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Is anybody out there? January 16, 2013

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, IT Services.
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It is no secret that social media has become an integral part of any marketing department worth their salt. These tools are no longer a mere reactive contact channel, but as a means to obtain knowledge and map the needs of the target audience.

Businesses that jump on the social media bandwagon without a clear strategy in mind will focus on numbers: how many followers they have on Twitter, how many entries are posted on Facebook daily. More often than not, it is one big monologue of information flowing one way.

In fact, 56 per cent of customer tweets to companies are being ignored. So, no matter how much or what customers are saying about the brands they do business with online – most of them are just not listening.

Sharing positive and negative interactions with relation to customer service on social media channels is on the rise. This is because people know they can be rewarded for their loyalty, or demonstrate their disappointment to a large audience if they are not.

While the corporate silence on social media has the massive potential to damage a brand – as we have seen on the now classic United Airlines example – positive cases where brands were really listening can earn real kudos from the public and spread like wildfire. Companies such as Walmart, XBox, and even steakhouses are showing us how it can be done well.

What about your company, are you listening to what your customers have to say?

Steak, Up close and personal [Explored]

 

Photo by Allan licensed under Creative Commons

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The Pope delivers his first Tweet December 12, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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Pope Benedict has sent his first tweet using the account @pontifex and he has continued to tweet throughout the day. But what use is Twitter to the head of a church?

The answer is really that it depends. I can imagine that the main reason for the Pope to be using a tool like Twitter is to engage with Catholics across the world, but the reality is that it would be very difficult for the Pope to actually engage with people.

Even on his first day of tweeting, the Pontiff already has over 700,000 followers. He can’t talk to them on a one-on-one basis or start picking out interesting comments to respond to – there are just too many.

So the Vatican’s use of Twitter would seem to be mainly just as a broadcast tool – to send out Holy messages to a flock prepared to listen in a new way.

It’s a shame to see that social media can be used essentially as nothing more than just a radio or TV broadcast via another medium, but in this case I can understand how difficult it would be for the Vatican to choose individuals to respond to online.

It does show that there is an interesting change in the concept of broadcasting itself. Lady Gaga has over 32m followers on Twitter. She doesn’t need a TV or radio station to get a message out to tens of millions of people – and if several of them share the news with their own followers it is reasonable to expect that she can reach hundreds of millions in a few seconds.

The concept of entertainment channels is being redefined. Fans of sports teams can just follow an online channel maintained by their team – there is no longer any need for a broadcaster. How will the growth of this online broadcasting change the broadcast world as we know it?

Pope Benedict XVI prays in front of the image of Our Lady of Fatima after arriving to catholic Fatima shrine in central Portugal, May 12, 2010

 

Photo by the Catholic Church of England and Wales licensed under Creative Commons

Are you representing the company or yourself? October 22, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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If you blog or publish on social networks then you probably have a ‘profile’ page with information on who you are – unless you try to do everything online anonymously.

It’s likely that your profile page includes some information on who you work for and maybe even your position in the firm, so how is the line drawn between when you are publishing information and content in your own name or in the name of your employer?

This used to be easy. Companies kept a list of media-trained managers. They were the only people allowed to ever talk to the outside world about the company and to be quoted as ‘Mr X from company Y says Z’. Now it’s not so easy.

If Michael Dell tweets an opinion, is he doing is as Michael Dell or as a senior representative of the Dell computer company?

None of this is really clear yet. Many people add a disclaimer to their profiles, especially those who work in the media. It usually says something like ‘Opinion here is personal and is not on behalf of my employer’, but surely this approach can also fail.

Media giant Rupert Murdoch often takes to Twitter to give his opinion on anything and everything – at present the US election is a favourite topic of his. But he has no disclaimer on his profile and even if he did have, most readers would assume that what he says is the opinion of his company, News Corp, even if that flies against all traditional ideas of the board needing to approve company communications.

I don’t know of a legal challenge to a social media profile disclaimer to date, but it can’t be far off. I believe that if you have stated your employer as a part of your profile then you are in some way bound into the communication rules of the organisation – even if much if this is unwritten.
twitter logo map 09

Photo by The Next Web licensed under Creative Commons

 

Samsung quashes Facebook copycat rumours June 20, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, Software.
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A very strange story hit the media recently about claims that Samsung was planning to launch a Facebook clone. Samsung immediately quashed the rumours, but backtracking slightly they admitted that the Samsung ‘Family Story’ App – which allows people to share photos and news updates with friends – was going to be expanded and improved.

What is surprising about this story is that critics assumed that by adding a photo-sharing tool to their phones, Samsung would be able to in some way rival Facebook.

Facebook is now a global juggernaut with more than half of all connected people using it regularly. Even Google has struggled to build a social network to rival it, with their G+ hailed as a technical success even though very few people actually use it.

And this is the problem for any new market entrant; the network effect prevents a rival emerging quickly. Consider online auctions as another example – you will always turn to eBay first because it is where most sellers go to list their items and they are listed there because it is where most buyers go to find something.

Facebook has suffered negative publicity over their recent IPO and the incredible overpricing of the stock at flotation, but the company is still in a powerful position to control the vast majority of the time people are online – and therefore may yet justify a value far greater than it presently trades at.

If Facebook moves from being just a social network to being considered almost as ‘the Internet’ then what hope does any rival have, whether they have millions of phone handsets in the market or not?

Samsung F490
Photo by Stephane Vieillot licensed under Creative Commons

To Tweet or not to Tweet May 4, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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When the footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed because of a cardiac arrest during a recent game most online fans were sending out messages of hope – pray for Muamba was a recurring message on Twitter at the time. But one young student at Swansea University, Liam Stacey, chose to send out abusive racist messages abusing the footballer just as he was fighting for his life.

Stacey was found guilty under the Racially Aggravated s4A Public order Act 1986 and was sentenced to 56 days in jail and his university told him to not bother coming back to complete his finals. So the messages we post on Twitter are not ephemeral. They do have meaning and can be treated as published words in the eye of the law.

But Twitter is still a free for all. Take a look at the profiles of many people where they state their company and job title. Often there is an extra line saying ‘these are my personal views, not those of my employer’.

Really? But nobody has ever tested this in court and isn’t it obvious that if you have announced on your profile who you work for then surely that company will have an interest in what you are publishing if it diverges far from what they would call their ‘brand values’?

And what of the retweet dilemma? Imagine you work for an Israeli company and you notice a news story about academics trying to make ‘Mein Kampf’ available in Germany once again. You retweet the story because it is interesting then someone in your company asks why you are endorsing the wider availability for the works of Adolf Hitler.

Who is right? Does a retweet merely indicate that this is something interesting you want to share, or is it an implicit endorsement of what you are linking to?

None of this has been tested in court yet so I am sure the coming years are going to feature many more Liam Stacey’s – lives ruined because of an ill-judged Tweet.

Fabrice Muamba Tribute

Photo by Ronnie MacDonald licensed under Creative Commons

Is technology moving too fast for the law? April 30, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, Software.
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Three people have been arrested by police recently as part of the investigation into the alleged naming of Sheffield United footballer Ched Evans’ rape victim on Twitter.

The right to victims of rape and sexual assault to remain anonymous is an area of the law that faces an enormous challenge in this era of information freedom. Many victims would not go to the police if they knew that their name would be splashed across the newspapers – whether a celebrity is involved or not – and traditional newspapers and broadcasters have always respected the law in this respect.

But now there is Twitter. It takes just one tweet from somebody with inside knowledge of a case and the victim details are published and cannot be erased. Those wanting to avoid detection can easily create a new Twitter account in a different name within minutes.

The implication is clear. Technology can be used by people with inside knowledge of a subject to broadcast it to the media and general public, with very little fear of recrimination.

This affects many areas of life where sensitive information is managed. Jurors tweeting their opinion as a trial proceeds are already disrupting court proceedings. Medical professionals are tweeting about celebrities receiving treatment – and assuming that they can go to a hospital without news of their condition being broadcast to the world.

In technological terms, the genie has already escaped. We cannot turn back the clock to an age before Twitter so it appears that the approach to this problem can only be the improved education of professionals who deal with sensitive information and greater measures – such as immediate dismissal – for medical or legal professionals who misuse social networks. It is not ideal, but then the world has changed forever.

Scales of Justice, Old Bailey, London

Photo by Andrew Middleton licensed under Creative Commons

Does multi-channel retail really deliver the goods? March 14, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, IT Services.
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Call Centre Focus magazine recently published a survey of senior executives involved in retail with some interesting findings for those interested in how the multi-channel concept is changing retail.

A full 65 per cent of retailers believe their in-store experience defines their brand and over 50 per cent say it is the most profitable channel. Interestingly 70 per cent believe it delivers the highest level of customer service.

This shows some bias in favour of the high street store – better profits and better service, but the survey also showed that 98 per cent of retailers recognise that a broader multi-channel strategy is vital to remain competitive in the current market and 77 per cent of respondents stated their reason for pursuing a multi-channel strategy is to drive an increase in sales.

These are quite interesting statistics because they show an overwhelming support for the multi-channel concept as something that has to be done even though most of these executives see most of their branding, customer support, and profits coming from the traditional channels.

Over two-thirds of the survey respondents admit that their service levels are not consistent across all channels – so the experience with the brand will be very different depending on how the shopper engages.

Thomas Eggar is currently working on our own research in this area and we will be publishing our results soon, but based on the results of this other survey it would seem that retail executives are steering through uncharted waters.

supermarket-drinks4

Photo by Graham Holliday licensed under Creative Commons

Twitter can now remove tweets by country February 1, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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The micro-blogging service, Twitter, recently announced that they can now ‘censor’ messages by country. Many in the technology community were shocked by this news as the transparency and free access to information sharing on Twitter was seen as a catalyst for some of the Arab spring revolutionary activity this time last year.

Twitter has said that the price they need to pay for operating in some countries is to have the ability to delete certain messages at the request of a state government. They claim that transparency has increased because they are being open about government requests to remove information.

But are we seeing democratic values, such as free speech, buffeting against national and commercial interest? Most users of Twitter probably read information from, and talk to, people in dozens of countries everyday. The information is just there, regardless of national borders.

Twitter appears to be capitulating to national governments, considering this as a price worth paying to do business in those regions, so it appears that censorship on major social networks can be bought. If the company doesn’t want to miss out on entering certain markets, they will do whatever it takes to be there rather than defending the free exchange of information.

Of course, Twitter is just a company. They are not supposed to be a champion of international free speech or human rights, but the service has developed a track record for being simple, open, and transparent. If that’s all about to change so governments can delete anything they see as seditious then where will the next Arab spring be created?

Arab Spring [LP]

Photo by Painted Tapes licensed under Creative Commons

What is Web 3.0? July 22, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Internet, Outsourcing, Software.
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The Internet continues to evolve at a frenetic pace. Back in the nineties, having a website meant little more than a series of static pages that used hyper-links to allow the reader to click between pages.

Web 2.0 changed all that. Websites became based on dynamic data, so different readers might see different pages, based on their own profile. Your Facebook profile is a good example – endlessly changing whenever you update it or load new content such as photos. It became normal for readers to also become contributors.

Now the tech world is talking of Web 3.0, even as many in the enterprise are yet to fully take advantage of the dynamic information flow of Web 2.0.

But Web 3.0 is not really here just yet. It revolves around how information can be better linked through concepts such as the semantic web. In short, there will be a point at which the systems are publishing information automatically and tagging or linking the data to existing information. Like Web 2.0, but with the computers doing much of the publishing and linking for us.

The clear advantages of this are obvious. We are drowning in a sea of information at present. Just search Google for ‘John Smith’ and hundreds of millions of possible results come up. If your own name is ‘John Smith’ and the search system had some way of linking data that relates to the correct ‘John Smith’ then search suddenly becomes far more intelligent.

Given the amount of content now being created it is becoming essential for the systems to help connect the dots. For example, the video site YouTube gets 35 hours of new video uploaded by users every single minute. How can we make sense of this vast sea of data if it has no context?

The downside of relying on the technology is that machines make mistakes. Only time will tell how laws designed for a previous era might handle cases related to an automated system linking millions of pieces of data, where some of those links are erroneous and create a knock-on effect that invalidates other data.

It’s a problem we have yet to encounter, but this world is just around the corner not decades away.

Facebook juror jailed for 8 months June 20, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Internet.
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If you have ever been on jury service you will know that the rules about contempt of court are quite stringent. Though everyone in reality talks to their family about the case before it is over, you are not really supposed to.

But talking about a case on social networks must be a modern-day hazard for juries across the world? Of course, and court officials now warn jurors of the danger in using tools like Twitter and Facebook to update their “friends” how a case is proceeding.

It is just plain common sense. If any release of jury deliberations could cause a change in the outcome of a trial then you keep your mouth shut.

But one juror in a Manchester drugs trial not only used the Internet to start searching for background details on defendants she also started up a Facebook friend relationship and conducted online conversations with a defendant.

It seems blindingly obvious that you don’t form a relationship and have online chat with a defendant in a case where you are a juror. But has the etiquette of social networking, where friends don’t necessarily need to be real friends, blurred into an environment where these two people should never have even been talking – let alone friends?

The juror in question claims she felt an empathy with the defendant, who had been released after more than a year on remand. She got eight months in jail herself for contempt of court.

Perhaps she should have just clicked on ‘Like’?