The impact of real-time rumours

False Tweet

Yesterday, hackers broke into the Associated Press (AP) Twitter account and posted a false message about explosions at the White House. The image above shows the Wall Street reaction. What’s particularly interesting, showing the interdependencies between systems, is that some of the trading activity resulted from automated algorithms possibly making the reaction worse than it otherwise would have been. This follows closely on the heels of a Reddit story going viral on Twitter wrongly identifying possible suspects in last week’s terrible bombing of the Boston Marathon. One of those wrongly identified is still missing…

Today, Twitter has implemented two-factor authentication to tighten up security.

These incidents should not deter people from looking to real-time social media channels such as Twitter for information. But they do highlight the growing importance of critical thinking and reflection before reacting. Because reactions bring with them consequences.


The value in gossip at work


I watched a fascinating TEDx talk this weekend and have embedded it below to share. If you’re not enthralled at the start, I encourage you to stick with it. It leads to the conclusion:

Celebrity gossip is the conversation that exposes who we are… a reflection of modern human behaviour and culture. In observing the changing nature of standards and morality, gossip is the play-by-play of our social evolution

We often see nicknames for forums and comments sections of web sites such as ‘the water cooler’ or ‘chatter box’. But we kid ourselves if we think they are true replacements for the real thing. And gossip can be such a powerful mechanism for collaborative working. Many people have been criticising Marissa Meyer over the past week for the announcement that all Yahoo employees must now work at offices and not from home apart from exceptional circumstances. Whilst I think that is too strict an approach and there are big benefits working from home in terms of individual productivity, I do feel that organisations often under-value the benefits of informal collaboration through hall-way meetings and unplanned disruptions that tend to occur in close proximity rather than over long or digital distances.

Here’s the video. Make a brew and set aside 20 minutes for a very different TED talk

[ba-youtubeflex videoid=”oFDWOXV6iEM”]

What we share online in 60 seconds

60 Seconds - Things That Happen On Internet Every Sixty Seconds

For online communications in a world where information can be shared in an instant, does blogging still matter? Choose the shortest format to tell your story and work back from there to cover the different platforms where your audience resides

Neville Hobson, also known as @jangles, has posted a recent presentation to Slideshare: Is there any point in blogging? The slides are a great walkthrough the different formats now popular for communicating online and how organisations can use the channels effectvely. Also included in the slides is the infographic above. Published in June 2011 by, it gives a real feel for the massive volume of opinions flowing across the Internet and why ‘big data’ matters. Imagine being able to mine those insights in real-time to influence decisions.

Here’s Jangles slidedeck:

And back to the question that forms the title. Is there any point in blogging? Well here I am, writing a blog post… ūüôā But the answer, in true consulting style is ‘it depends’. The overall value is definitely lower than 5 years ago due to the sheer number of blogs out there. Thanks to power laws and long tails, discoverability now has little correlation with quality of the content. Industries that benefit from visuals and location-awareness may find short format alternatives like Instagram and Pinterest of more benefit than the longer format of traditional text-y blog posts.

Two tips to get the most value out of blogging/online communications:

  • If you have to pick one medium, choose the shortest format that tells the story. Work back from there.
  • Make the content available on the platforms that your target audience inhabits.

Should CEOs Tweet?

A couple of news articles were posted in the past week highlighting the growing recognition that social media has strategic value and noticing that most CEOS don’t get involved in social media.

BBC News published an interview with Google executive Sebastien Marotte describing recent research into social media for business. Findings included:

  • 81% of high-growth businesses are using social tools to assist that growth
  • 75% of senior executives said that social tools will change business strategy

TheStrategyWeb posted an article asking if social media is going corporate. They highlighted recent research that concluded:

  • 70% of Fortune 500 CEOs cannot be found on any form of social media
  • less than 10% of CEOs participating on Facebook, Twitter and co

Is that a problem?

Not necessarily…

Richard Branson is an example of a CEO who tweets a lot. And the tweeting is consistent with his reputation. He has always used media to promote what he does, whether for commercial, personal or charitable gain.¬† Steve Jobs didn’t tweet. And was anybody surprised?

Social media can offer benefits in two ways:

  • Communications to try and increase business*
  • Communications to try not to lose business*

* Business as in whatever rocks your boat – sales, contacts, reputation, knowledge, ego…

Social media is just another channel for the conversation. Albeit faster and more visible on a global scale. Beneficial? Absolutely! But it doesn’t mean everyone in the organisation needs to be directly involved.

Better to have the right personality tweeting regardless of their seniority in the organisation. That’s the charm of social media – it cuts through hierarchies. Bemoaning the lack of CEOs tweeting is a call for the old ways of working.


Related posts

Social Analytics or Awareness?

Social Media Analytics are a big area of growth… but beware the wrong focus. A lot of analytics can be like looking in the rear-view mirror whilst driving. Tells you where you’ve just been, allows you to make some course adjustments safely but you really want to keep most of your focus on the road ahead.

Instead, think more in terms of awareness. Real-time analytics can be hugely beneficial if it makes you aware of a conversation taking place that you should be involved in. That means monitoring the various channels, currently including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+… and having a social media strategy that enables you to respond effectively to whatever the monitoring brings up. By all means have your regular reviews, rank people’s contributions if you must. But don’t let the bells and whistles distract you from what matters.

Networks need individuals who care

A news story did the social media rounds earlier this year – Why we’re renaming Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread by J Sainsbury plc.

Pop over and read the story. A three-year-old called Lily, with the help of her mother, wrote to Sainsbury’s supermarket suggesting that the markings on their Tiger Bread look more like a giraffe than a tiger.¬† The response got blogged, liked 150,000 times on Facebook and Tweeted 48,000 times. People started contacting the supermarket supporting the suggestion and…

In response to overwhelming customer feedback that our Tiger Bread has more resemblance to a giraffe, from today we will be changing our Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread and seeing how that goes.

Full marks for using such human language in the announcement above instead of the corporate speak we all too often still see. But at the core of this story is the individual nature of the response written to Lily. Had it been a bland statement, I doubt it would have gone viral.

The image below contains the response that Sainsbury’s sent to Lily

From the letter:

I think renaming tiger bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea – it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it?

It is called tiger bread because the the first baker who made it a looong time ago thought that it looked like stripey like a tiger. Maybe they were a bit silly.

I really liked reading your letter so I thought I would send you a little present. I’ve put a ¬£3 gift card in with this letter. If you ask your mum or dad to take you to Sainsbury’s you could use it to buy some of your own tiger bread (and maybe if mum and dad say its OK you can get some sweeties too).

What a lovely response. And written directly to Lily, not her parents. You can see why her mom decided to blog about it. I wonder if this was a one off from an excellent customer manager or the approach encouraged by Sainsbury’s? It’s not the only example. Recently, somebody complained about one of¬†Sainsbury’s sandwiches on Twitter:

Another Sainsbury’s Twitter account replied with a phone number to call and an apology

[sorry] you had to wrestle your way through the sandwich.

Much of the debate about social media is focused on the shift in speed and spread of communications thanks to Internet and mobile technologies. A good or bad story can spread virally and the organisation impacted by that story can do little to control it. Enter the corporate social media handbook and analytics tools.

What is rarely acknowledged is that all memorable stories involve individuals who cared enough to do something different. Being able to provide a quick, tailored outcome appropriate to the situation requires a skill. A skill that isn’t sufficiently recognised.¬† Would I be writing about tiger giraffe bread if Lily had received a standard scripted corporate response?

For social media efforts to be truly valuable for business, you need people who care and enjoy what they are doing. How organisations train and treat their employees matters more than ever. The focus is too often on investing in technology rather than in recruiting the right people.


Valuing friction in social networks


Putting the words ‘social’ and ‘network’ together doesn’t always work. Traditional networks perform at their best with as little friction as possible – eliminate interruptions to the flow. But interruptions are at the heart of social networks. If you are not interrupting someone, you are talking to nobody or trying to interrupt everyone.

O’Reilly published a great article last year – The End of Social – talking about this very concept. How automated posts from apps such as Spotify and Foursquare remove friction and lower the value of interactions in the process. Do I care what music you just listened to or what location you just checked-in to when it’s an automated update to everyone vs ‘hey, I’m in the area, let’s catch-up’.¬† The article references research into the effect such automatic updates have on trust, linking to a Microsoft Research post – In Defense of Friction.

The MSR team conducted a test of trust, comparing automated handouts of credit versus human handouts. They observed that credits given out by a human being gave a signal of appreciation that you simply can’t automate. And that word is key. I wonder, have too many become obsessed with achievements (the ‘gamification’ of systems using badges to reward effort) when knowledge-sharing of value is far more likely to happen in appreciative networks.

Eliminating friction in a social network may benefit the provider of the service, automatic updates make it easier to collect data about users for whatever purpose. But the benefits to the participants in the network are less clear. Too many automated messages may award you an achievement badge but increase the noise:signal ratio to a level nobody appreciates.

Flickr Image courtesy of Adam Rosenberg