Showing all posts tagged social-media:

A New Law

I was hanging out on LinkedIn, and I happened to notice a new pop-up, offering to help me boost my professional image with new photo filters.

My professional image may well need all sorts of help, but I do wonder whether this feature was the most productive use of LinkedIn’s R&D time.

Maybe this is the twenty-first century version of Zawinski's Law:

Every social networking app attempts to expand until it has photo filters. Those apps which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.

(I did not use the filters.)

What is Twitter for?

In today's "wait, what year is this again?" moment, Twitter is once again trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up - and because it’s Twitter, of course it did it in public:

The company's CMO, Leslie Berland […] in a speech at CES 2017 […] aimed to redefine Twitter and explain why 317 million people use it every month.

And what ultimate definition did Twitter’s CMO come up with for her big speech?

"So, we were a platform, a product, a service, a water cooler, a time square, a microphone, and we are every single one of those things"

Ugh - why not just say it's a dessert topping and a floor wax?

It does get better, as Ms Berland at least recognises the category Twitter needs to be playing in:

"The first thing we did is we actually took ourselves out of the social networking category in the app stores and we put ourselves where we belong, which is news"

After the year we have just had, I don’t think anyone can deny that Twitter is where news happens. US president-elect Donald Trump does not take to Facebook every morning to post his rants, and the Black Lives Matter movement did not start on Instagram or Snapchat. Twitter is a news platform, as is underlined by its asymmetrical nature.

Now there's dessert topping all over the floor

On a true social network such as Facebook, relationships are symmetrical and transitive: if I am your friend, you are also my friend.

On Twitter, that is not the case; I follow accounts that do not follow me, and I have followers that I do not follow. Twitter is where news is made, announced, and discussed; that is its role and its value.

Didn’t we go through all of this last time?

Twitter is not a social network. Not primarily, anyway. It’s better described as a social media platform, with the emphasis on “media platform." And media platforms should not be judged by the same metrics as social networks.
Social networks connect people with one another. Those connections tend to be reciprocal. […]
Media platforms, by contrast, connect publishers with their public. Those connections tend not to be reciprocal.

Now what?

The issue for Twitter is, as ever, how to monetise its role at the heart of the news cycle. Arguably it is shackled by the misplaced expectations of early investors who were looking for another Facebook. I for one hope that they manage to extricate themselves from their current difficulties without getting borged in a totally inappropriate acquisition by Google or whoever.

In particular, these investor expectations for continuing exponential growth are suspected to be interfering with some much-needed changes to curb ongoing abuse on the platform - whether simple problems like follower spam, or the truly nasty harassment that many experience every day. Both of these activities can look like user engagement, at least from a distance, potentially discouraging their prevention.

This is the strategy tax that Twitter is paying: the choices that it finds difficult to take today, because of the choices it made in the past. Some suggest that an acquisition would both inject some much-needed cash, and help break this trap.

I disagree. Twitter needs to be its own thing, not Google's latest attempt to buy more social visibility for itself. There is value in Twitter just being Twitter, if Twitter's management can figure out how to unlock that value.


Image by Daria Shevtsova via Unsplash

Finding My Audience

The perennial question when creating #content is where to post it so that it will get maximum traction and build the author’s personal #brand. Back in the dark ages of blogging, when I first started out, the received wisdom was that you needed to post to your own server, with your own domain name, and pretty nearly roll your own CMS to manage the blog - or just hand-code every single entry.

These days, the buzz is all about big platforms like Medium and LinkedIn. Even Coté has given in and moved to the bright lights of Medium. So I decided to try a little experiment and post the same piece on my own blog, on LinkedIn, and on Medium. It’s pretty much exactly the same post in each case, except for minor differences like footnotes and a different header image.

So, what happened?

The results seem pretty conclusive: on my own blog, I got 22 unique users looking at that post. On Medium, I got a whole 6 reads. And on LinkedIn, I got 132 views, 18 likes, and 5 comments - well, 4, because one of those was me responding to someone else.

Pretty conclusive.

In fairness, the subject matter of that post is well aligned to LinkedIn, and perhaps less so to Medium, but the disparity is huge, and very significant - unless LinkedIn is counting something different than Medium and Google Analytics are. I feel I gave each post roughly the same amount of promotion via social media (very little), so it’s more about how each platform presents its content and how users interact with it.

Medium is just too much of a firehose for anyone to be able to engage with everything on the site, and its recommendation engine seems to focus on popularity rather than relevance. It may also be the case that I just haven’t fed it enough metadata, but writing only for people who spend time relentlessly honing their Medium preferences seems like a losing game.

There are other reasons not to write on Medium, too. Remember the old saw: if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product, not the customer. In the case of Medium, writers and their #content are definitely the product.

Of course a similar situation exists with LinkedIn, but the point there is to raise your professional profile, no matter how much some might disagree. What I am doing there is absolutely professional self-promotion, and so my interests and the platform’s are perfectly aligned in a way that is not the case with Medium.

Regardless of the numbers, I’ll be keeping my own blog for posting things that don’t fit with LinkedIn - but anything that I do want to get out there is getting posted natively to LinkedIn from now on, not just linked from there.


Image by sergio_rola via Unsplash

Misunderstanding Tools

The sour taste in my espresso this morning is courtesy of yet another dudebro tech VC, opining about how ties are uncool, maaaaann! and basically nobody should write on LinkedIn.

If you have a tie on in 2015, it probably means you are a salesman in a non-transparent industry and are generally not to be trusted at any cost. When I see a tie on somebody, I get that funny feeling you get right before the dentist. Let’s face it, the people left wearing ties every day are the confidence-men stealing your money. Think insurance, financial services, bad shoes and, of course, car salesmen.

Well now.

I am on record as not only a tie wearer, but also a tie apologist. To quote myself once again:

In fact, suits & ties are actually the ultimate nerd apparel. You have to put some effort into shopping, sure, and they tend to cost a bit more than a random vendor T-shirt and ancient combats, but the advantage is that you can thereafter completely forget about wondering what to wear. You can get dressed in the dark and be sure that the results will be perfectly presentable. If you want you can go to a little bit more effort and inject some personality into the process, but the great thing is that you don’t have to. By wearing a suit & tie, you lead people to pay attention to what you say and do, not to what you are wearing. And isn’t that the whole point?

This mindset of “distrust anyone dressed like a grown-up" is just one more symptom of the Revenge of the Nerds chauvinism that is rife in the tech industry. The nerds complain about being victimised by the jocks, but it’s not the victimisation itself that they object to, it’s just being on the receiving end of it. “They mocked me for dressing differently from them, but now I mock them for dressing differently from me! Haha, I win!"

No, no you don’t win. You just look like an overgrown, entitled man-child. Grown-ups wear ties as a sign of respect to one another. If some sleaze balls wear suits & ties, that is because they are trying to fake that respect - but just because something is faked, does not mean that it’s not aping something real.

If I visit a customer or a prospect, I am a guest, and I dress and act appropriately. I’m not more “genuine" or “passionate" if I show up in jeans, sneakers and a Zuckerberg-approved hoodie. If I’m doing it right, my passion and competence will show regardless of what I wear. Today, wearing a hoodie to work is not transgressive or cool - it’s just imitating a more successful person. And let’s not even pretend that your hoodie doesn’t get judged for materials, cut, brand, etc., as much or more than suits ever were.

Basically, he is wilfully misunderstanding what people use LinkedIn for and why they would want to write there. Yes, it’s an advertising tool - that’s what we are all there for! LinkedIn is buttoned-down, professional me - although I like to think that I still put some personality in there. Twitter is where I let it all hang out, and talk about what I am up to at work right beside books, music, and whatever has got the Internet in a bunch lately.

Amusingly, Dudebro VC's piece ends up being an example of exactly the sort of writing he decries, since it’s a listicle:

1) LinkedIn has become a giant branded entertainment platform for selling us crappy fake expertise.

2) Crappy writing

3) No real authentic sentiment

4) LinkedIn notifications are predatory

The real kicker is at the end, though, where he says that it’s perfectly okay for him to write a listicle, because it’s not on LinkedIn, plus he got paid for it and doesn’t care about how many times it gets viewed.

Firstly, this is insultingly disingenuous. Writing this sort of flamebait, custom-designed to go viral and provoke reactions1 and then making a big show of turning away and not watching the ensuing furore is a cheap trick - but one that is perfectly in line with the rest of the piece.

Secondly, this is pretty transparently elitist. He's attempting to pull up the ladder behind him, mocking anyone who has not achieved his supposed level of clout in the industry. What he is saying with this piece is, if you’re a big shot, you can wear a hoodie to work and be paid for your opinions. If you have to dress professionally and are still having to work hard to get your opinions out there, you’re a loser.

Just in case you thought Martin Schkreli - he of the 5000% drug price increases and one-off Wu-Tang Clan albums - was an outlier: now you know that he is not. There are plenty of utter tools in VC.


I also took special pleasure in cross-posting this piece to LinkedIn Pulse, just to make my point one more time.


Image by Olu Eletu via Unsplash


  1. Such as this one - hi! Congratulations, it worked! 

Social Reaction

I talked over the previous post with my wife at lunch, and she had a good perspective. Since I don’t do comments on my blog, she wrote them down and sent them to me by email.

Take it away:

While I understand your point and I think it comes from a good place, I cannot agree with your conclusions.

Yes, sponsoring a message with any kind of mistaken data (be it a logo, a price, or any kind of valuable consumer info) is a big "faux pas", especially coming from a big company, one that should have a working structure, and enough work force to enable that structure to talk through its various organisational changes.

Yes, not talking to each other is bad.

Yes, brand messages, and “content" at large, should be shaped by the people who know about it, and live and breathe it every day.

This is all very true, except that you seem to forget that packaging that message, and distributing it in the right way is just as important.

What is worse? getting a message that is not quite correct, or getting no message at all? I would argue they are both bad. So here's the deal: in my experience there are two sides to communication - one side is about the vision, and the other is about the execution. One side cannot thrive, or even function, without the other. In social media that means knowing your audience, targeting your readers, breaking down the message to suit different platforms, and also dealing with a lot of conceited people who think they can judge your work by the number of likes it gathers. Sounds familiar?

We have all been guilty of trivialising social media managers’ jobs, because the very concept of spending all your day on Facebook as a job is worth a laugh, while grumbling about our own jobs in communication being trivialised by others. Like those others were, we also happened to be mostly wrong. The message is a company's most valuable asset, but it needs to be packaged and delivered so that people can hear it and receive it and make it theirs, otherwise it is just as worthless as the wrong logo on a sponsored post.

If you have thoughts, you can find her on Twitter as @mrscwellington.

For my part, I agree with her qualification: I lumped content and delivery together, and criticised a situation where the delivery had actually worked pretty well, but the content had fallen down. As my wife cruelly and correctly noted, my own delivery is not that hot1 - Google Analytics says I got 105 unique visitors in the last month, which is about typical for this blog but not exactly setting the internet on fire.

I do think my main point stands: that the disconnect between the two aspects of social media is a problem, and can be taken as a symptom of a more general issue of barriers between different parts of an organisation that should be working much more closely together.

Since I still don’t have comments, if anyone else has thoughts, please hit us up on Twitter.


  1. My wife took mercy on my fragile male ego and refrained from commenting on the content here. 

Social Professionals

This morning I found an interesting promoted tweet in my timeline. I added some magnification around the bit that caught my attention:

This isn’t interesting so much because of the subject matter - I no longer work for BMC, and even when I did, I had very little to do with Remedy. It’s the logo there, in the magnified area.

Notice how it’s different from the logo at the top of the tweet? The orange one is the new BMC logo, while the blue one is the old logo. The rebranding happened more than a year ago, and though it takes time for a change like that to make its way through all the products, Remedyforce has indeed been rebranded. However, even the product page is confused, with an outdated screenshot (looks like the same one as in the tweet) at the top of the page, but a link to a demo in the sidebar that uses a rebranded screenshot.

This sort of thing happens all too often in large companies, as generalists simply cannot keep up with everything and delegate to specialists. The results, however, can be ugly, as in this case. The web and social media teams are now far removed from people who actually know and understand the products that they are pushing, so they end up using screenshots that may be a year old without even realising it. Worse, maybe they do realise it - web design people may well pick up on the different logos - but don’t have any channel to request updated screenshots in a timely manner.

Startups are different.

At startups people care deeply about what they are doing. I’m sure there are exceptions, people who are just in it for the gamble and the hope of a big payoff on IPO day, but by and large people join startups because they care about solving a particular problem. I just read a fantastic piece by Steve Albini on this very topic:

“Like a bakery opens because a guy wants to make bread. A tavern opens because a guy wants to serve beer to people. That’s why people start businesses."

In this environment, everyone is close enough to everyone else, and is emotionally invested enough, that things like this should not happen.

So what? It’s just a screenshot!

It’s never “just" anything. It’s a symptom of a way of doing things. In a big enough organisation, this sort of disconnect happens all over. R&D gets out of touch with what customers are actually using the products, or what they expect from the next version. Finance has no view into how customers like and expect to pay for the products they use. This is how disruption happens and keeps on happening, even though by this point everyone knows at least the Twitter version of the theory.

Why do you hate BMC???

I’m not picking on BMC in particular1, it just happened to be the example that caught my eye today. I know the web and social teams there, and I know they will be mortified when someone brings this to their attention, and work hard to fix it. The problem is not with the people or their professionalism; the problem is with the structure they are placed into.

This gives me the opportunity to trot out one of my favourite quotes:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

-- R. A. Heinlein

History has shown over and over that massive centralised command and control looks good in theory, but tends to get messy in practice. The way things work best is not with massive, monolithic structures that attempt to do everything. Instead, look for small teams of people who own and care deeply about every aspect of something, and make it easy for them to work well together.

Today this sort of focus is easier than ever, as the technical underpinnings are there to enable good integration between different services. The technical term is “composable services". Take an example: I work for a startup, but we still need to do expenses. However, we didn’t build or buy some creeping Orrible thing; we contract with a third-party vendor who takes care of that. They give us a fantastic app that we can use to take pictures of receipts; then the app OCRs them, we tag them, and we get reimbursed. It’s fantastic.

Same thing with travel: we have a service that takes care of all of that, giving users a pleasant experience while delivering low prices (I checked) and compliance with company policies.

url.jpg

Wait, didn’t you just undermine your own argument?

It might look like I just contradicted myself. I started out railing against the separate web and social media teams that are too far away from the product teams, but still within the same company. Then I started praising actual external companies, that aren’t even under the same company umbrella! So which is it: is specialisation good, or bad?

The key difference is in the Steve Albini quote above. People who care deeply about something focus on that one thing. The people at our travel service care deeply about that, and when I had some questions during the early days of adoption, they were answered rapidly and in a way that made it clear to me that I was dealing with someone who really cared and knew what they were talking about, not someone who was just going through the motions or delivering against a number they had been given.

Conclusion (finally!)

Social media represent the public face of an organisation. Handing that over to professionals may seem like a good idea, but ultimately it’s a self-defeating move. Most social media pros are good at social media. If you go looking for advice about how to get more reach for your blog posts or whatever, you quickly find that it’s all inside baseball: people using social media to promote their blogs about social media, so they can attend events about social media and discuss the nuts & bolts of social media.

If you want to use social media to have a conversation about something else, all of this is of relatively limited utility. And if you’re a company, remember that people come to social media to have conversations, not to be sent press releases. Whatever you are selling - bread, beer, or software - your social media “guru" won’t be able to answer questions or jump into conversations if they don’t understand and care about that specific thing.

If you want your social media efforts to be effective, everyone in the company should be doing it, not a small nominated group of pros. This is the only way you can get real engagement and true conversations going.


Reaction to this post - from my own wife, no less - in a follow-up here.

Debug mode for humans

I have been speaking a fair amount of German lately for one reason and another, both socially and professionally. I find casual conversation much easier, especially when well lubricated; my Bierdeutsch is super-fluent!

Delivering a professional presentation is completely different. It strikes me that speaking in one's non-primary language is like running in debug mode, at least in my experience.

First of all, I am conscious of various different threads, all running at the same time but at different speeds: what do I want to say, how am I going to phrase it, what is the word I want, make sure it isn't a "false friend", make sure the case of the adjective agrees with the noun that supports it, don't forget the verb at the end, … None of these are fully synced up, either (except at the height of Bierdeutsch), so there is also a monitor thread watching all of these other threads. Speaking on a serious subject for any length of time in a language you are not fully comfortable in is exhausting.

Interestingly, it seems that there is some reality behind the metaphor of debug mode. Certainly it seems that reactions in a non-primary language are more considered and less subject to empathy, according to a study in PLOS ONE: Your Morals Depend on Language.

This is a really interesting finding, if you think about it for a moment: our thoughts are dependent on our ability to express them.

At its extreme, of course, this turns into 1984's Newspeak. According to Orwell,

"the purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods."

Could this mean that it is also possible for us to train ourselves to be better people by expanding our vocabulary and our facility with it?

People have been known to worry about the impact of the internet in general, and social media in particular, on "culture", for want of a better word - but one overriding aspect of the internet is that to participate, you need at least a minimum level of comfort with language. To emerge and to excel, you need mastery.

In other words, Twitter and Facebook will save us - by forcing people to think.


Image by Florian Klauer via Unsplash

Privacy? on the Internet?

Periodically something happens that gets everyone very worked up about privacy online. Of course anyone who has ever administered a mail server has to leave the room when that conversation starts, because our mocking laughter apparently upsets people.1

The latest outrage is that Facebook has apparently been messing with people's feeds. No, I don't mean the stuff about filtering out updates from pages that aren't paying for placement.

No, I don't mean the auto-playing videos either. Yes, they annoy me too.

No, it seems that Facebook manipulated the posts that showed up in certain users' feeds, sending them more negative information to see whether this would affect their mood - as revealed, naturally, through their Facebook postings.

Now, it has long been a truism that online, and especially when it comes to Facebook, privacy is dead. The simplistic response is of course "if you wanted it to be a secret, then why did you share it on Facebook?". This is, of course, a valid point as far as it goes. The problem is that the early assumptions about Facebook no longer hold true.

Time was, Facebook knew about what you did on Facebook, but once you left the site, you were free to get up to things you might not want to share with everybody. Then those "Like" buttons started proliferating everywhere. Brands and website operators wanted to garner "likes" from users to prove their popularity, or at least the effectiveness of their latest marketing gimmick ("like our site for the chance to win an iPad!").

It turns out that on top of tracking what you actually "like", Facebook can track any page you look at that has a Like button embedded. Given that the things are absolutely everywhere, that gives them probably the most complete picture of any ad network out there.

Then Facebook changed their news delivery options. It used to be that "liking" a page meant that you would see all their updates. Now, it means that about 2% of the people who "like" the page see the updates - unless the page operators choose to pay to amplify their reach... Note that these pages do not necessarily belong to brands and advertisers. If your old school has a page that you "like", in the expectation that you will now receive their updates, you're out of luck. Guess you'd better arrange a fundraiser at your next reunion to gather cash to pay Facebook. On the plus side, you have a built-in excuse for poor attendance at the reunion: "ah, I guess they were in the 98% that Facebook didn't deliver the notifications to".

And now Facebook have gone whole-hog, not just preventing information from reaching users' feeds, but actively changing the contents of the users' feeds - in the name of Science, sure.

This is far beyond what people think they have signed up for. There is a big difference between being tracked on Facebook, and being tracked by Facebook, everywhere you go. The difference is not just moral, but commercial. After all, tracking users across multiple websites has been standard operating procedure for ad networks for a long time now. If you've ever shopped online for something and then seen nothing but ads for that one thing for a month thereafter, you have experienced this first-hand. It's mildly creepy, but at this point everyone is pretty well inured to this level of tracking.

Being tracked by ad networks is different from being tracked by Facebook in one very important way. So far, nobody seems to have figured out a good way to make money with content on the internet. A few people do okay with subscriptions, but it tends to be a niche thing. Otherwise, pretty much everything is ad-funded in some way. Now, banner ads can be annoying, and the tracking can get creepy, but at least the money from the ad impressions is going to the site operator, who provides the content that keeps us all coming back.

The "like" button subverts this mechanism, because it's just as creepy and Big-Brotherish, but none of the money goes to the site's operator. All the money and data go only to Facebook, who are even now trying to figure out how to modify your feed to make you want to buy things. Making you feel bad was only step 1, but not everyone goes straight to retail therapy as a remedy. Step 2 is hacking our exocortices (hosted on Facebook) to manipulate the "buy now!" instinct directly.

If you enjoyed this article, please like it on Facebook.


  1. If you don't know what I'm talking about, let's just say I really, really know what I'm talking about when I say you shouldn't send credit card numbers in the clear, and leave it at that. 

Are you KIDDING ME?

all the trigger warnings

There is a Facebook page entitled "Elliot Rodger is an American hero" (no link, but you can find it easily enough). Facebook offers the ability to report pages that are harassing, so that's what I did - and look what their response is!


Apparently this page does not violate Facebook's Community Standards. These would be the same standards that get people in trouble for posting pictures of mothers breastfeeding, or the kids' bath time.

To quote from those Community Standards:

Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.

I would say this is pretty obviously hate speech and not humorous in the least. Look, this isn't 4chan. I have no doubt there are already one million animated gifs of kawaii kittens acting out Elliot Rodger's shooting spree, complete with "Never gonna give you up" on the soundtrack, but that's expected over there. If you have no rules, that's what happens - but if you set rules, guess what? People expect you to enforce them, universally and fairly.

This isn't quite my "boycott Facebook" moment, but it's one more broken thread in the string that's holding me there.

A face full of palm

It has long been clear that users of TrueTwit did not understand social media. On the other hand, everyone had assumed that TrueTwit themselves did understand social media. In other words, that they were not misguided, but actively evil.

We neglected to consider the possibility that they might be both evil and misguided. Exhibit one:

By the way, this is why you should not auto-favourite and auto-retweet content. You never know what your robot might slurp up and spew out for the whole internet to mock.