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Google Needs to Offer a Social Media Monitoring Service

July 9, 2013 3 comments

Google's Index of the Web vs. Social Media Monitoring Tools

Radian6, Cision, Wildfire, SocialRadar, Trackur, Alterian SM2, Sysomos, Lithium, Viralheat, Brandwatch, UberVU, Trendrr, Trackur …  all good tools with rich featuresets and analytical capabilities.  They all have one problem, however.

They’re not Google.

No matter which tool you go with for social media monitoring, it inevitably cannot index as much of the web as Google, which currently has over 3.65 billion pages.  Some do an admirable job attempting to keep up by buying access to other indexes of web and social content – but that still isn’t complete and worse, it adds a delay to the process of merging the two databases.  As any social media manager will tell you – delays are something they can ill afford.

This missing data causes three major problems:

First, important mentions can be missed (or not accessed in a timely fashion).

Second, the archives are incomplete – looking at the present is a primary concern but historical data can be important as well.

Third, the analytics generated by the expensive social media monitoring platforms aren’t accurate; worse, they seem to get progressively less accurate as the size of the brand decreases.  If you’re Coca-Cola you’re okay, but this is a huge problem for most of the brands my colleagues and I work with which are primarily local in nature (which means they have a far smaller footprint online).

Despite their best efforts, none of these tools will ever be able to match Google’s prowess for indexing the increasing vastness of the web in real-time.  So Google needs to offer a social media monitoring service – and I would welcome one even if it had a pricetag as hefty as the aforementioned tools (some of which have a BASE price of $500/month).

Tapping Google’s enormous reserves of indexed content is even more difficult now that the search giant has eliminated RSS feeds for Google Alerts when it discontinued Google Reader, and now limits them only to searches of Google News.  All of the conversation about the “death of Google Reader” and subsequent scramble for alternatives has so far almost completely missed this critical detail which is, for my money, far more important.

I just went through the arduous process of reformatting a hundred or so RSS feeds I had built using Google Alerts because they’re no longer active.  Transitioning them to Google News RSS feeds is okay, but my understanding is that it won’t capture nearly as many mentions as a general Google Search.  Google even says as much here in outlining its standards for being included in the Google News index.

I completely understand the need to eliminate content that is not worthy of being considered “news” from the index, but the problem is that social media managers need to be aware of ALL mentions of their company/clients – not just the high-quality ones.

Google is well-positioned to offer this sort of service; they already have the data, they’re excellent at building easy-to-use interfaces, they’re excellent at providing analytics, and they’re well trusted.  I doubt we’ll ever see this service, but I’ll continue to dream anyway.

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Social Media Director at U of M Becomes Casualty of Social Media Transparency

December 11, 2012 4 comments

Jordan Miller Case Study Collage

[Disclosure: I applied for the University of Michigan Social Media Director position.]

In October of 2011, the University of Michigan announced that it had created a Social Media Director position.  I was elated; it was a great sign that the practice was gaining the recognition it deserves.  In February of 2012 they announced that after “dozens” of applicants (a suspiciously low number for that high-profile of a position with an elite school that paid $100k/year) they had selected Jordan Miller to be their new Social Media Director.

Flash-forward to December 7 when a post appeared on Reddit titled “UM Social Media Director Jordan Miller lies on resume about bachelors degree, keeps job.” posted by citizenthrowawayx.  The post contained links to three scans of documents that pretty conclusively demonstrated that Miller had indeed lied on her job application claiming to have completed her studies at Columbia College in Chicago when in fact she had not.

Jordan Miller's Followgram Profile Description

Jordan Miller’s Unfortunate Followgram Profile Description

As of today, Miller resigned from the position at U of M.

There’s a lot more to the story (that the anonymous individual who did the legwork and posted the damning information is an ex-husband who happens to also work at U of M and who is involved in a custody battle, alleging that Miller manufactured child abuse allegations against him to negate his custody of their child) but I’m less interested in that than the larger ramifications of this case study in how not to approach social media.

Beat the Dead Horse: Radical Transparency

What I can’t get over is that someone would think they could get away with something like this in applying for (1) a social media leadership position at (2) one of the best universities in the US.  Who thinks this sort of deception can last in such a position of scrutiny?

Forget unethical (although it’s certainly that), in the age of radical transparency duplicity is just plain impractical.

Digital Shrapnel

Here is just a sampling of the ripples Miller’s lying has sent off in the direction of everyone she’s had contact with:

U of M Human Resources: Why doesn’t the University of Michigan’s Human Resources Office vet the higher education credentials of its applicants?  How many of the rest of the university’s employees are lacking in degrees from accredited higher education institutions?  Why didn’t the HR department take action on this information when it was forwarded to them “a few weeks ago?”  Why did it take contacting the university’s Compliance Hotline to get something accomplished?

Past Employers: Now that we know Miller lied on her U of M job application, does that mean that she lied on her application to the Ann Arbor News?  As a journalistic organization that trumpeted her hire and is now reporting on her downfall – it’s incumbent upon them to now shine that same light on themselves and their hiring practices.  How many of their other reporters are lacking in degrees from accredited colleges/universities?  Why don’t they verify higher ed credentials? Ditto to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the advertising agency that employed her for a year and a half.

References: This kind of situation makes me less inclined to want to give out references or endorsements, which are becoming ever-present on social networking sites.  You practically trip over them logging in to Linkedin, they’re on Facebook and its apps (like Branchout) and everywhere else.

Past Work: If Miller lied about something as substantial as her higher ed credentials, what else is lurking in her past?  Has she fabricated any of the information in the stories she wrote for the AnnArbor.com?

What They Think I Do - Super Hero

Social Media Pros: Specializing in social media is already a profession that hurts for credibility.  Here’s a comment from the story announcing Miller’s hire typical of the opinions of many people on social media:

“Wow. $100K per year to Twitter (aka “gossip”) and create seminars teaching other people how to Twitter (aka “gossip”). It’s too bad the UM doesn’t have any marketing students or anyone like that, who could devise and maintain “social media” strategies as part of their degree programs. What’s another $100K in taxpayer dollars anyway? It’s just disgusting. A hundred THOUSAND dollars a year. It’s incredible.”YpsiVeteran

This act can’t help but contribute to the sentiment that social media pros are charlatans and hucksters.  As a result, all of us suffer.

The Other Applicants for the Position: There were some other applicants for the position who were probably better-qualified than Miller (whose social media credentials I found to be surprisingly sparse – leading me to long suspect that there was some sort of backroom arrangement for the hiring process which is depressingly common at higher ed institutions).  Forget me, Lindsay Blackwell comes to mind – even I was impressed by the multimedia site she set up to apply for the position.  I worry that U of M will eliminate this position and kill a great opportunity for someone else (and an opportunity to show how far ahead of the business world the academic world is in terms of social media acumen).

The Silver Lining

Radical Transparency is here to stay.  It is the norm.  It is one of the rules of the ecosystem.

As we work to get past the social norms that are in conflict with this new reality, we can facilitate this by making use of all of the amazing computing power arrayed before us.  There is value in verification – think of what Linkedin could do to further attract employers as a job posting website by offering the verification of credentials.

I’m not optimistic about the odds of it happening, but hopefully the human resources world takes this opportunity to reflect on how outmoded its conventions for vetting job applicants are.  There are so many ways to measure the abilities of people online, and so few HR departments are flexing all of those resources.

Regardless, it’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out (and it is literally playing out right now on Reddit as Miller’s ex-husband is able to respond to the questions and comments of other Redditors).

George Zimmerman is the Latest Case Study of Radical Transparency – the MySpace Page

May 2, 2012 Leave a comment

George Zimmerman's MySpace Page

Online nothing goes away, and anything can come to light if enough time and pressure are applied.

George Zimmerman is about to find that out because the Miami Herald found his MySpace page.  I’m kind of surprised this didn’t come to light sooner.  In a bit of dark humor, he was just awarded the “In the Spotlight” badge because people are flocking to pore over his updates for clues.

We can’t undo the advances into the era of Radical Transparency, we can only adjust to it.  That isn’t a bad thing.

Just as social media can have a negative impact on someone’s life, it can also have a positive impact.  It depends on how much of a person is positive or negative.

Social media is only a tool – it has no inherent qualities.  It can only reflect those who use it.  The same social media platforms that are providing fodder to back up the allegation that the shooting of Trayvon Martin was a hate crime motivated by mistrust of a race are ALSO raising funds for Zimmerman’s defense fund and spreading the message of his fervent right-leaning defenders.  Con artists on both sides of the case have faked content to support their side – and virtually all have been caught and debunked.

Right now the big headlines are the racist missives against Hispanics that the MySpace profile contains, as well as some allusions to criminal behavior.

That won’t be the only headline, and a fuller picture of Zimmerman is already being illustrated in the news media as we all endeavor to learn more about him and his motivations.  The Herald noted that he has a racially-diverse group of friends (as depicted by his photos).  Likely there are other positive features of Zimmerman which will come to light.

I tend to think anything that helps make us more aware that the world is a complex, gray place with few (if any) absolutes is a benefit to us all.

Important Research on the Relationship Between Public Relations and Wikipedia

April 19, 2012 1 comment

Wikipedia Edit

One of the first places people go (from Google, that is) for quick answers and information is Wikipedia.  The size of the audience it commands, and its ability to become a critical resource for developing the narrative from current events mean that it’s of critical importance to any public relations professional.

Unfortunately the PR community is largely ignorant of how to interact with Wikipedia.

According to a new study done by Dr. Marcia W. DiStaso of Penn State University,

  • 25 percent of public relations pros were completely unaware of the state of Wikipedia entries about their organization.
  • Worse – only 21 percent were familiar with the rule that PR pros should not edit articles on behalf of a client or organization they represent.

This is unacceptable.  A healthy understanding of Wikipedia and the dynamics of the collaborative space online (which eschews back-room deals and undemocratic influence) is critical for every PR pro (and journalist) to understand.  This is the stuff of textbooks.

The study was prompted after a very thorough and productive discussion that has been happening on a Facebook group called CREWE (Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement) created by Phil Gomes of Edelman.  The group has brought together Wikipedians (including founder Jimmy Wales) to promote broader awareness of the relationship between PR pros and Wikipedia editors:

  • On the one hand, Wikipedians want to ensure that all information on the site is accurate and free of bias.
  • On the other hand, PR pros have a legitimate complaint in that following the established process for contributing or editing content (to post suggestions to the “Talk” page in the hope that it will be evaluated by a Wikipedian with no connection to the story and ultimately considered for application to the Wikipedia entry) is often ineffective as it can be difficult to get the attention or consideration of editors.

The study done by Dr. DiStaso also contains a very helpful infographic pulling out some of the important points from the study.  You can find everything here:

Measuring Public Relations Wikipedia Engagement: How Bright is the Rule?
Public Relations Journal — Vol. 6, No. 2 | Author: Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D.

Abstract: The study by Dr. DiStaso explores the views, experiences and beliefs of public relations/communications professionals about editing Wikipedia for their company or client. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has what he believes to be a “bright line” rule whereby public relations/communications professionals are not to directly edit the Wikipedia articles about their companies or clients. Through a survey with 1284 responses, this study found that the “bright line” rule is not working. This is because, among other reasons, 60% of the Wikipedia articles for respondents who were familiar with their company or recent client’s article contained factual errors. When the talk pages were used to request edits, it was found to typically take days for a response and 24% never received one. Plus, most of the public relations/communication professionals in this study were unaware of the rule and almost half of those who were familiar with it did not understand what it meant to them..  [Download Article]

FedEx Deserves a Black Belt in Crisis Management for Response to Viral Video

December 22, 2011 2 comments

Earlier this week, a YouTube video from a security camera made the rounds showing a FedEx employee carelessly tossing a package (containing a computer monitor) over a fence to deliver it.  As of today, the original has over 4 million views and opportunistic content-scrapers who have re-posted to their own profiles have garnered hundreds of thousands more.

Huge public relations crisis, right?  Nope.

FedEx delivered a master class  in crisis communications with its response that should be taught in PR classrooms.  Check it out:

Let’s break down what happened (which is an affirmation of the principles articulated by Arthur W. Page):

  1. They responded quickly.  They didn’t wait for the situation to reach a tipping point; only two days passed between the uploading of the original video and the response.  Can you imagine the kind of effort it takes during the heaviest delivery season to negotiate and organize a well-crafted video response to a negative customer service experience for a global corporation?  Right now the response video is the #2 video, right under the original negative video which is #1.  It has over 116,000 views – six thousand of those were accrued in the time it took me to draft this blog post, so it’s gaining traction.
  2. They told the truth.  At no point did they try to write it off as an isolated incident, a hoax, or try to blame a third party contractor or regional human resources department.  They embraced it.
  3. They made it right with the customer (a YouTube user with the alias ‘goobie55’).  Before anything else, they reached out to the party affected and fixed the situation.  Unfortunately, goobie55 has not (yet) done the right thing – which is to post an update to the video noting FedEx’s response – hopefully that will still happen.
  4. They took it seriously.  FedEx knows how quickly information is shared online and they responded swiftly with senior management.  They didn’t let the situation linger unanswered or task local staff to handle it.  They also likely used all the resources in their arsenal – which may have included a traditional public relations pitch campaign (given the over 150 articles covering the response).
  5. They internalized the problem.  According to FedEx Senior VP Matthew Thornton, they are also are now sharing the video with employees as a case study in why careful handling of packages is important.
  6. They gave the organization a face.  You could hardly find a better face for the organization than VP Matthew Thornton; the nonverbal communication is fantastic.  He’s in a shirt and tie (no suit coat), with thick-rimmed glasses and a similarly-thick mustache – he looks like a working-class executive who is personally-invested in the company and doesn’t shy away from rolling up his sleeves.  Though he’s likely reading from a prompter, Thornton is convincing nonetheless.  In a way he projects the feel of a small business owner who knows well how accountable he is to his customers.
  7. They had a track record to stand on.  This is perhaps the most important part of any crisis is what happens BEFORE the crisis – something that can’t be emphasized enough.  Every organization needs to make quality service and products a priority (which should go without saying, but it doesn’t – plenty are operating on an old model of sub-standard quality upholstered in glitz and style).  No crisis response, no matter how eloquent, can save an organization that sucks at what they do from a high-profile example of their suckage – the companies that conduct themselves that way are only able to do so because they’re a monopoly (think AT&T or Comcast).

The only improvement I might have made is to have Thornton add an action item at the end of his video (you can provide hyperlinks within YouTube videos very easily) that invited any other customers with a bad experience to immediately share, or link directly to the process for resolving disputes, it so it could be fixed.  But that’s just me nit-picking.

Hopefully a lot of people are able to learn from this – kudos to FedEx.

Why Would You Hire a Social Media Strategy Company That Isn’t Social?

December 2, 2011 2 comments

The answer is you wouldn’t.

Yesterday I received a spam email from “Paul” at “Social Brand Online” in my Linkedin inbox.  Here’s the text in it’s mass-produced, cut-and-paste glory: Read more…

Muskegon Public Schools New Social Media Policy an Unenforceable Slap in the Face to Employees and Students

November 29, 2011 2 comments

The Muskegon Chronicle (“Personal drinking photos could get teachers fired in Muskegon”) and Michigan Education Report (“More districts eye social media policies”) have reported that the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District has adopted an extraordinarily-restrictive new social media policy (available here courtesy of the Muskegon Chronicle).

The policy implies consequences (ie firing) if any content appears online that shows “use of alcohol, drugs or anything students are prohibited from doing” (students are prohibited from using profanity – so apparently if you tweet the F-bomb that can get you canned). The policy was crafted and adopted at the advice of at the advice of the MAISD legal counsel (which should be the first sign that the policy is problematic; lawyers and social media don’t mix).

Here are some specific problems with the policy (which is very reminiscent of the ban on contact that the Missouri Legislature just repealed):

1. We Don’t Control What is Posted Online Read more…