Bright Matrices

Writings & musings of Mike Zavarello (a.k.a. brightmatrix), a "red mage" web developer.

Category: Social Media (page 2 of 5)

Corporate Social Media Monitoring, Privacy Settings, and Codes of Conduct

I came across a Forbes article in my Twitter feed yesterday that talks about how users of social media react to corporations monitoring their conversations or responding to comments they make online. It should come as no surprise to anyone that corporations are monitoring what is being said in public social media channels. Social media has become a massive communications tool for sharing experiences, insight, feedback, and criticism of how businesses and other organizations conduct themselves. We’re come to rely on rating systems and peer reviews to make decisions on where to go and what to buy, and this is valuable information for companies. It’s important to them to learn more about their customers (both potential and current), what they want, what’s working well, and what’s going wrong. Many corporations are using an array of sophisticated social media management and sentiment analysis tools to parse through the enormous amount of data shared every day on numerous platforms.

Now, while I agree with the basic premise that it may be unsettling for a corporation to just start talking to you out of the blue on social media, what got my attention most was this except (boldface is my edit):

… a recent survey from J.D. Power points to the risks associated with monitoring: 51% of consumers simply do not want companies to eavesdrop on their conversations and 43% believe that monitoring is an intrusion on their privacy.

Seriously? 43%? That, to me, is absolutely absurd, and it raises some issues about people’s perceptions of how far and wide their digital traffic can range.

First and foremost, there is absolutely no expectation of privacy on any social media channel if you are posting in a publicly available forum. “Public” means “public.” If you don’t have privacy settings enabled on your account, then you’ve opened your stream to anyone who can use a search engine. This includes corporations. There really should be no earth-shattering revelation here. Folks can use the “overhearing a conversation” argument for whether anyone should be paying attention to something that doesn’t involve them, but that’s not really how social media works. The people, or, in this case, corporations, who can “eavesdrop” on you is not just whoever is around you physically, but anyone in the world. Plus, everything you post publicly is likely indexed by Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and their kin for anyone outside your network to find. If you don’t want folks to listen in, and this includes corporations, take the conversation to private messages, lock down your settings, or don’t post certain things to social media at all. Plain and simple.

Second, this mentality is a symptom of what I’ve observed happening with social media and the workplace. Most businesses have what’s called a “code of conduct” that states how employees should present themselves in public. As employees of the company, they represent the company, whether they realize it or not. There is typically a paragraph or clause that refers to “online public forums” as a place where employees should practice restraint and decorum. This was pretty much limited to e-mail and bulletin boards back in the day, but now includes any form of social media. In my professional experiences, I’ve found that employees need an “interpretive statement” to connect those codes of conduct to their personal use of social media channels. Why is this? They don’t think of Facebook, Twitter, and other channels as something they need to be mindful of. They just post away without really giving careful thought as to how their words relate to their role as an employee. There’s been plenty of instances where folks have been fired from their jobs for what they post online, on or off the clock. Obviously, the privacy settings you put into place can affect what your company can learn about you and act upon should they believe it breaks their code of conduct, but you should still learn what those rules are and do your best to abide by them. Ask your boss. Ask your human resources folks. Use common sense. And, for heaven’s sake, never expect any sort of privacy when using work computers on work premises or work time. If you’re using company property for personal use, expect it to be monitored. All the time.

My “A-ha” Moment About the “Spiral of Envy”

Today’s entry from Mark Schaefer’s {grow} blog, “Facebook, the ‘spiral of envy,’ and our Botox life,” put into succinct words precisely what has nagged and pulled at me about social media for the past two years. The crux of Mark’s essay was that we put so much gleam and shine on our online lives that it drives others into this descent into digital madness, where we constantly feel the need to one-up our friends, or we succumb to the illusion that our world is a grayer, less exciting version of what we see on Facebook, et al. One of the commenters labeled this the “Jones effect” (as in “keeping up with the Joneses”), and that’s the perfect way to describe it. It’s an dramatic arms race: our friends showcase their (so-called) awesome lives, and we feel we need to make ours more awesome as a result. No wonder folks get all bent out of joint in these realms.

This phenomenon affected me in the latter way: feeling what I was doing here was less important and less worthy than what others were saying out there. I’ve written a few times about the so-called “silent partners” in our online relationships: those folks who follow you on Twitter or friend you on Facebook, and yet never seem to either read, acknowledge, or respond to you from that point forward. I couldn’t figure it out, despite my best efforts, and I dropped my usage to the ultimate bare minimum for several months last year as a result. Now I have something I can use to identify this sensation, and it makes that much more sense.

People put so much guilt around our online relationships. You do it, and others around you do it. Don’t dare unfollow someone on Twitter or unfriend someone on Facebook lest they find out! Better to use some curated list or hide posts instead. It’s all so much unnecessary subterfuge. We need to be honest and just realize that we’re all people. We post because we want a reaction. Sometimes they’re trivial things, but we want a reaction all the same. So, it seems natural that people will decide to share things that are the pinnacle of wit, wisdom, weariness, or woe. Mark’s right: we don’t hear about the paint drying or toddler accidents; that’s the unattractive back alley side of life. But, we also need to realize that not everyone wants to hear those shards of our shiny lives, so it shouldn’t faze us if some folks tune out.

Your life is awesome. Perhaps not today, but your life is awesome. Don’t let those shiny “Botox lives” tell you otherwise.

 

What a Difference a Year Makes

What a difference a year makes.

Next month will mark a full year since I succeeded my previous boss as leader of my work’s web team. If you had asked me two years ago whether I’d want to move ahead in my career as a manager/leader or stay in the trenches as a dyed-in-the-wool developer, I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell you I had no desire to administrate. I liked being the specialist, where I could touch the raw code and pixels. I didn’t want to get involved in all the diplomatic back-and-forth that often accompanies a leading role. But, when my boss announced she was moving onward last November, duty called and I accepted the stripe on my sleeve. I’m really glad I did.

Turns out, I actually like management. It’s been gratifying to take the reins on projects and tasks now under my stewardship, building on relationships I had started in my developer years to carry them forward. I’ve also enjoyed taking on career development, making sure the developers on my team have all the tools, resources, and time they need to succeed in their projects and expand their professional expertise. The amount of time I actually touch code these days has decreased to less than 10% (and social media even less, but I’ll get to that in a moment), but that’s OK; my duties are elsewhere now. I’ve learned to rely upon and trust the expert opinions of my staff to carry out the objectives and strategies we craft together. Delegation, something I thought I would have a hard time getting used to, is now working smoothly.

Now comes the hard part. Yes, I’m enjoying management, but the amount of time I have on my hands to handle the “one true love” from my past life, social media, has dwindled dramatically. Whether or not you’ve noticed, this blog has also floundered. I always knew that social media was a time-consuming effort in order to get it done properly, but I’ve come to fully respect the sheer amount of dedication and regimented time management it often requires. I’ve had to peel back my level of involvement to a supervisory and technical support role while others, including some amazingly talented and level-headed junior staffers, have done the heavy lifting.

As with anything else in life, this transition has been a balancing act. Balancing projects, tasks, personnel, time, and making hard choices based on the “situation on the ground.” Have I given up social media altogether? Hardly, but I’m much quieter on Twitter, Facebook, et al. these days. I still have no Pinterest to speak of. I’ve found less to take away from new media these days, but, as an article I read today from Frank Strong aptly indicates, “you get out of social media what you put into it.” It is what it is.

As the saying goes, “change comes from within,” but it also came come from without, your environment shaping your evolution. This past year has been must that for me. An evolution.

Need to Help Others Understand Twitter? Have an “Elevator Pitch”

You’ve heard it all before: “Why should I join Twitter? Who cares what I had for lunch?” or “What am I supposed to talk about?” or, even better, “We don’t have time for our staff to be playing around on Twitter all day.” It’s not like Twitter is the new kid on the block anymore; with over 500 million users and several years of robust growth under its belt, it’s becoming more and more a staple social communications platform.

So what is it about Twitter that makes it so hard to understand?

Its premise is incredibly simple: send a short snippet about what you’re doing for others to read, and read snippets others have written for the same purpose. Sometimes conversations ensue, most times, they don’t. You can be a chatterbox with everyone who’s decided to follow you or an ivory tower who talks to no one. It’s your choice.

Beyond some basic etiquette rules crowdsourced by its users, there’s really no right or wrong way to use Twitter. It can be a real-time news feed, a community of interests, a message board, a chat room, a virtual classroom, a professional development tool; whatever you need.

Twitter is simple, and that’s where the trouble comes in.

In my experiences, many neophytes and first-timers who join Twitter feel lost, despite Twitter’s helpful attempts to ease the sign-in process with suggested topics and accounts to follow. They don’t seem to know what to say or how they should say it.

It’s also a challenge for businesses, who can struggle to understand how to use Twitter to its fullest in listening to their customers and promoting their wares. If clients read about how celebrities use Twitter or who among them are considered “influential,” they can get the false impression that tweeting is frivolous or a plaything not worthy of serious consideration.

I’ve learned that you need to have an “elevator pitch” for Twitter. If you want your friends, family, colleagues, or management to really feel the energy and potential of Twitter, you have to be able to explain it in one or two sentences. Back it up with good examples of people or businesses that really make Twitter shine, and save the arcane jargon (such as retweets) for later.

What’s your “elevator pitch” for Twitter?

Image credit: Unknown

The Social Media Neophyte Who Flew Too Close to the Sun

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Image credit: Unknown; source: http://englishihonorsmythology.wikispaces.com/Icarus

I love social media. Ever since my first tweet in June 2009, I’ve learned an immense amount about the mechanics, arcana, and vagaries of these networks and their inhabitants. I’ve become an “expert neophyte” of sorts, and my experiences have become beneficial for both my career and my colleagues. Along with my first love, Twitter, I hold digital citizenships in Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Tumblr, WordPress, and Google+. My time spent in social media been equal parts amazing and enriching, but I’ve also found how overwhelming it can be if you’re not careful.

Around July of last year, shortly after I joined the hordes charging into the virgin wilderness of Google+, I had enough. I’d spent too many hours stressing over whether I was as knowledgable, “authentic,” and influential as I should be. I flipped back and forth between networks constantly, checking what I missed since my last visit and who had interacted with me in the interim. I was also in the midst of a years-long, strenuous redesign project where I was a key technical lead, and I simply had fewer and fewer cycles to spare for my alter egos. One day, I simply dropped off the grid. I posted nothing to Twitter for weeks, kept a lazy, glazed eye on Facebook, and put all my other presences, including this blog, in stasis.

I had burned myself out. I had flown too close to the sun.

It took me eight months to understand that my personal limit for fully-engaged social networks is two. I can maintain a presence in a few ancillary networks as well, but if I spend more than a cursory amount of time there, I feel the psychic strain from spreading myself too thin. I realized how easy it can be to get mired in keeping up with the digital Joneses: crafting the next clever blog post or witty comment, absorbing all the latest articles on Pinterest, getting the next Foursquare badge, or sustaining a Klout score. One simply can’t read, write, like, comment on, or share everything. It seems stupefyingly obvious, but I found that you really do start seeing trees instead of a forest if you’re not careful.

So, I’ve narrowed my focus back down to the essentials: Twitter for news, trends, professional connections, and real-time conversations, and Facebook to share life’s little snippets with family and friends. LinkedIn is delegated to my digital Rolodex; Foursquare an idle curiosity best suited for waiting at airport terminals; Tumblr a rare time waster; Google+ purely for research on how it works. Don’t even get me started about my feelings on Pinterest, Instagram, or the other new kids on the social media block.

I’ve invested a lot of time in Twitter and Facebook. To me, they’re now among the “established” social networks. As much as the landscape has changed over the past several years (AOL to LiveJournal to Friendster to MySpace and so on), I can’t shake the sensation that they’re here for the long run. As such, it will take a great deal of convincing for me to pull up stakes and move to another digital country. Because that is the choice I’m making from here on out: rather than collect more and more social profiles, I’ll replace them, swap them out. But it has to be worth it.

No more double-ended candles for me. I love social media too much to burn out again.

Another New Social Media Network? Sorry, But I’m Not Pinterested

Over the past several weeks, the dominating social media trend has been Pinterest, an “online pinboard.” In essence, Pinterest allows you to share and organize batches of images in a multi-column format. Like other networks, users can like your images, follow your feed, and comment. My initial impression of it is a Tumblr blog on steroids, showcasing a virtual parade of photographs, illustrations, and diagrams in streams of Polaroid-style boxes.

Pinterest is yet another “niche” or “boutique” style social network. We had plenty of those last year, most notably Quora (a knowledge-sharing service similar to Yahoo! Answers) and Empire Avenue (where you could buy and sell “stock” in key influencers). The social media echo chamber was full of folks talking endlessly about how individuals, companies, and brands needed to pay attention to the influx of activity here and how they could make the best use of them.

Pinterest is the new Quora, it seems. There’s plenty of fervor about it, with many chiming in with their thoughts, projections, and predictions. Much has also been discussed about reports that Pinterest is “driving more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn, Reddit, and YouTube.”

Pinterest seems nice enough. The layout is clean, and it’s easier to scan through than Tumblr or similar services. Here’s the thing, though: I have to confess that I’m not really interested (or, should I say, “pinterested”) in taking on a new social media network.

I remain a relative newbie to the social media multiverse. I only joined Twitter and LinkedIn in July 2009, Facebook in September 2010, and Tumblr and Google+ in June 2011. I maintain a presence in Foursquare, have an Evernote account, and, of course, this blog you see here. Midway through last year, I came to discover how monumental the effort of maintain multiple social personalities can be, especially if you’re being present and engaged on each one versus auto-posting.

I get that companies need to be aware of new opportunities, and that exploring new avenues to share ideas, expand brand awareness, and building revenue are quite important. For me at the practitioner level, however, taking on new networks is less desirable purely by virtue of time and resources. Social media is not free, and folks like me (who wear quite a lot of hats) feel that pinch more than the “ideators” or marketing experts out the in wild.

These networks are communities. I’m not being social if I’m simply taking up digital space with land grab accounts and one-way, automated postings. I need to be quite certain that the time and energy that I’d invest in learning and participating in a new network, especially for my company, is worth the effort. I have no interest in half-hearted efforts. There’s also the danger of success to be mindful of. As Margie Clayman warned in her latest post, “Before you try something, you need to consider what will happen if it actually works really well.”

So, will Pinterest be the “game changer” that many think it will be? Like anything else, time will tell. Saying that anything is the next big thing is a risky venture at best, and I’m not partial to crow. I’ll certainly key an eye on the horizon for what’s next, but you’ll have to excuse me if I’m not as enthusiastic as others. I have lots to do.

Update (2-24-12): Hollis Thomases wrote a superb article for Inc. titled “4 Things Pinterest Isn’t Saying” that ties in nicely with some of the points I’ve outlined. Pay close attention to the “fair warnings” section, in which Hollis offers level-headed advice on proceeding with Pinterest, or any new social network for that matter.

There Are No Social Media Gods

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with several talented folks involved in the field of social communications. At an in-house digital communications event in Dallas last week, I enjoyed excellent conversations with Barbra Rozgonyi of WiredPRWorks and Deidre Walsh of Jive Software. Today, at a meeting of the Social Media Club of Philadelphia, I had the pleasure of connecting with SMC Philly organizer Gloria Bell, blogger Cecily Kellogg of Uppercase Woman, and author and co-founder of Zoetica, Geoff Livingston, among others. The presentations and sidebar discussions with each of these good folks were informative and inspirational for me. All of them were warm and willing to talk.

This post isn’t about name dropping, however. Each of these individuals helped to cement a new perspective for me: there are no social media gods. There are only people.

I’ve been involved in social communications for almost two years now, and I continue to feel like a relative newcomer when interfacing with folks in this circle. There are a bevy of brilliant luminaries from every industry and skillset, and it can become daunting when you see a rapid-fire set of ideas, concepts, and opinions in your social streams each day. I confess to being a bit over-enthusiastic at times (“geeking out”) when talking to these folks, but, more so, I’ve unconsciously treated some as though there were deities: masters of their domain, untouchable. I see the same patterns in others and have heard stories of backlash when expressing differing opinions to the social gods.

For us folks invested in the social space, we have to remember that we are dealing with human beings, all the time. Not just the individuals who we’re reaching out to (and helping others do the same), but each other.  That’s the “social” in social media, of course, but I get the feeling the “human” aspect is lost from time to time. Respect and professionalism are prerequisites, but we can’t be afraid to share stories, offer contrasting opinions or constructive criticism, and give praise where deserved. We each have strengths, weaknesses, and our own unique personalities, but turning social communications into a “cult of personality” is not where we need to go.

My recent interactions were positive precisely because we all treated each other like people, not figures, metrics, or influencers to be courted. I hope to see more of this as my knowledge and network grows and fewer instances of “false idols.”

So, what’s the moral? Be warm, be generous, be fair, but, most of all, be human. I will.

If Social Media is “Free,” Personnel Hours are a “Hidden Tax”

This week’s #smmeasure Twitter chat, held by Marketwire, the company behind Sysomos, focused on dispelling common myths about social media. The first myth raised for discussion was “SM is free, everyone should do it!” Besides the notion that you shouldn’t get involved in social media just for the sake of it (tactics come second to strategy, not the other way around), it’s the amount of time your staff will come to spend working with social media that takes a bite out of the “free” notion.

I likened this notion to a “hidden tax,” especially for instances where social media is taken on as an additional task versus changing existing roles or hiring new talent (the latter of which has a more defined, upfront cost).

Regardless of exactly how your organization gets involved in social media, hours will be spent. Listening, learning, reading, engaging, responding, and measuring all take time, and we all know time is money. Consider this: if your analyst Suzy Creamcheese makes $50,000/year and is now spends 15% of her time focused on social media efforts for your company, those efforts are now costing you $7500/year. Twitter’s not so “free” anymore, is it?

That said, you can help reduce the “hidden tax” of social media by thinking about efficiencies. Will entering this space give your business more visibility to potential customers and increase the loyalty of your existing buyers? Could the knowledge you gain by monitoring give you the ability to respond to industry conditions and customer needs, saving money over the long run? Can you avoid a meltdown and negative press by responding to complaints or controversies as they happen, sparing your company and your stockholders the agony of lost revenue?

Social media certainly isn’t a silver bullet in and of itself, but set up and managed effectively, you can turn those “costly” personnel hours “lost” to social media into gains for your business.

Shout-outs: The #smmeasure chat happens on Twitter every Thursday at noon Eastern time. Follow @smmeasure or @marketwire to tune in; Marketwire also has a Facebook page where they post questions ahead of time. Also, I recommend reading “The Now Revolution” by Jay Baer and Amber Naslund, which is filled with excellent advice and counsel on ways to make your business more nimble and effective in the era of real-time communication.

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