For the Love of Communities

For the Love of Communities

What is it about an online community?

Just what, exactly, draws people together online? Perhaps that is the better question.

When you look at Groundswell, the authors have the thing all figured out, or at least it seems that way. Internet users are divided into various social technographics profiles. People who join online communities are called Critics (about 25% of the United States). People who create content, including not just making and contributing to discussion topics and blogs but also uploading photographs and other media are called Creators (approximately 18% of the US). And the lurkers, the folks who watch but don’t participate, are Spectators (48% or so of America). People overlap and can be members of any or all of these groups, or of other groups I won’t get into here. Plus, of course, this only covers people who are online. Note: this is a tool created by Forrester, based upon extensive research, and can be found: here.

So, it’s in our nature, or at least in some people’s natures. But there may be more to that so what follows is my own personal story which I hope will be of interest.

I first really got online socially (although I had used computers offline for years before then) in 1997. Princess Diana had just been killed, and for whatever reason I wanted to discuss this with someone, and my husband was not being too terribly cooperative. We had a fairly new computer with Internet access. I don’t know what possessed me — I just felt the need to talk to someone about Princess Diana, someone I hadn’t even been a particular fan of before. Perhaps it’s because her death, at the time, was so shocking.

I found mirc, a chat client. There wasn’t anyone to specifically discuss the matter with, but there were people to talk to. And so a love affair with social media and online communities began.

By 2000, I wanted a more challenging group of conversationalists. The Presidential election was so close and so interesting that I wanted to talk to someone about it. A colleague from India was even asking me: Are all American elections like this? and I did not have a good answer for him. I wanted to learn. Plus, it was the same feeling as in 1997 — I just wanted to have a conversation. I found Abuzz, which was owned and operated by The New York Times and The Boston Globe (the Globe is important to me because I live in Brighton, Massachusetts). Here were intelligent people who were just as fascinated by the extremely close election! It was exciting.

By 2002, Abuzz was losing steam and my friend Robert Gentel contacted me. He told me he wanted to teach himself PHP and create a forums website, but that he didn’t want to manage the community. Would I do that? Would I become the Community Manager? Of course. And so Able2Know was born. I’ve been managing it ever since.

In 2005, I joined Trek United — again, with the username Jespah. I even did some moderating there, but it was too much to do that, my regular work, Able2know and also work seriously on my own health. I wrote a column for the original Hailing Frequencies Open ezine, and enjoyed it, until it, too, became just one more bit of overwhelm and so I put the column to bed, in 2009 if I recall correctly.

In 2008, when I joined SparkPeople, it was obvious to me that my user name would be Jespah, and that I would actively participate.

In 2009, after my Reporting Analyst job was outsourced and I came to a personal understanding — given that I already had over seven years of Community Management experience under my belt and hence had more to say about it than many experts — I decided to shift gears in my career and go into Social Media marketing.

What does this all have to do with the price of tea in Poughkeepsie? Well, perhaps nothing and perhaps everything. My Internet identity was forged over a decade ago, and in a very different set of circumstances than one that is seen these days with online collections of users.

As a professional Community Manager and Social Media Specialist

Neuron Robotics
Neuron Robotics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(I work for a startup called Neuron Robotics), there is much more of an emphasis on staying on message and keeping the talk within the confines of what the company needs. It is a startup so things are looser than in a larger corporation but the principle is the same: get people their information and then move on to answering the next inquiry, or at least getting someone who can answer it. Socializing, per se is not totally out, but it is limited, and not just on the company side of things. It is the users, as well, who do not wish to socialize. After all, do you go out for a beer with the guys manning your local Help Desk?

And so, as we hurtle into the teen years of this century, online communities are becoming far more specialized and almost scripted. User asks question. Answer is obtained. Second opinion, perhaps, is offered. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I occasionally get together with fellow Community Managers to talk turkey and they were surprised when I told them I’d written seven, perhaps eight, user obituaries.

What?!?!?!

Yes, really. I have done that (for Abuzz and Able2know).

And I’ve written user newsletters, not only for Trek United but also for Abuzz (that one was called AARON — An Abuzz Regular Online Newsletter — I loathed that acronym, still do).

Users are going to communities and are finding that they have their own intrinsic values. One of the things that online communities have over Facebook (at least for now — never underestimate the power and ingenuity of Facebook’s IT staff) is that it is possible to carry on a truly sustained conversation here. People talk, and not just for a few hours or days or weeks, but for years! The Trek United Countdown Club started back in 2005. Yet here it is in 2010, continuing.

Online communities have shared values and in-jokes which other communities do not have, either on or offline. It’s like the Masons’ secret handshake, or wearing a Mogen David around your neck — you let yourself be known to others subtly.

Trek United has the countdown and Hailing Frequencies Open. Abuzz had nutella and a mysterious green Chevelle. Able2know has capybaras and Asian carp. SparkPeople has (or at least my little corner of it has) the Top SparkPeople Pick Up Lines and diet haikus. Those who are in, understand. Those who want to be in, make an effort to know. And those who don’t want to be in, can never seem to understand.

It is a small jump from this kind of enclaving to creating one’s own community, and then the process repeats itself and, like all good little processes, it winds down and then winds back up again as users come together, break apart and reconfigure like so many amoebae in a petri dish.

But it is more than user cycles and outside determinism like access to the Internet which drives this dance. It is the music of the spheres and the essence of what it means to be a social creature. It is hard and soft, slow and lightning fast, familiar and different and a billion more things.

Merrily we roll along, for it is love which, to misquote The Captain and Tennille, brings us together.

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Five Ways for Charities to use Social Media

Five Ways for Charities to use Social Media

Recently, I came across a great blog post on five possible uses for social media for charities.

English: Infographic on how Social Media are b...
English: Infographic on how Social Media are being used, and how everything is changed by them. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I think these were good ideas (the Twitter Twibbon was one of them), I suspect that charities could go further. After all, much of social media is free. And free is one of charities’ favorite words (along with cure, and donation, I suppose).

For one, how about using Facebook and LinkedIn to promote charitable events? While these RSVPs are often unreliable (a yes often really means maybe, a maybe means “I might get to it if nothing better comes along” but at least no still means no), this could be a way to get the word out.

Or what about keeping donors informed of totals by tweeting them? E. g. if a $1,000,000 donation total is desired, how ’bout keeping donors informed on how it’s going by using Twitter? This would be in place of an old thermometer bar.

Could volunteers check in with foursquare and get badges? Uh, why not? I’d love a blood donation badge. So long as it wouldn’t be an emergency, well, why not?

I’m sure there are plenty more where that came from. Got any ideas of how charities could use social media? Toss ’em here, if you like.

For more information, see the December 30, 2010 blog post on Social Media Today.

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Hesitation Generation

Hesitation Generation

As I travel around then ‘net, I also take note of what’s happening in my own backyard. And what I have seen is an odd and somewhat disturbing trend.

I am the Project Manager for Able2know and in some ways it’s got its finger on the pulse. But, a caveat, the pulse is rather limited. This is a mere fraction of the web and therefore, by extension, an even tinier fraction of the world. Yet this is the world I know, and so I will report on it.

Relationships

A2K is a generalized Q & A website where people can post all manner of questions. The availability and quality of the answers varies greatly. Keep in mind that no one is paid to answer questions on Able2know.

Hence inquiries about voltage are generally answered with an admonition to hire a licensed electrician. Requests for medical advice are answered vaguely, and nearly always involve telling the poster to follow up with their personal physician. Inquiries about the law receive a nearly identical treatment, save for the advice to contact an attorney.

And then there’s relationships.

You don’t need a degree in psychology to be able to dispense advice. Anyone who appears to be clinically depressed is told to seek treatment. Anyone who appears to be abused is advised to leave, and to contact their local authorities.

But it’s the people in the middle who I’m talking about.

Communications

What does it mean when someone stares at you? What is a good idea for a first date? How do I ask someone out? How do I get someone to ask me out? And the saddest – how do I get over a heartache?

And it’s amazing to me (and it really should not be anymore) how many people are paralyzed at the thought of actually speaking to the object of their desire. They wait and think they are seeing signals, and then they ask what those supposed signals mean. It’s like reviewing the Zapruder film, frame by agonizing frame.

My advice is usually – ask.

  • How do you feel about me?
  • Do you want to go out for coffee?
  • Are you seeing anyone right now?
  • What would you like to do together?

So many of them thank me and promise they will ask (I have heard back from some, and  they tend to report either success or relief that they finally know).

But why the heck couldn’t these people have figured that out from the get-go?!?!?!

Back to Ike

It can be a little bit like the 1950s, where girls preen and sit by the telephone, waiting for Prince Charming  to deign to call – and heaven forfend he should take more than 20 minutes to get on the stick and call! And guys hem and haw about the most letter-perfect thing to say, when the reality is that the perfect thing to say is something, as that beats the pants off saying and doing absolutely nothing.

Ubuntu Kitty Smart Phone Preview
Ubuntu Kitty Smart Phone Preview (Photo credit: j_baer)

I’m not so sure who that dynamic favors, except for the phone companies, as minute numbers go sky high, or Facebook’s advertisers as people check each other’s statuses and relationship statuses obsessively and yet more ads are served.

It seems as if everyone wants to fast-forward through the movie, and cut the suspense. Instead, all they seem to want is the sunset and the fateful kiss. Dorothy clicks her heels together before she ever leaves Kansas. And nobody seems to miss the Munchkins and the Wicked Witch and the Tin Man and the rest of the middle part. All that matters is the destination, and never the journey.

Risks

Something is missing here, and what’s missing is the taking of chances. I get that these are generally rather young people. The vast, vast majority of them are between the ages of 13 and 28. That 15-year span is the worst – it’s a combination of raging hormones and self-absorption. But nowadays that’s spiked with a seemingly inbred inability to take a chance. Plus it’s all fueled by the artificial immediacy of far too much social media.

Risk
Risk (Photo credit: The Fayj)

Instead of risk-taking, everyone seems to want the risks scrubbed out of their lives. They want the endgame handed to them on a silver platter yet refuse to do even a smidgen of the legwork required in order to get there.

Sample Size

A caveat – this is, to be sure, a small group of people. Furthermore, they are self-selecting. Very confident folk are far less likely to request advice in any endeavor. Plus there is the age issue, as I have already mentioned.

People in their forties ask relationship questions, too, but those tend to be different. They are less about an initiation of connections and more about either reentering the dating pool or the dynamic of being a parent (or dating one) while in the game.

Upshot, Kinda

So, where does that leave us?

An inability to take risks does not bode well. It clouds decisions on everything from trying a new brand of fabric softener to consenting to an experimental drug trial. It colors employment and investment choices, and keeps people out of new business ventures and away from new books, films and music.

The upside, naturally, is that it may be preventing sexually risky behaviors. That’s a good thing, of course.

But risks are often good, and a life without them is rather dull indeed. It can be mindless consumerism as people give themselves the same personal rewards over and over again.

The trick, as in all things, is to find a balance.

And now, a bonus.

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

One last thing – here, for free, is my standard heartache cure. Your mileage, of course, will vary.

  • Expect to feel lousy for a while, and understand that that is a natural reaction. Congratulate yourself – you were affected enough to really feel something.
  • Relationships often keep us from doing other things, such as seeing other friends. So spend some time with your friends.
  • Explore things to do on your own. Some are inward, such as making art or even baking cookies. Others are more outward, like taking a class.
  • Fill up your time. Being busy gives you few opportunities to wallow in misery. Your boss is likely not without sympathy, but you still need to write the reports, etc. or do whatever it is that you do. Treat your leisure time a little bit more like a job, in the sense that you should make some commitments and stick by them. If your leisure time is to paddle a canoe, then paddle the damned canoe. Don’t back out of that.
  • Do something physical. Exercise can not only fill up your time, it can also help with depression.
  • Do something for someone less fortunate than you. Read to a blind person. Serve at a soup kitchen. Visit people in a nursing home. Volunteer at a group home. These actions are not just good for the community, they can also help you gain some perspective.
  • Don’t jump into a new relationship right away. Being single does not have to automatically mean being lonely. This is a time to cultivate your inner resources.
  • If you think you need it – and in particular, if you are experiencing suicidal ideation – seek out the care of a professional. There is no shame whatsoever in getting the help that you need. If you need medical help to mend a broken heart, it should be no different from seeking medical help to mend a broken arm.

Enjoy the Bee Gees.

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Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, An Updated Book Review

Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

This is something of an updated review of Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff as, by the time I got to the ICM 522 Social Media Platforms class at Quinnipiac University, I had already read this seminal work.

Cover of "Groundswell: Winning in a World...
Cover via Amazon

But no matter. This is still a terrific work, and it remains more than a little relevant.

In fact, I think I understand it better than I ever have.

Changing the Way You Think about Online Marketing for Good

For Li and Bernoff, the online world is a rich and diversified community. And in that large umbrella community, there are several smaller communities. But unlike Matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls), there is an enormous amount of overlap.

Above all, they put forward the idea of a system called POST.

  • Personae – who are your potential buyers? Who are your readers? Who makes up your audience?
  • Objectives – what do you expect to get out of going online, and continuing online, or going in a different direction online?
  • Strategies – how will you implement your ideas? What comes first? What has to wait?
  • Technologies – which platforms will you use? How will you use these differently as your strategy begins to click into place?

The last time I read Groundswell, I suspect that I didn’t really understand POST.

Now I know never to start a social media campaign without it.

Rating

5/5 

The Conquest of LinkedIn — Last Little Bits

The Conquest of LinkedIn — Last Little Bits

Now, there’s more to LinkedIn than what I’ve already covered. And, truth be told, the number and diversity of add-ons and features is only going to keep growing. As with any other truly viable online business, LinkedIn keeps adding new bells and whistles. It is already a far different site from the one I joined a few years ago. And, by the way, I have never gone Premium.

The Conquest of LinkedIn -- Last Little Bits
LinkedIn pen (Photo credit: TheSeafarer)

However, there is an appreciable difference between making and keeping your page lively and interesting, versus making it too busy. I don’t think that you need everything. Really. I think a bit of restraint is in order.

Categories

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot more that is of value. First off: Categories. If you have a large number of LinkedIn connections, it will be of help to you to categorize them in some fashion. Sure, you could check profiles to see if a person is someone from High School, or if they’re local to you or whatever. But categorization can provide more granularity. So, for example, you can group people together by whether you’re all members of the same club. That way, if you need to write to someone — and assuming they aren’t a member of a LinkedIn group that matches your mutual club membership, keeping them in a category can be a way for you to remind someone of how the two of you know one another. E. g. my sorority has a group on LinkedIn, but my individual chapter does not.

Events

Another useful tool is Events. This is useful for promoting your company (and inviting people you can’t reach any other way), and to promote yourself, by showing all of the interesting places where you are going. E. g. my company has presences on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, plus we have a newsletter. For us, it’s best to use the newsletter for promoting our events, but we have contacts who are not on our newslettersmailing list. Twitter doesn’t allow for ready RSVP’ing and Facebook seems to be too casual — when people positively RSVP on Facebook, the chance that they are really coming is more like 50 – 75%. What to do?

Enter LinkedIn Events. They provide a few means of targeting invites (e. g. geographically, or by the aforementioned categories feature, or by company or other network). Plus invitees who accept can indicate they are attending, exhibiting or presenting. Or, they can demonstrate an interest in the event without actually committing to attending. Any of those acts puts your event onto their profile page as well. LinkedIn positive RSVPs seem to have a better track record than those on Facebook — more like 75 – 85% likely to actually attend an event (this is, admittedly, a thoroughly unscientific set of observations by me). The downside of LinkedIn events is that there is a 50-person maximum, so make sure you have exhausted other possible invitation avenues (including good old email) before allocating one of your precious 50 slots to someone.

Company Buzz and Following a Company

Company Buzz is another interesting add-on. LinkedIn assumes you wish to read about the companies on your resume, so those searches are automatically created for you. Hand in hand with this is the ability to follow a company. If you are in charge of your company’s LinkedIn profile, you can help to stimulate this information stream by listing comings and goings, promotions and transfers.

Profile Page Shortcut

The shortcut to your profile page is an easy way to make yourself stand out a bit more. Just select a reasonable shortcut for yourself. Mine is my last name, because it’s unique.

Interests

The Interests section (it is found under Additional Information) is useful for adding not only key words but also some personality to your profile. Do you play the violin? Do you like to cook? Safe, positive information is good here, so long as it’s not extensive (you don’t want this section to overwhelm everything else). It’s probably not the best place to mention, for example, your extensive action figures collection.

Personal Information

The Personal Information section is what you make of it. I keep in my birthdate (because it generates a status update on the day in question) but not the year. I list my town but not my full home address (although that is easy enough to find elsewhere online). I also list myself as married, but you certainly don’t have to. I keep my phone number off as I don’t want to perhaps have LinkedIn become a vehicle for calls I don’t wish to receive — if someone wants my phone number that badly, they can connect to me and ask.

Amazon Reading List

The Amazon Reading List section is useful for showcasing continuing educational efforts on your part. I have also seen it used as a bit of a personality section, but no one ever seems to be reading anything trashy (gee, I wonder why?). Every time you update it, you will generate new profile page material.

Extras

I don’t use the Portfolio Display (I’m not an artist), but I can see where it might prove useful. There are also some collaborative tools such as Box.net and there’s a Polls section. I haven’t used those, either, but they could be of help.

My Travel

The My Travel section, on the other hand (via TripIt), does not seem to have much use, unless you want to meet people in a different town or you wish to use it in order to add new information to your profile page. And perhaps that is enough (I am trying it out right now, to see if I like it). I was a Road Warrior for a few years, so telling everyone I was shuffling off to Buffalo wouldn’t necessarily be too terribly bragworthy.

You Profile Photograph

The last, and perhaps most important bit is your profile picture. To add, or not to add? I say, add it. It’s not like you’re going to hide your race, your age or your gender if you meet someone, so you may as well come forward so that, if you meet in person, they can recognize you. Use a recent, clear headshot, and for God’s sake, smile! Mine is of me wearing a company polo shirt. You can’t see the logo but it still connects me readily to Neuron Robotics.

Conclusion

There will undoubtedly be more changes as LinkedIn dreams up new ways to connect business persons. Perhaps video demos, or real-time conferencing, are in its future. Stay tuned — I’ll be sure to blog more about LinkedIn (one of my absolutely favorite social networking sites!) as it continues to reinvent and improve itself.

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Wireframing and Paper Prototyping

Wireframing and Paper Prototyping

What is Wireframing? 

As Daniel M. Brown says in Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning (2nd edition) (Page 166), 

Wireframes describe the contents of a web page and their relative priorities. They help the project team envision the functionality and behavior of different screens, or more commonly, different screen templates.  Most renditions of wireframes are laid out to look like webpages. 

But it’s more than that. It’s also about understanding user behaviors. What are the use cases? What does it mean when something is colored red, or is made larger?

The Importance of Wireframing in Creating Websites 

For web designers and for the eventual users of websites, a mockup is necessary in order to get an initial feel for the development to come. 

Wireframing puts together designers’ and coders’ ideas of what users might want. By asking users to review and show how they would use the proposed site, designers can determine whether there are use cases they are missing. Further, they can see if the design is too difficult for the average user to understand and navigate, or if creates, rather than diminishes, user frustrations.

As Jen Gordon says in The Mobile Design Process,

Much like any design or illustration process, having iterations of your design allows you to explore a wider variety of design options to a deeper degree. 

These iterations can be made with wireframing and paper prototyping, used together. Paper prototyping is generally used for the initial idea of where certain elements go (e. g. where is the logo placed?), and for iterating several versions of the design. Wireframing then comes in, when more of the design is set and the changes are less in terms of what goes where, and are more along the lines of color, shape, size, and verbiage.

How wireframes differ from and relate to website page design 

Wireframing is something of a subset of webpage design. The overall idea of design is not just the look and feel of a site, but also what’s going to be in it, and the basic idea behind it. Wireframing takes those background pieces of information and puts them into a logical order and adds or subtracts emphasis. But wireframing can’t happen until the designer knows what is supposed to go into the actual website.

The relationship between wireframes and paper prototyping 

As Dr. David Travis says in 7 Myths about Paper Prototyping,

Wireframes show a skeleton view of a user interface. They identify the areas of the screen where content will appear, such as images, text and navigation. Wireframes often include call-outs and notes explaining certain elements of the design in more detail. They are a useful communication tool for design agencies who want their clients to sign off on a design without getting hung up on the colours and images displayed in the user interface.

With paper prototyping, elements can be easily moved around. Users can often relate better to paper, and the effort and skill needed to put a basic rough sketch on paper (even when the lines aren’t straight) are less than those needed for wireframing. Paper prototyping, in general, is a quick and dirty solution; it’s a thumbnail sketch, quite literally, of what the site is supposed be like. Furthermore, paper prototyping is a way to get all of the members of a team to be able to contribute equally. You don’t need to understand or have even heard of visual design software in order to sketch a few rectangles, circles, and arrows; cut out shapes; and add verbiage as needed.

What is paper prototyping? 

One company that understands the virtues of paper prototyping is The Mathworks. They used paper prototyping when creating GUIDE for MATLAB 6.

Wireframing and Paper Prototyping
(early paper prototype for GUIDE for MATLAB 6. Image is provided for educational purposes only)

Mary Beth Rettger, in Task-Based Utility for Software Upgrades said,

The concept of prototyping a solution is well understood. The problem is that code is expensive to write, and all too often a “prototype” takes so long to develop that there is no time to get feedback on the idea. As a result, the prototype simply becomes the product. Paper prototyping provides an alternative that is cheaper, faster, and more effective for the purposes of ensuring the final product meets user needs. 

Ms. Rettger’s explanation is simple and practical. Why spend months on making a working prototype, when paper prototypes can be banged out in perhaps a week? That same paper can be altered, added to, or subtracted from, with ease. When following iterative website development methodologies, paper prototyping is the only way that makes any sense. As ideas are added or discarded, or morph into new ideas, the paper prototypes change. More sheets of paper are used and the design readily evolves. As a result, when it’s time to make a true working prototype, a lot more information is available to the designer.

When is each method used? 

In A List Apart, Shawn Medero wrote, 

“Where does paper prototyping fit into the design process? 

There are two dominant uses: 

  1. The design team uses paper for their presentation to a larger group of people who have a vested interest in the product.

  2. Users run through a set of existing paper mock-ups or are given blank paper and asked to represent a concept by sketching it.” 

Potentially, the presentation of a paper prototype is a means for the design team to initially communicate with project stakeholders, including persons at the vice presidential level or even the board. For smaller companies, the audience might even be the owners and/or founders of the company, or even the investors. With a paper prototype, a meeting can be put together quickly, as the design and mockup can be put together quickly, too.

The place for wireframing is in a subsequent meeting. The stakeholders are closer to being convinced, and have a good idea of what the site is going to look like. They have a good idea because the designer does, and a paper prototype has been used to give the designer and the stakeholders that very idea. 

Paper prototyping is built for speed; wireframing is for providing users with more sophisticated visuals. Both are integral to successful user-centered design.

Quinnipiac Assignment 08 – ICM 526 – Social Media in a Crisis – a Look at Sabra Hummus and Listeria

Social Media in a Crisis – a Look at Sabra Hummus and Listeria

In April of 2015, Sabra hummus faced a social media and public health crisis, when some hummus flavors were tested and found to contain the listeria bacterium.

Quinnipiac Assignment 08 – ICM 526 – Social Media in a Crisis – a Look at Sabra Hummus and Listeria
English: Listeria monocytogenes grown on Listeria Selective Agar (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (image is reproduced for educational purposes only)

What is Listeria? Why is it such a Problem?

Per FoodSafety.gov,

Listeria is the name of a bacteria found in soil and water and some animals, including poultry and cattle. It can be present in raw milk and foods made from raw milk. It can also live in food processing plants and contaminate a variety of processed meats.

Listeria is unlike many other germs because it can grow even in the cold temperature of the refrigerator. Listeria is killed by cooking and pasteurization.

Complicating matters is that listeria ingestion can sometimes be fatal, or can induce miscarriages. Beyond just threatening the Sabra Dipping Company, hesitation, quite literally, could prove fatal.

Sabra’s Response

Per Sabra, “The potential for contamination was discovered when a routine, random sample collected at a retail location on March 30th, 2015 by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes.”

Before anyone was sickened, Sabra acted quickly and pulled potentially contaminated product from store shelves.

On their blog, Sabra announced the recall and provided a list of potential symptoms, so customers could judge for themselves whether they needed medical treatment. This included a list of UPC/SKU numbers and names of affected flavors, so customers could know if they’d bought a container. Use by dates on the list were posted in English and French, although the blog post was just in English. Neither the post nor the list were translated into Spanish.

As tweets poured in, Sabra’s community manager seemed overwhelmed. Finally, it was suggested that concerned customers contact their doctors

Any concerns or questions you have about your health are best discussed with a physician.

Further, sometimes the information being given out was flat-out wrong, as the list in the company’s blog had the dual classic and garlic hummus product on it, whereas this typical tweet implied that only the classic flavor was affected (mixing would imply that in the dual package, the garlic half would potentially also be contaminated) –

Hi Kate, only our Classic Hummus is affected by this recall. No other product manufactured by Sabra is included.

The community manager insisted that only classic was affected even when a customer said that she had had a reaction to the garlic flavor. Later, the community manager had a change of heart and told the customer to report her case directly to Sabra’s customer service team.

Apr 9

I had a fairly immediate GI reaction to the Roasted Garlic one yesterday. Advise?

Hi Suzanne, only our Classic Hummus has been affected in the recall.

However, please report your case immediately to our customer service team by calling 1-888-957-2272.

How the Brand Did

Sabra acted perfectly to quickly remove product from stores. While this was not a direct social media response, it not only potentially saved lives, it also made the community manager’s job far easier. Consumer deaths were not a part of the equation. Offline behavior directly affected online behavior.

For a company in crisis, it seems there was no public response by the CEO. The blog post is an author-less press release. Twitter didn’t point to anything said by the CEO. Without an authority figure behind the social media response, Twitter offers the impression that the community manager was left to twist in the wind.

The same was true on Facebook, where there was just one post about the crisis. A comment from the husband of a pregnant woman elicited the same rote response, suggesting a doctor should be called. Other customers called out Sabra, demanding better answers and compensation –

Christine Schaefer That’s a really weak answer Sabra. Of course a person who ate your contaminated product should follow up with their doctor, but what are YOU going to do about it? How are YOU going to support and compensate anyone who has been affected or has been frightened by eating one of your recalled products?

As for their blog, Sabra could have spread the link more widely. Given that part of the list was translated into French, the list and the blog post should have been translated into both French and Spanish.

It’s as if Sabra did fine to start but then stumbled. They seem to have recovered, though, and are back to posting recipes now, nearly three months later.

When NOT to Post on Social Media Platforms

When NOT to Post on Social Media Platforms

When NOT to Post on Social Media Platforms? Timing, as you might expect, is everything when it comes to posting on social media platforms. After all, if you, say, tweet when your audience is sleeping, they won’t see your tweet. It’ll be lost in the mountain of missed social media communications.

Social Media Landscape
Social Media Landscape (Photo credit: fredcavazza)

We all have such a mountain of missed communications and connections. Social media just moves way too quickly for us to see, comment on, share, and experience everything. We’re only human, and of course that’s fine. Your mission, though, is to post when your audience will be around, not when they’ll be offline, or busy with work, or settled into bed for the night.

Zzzz AKA La La La I Can’t Hear You!

According to Kate Rinsema of AllTop (Guy Kawasaki‘s great site), the following are the most godawful worst times to post.

I’m Here and I’m Listening

These are the best times to post on social media platforms:

  • Facebook – 1 to 4 PM
  • Google+ – 9 AM to 11 AM
  • Instagram – 5 PM to 6 PM
  • LinkedIn – 5 PM to 6 PM
  • Pinterest – 8 PM to 11 PM
  • Tumblr – 7 PM to 10 PM
  • Twitter – 1 PM to 3 PM

What About Different Time Zones?

Articles like this often vex me, because there usually isn’t any consideration taken when it comes to customers, readers, and audience crossing time zones.

My suggestion is to take these times as your own, for your own time zone, unless your audience is on the other side of the Earth. Try for some wiggle room, e. g. if you’re on the East Coast of the United States, like I am, you might want to time things for later during the window if you’re aiming for an audience pretty much only in America. But for a European audience, you should aim for earlier in the window but recognize that, with a minimal five-hour difference, you might not hit the window perfectly.

Or, you could set at least your tweets to run more than once. If you do this, though, I suggest spreading them apart by a day, say, posting post #1 on Monday at the start of the window, and post #2 at the end, and then switching them on Wednesday or the like.  But repeating other postings is probably going to be overkill for your audience.

Caveat marketer.

 

Quinnipiac Assignment 07 – ICM 526 – How Highly Regulated Industries Can Best Use Social Media

How Highly Regulated Industries Can Best Use Social Media

For highly regulated industries, such as pharmaceuticals, various medical professionals, insurance, and financial services, a company’s desire to participate in social media and reap its benefits must be tempered with the demands of regulations. Trade secrets, patient privacy, and even insider trading can be considerations. But social media has numerous benefits, including faster communications with clients, and client education. What’s a highly regulated industry to do?

Preliminaries

Every company (and not just those in highly regulated industries) should nail down their domain name and its variants, plus variations on the theme of ___sucks. And not just for domains; those should also be reserved as usernames in every single social media platform that springs up, even those where the typical user does not fit the company’s buyer persona. That is, even if none of these platforms or domains are used, they should still be locked up.

Let’s say the company is Consolidated Financial of Winnipeg. As of the writing of this blog post, this isn’t a real company. Consolidated will need to take ownership of, and squat on –

  • ConsolidatedFinancialofWinnipeg.com
  • ConsolidatedFinancialofWinnipeg.net
  • ConFinofWinnipeg.com
  • Facebook page Consolidated Financial of Winnipeg
  • Facebook group Consolidated Financial of Winnipeg Sucks
  • Twitter handle ConFinWinn

Plus any number of variations on these themes.

Regulators

Quinnipiac Assignment 07 – ICM 526 – How Highly Regulated Industries Can Best Use Social Media
FINRA logo (image is provided for educational purposes only)

Before this company does anything else, they need to investigate what the applicable regulators say. FINRA regulates a number of Canadian firms doing business in the United States. The SEC then oversees FINRA, so their rules are also applicable, even though Consolidated isn’t located in America. According to the Social Media for Regulated Industries Whitepaper, FINRA provides guidance in the areas of recordkeeping, suitability responsibilities (e. g. firms can’t promise anything through social media that they can’t promise via more traditional media), types of interactive electronic forums (active conversation doesn’t require principal approval, but static pages, e. g. profiles, does), supervision of social media sites, and Third-party posts (these don’t represent the firm unless the firm specifically endorses them).

Per the same source, the SEC provides guidance in the areas of usage guidelines and content standards, monitoring and frequency of monitoring, content approval, criteria for approving participation, training and certification, and personal vs. professional sites.

For both regulatory agencies, the general ideas are good social media practices that even loosely regulated companies and industries would do well to follow, e. g. to establish a clear and consistent, easy to understand policy; maintain good records; monitor, listen to, and respond to site, group, and page visitors; know when to take conversations offline; and be sure to educate employees.

Practice

Consolidated will do well to establish a clear and consistent social media policy, and make it easy for people to find. This means posting it prominently on their Facebook page, and adding the verbiage to their Twitter background, adding it as a blog page, and placing it anywhere else where the public can locate it without having to hunt. Fidelity Investments does a great job with this on their Facebook page. Their policy is denoted in a tab which is unmistakably titled and isn’t buried past a number of other tabs or apps. The language is easy to understand, too. Just like Fidelity does, Consolidated should assure that their contact information is a part of their policy, so that investors and potential investors can find where to go if they’ve got more private questions, such as about the status of an account.

As with many companies in the social media space, the policy for Consolidated should include the specifics about the types of posts that are and aren’t allowed, so that users know what to expect and understand when they’ve crossed a line. This makes for a better overall experience for everyone on the page, plus it saves Consolidated time – no one can honestly say that they didn’t know what to expect, assuming Consolidated makes their policy as transparent as Fidelity’s is.

Consolidated will need to be careful, and to watch what they post about, in order to comply with FINRA and SEC regulations. They might also be subject to the FSA and other international regulatory agencies, and should err on the side of caution in their dealings with the public via social media. This doesn’t mean that they can’t have a presence, but they will need to exercise a higher degree of care. If a company like Consolidated does so, then its foray into social media can be productive, and can provide a greater level of service to its investors and possible future investors. And it can do it all without incurring fines from the Securities and Exchange Commission, FINRA, or any other regulatory agencies.

My leap into a Social Media career

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