Five ways to avoid social media pitfalls with good driving sense

I have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to driving and I'm betting all of you do as well. When I started this blog, I used the analogy of an acceleration lane and the planning and foresight that a driver should use to merge safely into oncoming traffic. The same situation can be applied to use of social media. Getting the lay of the land and watching to see what others are doing around you is essential. Sometimes you see valuable strategies that can be used in your own efforts. Other times you see things happening that you swear you'd never do.

1) Shortcuts and detours don't necessarily mean a short trip.
It's Monday morning, it's raining and no one remembers how to drive in the rain. Traffic has slowed to a crawl and you're definitely going to be late. So, you take your trusty back roads. Except, you aren't the only one taking a detour. How many times have you tried a shortcut only to realize that it's made your trip even longer?

Some social media users take shortcuts all the time. They buy followers for Twitter. They run contests that require users to "like" their Facebook page. They max out their circles on Google+ hoping those they circle will circle them back. These shortcuts give an appearance of greater reach, but quality over quantity should be the guiding principle in using social media. You want followers who have a genuine interest in your product or services, not a placeholder who doesn't care.

2) Noise annoys and pollutes.
In my hometown in Florida, there is a large (roughly 60,000) population of college students, many of whom like the boom. You can't drive anywhere without being shaken from head to toe by the bass speakers in someone's car and it's usually several. If I wanted to listen to my radio, it was usually impossible until I got out of hearing range of these cars - it was annoying.

Have you ever followed someone on a social network who was "noisy"? I have unfollowed dozens of people who clogged my stream with an overwhelming volume of content. Sure, there are ways to filter their content out. I've muted users, hidden them, and eventually if they bother me enough, I just cut them off. I don't believe in reciprocity, because I want my stream to add value to me. Do you think about the value you're adding to your users when you post on social channels?

3) Be respectful of all traffic.
I've been cut off by drivers so many times in such a way that the driver gains a whopping second or two on me. I have come to the conclusion that those drivers who are in such a hurry feel that their time is more valuable than mine. What they have to do is more important than being safe. These are often the same people who make it dangerous for smaller traffic to share the roads - bicycles, motorcycles, etc.

In social media, we don't have a physical danger element to our use, but there are many users who tend to be elitist. They speak to those who have a certain minimum. Maybe it's follower count. Maybe it's Klout score. Those numbers do not matter. Why? Because we all started with zero and those of us who've been around for a while all like to think we're adding value. Why not spend a little time responding to new people too?

4) Clear communication is crucial.
I was merging onto the highway recently when a woman behind me was furiously waving me into her lane. Not because she was angry, but because she wanted it to be obvious that it was OK for me to jump in. Traffic was heavy and her waving amused me as much as I appreciated it.

The conversation in social media channels can be fast and furious and so easily misconstrued. Careful wording, careful timing and doing your research will all help prevent misunderstandings.

5) Accidents happen; take responsibility.
I've had four fender benders in my life and I was at fault in half of them. I had to climb out of my car and walk up to the other person and tell them how sorry I was. One instance I was a young driver in circumstances that even an experienced driver would have a difficult time avoiding the accident. In the other, I was a young driver who just did something stupid. I didn't make excuses or try to fob off responsibility.

Anyone who's worked in communications for very long can probably name off a string of infamous public relations nightmares. In most of those examples, the criticism often focuses on the response to the backlash. Was it appropriate? Was it timely? Did they make amends? All of these are important to customers. Just ask any company who's taken a hit to their bottom line after poorly handling such incidents.

The end of the year is a time many of us use to reflect on what we've been doing and think ahead to what will come. If your journey on the road of social media has been bumpy, think about changes that can be made to smooth the road ahead into 2012.  Focus on quality, reducing the noise, engaging without parameters, communicating clearly and taking responsiblity and you'll have a great start to the New Year.

I hope everyone out there has a fantastic holiday - whatever you're celebrating!

Sixty Second Social: Broadcasting vs. Engagement

We’ve all seen the social media users that do nothing but tweet out links, quotes or statements. You look at their profile and there’s rarely any interaction with their followers.

Traditional media is about broadcasting. New media, social media (whatever you want to call it) is about an ongoing dialogue:

Scroll through the tweets in your timeline and find nuggets to retweet or respond to - it only takes a few minutes. Don’t forget to reply to those who mention you. It doesn’t have to be every single mention, but it should be as many as possible.

Facebook / Google+
Scroll through your stream and comment on the posts that interest you. Share them with your followers if appropriate.

Leave meaningful comments on other blog posts. You don’t have to agree with the person’s thoughts, but commenting lets others know that you’re out there - and there’s no better way to promote your own work.

Engagement isn’t quick or convenient, but it’s absolutely worth your time.

What do you think of users who exclusively broadcast content rather than engaging followers? Do you think a “broadcaster’s”content is valued as much as content from someone who actively engages their followers?

Image: digitalart /

What's in a name? The "social media" debate

Image: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot /

Last week, my friend Lara shared a description of social media as well as the benefits of using it. She encouraged those in her audience who are curious to go ahead and give it a try. But not everyone likes the use of the term "social media". Raise your hand if you've ever heard (or read) someone say something like, "I can't wait until we stop using the term 'social media'." By the end of this post, everyone should be raising their hands. When I read a piece by Mathew Ingram lamenting the use of the term "Cloud", it prompted me to look into the longstanding "social media" terminology debate.

Over the years, I've seen this come up countless times. Often, it's accompanied by really solid arguments about what social media tools really are in relation to communications and marketing. Here's the problem - everyone who has a valid reason for not calling this medium social media also has a different name they propose. Some are better than others. A few options for you to ponder:

There is good food for thought in each of these posts - particularly Ryan Anderson's which is the only one of the three that didn't try to put a new and improved buzz word out there for the world to use. But I haven't seen anyone come up with a good enough reason to try to stop people from calling it social media. Let's look at the primary reasons given in the posts above:

Tim Sanders (relaying challenges around getting buy-in with executives):
"Their biggest challenge is selling their senior leaders and CEOs on the concept.  To the average (older or non-tech) exec, social media is a fad that's led by propellerheads and amateur mavens.  In their view, it's a fad (like CB Radios) that they hope will soon pass.  Sure, they've heard the United Breaks Guitars story, but it likely doesn't apply to them - and when you use words like Twitter, they scrunch up their face in disbelief."

And "interactive media" solves this problem? Twitter is still a tool in the interactive media space - they'll accept it because it's "interactive media" and not "social media"? Think about the tools that are used in various industries and the names they have. There are plenty of silly names out there, but when users learn how to use the tool properly and see the value it adds to their work, do you think they quibble over what it's called?

Boardroom Metrics
"Tired of endless conversations with smart business owners about the irrelevance of social media, I’ve decided to stop calling it social media."

I think the author of this post may not feel as strongly about this whole terminology question as the others based on the tone of the message. They give a very simplistic line of reasoning for businesses to embrace social media - to gain better visibility on the Web. If that works for convincing their clients to move forward, that's great. After all, a business can't be social, but but social media gives businesses a medium to put a human "face" or personality on what they do and allows them to interact with individuals in a more personal way.

Ryan Anderson (talking about the evolution of work with a long-term client)
"What had started as a perceived need for blogs and Facebook had turned into something very different – and went from being an additional part of their marketing to a core part of their business strategy."


"The reality is, for all the talk about social media – there’s really no such thing.  There is only communication, and while our academic pursuit of what we call social media has certainly advanced the practice of communication as a whole, social media is nothing but a buzzword, a marketing ploy, a big ol’ bottle of snake oil that a slick-talking sideshow act is selling for a dollar to cure what ails you."

It must be incredibly gratifying to work with a client who wants to join "the Twitter" and see the real purpose click as they finally get it. Integrating social media into the overall business strategy is the ideal scenario - it's the end goal when you start working with someone. The part where Ryan loses me is in that italicized section that spouts "buzzword", "ploy", "snake oil" and other unflattering terms.

I don't agree with the sentiment, but I understand where it comes from. There is a mentality that social media will be a cure all to an ailing business. The way to take your business viral and make, billions. ("Let's make a viral video!" is a phrase I hear too often and it makes me cringe every time.)

Social media is a group of tools that marketers and communicators can use to make connections. We have traditional media tools and now social media tools that can be used together to create a cohesive and comprehensive communications plan. However, the tools themselves do not function the same, so classifying them differently is appropriate.

When all is said and done, if the tools are used in an effective way that fits with that overall business strategy, does it really matter what label we use to describe them?

Is "frictionless sharing" truly free of friction?

There's been a fair amount of talk in the last week about Facebook's new frictionless sharing experience and I wanted to cover that a bit more than I did in last week's Buzz and Brilliance. In Sunday's post, I summarized the recent flurry of controversy about frictionless sharing. We're about two months in to its use, so it's been enough time for users to adopt and annoy. Today I wanted to explore this issue in more detail. I'm starting with a detailed overview. There have been far more views expressed, but these are the five I happened to find first.

Quick Recap: The Players and Their Views

Molly Wood, CNET - How Facebook is ruining sharing:
"Sharing and recommendation shouldn't be passive. It should be conscious, thoughtful, and amusing--we are tickled by a story, picture, or video and we choose to share it, and if a startling number of Internet users also find that thing amusing, we, together, consciously create a tidal wave of meme that elevates that piece of media to viral status. We choose these gems from the noise. Open Graph will fill our feeds with noise, burying the gems."

Marshall Kirkpatrick, ReadWriteWeb - Why Facebook's Seamless Sharing is Wrong:
"Violation of reasonable user expectations is a big part of the problem. When you click on a link - you expect to be taken to where the link says it's going to take you. There's something about the way that Facebook's Seamless Sharing is implemented that violates a fundamental contract between web publishers and their users. When you see a headline posted as news and you click on it, you expect to be taken to the news story referenced in the headline text - not to a page prompting you to install software in your online social network account."

Richard McManus, ReadWriteWeb - Facebook Hasn't Ruined Sharing, It's Just Re-Defined It:
"If you installed the Washington Post Facebook app and gave it permission to publish what you read, then everything that you read on Washington Post (while logged into Facebook) is announced in your Facebook news feed. For example, "Bob Bobson read [article on Washington Post]." But wait, you may argue, Bob didn't manually share anything. All he did was read it and Facebook shared it on his behalf. But Bob gave Facebook permission to do that, when he installed the Washington Post app. So, effectively, he did choose to "share" that article into his news feed.

So Facebook has re-defined sharing. It has cunningly merged sharing with archiving."

Scott Fulton, ReadWriteWeb - Facebook, "Sharing," and the Freedom to Opt Out:
"Up to now, I haven't felt the need to "share" with the world what I eat, where I walk, what I listen to or read, on what point of the Earth I stand or sit. It's nothing personal; as a journalist, I just seem to have this inner feeling that you don't actually care. One of the skills that comes with journalism is filtering out unimportant information. If I were to write an article about my music listening habits on a day-to-day basis ("On Monday starting at 11:28 a.m. I listened to Joe Bonamassa, followed by Chris Smither, then Diana Krall...") you would not stick around to read the complete list. You would rightly ask, what kind of conceited maniac shares everything short of his own bowel movements with the general public?"

Mathew Ingram, GigaOm - Why Facebook is (mostly) right about sharing:
"For me, what Facebook’s rollout of frictionless sharing highlights more than anything is that we need better filters to cope with the rising tide of information on social networks, and that includes Twitter and Google+. Google’s introduction of “circles” and Facebook’s addition of “smart lists” are a step in the right direction, but they are still too cumbersome, and require a lot of ongoing management (which many people likely just won’t do). Idealab founder Bill Gross introduced a “partial follow” model with his new social network, where you can follow only certain topics that a person posts about, but that also requires a lot of up-front management."

What does it all mean?

This new model is a sign that sharing is shifting to a new dynamic and change always generates discussion, if not controversy. Molly Wood is famous for her resistance to new trends. Even the ones she claims to like aren't immune to heavy criticism once she sees the final implementation. It doesn't make me dismiss her views - they're valid and valuable. Facebook knew that there would be resistance to its frictionless sharing model. I have thus far refused to install any of the Open Graph apps because I know how annoyed I am by the very things Molly brings up in her article. I click on links expecting to see content, not an invitation to an app. When I can't see the content, I lose interest in it. That is a huge friction-filled barrier.

Richard McManus - as confusing as his take on this may be (Is he for this or against it? Oh, I see. He's just uncomfortable with it personally but doesn't like categorizing it as "ruining" or "wrong".) - makes essentially the same point that Molly does: sharing should be intentional, but that doesn't mean it isn't frictionless. Because, let's be honest, clicking a "like" button on a Web page really doesn't create friction, does it?

Ultimately, I think we have to accept this new mode of sharing. It isn't going away. It's too valuable for too many people, i.e., Facebook and the companies utilizing it. Which leaves users where? Well, you either opt-out, as Scott Fulton suggests - to keep your stream valuable and relevant, or you push for better filters. Mathew Ingram is right about that, but it still doesn't give us the happy medium that a lot of users will want. Copy/paste, as suggested by Molly, is clunky and time consuming. Filters are a bit better, but there's another option:

I'd like to see Open Graph apps give users the option to share seamlessly OR share at will - at the click of a button. I'd be far more inclined to use these apps if I could pick and choose what people see. Not because I have something to hide, but because I share items that I think are valuable. It's a recommendation or endorsement of the content. Frictionless sharing leaves a big question-mark in my audience's minds as to what my purpose is in reading that content. Is she endorsing it? Is she accidentally clicking on it? Does she actually think that's valuable? Right now, anything posted to my Facebook profile or pages is endorsed by me. I want to keep it that way, so Open Graph isn't something I'm ready to use just yet.

Just a couple of final notes: Molly says there's always Google+. We'll see. I wouldn't be making any bets that this won't ever happen over there. One last take on this issue that is interesting is Robert Scoble's. He thinks users are going to dictate a "freaky line" that they won't cross. The power of the community to influence networks is well-documented. And there is no shortage of opinions about how this should play out.

What are your thoughts? Have you installed any Open Graph apps or do you avoid them?

Image source: stock.xchng

The only 100% effective way to protect your privacy online is abstinence

Two weeks ago, Klout unleashed its new algorithm and sent the Interwebs into a tizzy. Then, last week, they scored another few days of social media backlash over privacy issues. The interesting thing to me is that Facebook and Twitter (the two biggest major networks that are linked to Klout) aren't getting any criticism for offering up their users' data.

The latest issue about privacy came up when a woman noticed that her teenage son had a Klout profile.

I get that it's likely alarming to see your child with a Klout score. But I don't think that it should have caused the uproar that it did. People were deleting their Klout accounts, citing the privacy issues and not wanting their friends and family exposed.

All I saw was a great big misunderstanding about privacy. Klout gets information from all Twitter users (other than those whose tweets are protected) and Facebook users who connect their accounts - with one minor exception. If a Facebook user with no link to Klout comments on a public post of someone who does have their account linked, a profile will be created. But that profile probably has very little data to access. For instance, if I'm not friends with you and you go look me up on Facebook, you will see a few public posts, my name and a handful of other fairly innocuous details. It's nothing that you can't find out about me on a number of other sites where I have a public profile.

That's all Klout can see until someone "opts in" or registers for the full service. The same is true for Twitter, though with the majority of twitter users' tweets being public, there is quite a bit more data to see.

I think people are absolutely right to be concerned about privacy when using Web-based services. It's important to be aware of what you're sharing and how it's being used by the networks you're a member of. However, relying on the privacy controls of a company that is trying to make money off of their free product that you use is folly.

Ultimately, the one and only person responsible for your privacy online is the one who stares at you in the mirror everyday.

  • It's your job to think about what basic personal information you provide to a social network.

  • It's your job to avoid posting tweets that, strung together, will lead a direct path to your door.

  • It's your job to establish and maintain boundaries.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: Your Facebook data is only as secure as the weakest password on your friends list. It doesn't matter that there's a barrier to entry (login screen). If you post information there that you wouldn't post outside that password-protected site, then you are vulnerable.

As users, we must begin to take more responsibility for our own privacy and stop expecting the social networks to take on the job of protecting us. We need to learn how each of the networks behave and stay abreast of the changes they make. We need to teach our children to do the same.

Here's how to protect your privacy online in one easy step: Don't share anything on social sites that you don't mind going public.

When I see the story of Tonia Ries' son, I see an opportunity to educate parents and kids alike. She did everything within her power and the privacy controls to shield her son. The result of this incident is that we've all learned something from this story that we didn't know before. Spreading the word is valuable. Unless the world suddenly becomes willing to pay for social networking sites, the free sites will continue to use our data to fund their existence.

I don't for a minute think that Klout intended to set up a profile for a minor. More than likely, that particular information wasn't made public so Klout's automated screenings would have no way of differentiating based on age.

Do you post publicly on Facebook? Does knowing about this incident with Tonia Ries make you want to delete your Klout profile to protect your friends and family?