using the same picture and same bio for every place you present yourself in the Twitter-Facebook-LinkedIn world.

I love the John Cleese character Basil Fawlty of Fawlty Towers. There’s great comedy as Basil tries to keep track of which lies he’s told to which characters. Isn’t that the direct opposite of authenticity? And is that who you want to be?

Samuel Johnson who once said we are all just acting out our favorite character in fiction. I like that idea. I think I see it in action a lot. And to follow it along into this new context, perhaps it’s like suggesting that you should choose which character that is, and stick with that one.

Or, to make it really simple, be yourself.  One person, the same person, everywhere. Novel idea.

Boomer Business Blogger Part 4: You Have to Like Writing

True confession: I love writing. I love short sentences, strong words, making myself understood.

I think most, if not all, good bloggers like writing. Video people do vlogs and YouTube, poets go to Twitter (say, what?), but bloggers are writers. Almost all of my favorite blogs — I’ve got the blogroll on this blog, rightmost column, near the bottom — are written by people who care about writing. Not that they don’t care just as much about business, their main content area; but they’re writers.

Yes, I’ve done all the startups in my bio; yes, I have the MBA degree; and yes, I built Palo Alto Software. But if I could have made a decent living just writing, I would have.

Flashback: 1970, I was 22, wanted to write, studied literature. I was in a PhD program in comparative literature, briefly; ended up with MA in Journalism. UPI, McGraw-Hill, Mexico City, and whoosh, the 1970s all gone.

Flashback: 1979, journalist, bored filling space between ads, enrolled in Stanford University business school. Then I fell in love with business planning, helped to start Borland International, founded Palo Alto Software, founded bplans.com. And grew it, slowly for years, no outside investment. Tough times, good times.

And suddenly it was 2007, 40+ employees and a great management team, me struggling with changed technology, and I changed jobs. And started blogging. That change was Part 1 of this series.

So what helps me a lot is that I like writing. As a journalist I wrote a lot for many different publications. I also wrote published fiction (not very good, by the way, not worth citing, but they paid me) (and I’m not including market research that was wrong, either) and a full-length novel that got some second looks, but never got published.

So now, you can see how much blogging I do by looking at the sidebar here on the right. You can’t see that I’m also writing a lot on a family site, a personal site, and even an anonymous pure writing site.

If you’re going to be blogging a lot, you have to like writing.

Boomer Business Blogger Part 3: Is It Good Business?

A nice person almost apologized to me for not having her business on Facebook. I said: “but why?”

Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and all the rest of that “social media stuff” may or may not be good business. But not just for its own sake. It has to be part of a strategy.

Otherwise, it may or may not be fun, depending on who you are and what you like to do; but it’s not good business without a related plan for how it’s supposed to help. Does it generate leads? Page views? Validation? Or is it just a rationalization for spending time doing something you like, like keeping up with friends, being clever.

My blogging has a business strategy. I don’t sell anything, but I do talk about business planning and business management. It relates to my books, my software authorship, and the company I founded. It generates page views in the Bplans.com domain. It validates.

So it’s fun, but it’s good business too. In this case, at least. It relates directly to validation of product, to page views, and to marketing objectives.

What is it for you? What’s the business objective? How to you measure achievement of that objective? Do you have metrics to review? Do you remember to review them?

Boomer Business Blogger Part 2: It’s A Full-time Job

Benjamin Floyd of Read Click Done asked me after yesterday’s post: “how do you do it?” Two books, 1400 or so posts, 1300 or so tweets in the last two years. “Where do you find the time.”

Fair question. Reminds me of Bob Sutton’s Really, I Write it Myself. So do I. Bob thanks his editors, and so do I. But yeah, I write it all myself. (Well, there was that one guest post on angel funding, but it was the only exception.)

It’s a full-time job

To all the real business people feeling insufficient because experts say they’re supposed to be doing all this as a sideline, I say: relax. That’s a myth. A post now and then and some tweets here and there, maybe; but this blogging I do is a full-time job.

I go to the office every day, and I’m there all day except meetings (and traveling, and teaching, and speaking gigs, and angel investment, but that detracts from my point, so forget I said it).

I’m often writing at night too. And on weekends.

I also use scheduling. For example, I’m on vacation with family today, so I wrote this last Saturday, to be posted today.

Repeat: it’s a full-time job. It doesn’t just happen.

It’s no coincidence that my new life blogging and writing and speaking and teaching, and tweeting too for the last few months, was a delightful baby-boomer late 50s career change. While I’m still employed full time by Palo Alto Software, the company I founded, I don’t run it. Nobody reports to me. As I said in yesterday’s part 1, my business card says “President” but it should say Chief Blogging Officer.