My thoughts on Facebook’s commenting system

There’s been a lot of debate around Facebook’s new commenting system, particularly due to the fact it is currently being tested on Techcrunch.

Matthew Ingram does a good job of summarising at GigaOm, although the heart of the debate seems to be in the comments section of Robert Scoble’s post (I pop up a couple of times in the comments!). There are various reasons for allowing a choice of commenting profile, whether or not that includes the facility for anonymity in an easy or more complicated manner – such as creating a fake Facebook account. But I think I can summarise one major flaw in the test and reactions so far.

When UK pubs had a reputation for violence, they’d introduce a dress code requiring shoes. That’d work for a couple of weeks. And then you’d find yourself in fights with the same people, but in slightly smarter clothes.

On a more analytic level, there are a variety of reasons for not using a commenting system which currently rests on the shoulder of one company.

  • You may want to keep Facebook personal, and use Twitter/LinkedIn/your blog or site as your professional reference.
  • You may not your Facebook profile to be a mess of comments you’ve left around the web.
  • You may wish to be anonymous to voice your authentic opinion whilst minimising the repercussions either personally or career wise.
  • Facebook is blocked by a number of organisations, preventing commenting from people in the workplace.
  • Whilst I may choose a relatively public online persona, my friends and family haven’t chosen to participate in my online life in the same way. And whilst Facebook has privacy controls, I don’t fancy checking 500-odd people have the right settings in place before I post on Techcrunch. Or want any of them involved if I choose to disagree with something on there and annoy someone.
  • Blog comments have long been one way of creating community between bloggers, whether or not those comments are seo-friendly ‘do follow’ links or ‘no follow’. If someone posts a great comment on my site, I’d like them to get the small reward of a direct link to their site, if anyone wants to find out more. Not reward Facebook for doing nothing. And judging by the SEOMOz toolbar’s ‘NoFollow’ indicator, the Facebook comments are followed links back to Facebook everytime.
  • There are viable alternatives already out there – for instance Disqus, as used on this blog. Pick whichever ID you’re comfortable with, and use it!
  • The comment culture is built by the culture of the site – rather than using technical solutions, perhaps it’s more sensible for the TC team to look at why they generate so many antagonistic or crap anonymous comments. Besides their size and audience, perhaps the fact that they may sometimes stray into tabloid linkbait might contribute? Look at the difference between similar sites in terms of technology e.g. Digg vs Reddit vs Hacker News, for example. All three allow link sharing, but the quality of discussion is better on Reddit and Hacker News in my opinion, because there’s more of a community on both.
  • Facebook Comments has code in it which would have allowed Google and Twitter logins, but was removed for some reason – and as a company with an immense userbase, they’ve got no vested interest in allowing a wider range of logins.
  • Following a VRM principle would suggest that the content and data created is mine, and I should be allowed to choose how, when, and why I share it.
  • And finally, there may be times when I might have a legitimate reason to not share a blog comment, for example, on Facebook. Perhaps I’m enquiring about a present or a recipe as a surprise for my partner (Remember Facebook Beacon?). Perhaps I want to describe a personal experience which may relate to my family. Maybe I’m commenting on a site which I don’t want to necessarily be associated with or advertise because I want to disagree with what they’ve written.

I’m all for quality conversation, but as you’d imagine, I don’t think I’ll be installing Facebook Comments anytime soon… Am I making the right decision?

Why you should read ‘The Blue Sweater’ by Jacqueline Novogratz

If you’re involved or interested in charity, social good, business, management or leadership, then I highly recommend The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World having found it important enough to read it twice in the space of the few days I’ve had it!

And it’s not even about social media, web 2.0, or marketing. It’s far more important than that.

In all honesty, I wasn’t aware of Jacqueline Novogratz (here’s a Charlie Rose interview with Jacqueline) and her work, which includes founding the Acumen Fund, but I happened to see a post by Seth Godin which described it as important and essential – and then said Seth would buy a number of copies for bloggers to read and then pass on to their friends.

Which is how I ended up with an unexpected airmail package last week.

The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

The book is a partly a personal account of how Novogratz was motivated to apply the knowledge and processes of business, learned during her time Chase Manhattan Bank and the  Stanford Graduate School of Business, to begin micro-financing projects, having heard of the success of Professor Muhammed Yunus and the Grameem Bank, and starting by founding Duterimbere, a microfinance organisation in Rwanda.

Her account of her time in Africa, and the thought process behind the philosophy of combining charitable investment and entrepreneurship is enlightening, moving, at times harrowing, and importantly inspirational to produce actual results. The fact that Duterimbere spans both sides of the Rwandan Genocide, means that you’re presented with the humananity of women who worked to better the cause of poor women in the country, but were also caaught up in various ways in the genocide, whether as victim or as perpetrator.

It’s this honesty and moral ambiguity that had the greatest effect on me as I read the book – Jacqueline is brutally honest about her efforts to improve the situation of the poor, and especially where her well-intended efforts failed, particularly in her early attempts at building relationships with the women she needed to work with, or was trying to help – indeed she’s very honest about a number of mistakes made in her work with Duterimbere, and that’s probably why the organisation was able to celebrate it’s 20th anniversary in 2007, and survive the troubles which ripped Rwanda apart.

Suffice to say that the lessons of leadership and management contained in the book are applicable to any situation in which you’d like or need to be able to build successful working relationships with individuals or groups of people, regardless of their financial situation.

And it’s also the first book I’ve bought/received which my partner has voluntarily started reading – in this case before I’d even finished reading it!

And once I’ve done my duty in passing it on, I’ll be buying my own copy to refresh my memory on a regular basis:- The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World

Soon everyone will have basic marketing and management skills

A bit of a half-formed thought I needed to share whilst spending some time removing a shockingly large amount of unused applications from my PC and trying to rationalise my ever-increasing collection of email addresses and online identities.

When it comes to introducing social media marketing and building content and community at Bauer Media, it isn’t a simple case of just deciding every brand should be on Facebook, for example, and it magically happening. A large part of the work is deciding and clarifying the objectives of using a new channel, and also looking at the benefits in terms of allocating resources, whether financial or human.

Hence why I spend a reasonable amount of time looking at work flows, and working out how we can most effectively work across various channels, and which elements of content work best when shared across various places.

In plain English, it means working out which content we should import into Facebook, or whether we should automate updates to Twitter for certain things, and which location makes most sense for teams to manually update etc.

The irony being that my own profiles and workflows for my two blogs, Twitter profile etc etc have been done on such an ad hoc basis, I really need to sit down and work out a workflow for my personal online world.

And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Which started me thinking about which specialist skills in content, marketing, strategy and management are going to increasingly become things that most people will be using:

  • For instance, when it comes to attention-grabbing headlines, how many people are learing how to craft effective content in their Facebook status or tweets on a daily basis, without even consciously thinking about it.
  • How many people are starting to think about which sites they want to use, and how to effectively update them efficiently?
  • How many people are starting to learn about sharing content and marketing it via social networks and social bookmarking sites simply because they want to be more popular, without ever realising they’re marketing themselves?
  • Are people doing their own personal PR, emailing and following people who might repeat their content?

I don’t mean this in terms of people using buzzwords like ‘personal brands‘ – that’s for marketing and aspiring marketing people to make it sound more glamourous and exciting.

I mean this in terms of someone who could come from any walk of life, using the internet, and almost subconsciously incorporating various skills because they want people to see their Youtube video, or to get more friends on Facebook or Myspace.

There’s an understandable backlash from experienced digital marketing people against the growing number of ‘social media experts’ who have a personal Twitter account but haven’t demonstrated their work for their own company or anyone elses. And I’m certainly not saying that this means anyone could run a marketing campaign without any experience or training.

But I just wonder, in addition to the rise of amateurs who are uploading great photography or editing videos etc, whether there is the same blurring of lines between professional management skillsets and what everyone is starting to do as a normal part of their internet life.

So help me out: What traditional management, marketing, publishing, strategy type skills do you see becoming used by everyone, even on a basic level – and what implications do you think it has for the future? Will everyone be more aware of what goes on within a company? And is that a good thing?

Watching Swisscom/LeWeb unfold in slow motion online

There have been lots of examples of online backlashes recently. For instance Motrin.

Neville Hobson has a really comprehensive round-up of why it’s not good to agree to supply a major online conference with internet access which then results in an epic fail.

The only thing I’d change is that the warning came at the very first moment they had a problem supplying LeWeb08, and they should have been publicly reacting from the moment it happened. It’s already four days after the event, and attempting to defend yourself by saying a major convention for online professionals and geeks is demanding on internet resources is a bit like saying that you were surprised when you put your hand in a fire and it was really hot.

If you’ve got 1600 influential online professionals in one place it’s A: the time to really shine no matter what the budget, and B: the time to have a backup policy in place, and some emergnecy planning.

Because no matter who is actually correct, or what the actual amount of service was, the chance to impress that many people in the current economic climate is pretty rare.

Contract it with the recent shining social media reputation management example from Ford.

Funnily enough, Neville has an interview with Scott Monty, who stopped the PR disaster.

Ford’s quick response to online communities which acted in haste

Earlier today, a lot of blogs and forums were buzzing with the news that Ford had contacted a fan forum site, TheRangerStation, demanding they relinquish the use of all Ford logos and trademarks and pay restitution fees of $5000. The coverage ranged from hugely popular car blogs like Jalopnik, to forums like Mustang Evolution.

It seemed particularly weird, considering the company had set up TheFordStory to reach out to customers on a more personal basis, they were featuring blogs and communities as part of Ford Digital Snippets, and one of my Twitter contacts is @ScottMonty, who is head of Social Media at Ford.

So I messaged him to ask what was going on, along with a few other people, and Scott immediately started responding on forums and blogs even while he was finding out the details.

It turns out that actually TheRangerStation was selling vehicle decals using the Ford oval – perhaps without any ill-intent – but a very clear case of trademark infringement. Particularly as something very similar happened back in January regarding a Mustang Calendar made by a forum, which was soon clarified.

What has been really interesting is that an official statement is on the way, and in the meantime there have also been emails from the law firm in question. And all the while Scott appears to have been actively searching out as many communities as possible, ranging from Digg to individual forums for specific car models, to clarify what is happening and update people as much as possible.

It’s to be applauded that they haven’t waited for an official statement before reacting – Motrin, for example, still have a post from November 20th on their homepage after the Motrin Moms backlash. (Edit – official response now posted)

If you insist on an official statement, and you only post it on your own site, you rely on hordes of angry people taking the time and effort to visit you instead of rushing to post an angry response on whichever site they discover the story. By actively going out into the community, a lot of sites have already changed their original posts, comments have been calmed, and many of the negative commentary that would have been indexed for all eternity by Google will now reflect the situation more accurately.

It does also raise the perennial question regarding accuracy – a traditional mainstream media source would be expected to contact Ford to get their response pre-publication, even if the response didn’t arrive in reasonable time, or it was a ‘no comment’. And while I wouldn’t expect that of forum posters, it should be something that blogs and people serving news to their communities should consider implementing, in order to provide the best possible information, and to resist the urge to copy and paste to follow the herd based on the assumption that everyone is telling the unbiased truth.

Even as I write this, there’s still a trickle of Tweets promoting the original story, with no fact checking whatsoever – at a time when traditional news companies are falling, and we’re all in a position to play a part in a huge change in new reporting and distribution, we should be making every effort to raise out game.

Dealing with negativity…

It seems that there are two ways to deal with the negativity of your customers, readers, and colleagues…

One way, is to ignore it, or to censor it. Pretend it isn’t happening and try and turn away. Dave Cushman’s post about BT sums up how well that normally works, here

The other way, which is most likely to turn the negative into a positive, is to find out why colleagues, customers, or readers are unhappy, and attempt to explain why decisions have been made, and then look at ways they can be changed…

Even if it’s not something that can be altered overnight, I’ve always found that a prompt reply and honest explanation normally creates a better response and more loyalty in the future. Indeed, it can turn someone with a complaint into a vocal supporter and explainer inside the rest of their community.

And apply the same techniques to your staff. Don’t dimiss their concerns, but try to find out why they feel a certain way, and ways it can be changed…

The biggest and best weapons a company can have in the modern age is enthusiastic and engaged workers and customers. They’ll give you money, do your PR, and feel able to make changes which will help your company grow. And if you don’t engage them, eventually they’ll find someone who will…