Tag Archives: Social network

Keeping It Real

Back in 2015, an engineer at Twitter asked his security team to look into fake accounts. He said he was stunned to find that a significant percentage of the total accounts created on Twitter had Russian and Ukrainian IP addresses and he also found that they were, for the most part, fake. They were “bots”.

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

No, today isn’t a political rant about how our Democracy might just have been hijacked by a foreign power. Rather, what happened next, as told in this piece by Bloomberg, is instructive to any of us in business because it raises a few issues that are common to us all.

The engineer was part of the security team. That team was tasked with keeping the platform secure. He took his findings to another team – the growth team – which had the responsibility for increasing the user base. That user base number is critical for every business since how the business is valued is based in part on how many users (we can’t really say people in this case, can we?) are active. Discovering that a significant percentage of the user base was fake could have a negative effect on the business’ balance sheet, and in this, we begin to see the problem.

There is a misalignment of goals. If part of security is keeping the platform free from spambots, the people responsible for deleting the spambots can’t have any goals which make deleting those bots counterproductive. In this case, the engineer was told to “stay in his lane”. In other words, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain – the reality of our user numbers – it’s not your job.

No organization should have these kinds of silos. No organization can base its public statements about growth and user engagement on numbers it knows are fake. It’s one thing for users to inflate their follower numbers by buying fake followers but it’s quite another for Twitter itself to be aware of these non-human accounts and to do nothing about them because they want to keep their user numbers up.

I don’t mean to single out Twitter. The same issue persists on Facebook and other social platforms and it’s way more insidious than research can find. There is a term – dark social – that refers to sharing activity among the network’s members that isn’t easily measured. Let’s say a fake account spreads a lie and maybe even buys an ad to do so. We can see how many impressions the ad had or how many followers the fake account has. What we can’t easily see is the network effect. I see the post and am outraged about it. I tell five friends, who tell five of their friends, etc., particularly when it’s shared off the network itself via email or text.

I am fairly certain that each of these networks could identify and stop this activity despite what you might have seen in Congress last week. Those were the lawyers testifying, not the engineers. The point for your business is to keep everyone’s goals in alignment, don’t build silos, and to be honest with yourself and with your investors. These are public companies who might just be committing fraud, but every company has the same responsibility for honesty and transparency.  You with me?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Are We In An Information Death Spiral?

Sometimes I wonder if we’re in an informational death spiral. That’s when an aircraft is out of control, loses lift, and heads in a corkscrew motion toward the ground. My pilot friends say they usually begin with a random, increasing roll and airspeed. That’s where I think we all just might be with respect to information. We’ve had a random, increasing rolling of what “real” information is and the speed at which it is generated is increasing.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Why this matters to you, both in business and in life, is that it’s becoming increasingly impossible to tell fact from fiction. The revelation that the Russian government created thousands of fake accounts across the social sphere to generate and amplify “news” items that were made up out of whole cloth is devastating to anyone who tries to figure out fact from fiction. That devastation is multiplied by the findings of this year’s Pew study which found:

Two-thirds of Americans (66%) use Facebook, and a majority of those users get news on the site, similar to 2016. Looked at as a portion of all U.S. adults, this translates into just under half (45%) of Americans getting news on Facebook. While a large share of its users get news on [Twitter} (74% say they do), its audience is significantly smaller overall. This means that overall, fewer Americans get news on Twitter (11% of U.S. adults).

In other words, we’re increasingly relying on the least reliable sources for news and information. Imagine if you were doing this in your business. Rather than looking at actual revenues, you based your appraisal of how things were going on how full your warehouse seemed or how busy your staff was. Sure, a warehouse that’s becoming empty can signal great sales but it can also signal an issue with your supply chain or with your accounting department who hasn’t been paying suppliers. Maybe it’s a collections issue. You don’t know until you get the real facts.

Being able to separate fact from fiction is the basis of being an educated, competent person. When others are out there trying as hard as they can to mask facts or to impose fiction, that job is thrown into a death spiral. When Facebook changed from being a place when you could focus on friends and family to a platform for news and information, the spiral began. When their algorithm began to reward the click bait that was able to deceive enough people by being outrageous, our collective noses headed toward the ground.

Don’t be fooled by fake news, either in the office or out of it. Find the facts, level off your wings, and fly on.

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Be Inefficient – It’s Better For Your Business

Representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been summoned to Capitol Hill to explain what they know about how Russia used their platforms to interfere in the last Presidential election.  Their testimony began yesterday, and there was a recurring theme that I think has implications for any business. It has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with serving your customers.

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may remember something from a few months back. There was a kerfuffle about Facebook using human editors on the News Feed who had a liberal bias. Whether that’s true or not is immaterial to our discussion. Facebook removed human editors from the “trending topics” feature seen in the news feeds of users. Given the decreased human oversight, gaming Facebook’s algorithm became easier, as demonstrably false news reports spread with increasing speed during the election. As Recode reported:

Sen. Jeff Flake is asking Facebook how it monitors its service — humans or artificial intelligence or both? Stretch (note: Facebook’a lawyer) said both, and explained a bit about how algorithms can detect non-human behavior, like someone creating many accounts in a very short amount of time. But while software can detect some of this stuff, humans often need to make a final decision on whether or not contents should be removed. Twitter and Google confirmed they have similar setups.

Fewer humans means fewer edits, apparently. What caught my attention yesterday was that each of the three platforms testified that putting in human-based solutions are inefficient for their business. What about the people on their platforms? A significant percentage of young people get their news only from Facebook. How can they be expected to understand the issues when the facts that are presented to them may be propaganda and not news or factual at all?

None of us in business can afford to make decisions solely on the basis of what’s good for the business. We need to stay customer and consumer-centric. After all, you wouldn’t want doctors in an ER failing to administer expensive drugs because it’s inefficient for the hospital, right? The restaurant that cuts the quality of their ingredients or service because they need higher margins won’t be around for very long.

Like most of you, I use these three platforms every day. Twitter is a cesspool, in my opinion, filled with trolls, hate-speech, and spam, but it’s also critically important. It’s a shame that they use the “free speech” argument to ignore that crap. There are limits on speech – try yelling “fire” in a theater and see what happens to you – and Twitter needs to clean up its act. All three of these companies need to quit using the profit motive and their responsibility to shareholders as excuses to let the bad actors do their thing. Be a little less efficient and more customer-friendly. Facebook admitted they knew something was going on and did nothing, allowing the “fake news” and propaganda to disseminate. That’s not consumer-friendly, is it?

Leave a comment

Filed under Huh?, What's Going On

Do We Really Want Mullets?

Anyone remember the mullet? You know what I’m talking about: the haircut that’s “business in the front, a party in the back.” I think the last time the mullet was popular was when it was sported by members of the Pittsburgh Penguins when they won The Stanley Cup in the early 1990’s. Since then, it’s become more of an object of ridicule than a hairstyle to be admired. I think we’ve come to recognize that we can’t be both businesslike and a party at the same time.

I thought of the mullet the other day when I read that Facebook was testing resume-building features so that users can share their work history with their Facebook friends. They’re obviously trying to hone in on a space dominated by LinkedIn. The curious thing is that your “resume” doesn’t really display. It seems as if Facebook is simply gathering the information which one can assume they’ll use to fuel a service for headhunters and active job seekers. There’s actually a couple of points we can think about here.

The first is that most of the people I know (myself included) use different social sites for different purposes. Many of my Facebook friends are not work-related. We’re not generally connected on LinkedIn. I don’t cross-post (other than the screed) content on the two sites since I don’t especially think my business contacts care about what food I’ve eaten or what concerts I’ve attended or my political views. Conversely, I don’t bore my non-work friends with the three or four business-related articles I might come across that I find interesting.

From what I can tell, most users can distinguish between the appropriate content for the two sites. Frankly, I think Facebook knows way too much about each of us anyway, and I’m not sure that I want them to know much more about my work life, my contacts, or anything else I keep in the workplace. I certainly don’t want potential clients considering anything other than the professional qualifications available to them on LinkedIn – not my musical tastes, not my politics and not my sad attempts at humor with friends.

More importantly, every business needs a focus. Facebook, in particular, seems to have decided that anything is fair game. They’re trying to out video YouTube, to out marketplace Amazon, and to compete in areas such as food delivery. In the meantime, they can’t even decide if they’re a media business (hint: they are).  Each of us needs to figure out what business we’re in so we can channel our resources, focus on our competition, and understand what problems our solutions can solve to serve our customer base. Chasing the next shiny object or growing beyond our core competence generally is more trouble than it’s worth. That’s how we end up with a mullet and is that what we really want?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, digital media

Why Can’t You Yell Fire?

I think we all know that you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. It will cause a panic and someone will get hurt. At a minimum, the odds are that someone will also call in a false alarm that distracts the fire department. That is a common-sense limit to free speech. Almost 100 years ago the Supreme Court said that the First Amendment, though it protects freedom of expression, does not protect dangerous speech.

I thought of that the other day when Google and Facebook announced that they would take what I think is a great first step in purging themselves of fake news by cutting off the access those sites have to revenue-generating or promotional ads. As Reuters reported:

Google said it is working on a policy change to prevent websites that misrepresent content from using its AdSense advertising network, while Facebook updated its advertising policies to spell out that its ban on deceptive and misleading content applies to fake news.

As someone who is devoted to the First Amendment, you might wonder why I’m OK with what seem to be limits on free speech. Fake news – or outright lies – are a big source of the divisive atmosphere most of us recognize exists in our country. They’re not hate speech, which I’m actually OK with because it’s so obviously slanted. They’re worse because they wrap themselves in a cloak of truth. As we’ve discussed here many times before, many people – both in business and out – don’t bother to do the research to find out if what’s being presented to them in factual. The presence of these sites and their fabricated BS makes a very difficult search even more so. No, the Pope didn’t endorse Donald Trump and yet 100,000 people shared that story as if His Holiness did.

By removing the financial incentive to create and promulgate this crap, Facebook and Google are taking a positive step in helping those of us who want to make decisions based on factual material. It’s not censorship; it’s arresting the idiot who’s yelling “fire” for a profit. Hopefully, the next step is some method to annotate and fact check the sites that remain. I also see that Twitter is suspending the accounts of some alt-right leaders.:

In a statement, Twitter said: “The Twitter Rules prohibit targeted abuse and harassment, and we will suspend accounts that violate this policy.”

There is no question that Twitter has become a bit of a cesspool and they certainly need to take some actions that clean up the rampant trolling and harassment that goes on. This, however, doesn’t sit as well with me since it starts down the slippery slope of censorship. The difference is my mind is that the fake news folks are making stuff up for profit while the hate groups are expressing (in theory) their own beliefs, however misguided.

Interesting times, aren’t they?

Leave a comment

Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

Behind The Big Ears

One of the challenges in any business is to systematize operations and processes.  It’s nice to be able to do something well once, but what distinguishes great from merely good is the ability to repeat that activity over and over at the same high level.   I raise this because I’m not sure many businesses think of social media as that sort of process yet.  Maybe they consider it to be jazz – mostly improvisational – without understanding that even improvisation in music has a lot of built-in systems.  In any event, one companyCisco – seem to “get it.”  Here’s why and how it can affect your business.

Fingers in ears

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chris Brogan coined the expression “grow big ears” when it comes to social media.  I like that notion since it distills what’s critical in social down to three words.  It means companies need to listen – to put together ways to monitor activity on the various social media sites and to draw actionable conclusions from the data they gather.  It’s a process, one that needs to be put together and run by executives with enough business experience and company awareness to make it productive.  Yes, that’s a shot at the businesses who turn the social media keys over to interns with little or not instruction other than to stay active.

What Cisco has done goes well beyond that.  As Media Post reported, Cisco, using Radian6, has developed:

…a rapid routing and tagging system as part of its social monitoring strategy that automatically opens a service ticket after detecting a negative tweet or post on the Web… Aside from complaints, social reports also guide the company’s marketing strategies for campaigns by allowing search and social marketing teams to share information. The search engine marketing team feeds keywords to the social team related to products and topics. In turn, the social team feeds search marketing new lists related to social networks they wouldn’t typically find for themselves. This allows the company to identify features and technology internal teams should emphasize to customers.

In other words, big ears that feed a replicable process.  The process yields benefits (search keywords, features, customer service) that go well beyond being able to tweet out a clever quote or informative article.  Even the most engaging social media activity pales when measured against this sort of intelligent back end.  Something to consider.

How big are your ears?  What’s on the other end of them?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media

Is Facebook Becoming A Ghost Town?

How many of you are familiar with Facebook?  OK, silly question.  After all, it’s the biggest social media site.  Let’s try again.

"Ghost" Town - NARA - 543356

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How many of you are familiar with Wanelo, Vine, Snapchat, Kik, or 4chan?  If you have a teen in the house, you might be, since these are, according to a Piper Jaffray study, the social sites in which teen interest is rapidly growing.  Final question:  how many of you are familiar with, and used to frequent, Friendster, MySpace, or Second Life?  Emphasis on the “used to” since they’re pretty much gone.

If I was a Facebook shareholder (which I’m not), I’d be very concerned.  Not just about a couple of things I’m going to mention but also about management’s plans to grow revenues.  Let me explain.

First, the research.  According to Tech Crunch’s reporting of the aforementioned study:

Interest in Facebook seems to be declining heavily among teens. Though teens still dub Facebook their most important social network, Piper Jaffray reports that the numbers are down regarding how many teens see Facebook as the most important social media website. Over the past year, the number of teens who deem Facebook as the most important social media site has dropped from more than 30 percent to just over 20 percent.

I realize teens are fickle, but they’re also trendsetters in a lot of ways.  They’re also a notoriously difficult group to reach via ads, and the social media chatter about brands—positive or negative—is a big factor in their purchasing decisions.  Which leads to my second concern.

AdAge reported on Facebook’s plans to insert video ads in users’ news feeds:

While the format of the units isn’t totally nailed down, it’s widely assumed that they’ll be autoplay and presented in a video player that expands beyond the main news-feed real estate to cover the right- and left-hand rails of users’ screens on the desktop version of Facebook.

It won’t matter if the user or any of his or her friends have engaged with the brand on Facebook.  Users will at most see three ads a day. Now I will shut almost any site that autoplays video, especially if it’s advertising.  Let’s think about how strong the user backlash is going to be if the autoplay report is accurate, and will that backlash spill over to affect the sponsors as well as Facebook?  It just might.

One doesn’t have to look too far into the future to see the beginnings of a ghost town in the making.  If a town’s young citizens are moving away for greener pastures, can businesses and their parents be too far behind?  What do you think?

Enhanced by Zemanta

1 Comment

Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud