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Contribute, don’t regurgitate.

September 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Imagine you are in a coffee shop full of people who may or may not know you. There is a rack stocked with very well-known newspapers and magazines. Every few minutes, you grab one of these titles, pick a headline, and read it out aloud so that everyone in the coffee shop can hear you.

What do you think the people in the coffee shop will do after about 10 minutes? My guess is the ones not interested will leave while the others will start picking out their own stories from the magazine rack.

Odd behavior isn’t it? You would never do this in real life would you? I am sure not. So why do people do this on Twitter and Facebook all the time? Pick any general subject (e.g. Tech) and look at your twitter feed. Almost everyone will be retweeting from the same four or five well-known sources. Some people seem to spend their entire day retweeting from a few sources. They don’t add an opinion or a perspective or a personal experience. This is akin to the person randomly shouting in the coffee shop. These people are usually the same ones who announce how many followers they gained or lost, or the ones who let everyone know their Klout score. They seem more interested in building a following than actually benefitting their followers.

There is an implicit contract between you (as a person or a brand) and your followers on social media platforms. They are giving you their attention, but in return expect to obtain interesting and relevant information from you. There are scenarios where retweeting/linking is useful: to curate for a specific subject from relatively unknown sources, or to broadcast regional stories to followers in another part of the world, or to highlight original contributions from other members of your network. Otherwise, you are wasting your time and your follower’s time.

So next time you want to retweet or link to a story as-is from a very well-known source, think twice and evaluate whether you can add context or perspective that will make it valuable.

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My lawyer told me to lie, and so I did

March 29, 2012 Leave a comment

It is very common, when looking at twitter profiles, to find wording similar to “[job title] at [company]. Views are my own and do not represent those of [company]”

Really? In the age of the Internet you still think you can simply get away with such legal dross?

Your [company] hired you. It gives you the authority and resources to influence its future direction. Your statements on Twitter are a reflection of your world view, your ethics, and your personality. If the actions of your [company] are determined by your decisions, then who you are and what you say/do IS part of your company’s view. Just because your legal department is worried about the negative implications of employees tweeting their heart out to all who would listen doesn’t mean you can disassociate your beliefs and behavior from your company with a quick statement of deniability. This is particularly true for journalists and media professionals who have platforms that allow them to influence public discourse.

The transparency of social media is a double edged sword. If you can’t take the challenge of tweeting in a manner that reflects the ethics and responsibilities of your job, then it is best you don’t tweet at all.

FREE is becoming more expensive

October 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Internet users expect free services and content. News, email, games and social networks are among the most popular “free” services. Initially, web sites simply wanted your page views to fuel their advertising income. Then they asked you for your email to send you newsletters with ads in them. As advertising became targeted, sites demanded more information such as gender, date of birth, address and credit card number. Then social networks exploded and we willingly handed over our entire lives and relationships. With the current advertising formats being rolled out on Facebook and Twitter, our thoughts and opinions have become the latest data sets for marketeers. Mobile surfing means our locations are now on offer as well.

If we measure the cost of “free” services to a user in terms of the volume of personal data that he or she needs to reveal, it is clear that the cost of Free has a very high inflation rate. “Data is the new oil” is now a conference PowerPoint cliché and consumers are the oil reserves.

Will this change? Is there a time where people will demand compensation for revealing their personal information or for receiving customised marketing messages?

The obvious answer is No. Anyone who thinks the opposite will likely be old enough to remember life before the Internet. Privacy is on a one way trip to extinction.

Don’t waste your time mourning the loss of privacy. Instead, think about how your business can benefit from it to better understand customers, tailor services and exceed expectations.

Google+ and the existential question of our virtual self

July 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Joining Google+ has again forced the question that now faces everyone who lives in the dual physical world and virtual social media world: what part of you does your online identity represent? It used to be simple: Facebook for most started as the extension of your personal relationships (friends, family etc.). LinkedIn was the extension of your professional self. Gradually, the lines blurred, with twitter and Facebook interactions accelerating the mixed work-personal presence online.

When I first logged into google+, I was surprised to see that google had an image of my 1 month old baby daughter as my profile picture. After resisting the desire to check if someone was hiding in my closet or if a program was snooping on my laptop, I realised it is because that is the picture I had chosen in Google Talk on my phone. Google Talk is a tool I use for personal conversations with friends and family so no issues there, but I didn’t want my public google profile to have the same picture as I consider it “private” (in the modern sense of online privacy, ie not very private but not totally public either!).

But Google+ seems to be all social tools in one. Its stream is like Facebook’s. The profile page combined with the Work circle is like LinkedIn. Its “following” circle is like twitter. Hangout is like Skype (with Google Wave DNA). So what part of you do you put on it? How do you keep your professional and personal identities separate? Google’s circles try to help in this by differentiating your social groups so you don’t have to share everything with everyone.

Perhaps the question of trying to separate your personal and professional identities is no longer valid. In a digital world where information can be compiled and compared so easily, is it even worth the effort to present different versions of yourself? On the face of it, being your genuine self and transparency sound like great ideals to strive for. But in reality, I am sure all of us can think of examples where we prefer not to know the true nature of everyone in our social circles!

Categories: Social Media Tags: , ,

The Future of Media Measurement: Instantaneous, Ubiquitous and Quantifiably Qualitative

March 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Audience measurement has been developing rapidly (outside MENA anyway!) over recent years with the advent of connected devices and increasing broadband penetration. However, much of it has remained quantitative and sample-based. Demographic data has allowed content owners/ distributors/ advertisers to measure the number of people who have consumed their content. However, if anyone wanted to know what people thought of their content and whether they liked or disliked some or all of it, they could only infer it from the quantitative data. If the number of viewers dropped, it could be assumed they didn’t like the show. The data could be examined on a per-second basis in some cases to establish if specific story lines or characters were well received. However, to obtain qualitative information, content owners need to rely on methods such as focus groups, face-to-face interviews, behavioural analyses and surveys. These tools remain relatively expensive techniques that require time to deploy and analyse.

Contrast that with the power that today’s social media provides to content creators: while a program is being viewed or heard, comments from its audience can be tracked in real-time. In a live tv show or a radio program, this could be used to alter some aspects of the content in response. A small-scale example of this is now found in conferences where moderators and panellists often find themselves responding to comments/ questions/ criticisms from twitter while they are still on the panel. This is no different for a producer in a studio gallery or a DJ in a radio show.

As the reach of broadband (mobile and fixed) and dual-screen viewing (TV/ Tablet or TV/ Laptop) grow, it is only a matter of time before mining qualitative data in real-time becomes the “norm” for measuring audience preferences.

The Revolution was Televised, Tweeted, SMSed and Shared

February 12, 2011 3 comments

I just watched the speech announcing President Mubarak has relinquished power to the military in Egypt. The political ramifications will affect the entire world, and many others are more qualified to discuss them. On the other hand, media, both “traditional” and new, played a significant role as the events unfolded.

There is a pointless ongoing debate about whether social media (Facebook in particular) started this revolution. The proponents of this point of view disrespect the sacrifice of those demonstrating and dying on the streets of Egypt. It is clear that social media helped, initially, organize the protest but they continued to grow in size and intensity after the government shut down the internet and mobile networks. Mass radical actions need communication, and the internet certainly makes communication faster and easier. But even with Twitter, Facebook and the Internet, nothing would be happening if the demonstrators didn’t believe they had a cause worth fighting for and an opportunity to improve their lives.

Twitter and Facebook did help spread awareness of the events in Egypt outside the country. Many people in Europe and the US would not have known of the details of the events without access to social media. For example, A graphic view of twitter #Jan25 traffic shows the reach into Europe and the Eastern US during Hosni Mubarak’s last speech.

A new breed of reporter has emerged: the Tweeter Aggregator who live-tweets what they are seeing around them or on TV to followers across the globe. For example, @SultanAlQassemi increased his following to over 31,000 by summarising what he was watching on various TV channels.

Social media also allowed the correspondents of broadcast networks and print media to add a personal perspective from the ground. For example, @NicRobertsonCNN, @NickKristof (NYTimes) and @AymanM (Jazeera) gave vivid descriptions of what they witnessed first hand in a mix of reporting styles that at times merged their professional persona with their personal emotions without the filter of an editor or copywriter.

It is interesting that social media seems to have spurred activism while simultaneously creating a new breed of “activist keyboard potato”. Many people were happily tweeting and updating their status messages with some form of  “We are with you Egypt” messages. I doubt many of them did anything more than type those words and then go back to watching TV or surfing the net. No demonstrations. No messages to their congressman. No tangible manifestation of their support.  The ease of spreading messages through social media seems to allow one to safely feel they have done their part while other people are dying on the streets.

The events in Egypt also show that social media is enhancing and further supporting the role of the traditional television broadcast. Television has been declared dead many times, yet in Egypt it remained at the center of events. The protestors in Tahrir Square installed television sets to keep track of events outside their vicinity. When ElBaradei made a speech in Tahrir, he didn’t have the right audio setup so his message was hardly heard or communicated. Twitter amplified and debated information and speeches made on television. Social media is complementing traditional broadcasting and incumbent media companies need to learn how to use social media to their advantage.

Finally, any government that still believes it can hide events or misinform its citizens is simply delusional, IF a minimum level of technology and access to foreign media is possible. Anyone with a satellite dish knew the messages being broadcast by Egypt’s official channels was not a reflection of reality. The futile attempts to remove Jazeera from NileSat simply encouraged other channels and satellites to carry its signal. Satellite broadcasting continued even when the internet and mobile networks were shut down. Google developed a phone-based tweeting system when twitter was blocked. Foreign journalists could still access the internet because the government needed to keep some ISPs open to support the banking sector. The reactions to the statements from the Egyptian and American Presidents was immediate on screen and on social media.

As Egypt enters a new era in its history, so does media in the Middle East.

Categories: Social Media Tags: , ,

Tiesto vs @tiesto

October 29, 2010 1 comment

Recently, Tiesto was due to play in Abu Dhabi. The globally renowned DJ is active on social media and exists on twitter as @tiesto. On the day of the concert, he tweeted his arrival in Abu Dhabi and his excitement about the evening’s gig. Later in the day, news of the show’s cancellation began to spread (on twitter first). Tens of fans sent tweets to @Tiesto asking if this was true. Silence. Later in the evening, he made one tweet expressing his disappointment that the concert couldn’t be held. This again generated lots of tweets asking about the reason, refunds, and alternative dates. Silence. Eventually his management tweeted that he would answer all questions sent by fans in two days time. Two days later, Tiesto worked hard to answer the hundreds of questions from all over the globe. His final tweet apologised for those he couldn’t answer as he hadn’t expected “so many questions.”

This is the double-edged sword of social media. On the one hand, companies and celebrities can now connect to thousands and millions of customers and fans directly. On the other hand, these customers and fans now expect immediate answers to their questions as if they were having a 1-to-1 conversation. If the company or celebrity is not ready to react rapidly to unexpected events,  their social media presence may turn into a negative experience for them, their customers and their fans.

Categories: Social Media Tags: , ,