Failing to understand the social media economy?

This is a great example of how you can listen to someone talk about the way that social media, social business and engagement are all supposed to work, and yet miss the entire point when it comes to actually trying to interact. If you’re not familiar with Gary Vaynerchuk, it’s worth me pointing out there’s some strong language.

It’s so often the case, particular with larger companies and the relentless need to show immediate ROI that even when someone understands the concept of earning what they want, that they succumb to the temptation of just diving straight in with the request, because someone has insisted they need to show results in the next day or week.

(Incidentally, Gary has released two books, Crush It! and The Thank You Economy. Both are well worth reading).

It’s why I’m been sharing this article by Michael Ellsberg on the Forbes website – a recommendation from one notable blogger did more for the success of his book than national broadcast television or newspapers. But the flipside is that he’d built that relationship up over a period of years, rather than days, weeks or months.

That’s also potentially a great reason to use freelance resources, which is something I intend to expand on. If you’re a new company or you’ve never tried earning coverage and referrals before, then it can take a long time to build those relationships. Whereas I’ve tried to work on them every day for the past decade, which is why I’m able to survive via word-of-mouth referrals and work via previous clients, colleagues and friends.

No more social media excuses…

If you’re still thinking that your industry, business or employees aren’t able to use social networks and social media marketing effectively, you might want to take a look at this:

Army Social Media Handbook 2011

View more documents from U.S. Army.

Yep,that’s the U.S Army Social Media Handbook, January 2011, from the official slideshare account of the U.S Army. And not only that but they’re actively asking for feedback on it.

And if that’s spurred you into action, but you’d like some assistance, I’m always happy to help!

The Way of the Otaku?

In some ways I may have made a mistake in naming TheWayoftheWeb a few years ago. Because the Web isn’t the important element, and neither is mobile, print, radio, television or pigeon post.

Any Japanophile videogame or anime fans will already understand the Otaku reference, but the best explanation comes from brilliant author William Gibson:

‘The otaku, the passionate obsessive, the information age’s embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects, seems a natural crossover figure in today’s interface of British and Japanese cultures. I see it in the eyes of the Portobello dealers, and in the eyes of the Japanese collectors: a perfectly calm train-spotter frenzy, murderous and sublime. Understanding otaku -hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the web. There is something profoundly post-national about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not.’

That’s from a column he wrote almost 10 years ago for The Guardian. It was shortly before the release of Pattern Recognition, which I highly recommend and recently re-read.

In the book, his heroine wears a Buzz Ricksons jacket, – a Japanese firm recreating American military clothing with the kind of passion for detail which particular Otaku appreciate.

But there is a group of Otaku for every subject imaginable. Individually, each one may be an expert, a maven, a connector, an influencer. But for all the talk of reaching out to ‘influencers’ – I worry we’ll miss the society that allows those people to have influence in the first place.

Social networks don’t make students dumb

Apparently using social networks doesn’t cause students to suffer academically, and in fact, can eliminate the different in American GPA scores between students whose parents had differing levels of higher education, and for some demographics it had a positive relationship.

Researchers from Northwestern University have acknowledged that students will distract themselves and waste time but the positive effects outweigh the negativity for some, or at least cancel out for others. (h/t Ars Technica).

Information Hydrant by Will Lion (CC Licence)

Information Hydrant image by Will Lion on Flickr (CC Licence)

There’s been a lot of debate about the effects of the internet, particularly in the debate between Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus and Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows – does the internet enable productive spare time, or rewire our brains to skim read without any proper thought (possibly the most lightweight and succinct summation!).

My own thoughts can be summed up in two bullet points:

  • The internet is the most amazingly comprehensive, searchable and shareable source of information that has ever existed, enabling the largest ever number of people to create, compile, curate and spread information
  • It’s all about how it’s used in conjunction with the other sources of information available from print to radio to television, and the outcomes it produces.

The internet is not inherently anything, despite the fact it was based on openness and sharing, or the fact it can be used for misinformation, criminal activity or censorship.

Until computers and networks become completely sentient, then it’s the human interaction with the internet which shapes what it can do, and what it becomes.

And as long as individuals, groups and companies continue to provide useful and valuable information for use by others, the net effects for those who learn the skills to use the internet effectively will be positive – social networking is an ever-more important part of that as it encompasses interaction, organisation and knowledge-sharing.

One potential USP for Diaspora

I’ve been following the progress of Diaspora since it started – in the midst of Facebook’s last privacy problems, four young programmers at NYU asked for funding to create ‘a privacy aware, personally-controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network’.

And they got a lot more funding than they asked for – before they’d written a line of code, their Kickstarter page raised over $200,000. And they’d originally set a goal of $10,000. Backers even include Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg!

They’ve just posted their one month update, and things seem to be going well. But in the midst of writing a post on 140char, something struck me.

The big worry about Diaspora is that even if it’s finished, available, and a great service – not enough people will necessarily care enough about privacy etc to sign up and get critical mass to it.

So what about taking a different route.

Advertisers and marketers are increasingly using social networks as a primary route for reaching consumers effectively.

Revenue generation is increasing for the social networks and companies using them.

Customer service and CRM are following along slightly behind.

So why not make the unique selling point to the average user something slightly different – why not make Diaspora the first social network to serve as a platform for Vendor Relationship Management?

With Diaspora, not only could you control all your own data from a privacy point of view, but you could control all your own data from a VRM point of view – selecting what you might want to release to a company, and how long you’ll allow it, whilst it’s relevant.

It could be the social network which doesn’t let you ‘Like’ a company – but lets you control your relationship with all the companies you’d like to do business with. And with the open source and distributed, open approach to data, it could be made easy for consumers and companies to hook up using Diaspora as a platform and channel, rather than having to be within the social network itself.

Maybe that would give both movements more leverage?

How the ‘traditional’ world punishes social networking

If you’re familiar with social networking it can be easy to scoff at the latest report of the non-digital native world failing to understand the benefits of the connected world. But sometimes, being ahead of the curve can carry a cost.

A U.S. University Professor was recently suspended because of a Facebook status update on what was intended to be a private page for family and friends. Similarly in the UK, a joke on Twitter led to an arrest under the Terror Act and a lifetime ban from an airport. And in a related privacy matter, a school appears to have been using anti-theft software on laptops issued to students to spy on them.

But all of these might appear to be isolated cases against individuals or small groups – and some might argue that publishing anything remotely contraversial is foolish, even in jest, on a public platform, whatever your privacy settings – and events like this one don’t help.

But there are far more insiduous happenings taking place which can affect all of us – how would you feel about the fact that Facebook and Twitter Usage Could Raise Your Home Insurance Premium by 10%?

Or that banks are mining social media sites for personal information which can affect your credit score?

You can argue that telling the world about your location, or revealing any financial information justifies the data collection – although the suggestion that some Facebook application exist purely to collect this data surreptitiously has to be somewhat alarming.

But given that social media and social networking is so new and quickly evolving, and that there’s no proof that mentioning your location, your new purchase, or joking about your future actions has any relation to reality, it’s important to remember that traditional institutions still have the tendency to believe anything published as factual evidence. Even as half the UK population converses via Facebook, it appears we’re all still cast into the role of rebels on the fringes of society who need to be aware of laws, regulations and risks that haven’t moved anywhere near as quickly as they should in the face of the ever-increasing rate of change.

The problem isn’t that the world can’t move quickly enough to build a logical framework which facilitates individuals, businesses and governments to a reasonable level – the problem appears to be that none of the people in a position to do it have the knowledge/incitement to bother, and so we’re left with a legion of the internet-enabled complaining about the inability of the internet-challenged to wield power correctly.

The question is what will you do about it?

The aftermath of Twitters biggest phishing scam

Over the last week, many people have fallen foul of the latest phishing scam to do the rounds of Twitter. And an unusual number of high profile individuals have been included in the list of users affected, including the Press Complaints Commission, BBC correspondent Nick Higham, the Guardian’s Head of Audio Matt Wells, bank First Direct, and environment minister Ed Milliband.

Environment Minister Ed Milliband caught by phishing scam

Environment Minister Ed Milliband caught by phishing scam

Phishing scams have long been endured by most internet users – the traditional mechanism has been via email, but as social networks have becoming hugely popular, they’ve become the vector of choice. And Twitter is particularly attractive as the speed with which messages can spread is combined with the use of short urls, which help to mask the malevolence of the message.

While this is just another example of the huge amount of phishing attempts which exist, the higher profile of these attacks as they affect prominent politicians will hopefully lead to a better awareness and response by governments.

It’s probably a forlorn hope, but for example, here are some things which might change:

  • More education about phishing and spam to the ‘general public’ – how about a public awareness campaign?
  • More understanding about how normal users can have accounts compromised very easily – for instance, with ‘Three Strikes Rules’.
  • More people using offline backups of any content that is valuable or useful to them
  • More of a move towards data privacy, and Vendor Relationship Management, to allow users to only share the information they choose with any service provider under strict controls.
  • A rethink of the UK Identity Card scheme which includes private businesses taking fingerprint and photos.

Importantly, it should place the risks of Social Engineering alongside those of teenage cyberwarfare specialists taking down defence satellites from their bedroom. If a private company was, for example, storing fingerprint data, you wouldn’t need to target their infrastructure (Although I’m not sure most chemists have a particularly high level of internet security) – you’d use social engineering on their employees via Facebook, Twitter, or offline in person to gain information and access.

Of course, technology can play a part, and I’m sure Twitter will increase their response to phishers in future, particularly as a high profile attack via any platform is never good for PR. But any measures will always be part of a never-ending arms race, and only when every individual is educated enough will there be any noticeable difference…

Making millions on Twitter

If you’re looking for an example of a significant financial return on Twitter, then Dell has long been used as an example – and you can expect it to be quoted even more often after revealing revenues have now risen to $6.5 million globally via Twitter.

Of course that requires almost 1.5 million followers for their main @DellOutlet account, Dell Canada, the $800,000 from @DellnoBrasil and over $150,000 from @DellHomeSalesCA , but it’s still a mightily impressive amount.

Key points for the future from Dell Chief Blogger Lionel Menchaca?

  • Streamline our presence in social media networks, create meaningful content for customers and continue to increase our connections with them in those places
  • Focus on building a tighter integration between Dell.com, Support.Dell.com, our Dell Community sites with our presence in social networks
  • Continue our focus on scaling support of social media initiatives into the Dell business units

There’s a few more bits on the Dell post worth reading.

A Friday lunch inspired plea

Trying to arrange lunch with the wonderful @angusfarquhar today at short notice somehow managed to involve the use of Twitter, GTalk,  and our mobiles simultaneously in a great example of male geeks communicating in three mediums but still struggling to decide a location and time effectively.

But eventually we finally managed to make it to TheBreakfastClubSoho, which proved to be a good choice.

So microblogging, IM’ing, chatting on the phone, and talking in person, in the space of 20 minutes.

And that just emphasised the fact that the actual technology we were using was fairly irrelevant – being able to share links, locations and maps virtually made life slightly easier, but at the end of the day it all comes down to humans communicating to be able to achieve whatever task they require.

Please don’t forget that when new technology appears.

Does social media really increase your emails?

Social Media leads to more time spent on emails, according to a new study by Nielsen (Found via Mashable).

Apparently heavy social media users spend much more time consuming email each day, and it seems to only be increasing judging by the study. There’s no inference whether this is a good or bad thing, but the question I’d be asking is whether it’s also affected the amount of time spent on the telephone, in meetings etc. I probably spend less time on the telephone now than at any point in my life, and yet I’m keeping in contact with far more people on a far more regular basis than ever before.

How to tackle the email increase:

Nielsen and Mashable both point to the sign-up and notification emails as being the biggest cause of the email influx – but there’s a really, really simple solution.

In addition to my two main email accounts (work and personal), I have an account at OtherInbox which has been utterly fantastic at keeping all the notifications etc out of my way unless I actually need them.

Put simply, Other Inbox is web-based mail, but rather than the normal email address, you get an @username.otherinbox.com address (so mine is @badgergravling.otherinbox.com or @badgergravling.oib.com – cheers for the tip Tim). All I then do is insert the name of the social media site (or anything else I fancy) as my email address – so thewayoftheweb@badgergravling.otherinbox.com.

When that address is emailed by the site, Other Inbox automatically creates a folder of the same name and files every email from the site in the right folder.

So anything likely to clog your inbox gets filtered, filed, and saved for 30 days with a free account (paid accounts are really cheap and worthwhile for permanent archives). And you can integrate it with Gmail, access via IMAP etc, etc.

End result – a far less cluttered inbox every day, and storage for those set-up emails you’ll realise you need in two year’s time.