Geeks and cliques

Occasionally I find myself questioning the value of the networks which I have become a part of in social media spaces, particularly Twitter.

It all feels very insular. Outside of these networks, does anyone know or care about all the little waves of interest that rise and fall in our dashboards on a daily basis.

There’s a lot of talking. A lot of discussion about what we find cool, what we’d like to do and how cool social media is. Take a step back though, and look again. You’ll see that not that much is actually happening.

The conversations are great and I’ve developed some new friendships. But why haven’t we changed the world yet? This is supposed to be the tool which brings us together, makes us stronger and allows us to forge a new tomorrow.

Blessed are the geeks.

And what of the businesses that we have tempted into our rockets? Where are the ones whose trajectory has been shifted noticeably upwards with the addition of a few tweets and a Facebook page?

So, is social media cliquey? Yes, it most certainly is. And by focussing inwards in these cliques, everything that we see is magnified disproportionately.

But is social media diminished by this?

No, I don’t think it is. Smart businesses are harnessing these cliques to bolster their brand.

It’s just business though. It’s not the paradigm shift it sometimes seems to those of us who have immersed ourselves in social media.

If we’re to use it successfully it needs to be approached as a business function. Not a magic bullet.

Put it in your business plan. Don’t make it your reason for being.

Dont say anything…

My maxim for posting anything using social media channels used to be:

Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t be comfortable shouting in the middle of a crowded room.

Recent stories, in particular the Ryan Babel/Howard Webb furore have led me to revise this. While I’m pretty sure that it would be OK to make a joke about Howard Webb being a Man Utd supporter as a result of the penalty decision, it’s clearly dependant on the subtleties of context which are all too absent when a tweet like this is taken in isolation.

You have to think about each individual message which you post online as a stand alone entity. If people stumble across it they will be unlikely to check up on anything else you have said, instead they will take that line verbatim. There is no place for subtlety, irony, sarcasm, double meaning or any other language modifiers.

My new rule is.

Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable being repeated out of context by a scandal hungry media.

I may not stick to it though.

Mashable are doing it wrong

When I started to take an interest in social media a couple of years ago, the concern most often voiced was that marketeers would get their grubby hands on it and spoil it for everyone else. I never really felt that would happen because of the permission based nature of the thing. You only see the updates of people or brands that you have chosen to follow. For me that was an important distinction between social media and all traditional media up until that point.

What I hadn’t banked on was the pervasive nature of underhand marketing tactics. There have been a few things recently which have annoyed me. I already ranted briefly about marketing types making recommendations based on nothing but loyalty to their own clients.  This time my hackles have been raised by The Mashable Awards

I have nothing against the awards in principle, or awards in general.

What gets my goat is the requirement that any vote in the awards is automatically retweeted or posted to your Facebook account. It can’t be turned off. So if you want to vote for a few things then you are actively spamming your own followers on behalf of Mashable.

It’s most annoying because Mashable are the ubiquitous social media follow. Everyone with any interest in the arena is reading what they say and this begins to look like an acceptable approach to viral marketing. 

It’s not. 

It’s insidious. Any vote I might make on the site is purely an endorsement for that brand, it is in no way an implicit endorsement of Mashable, yet if I vote I am promoting their content without consultation. The status updates that it generates are junk mail and should be treated as such.

It may not seem like a big deal. If we are all following Mashable anyway then we do kind of endorse them right? Maybe, but that’s not the problem.

Rather, if other hooked up organisations begin to adopt the same approach, our Facebook feeds or Twitter streams will quickly fill up with this crap.

Just as we do with spam we will learn to ignore it and software will be developed to automatically remove it from our lives. 

Our carefully selected, permission based social media networks will cease to be of value and we will move on to something else.

Marketeers who use social media. Don’t take a leaf out of Mashable’s book. If you truly value your customers and have respect for whatever they CHOOSE to say using social media channels, trust them to work out whether they want to tell the world that they have just clicked on your call to action.

Just splashing about

My son (who’s 4) went along to his first swimming class yesterday.

He’s been to the swimming pool with my wife and I since he was a few weeks old and, as far as I knew, he couldn’t swim. He enjoyed being in the water, splashing and playing, but he couldn’t actually travel from A-B without assistance.

Then yesterday I come home to find him excitedly waving a badge at me. Turns out he’d swum a length! On his own!

See, I thought I had him pegged. But I didn’t. He was way better than I ever knew and all he needed was a bit of encouragement.

You’re way older than 4, are you just splashing about?

Image credit: Timothy Smith

Your job as a creator of content

People access the internet because they want information.

They use that information to help them make decisions. It might be small decision like “what should I watch on telly tonight?”, or it might be a big one like “should I move to Dunfermline?”*

It’s your job, as a creator of content, to make those decisions as easy as possible by providing all of the relevant information. It’s NOT your job to steer those people to make a decision that you may prefer by only providing some of the relevant information.

If your offering is good enough then you should have no worries. If it’s not, then you’re going to be found out sooner rather than later.

* for the record, the answers are “QI” and “No!”

Honest recommendations

One of the best uses of social media is for trusted reviews and recommendations. This works because, in theory, you build up a network of people who you know share your viewpoint. When they tell you that they have tried something and it was good, you listen and there’s a good chance you will try it too.

Marketeers are spoiling this.

More and more now I am seeing people making recommendations and bigging things up simply because someone has a vested interest in it. Maybe they are a client, maybe a friend. Maybe they are offering you some other incentive to post about them. There are 101 reasons.

This is all too prevalent in other places. It’s the reason why Googling product or service reviews is no longer of any use. It’s been the nature of the world offline for as long as any of us can remember.

Try and make the social media world a better place, think twice before you come out of a client meeting and shoehorn their product into your next tweet.

Has Facebook jumped the shark?

For a social media blog there is a distinct lack of Facebook chat around these parts. 

I guess the reason for that is because I try and keep my advice at a strategic level. The basic fundamentals of social media work across all of the social networks (and offline in many cases). 

Sometimes though, I have to get specific. And Facebook this week have launched something of an audacious attack on email as we know it.

 Their new Messaging system aims to make communicating easier by making Facebook the single source for conversations utilising email, instant messaging and SMS. They want to put themselves at the very centre of all of your messaging needs as they continue in their quest to own the internet. 

I’ve got a few issues with the whole thing:

  1. Who owns the data? They say that they want to be able to store all of your communications for your entire life. That’s a lot of valuable content for Facebook to use. This is going to raise a whole new set of privacy concerns, not just in terms of what they allow you to make private and what they won’t, but also around just how vulnerable all of this stored data will make those users who haven’t considered the long-term implications.
  2. SMS has a 160 character limit, Twitter has a 140 character limit, instant messaging services have differing character limits while email it boundless. What happens when I get an SMS and feel the need to reply using more characters, sure, I could switch to a different medium but that would mean that my conversation partner, if they weren’t signed up to Facebook, wouldn’t even necessarily know that I’d replied.
  3. Why bother? Seriously. Email is the single most established facet of the internet. SMS is a crappy old system for mobile phones which will inevitably die anyway due to what is now an arbitrary character limit. Instant messaging is built into most apps already and is pretty useful for quick, app specific chat. Facebook are basically rolling out an alternative to email without many of the useful elements such as bcc, subject lines etc. It’s really not that great.

 Facebook used to be a great website whose focus was on helping people stay in touch. It did that incredibly successfully. Now it wants to BE the internet, at the expense of all the other well established and useful tools that already exist. It’s lost its focus and is firing out new elements too quickly for anyone to keep up.

 For the foreseeable future it will remain the best place for communicating with your old school friends and your granny at the same time. It’ll also remain be a rich resource for businesses to engage with their customers. But these elements have been around since the beginning. The new stuff like Places, Marketplace, Messaging and the like are not enhancing that in any way. Let’s see how many of them are still there in 2 years time.