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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

 

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

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

Turn off the networks – says who? October 21, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Hardware, IT Services.
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A recent poll by the BBC found that most British citizens would like to the see the police respond to riots with water cannon, tear gas, curfews and even a third suggesting the police should be firing rubber bullets.

With the British riots still quite fresh in the mind of most respondents and the police being criticised for a soft approach, it’s no surprise that the average man on the street wants a tough approach – regardless of how all these measure might appear to be the beginning of a police state.

But it was interesting to see that 55% of the people polled by the BBC also believe that the police should have the power to close down social networks such as Twitter, Blackberry BBM, and Facebook.

It seems like one thing for the public to be asking the police to take tougher action on rioters, but if the public are now asking for the police to have control of the Internet then will the politicians respond? It would clearly be popular with the public, but is it right?

Those in favour of this measure are clearly arguing that many of the riots were arranged or exacerbated by communication on social networks. The one to many broadcast ability of these networks and the ability for messages to be passed on and re-broadcast makes them far more powerful than the telephone or basic text messaging.

But did the police ever turn off the telephone network in the past when there was a riot, and where would this power stop? Who would give the command to suggest that a minor civil disturbance has gone past the line and now all social networks need to be closed?

In my own experience, the messages I was seeing on the Monday night of the London riots were mainly councillors and local businesses, all out there on the street and sending messages to help people stay safe. All of this would have been impossible if the networks were down.

This is one of those moral questions that make people realise the power of blogs and microblogs – instant, available to all, and easy for others to pass on. The world has yet to really absorb the power of one to many communications, but I hope the positive outweighs the negative in public perception soon as the measures being proposed are dangerous for democracy itself.
London Flames

Shutting down Twitter August 17, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, Internet.
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The recent civil unrest in several English cities that turned from a political protest into looting and criminality within a couple of days has led lawmakers to explore the social networks blamed for organising the wave of crime.

Though many commentators are pointing out that cars should not be banned because lawbreakers may have used a vehicle to get to the riots, some in government appear adamant that social networks need to be controlled during times of civil disobedience.

It sounds like a cross between the controlled Internet of China and the Egyptian government behaviour – faced with the Arab spring and a popular uprising, the government forced telephone operators to shut down their networks. For a couple of days there was no Internet in Egypt. Citizens resorted to dial-up connections via international phone calls to get any news out of the country.

Could this really happen in the UK?

Former BT Chief Scientist Peter Cochrane dismissed the idea as bluff, suggesting that the government doesn’t understand how the Internet works and that information would always flow, despite any attempt to block it. Others are not so sure.

The Prime Minister himself announced to MPs last week that he is working with the police and intelligence services with a view to exploring the consequences of limiting access to these websites and services if they are being used for criminal purposes. The government already has extensive online intelligence tools available, such as wire-tapping and the boffins inside GCHQ.

So if they started actively requesting offending social media accounts are shut down, would the social networks listen? They might, but then again, would any serious criminals be broadcasting their plans in public? In which case the government would need to directly ask phone networks to suspend their entire 3G services.

In any case, in stark contrast to Egypt, many of the UK networks would refuse on principle, and where would we be then? I don’t believe there is any law that gives the government a right to instruct a phone company to just shut down because of a threat.

[Note: these are the views of the author and not necessarily reflected by Thomas Eggar]

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’?