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If you love your social media message, set it free – case study

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Why this matters for social media

One of the most nauseating phrases ever uttered is “If you love something, set it free… If it comes back, it’s yours, if it doesn’t, it never was yours.” I am not sure to whom to attribute this, but I apologize in advance for even bringing it up.

But when it comes to social media, it matters. A lot. Set it free.

I am in the middle of AGBeat columnist Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter’s book, “Humanize” in which, early on, they make the case that upper-level management in organizations need to understand that participating meaningfully in social media – and being authentic and human – means letting go of the message. You can’t control it anymore, and if you are a large organization, the discussion is already taking place, like the U2 song, With or Without You.

It used to be that the way that large and medium-sized organizations got their messages out was through a one-to-many communications method, most of the time a press release. The intended effect was to create an inverted funnel in which the organization would control the message, the timing as well as the reaction. Gone, gone, gone.

Today’s communications environment

I like to compare today’s communications environment (heavily influenced by social media) as like being in the middle of a tornado. The discussions, debates, arguments and the like are swirling around you. They are taking place. Through being authentic and “human” (thanks Maddie and Jaime), organizations can hope to (at times) participate in the wind and sometimes even slightly redirect it, but you can’t stop a tornado.

When major corporations attempt to violate the spirit of social media – being authentic, listening and participating in conversations with customers or other stakeholders – bad things happen.

What bad things happen?

Last week, I was listening to my favorite podcast, “For Immediate Release” during which the hosts, Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson, discussed a Google+ comment by Scott Monty, the head of social media at Ford Motor Company. Scott’s Google+ post (which as I write this, is no longer available at its original link) read:

“Shel & Neville – not sure if you guys have covered this on the show, but what are your thoughts on companies posting their own Terms of Use on Facebook? I noticed this one because someone called out that National doesn’t allow UGC [user generated content] that criticizes them. Our own legal department is concerned, because FB’s TOS are designed to protect FB, not brands.”

Shel and Neville went on to discuss that purportedly, National Car Rental was deleting Facebook Wall posts that were negative towards the company. This is a serious social media infraction. It violates the spirit of creating conversation and ruins and opportunity to engage with customers and offer the 33,638 people that have “liked” the company a front-row view of an organization that is open, honest and willing to take on problems. Note: I have no third-party confirmation of National doing this, but I did find this in their terms of on the Facebook page:

You may not post any User Content that:

  • Infringes any person’s legal rights, including any right of privacy and publicity
  • Is defamatory, infringing, abusive, obscene, indecent, deceptive, threatening, harassing, misleading or unlawful;
  • Contains any code, application, software or material protected by intellectual property laws or any malicious code including any programs that may damage the operation of another person’s computer or which contains any other form of virus or malware;
  • Disparages, slanders, criticizes, or maligns National;
  • Is commercial in nature and advertises any product, service, or good other than National, unless you have obtained National’s prior consent.
  • You will not rely upon any claim or statement made, or anything contained in any User Content. This Facebook Fan Page is for entertainment only. It is not an authorized source of information about National or our brands, vehicles, or services. If you are looking for that type of information, please visit our website at www.nationalcar.com.

The bullet point “disparages, slanders, criticizes, or maligns National” is the one that caught my attention. What if you get a National car that is a clunker, you are on your way to an important meeting and the car dies? Does that mean that you cannot, in a public way on a platform set up by National, “criticize” the company?

If you can “like” them, why can’t you, publicly, “dislike” them? If this is the case, I am wondering why National even bothers having a Wall if it is pre-ordained that everything will be sunshine and chocolate, and if not, potentially removed.

The takeaway:

My final point: Scott Monty is well known and well respected as the head of social media at Ford. National Car Rental rents Ford cars. When I went to look for the original Google+ post (I found what I have posted above on the FIR Google+ account), the comment had been removed. It could well be a technical glitch. I hope so.

I believe that Scott truly gets social media, but I sincerely hope that his comment was not censored by National or Ford for “disparaging, slandering, criticizing, or maligning National.”

So if you love social media, if you expect to listen, participate, be authentic and human as well as respond to consumer complaints on a platform that your company set up, National Car Rental, if you love Facebook, set it free.

Mark Story is the Director of New Media for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, DC. He has worked in the social media space for more than 15 years for global public relations firms, most recently, Fleishman-Hillard. Mark has also served as adjunct faculty at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland. Mark is currently writing a book, "Starting a Career in Social Media" due to be published in 2012.

Social Media

MeWe – the social network for your inner Ron Swanson

MeWe, a new social media site, seems to offer everything Facebook does and more, but with privacy as a foundation of its business model. Said MeWe user Melissa F., “It’s about time someone figured out that privacy and social media can go hand in hand.”

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Let’s face it: Facebook is kind of creepy. Between facial recognition technology, demanding your real name, and mining your accounts for data, social media is becoming increasingly invasive. Users have looked for alternatives to mainstream social media that genuinely value privacy, but the alternatives to Facebook have been lackluster.

MeWe is poised to change all of that, if it can muster up a network strong enough to compete with Facebook. On paper, the new social media site seems to offer everything Facebook does and more, but with privacy as a foundation of its business model. Said MeWe user Melissa F., “It’s about time someone figured out that privacy and social media can go hand in hand.”

MeWe prioritizes privacy in every aspect of the site, and in fact, users are protected by a “Privacy Bill of Rights.” MeWe does not track, mine, or share your data, and does not use facial recognition software or cookies. (In fact, you can take a survey on MeWe to estimate how many cookies are currently tracking you – apparently I have 18 cookies spying on me!)

ron swanson

You don’t have to share that “as of [DATE] my content belongs to me” status anymore.

Everything you post on MeWe belongs to you – the site does not try to claim ownership over your content – and you can download your profile in its entirety at any time. MeWe doesn’t even pester you with advertising. Instead of making money by selling your data (hence the hashtag #Not4Sale) or advertising, the site plans to profit by offering additional paid services, like extra data and bonus apps.

So what does MeWe do? Everything Facebook does, and more. You can share photos and videos, send messages or live chat. You can also attach voice messages to any of your posts, photos, or videos, and you can create Snapchat-like disappearing content.

You can also sync your profile to stash content in your personal storage cloud. Everything you post is protected, and you can fine-tune the permission controls so that you can decide exactly who gets to see your content and who doesn’t – “no creepy stalkers or strangers.”

MeWe is available for Android, iOS, desktops, and tablets.

This story was originally published in January 2016, but the social network suddenly appears to be gaining traction.

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Social Media

How to spot if your SEO, PPC, social media marketing service provider is a con-artist

(BUSINESS) When hiring a professional, did you know there are actual questions you can ask to spot a con-artist? Too often, we trust our guts and go with the gregarious person, but too much is on the line to keep doing that with your business.

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In this day and age the cult of positive thinking and “the law of attraction” are still very much alive and well in the business services industry. Here are a few simple questions that you can ask prospective business service providers to help you gauge if they are the real deal or just caught up in the fad of “say yes to everything,” or “outsource everything” being populated online by countless “thought leaders” and cult gurus.

Lots of people will ask, “What’s the harm of people trying to make something of themselves?”

Well, I’m here to tell you there is a huge harm in taking risks with a client’s money and manipulating people into trusting their “expertise” when they have none.

Business owners: Due diligence is more important than ever these days.

There are whole communities of people helping to prop each-other up as experts in fields they know nothing about while outsourcing their tasks with little or no oversight into the actual work being done on your behalf.

It is nearly impossible for you to tell if this is even going on. Don’t worry. I am here to help you avoid a con-artist.

How? By showing you how to weed out the bad actors by asking really simple questions.

This set of questions is perfect for people who need to distinguish if the expert they are talking is really just an expert in bullshit with a likeable personality.

Why do these questions work? Because people who are into this kind of stuff are rarely hesitant to talk about it when you ask them direct questions. They believe that what they are doing is a good thing and so they are more open to sharing this information with you because they think by you by asking that you are also into similar things.

It is a fun little trick I picked up while learning to do consumer polling and political surveying.

The Questions:

  • Who influences you professionally?
  • Do you follow any “thought leaders” “gurus” or coaches? If so, who?
  • What “school” of thought do you ascribe to in your profession, and where do you learn what you know?
  • Are there any industry standards you do not agree with?
  • How do you apply the services you offer to your own company?
  • Can you please tell me the background of your support staff and can I see their CV’s?
  • Do you outsource or white label any of the work your company does?
  • May we audit your process before buying your services?
  • May we discuss your proposed strategies with others in your industry to ensure quality?
  • Would you be open to speaking with an independent consultant that is knowledgeable about your industry about your proposals?
  • Can you show me examples of your past successful jobs?
  • Do you have any industry accepted certifications and how many hours of study do you do in a year to keep your knowledge up-to-date and current?
  • How many clients have you had in the past?
  • How many clients do you have currently?
  • How many clients are you able to handle at one time?
  • How many other clients do you have that are in the same industry as my company?
  • How long is your onboarding process before we start getting down to actually making changes to help solve the issues my company is facing?
  • Can you explain to me the steps you will take to identify my company’s needs?
  • Have you ever taken a course in NLP or any other similar course of study?
  • Have you ever been a part of a Multi-Level Marketing company?
  • Fun. Right? Well, we aren’t done.

    It is not just enough to ask these questions… you have to pay attention to the answers, as well as the WAY they are answering questions.

    And you also have to RESEARCH the company after you get your answers to make sure they ring true.

    You cannot keep accepting people at face value, not when the risk is to your business, employees, and clients. There is little to no risk for a person who is being dishonest about their capabilities and skill sets. They will walk away with your money, ready to go find another target for a chance meeting that seems amazingly perfect.

    Do not leave your business decisions to chance encounters at networking events. Research before saying yes.

    No matter how likeable or appealing the person you are speaking with is.

    How do you research? Easy. THE INTERNET. Look at the website of the company you are considering working with.

    • Does it look professional? (do not use your website as a standard for professional unless you have had it done by a professional)
    • Can you see a list of their past clients?
    • Do they effectively tell their story as a company or are they just selling?
    • What do their social media profiles look like? Do they have many followers? Are they updated regularly?
    • Do they have any positive reviews on social sites? (Yelp, Facebook, Linkedin, etc)

    You can also do some simple things like running SEO Website Checkers on their websites. There are tons of these online for free and they will give you a pretty good indicator of if they are using best practices on their websites – you can even do this research on their clients’ websites.

    Also, if you know anything about SpyFu, you can run their website through that to see how they are doing their own online marketing (the same can be said for their clients if they are selling this service).

    Facebook also has a cool section that shows you ads that a Page is running. You can find this info connected to their business Page as well as the Pages they manage for their clients as well. None of these things automatically disqualify a potential service provider, but their answers the question of “why” things are the way there are might be very illuminating to you as a business owner.

    This may seem like a lot of work, and it can be if you do not do these things regularly and have them down to a system, but the cost of not doing these things is way too high. A con-artist is born every day, thanks to the internet.

    You have a right as a business owner considering services from a vendor to ask these questions.

    They also have the responsibility as a service provider to answer these questions in a professional manner. Sometimes the way in which they answer the questions is far more important than the actual answer.

    If all of this seems too overwhelming for you to handle, that is okay.

    • You can ask one of your staff in your company to take on this role and responsibility.
    • You can hire someone to come in and help you with these decisions (and you can ask them all the same questions as above before taking their services).
    • You can reach out to other business owners in your network to see if they have recommendations for someone who could help you with things.
    • Heck, you can even call up companies that look like they are doing as well as you want to be doing online and ask them who they are using for their services. Try successful companies in other industries as your competitor won’t likely be interested in sharing their secrets with you…

    What is important is that you are asking questions, researching, and ultimately making sure that you are doing as much as possible to ensure making the best decision for your company.

    Final thoughts:

    “But, Jay, what’s wrong with taking a risk on an up-and-comer?”

    The answer to that is NOTHING. There is nothing wrong with taking a chance on someone. Someone being green doesn’t make them a con-artist.

    The issue I am raising is in the honest portrayal of businesses and their capabilities. It is about honesty.

    I am a huge fan of working with people who are new and passionate about an industry. But I only work with people who are honest with me about who they are, what they can do, and how their processes work.

    I have worked with tons of people who are still learning on the job. It can be quite educational for a business owner as well.

    Just make sure they are being honest about everything up front. You are no obligated to give anyone a chance when it comes to your businesses success, and it’s not right that someone might manipulate you into doing so.

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Social Media

Facebook struggles to regulate itself (but better – regulators are salivating for their chance)

(MEDIA SPOTLIGHT) Facebook is being called to the carpet by another nation’s regulators, and if they can’t put users first, the weight of international regulations could destroy all that they’ve built.

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Regulations are likely headed Facebook’s way unless the company embraces change. Facebook erroneously (and we believe purposely) calls themselves as a tech company rather than a media company to skirt federal and international regulations. After an inquiry with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Facebook countered that people instead of regulators should have the power to decide what’s seen on their news feed.

Is this true?

The Facebook news feed is constructed through the company’s algorithms, catering to ad content and suggested posts. In its response to the ACCC, Facebook stated that 98% of its revenue comes from selling ads per the Audience Network publishers and advertisers.

Many of us can agree our feeds clog up quite easily — sometimes I have to fish to see posts from the people I care about. “Deciding what I want to see” is a nebulous phrase which at times has me choking on Bored Panda content because I enjoyed ONE video. ONE.

Although the ACCC’s findings did not conclude any inappropriate market use by Facebook, the report suggested policy changes. Facebook has agreed to partner with regulators to create suitable policies to control the flow of unwarranted news and advertising.

The company is still resisting any government regulation.

Here’s the space between a rock and a hard place. As long as Facebook is a prominent source of news and content, governments will swoop in to try to tame the social media beast, and their idea of regulation may lead to a slippery slope in regards to free expression.

The pressure is on Facebook and other social media platforms to stop the bleeding themselves. For now. Policy change from within the company is the safest road to harmony between those of us who just want to see memes from friends and the empty rage articles claiming newsworthy content.

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