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Cautiously Optimistic

Social media for better communication and a better life

Archive for March 2012

Social Media – Naughty or Nice?

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It’s a given that social media’s usage and influence have grown wildly beyond what anyone expected just a few years ago.

According to a report by Navneet Kaushal of PageTrafficBuzz, as of January 2012, Facebook by itself was the destination for nine percent of all online visits in the US, and twenty percent of all online page views.

That’s not counting Twitter, Google+, and the many other social media destinations available online.

What’s interesting to me, though, is not that social media is huge, but that’s it’s huge enough to have sparked a discussion of what it means to be social.

Blogger Steve Sonn writes that a growing number of individuals are using social media in an antisocial way, by brazenly self-promoting their business and their personal brand in a one-way direction, rather than being “open, transparent, helpful and engaging.”

I like this concept, because it says something about the aspirational nature of why we communicate in the first place, and why we all seek out communities in which we can grow and thrive.

On the other hand, just as the music world has room for punk rock, there are those who want to bring the same “smash ’em up” sensibility to social media.

This Chronicle of Higher Education story by Jeffrey R. Young highlights just such a rule-breaker: Dean Terry, the director of the emerging-media program at the University of Texas at Dallas, who is committing what he calls “social-media blasphemy” with his new Facebook plug-in, “EnemyGraph.”

The service lets Facebook users identify their “enemies,” which then appear in their profiles. The report states that Terry originally wanted to use the word “dislike,” but that word was specifically banned by Facebook, in order to maintain a positive atmosphere for its users.

This “blasphemy” may be a tongue-in-cheek rejection of the idea that being nice, kind, and positive is the best way to approach social media. But I think it has the potential to create a lot of damage. Practical jokes may seem funny in theory, but in reality, they’re just mean.

So while I’m generally in favor of a little rule-breaking now and then, when it comes to social media, I prefer playing nice.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

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Written by Charles Primm

March 29, 2012 at 8:00 am

The Cost of Free Apps: A New Smartphone?

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Apple Store | Image via Creative CommonsI recently upgraded my iPhone, trading in a two-year-old 3GS for a new 4S. I didn’t do it to chase the coolness factor: call me old-fashioned, but I’m really not motivated to have the “latest and greatest.” What does motivate me, however, is that my tech devices actually work to my satisfaction.

And that’s why I traded in my phone: its battery life had gotten so bad that I couldn’t use it for more than an hour if it was not plugged in to the wall or to a computer.

Most days, that is not such a handicap. Usually I’m at my desk, in the car or at home, where I could easily charge my phone.

But the other day I was in the field, working with reporters covering a power outage on campus. I was on the scene, exchanging phone calls, e-mails and text messages while checking the university’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, when I suffered my own personal power outage: my phone died, right when I needed it the most.

So now I have a new phone with a brand-new battery, and I have dutifully imported all my important information, especially my apps. Problem solved, right?

Not so fast: maybe it was the apps all along. Especially the “free” ones that are filled with ads. This Lifehacker article by Adam Pash made me think about all the extra energy my battery has to burn to keep loading the next banner ad in the app I am using.

As the article says, maybe I really am “getting what I paid for”: free apps but at the cost of rapidly declining battery capacity. At that rate, paying $.99 for an ad-free app seems like a bargain.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

March 27, 2012 at 9:00 am

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Demanding Employee Social Media Logins May Create Big PR Problems

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Companies who force their current and potential employees to divulge their private social media logins and passwords may be setting themselves up for big public relations problems.

Several news stories in recent days and weeks have explored the increasing numbers of employees and job seekers reporting that their bosses are demanding access to their Facebook user names and passwords, so they can check up on what they are doing online.

Now HiringA story by MSNBC’s Bob Sullivan describes how applicants for jobs as corrections officers in Maryland were forced to log in to their Facebook accounts during the job interview, so that the employer could search the applicant’s photos for signs of gang affiliation.

The same story also described how the North Carolina state government asked applicants for clerical jobs to provide their Facebook usernames and passwords.

Now there seems to be some pushback against these kinds of demands. Mashable’s Sarah Kessler reports that Facebook may go so far as to initiate legal action against employers who demand their employees give up their login information to the social media site.

Meanwhile, politicians are getting involved as well. Politico’s Tony Romm reports that Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is writing legislation to prohibit the practice of demanding access to the social media sites of their current or potential employees.

I think employers certainly have a right to expect professional behavior from their workers. It’s also a prudent move for companies to check out a job seeker’s public Facebook page or Twitter feed. But the kind of heavy-handed intrusiveness discussed here, however, betrays a fundamental mistrust of their employees. And it brings them a whole lot of negative publicity that could have been avoided.

Companies who feel compelled to spy on the people they hire may find their best workers heading for the door. Once they’re gone, of course, the former employees are then free to use social media to cause all manner of public relations problems for their old companies.

If I were advising companies on their social media and hiring policies, I would strongly recommend they stay away from forcing people to open up their private lives. It’s much easier to leave the door shut than to open it and then regret the negative publicity that may result.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

March 25, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Facebook Timeline Can Help PR Tell the Never-Ending Story

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Facebook logoOne of the theories of communication that has had a big impact on me in graduate school is “narrative theory.” The theory, described in the SAGE Reference service, states that humans are natural story tellers. Using narratives to make sense of the world is so basic to human experience that people can really be described as Homo narrans, or “story-telling human.”

I write this because I think the new Facebook Timeline is a surprisingly powerful way for Facebook to insert itself into the ongoing narratives of its users’ lives.

Who doesn’t enjoy the occasional trip down memory lane? I certainly do, and I must say that combing through my personal information and Wall posts in preparation for the switch to the Timeline resulted in a series of “blasts from the past,” looking at old photos and remembering friendships that have strengthened over tine and those that faded away over the years.

This powerful impact is not limited to individual users. Facebook recently opened up the Timeline format to brands, which makes perfect sense. Narrative flow has always been a powerful tool for advertisers looking to change or strengthen brand loyalty.

The Timeline format also holds promise for public relations practitioners, according to Tonya Garcia of PRNewser. Her article, “Four Reasons PR Pros Will Love Facebook Timeline for Brands,” highlights how public relations can work alongside marketing to help tell and shape the story of their organization. As a company reaches milestones in its growth and development, for example, its Timeline can help strengthen its relationships with stakeholders in a compelling way, establishing contexts and promoting the organization through its unique story.

If we humans are really Homo narrans, then the Facebook Timeline is just the sensible next step in our ongoing evolution, telling a story that never has to end.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

March 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Customer Service is Critical

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Customer service is growing in importance as a path to a company’s financial and cultural success. Blogger Steve Sohn of Momentum writes that excellent customer service is a great way for a company to differentiate itself from its competitors. However, businesses that sell to individual consumers (B2C) are doing a better job than businesses that sell to other businesses (B2B).

When is a customer not a customer? The answer, I think, is “never.” Businesses have a responsibility to give the best possible service to everyone, whether they are individual consumers or other businesses, because even if you are selling to a business, you are still dealing with a live human on the other side of the screen or the phone.

More large corporations have come to the same conclusion that Sohn did, and are maximizing their return-on-investment for good customer service. Witness the great word-of-mouth for companies such as Comcast and Zappos.

Neither of these are perfect companies, but they have developed well-earned reputations over time for their quickness in addressing customer concerns and solving problems. In particular, they have become adept at using social media to solve problems.

Frank Eliason, the former manager of Comcast’s “social customer care” division, became famous (or at least Internet famous) for using the @comcastcares Twitter account to respond to customer service problems or issues. Brendan Brown of SocialTurbine writes that Zappos has enlisted its employees as its social media ambassadors, who Tweet and blog in a way that helps drive the company’s credibility to new heights.

My favorite suggestion from a Mashable article by Rohit Bhargava, “9 Ways Top Brands Use Social Media for Better Customer Service,” is number 3: “Help your customer service people feel like rock stars.”

If the employees on the front lines feel good about their company, and especially feel that their customer-centered efforts are valued and appreciated, they will go the extra distance.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

March 13, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Social Shaming in the Era of Social Media

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Morality is defined as the distinction between right and wrong, between good and bad behavior, and how these distinctions affect behavior.

Humans are moral beings, with highly-honed senses of right and wrong and an inclination to enforce good behavior while punishing bad behavior. A Slate article on a new book by Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” explores how a sense of morality is one of the ways to understand political behavior and how people choose their political party affiliation.

Haidt’s book proposes that both Republicans and Democrats are interested in equality. Republicans are more motivated by equality of opportunity, while Democrats are more motivated by equality of outcomes. And since all of us think of ourselves as moral, those in the other political party, by default, are “immoral,” thus much easier for us to demonize.

I was thinking about this sense of morality when I read a Lifehacker article by Adam Dachis on “How to Deal With People Who Cut In Line.” I suspect that, for most of us, witnessing someone cut in line is the kind of moral transgression we’re more likely to see over the course of a day.

Social Shaming, Social Media | Image via Slate.comAnd as more of us use our smartphones to “check in” on Foursquare while waiting in line for our morning latte, I have to wonder: are we more likely or less likely to notice line-cutters?

Even though our phones are a source of distraction as much as information, I suspect that the “fairness” switch in our heads stays on, and we would still be likely to catch on if someone cuts in front of us in line.

Which asks the question: if we witness someone cutting line, what are we going to do about it?

More of us, it seems, are taking the opportunity to enforce social norms with a bit of “social shaming.” Blogger Chirag Mehta shares the story of Joshua Kaufman, whose MacBook was stolen one day. The laptop already had tracking software installed, just in case it was stolen, so Kaufman was able to track the laptop’s location and use the software to take webcam pictures of the thief. He shared the story, along with the pictures, via his Twitter feed and Facebook page, and the thief was caught.

So the next time I’m standing line, smartphone at the hip, and someone cuts in line, should I quickdraw, Tweeting pics and text about the immoral line-cutter? Adam Dachis would say “not so fast.”

His advice for when this happens:

1) Analyze the line.

Maybe the line-cutter just got confused and thought it was a rugby scrum instead of a polite queue, or maybe the instructions are confusing. Maybe there is no line at all.

2) Resist the urge to get angry.

If you show off your bad manners and scream at them, it makes you look like a loser.

3) Ask someone else if they saw what you saw, and if they agree, that’s the moment to politely confront the cutter and motion them to the back of the line.

Social shaming can be a very big hammer, so try not to use it if you’re confronted with a very small nail. Once you tweet and post a rant, it cannot easily be taken back. Besides, like all good moral beings, your friends may be motivated to punish your bad behavior with a little social shaming of their own.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

March 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Is Facebook Gunning for Pinterest?

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Friendsheet, a Facebook app that was released in January, got a big publicity boost this week when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “liked” it on his Facebook Timeline.

Zuckerberg “likes” a lot of things, but with the eyes of the social media world constantly watching him, a stamp of approval such as this immediately gets noticed.

Mashable’s Brian Anthony Hernandez reported that one possible explanation of why this was noteworthy is that the app takes images from a person’s Facebook news feed and displays them in a way that is oddly reminiscent of Pinterest, the “it” social media network of 2012.

PinterestMy only thought upon reading this was “what took them so long?” As the hot new social media network, the leadership team at Pinterest has to know they have a lovely red capital-P-shaped bulls-eye painted on their backs. Pinterest’s user base growth is phenomenal, prompting not only envy among the other big social media sites, but perhaps some reverse engineering to try and steal a little of its magic.

It’s obviously too soon to tell if Friendsheet will lead to mass defections from Pinterest’s user base, but the upstart social site has to know that the clock is ticking if it wants to grow “too big to be bought.”

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

March 8, 2012 at 7:38 pm