Updating Again Soon

I realized it’s been two years since I updated this blog, but with the recent events regarding data, privacy, and social media, I feel it’s important to dust this place off and start writing again. Stickied to the top of Robots Nobots is a post I wrote four years ago about the dangers of Social Logins and how your information, along with all your friends, is being bought and sold simply by clicking a small, convenient button. Seems it’s gotten worse since then with the explosion of Apps asking for “permissions” before you get to use them.

These topics are relevant. They will always be relevant. To anyone who happens upon this blog, I hope you enjoy my content.

Upvoted – Reddit’s News Site – First Impressions

Every social media buff knows about Reddit. Submit links to be judged by the faceless masses via Upvotes and Downvotes, and if you pass the gauntlet of reposts and re-reposts and re-re-reposts and follow the rules of each subreddit just right, you might just be in the orange. Play the right cards at exactly the right time, and you might even end up on the front page of Reddit. For about four hours before the limited attention span of the Internet buries your post in the second page. All of this, of course, is reinforced by “Karma,” a sort of point system for your account; every link with a positive number of Upvotes adds to your Karma score, a meaningless number next to your username. You might get some recognition if your Karma score is in the tens of thousands, but unless you’re a celebrity or a novelty account like user poem_for_your_sprog, you probably won’t be known for anything noteworthy. Verbose intro aside, let’s talk about Upvoted.com, Reddit’s recently launched news site.

It appears that the purposed of Upvoted is to find the most interesting stories and links on Reddit and expand on them with an editorial process, something that many existing news site already does on a daily basis. It could be that Reddit wants to curate this type of content with the added benefit of getting straight from the horse’s mouth. Given the site’s disastrous history of neglecting users, subreddit owners, and its own staff, using its own editorial staff to dig up and expand on trending topics and freshly popular users might be more than they can handle. Everyone’s comparing it to Buzzfeed, and at first glance, that’s about right. At second glance, it looks about the same. At the moment, the people most likely to see beyond Upvoted’s Buzzfeedesque exterior are current users who are versed in Reddit’s posting culture and business motivations.

Looking at the front page of the site also reveals a great deal about Reddit’s motivations. Front and center is the top story with the number of upvotes associated with the original link at the top left corner, and under it, the top 3 trending stories. Directly to the right and taking up about 25% of your screen…a sponsored link. Advertising. Funding Reddit’s servers isn’t cheap, and Upvoted looks like another way for the social site to rake in more advertising revenue from companies looking to monetize on Reddit’s popularity. The promise is that this sponsored content will be just as rich as normal posts, written and curated by the editorial staff, but paid for and approved by the company. In other words, “Branded Content”. Upvoted does make it very clear that it’s sponsored, so there’s no shady business going on. Good.

Let’s talk privacy. Many of Upvoted’s posts include comments from users. Does the editorial staff ask permission before a comment is used in their curated content, or does the terms and agreements of the site already opt every user in to be fair game? This is an important question because of the “throwaway account” culture on Reddit; people who don’t want their comments or questions associated with their regular usernames will often create a burner account. Make a comment, ask a question, and never touch the username again. I don’t have an answer yet, but I will update this segment when I get a clear answer.

Success in Social Media: The Path

How do you measure success in social media? I’ve been asked this many times during interviews, and I always answer the same way: any and all interactions that place your brand in a positive light. Many people might disagree with me and focus more an metrics and numbers, but if we look at the path social media marketing has taken in the past few years, you will see that the measure of success has shifted into a more subjective realm. Does that mean the metrics and numbers don’t matter? Of course they matter! That’s the point of marketing, isn’t it? But in social media, the marketing aspect has quickly shifted over to branding, presence, and overall engagement with your followers.

Let’s take a look at the original metric that social media marketers used to measure success: Followers. The more followers you had, the better, right? Having a huge number of Likes on Facebook means that people actively sought out your page, clicked the Like button, and would then receive news and updates whenever you post them. Well, at the time it was the only important metric you had.

Social media marketers then started to focus on creating viral content, and the measure of virality was the number of Likes and Shares a post received. In came the flood of clickbait titles, “Like if you agree” image macros, and “Share if you love your mother” posts. Companies wanted to know that their content was being consumed, or, with the changes to the Facebook algorithms, seen by their followers. We’re at the tail end of this practice now, and we’re quickly shifting over into forming direct, emotional connections. Frankly, I feel like this should’ve been where we started as social media marketers.

How do you create emotional connections with your followers? Just check out the tagline of this blog: Be more human. That the adage by which I formulate my social media strategies, and companies and brands should pay attention. Be more human. Just take a look at the first word in “social media”! It’s “social”! The more you advertise and broadcast to your followers, the faster they get fed up with your content, which means they’re more likely to just ignore you. When that happens, say goodbye to your organic reach, which means you pay more to advertise your content, which exacerbates your problem. Literally throwing your money away. People on social media don’t want to be bombarded by ads on a daily basis. To reach them, you have to become like one of them, which means using the social media site as it’s intended: to create connections with people on a personal level. The playing field is already set; you just have to play the game instead of trying to create your own rules!

Each social site has its own expectations of etiquette and behavior. On Tumblr, for example, you’re expected to have fun and not take yourself too seriously. On Instagram, you need to show of your staff and show everyone what you’re up to. On Facebook, you want to be the person starting conversations and share your opinions (just be careful about this part).

If you’re likeable to the point where people can relate to you, they will take the time out of their day to support you. So how do you measure success in social media? Be more human today.

Facebook’s Latest Update: Bad News for Page Owners (Again)?

It looks like Facebook is updating its algorithm again, and it could be that Facebook Pages will take another hit to organic reach. This time it will be posts by your friends that get prioritized on the News Feed, which is great news for users and possibly bad news for businesses. This is, by in large, old news; Facebook has been hammering down on calls to action and clickbait content since November 2014. If you and your social media strategies have not adapted by now, then you need to step up your game and catch up to the rest of the social world.

Facebook has said time and time again that the type of content prioritized on your Followers’ News Feeds is relevant to their interests. And what’s relevant to their News Feeds? The type of content their friends share. Let that be a lesson to you: the days of pure advertising and calls to action are at an end in the social media frontier. To make it in this landscape, you, as a business, need to start becoming more human, and that means developing a brand voice and personality, and more importantly it means trusting your social managers to do their jobs. Of course that also means finding a trustworthy social manager who knows how to navigate the potentially dicey social media environment.

So how do you go about finding your brand voice? It depends on your business, obviously, but the first thing you should do as CEO, owner, president, or higher up management is set some ground rules. Are you a fun-loving business that likes to get into ridiculous conversations with your customers and fan base? Are you educational? Professional? Sensational? Ask yourself: How would you, the owner, talk about your company to interested parties? Take note of your vocabulary, cadence, and emotions. This is how you want your business to look and sound on social media, and that’s exactly the type of message you should get across to your social manager. When you’re online, you’re not a salesperson; you are a human being who is proud of their business or product, and you want other people to see that. Passion is contagious. If you feel it, your audience will feel it, too. That makes all the difference in how people react to your content. Be more human today.

Did You Even Read It?

Post

Who’s to blame for the latest trend of posting links with sensationalist headlines? It’s hard to tell, but we all know one thing: it’s working. Well, working in that people share the content, but failing in that most people don’t even access the content for more than just the headline or the first paragraph. In fact, I’m amazed at its effectiveness. Viral content from over 10 years ago have come back with shiny new headlines and rekindled a long dead netpidemic (let’s see if I can make this term trend!). This is the latest craze, the best material we can find, and the perfect method of gathering data on the unsuspecting public through social media channels. They know where you’re coming from, and often these articles of extreme exaggeration have social logins that not only broadcasts what social sites you use, but also with whom you’re sharing the content. Other bits of data include how long you’ve stayed on the page, whether or not you’ve scrolled all the way down (that’s why some pages load partway until you scroll), and even where your mouse lingers and for how long (Clicktale). And that’s just the tip o the iceberg! If you really want to know how many ways a site is tracking your actions, install the Ghostery app. I mean just look at this. ghosteryThere are TWENTY different tracking tools and social buttons! Most sites have a hard time coming up with 4!

So what’s wrong with it? Some will say it’s harmless fun, but in my opinion, it perpetuates the spread of inaccurate data, compromises you and your friends’ right to privacy, and clutters up our social media feeds. So what can we do as users? What can the owners of these sites do as content producers? For the latter, try producing quality content without resorting to sensationalist headlines! It’s hard work, yes, but you shouldn’t have to lure people into sharing your content without actually reading your content! Why bother with any articles at all? You’d do just as well to simply have the headline and a pretty image to with it. As users we can stop sharing Clickbait content. Or at the very least we can read the articles and THEN decide whether or not it’s worth sharing! Content producers create these sensationalist headlines because people are sharing them, and people are sharing them because they’re too lazy to read. If no one takes the first step, then we’re never going to get anywhere, the content’s going to get worse, and your private information becomes that much more of a commodity. You have been warned. Now stop it!

More Likes Than Friends – The Truth About Facebook Likes

Facebook_like_thumbWhat if I told you I could get you a hundred followers on your Facebook page in under an hour? How about two hundred? Five hundred? Would you believe me if I told you I could get you 1000 followers, and you won’t even have to lift a finger? It’s true. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. This is called “Like Inflation”. While it forced social media industry to focus more on engagement, it has become a self-inflicted wound in the social strategies of companies who see large numbers of followers and likes as the bottom line.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. You are a small company or just someone who wants to launch a social media page or account in hopes of getting attention from potential fans and followers. The problem is that without a large following to begin with, you think people won’t take you seriously, or worse, fail to recognize the legitimacy of your page or company. So you reach out to a company or person who can guarantee thousands of likes and followers for a small sum of money. The truth is they can deliver on their promises. Most of these services come from India where, for a small fee, several workers will log in and out of thousands of accounts to add likes or followers to your social media accounts. More efficient “companies” will have computers set up to automate this process. Your accounts will explode with false popularity literally overnight! The problem is the aftermath.

fb-edgerankSocial networks have advanced algorithms, like Facebook’s EdgeRank, that determine the “worth” of your posts by measuring the quality and frequency of engagement with followers, fans, and communities. The more engagement you have on your accounts, the better your posts and ads will do on news feeds an ad space. With Like Inflation, your accounts are suddenly littered with thousands of dummy accounts that have no real history of engagement or even real people behind the accounts at all! They are profiles made by a single person or corporate entity for the express purpose of selling likes and followers to small businesses hoping to gain an edge over their competitors, or simply to give the impression of popularity. Now when it comes time to spend some money on actual advertising, a vast majority of the news feeds you reach belongs to these empty, personless accounts. By the numbers, you’ve reached THOUSANDS of people, but of those thousands, a tiny percentage will respond. To the algorithms, your dismal engagement rate makes your posts very unimportant, which diminishes your social media strategies. In short, a short term solution will become a deep hole from which you’ll have to work much harder to escape.

logo1There are also online services like AddMeFast that advertise “Like Sharing”. You open an account and submit links from your social media pages that you want people to like or follow. By liking or following other users’ submitted links, you are granted points that act as currency, which you then spend when someone likes or follows the links you submitted. Users set the “cost” of their links between 1 and 10, and the higher point values are assigned greater priority. Sound like a great idea? Like and share with other active users – what harm can come of it? Well, it hardly stops anyone from creating dummy accounts simply to rack up points for their own links. And since any link can be submitted by anyone, you can even use “Like Inflation” to foil the social media strategies of your competitors. In my personal experience, services like AddMeFast are driven by selfish motivations, not active communities; there is no search function or filters for any of the links. They are randomly generated and serve no other function than being an AddMeFast ATM.

declineIf you find yourself in such a hole, there are some ways you can reclaim a foothold over your social media influence. One such way is paid advertising. By targeting the interests of your intended followers and creating visually appealing ads, you can increase the popularity of your social media accounts and direct traffic to your sites and landing pages. However, it might be very costly to maintain this strategy considering the time it takes to gather enough active users. A less costly method is reaching out to your customer base through email marketing. Many of these people may already be followers, but it’s worth it to reach out to those who haven’t responded yet and give them a little nudge toward your online presence. Although you pay for the mass email service, this method might be the closest thing you have to significant organic reach.

At the end of the day, it’s tempting to turn to an easy fix for the lack of social media presence, but they are short term solutions. Very short term. The whole point of social media marketing, the very essence of it is to be SOCIAL. Injecting fake accounts into your social pages is the same as filling an auditorium with mannequins for a lecture, then wondering why no one’s responding. You’re perfectly free to do it, but it will be a detriment in the long run.

The Importance of Media Literacy

What is the world telling you? Every day we are bombarded with an endless stream of advertisements and hidden messages from every corner. Magazines, billboards, radios, smartphones, and computers – these are some of the most common tools of persuasion, and they are tools found in nearly every home. We live a world dominated by media, both print and electronic. It is important that we arm ourselves with skills necessary to deconstruct what’s being placed in front of our eyes and get at the “truth” behind media’s motivations.

When you think about the advertising industry, you start to see that the relationship between corporations and consumers is almost high school in its structure. The corporations are the “in-crowd”, the popular kids who set the status quo and the rules of conformity, and the consumers are eager freshmen itching to be included. They play at your heartstrings, hinting at a need you never knew you had, then provide a solution to fulfill that need. In other words, they tell you, with the utmost confidence, that something is missing from your life, and they have just the thing to fill that void.

In this TED Talk with Andrea Quijada, she explains how you can between the lines of media in order to get at a message hidden beneath the marketing language. A commercial about purchasing a diamond ring for your significant other portrays the message that you can express your love in the form of an expensive piece of jewelry. The underlying message, however, seems to suggest that unless you purchase this expensive piece of jewelry for your significant other, you don’t truly love them, or you can never attain the kind of happiness portrayed in the ad. This diamond is the ultimate expression of love – the mark by which all love will be compared. Unfortunately for us consumers, we don’t always have a full orchestra to supplement our grand gestures. This kind of media bombardment promises you something more than what you have, and it instills a strong, yet temporary sense of urgency. These tactics would not be so effective if they weren’t so constant and pervasive (I’m looking at you, Hulu ads).

GOTHAMIST

Non-Traditional Journalism

I am a huge fan of Gothamist. It provides local news written and reported by the civilian population – local residents dishing out the latest news in their very own neighborhoods. While Gothamist does write articles on stories gleaned from reputable news sources, their original content offers up a very special brand of journalism and flavor. It is written in a language seasoned with inside jokes and references every New Yorker understands. It’s a wonderful system where everybody can be a journalist online! But it also breeds a serious problem: everybody can be a journalist online.

The Internet has the media working at breakneck speed, and unfortunately, Journalism has fallen in with the wrong crowd. Every news site rushes to get the story out first, and more and more often they start to get their facts wrong, or they fail to check their sources. The next time breaking news circulates, see how many typos you can find in their articles In CNN’s case, count the number of redactions they make over the course of reporting. It’s become a culture of “make mistakes first and ask forgiveness later”. We, the people, put our trust in the professionalism and vigilance of journalists. Too much trust. And it is that very trust that brings us to some of the most glaring problems in social media today.

Propaganda

snopesWe are very lucky to have sites like Snopes.com. Unfortunately many people don’t think to use Snopes to find out if latest Internet rumor tells truth or is a bunch of baloney. We’ve all seen it in our feeds: sensationalist titles linking to articles warning the population about spying devices in our pills, radiation leaks from Fukushima contaminating the entire Pacific Ocean and threatening the lives of Californians, or earthworm meat used in McDonald’s hamburgers. Did you believe them? Or did you do a bit of research and find out they’re all half-truths or a complete load of bunk? If you chose the latter, then you can wear your Media Literacy badge proudly. In our media-driven society, we need to question everything and view new information through a lens of skepticism and curiosity. Trust me, you do not want to be the next person to read a article or view a video by The Onion and not only take it seriously, but also announce to everyone on your Facebook page that you cannot tell the difference between journalism and satire.

Things to Remember:

1. Always check your sources. If you cannot find an objective and trustworthy source, take it with a grain of salt.

2. If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

3. Always check your sources.

4. You never knew you needed it until you saw the ad. What does that tell you?

5. Always check your sources.

Digital Natives Part 1

Are you a digital native? No one has agreed on a definite point on where the digital native generation began and where it ended, but in general it describes people who came in regular contact with computers at a young age sometime in the late 80’s and into the 90’s. They are now in the late 20’s to mid-30’s, and they are the pioneers of today’s social media trends.

So what characteristics do all digital natives share? The most important aspect is openness and an enthusiastic reception to new technologies, both hardware and software. While the older generations may view developing tech and trends with suspicion, frustration, and even fear, the digital native cannot wait to take it for a spin, check out its bells and whistles, and in some cases, find out how it can be broken! This behavior comes from their exposure to emerging software that don’t come with safeguards or pop-up warnings that tell them when their actions might be detrimental to the efficiency of their computer. They logged on to the Internet at a time when getting a virus was very nearly the worst possible thing that could happen! Everything was new, and they were thrust into open waters and allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

The Unsafe Internet

Internet services like AOL encouraged online interaction with chatrooms, instant messaging, and fun-sounding e-mail alerts.  Online predators and scammers took advantage of this anonymity, and from there the first chat bots were born. They had simple functions: find a username, send them an instant message with a link, and hope an unwary target clicks it. They often led to pornographic sites promising free access or downloads, and from there a vicious virus called a “Trojan” would be installed on your computer. This program scours your system for personal information, including IP addresses, usernames, and passwords, and it would send them back to the person who programmed the bot. Getting rid of the Trojan was more difficult in the 90’s than it is today because anti-virus programs were still building up their databases. Firewalls did not exist yet. If you wanted to keep your information and computer safe, you had to be vigilant and wary of anything and everything that pops up on your screen. If you find yourself staring at a link and wondering if it’s really your friend who sent it to you, then you might be a digital native.

The Internet and scammers are in a constant state of evolutionary warfare. Software that help protect you become more comprehensive and autonomous every day, and scammers find ways to step up their game to find cracks in the system. Before HTTPS existed, scammers would copy all the HTML on common and popular log in pages and create identical pages to trick unwary users into entering their usernames and passwords. The only way to tell for sure is to check the URL bar. Ingenious, really, and quite effective at the time. If you still check the URL of a log in page before logging in, you might be a digital native.

Personal Responsibility and Problem Solving

One defining characteristic of digital natives is the practice of personal responsibility when it comes to maintaining the optimal functionality of a computer. When something goes wrong, it’s not the computer that’s broken. It’s not a failure on the part of the software and hardware, it was something you did! And it’s up to you to find a fix. After you’ve exhausted every possible idea, that’s when you call tech support. Quite honestly it’s one of the most frustrating and satisfying aspects of being a digital native – frustrating when problems occur (and it’s most likely your fault), and satisfying when you fix it.

They younger generation tends to rely more on tech support or, in most computers today, the ability to fix itself by searching the Internet for a solution. But the moment the internet connection is severed, they’re at a loss. Like Marc Scott of Coding2Learn.org said in his recent article, kids say things like “The Internet is not working”, rather than “I’ve lost my internet connection” or “I can’t access the Internet”. Chances are the Internet is always working and there’s something going on with a) the computer and b) the user. If you check your network or browser settings today, there’s a fancy option of automatically detecting proxy settings and establishing an internet connection without you having to do anything. Back in the 90’s we had to configure these settings manually.

It’s not a matter of intelligence, but rather the baseline habits you’ve developed while using different technologies. Nearly everything comes prepackaged today: your operating system (that’s either Windows [Version Here], OSX, Linux, etc.,  young folks), the default anti-virus software, plug-and-play devices, etc. Think about it. When was the last time you inserted a CD to install a program that isn’t a video game? What about a 3.5″ floppy disk? Do you even know what a 3.5″ floppy disk looks like? Everything can be done with just a few clicks of the mouse, and for the digital native, these features are conveniences, not standards.

I realize this is a huge topic, and it’s going to take more than a single post to get this message across. Stay tuned for the next chapters on Digital Natives!

Buzzword #4: Trending

We’ve all heard about what’s “trending” on Twitter, but what does it really mean? Simply put, they’re the most popular topics of the day, hour, or even minute. It’s the conversation in a busy room that grabs the most attention, where a large group of people are paying the most attention and participating. It’s a massive communal dance floor where rings form around the most talented, flamboyant, or strangest dancers. So how can you predict what will be trending? You have to follow the news, whether it’s local, world, or celebrity. If President Barack Obama schedules a press conference about Swiss cheese, you can bet #swisscheese and #obamaswisscheese will trend. If a topic becomes extremely popular over a short period of time, it can take on a brief flash of viral status. However, virality occurs extremely quickly and stays popular for extended periods of time, whereas trending takes a little bit of time to build up and usually dies down in a day or two.

trendTrending topics are conveniently located on the left of your Twitter page along with their relevant hashtags. But how can this be relevant to you? With so many people throwing their voices and opinions into the mix, yours is likely to be drowned out, right? Well, unless you’ve got thousands of followers, that will most likely be the case, even if you throw out the relevant hashtags over and over again. So how do you set yourself up to be heard? It’s no guarantee (nothing ever is), but if you seek out the people or organizations that do have thousands of followers and reply to them, retweet their posts, etc., you increase the chances of being heard. At the very least you might grab a few new followers for yourself.

The social media sphere is like the ocean: dynamic with its ebbs and flows, filled with life, often polluted, and changing constantly. It is fickle, holds grudges, champions the most unlikely causes and topics…let’s be honest – the internet is a strange, exciting, and scary place. You need to learn to leap headfirst into the trending waves and hope you catch a really good one. If you’re lucky, you can become a celebrity for a day. If you’re already a celebrity, you’ll be the one making the waves.

Buzzword #1: Viral

Buzzword #2: Organic

Buzzword #3: Engage

Buzzword #3: Engage

speech-bubble-mdEngage. Seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it? The point here is not that you engage your customer or fan base, but how you go about doing it. We’re used to the idea of social media accounts being private or personal, but it’s becoming abundantly clear that everything you say and write can potentially be seen by anyone and everyone. The latest example of how social media engagement can go horrifically and spectacularly wrong comes from Amy’s Baking Company, or ABC, as illustrated in ZDNet’s article. It’s also a perfect example of something going viral in the negative spectrum (see Buzzword #1: Viral).

The potential for negative engagement is great, but the external and visible aspect of  social media can be used to your advantage! These accounts are windows and keyholes into your company’s operations, and they are the primary way by which fans and customers look in. This means you have a great deal o control over what they see, hear, and read about you. You show your hand first, and they engage you in response. If you pay your cards right, they won’t even know it’s happening.

There should be an ease to your interactions. Go with the flow. Be knowledgeable and professional to show you’re an expert at what you’re promoting. Be casual to show you’re a real human being with shared interests. While it’s easy to see just names on a screen, it’s imperative that you treat all your visitors as real, genuine people. They are your guests when they come to your page. You are a teacher and a helpful guide to those with questions. You are a friend to those who love what you promote. And remember this well:

NO ONE IS YOUR ENEMY!

KindDo not argue, and do not be defensive, offensive, or confrontational. Always be courteous, even in the face of dissatisfaction. If things get heated, take it to PMs (private messages). A majority of people will engage you in private messaging if you take control of the situation by making PMs the only place where they will get a response – and that’s ultimately what we’re after in social media, isn’t it? A response!  But don’t let the term “private messages” override any lessons you’ve learned. Anyone who knows how to use the “Print Screen” button can reveal the full contents of your conversation, and that’s the kind of power you never want to relinquish to anyone. Private or not, always be kind to everyone!

So how can you actively engage your fan base? Well, if an interest exists, there’s a group dedicated to it in social media. Facebook has Groups, Twitter has #hashtags, and Reddit has subreddits. Find these groups and become an active member. See how other members of these groups interact with one another and follow suit. The best way to market yourself and your product or company is to be as enthusiastic as your fans. You appear more trustworthy if you’re not just someone who works for your company, but rather an enthusiast lucky enough to land a job with them.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the next Buzzword!

Buzzword #1: Viral

Buzzword #2: Organic