Unexpected social connections

In the past couple of weeks there have been a series of articles raising concerns about the amount of personal data being published to online social networks and the potential for it to be used for ill intent.

There are two different scenarios people should consider before sharing personal information:

  1. Would I mind if a complete stranger knew that information?
  2. Do I mind what any of my ‘friends’ do with the information?

If the answer is Yes to either question think twice before putting that personal information online at all. That’s not to say sharing is inherently good or bad. But once you have shared information with anyone, you have lost control of it. If you answered ‘No’ to question two above, you answered ‘No’ to both.

Social Network Connections

Here is a simple scenario using Facebook. In the image above, the green buddy is you. The blue buddies are your ‘friends’. The red buddies represent everyone else with Internet access.

You set up your privacy settings so that only friends can see your personal information. Anyone who is on Facebook but not a friend will only see your name, nothing else. That’s your decision.  Sounds sensible. Sounds under control.

But if one of your friends decides to share information with their friends or third party applications, they may handover your personal information as well. It can be done in complete innocence and for good intentions – ‘I want to send birthday cards to my friends’, ‘Are any of my friends nearby to meet up with?’, ‘I’m interested in this group, I’ll add my friends to it as well’, ‘Has anybody in my network bought this <insert name of any item>?’ In the right context, all great stuff. But information about you has now been handed over to and stored somewhere beyond your control. The same applies to every application or web site that you allow to connect to your Facebook profile. Do you read all the terms and conditions, the notes about agreeing to data being stored indefinitely or granting access to other third parties?

It is not just you who decides how secure your personal information is. If you decide to share it with them, all your friends get to decide too. As do all the apps and web sites you connect to. And if you’re one of Facebook’s social butterflies, everyone gets to decide.

This doesn’t mean you should head straight to Facebook and switch everything off (too late for existing content anyway) but if you are going to participate in online social networks and care about what happens to your personal data, it’s a good idea to keep track of privacy settings and changes to policies.

If you’re not paying for a product, you’re not the customer, you are the product being sold. – Andrew Lewis

For Facebook and every application/advertising tool that uses it, it is in their best interests to get you to share your personal information. They will make it as easy and seamless to do as possible. And many will make it difficult or inconvenient to change those default settings to be more private. So think long and hard about what you want to share with anyone. And question whether having different privacy policies for everyone versus ‘friends’ actually means anything. A simpler (and more reliable) approach is to either share something with nobody or share with everybody.

A hassle, yes. But massive online social networks are still a young concept on the Internet meaning lessons will be learned the hard way. And everyone with a Facebook account can count themselves as one of the testers.


Facebook vs Google+ for companies

Update 1st July: Google now requires everyone to login to view anything so the first row of the table has gone red too. Makes it even less useful and it was already struggling to justify any effort…

The short version:

Facebook vs GooglePlus for company pages

The details…

The Wall Street Journal has a great article looking at Google’s efforts to rival Facebook – The Mounting Minuses at Google+ <- title kind of indicates how well those efforts are going.

Some quotes that stand out from the article:

“Nobody wants another social network right now,” said Brian Solis

Intel Corp said 360,000 Google+ members have signed up to receive updates from the chip maker since it set up a brand presence on the site. [But] While Intel gets dozens of responses to its posts on Google+ the company has nine million “fans” on Facebook and gets thousands of comments there [according to Ekaterina Walter who manages Intel’s presence on social media sites]

Facebook and Twitter helped change the way people discover new things on the Web, rivaling Google as the chief gateway to the Internet. Much of the activity on Facebook is private and can’t be accessed by Google’s search engine, making search less useful as people spend more time on Facebook.

All of this makes it more important for Google to win over people like Ben Hopper. The 29-year-old photographer in London joined Google+ shortly after it launched. But in November, Mr. Hopper stopped using Google+. Instead, he re-focused on Facebook and social media sites like Twitter. Google+ “was an additional tool that needed time investment—time I didn’t have to begin with,” he said.

That last sentence is particularly relevant.  When you are not first to a market, you need to not just do something different or better, you need to make it easier for the people who you want to not just attract to the product or service, but keep them using it. This is where Apple succeeded with the iPhone. It wasn’t the first smartphone, but without even talking about the hardware design compared to the standard at the time, its user interface was incredibly well thought out in terms of making features easier to use. Simple steps like when you move the handset from your ear to look at the screen, the keypad automatically appears (it assumes you are about to do something). Previous phones I used (both Windows and Android) required you to press a button to reactivate the screen – half the time I’d press the button that cancelled the call. Doh!

Having experimented with both Facebook and Google+ from a business perspective, the opportunity that Google has is making content accessible to everyone. I can add a link to a Facebook page on my web site. But nobody can see the Facebook page without first logging into Facebook and nothing from that site will ever appear in search results.  Facebook may have 800 million and counting users but there is a growing backlash to being logged into it all the time and I don’t want to make those sorts of demands on any client.  Google+ doesn’t require the same – anyone can view my company’s page on Google+, the page will appear in search results, and nobody needs to login unless they want to participate in the conversation.  All good reasons to prefer Google+ over Facebook.

So why is Google+ so quiet?

Google requires you to invest too much time to keep the site active. I haven’t found an easy way to share blog posts automatically through Google+. At the moment, I try to remember to go over and add it to the feed. Once there, I usually have to switch accounts because my Google Apps account doesn’t currently work with Google+ but my Gmail account does.   I’d like my Twitter feed (all or by a certain hashtag like #in for LinkedIn and #fb for Facebook) to be automatically added. If it can be done, I haven’t figured out how. This is compared to a great little tool I used a few years ago called FriendFeed that looked visually similar but made it easy for you to automatically integrate data feeds so that you didn’t have to duplicate effort. FriendFeed was acquired by Facebook.

But even the act of adding a manual status update isn’t obvious on Google+ in some areas (it is in others – consistency, or lack of, is another gripe). Where as Facebook and Twitter both put it right in front of you in the main part of the page, regardless of whether you are on your own profile or a fan page for a company, Google has taken a different approach for each area.

Google+ Example

The image above is the start of the stream for the Joining Dots company page.  See if you can spot where to add a status update (I’m logged in as admin for the page)…

…It’s the tiny + visible just to the left of the logged in account ‘Joining Dots’ in the top right corner. Go figure.

If Google seriously wants to take on Facebook, it needs an Apple mindset to make Google+ as easy and intuitive as possible when you are on the site. And it needs to start making it easier to add in automated feeds such as Twitter updates, blog posts when they are published etc.  Along with Likes and all the other trickery that Facebook has done so well  but keeps locked and hidden inside their walled garden (even if it is a big garden).  Until then, as the photographer Ben Hopper soon found out, Google+ is simply too much hassle. And that’s Google’s, not than Ben’s…

Growing thicker skins

Shut Up!

At the start of the month came the news that a teacher was suspended over comments made on Facebook:

in which she said she felt like a “warden” overseeing “future criminals.”

Now, if you were the parent of a child attending her school, you might not be impressed with the comment. But before storming the school gates, perhaps pause for thought first. Did it warrant a suspension versus a warning about talking shop on Facebook and looking into what caused the comment?

Organisations continue to struggle with social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, whether it is using them as part of work or coping with their use outside of work.

And so do individuals. We are all going to have to develop thicker skins as our lives become increasingly transparent to others and our foibles get exposed to a much bigger audience than ever happened in the past.  But it goes both ways. More fool the HR department that bins a candidate because they did something stupid and posted it online in their youth. They should worry more about those with an opaque history.


An Imperfect Business

An imperfect road

Three weeks ago I attended the third Social Media for Business DellB2B event, this time held at Google’s offices in London. Then I was supposed to attend Dachis Group’s Social Business Summit, also in London, but ended up watching the Twitter feed instead. Whilst both events included some great sessions, they shared a frustration: utopian quotes that sound great in theory but can be hard to put in to practice. Here’s a sample:

  • By saying nothing, you are saying everything
No. The impact of participating or not in social media is not equal for all businesses or industries.
  • We’re 20 years into the web and most business web sites still suck
Yes, but so do most retail stores, call centres, middle management etc.
  • The future of business isn’t created, it’s co-created
Tell Apple that!

Many organisations could benefit from adopting social media. But it is too often pitched as the new utopia all businesses should aspire too. Businesses have plenty of flaws, not listening too or conversing with customers is just one of them.


I’ve seen oodles of research and presentations proving that performance appraisals damage moral, lower producitivy and encourage poor behavoiur. For one example, see Crashing with the nose up (2001). Yet still they are a staple of business life and Dilbert cartoons.

For businesses seeking to benefit from trends and technologies such as social media, it can help to understand, if not overcome, some of the barriers that prevent adoption. And O’Reilly Radar has a great post to help identify them: 5 reasons why we still don’t have invisibility cloaks.

Here are the soundbites: As always, it’s well worth reading the full article.

1. Cost

Decision-makers have many choices when investing scarce dollars on IT projects. Many great ideas fall by the wayside and never make the light of day in favor of more pressing enterprise needs. Social media may not cost much, but it is never free.

2. Complexity

Today, fewer and fewer solutions remain islands. There are often so many inter-dependencies that even a small change has downstream impacts that must be considered. Social media often starts out as an island. Can it justify staying that way?

3. Resistance

Every CIO needs to understand, for his or her organization, the pace at which new capabilities can be deployed. It’s probably a lot slower than we all think.  Social media rarely provides instant hits, think marathon rather than sprint. That does not help speed up internal adoption.

4. Legacy

We are wedded to the past. We like the things we know more than things that are new and unknown. There’s a reason we go back to that tried and tested Excel formula when we know we have the same capability in the latest ERP system. People don’t change their habits over night. And social media is all about changing habits.

5. Politics

Reconciling organizational and individual interests is a messy business. And it’s highly complex. I imagine many of us can tell our own stories of how we observed decisions being made that had little basis in reasonable logic. We’d like to pretend it isn’t a factor, but all too often it is.  And pretending won’t help your social media project.

Five points applicable to all new systems, social media is just one.  Enjoy the memorable quotes at your next conference but never forget, the devil is always in the details.

References/Further Reading

Dell B2B Social Media Huddle

On 25th May 2010, Microsoft hosted Dell’s second B2B Social Media Huddle in London.

This blog post will look at what has changed since the previous event held last December, and will be a shorter post than the original series. Some content was repeated or similar and reading the first series would be a good place to start, beginning with Dell B2B Social Media Huddle – Part 1 (December 2009).

Overall, the tone was more muted this time and focused on the reality of social media, mixing lessons learned in how to benefit from social media with examples that question its value in a business-to-business (B2B) context. I suspect that’s because business-to-business examples are far more likely to be found under the umbrella of Enterprise 2.0 than Social Media. At this event, there was a lot more emphasis on social media for advertising and marketing.

Does Social Media Matter?

12 months ago, the first time Domino’s Pizza management heard about what their employees had been up to on YouTube was when they were tipped off by a blogger. The incident was considered a case study in why businesses should be more actively monitoring and participating in social media. But Domino’s did react quickly once notifed and, 12 months later, has any damage been done to the brand? The evidence suggests you can fail miserably (initially) at social media, the judgement comes more from your reaction and how you get out of a bad situation rather than how you got into it…

During one of the unconference sessions, the presenter Ciaran Norris played a video of IKEA leveraging Facebook for social media marketing. IKEA created a profile, uploaded photos and whoever was first to tag an item in the photo won the item. Held up as a great example of how to engage your audience, what’s the benefit? Outside those who received free goods, does it change anyone else’s opinion? Decide for yourself:

Whilst I’m unconvinced about how much value was generated from this one-time limited lucky dip, for sure some value was created. And that’s perhaps the point we have reached with social media…

What’s the Return on Inaction?

With businesses struggling to put a value on social media efforts, making any potential return on investment hard to predict, an alternative approach was offered – evaluating the return on inaction. (You could equally use ‘Risk on Inaction’.) What happens if you do nothing? In the era of telephones, if your customers all had telephones would you choose not to have one? What’s the value of that telephone? How about the value of having an email address? Or web site?…

Whilst I’m getting more than a little tired of videos displaying trends to a thumping tune designed to have everyone reacting in amazement, the numbers do illustrate just how far we have travelled down the rabbit hole in to Internet wonderland.

Target who you interact with…

It was interesting to observe at the event how Dell and Cisco continue to expand their social media efforts to reach a larger audience. Both have multiple accounts on Twitter and fan pages/groups on Facebook. For brands, it seems the more successful use of Social Media come from specalisation, connecting with multiple but very specific audiences rather than the generic TV method of targeting everyone/stereotypes. It would be prohibitively expensive to create specialist adverts for print and TV media, but not so with social networks.

…and let your targets find you

I’ve tweeted my frustration at seeing Nokia target my Facebook profile with pink versions of their outdated phones, when the only data they have to go on is that my profile gender is female. That is no different to a stereotyped TV advert. The successful uses of online sites like Facebook and Twitter involve creating channels that people want to join. We ignore banners splattered around the site then go visit the fan page of a brand. They are both advertising mechanisms. Facebook’s challenge is that it is currently trying to monetise using the old fashioned format rather than the new. Just as the advertising industry never thought online text ads would work when Google first introduced them to finance a search engine, the same disruptive thinking is needed if advertising is to also finance a social network.

“Be careful what you wish for…”

It’s that age old quote and one to consider by all businesses tentatively engaging in social media to promote sales. Back to the IKEA example. Technically, they broke Facebook’s terms of service (ToS) by creating a profile to advertise their products. And the idea has recently spawned fake imitations with fans being duped into handing over  personal details to con artists – see IKEA Imposter attracts thousands of Facebook fans per hour. Unlikely to cause long-term damage to IKEA but time and resources are now required to monitor and manage the social media channels they have chosen to participate in.

To wrap-up, the repeating message throughout the event was that social media will take time and resources, and you will fail at some point. The medium is too unpredictable to not fail, as IKEA is now learning. It’s how you respond and adjust that will make all the difference. With all the pitfalls, it may feel tempting to try and ignore social media. But the simple fact is, you can’t. It’s like the telephone, email and web sites. In their early days, they were a luxury. But once they became established, to not participate is to not be in business. Once you overcome the realisation that avoiding social media is pointless, you can start to focus on the unique benefits it can offer that justify managing those inevitable pitfalls.

Twitter has brought down barriers to communicate with people you would previously have struggled to connect with

Mel Carson talked through lessons learned by Microsoft Advertising as they began to engage in social media. This quote was the highlight and is applicable to everyone. For Mel, it resulted in getting Stephen Fry to attend a meeting. Whilst you might not secure a visit from Mr Fry to your birthday party, there is nothing stopping you from contacting him, direct, through Twitter. It is becoming common for TV shows to include a Twitter hashtags. Two examples from the BBC – The Virtual Revolution and Wonders of the Solar System. In both cases, the presenters continue to be active on Twitter and will happily argue discuss their point with you. At this event, it was interesting to note that all but two presenters in the brochure had included their Twitter IDs.

This post has summarised some of the content from the excellent Dell B2B Social Media Huddle. A follow up post will look specifically at B2B and B2E (internal) uses of social media. Thanks again to Kerry Bridges and Neville Hobson for organising, and Mel Carson from Microsoft for hosting.

Presentations from the event:

Related blog posts: Social Media tag

The value in honest headlines

Browsing Techmeme today, there were two threaded headlines for a story about AT&T increasing its early termination fees.

Techmeme Headlines

To repeat the two headlines in the image:

  • An Open Letter to our Valued Customers
  • AT&T Hikes Smartphone Early Termination Fees…

Which one do you feel inclined to read first?

For me, an organisation can only use a sentence containing the phrase ‘Our Valued Customers’ when they are giving something back, of value, to said valued customers. On the Social Media Monopoly board, AT&T PR does not get to go past Go or collect £200. A more honest title of ‘Changes to our early termination fees’ would have been much better.

Click Here to view more posts on Social Media

Social Media Requires Discipline

Earlier this week, Social Media B2B posted The benefits of social media in the B2B workplace. The article has been re-tweeted 75 times at the last check suggesting it has proven useful to quite a few people. But the advice is incomplete. Here are a couple of examples of the benefits outlined.

Increased Channels of Communication

Simply having more channels through which to communicate is not a benefit unless you use them effectively. Respond to one customer via Twitter or Facebook and you will set an expectation for all customers. Do you have the resources to meet that expectation? If not, your reputation for failure will spread faster and wider than any positive feedback. Before you start increasing those communication channels, make sure you plan and budget for the resources required to manage them effectively.

More Collaboration = Better Outcome

No it does not. It might lead to a better outcome but increasing collaboration does not guarantee any benefits whatsoever. A simple example: How many people attend meetings that achieve nothing? That’s collaboration without an outcome. There is an excellent book on collaboration called… drum roll… Collaboration, written by Morten T. Hansen. The book argues, in great detail and with plenty of research, that bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration at all. And then goes on to outline the steps you need to take to ensure that more collaboration does lead to better outcomes.

To benefit from Social Media requires more than simply adopting the tools and techniques of Social Media. It requires discipline. And that includes knowing when not to participate. From the book Collaboration, most failures boiled down to two mistakes: Overestimating the potential value from collaboration and underestimating the costs.

So back to the two examples and what to do:

Increased Channels of Communication

Every organisation should look into what channels of communication its audience use and ask the simple question. If your customers are using that channel, are you? And if not, why not? If you decide to participate, think carefully about what resources you are prepared to invest in to make the participation work. If your resources are limited, be transparent about it. The more human the response, the better the reaction.

Increased Collaboration

Read the book! 🙂 But, in short. Take a disciplined approach to collaboration. Identify where better collaboration can improve outcomes. Identify what barriers are currently preventing that collaboration from taking place. Identify what investment is required to enable better collaboration and overcome the barriers. Decide if the investment is worth the potential outcomes and, if it is, do it! Equally, identify where collaboration isn’t leading to better outcomes and stop it. Reduce those unnecessary meetings…


Related blog posts:

Government and the young online

The O’Reilly Radar has a great post written by Alex Howard sharing insights from Danah Boyd – How government can engage young people online. It contains some excellent advice for any politician hoping to create a better dialogue with young voters. Here are some soundbites:

Young people don’t want to be the government’s friend on Facebook. They aren’t likely to welcome an official dropping into an online conversation uninvited. And if you want to communicate with them where they live, you need to be on mobile.

Consider the financial crisis, suggests boyd. “Some of the most screwed-over people are college students or recent graduates with student loans. The press covers it, but where are the politicians? This is a moment to engage students. If we don’t meet them on those terms, technology won’t make it magically happen.”

“Make it easy for the message to be spread between friends. Don’t assume that you’ll be another friend in the buddy list. The goal is to be a part of the information sources they draw upon,” said boyd. “If you focus on making content easy to share wherever they go, you don’t need to track everywhere that they are.”

Highly recommend reading the full article.

The article includes a reference to a recent Pew Internet report – Teens and Mobile Phones (April 2010) – that shows just how big a role mobile phones now play in everyday life for young people:

75% of 12 – 17 year-olds now own cell phones, up form 45% in 2004.

72% of all teens – or 88% of teen cell phone users – are text-messagers (up from 51% in 2006).

More than half of teens (54%) are daily text-messagers (up from 38% in February 2008). Two-thirds of teen texters say they are more likely to use their cell phones to text their friends than talk to them to them by cell phone.

  • Half of teens send 50 or more text messages a day, or 1,500 texts a month
  • One in three send more than 100 texts a day
  • Boys typically send and receive 30 texts a day; girls typically send and receive 80 messages per day.
  • However, while many teens are avid texters, a substantial minority are not. One-fifth of teen texters (22%) send and receive just 1-10 texts a day

    The Summary Findings containing more statistics are available online.

    Villages have voices

    BBC News has a great article – Giving a voice to India’s villagers – about an experiment in rural India, using mobile phones to bring people news made by local villagers. People call a number to ‘upload’ a news item which is then sent out as a text message to all subscribers.

    “No-one has given any information about the Mongra dam and the displacement it has caused in 14 villages. I want the voice of the poor to reach the people through my report.” – Bhan Sahu, Citizen Journalist for CGNet Swara

    Mobile phones are pivotal to the service and, in the remotest parts of India, are more accessible than the TV or newspapers. They make it easy to capture conversations and also spark new debates as people gather round to receive the latest news. Mainstream media dedicates just 2% of space to rural villages. Social media can do better.

    Social media can protect systems


    Three recent posts have shared a common theme: systems failure.

    In The Inevitable Collapse of Systems, failure comes about from adding increasing layers of complexity. To begin with, introducing more advanced capabilities can lead to dramatic improvements in a system. But those advanced capabilities then enable you to do more… and more… and more. And then you start stretching the system beyond its natural limits. Any financial organisation – be it a bank or a government – that spends more than it receives on the basis of predicted future earnings are increasing their risk of collapse. When the predictions are made on top of other predictions, the risk rises exponentially.

    In Institutions will always resist change, failure comes from trying to prevent a system from changing.The media industry is the current most obvious example. Few people have the luxury of being paid a recurring license for their work. The carpenter is not entitled to a fee every time someone sits on the chair, let alone when they resell it on eBay. For a moment in time, it was possible to control distribution of popular music. An industry arose and profited well from those conditions. Now the conditions have changed.

    In The best person in the job? people are beginning to question whether or not we need more diversity at the top of systems, where the decisions get made. The UK government is facing an election. Just before parliament was dissolved to begin the election process, a bunch of new legislations were rushed through and approved, without proper debate and many of the 300 MPs – the people doing the voting on behalf of 60 million people who will be affected by the legislation – saying they don’t understand the content of what they are voting on. That is not a good sign.

    Systems collapse when you either try to stretch them beyond their natural boundaries, or you try to create artificial boundaries to contain them and bend them to your will. History shows either strategy carries a high risk of catastrophic failure. History also shows it tends to be a small group of people making the decisions that affect so many others.

    Enter social media.

    …it’s astonishing that the Twitter data is so basic but powerful compared to the teeming complexity of the HSX prediction market; there, bettors typically rely on lots of variables, such as Hollywood’s voluminous exit polls and focus group results, and intuitions about past performance, which the market then aggregates.

    That quote is from a recent article on www.fastcompany.com about how simply tracking the words thousands of people are using on Twitter can help predict the success of a film as accurately as a complicated algorithm developed a few experts.

    …you don’t need a hit to survive.  There is a place in the middle, that is not very far away from the tail, where you can at least make a living. That mid-way haven is called 1,000 True Fans. It is an alternate destination for an artist to aim for.

    That quote is from Kevin Kelly’s 1’000 True Fans. Whilst it focuses on The Long Tail economic model that applies to most forms of media, it talks about the dirty little secret the Music Publishing Industry doesn’t want to discuss. That artists can make a good enough living if they are good at what they are do, just like everyone else, without needing a recording deal. (Hat tip to Ian Blyth for tipping me off about this statistic whilst sharing a fine bottle of wine 🙂 )

    Anyone can propose a particular bill or piece of legislation. If enough signatories are gathered, it is automatically put to an online vote, and if carried, parliament is compelled to discuss it. There is no obligation for MPs to vote for or against the motion, but they are compelled to discuss and vote on the subject, guaranteeing that an issue that is popular cannot be ignored.

    That quote is from the January edition of Wired UK – Let’s Reboot Britain – which discussed various suggestions for improving the country’s prospects. The quote is from an article by Jamie Murray Wells who proposed four ideas for making government a little more democratic, as opposed to just being democratically elected.

    All three quotes are from ideas involving social media.

    The power of social media is that people are finding their voices, regardless of status. That diverse range of thought and opinion can be connected and tapped into in ways that were inconceivable barely a decade ago. Systems that learn how to leverage social media when making fundamental decisions will be far better protected from failure than those that don’t.