Regulating Social Media

Before we start running headlong at this topic, like participants in the annual Cheese Rolling festival at Cooper’s Hill (with similar consequences), let us first consider definition:

Social media, to my mind, includes the likes of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (owned by Justin Timberlake – who’d have thought it?), Foursquare et al. Linkedin’s a sticky one – business social media, anyone? (It’s like ‘business casual’ – a concept that no-one really understands and no-one gets right. Ever.)

Digital Media – again, to my mind – includes email, instant messaging, blogs and corporate, business or personal websites.

Therefore – social media is a subset of digital media. This is important, because in all the hysteria that’s tsunamied up around social media as the new Jesus, there is a tendency to apply the term ‘social media’ to anything to do with t’internet in or on which some hapless sap is expressing an opinion. A corporate blog is NOT social media. This blog – lovely, bijou and jejeune though it is – is NOT social media. Instant messaging – in its traditional and most basic form – is NOT social media.

One more thought then, before we rush off into the weeds of the regulation of social media debate – is Blackberry Messenger social media (because you CAN form groups, and add statuses – statii? – share pictures etc) or is it, as a glorified instant messenger, digital media and thus a less insidious thing altogether? Simply, you might say, a method of communication – like email, telephone, fax, telegraph, post or a bloke in a loincloth with a piece of parchment in a cleft stick? (Bring back cleft sticks!)

And this is important, because – clearly – what’s driving this post is the recent events in London, and the allegation that riots and looting were organised on Twitter and Blackberry Messenger. Now this is clearly horseshit. As Sophy Silver of Facebook said in a recent PR Week supplement on reputation management – “a house party that gets out of hand is not a ‘Facebook party’ – it is just a house party”. In the same way that riots in London are not Facebook riots or Twitter riots or Blackberry riots – they are simply riots, occasioned by the feral, primitive, selfish urges of the uneducated, immoral, lumpen few. In the not-very-distant past, they’d have used ‘phones to organise their neanderthal, simian rampages – yet no-one would have called for the telephone network to be more stringently regulated.

And now I read that David Cameron is to call representatives of Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry to the House of Commons to discuss “stop(ping) people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality”. What he’s talking about – in the bigger scheme of things – is regulating the internet.

Another voice, advocating roughly the same thing, but for different reasons and from a different viewpoint, is Anthony Hilton, City Commentator on the Evening Standard (London) and writing in PR Week. (Sorry, you’ll have to subscribe to the website to see the article.) In brief, he’s saying that the internet allows for anyone to broadcast what they like, without any sort of filter – the filter that traditional media (journalists) provide.

See, here’s the thing. I actually agree with Cameron and Hilton. I feel there should be regulation of the internet. There’s too much shite that goes on for it to be unregulated. There’s no recourse, d’you see, no comeback. There’s anonymity, which allows any charlatan to charlat about without a care in the world. It’s irresponsible.

But, and here’s another of those things. It’s arguably too late. Someone should have regulated the internet in 1996, when is started to go mainstream. But they didn’t and now – unles you’re the UAE, where your population are used to being told to stop what they’re doing and get in line – you can’t just bring in random firewalls and prohibitions. It’s fine for the boy turd Zuckerberg to say that ‘privacy is no longer the norm’, and it may, in some senses, be true, but it’s not what people want.

People want privacy, they want anonymity – mainly because it’s a right and because it allows them to live their lives the way they want to without being put under a spotlight and sold insurance and instant whip via cold calls and doordrops – but also so they can hide behind it when they are phishing, spamming and trolling.

I want privacy and anonymity.

Luckily, real, effective regulation of the internet is probably an impossibility. That being said, I was talking to an Enterprise Risk professional the other day – and one of his major concerns in terms of threats facing business today was the ease with which rumour, falsehood and propaganda can be spread via the internet (social media especially) and the potentially enormous audiences that are available for this rumour, falsehood and propaganda.

His solution? A type of global identity card. If you want to use the internet, you will have one identity and one identity only. Every time you launch your browser, you will be greeted by a pop-up screen – let’s call it Global Authentication Portal (get into the GAP!) – into which you will have to type your identity and password.  (Probably a one-time password to prevent identity theft.) From then on, everything you do on the internet will be recorded (not monitored necessarily – but recorded) and should you be a rioter organising a riot, and you are caught, this internet record would be used to bring you to justice. As an alternative scenario – if you are a nasty troll, persecuting someone on Facebook, and you persecute them to death, again your internet record will show your responsibility.

And as I listened to this, I thought – what a marvellous idea. And then I realised that some form of authority would have to run the GAP, and that, undoubtedly that authority would not be able to resist using the internet records of all the world’s internet users for its own ends.

You see, regulation of the internet is a laudable goal. But it will take away privacy and anonymity and will bring us one step further towards Orwell’s 1984. (Which, obviously, was 27 years ago.)

And just imagine the Facebook riots that would take place when the GAP was announced.

Social Media Measurement – And The Point Is?

As I was dancing on the outer edges of the internet (to the sounds of popular American beat combo, My Chemical Romance, since you ask) I nearly did myself a mischief as this loomed out of the webspace and into my face. It’s a piece from a splendid site called O’Leary Analytics, which is run by one Stephen O’Leary, out in Ireland, and it is an analysis of social media activity around Oxegene, a yearly festival of young people’s music (probably all bippidy and boppidy and incomprehensible – no tunes these days, d’you see) that took place at Punchestown Racecourse in Co Kildare earlier this month.

Now you are lazy and reticent blog snorkellers so and ye are, but ye will not be understanding the thrust of my post, if you do not and read the analysis on the original internet. So, wands out – swish and click – engorgio!

So, anyway, I’m not going through this with a fine-tooth comb – you can do that for yourselves – but there are a few things that I’d say. Firstly, as a piece of work, it’s efficient and workmanlike and goes to show that it’s not all about the quality of the conversation, it’s also about hard numbers, mentions, tweets and re-tweets.

Unfortunately – while this is all well and good – it is brought up badly short on three fronts. Firstly – erm, so what? 391 comments on a Facebook post! Great! But what did people actually DO with the information they got? Anything? Or were they just prime examples of what I believe is called the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory?

I’m guessing we’ll never know.

Second – well, putting it bluntly, as a serious sponsor, do we think that Vodafone will be happy with 338 (total) mentions? No. But they actually won’t give a flying leprechaun’s shillelagh, because they won’t have been focused on social – they’ll have been focused on making their sponsorship work for them in real time. Social will have been nothing more than something to monitor for potential issues (see Greater Internet F*ckwad Theory, above). 

Third and here’s the thing. Oxegene Facebook page – 200,000 fans. 114 posts by page administrators. Each one with an average 31 comments and 117 likes. Roughly 3,500 comments, roughly 11,000 ‘likes’ (how lazy, can’t be bothered to write anything so press the ‘like’ button in a half-arsed apathetic sort of a way). So where were the other 185,000 fans while all this was going on? Eh?

What I’d really like to know is, of the people who bought tickets for Oxegene, how many of them were prompted to do so by social media. Or, as I suspect, were the ticket buyers drawn to it by the fact that it was live and outside and face-to-face, while the Facebook fanboys and girls were kept away by the fact that it was – erm – live and outside and face-to-face.

Social – it doesn’t deliver anything, really. Does it?

Social Media vs Investor Relations

This post (from IR WebReport – thanks to them, looks like a good site) just underlines for me everything that’s so, so wrong about the use of social media for commercial purposes.

It’s basically an examination of companies with Twitter feeds (or streams or whatever you call them) and how they use them to communicate results announcements. The author expresses some surprise and irritation that some of these benighted corporates fail to announce their results on Twitter at the same time as they do through other (dare I say it) more traditional media.

To which I have two reactions:

  • Of course they’re not using Twitter in the same way that they’re using other, more traditional, channels. Twitter is a gimmick. Oh – and 140 characters doesn’t leave much room for the Chairman’s statement
  • No serious analyst is relying on Twitter as his/her sole source of information about the companies on his/her beat. Those that are, I would suggest, are not looking at glittering careers

Twitter. Useless. Get over it.

Oh. And stop trying to shoehorn Twitter (or any social medium) into areas where it simply a) doesn’t work and b) isn’t relevant.

Thanks!

Paddling in Twitter

Why am I paddling in Twitter, dear blog snorkellers? Because it is irredeemably shallow, that’s why. Why is it irredeemably shallow, then? Because you cannot express anything of any value in 140 characters.

The fundamental truth of this is beautifully illustrated by the current horoscopes featured on satirical British website thedailymash.co.uk, which you can find here. For the hard of clicking, I reproduce the entry under ‘Leo’:

“Leo (23 JUL-22 AUG)
It’s a shame Twitter restricts me to 140 characters, because that’s not even close to being enough for me to truly express how much of a cu”

So I thought about this, and stuck a couple of pins in t’interweb. What follows are some musings of great men, as they would have been if the poor blokes had had to communicate through da Tweet.

“To be, or not to be – that is the question: whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take”

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. Fi”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it”

“Load up on guns Bring your friends It’s fun to lose and to pretend She’s overborne and self-assured Oh no, I know a dirty word Hello, hello,”

Is it any wonder that despite Tweet-ups and Tweet-ins, Tweet-mobs and Tweet -nights, the service remains little more than the 21st century equivalent of “hello? hello! Yeah! I’m on the train!”

Rubbish.

Social Media – Examples – Good And….Not Good

Here’s a couple of examples of what you can do with social media, dependent on who and what you are. My loyal blog snorkellers will be fully HP with my point of view (that social media is not a valid business communications, marketing or sales tool) but you’ll also know that I’m nothing if not open to new ideas. Unless those new ideas are genuinely pants or threaten the way I think the world should be. Obviously.

So – here we are from BMW, a luvverly film (and it IS a luvverly film) around some motorbike product or other. Obviously aimed at wealthy young (or not so young) men with a need for speed and a bad taste in trousers, beanie hats and friends. You’d need to be careful – this to my male snorkellers – quite how old you were buying one of these. Don’t want to look like a midlfecrisesian, now do we?

On the other hand, here’s a Twit feed from the British Armed Force, which links to this blog, again from the British Armed Forces. I would like to say – although I have no particular feelings about the conflict in Afghanistan (no-one asked me, d’you see) – that I think this is genuinely excellent and I am – deeply – in awe of the men and women who are out there, doing what they do. If you read anything today, click on the links herewith, and absorb the content. Amazing.

Anyway, conclusions. Look at the commentary stream following the BMW video. Are they going to buy a bike? No. Has BMW built a relationship with them? No. These people are all too macho and self-absorbed and – let’s be honest – a bit fricking thick. So – sorry BMW – it’s a waste of money. You’d be better off with experiential. (Oh, and, fair cop – the video is a little bit too fake, sadly.)

Meanwhile, Major Paul Smyth over at t’Army in Afghanistan. It’s genius. It’s compelling. It’s very scary and it’s shocking to read of the deaths of soldiers in what is, effectively, real time. (For what its worth, my thoughts are with their families.) Someone needs to re-think this whole war thing. Someone without their head up America’s bottom.

Summary – social media exists. It’s a great information-sharer. It’s brilliant for those without an axe to grind and with an interesting (perhaps shocking) story to tell. When it comes to branded stuff however – are you listening, blue propeller? – it’s a waste of money and it sucks.

Social Media – Thoughts For The Day

(N.B. dear blog snorkellers, there will be no links in the copy today. This is because I can’t be bothered to tell you where I’ve been and also it’s a test of faith. Like so many of the social media posts and threads that I stumble upon, today I am going to say ‘trust me’. Take what I say as read. Don’t ask for proof. For once in your lives, believe in something. Me.)

Facebook, apparently, has 400 million users, half of which log in every single day. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t think is true. Today I ran across a reasonably authoritative article that quoted a figure of 160 million logging in every day. But hey, what’s 40 million users per day between friends?

I’ve also made a big point of my belief that no brand, business or organisation is yet to make a significant commercial return on their investment in social media. This has got me into a lot of trouble – but I stick by it – every time I scratch the surface, the same old names crop up – Starbucks, BestBuy, Amazon, Dell, Coke, Ford. I gave myself into the gentle embrace of that most Googlicious of search engines and tried variations along the lines of ‘big brands social media’ and ‘brands social media success’. I know this isn’t scientific, but I couldn’t find any list of branded social media successes more recent than July/August last year. Not terribly reassuring, is it?

Mashable.com – useful blog, but hideously heavy going – published a list of Top 10 Twitter trends for last week. Tell, just who in the hell is Justin Bieber? I’m guessing here, but I’d imagine he’s got the same level of social and cultural significance as The Jonas Brothers, Tiger Woods, Super Junior, Lil Wayne and American Idol. I don’t think anyone’s in danger of drowning in this particular knowledge pool.

And, finally, I had a quick skim round the various Twitter feeds belonging to some of the bigger brands, just to reassure myself that the ‘Big Conversation’ hadn’t somehow become more valid and meaningful over the weekend. It hadn’t. Here’s where we’re at with corporate tweeting: “Woo-hoo! Just launched! check out the brand new http://www.starbucks.com/” (It’s the least I could do – give them a bit of a plug. Apparently, the fact that Mr Bux has got some social media icons on the home page, that’s enough to make the average punter believe they’re soc-med savvy. All smoke and mirrors.)

(B*gger – there’s a link in my copy.)

Anyway – conclusion for the day? Social media is obfuscation, flim-flam and chiffon gauze. (Sort of.) It still does not represent a route to market. An ROI cannot be extrapolated from social media. All business is about sales, and the value that those sales deliver to the brand, business or organisation – social media do not sell, nor can the effects that they may have on an audience be defined or evaluated. At best, social media raises awareness – but not of overtly branded messages because if you break the unwritten rules of the feral community, its members run back into the shadows, yelping abuse.

By all means – experiment. But don’t waste too much time, resource or money on it.

Social Media – Good, Bad and Ugly

Very brief post – just to keep everyone thinking. So Twitter right, it’s all about stuff and conversations and motivation and – sometimes – some primeval horsesh*t from those who should know better – check this out (and no, I don’t care that it’s out of context, it’s frightening nonsense from a grown – well – human – I presume):

“More PR hip shooting I see.

 The empirical research show us that it is about commonly held and and understood values.

 I thought that was what Bruno Amaral showed at Bled.

His work is not based on counting fairies on a pin head it accesses tens of thousands of discourse items analyses them and identifies relationships.

It can be about ‘me’ but unless me is part of ‘me and me look alikes’ it will fail.”

This is a comment on a post found here – it’s not about Twitter, mind, per se, it’s about scial media. It’s a shocker. Enjoy.

Anyway, Twitter. Here’s a couple of things.

First, here’s the Williams Formula 1 twitter feed from the daughter of the team principal (Sir Frank), which has been posting interesting updates on pre-season testing over the last week. If you’re an F1 fan ( and I am, I am), you can dip in and out of this for news and views, without compromising your integrity and without – I have to say – a single brand mention. Works for me. Other teams are doing it as well.

And this is how Twitter – if it does have any use – actually serves a purpose. Distributing ‘what are you doing now’ posts for those who have an interest. When are the social media gurus going to realise that this is not an answer to the marketing ill – it’s merely another tool in the marketing toolbox and (if I can mix a metaphor) in the toolbox it is at best a signpost. Not a megaphone. (Yes, of course I have a megaphone in my toolbox. Don’t you?)

It doesn’t sell product, it doesn’t change opinion, except on an oily tanker sort of basis. (That’s an opinion turning circle of several hundred miles.)

To back this up, I present this. This is Advertising Age ‘Top 10 Most Tweeted Brands” survey from last week. Have a look and shudder with the realisation that it’s all – without exception – stuff that people have learnt about elsewhere.

Don’t know about you, but if I was a marketer, or a comms professional – oh! I am. If it was me, unless I had unlimited budget, Twiiter is the last place I’d be allocating time, resource or cash.

What some of F1 is doing is good. What overzealous, over-funded and overpaid marketers are trying to do is bad. The reality of Twitter is ugly.

Go figure.