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Filtering The Stream

Filtering The Stream

Simple question: Let’s say you live in a heavily populated metropolis, would you trust the neighborhood stream or creek for your drinking water? If you are like most people my guess is that you wouldn’t, not without a filter.

One of the main complaints about new media, and the twitteriffic, publish-for-pennies, information overloaded society that we inhabit today is that the information we have to consume is devolving in quality as the quantity has increased. The argument goes: with the advent of the “citizen journalist” any idiot can put their ideas out there and that brings down the quality of debate and information. When you no longer have to be the New York Times to be read, what stands between lies and falsehoods and widespread distribution?

Not only that but the trusted names that have deciphered the worlds information are facing harder times than almost any other industry. Major newspapers are struggling to maintain advertising revenue when competing with better targeted online advertising platforms. The millions of dollars spent on publishing and distributing facilities are beginning to make those institutions creak heavily under the weight of competition from lighter, more timely online operations with one-hundredth the costs. Business models that sustained these operations for hundreds of years now seem antiquated and even quaint, the domain of grand parents who enjoy black ink on their hands. So what is to become of the quality of information?

The answer is clear. As information distribution has been democratized, so will editorial discretion. Basically, I would argue, people will evolve to develop more advanced ways to filter the enormous amounts of available information. Humans will learn to filter their stream using an old method.

The methodology for this filter is quite an old idea, new technology has only grown up around it and empowered it. In his groundbreaking study of mass media effects, Paul Lazarsfeld penned a theory of consumption and effect of mass media called the “two-step flow model” for communications. The theory, based on his empirical research, basically posited the importance of human intermediaries, called “opinion leaders,” who effectively filter information provided by mass media for their peers. While today’s mass media has changed dramatically from the days of Dr. Lazarsfeld there seems little evidence that the role of key community opinion leaders has, and some examples exist of this role being expanded and formalized by new technology.

Facebook, the worlds largest social network, serves to connect people to their friends and to share things they find important with them. For those that fit the role of an opinion leader among their peers this formalizes the sharing of information and gives a perfect tool for doing so. This creates a social filter moderated by friends and family for worthwhile information to be distributed but which also creates a forum on which content lacking factual accuracy can be quickly met with fact and corrective debate.

Twitter, a social-broadcasting short messaging service, it’s roles very directly correlating with the “two-step” theory of communication: “mass media” to “opinion leader” to “followers.” Twitter has created an enormous network of easily accessed sources of information that are quality checked by one thing: their need to survive in that information ecosystem. Sources of “bad” information are filtered out over time, while sources of quality information are usually rewarded with a larger following and greater credibility.

As we adapt to a socially mediated world, where your own brand and credibility is based on the quality of the information you share, we will become more dependent on those around us to judge the quality of information. Editorial discretion will be informed by your colleagues, friends and family and those discussions will happen in a public forum.

This model, however, depends on one assumption: that those around you are more concerned with the merit and validity of arguments than their adherence to their own worldview. It depends on humanity to become good-faith arbiters of information of a high quality, not that of self-aggrandizement. It may be a fool hearty assumption, but I’m an optimist.


The ROI of Social Media: INFOGRAPHIC

Check out this nice infographic from MDG Advertising. (Click to enlarge) As I said in my post yesterday Social ROI is hard to calculate due to the multitude of purposes it can and will eventually serve for many companies. When looking only at Social Media Marketing, however, MDG has narrowed down some of the more complex questions facing marketers and compiled some great data to show how effective new media can be for outreach, customer engagement, closing sales, promotional campaigns and more.

Social Media ROI: It is what you allow it to be.

Social Media ROI: It is what you allow it to be.

Traditional business thinking likes to relegate business activities to specific areas of a chart of accounts, and in 90% of cases this remains a perfectly acceptable way to organize your business. The problem comes when you try to relegate the wide ranging work of “social media” to a specific function or line item: where does it fit? If you are thinking about it correctly it doesn’t fit anywhere specific, it is inside the organization and out, it is informing your decisions and it is making your decisions and messaging known. So, there are, in my opinion, organizational challenges for many businesses to properly understand where social media is making an impact and what exactly it is doing, and for whom. Even harder is putting a dollar number on the value of it to your organization to find that ever important Return On Investment for your social media dollars. So, where does Social Media fit into your business?

Social is not an Advertisement.

It helps to tackle this problem by taking a step back and asking whether traditional concepts of ROI apply here, a term which inherently relegates social media to a marketing role whether intentionally or not. Social outlets clearly play an important role to marketing to your audience and connecting, but it does so in a way far more akin to a phone call than it does to a Google Ad. They provide a communication channel between you and your audience/client/customer more than they do an advertising platform and for the first time in history we have relationships being built between customers and businesses based on stated need and stated ability, we know what the audience you are talking to is, what they want, and they have said this is the case themselves in personal profiles. This is a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties, and like online dating we are better matched today than we were in an age of blind television and radio advertising.

Simply put, you need to understand your audience’s interests with the available data, do your best to harness that data to speak to them in a targeted, clever way. And not to be trite, but content is king.

But the most important part of the available data is very simple: it is there, so you should use it. Listening. It is the biggest revolution of the social media age. As Max Nisen wisely notes in his piece on social media and decision making, businesses today are beginning to “increasingly getting their ‘social intelligence’ from thought leaders, web analytics, and social platforms.” (Read the full article) This activity, as it surely grows over time, will make profound changes to the way companies engage their customers in basic business decisions about products, services, or other important choices facing their business. It will feed the product development cycle, it will inform and perhaps act in place of traditional QA testing, and it will most assuredly make bad business decisions very, very clear. One is left to wonder, would New Coke ever have happened in an age of Social Media?

Social is a philosophy, it is a practice, and it is foundational. It is decision support.

Sure, these all sound a bit like a far eastern philosophy more than they do a business process, but the fact is that is where we are headed. Smart, and well capitalized, businesses today are already investing heavily in social intelligence ability. They are not only active on social media, and integrating it deeply within one or two business areas like marketing, they are implementing it internally and externally and creating a system of real-time shared intelligence connecting everyone inside and outside of the organization. Making smart, timely, decisions that are simply better informed than they would have been otherwise.

Back to Return On Investment

What is the return on investment of a telephone? What is the return on investment of your internet connection? These are similar to social media in important ways. First, they are crucial communications technology, and second gauging return on investment is a challenge for both. How much is the ability to make a clear phone call worth? How much are all of the tools that you internet connection make available worth to your business? What is the return on investment for having that capacity? Hard to say, but one thing is absolutely sure: You’re not going to run a business without them.

In truth, the short term return on investment may be quite low, especially for larger more established businesses stuck in an old world communications mindset, but as time goes on and creative approaches to product development, and social decision making become normative, it will quickly become clear these are tools worth their servers weight in gold.


Spotting Spam on Twitter and Facebook

Spam gets us all on occasion. While I am incredibly careful and adept at spotting it even my own Twitter account was notified of possible suspicious activity and being hacked.

You know the messages, we’ve all seen them. They typically involve some sort of friendly call to action, playing on your own fears of becoming an embarrassing internet sensation.”Did you even know they were filming you!? [add link here]”  These messages are cleverly tailored to seem like a friend informally letting you know of something you might find concerning, that you’ve been filmed, or photos of you or something of that nature, and they are prevalent both on Facebook and on Twitter.

The links, always a garbled mess of letters giving you no clue as to the source, appear as shortened links on both networks (despite Facebook not shortening URL’s) because it conceals the true URL which in many cases would betray the malicious nature of the content.

Learn to spot these traits, and be prepared for them to change. Computers and accounts are treasure troves of data for companies both legitimate and illegitimate, and it is relatively simple to lead most people into giving up credentials that protect that data. Here is how you protect yourself:


  • If you believe a message may be spam do not click on the link. Check with the person or account that sent you the link and ask them to confirm they sent it, if they do not reply or say no (generally people will know they’ve been hacked by this point) erase the message and move on with your life.
  • Never click on an unsolicited link, even from good friends and the message is incredibly enticing. Always double check they sent you the link, and ask what the content is. Maybe awkward, but it’s better than dealing with a virus.
  • Twitter: Be careful whom you grant access to your twitter account. Those login pages that are required for all those apps you use? They are all possibly malicious. Be vigilant, make sure you trust the company you are granting access to. If not, look it up and be sure it is legitimate.
  • Always check the URL of sites asking for username and password, especially if you are there as the result of an email link or social media link.

How to fix it:

Twitter: When you are hacked on Twitter, generally speaking it is because you unknowingly gave up your username and password information to a malicious app creator. To avoid this only sign up for apps that appear legitimate. If you are hacked, however, you should proceed to twitter settings > App Access > scan the list of apps to be sure nothing sketchy is there. Once you have cleared the suspicious app from access, immediately change your password.

Facebook: If Facebook believes you’ve been hacked they will generally shut down your account temporarily. To regain access, follow these instructions from them:

If you have any questions about any of this, feel free to let me know at


What We Should Remember Today – 9/11

September 11th, twin towers
Written for the 10th anniversary of 9/11

Ten years later we are reminded once again that our world is determined by the actions of man. Not just those twenty-two who boarded planes ten years ago today, but my actions and yours determine exactly what kind of world we live in today.

Ten years ago today my sister, theologian and author Dr. Courtney Cowart, sat at her desk across the street from the towering buildings so many used to guide their way in lower Manhattan. My dear brother Robin Cowart was boarding a train with his music blaring determined to have a great day at work near the South Street Seaport. I had just walked into french class and it was the most remarkably beautiful day.

Within hours we would all be running. Not just me or my siblings, but all of us, every living being in this country would begin running from the frightening boundary of humanity that none of us could confront but were forced to in the course of one morning.

Then it began happening. Random acts of human redemption. The homeless of New York converged on the Chapel at St. Pauls, a Chapel that stood without a single broken window just 30 or 40 feet from where the twin towers had stood only hours before, with their cups of change determined to give literally everything they had in the world to give. My dust covered and distraught sister, having just run for her life from a tumbling destruction none of us could understand, now walked uptown nearly seventy blocks and was continually stopped by complete strangers expressing what can only be called a natural love for each other by saying “thank God you are alive” and embracing this person they had never met.

That love was amazing in its power and it was everywhere. On the floor of my dormitory hall every door was open and every shoulder available as we all instinctively knew the only way forward was together. Indeed we had no one else. We were separated from everything we had ever known and were now cast into a remarkably changed world. There was a determination that day to prove the goodness of us all to watch over thy brothers and sisters without concern for the differences we might have or the distance that we normally attempt to maintain.

We all realized two things that day ten years ago and in the ages to come we should never forget it. The first thing we realized was that evil did indeed exist in the world, but the second and far more important lesson of that day however was not the evil that was present but the immense power of love and generosity within our human family.

I was forever changed knowing what good we are capable of when we are reminded how petty our differences really are. Today remember the good that can be and the actions required of us all to make this world a right and just place for every single one of us. ten years later let us be reminded that our world is made of your actions and mine.

The Mores of Twitter: Do’s and Don’ts

The Mores of Twitter: Do’s and Don’ts

Some folks enjoy spending their day on Facebook, seeking out the latest photographic evidence of childbearing friends or a maturing high school sweetheart, and yet others spend their time on LinkedIn looking for that ever elusive next job. I, myself, am a Twitter user to such an extent that most clients designed to service the medium annoy me precipitously with their limitations. If you don’t know what that last sentence means I think you have a lot to learn from this article. Twitter is a broadcast medium, designed to provide a 140 character-limited soapbox with a, nearly, barrier-free way to reach around the world if your message is well tailored, relevant and clever enough. It provides you a way to find conversations on almost any subject and join them, or simply eavesdrop, without it being rude. It allows you to inform yourself in real-time on nearly every major news event and it will do so with greater efficacy than multi-million dollar news productions can. It can be whatever you make of it. But like so many new media outlets it has a bit of a learning curve. For instance, what in the world does “RT” or “MT” mean? How did that person send me a message so quickly so enthusiastically praising their own blog!? Why are all these pretty, scantily-clad women all of a sudden sending me messages randomly? Am I really that cool? (Spoiler alert: No.) This is my attempt to pass on what knowledge I have scrounged up on the subject after about 4 years of borderline obsessive Twitter activity and 52,712 tweets. Now 52, 713.

Things you can do, but shouldn’t be proud of…

  • #TeamFollowback: FOLLOWBACK OMGGG!!! There is a method for obtaining large numbers of followers called the “followback” method. The followback method is simple: follow the hashtag #TeamFollowback and follow everyone there, who will in turn “follow back” and therefore contribute to your follower count and make you look like you’re awesome. Sounds great, right? Wrong. Followback is easy and cheap, but the relevancy of your follower base is completely useless. Most of the people using this method tweet overwhelmingly about following back, and will annoyingly tweet people to remind them they haven’t followed back, and many of which will do this without hardly ever actually tweeting content. This method is also wholly apparent to anyone that takes the time to wonder where your followers came from, as you start to realize after seeing “followback” in every, single followers Bio.
  • TrueTwit validation service: This is a service allowing you to block all new followers until they have responded to an auto-direct message (see Auto-DM) proving that they are human. Great idea, right!? Not so much. This feature does nothing more than simply protecting your tweets, a service provided by Twitter itself in a far more effective way, but does so in a way that is mildly humiliating your new followers (“I am so totally human dude, hope you allow me the follow you!”) before they have even followed your first tweet. If you want a barrier to protect you from spam, then protect your Twitter account through twitter or simply monitor your interactions tab, don’t spam your new followers Direct Message box with a request to prove they are a human being.
  • @FFHelper: Follow Friday is kind of a Twitter tradition. The IDEA of this tradition is to promote those people whom you follow that you truly value and believe others should know of. The REALITY of this is a devolution into a series of tweets on Friday’s (and, annoyingly, other days as well. “#FOLLOWSATURDAY” God, just stop) filled with meaningless lists of usernames that encourage no one to take any action whatsoever, aside from possibly blocking or unfollowing you for borderline spamming the timeline (TL) of your followers. Follow Friday Helper (@ffhelper) is a service that will ruin #FollowFriday (aka #FF) for you and everyone around you by spamming the timeline of your users with meaningless lists of people you follow without you even having to care enough to do it yourself. This, ironically, is a great way to advertise how little you actually care about the people you follow. Don’t do it.
  • Beg for RT’s: If people like your content they will Retweet it, do not barrage people with messages and ask to be retweeted. If you aren’t being retweeted, work on the quality of your tweets and a more relevant follower base to the subjects you are tweeting on. Only exception to this rule is asking for help in supporting a good cause, such as raising money for cancer research. In that case ask people to RT all you want, it is for a good cause after all.

Things you DON’T do on Twitter:

  • Modify the substance of a Tweet without noting the change: (See: Attribute Tweets Appropriately under Do’s) This is perhaps my largest pet peeve on Twitter. Using RT before a message with my username is the same as attributing a quote to me, if you attribute your own words to someone else you damage the brand of your follow Twitter users. This is the same, fundamentally and morally, as creating an account pretending to be someone else for whatever reason without noting it as a parody or a fake. Your credibility is all you have on Twitter, it is your word, and if you tear apart someone else’s words without notifying those you are broadcasting too you are a liar, plain and simple. Important note: this only applies, in my rulebook, when you have altered or changed a word or the substance of the message, but not when you have truncated a word or even part of the tweet as that maintains the substance of the tweet. You know very well when you have done one or the other. Attribute content properly.
  • RT Your Friends, Don’t Steal Tweets: We’ve all seen it, or suspected it. You Tweet a breaking news story, or some fascinating and obscure link, and all of a sudden a long time follower of yours posts the EXACT same link and perhaps even the same text. We live in a world of unclear content ownership and sharing rules, but this one is very clear ethically: Give your friends the RT and give them credit. Twitter is about lifting up those who provide us the best information or content, and an important part of that is giving them the promotion of associating that content with them. Taking their content without credit, as said above, makes you a bad person. So don’t do it.
  • Auto-DM: The automatic Direct Message is the message you receive imploring you, in a sincerely worded but impossibly responsive timeframe, to “follow me on my blog” or “be my friend on Facebook” or “check out the enormous melons on my farm website!” When someone follows you they are interested in following your tweets, nothing more, and shamelessly promoting your personal brand in an unsolicited way is spam on Twitter just like anywhere else. Don’t do it.
  • Spl ot wrds gd dmt: Can you read that? Well, it’s still a bastardization of the English language. Writing well on Twitter is no different than it is on paper or Microsoft Word, and requires you to, at the very least, try to spell out your content in full, plain English. Use correct spelling and punctuation where ever possible, if you can’t perhaps make it a two tweet message or learn the meaning of the word “brevity.” If you simply can’t spell I suggest a spell checker or an English class. The quality of your content speaks to your own sense of self worth, don’t let people know how little you think of yourself by attributing mutilated English to your own intellectual abilities.
  • Spam, or acting like Spam: Spammers generally have formulaic, enticing account bio’s, will follow you en masse, and Tweet you with messages like “ha ha look at what this person is saying about you!” Some are so poorly programmed that they simply mention your name and send you a link. If you click on these links you are swimming in the unfortunate end of the gene pool, sorry to inform you. If you emulate these methods, especially by sending mentions or DM’s to people without the courtesy of even a brief message and simply provide a lone unsolicited link, you are highly likely and deservedly going to be blocked and reported as Spam. Don’t do this.
  • Judge Another Users Choice of Language: America is a free country, and Twitter was made in America. People are free to make their own decisions, whether they are good or bad decisions, and your moral obligations to the F word have absolutely no bearing nor limiting effects on that liberty. Sorry to inform you. If you are appalled by the alternative descriptive noun for feces, or the more offensive form of the word copulation, then I suggest you not follow people who curse like a drunken Irish sailor. Ok, I don’t sail, but you get the point.
  • Pay for Followers: This is the Twitter equivalent of prostitution. It wrecks the medium, gives you completely irrelevant ghost account followers, and often times comes with serious downsides like auto-tweets to your timeline or even viruses and account hacking. Don’t do it.
  • LOUD NOISES!!@$#@#!@$: Don’t tweet in all caps. It makes you look like a screaming, raving lunatic and raises peoples blood pressure leading, possibly, to the death of an elderly person. Inside voices, Brick Tamlind.

The Do’s! 

  • Don’t Do Social, Be Social: The height of irony is to join a social media platform and continue your anti-social behavior by never saying hello or asking how a fellow tweep is doing. Sure, you do not know most of these people (if you are doing it right, anyway), but that should not keep you from forming a relationship beyond the selfish interests of promoting your content or clever wit. Reach out to those tweeting around you, be vulnerable on occasion and ask advice, show your followers you are there for more than yourself. It is a community like any other, contribute accordingly.
  • Have a profile image and a Bio: This is one thing that is often overlooked by most of the newer members of the Twitter community, and is effectively the same as coming to a party with a bag on your head. Your profile image and bio represent your brand on Twitter, and is often the first thing besides a tweet that anyone will see of you; don’t make the mistake of informing people you are too lazy to give a golly about who you are and what you represent. Having a bio that clarifies what you like to share and read about often helps ingratiate yourself to your desired audience and will, without question, lead to more followers. Be up front, be honest, and be yourself. People dig that kind of thing.
  • FollowFriday the right way: If you are going to follow the #FollowFriday tradition do NOT simply send out lists of users in hopes people will find that enticing enough to take that all important action of actually following those people. Spoiler alert: No one cares about that list of users you just Tweeted unless you do and show it. If you want to promote people do so with a kind message relevant to the content they tweet and include no more than one or two people in that promotion. This is a complete pain, I know, so if you don’t care enough to do it that is fine. But if you want people to know you value them, show you value them, even if Follow Friday barely ever produces actual results for those you wish to promote.
  • Attribute Tweets Properly: Know these: RT = ReTweet: I have copied this tweet from this person and changed it in no substantive way. MT = Modified Tweet: I have copied this Tweet but may have changed the substance or wording in some small or large way. H/T = Hat Tip, this means you found the content, usually a link, due to the user you’re mentioning and want to give them attribution, but they have little to do with your actual message. Attributing content is incredibly important and the rules are simple: don’t attribute content to people that they didn’t create, and do attribute content to people who deserve the credit. Twitter is about building audiences based on the quality of your content, if you take that content and don’t attribute it appropriately than you, in no small way, destroy the very foundation of the medium. So, in short, give credit where credit is due and ONLY when it is due.
  • Use #Hashtags: Anyone that knows me well enough to know my personal Twitter account knows that I am an aficionado of the #hashtag. Hashtags do many things, they create shared and followable conversations or communities, can be fun games, or can be used to follow live events with other users. For instance there are a slew of hashtags used to denote political affiliation or to reach groups of a political persuasion, such as #p2 (progressive) and #tcot (top conservatives on twitter), and can help you reach out to groups both large and small and grow your audience in relevant ways. Seek out hashtags relevant to your personal and professional interests and follow them or, alternatively, when you are watching a live event look for a designated hashtag and follow along with the rest of the peanut gallery. Hashtag games are great ways to get your name out there and are usually snark laden hashtags responding to an event or personal failing of a person or group of prominence, get into it and have some fun and you will build your audience.
  • Show New Users Love: New users are now where you used to be: that is, they have no followers nor idea what they are doing here. Show them some love, give them advice where needed, and promote them if you like their content. This falls under the Golden Rule of tweet others as you would be tweeted.
  • Twitter Clients: Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Seesmic are long time Twitter clients that many power users utilize for management of large follower numbers. You are able to lay out a number of streams, for instance mentions, search streams or DMs, and monitor them without having to click back and forth between pages…ahem Tip: If you can, get your hands on an older Adobe Air based version of Tweetdeck as this is the finest management tool in use today, the newer version of Tweetdeck is reviewed here and is far less functional.
  • Utilize Lists: Lists are a brilliant way to organize large rivers of incoming data, i.e. the messages of the 3,000 people you follow, into digestible, well-organized streams formed in whatever way you’d like to organize them. Personally, I maintain a “favorites” list of followers I want to be sure I hear from as a lot can be missed with 4,000 plus people feeding your main stream. But I also have a list for local users in Atlanta, Tech tweeters, political tweeps, etc. This will help you continue to enjoy Twitter past that 1,000th person you choose to follow.
  • Twitter Retweet versus the Old Style RT: Twitter doesn’t like the old style Retweet format, not quite sure why, but they have been trying to design it into non-existence for some time. Their iPad app won’t even show you if your content is Retweeted in the “official” way at all. Thanks Twitter. But to break it down: you have the old style RT which is occasionally referred to as “quote tweet,” or Retweet with Comment, which is traditionally someone else’s tweet with their username and RT preceeding it, and you have the “official” Twitter API Retweet which simply passes the tweet you like along to your followers. Wherever possible you should use the old style RT (learn the difference here) and here is why: When someone uses the “official” Twitter RT they do not receive credit for passing that information along if that tweet is then Retweeted by someone else, the only credit is given to the creator of the content. Old style RT attaches your username to the Tweet, while maintaining credit for the author, which then allows people who pass along the content further to promote your username along with it. Few people will admit this is a goal, but self promotion is half the point of the medium so let’s not kid ourselves.
  • Take advantage of live events: Political speeches and debates, breaking news stories, election nights, TV show premiers, or your upcoming convention all share a high level of energy around shared interests you have with others. Shared interests means ample opportunity for new followers, and the high energy surrounding these event often induces people to get a wee bit follow happy. So jump in, find the hashtag, and take part in the excitement. You’ll have more fun than you might imagine, trust me.
  • If at all possible, become remarkably famous: When your album sells a million copies your Twitter account is going to be huge. There are many reasons for following this advice, unless you are an ornery hermit, but this is the easy way to get your followers up. This doesn’t mean you are worth listening to, ahem Kim Kardashian, but it will contribute positively to your follower count, self-esteem, message reach, and is far more of an aphrodisiac than a high follower count.
  • Anonymity: You may want to maintain some level of anonymity on Twitter for numerous reasons. For instance, I’ve already dealt with a Canadian stalker intent on distributing my home address to people he had angered intentionally, but you may also be looking for a job, afraid of blowback when your employer finds out you are a flaming liberal, or perhaps want to curse profoundly on occasion without affecting your personal brand. For some people this will not be a concern, professionals specifically, but for those of you here to have more fun be careful: Twitter is well search optimized on Google and there are crazy people everywhere.
  • Be a good person, not a Troll: Don’t bully people, don’t trash people for no reason, and don’t contribute sheer negativity to the Twittersphere. These people are called Trolls and are rightly blocked. Behave in this community like it is your neighborhood: don’t trash it and don’t burn down the neighbors house.
These are all the suggestions I have at this point and should help all of you looking to become viciously addicted to Twitter or simply those that would like to up their prowess. If you have things to add to this list feel free to leave me a comment or contact me via the contact page, I’ll be happy to post it with proper attribution!

Save the Ta Tas: The Susan G. Komen Foundation and The Importance of Identity

Save the Ta Tas: The Susan G. Komen Foundation and The Importance of Identity

As a company, or organization, you have to know who you are; this is as important to the health of an organization as it is to the happiness of a human being. The intuitive sense of what you are, who you are, what you are doing and who you are doing it for are absolutely essential when it comes to connecting to your audience in authentic and lasting ways. The holy grail of marketing, brand loyalty, lies therein.

This week we have witnessed an organization learn this the hardest of ways as the Susan G. Komen foundation, an organization dedicated to women’s health and focusing specifically on preventing and curing Breast Cancer, created a policy to bar grants to “organizations under investigation” and applied it to a single organization: Planned Parenthood. Despite the Komen Foundation claiming, repeatedly, that political leanings or beliefs had absolutely nothing to do with the decision to cut the grant eligibility of Planned Parenthood the facts, two in particular, tell a different story.

The first of these facts is the controversial hiring of a former Secretary of State for the State of Georgia Karen Handel, who had called for cutting funding of Planned Parenthood while running for Governor of the State of Georgia, only months before the decision to do cut funding was made at The Komen Foundation. The second of these facts is that the policy under which this decision was made is widely said to have been created by Handel to target Planned Parenthood specifically. The new “no investigations” rule was applied to only one organization, Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that they also provide $7.5 million in grants to the University currently under investigation for very serious child rape allegations, Penn State, to which this new policy apparently did not apply. The legitimacy of the investigation given as a reason for this is highly questionable in comparison and is called a witch hunt by most. This was widely seen as an attack on Planned Parenthood which is, by definition of it’s mission, understood as a very direct attack on women and women’s health.

In this moment The Susan G. Komen Foundation made a fatal flaw: they forgot who they are, what they do, and for whom they do it. By cutting these grants, which funded nothing more than breast cancer education and lifesaving mammography for low-income women, they stopped providing a lifesaving service at the very core of their being, attacking the essence of their identity. By cutting these grants, seen widely as a targeted attack on Planned Parenthood, they undermined their relationship with their core constituency: women. The Susan G. Komen Foundation turned its back on a long history of non-partisan, and highly productive, action in the service of women’s health to very clearly pursue a counterproductive political matter having nothing to do with their core mission and which actually went against it.

This decision did not go well for The Susan G. Komen Foundation. Much like the decision to release New Coke in 1985 did for Coca-Cola, this decision immediately raised an unimaginable uproar of fury that spread across our world of social media with astounding speed and ferocity. Within moments a hashtag game on twitter began creating #NewKomenSlogans. Calls to completely cut off support for the Susan G. Komen Foundation came from friends on Facebook as well as members of Congress of all stripes.

Executives of the organization defended the decision rather weakly, making vaguely bizarre arguments about the need to have control over funding decisions and adhere to their mission. But it is impossible to defend a decision that subjugates the core of your identity and being, in this case the health and wellbeing of women, to a new and unevenly or disingenuously applied policy.

In the end, as I’m sure they saw fundraising numbers drop off a cliff like Wile E. Coyote, the Susan G. Komen Foundation reversed it’s course. It was a good, if not inevitable, choice. You can’t raise money for something you are publicly announcing you won’t be doing; it is also a challenge when your core constituency feels you have sided directly against them. Regardless of how you stand on the issue of abortions politically it is clear from a business perspective, that is from a branding, identity and constituency point of view, this was the gravest mistake they could have made. Do not turn your back on yourself or risk the ground dissolving beneath your feet.

Know thyself, don’t stab thyself. Save the Ta Tas, nothing more and, certainly, nothing less.

Stop SOPA and PIPA: The Blackout

Stop SOPA and PIPA: The Blackout

In this new world of sharing and social engagement there has long been a struggle over protecting the freedom of the internet and it’s users and innovators and the rights of those who create content such as movies, images, music and written material.

Because it is a lot easier to share 100 copies of a new album today than it was when you had to dub 100 cassettes this new world of online piracy has, indeed, become a serious problem for content creators all over the world.

However attempts to cure this problem, specifically SOPA and PIPA, have serious consequences for the new world we have created and all enjoy. The world of social innovation has been built on the free exchange of ideas and content and our very right to free expression lies in the ability to share with the world.  I would go a step further in saying that access to the information of the world is a step toward creating a larger shared intelligence for humanity, however those innovations stand in danger of being revoked in the name of protecting the rights of a comparatively few copyright holders. This would place a burden on any website, including Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook etc. to assure that no pirated content of any kind is being hosted or shared within their networks or servers; it would also require that any outbound link was not to a source for pirated material of any kind, an impossible feat for sites that see billions of shares a day. It would make a world of sharing disappear in short order.

I invite you to learn more by visiting Wikipedia’s write up on the subject here:

You can also search for your congressional Representative and take steps to help avoid passage of these bills or any like it:

Social Customer Service

Social Customer Service

This morning, upon entering the office and beginning my regular work day, I realized that we were experiencing strange network issues with our Comcast Business high-speed internet. We were intermittently losing our connection repeatedly and quite frustratingly.

Now, like many in today’s world, I am not a fan of taking time out of my day to pick up the phone and call a support staff. There are many reasons for this:

  • Phone calls are not efficient: You will generally spend 5 to 10 minutes waiting in a cue or navigating highly obnoxious automated operators, often times with no escape hatch to simply reach a person.
  • Getting lost in translation: You’ve all experienced it, the very kind but hardly fluent Service Representative based in New Dehli, India. Often times communicating basic information about your problem can be incredibly difficult because of accents, a lack of clarity on the user side, or a stubborn representative forced to follow a procedural list regardless of your level of knowledge.
  • Dropped calls: Ever waited twenty minutes to talk to a Service Representative, taken another twenty minutes to explain a problem, been put on hold for another five minutes, then had the call drop? I had a close friend have that happen 3 times during one simple service call. In a world where mobile is king this is an even greater problem, and rarely do companies take your number to call you back and, when they do, that call often comes ten minutes later.
  • Voice service is a waste of your businesses time and that of your clients and customers: Communication is less clear, your Representative can only manage one or two calls at a time, calls are dropped, clients are angry from wait times, etc. Time to move on.

On top of all of that we live in a real-time world where your clients expect immediacy. Given all of these clear facts, and the explosion of communications technology, why do so many companies cling to a medium invented in 1876 to serve their customers? Sure, you have your older customers that will still want a phone call, but you can change your world and likely lower costs embracing new technology. There is a better way. I, instead, reached out using social networking service Twitter.

Social Customer Service Done Right

Being that I have the patience for customer service of your typical twelve-year-old child, yes I admit it, I have a keen eye for companies that offer to save me the time and hassle that is a phone call. There are two methods, in particular, that I find save me an incredible amount of time and which likely cost the companies offering them very little to maintain as well as offer a big sales point.

Live Chat Support

In the last year I have moved to a new hosting company, given a number of moral and service level problems with my previous host, called Site5. As I have moved on to them and worked to learn some of the nuance of managing their back-end application for managing my products and services I have, of course, ran into questions and issues I was not quite genius enough to figure out on my own.

There were two methods through which I reached out the company, the second, Twitter, I will discuss in a moment but the most effective has been their offering of “live chat support.” This tid-bit of technology has been around since the last millenium yet is so sorely under-utilized as a customer service tool it is embarrassing for MBAs around the world. It is very simple, once logged into my management portal I click on the “Contact Us” button and it allows me two options, one is to call, the other is to chat live with a representative that very moment. I have solved every problem I needed to solve, and answered every question I needed to answer, within 5 to 10 minutes flat using this method. Never once have I needed to pick up a phone, and every time the chat box contains a picture of my Representative and their full name. A nice personal touch in an increasingly impersonal world. I can also save that chat for later reference, saving repeat calls for similar issues.

This method also works well for companies that outsource their customer service as it removes the, very common, language barrier that is the bane of your customers very lives.

Twitter Feedback Engagement and Support

This is a much newer medium than the last, yet has proven incredibly effective for me in matters from product feedback to solving service issues. Site5, the company I discussed above, responded when I tweeted I was taking them on as my new host and that response came directly from their CEO, who pleasantly welcomed me. There are so many things right with that I cannot begin to explain to you why. I have had a similar experience recently in seeking to provide feedback for the new Tweetdeck software, a Twitter client I use far more frequently than my email inbox. Although I did have to seek out the twitter account of the CEO, an exceedingly helpful British gentleman by the name of Iain Dodsworth, he responded and took my, quite negative, feedback and thanked me for providing it and helping better inform his company on future development. @Tweetdeck never did respond, odd for a company owned by Twitter.

That, however, is only one reason why I believe all companies should be actively engaging their audiences, customers and clients via Twitter. It is a great sounding board, yes, but it also serves a dual purpose when you turn it into a customer service portal. When you help a customer or client on Twitter it is being done on a public medium, and therefore, prospective customers see how helpful your company is. You solve your existing customers problems, quickly and effectively reassuring their purchasing decision, while advertising a value proposition for the services you offer to those they follow.

Here too I have a great example of this in action. This brings us back to my earlier story of intermittent internet access this morning. Our service is with Comcast, given my distaste for the consolidation of media companies this should frankly not be my favorite company, however their embrace of Twitter for customer service is nothing less than brilliant. Within mere moments of tweeting to @ComcastCares and @Comcast this morning that I was experiencing problems I was in direct contact with a service representative named Bill. I sent a direct message containing the pertinent account information, taking two seconds of my time after he requested it, and within about 5 to 10 minutes I had a call from Comcast to set up a service appointment for the next morning. They had already diagnosed the problem and I didn’t have to waste my time listening to hold music while they did so. Problem solved, efficiently and with little pain and time costs for everyone involved.

The Wrong Way To Do Social Customer Service

Tomorrow I will, very likely, receive a phone call from my Netsuite representative, a wonderfully helpful woman who I will not name but I want to be clear is the most helpful person we have worked with from Netsuite. She will be asking me to please not tweet or write complaints about the company, and of course channel my communications through “official” means. It has happened before. A few months back I tweeted that their hosted ERP platform was not functioning for us and we were unable to reach the data backbone of our company. I simply reported the outage, which turned out to be an odd internal DNS problem, via Twitter and asked for any help they could offer and any outlet providing the status of their servers. I did not hear a word from them, via Twitter or any other means, that day and a Google search returned no server status information for their services. What I did find is a horrifically designed company blog that proved entirely useless for my needs. Keep in mind, this is a Customer Relationship Management company. How delightfully ironic. I tweeted my displeasure with the design of their blog and, of course, kindly offered my design services.

The next day I received a call from our client representative sounding somewhat alarmed. “Hello Simon, Did someone from your company yesterday have trouble with Netsuite?” she kindly asked. “Yes, we did have some trouble yesterday” I replied. The conversation went on from there and she asked if anyone had said something on Twitter, I of course responded in the affirmative. She went on to request that in the future I should use their contrived ticketing system that was, of course, not available given the outage we experienced. “Please, only report problems through official means” or something of that nature was her basic request. I politely said that was impossible at the time, and that I wouldn’t have held back my public feedback even if it had been.

Welcome to the new world people. The most effective way to handle this problem is have a technically competent person running your Twitter account, and authorized to answer such simple questions, rather than waiting a day to call and complain about the medium through which the problem was reported. Again, I want to be clear this is not a complaint about our Representative, she has been incredibly helpful over the years and we are very happy with her service to our organization, this is a company policy problem for Netsuite. You are a customer relations company, give up control and learn to adapt to new modes of relations! I should also note that Netsuite does not even offer phone support to customers, despite requiring over $1000.00 a year, when discounted, to offer support at all. You are doing it all terribly wrong.


Phone communications are cumbersome and time consuming. Ticket systems are contrived and limit communications in ways that are even more frustrating for your users. Email, often times, comes with a bold warning that no one is listening to your complaints when you respond to them. It is ridiculous, the means through which we often are forced to reach the companies purportedly serving us. Don’t even try to reach Google, they don’t care.

I understand companies still need to serve older generations used to older forms of communications, however, that is no excuse for avoiding new media. New media is cheap, efficient, and has marketing potential to boot.

We are in a new world, a user-centered world where an individual can reach out to thousands to complain about your companies failures, or successes. It is also a world in which communication is brilliantly simple, cheap, fast and effective when done right. Some companies see this as an opportunity and take it on with great aplomb. Others have clearly seen it as a dire threat to their ability to control communications, a futile concern as you, frankly, have no control. All you can do is manage the tidal wave and manage it well. Which of these two paths is your company on?

New Tweetdeck: Prettier, Sure, But A Whole Lot Dumber

New Tweetdeck: Prettier, Sure, But A Whole Lot Dumber

Let me tell you the story of how I first came to understand the true power of the Twitter platform. It was thanks entirely to a widely used desktop client called Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck was a tool that arranged the information Twitter has to provide and presented it in an incredibly helpful and efficient way. In one twenty inch LCD you could hold six streams of information without any scrolling, all updating in real-time in later versions, and monitor trends in real time as well with Twitscoop or Twitter Trends. It, arguably, created the wildfire pace of breaking news we have today.

So, on to my story. In the beginning Tweetdeck utilized a simple word-cloud tool called Twitscoop as a source of “buzzing” words being tweeted at a given time. It showed you, in real-time, what was being talked about across the world right that minute. On this particular day, as I watched, the phrase “Los Angeles” and the word “Earthquake” began to grow larger on my screen. “Oh no” I thought, as my brother lived in Los Angeles. I quickly clicked through to view tweets causing these trends, and voila, I was informed as it was happening that a small earthquake was shaking the City of Los Angeles. Within 2 or 3 minutes of it occurring I was able to call my brother to check on him. Not a single news organization I would have seen in Atlanta carried that news at all, yet because of this information tool I surprised my brother by checking on him within minutes of it occurring.

I had never seen a more brilliant information delivery system in action, and I was instantly hooked to Twitter thanks solely to this tool and, yes, my own info-mania.

This continued to be the case as events unfolded around the world making Twitter the primary news driver, in many cases, including the Iranian elections in 2009 and, later, the Arab Spring. This level of access to raw input was directly transforming that world. Tweetdeck more than anything helped make that clear.

Indeed, I had not even utilized Twitter, aside from signing up, until I found Tweetdeck. It arranged your information, made everything you wanted to know available to you with a very small number of clicks and usually just a short scroll of twenty or so streams I maintained. These streams included the regular mentions and timeline of various accounts, but also important information like “New Followers,” Twitscoop, Favorites, Trending, and Searches. While you were monitoring the immense amount of data this client made available to you, you could create a new tweet without disturbing your ability to monitor it. It made twitter a far more dynamic platform, with a huge number of preferences that you could customize to your liking, and it gave power users a highly useful management tool that could also include a host of other social networks.

Tweetdeck 1.o

This is where this story becomes a tragedy. Twitter, as I am sure most readers of this piece will know, recently bought Tweetdeck and finally released a “1.0″. We had all spent months waiting to see what Twitter would do with this powerful tool that, without question, helped make Twitter what it is today.

The first thing they did was rebrand Tweetdeck to match Twitter branding. Great, everyone likes the color blue. Second, they fundamentally changed the product into, essentially, a multi-stream version of making it nearly useless to their core power users. I will list exactly how they did this, and specifically note which changes make it no longer a viable tool for my use.

- DEALBREAKER: The update box now opens on top of your data, disrupting you from monitoring any information while you tweet, therefore making voluminous tweeters unable to monitor their tweets a majority of the time.

- DEALBREAKER: The preferences have been limited for simplicity. So simple, in fact, that there aren’t any. You can turn off Twitter Streaming (oh thank the lordie, wouldn’t want to live in real-time!) but you cannot adjust notifications in any way, placement of the composition box, make twitter RT’s viewable, adjust size of the streams to fit more information…nothing. You can add accounts, change image and link shortening clients, and add filters and that is all. Simpler, dumber and far less useful.

- DEALBREAKER: They have limited what streams you can add to your “deck” including:

  • Removing any way to monitor trends passively, such as Twitter Trends and Twitscoop. You can monitor a specific trend but there is no longer a way to monitor what is going on in the world.
  • You cannot monitor your “New Followers” to see if you want to follow them back or block spam accounts.

-  DEALBREAKER: You can no longer view “Twitter Style” retweets in any way. Tell me, how does Twitter buy Tweetdeck and remove this feature that they invented? If you are into thanking your RTers or at least care to know who’s listening, as many are, it is imperative you know that it occurred.

- Tweetdeck used to provide options for each stream, now you can forget about the best of those. Notably “What’s Popular,” and “Filter This Column,”  have been removed. Finding specific tweets or filtering streams in any way are gone. Now you can only move a stream, clear it, or change notification settings.

- You can now only add Twitter and Facebook accounts. That is 1/3 of the type of accounts you used to be able to manage through Tweetdeck. Google Plus or LinkedIn didn’t make the cut, I suppose.

- Because of the new larger design you can, at best, monitor no more than five streams on a 20 inch monitor at one time.  This makes the design less compacted aesthetically, to be pretty, but makes it less efficient and cuts into the tools core purpose.

- Tweetdeck is no longer available for Linux Operating Systems.


Very simply Twitter has dismantled Tweetdeck as a suitable tool for power users, the core of Tweetdeck users. By taking out each feature that made this client so immensely necessary for anyone seriously needing a tool to manage their online persona, they destroyed the product and created something imminently less useful and less effective.

The bottom line is this product is no longer at all suitable nor useful for power users of Twitter. The core of the product, delivery of key information efficiently, is no longer the goal of this client apparently.

I have not yet found a single user that prefers Tweetdeck 1.0. But hey, at least it looks pretty with that Twitter bird on it, and that’s what really counts. Right?