Showing all posts tagged social-media:

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 However, even the product page is confused, with an outdated screenshot (looks like the same one as in the tweet) at the top of the page, but a link to a demo in the sidebar that uses a rebranded screenshot.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.


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. 


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.

The social net

I was interviewed a little while ago about how I used social media at work. I had been meaning to expand upon that post for a while, and today I finally got around to it.

I use social media a lot, because I live in a small city in northern Italy, so it would otherwise be impractical to try to keep up to date on what is going on elsewhere in my industry, let alone trying to join in that conversation. The thing is, there are many different media and different ways to use them. Here is how I do it.




Find me on Twitter: @dwellington

Twitter is undoubtedly the power tool of social media. It’s good for talking shop, but also for just messing around. You can have conversations or flamewars, get help, get support, or be told to get lost. However, Twitter also has a fairly steep learning curve for first-time users. When you get started, you have an empty feed, and the initial suggestions of people to follow are unlikely to be helpful.

My suggestion is to find people you know in real life or from other media, and follow them. As you see what they post and who they interact with, you will branch out and start following others - and probably unfollowing some of your early follows. Don’t be shy about joining in conversations, either. Twitter is inherently public. However, don’t necessarily expect everyone to answer your @-mentions, especially at the beginning.

The value of Twitter builds slowly over time, and in proportion to the effort you put into it. As you prune the list of accounts you follow, watch hashtags, and build yourself lists, interesting content will start coming to you. If you have sufficient presence, people may also start bringing things to your attention proactively.


Find me on LinkedIn

Many people consider LinkedIn as the online equivalent of a CV, updated only for major promotions or job changes. In actual fact there is a lot more to the service than that. You have the opportunity to build yourself a public track record of engagement on particular topics, which can be much more valuable and differentiating than simply having had a certain job title for a period of time. Share content that is relevant to your area, whether you wrote it yourself or found it online. The engagement from your network of contacts (likes, re-shares and comments) will tell you whether you are hitting the mark or not.

LinkedIn also lets you follow companies so that you keep up to date with what is going on at your prospects or competitors. The Pulse tool will give you a good idea of what’s hot right now across your network.


Find me on Google+

Google+ is an odd case. You can’t ignore it because it’s Google and so it’s searchable everywhere and what-not, but at least for me, there is little value there. Visually-oriented people seem to like it, so if that’s you, go nuts. For me, I find the text snippets to be exactly the wrong size for browsing, and the community is a bit lacking. However, especially if you blog, you will want to share your posts via G+ purely for the SEO value.

Find me on @dwelling was supposed to be the hip alternative to Twitter once Twitter was over-run by civilians. Initially it was only available for pay, which definitely gave it a clique-y atmosphere. Eventually it opened up a free tier, which I signed up for, but I have to admit I find its value extremely limited. If they decide to close down my free access, I won’t pay to be able to stay on.

To me, Foursquare and Facebook are exclusively for personal stuff, but I’m listing them for completeness.


Foursquare is a location-based social network which allows users to check in to locations. I use it mainly as an aide-memoire, so that when someone asks me several months later "what was the name of that cool café in Istanbul?", I can just scroll back in my check-in history and find out. I also use it to keep track of tips people give me, saving recommendations to the built-in to-do list.


Facebook is private, for friends only - so no link. I’m in enterprise software, so my work content is not in the least relevant on Facebook. I use it to keep in touch with distant friends, and that’s pretty much it. If you’re doing something consumer-oriented, your mileage may vary.



Buffer is a useful little tool that lets you share posts to a variety of social networks at once. I use it to cross-post, typically to Twitter and, plus one of LinkedIn or Facebook. I generally have short sessions of social media use in between other tasks, so Buffer lets me distribute shares over time instead of having a spurt of activity followed by silence. Buffer also lets you schedule your posts for specific times, so you can target posts for times when e.g. people will be awake in Silicon Valley, or whichever time zone is relevant.


Find me on Newsle

Newsle lets you follow people and get an alert whenever they’re in the news. It’s a good idea to follow prominent executives, founders, VCs, and the like to keep up with what is going on in the industry. You just set it and forget it; Newsle will e-mail you when there’s a match, and only then.


Evernote is a fantastic cloud-based note-taking tool. If that doesn’t seem useful, you have a much less complicated life than me, for which I envy you. I use Evernote all the time and across all my devices. It lets me take notes immediately, it tags them automatically with locations and such, and lets me search past notes for context. It lets me set actions and reminders for follow-up directly in the note. It syncs to the cloud so the quick note I dash off on my phone can be edited at leisure using a proper keyboard on my MacBook Air and then reviewed on my iPad on the flight home. Sign up for a free account with the link above and we both get extra space.

As well as its main apps, available on any platform you care to name, Evernote also has a slew of related services which sync with its notebook and tag structure. Skitch is a drawing app for quick sketches which also lets you annotate PDFs. Hello is a business card scanner: take a picture of the business card with your iPhone, and it OCRs it and searches LinkedIn for matches. You can also enter notes for the conversation and be reminded of it in the future. The Web Clipper is a browser add-on that lets you send clips or entire web pages straight to Evernote. Finally, is a blogging service which links to an Evernote notebook. To create a post, simply create a note, edit it as normal, using Markdown if you want to get fancy, and then tag it with "published".

Basic usage is free, but premium gets you all sorts of extra features which are well worth while. Put simply, Evernote is my go-to platform to organise my life.


Newsblur is the RSS reader I settled upon when Google Reader went away, taking with it the various services it underpinned. It gives you 64 sites for free, but I paid for the upgrade to get more sites, full-text posts, and other services.


Instapaper lets you save web pages for offline reading without formatting. That’s all it does, but it does it very well. Someone sends you an article that looks interesting but you don’t have time to read it right now? Forward it to Instapaper, and next time you’re in a queue or in the lift or whatever you can read the article on your phone. If you don’t finish it, you can pick it up from the same point on your iPad at home.

It can also be worth while to forward pages to Instapaper that have a reader-unfriendly presentation, since it strips out all extraneous formatting.

Nowadays Instapaper also supports video, further extending its usefulness to me.


In line with what I said earlier about interesting content coming to you, Flipboard is a magazine that is dynamically assembled for you on your iPad based on your interests. Give it your Twitter and LinkedIn feeds, add some specific sites that interest you, and let it do its magic. After a bit of training, it’s pretty much guaranteed to have several interesting reads for you every time you open the app.

I hope this will be helpful for someone. Ping me on any of the networks mentioned above if you want to continue the conversation.

Image by Chris Sardegna via Unsplash

Aggregators or scams?

I'm an avid Flipboard user. Together with e-mail, RSS via Newsblur, and NextDraft, it makes up my everyday breakfast reading. You'll notice that Facebook and Twitter are missing from that list; that's because I rely on those apps to notify me of any events from my close friends or interactions with me, and otherwise consume their output within Flipboard itself - or via Siftlinks.

I saw this interesting article by Matthew Ingram.

In a nutshell, some publishers see Flipboard (and to a lesser extent Currents, which isn’t as popular with users) as middlemen that piggyback on their content and siphon off value — including a relationship with readers — that would otherwise go to the publisher.

I couldn't disagree more. The entire premise of being against aggregators like Flipboard is that without the level of disintermediation that the aggregator inserts in the relationship, we the readers would be spending our time directly on the originating sites. This is simply not the case. I don't have time to open up 61 browser tabs - that's how many RSS feeds I have in Newsblur, without even counting Flipboard - and check each one for updates, and filter any updates for relevance and interest.

I have honed ("curated", I suppose, although I dislike the associations of that word) my Flipboard sources and RSS feeds so that I can usually open those apps and have interesting content surface for me. The key point is that this is not restricted to sites like GigaOM or The Economist, which each get a dedicated section in Flipboard. I also get to see all sorts of content from outlets that I don't subscribe to, that has been shared, retweeted or commented upon.

The key thing is that I am also extremely likely to share or retweet that content myself, because I'm already in Flipboard and it's easy: it already has the ackles to all my social accounts, so it only takes a couple of taps plus the time to pare down my comments to 50 characters or so. This provides the source with traffic, and high-quality traffic at that because it comes from a personal recommendation, rather than fighting for precious pixels on the home-screen or trying to get newsletters through spam filters or whatever other way of attracting off-site traffic.

The likelihood of me spontaneously visiting Talking Points Memo, whose editor triggered the linked GigaOM piece with his anti-Flipboard comments, is vanishingly small. However, if someone I follow tweets something of theirs, there is a good chance I will engage, and I might even browse around their site a bit looking to see if there's anything else interesting.

As it is, though, feel free to build a wall. The thing about walls, though, is that they keep people out.

Image by Charlie Foster via Unsplash