Tag Archives: twitter

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?

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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.

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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?

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My Totally Fake Life

I came across an article last week that I found disturbing. I don’t think it’s news to any of you there that it’s possible to buy fake followers on the various social media platforms. You can buy hundreds or thousands of “followers” on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook fairly cheaply. I had assumed that this was something that some (dumb) businesspeople did to make their metrics look better. More on that in a second. The article set me straight.

What it said was that researchers at:

Huron University College in Ontario, Canada, who surveyed around 450 participants ages 18-29 through an online polling platform, and found that 15% admitted to buying “likes” from Web sites for their Instagram profiles…25% of respondents said they engaged in digital plastic surgery before posting photos.

Yikes! I guess these people figure that by having large numbers of people following them on some platform that they appear to be more influential. The reality is exactly the opposite because it takes very little effort to figure out that those people are fakes. Running a Twitter handle through Twitter Audit showed me that some person who claimed his million plus followers as a reason to do business with his had, in fact, 96% fakes in that million. It’s ego gratification, the same reason why people lie about their age or their weight or name drop, and it makes for a serious level of insecurity. And yes, there are other tools for other platforms to help spot fakes.

The same can be said when we do this in our business profiles. Some warped social media person will buy likes to show the boss that they are becoming more popular and that the efforts they’re making to garner new followers are paying off. Of course, engagement rates will drop off to nothing (those fake names don’t interact), and in fact, could do your brand harm by becoming spammy through your account.

It’s a little frightening that many of us feel the need to live a totally fake life online. The study found that 31% of respondents said they edited out all the boring details to make their life seem more exciting, and 14% said they specifically craft their profile page to make it seem like their social life is much more active than it actually is. Maybe it’s possible that the people who are posting the most are actually living the least glamorous lives?

Maybe one benefit of getting older on a personal level is the realization that the only one with whom we’re competing is ourselves. More “stuff” – cars, clothes, or followers – can mean less happiness. On a business level, more can be great but fake never is. Your thoughts?

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What’s Up?

You might have heard about the latest information from the Pew Research Center about how most of us seem to get our news these days.  If the study is accurate, you might even have heard about it on Twitter or found it in your Facebook news feed.  You see, according to the study, clear majorities of Twitter (63%) and Facebook users (63%) now say each platform serves as a source for news about events and issues outside the realm of friends and family. That share has increased substantially from 2013, when about half of users (52% of Twitter users, 47% of Facebook users) said they got news from the social platforms.  

What makes me a little nervous is what the Pew folks go on to say:

As more social networking sites recognize and adapt to their role in the news environment, each will offer unique features for news users, and these features may foster shifts in news use. Those different uses around news features have implications for how Americans learn about the world and their communities, and for how they take part in the democratic process.

Having worked with professional reporters and journalists, I can tell you that they don’t just report what they see since sometimes appearances can be deceiving.  The problem, both in journalism and in business, is that instant analysis is often wrong – who can forget CNN, The Boston Globe, and others having to retract reports around the Boston Marathon bombing?  When the reportage is immediate from many people who are untrained in evaluating information (what’s the source, how reliable, etc.), the chances of something being way off base increase dramatically.  Couple that with the built-in selectivity, in the case of Facebook, of algorithms which filter what you see unless you dig a little and one can see how “news” found on social media can easily be “rumor.”

I think social media can play a valuable role in surfacing breaking stories.  Twitter is soon set to unveil its long-rumored news feature, “Project Lightning.” The feature will allow anyone, whether they are a Twitter user or not, to view a feed of tweets, images and videos about live events as they happen, curated by a bevy of new employees with “newsroom experience.”  This is a good thing, in my opinion.  What’s not is accepting what we see there as gospel until there are multiple, professionally trained sources weighing in.  Yes, sometimes they’re wrong (see above), but when they don’t try to compete with the instantaneous stuff found in non-professional sources, they generally get it right.  What do you think?

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Socially Devoted To You

The folks at Socialbakers do a quarterly study on how well companies respond to consumers via social media.  Here is how they put it:

Socially Devoted brands understand the shifting paradigm of customer care. They know that the most responsive and dynamic audiences are on social and those people want responses to their questions and issues.

If your brand responds to at least 65% of audience questions on Facebook and/or Twitter, you qualify as Socially Devoted. The benefits of Social Devotion are clear – Socially Devoted brands get 3.5 times more Interactions than their less-responsive counterparts.

Needless to say, some brands are really good at this but many are not.  Sadly, US companies ranked near last globally in responding to customer inquiries on social.  What I found surprising was that it wasn’t the business sectors or brands – airlines and telecommunications to name names – that were at the bottom of the responsiveness heap.  Actually, they ranked near the top.  Instead, e-commerce – the last sector one would think would ignore the social space – was down towards the bottom.

What do they mean when they say the US ranked near last?

The US ranked 33rd out of the 37 countries, with US brands responding to only 18% of customer questions. Compare this to the average global Question Response Rate (QRR) of 30%…Of course, some US brands are providing great customer care on Twitter. A couple of examples are T-Mobile, whose @TMobileHelp handle received nearly 11,000 questions and responded to 75% of them, and Nike’s local branches (@NikeSF, @NikeBoston, @NikeSeattle, etc.), which maintained QRRs anywhere between 76% and 84%. But many major companies, like Domino’s Pizza (@Dominos) and Walmart (@Walmart), had low QRRs on Twitter: only 13%, and 18% respectively.

The US ranked 23rd out of the 24 countries — beating only India in our rankings. US brands had a response rate of 59%, compared to the average of 74% for all brands globally. US brands on Facebook with poor customer care included Nationwide Insurance, Wendy’s, and Samsung Mobile USA with response rates of 7%, 20%, and 18% respectively. Brands on Facebook with great customer care included many telecom companies — like Sprint with a QRR of 84% , T-Mobile (87%), AT&T (68%), and Verizon Wireless (72%).

You can see if your company has been included in their rankings here.  It might be easy to blame the poor response rate on short staff but clearly when one company can handle 8,000+ questions in 90 days (meaning they answer 91 out of 122 questions every day), it’s not an impossible task.  So why isn’t every company doing that?  My guess is that it’s a matter of priorities and customer-centric thinking.  Maybe it’s also that they still see social channels as megaphones and not telephones.  What’s yours?

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Talk To The Hand

Sometimes I feel as if I’m picking on the same companies all the time.  It’s not intentional, I swear.  It’s just that some brands seem to find stupid things to do and push corporate behavior standards to a new low.  With that disclaimer, let us ruminate over the good folks at Spirit Airlines and their latest genius move:

Florida-based Spirit Airlines, the ultra-low-cost carrier, is taking a different tack. Spirit has instead put a robot in control of its Twitter operation to automatically respond to questions.

“A big social media team costs money, so we put our feed on autopilot to save you cents on every ticket,” the airline explains on its Twitter site.

You can’t make this up.  What have we learned about marketing over the last ten years or so?  Your list of words might include “conversation”, “listen”, “personalized”, and any number of other terms that are diametrically opposed to a robot.  Tweet something to Spirit’s “customer service” account and you get the same automated message as the last guy:  a link to a website with FAQ‘s and a list of phone numbers.  While I haven’t actually called any of those numbers (since I refuse to set foot on a Spirit flight ever again), one hopes that there is an actual human on the other end.   Which raises the obvious question – if you’re paying for CSR’s for one channel (the phone), why not do so for another, more convenient and widely used channel (social media)?

Here is yet another business decisions that’s selfish.  Spirit thinks it can save money by not paying someone to work on social, and will allegedly pass those savings on.  You believe that?  If so, I have oceanfront property in Arizona for you.  If a track record shows us anything, this is a brand that will find a way to wring every last penny out of its customers (first to charge baggage fees, first to charge carry-on fees, first to charge to print a ticket, first to charge to pick a seat – shall I go on?).  How stupid do they think consumers are?

Put Spirit’s move in this context from today’s Media Post:

Overall, 47% of tweets about the five biggest U.S. carriers (United, American, Delta, Southwest, and JetBlue) were negative, compared to just 20% positive, Crimson Hexagon found. The total volume of tweets mentioning these airlines has increased 209% since January 2012.

Is that a channel you want to ignore as an airline (or any other brand)?  Is the message “talk to the hand because the ears ain’t listening” really how any brand wants to be perceived?  Robots? I think not.  You?

 

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