‘Sell out’ is a term with a bad connection to it- it means that something that you loved and thought was special has become swallowed up by corporate greed and will now become watered-down junk. Usually, we think of sell-outs as musicians or bands who sign major label deals and put out lousy music after showing initial promise but this also gets used with tech companies who get gobbled up by big corporate entities. Fans of these services think that their beloved tech perch will now be dictated by evil CFO’s and their quarterly reports which demand profit over innovation and may mean the end of the unique and quirky features that originally drew users to these services.
The same crying and worrying is now happening with this very service that you’re at right now, Tumblr. Yahoo plunked down serious money for this blogging site and we see that they’re ready for jeers that they would receive for doing so, using this as a headline: “Yahoo buying Tumblr for $1.1 billion, vows not to screw it up.“ Of course, that didn’t stop some of the online community from crying foul and already predicting that Tumblr will be compromised because of the deal.
Indeed, some of the tech media has also responded to this deal suspiciously, seeing what the impetus behind it might have been. As Gigaom speculates, part of the reason for the deal is that ‘Yahoo is desperate’:
“(Yahoo head Melissa) Mayer has made some changes since she took over the ailing former web portal… but the company still needs to make some aggressive moves if it is going to jump-start any growth at all. And since Yahoo has about $4 billion in cash on hand, it can arguably afford to make a big bet.”
But, as Business Insider notes, this also means that Tumblr itself has money that it desperately needs now and that Yahoo itself now can have its foot in the door in the mobile market (which it also desperately needs), which means this might be a win-win scenario for both companies, at least for now.
As another plus, as Gigaom notes, is this sale also means that NYC (aka Silicon Alley) just got a big boost as a great outpost for tech innovation now. With all of its financial and creative resources, Gotham has been a resource that’s been waiting to become a powerhouse in the tech world so that might be the beginning of that trend (or so we New Yorkers hope).
The main reason that I’m not buying into all the hate that’s being piled on Tumblr and Yahoo right now is that, at least for the time being, it sounds like the big company and the bought-out company know that messing up a good thing isn’t in either of their interests- read that ‘screw it up’ headline again for proof and also note that Mayer has also said that she’s OK with the fact that some Tumblr users aren’t going to necessarily become Yahoo fans. That isn’t to say that at some point, the relationship won’t change out of desperation or because of a new CEO but for now, a wait-and-see approach at the very least is the smartest one to take before a massive exodus from Tumblr begins. I’m willing to keep my blog here and keep staking my claim as such. That’s at least one vote of confidence for this new merger.
There was surprise and relief when millions of people heard about the women who were freed from a kidnapper in Cleveland. There was also an interesting reaction from McDonald’s about the incident on Twitter. The man who helped to free the women happened to be enjoying a meal from the fast food chain at the time he helped them out. Reacting to this, McDonald’s had this to say on Twitter:
“We salute the courage of Ohio kidnap victims & respect their privacy. Way to go Charles Ramsey- we’ll be in touch.”
As you can see from the link above, the reaction from users was mixed. Some praised the company (and Ramsey), while other users used the word “shameless” in relation to McDonald’s and scolded the company (“You’re playing tragedy for PR”) and wondered about privacy issues (what does ‘we’ll be in touch’ mean exactly?).
This USA Today article similarly took a mixed view of McDonald’s tweet with some of the PR people interviewed praising them while others condemned them.
So, did McDonald’s make a smart PR move or not?
Think about this- do you think that their PR team would have created a TV ad based on the incident? Of course not.
How about a public statement from the company about the kidnapping incident? Well, you can consider a tweet on their official account to be exactly that- it’s a public statement made the company, which isn’t a press release as we once knew it to be, but does serve as a short form press statement in the social media world.
As such, since the company has had to explain what it meant by ‘we’ll be in touch’ (they’ll do it privately), they’re not planning to do any ad based on the incident (or so we hope) and since they’re not making a long-form press statement otherwise about this, you can probably conclude that they should have thought a little more before making that tweet.
Maybe just saying the first part of the tweet without the ‘we’ll be in touch’ would have spoken for itself since the public already knew about the McDonald’s connection in the story. As the USA Today article notes “Just because you do something for someone… you don’t have to tweet about it..”
FOLLOW-UP: In my opinion, McDonald’s did a much better job with this nutrition campaign that’s detailed in this Ragan article.
Don’t believe me? You can believe it from Twitter themselves- as CNET reported, the company is already warning that more hack attacks are on the way, especially for high profile accounts/companies. The present concern comes in the wake of a huge story that had almost catastrophic consequences on financial markets here in the States and around the world after Associated Press’s Twitter account was hacked, falsely reporting an attack on the White House and sending shock waves through Wall Street. Very scary to see what can happen with one malicious tweet.
In the aftermath of the AP hack, there was a lot of hand ringing about flaws in Twitter’s security and how Twitter had made itself into a security risk for the entire financial sector as a result. Of course, Twitter had to react to the problem and implemented a two-step security process to help secure accounts.
But is that good enough? Crafty hackers and IT/network administrators get involved in cat-and-mouse games where the IT people seal up security holes and the hackers keep poking around to find new ones so that they can get in and cause mischief. As such, the IT teams can only do so much except remain vigilant and keep trying to thwart the bad guys.
Of course, Twitter users and account manager should be doing their part too to make it harder for hackers to get into their accounts. The first and most obvious way is to be careful with a Twitter account is to focus on the account password. Not only do you want to make it something that’s not easy to guess (i.e. something involving the name of your company) but you also want to be changing it regularly, just to be safe. Burger King had a similar problem with a high profile hack into its Twitter account a few months ago and I wrote this blog post with other recommendations about how to keep your Twitter account secure (hint, hint!).
Of course, for the non-techie world, Twitter is still something of a joke as seen in this satirical New Yorker spoof-story: “People Believe Something On Twitter For Some Reason.”
But as we saw with the AP hacking incident, it can be a big deal, which is why if you’re managing or have access to a high profile account of a big company or brand name, you have to be EXTRA VIGILANT about Twitter security. Unless of course, you want to become the target of a satirical story. Now, you don’t want that, do you…?
After the tragedy of the Boston bombing, a number of respected news organizations took a beating with their rush to be first with news and subsequently be wrong in their reports- this included (but wasn’t limited to) New York Post, CNN and Associated Press. Part of the reason that these ‘mainstream media,’ old-school news org’s took a fall is that they were a little too anxious to prove that they’re still relevant and trusted sources in an age where more and more people are turning away from them and towards social media for their news. But guess what? Social Media itself made its own mistakes related to the Boston incident, which brings up some points that need to be discussed about news gathering.
* First of all, as Gigaom pointed out, social media is a place where MSM itself can fall on its face, not only with mistaken information but also bone-headed, rather unprofessional contents.
In a related (and timely) story put out just before the Boston incident, the Awl also detailed how the MSM uses and abuses social media in an article aptly titled “Is your social media editor destroying your news organization?”
* Also, as explained by the New York Times media critic, it wasn’t just old media that stumbled over the big story but also social media’s upstart platforms that fell down on the job too:
“If legacy media were falling short, the new order did not look all that promising either. A crowd-sourced witch hunt took place on Reddit, identifying innocents as suspects, and Twitter was alive with both misinformation and outrage at the mistakes. (There were many curiously triumphal posts about the death of old media in Twitter feeds that were full of links to that same old media.).”
* Though Reddit deserved the hits it took for these mistakes, there is some good that still be done with crowdsourcing, as this CNN article points out. The problem in this case was that there wasn’t a good filter (or editor) in place to sort out the good info from the bad. Especially in a case like this, that kind of thing is absolutely critical!
* Though too many media outlets foolishly rushed to get out the wrong information (see this Mashable story for an astute summary), the Boston Police themselves were a good model of restraint and fact gathering on social media during this crisis and can be a great example to learn from- see this other Mashable article for details.
* As All Things D noted, sometimes good ol’ fashioned slow, detailed news gathering wins the day, as The Washington Post exhibited, in contrast to the hasty conclusions that the Reddit collective came up with.
So in the end, what do we learn from all of this? The simple fact is that that ‘old media’ sometimes gets it wrong and so does new media when it comes to big stories like this but there are some basic principles that always apply when reporting: find a network of good sources (both direct sources that you can speak to and indirect sources that you can glean info from), check, verify and check again. And yes, even after doing all of that, you’ll still get it wrong sometimes but you’ll be a lot less likely to get it wrong that way.
And… when you make mistakes online (or offline), to help bolster your reputation, admit the mistake and correct it. Don’t try to hide the mistake- that makes you look craven, ashamed and kind of dumb too. You may still get some drubbing for your mistake but people will respect your courage in admitted it. And then, learn from your mistakes, move on and try to make the same ones again!
And finally, in this social media age, we have to accept that the idea that citizen journalism isn’t going away so that even when lots of big, damaging blunders like this happen, we need to use this time to reflect on how we can improve this type of mass participation instead of pretending that it should or would go away- for a good analysis of this situation, see Alan D. Mutter’s Reflections of a Newsosaur blog post.
tumblrbot asked: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INANIMATE OBJECT?
I prefer animate objects (my girlfriend, friends, family) but if I had to chose inanimate ones, I’d have to say my smart phone, closely followed by my desktop!
In case you missed it, the start of this month was the annual tradition of sharing (supposedly) harmless rumors and seeing who will take them seriously. April Fools’ is a day that I mark on my calendar so that I’m a little less susceptible to these kind of jokes, though admittedly that doesn’t always work.
This has become such a popular online tradition now that you can easily curate an article about all the pranks floating out there now, this music-themed one at Hypebot. Google also had a good gag about smelling and Sony was funny too about these animal headphones not to mention this cute Twitter knock-off.
Past the laughs though, there’s a lesson here too. You have to ALWAYS be diligent about checking online news, even when it isn’t April Fools’ Day. Nowadays, it’s ridiculous to think ‘it must be true because I read it online!’ but plenty of times, even sane, smart people still spread false stories without checking on them first- and I admit, that I’ve even done that sometimes but hopefully have learned my lesson. Part of the getting out of this jam is taking your news from trusted sources but even a place like The New York Times has to keep putting out corrections to its stories.
That isn’t to say that you can’t trust any story online of course but if you are reading a story online that seems pretty fantastic or outrageous, I’d definitely advise looking for other sources for the same story, especially ones that don’t just quote the original source first you read. That might not save you all the time from online jokes and rumors that you might unintentionally spread but you’ll have less of a chance of being a year-round April Fool that way.
NEXT TIME: We’ll go over Facebook’s ‘hot’ new Home update.
Usually when we hear about a new feature added to our favorite social media service, we get excited that we can now do something that we couldn’t do before or do it better. And indeed, these social media companies are always trying to improve their products to make them more user friendly and competitive. But sometimes, new features have their drawbacks and pitfalls that you have to be careful of. Two cases in of this happened recently.
1) FACEBOOK DIRECT RESPONSES
At first blush, this looks like a great idea that should have been done a while ago. As Mashable reports, FB introduced this feature so that companies can directly answers users’ questions and complaints that they post on the company’s site by directly interacting with the individual customer instead of posting their answers in an ongoing conversation on their own site. The benefit is obvious- you can take a problem offsite so that your whole community doesn’t have to see the whole (sometimes ugly) conversation and that makes your company look better.
One problem with this is that if you take the direct response route, other customers who see the initial complaint might not know or understand that you’re answering this particular customer and their problem off your site- it may instead look like you’re ignoring the customer and that makes you look like you don’t care about them. The other problem with direct responses is that the answers that you give a particular customer to their problem might be an issue that other customers are seeing and thus they could have learned from your conversation if they could have seen it. The answer to this problem is simple- if you keep seeing the same issue come up again and again, you should post some helpful information for all of your customers so that they know the solution too and you can then help them more easily, even before they come to you with the same problem.
2) WHY FOLLOW
“We decided to write a simple utility which solves this problem. Meet Why-Follow.com. It let’s you easily make a list of answers for those who decide to follow you. Why-follow.com then automatically sends a Personal Message to all your new followers. This message contains a link where people can choose their favorite answer from your list. In this way you always know why your audience is listening.”
Just as Burger King made a mistake with its Twitter security, Coke has now made a bigger mistake by having an open disagreement with itself over the nature of social media and how it uses it.
The problems started for Coke when one of their execs publicly said at a conference that their company didn’t see any sales lift related to their social media successes (‘buzz’). When an Ad Age article reported this (see link above), a Senior VP then came out to ‘clarify’ Coke’s position on social media and basically contradict this, saying that the company DID take social media seriously and that SM is ‘crucial’ to Coke’s strategy as heard in this Marketing Land article.
So who was telling the truth here? Most likely, the first exec was doing a bit of venting, being frustrated that their social media successes weren’t bearing instant fruit and return on investment (ROI) as the company hoped. The VP then had to go into clean-up mode and insist that the company were fans of social media so that they didn’t like like a bunch of out-of-touch cranks. Just a guess here but that does seem like the most likely scenario.
Of course it doesn’t look good when big shots at large companies each make contradicting statements like this in such a short period of time so there’s a lesson to be learned here. When you have ANYONE publicly commenting about your social media work at your company, make sure those comments are vetted first and not just shot off at the hip so that you don’t regret it later and have to explain it in another way or do a reversal about what was said.
It might be comforting to see that even Coke can make mistakes (remember ‘New Coke’ too?) but at least you can hopefully learn from them and avoid your own boo-boos like this one.
Google’s announcement that it was pulling the plug on its RSS/reader service met with a few groans but mostly didn’t seem to generate a lot of sadness or mass outrage. Part of the reason for that is that RSS is something that’s almost as old hat as say Friendster nowadays- remember them? (they were a precursor to Facebook that got buried when FB came along).
Part of the reason is also that, as Gigaom points out, other services like Twitter now effectively supplant it by giving users news through a richer variety of sources, assuming that you’re following some decent tweeters of course. Another reason not to get too misty about Google Reader is that other services like Feedly are ready to take up the slack for users who need their news feed fix- Mashable has a good article about the service and you can see Feedly itself here.