Avoid Using Memes Unless you can Contribute Meaningfully to the Culture: Marissa Mayer and the Yahoo-Tumblr Announcement
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer just announced that the search relic will be buying Tumblr, an announcement made on a Tumblr created by Mayer using an animated gif of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” meme. This is a great example of why most organizations should avoid trying to use memes, and the framing of the announcement undermines Yahoo’s intended message. Read more…
UPDATE 2 – 3/25/13: See Below
Mark Twain once said “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
Let’s test that hypothesis in the era of social media.
Right now, students at Grand Valley State University are circulating the image above which appears to be a screen capture from a mobile phone showing an email from a GVSU faculty member describing in elaborate detail why classes will be canceled tomorrow (3/20/13).
Some of my students forwarded it to me and inquired if I’d heard anything. To date (7:50 pm on 3/19/13) I’ve received no emails from the administration, and there are no announcements on the college’s website, nor any messages pertaining to a cancellation on the college’s Facebook or Twitter pages. Moreover, there are no cancellations for GVSU in the news media.
So it’s probably false.
What also makes me think the image is a fake is that there’s no date in the email (and I’m not aware of any version of the Gmail client that doesn’t at least show the date or time in the header information of an email). I’m betting it was probably photoshopped. To test my suspicions I ran the photo through Photoshop Killer, an online tool that detects when changes have been made to images. The report seems to indicate photoshopping; in addition to the lack of EXIF data about the image, it appears to have possibly been sharpened (possibly to hide traces after blurring out some portions to edit them).
It’s true, the weather hasn’t been optimal today – but it’s hardly bad enough for GVSU to cancel all of its classes at all of its campuses.
It’s also true that there was a bus accident on campus today A student was struck by a bus at GVSU a month ago – however the female student who was struck by a Rapid bus only suffered minor injuries. Also definitely not reason enough to cancel all classes.
I sent an email to Dr. Kevin Cole, the professor from whom the email purportedly originates.
Updates to follow. It would be great if we could debunk this in real time.
UPDATE: 9:40pm 3/19/13
Dr. Cole returned my email in record time confirming that, indeed, the email is a hoax. Here’s his response:
It’s going to be interesting to see what GVSU’s Computing and Technology Support department finds when they go through the digital trail that this email likely left behind. Unless this person was seriously savvy, it’s likely they will have left multiple bits of identifying information behind as a result of sending this message.
UPDATE: 12:45pm 3/52/13
A couple of days after this blog post, GVSU responded to the situation; apparently there were several instances of these fraudulent emails being sent. Today they announced that they were able to track down the student who was responsible (who may now be charged criminally and possibly disciplined by GVSU).
Talking Points Memo noted this morning that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign today released a Harlem Shake meme video featuring college students re-enacting the format of a lone dancer dancing until the beat drops in the song and all hell breaks loose. As I’m fairly certain they’ll pull the video as soon as they notice how badly it’s faring in the public space, here’s a cached version:
Ignoring the fact that the voc-over that starts the song is from a reggaeton artist named Héctor Delgado and declares “Con Los Terroristas” which is Columbian/Spanish for “With the Terrorists,” there are a number of problems with the effort.
- Know Your Publics: The video is ostensibly to appeal to a younger audience, and campaign spokesperson told CNN that college students actually contacted the campaign and offered up the idea. I don’t have the data in front of me, but I’m betting McConnell’s base doesn’t have much to do with Harlem, Youtube or college given that the legislator led the effort to cut Pell Grant funding recently and stands at odds with younger voters on a wide range of issues. Moreover, Kentucky lags behind the rest of the country in broadband Internet access penetration (coming in at 45th in the US) which doesn’t bode well for HD streaming video content as a delivery method.
- Social Media Means Participation: As of right now, both comments and ratings are disabled for the video on YouTube. Not only that, but comments are disabled for four of the six videos Team McConnell has uploaded in the last year. When you disable the participatory elements of social platforms – you run the risk of driving people to other spaces where they can participate beyond your ability to join the conversation.
- Timing is Everything: The video was published today, but I remember seeing pitches to corporate clients about jumping on the Harlem Shake bandwagon weeks ago, and the phenomenon peaked on February 10 when as many as 4,000 videos were being uploaded to Youtube per day. The speed at which social media moves means most organizations are completely incapable of responding in time to actually appear in-tune and actually risk appearing clueless and out-of-sync with the times.
On that third point, I leave you with a video the Minnesota Timberwolves shot that encapsulates the sentiment toward the Harlem Shake by an increasingly larger portion of the public (which includes a font-based jab at their rivals the Miami Heat in the close):
Today I noticed in my social stream on Facebook that Budweiser was using ads to fight back against the accusations that they are watering down their beer.
This little advertisement popped up humorously takes a jab at the plaintiffs in a lawsuit by offering the possibility that they mistakenly tested one of the cans of water Anheuser-Busch has produced to meet the emergency needs during one of the recent crises like Hurricane Sandy (a practice that dates back to the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906):
Other than the ads BP blanketed the socialsphere with following the Deep Water Horizon disaster, I don’t think I’ve seen much of this practice by major corporations. I actually think it’s a smart and effective strategy (particularly in the budget department). It simultaneously addresses the lawsuit while reminding the public of its social good campaigns.
The only criticism I have of the ad as a public relations move is that it doesn’t send those who click on it to a page addressing the accusations, rather it goes to Budweiser’s main fan page (which likely won’t help address the crisis among people who aren’t familiar with it). There’s print on the ad that likely explains this, but it’s far too small to read in the tiny dimensions of a Facebook ad.
As I write this, Burger King’s Twitter Account (@burgerking) has been hacked by Anonymous and turned into a McDonald’s account with the parody storyline that BK has been acquired by McDonald’s. It’s still posting updates (including photos of drug use and links to rap videos on YouTube) unabated.
What’s particularly amazing about this situation is that it’s now almost an hour into the hack and no one has taken action (neither Twitter, nor Burger King), though that may attest to the resourcefulness of LulzSec – the security wing of the unofficial hacker collaborative Anonymous.
It’s not a revelation to observe that public relations people often have an adversarial relationship with the legal department of any large organization. By nature, the two fields are set in opposition: public relations pushing to disclose, and legal pushing to conceal.
Too often, unfortunately, the legal department wins out when disputes arise as the legal profession tends to be respected as far more credible than PR. That doesn’t mean legal is right all (or even most) of the time.
Recently a local paper featured a live chat with an employment law professional and a staffer of a state legislator who proposed barring employers from accessing employee social networking profile data. As is the case with most ham-fisted attempts by lawyers/legislators to insert themselves into the social media landscape, both the law (House Bill 5523: Social Network Account Privacy Act) and the legal advice for employers are wrong.
While part of House Bill 5523 is reasonable (protecting userid/password information from employers) – it’s superfluous political posturing because the act of an employer demanding access to an employee’s Facebook account is already illegal: it’s identity theft (and it’s also prohibited by Facebook’s policies).
What I disagreed with most was the legal advice for employers, which was essentially to avoid using the Internet and social media to search for information on prospective employees. The rationale given for this was the possibility that one could uncover information about a prospect (such as a pending pregnancy, age or disability) that one would have to prove they didn’t use this information in a decision not to hire.
There are two problems with that advice:
1) Not hiring someone due to pregnancy, age, or a medical condition happens regardless of the use of social media to find that information out. When you interview someone in person, those things become readily-apparent whether or not you used social media to weed people out.
Abstaining from social media searches wouldn’t insulate anyone from allegations of bias.
2) There’s actually a very good case to be made that investigating employees via social media actually PROTECTS employers from allegations of discriminatory hiring. For starters, it allows an employer to get a sense of someone’s fluency with technology (essential in the workplace today).
Depending how active people are online, it can also provide insight into their critical thinking process, how active they are in the community, and what their communication skills are … all things that are perfectly reasonable to use in not hiring someone.
If you need an excuse not to interview or hire someone, odds are the Internet can provide ample legal justification.
Sometimes considering an alternate perspective to the legal one provides valuable insight. I wish more corporate leadership would try it.
"...and you shall have no pie."As my parents tell it, when I was an infant my first word wasn't a word - it was an entire sentence. Very little has changed.
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