All posts by Louise McGregor

I write about digital strategy, the changing online world, communication challenges and real life leadership. I work at the intersection of communications, technology and business and part of my job is to stimulate the adoption of new technologies in a way that makes business sense.

Just Stop it #6; Twitter Auto DMs

Auto DM’s on Twitter. I am not alone in this;

I’ve never got the point of sending an automatic direct message on Twitter. Most of the ones I get either thank me for following them or ask me to connect on another platform. Although I don’t usually react, I think it’s nice, at least the intention is good.

Occasionally the DM asked me to do something extra – retweet something, or leave a comment on a blog, or buy their book. Yep, I once got a DM asking me to buy the author’s book (I didn’t).  I’ve also had some asking me questions – cute, more likely to get a response.
Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 12.49.27I’ve also noticed a worrying trend; repeat DMs. I’ve had a repeat auto DM at a regular intervals; despite my utter lack of response. This is an old example. I can’t tell you if they’ve stopped because I unfollowed.Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 12.50.19

I have done a quick check on my DMs, at least 80% are sent by robots. That’s pretty much like email spam – only harder to delete. Marji J Sherman called for auto DMs to end, she makes great points. It’s not authentic, it’s not useful, it’s not social. Please, just stop it.

Auto DMs reached a new low recently; I got one saying “Glad we are now friends”. I need a little more than a mutual twitter follow to consider someone a friend. Plus the message came from a company.

Do you send automated DMs? What value do they bring?

I’ve Been Blocked!

I’ve been blocked from following @AsiaExpatGuides from my @changememe twitter account.

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 11.39.36I have other twitter accounts so I can see that their last tweet was on the 29th of May.

I think it’s because I questioned the veracity of their testimonials, in detail, and pointed out some signs that their company might be a fake. I note that the fake testimonials are back online, you can make a comparison from their page to my slideshare.

It seems the images I’ve identifed as being used fraudulently have re-appeared on the site on the testimonials page. However at one point they did have the logos of various companies on their site and these have been removed – apparently I’m not the only one watching.

I consider Asia Expat Guides blocking me as a badge of pride, but I’m also wondering; is there a fraud office in Singapore?

The Curse of the Stock Image

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 07.49.42Years ago I noticed that one of our company’s websites used an improbable image across the front page, which turned out to be a stock image. We had a rule in place about stock images which went something like “Don’t use them”. So when I saw the same image appearing on a Nicholas Sparks novel I contacted the web manager who promised to change it, and did about five years later.

In that case there was no reputation damage, in fact few people would have even seen both images and fewer would have made the connection. But what if we’d used a generic “people in office” image and then a magazine had used exactly that image to illustrate an article on say, cybercrime? Not an association you really want people to make about your brand.

There are other examples where choosing a stock image could be problematic; I’ve found customer testimonial images that appear to be someone else’s employee image and all traceable back to one stock photo. It casts doubt on those testimonials.

The testimonials on Cherry Apron Chef include two images of happy customers

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 08.36.28

Both people co-incidentally appear to work for SA softwares

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 08.00.52

And their colleague on the left seems to have migrated from Rome to Frankfurt, with the help of Expat Guide

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 08.03.55
“Marcello” also turned up in a website about Rand Paul’s election campaign. I guess the images were chosen to give readers the idea that that Mr. Paul has a wide and diverse group of followers, but it turns out that all the images are from shutterstock, and from a German-based photographer. So much for the local endorsements. Once this was spotted by internet sleuths the images were removed.

The problem with all these examples is that stock images do not grant you an exclusive licence, so other people can re-use the image in their own promotions.

On at least one occasion a stock image has been used to support views not held by the people in the image. Earlier this year a family photo was used in the campaign against gay marriage in Ireland – and the family came out in support of Gay Marriage.

And it gets even worse. This week Donald Trump’s twitter account featured this image to demonstrate his extreme patriotism, and position him as a future leader of the USA.

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 08.11.20But the internet sleuths spotted something interesting. The soldiers on the lower right, don’t look American, in fact the experts quickly figured out that the image is a stock image from a war re-enactment. So the image used in Trumps campaign to demonstrate his great love of America featured people dressed as Nazi soldiers. The tweet has since been removed and the PR excuse is that it was a “young intern” and that Donald Trump had been somewhere else when the image was posted. So there was a campaign screw-up and Trump blames someone else, immediately. I couldn’t help thinking of a former leader of the USA who famously had a sign on his desk saying “the buck stops here“. So much for “real leadership”!

I understand that using stock images is a cheap way source quality images for your site. But you need to take care using them. I would suggest;

  • don’t use stock images of people to illustrate your employees or your customers, instead use photos of your employees and customers – with their permission! (See this post “Who the hell are these people?” and this post “Photographs of real people work better than inane stock images” from David Meerman Scott)
  • make sure the image is what you think it is, and if there’s doubt look for a new image
  • use the four eyes principle – so two people check every image that is used (no, one person wearing glasses does not count)
  • NEVER blame the intern; it’s your fault for not giving clear instructions, not checking the image, and not having a process in place to manage your content well

Or you could keep it really simple, and don’t use stock images.

Astroturfing

astroturfIf you’ve ever seen a book on Amazon with a lot of vaguely positive reviews, or a hotel review on trip advisor with glowing reviews that don’t really match the photos, or a new restaurant with a suspiciously high number of reviews in its first week after opening, you may have stumbled across a case of astroturfing.

Astroturf is that fake grass seen in public sports parks, and astroturfing is, according to the Guardian;

the attempt to create an impression of widespread grassroots support for a policy, individual, or product, where little such support exists. Multiple online identities and fake pressure groups are used to mislead the public into believing that the position of the astroturfer is the commonly held view.

We know that people trust reviews and recommendations from family and friends, but we’ll also trust consumer reviews – even when we don’t know the reviewer – ahead of any form of company communication or advertising. So it’s not surprising that some companies and organisations try to co-opt the review process for their own purposes.

It might not seem to matter much, but reviews, recommendations and star rankings affect sales, Astroturfing puts that at risk. This has become such an issue for the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, that they’re now building a technical solution to stop fake reviews.

There’s a more important potential issue at stake when this scales up, when Astroturfing is used by special interest groups it starts to influence public opinion, discredit dissenting voices,  and influence public policy as Sharyl Attkisson explains in this TEDx talk.

The signs she suggests to watch out for;

  • use of inflammatory language, for example;  crank quack nutty pseudo conspiracy
  • claiming to debug myths that aren’t myths
  • attacking the people and organisations surrounding an issue rather than addressing the facts

I’d add blocking or deleting comments from dissenters in online discussions.

As the video makes clear this is a tactic used by marketers and lobbyists, and it’s one we, as consumers need to be aware of as we read reviews and follow online discussions. And online retailers need to follow Amazon’s example and build engines to reduce the impact of astroturfers.

Image; Test Shot  |  Francois W Nel  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Social at Philips

I got an assignment as part of our digital team day; 10 slides, 10 seconds each, explain social media, what you have done and what is coming soon. PS; images only, no text.

Challenge accepted!

All but one of the images comes from the Philps Instagram account, where we have instagrammers work on a theme of our choosing, so far we’ve used #LightIsLife, and have just started with #ABetterNow. So here’s the story of social, in images, with the text I used as a basis for my presentation. (Turns out 10 seconds = 2 sentences.)

1 #NewKid

Slide1Social Media is the new kid on the block. Facebook – the biggest platform with 1.2 billion users turns 10 next year. (Image; @aaron)

2 #TheCustomer

Slide2Social Media gives us an opportunity to be closer to our customers – it’s often the first place they meet us, and their first choice of how to contact us. (Image; @aaron)

#The Basics

Slide3We have delivered the basics to the company; social listening and social care via D@S, plus global content sharing. And we’ve started on reviews and ratings. (Image; @aaron)

#Listen

Slide4Listening is the beginning of quality social media at company level, we can listen to our customers, find ways to solve problems, build conversations and develop insights. (Image; @brahmino)

#Care

Slide5Care is essential, it builds trust with consumers. The social care teams around the world handle about 8,000 interactions per month. (Image; @aaron)

#StoryTelling

Slide6We tell the brand story through our global content channels, and we share that content with markets. Almost as an umbrella to marketing and campaigns. (Image; @brahmino)

#Future

Slide7The future builds on this, more great content, developing better ways to share content and testing new uses of social to build business value. (Image; @Philips)

#FunStuff

Slide8We do some fun stuff; we’ve tested new tools – such as periscope, held Digital hangouts, and turned an online campaign #lightislife from Instagram into a real world exhibition. (Image; @aaron)

#Success

Slide9Success for us is more than KPIs and awards – although we have those. It’s building sales through reviews and ratings, re-use of our content across the company, and the growth of social media within markets. (Image: @aaron)

#TeamSocial

Slide10I’m telling this story, but Team Social is huge. My team are here today and there are social hubs in almost all markets now. You can join team social by joining a hangout or our internal social community.

Acknowledgement; Big thanks to my colleague Michele Boccamazzo, he’s responsible for our Instagram account, and works with the instagrammers to curate a truly beautiful collection.

Reviewing Reviews

reviewsYou can now review anything and everything via numerous other from Yelp to TripAdvisor to SiteJabber. Amazon has let you review books and products for years and even highlights the funniest ones.

Realistically a business can’t please all of the people all of the time; so what do you do with bad reviews? Last week two very contrasting cases turned up.

The Case of the Disgruntled Writer

A reader posted a one star review of a book on GoodReads, and referred to it as “wordy and pretentious”. Her review was short and focused on what she did not like, she did not make any mention of the author at all.

The author responded, something GoodReads specifically advises against, and asked for the reader to remove the review.

His wording made it clear he took the review personally including stating “if it’s your desire to hurt me financially and ruin my business, then it’s understandable why you would post such a harmful review.”

And it went downhill from there, with the author posting increasingly agressive responses (capitalised words are never a good sign), and other GoodReads readers piling in, and often giving the author more one star reviews (which was not fair, unless they had read and disliked the book). The author responds to many of their comments, with wordy responses, he adds quotes from other writers, and then quotes his own book.

It’s not a good look, and the author’s comments have now been deleted from GoodReads. His overall review rating has dropped, the incident has been shared all over social media, and I doubt that his tirade has drawn in any new readers. It’s a fail.

Breakfast of Journalists

coffeeAt the same time an example popped up in the Dutch media. A restaurant reviewer for a local newspaper went to Bagels & Beans, which is a chain of cafes in the Netherlands selling, you guessed it, bagels and coffee.  The writer gave the cafe a two star review and complained about the dry bagel, the two purposeless slices of orange on his plate, the eight “superfoods” in his yoghurt, the speed of service, the tea, the yoghurt and the decor. With all that I’m not sure why it got even two stars.

A review in a newspaper is arguably more significant than a review on a website. So how did Bagels & Beans respond? On Facebook with this (translated from Dutch);

We finally had someone in our cafe again, but it turned out to be a journalist. From Het Parool. He wasn’t here for fun, but because he had to write a review. And that was not positive. In fact the piece was so acidic that we recommend that you take antacids before you read it. But maybe we’re wrong, he’s obviously a professional. Maybe he does have a point.

So we thought: Why not ask people who definitely understand. Whose opinion is really important to us. Who’s that? You of course!

Let us know what you think of the “Parool Breakfast” and put your review here in the comments. These are the reviews we really want to have.

The 5 best reviews get 1 free Parool Ontbijtje! We will announce the winners on Friday 12 June.

As my colleague said “awesome way of responding to a bad review”. The responses on Facebook (in Dutch, sorry) have been positive. Apprecitative of the positive attitude of Bagels & Beans, the humour they’re showing, and their bagels. This is a win.

Training Advice

As it happens I spent time last week training a group of social media managers and digital marketers on, among other things, responding to negative comments on social media (not specifically reviews). In general our expert advice is do not react when it’s a fair opinion; as in the book review above. But we should also consider the option of responding with humour, and directly to your fans/followers. Done well it’s a win.

And for the record, the article about the Bagels & Beans reaction came from Het Parool, the same newspaper that published the bad review. Bravo to their editor, or as the Dutch would say “chapeau”.

Images: Smiley Face Cake Pops | FamilySweetery | CC BY-NC 2.0

Bagels & Beans promotional image

I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 20.35.28I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit
More Complicated Than That
Ben Goldacre

This is a romp through Dr. Goldacre’s analysis of weak claims and poorly reported science. He argues that journalists should cite, and link to, the sources of the research behind the headlines. He also argues that we, the unsuspecting public should know how to read scientific studies for ourselves, and we should question the reports rather than swallow the conclusions whole.

So if you’ve ever read a science-y headline and thought to yourself “that doesn’t sound right” this book is for you. It takes a look at scientific method and points out some of the pitfalls in constructing a good experiment and in the process gives some pointers about what to look for when evaluating a scientific story;

  • Who funded the study?
  • How well was the experiment designed?
    • sample size
    • scientific method; was there a simple
    • testing a single hypotheses
  • Cherry Picking the data; does the report use a small group of reports to prove a point rather than all research?

In the past three weeks three cases have popped up in social media that prove the need to both hold journalists to a higher standard and to educate us all.

(1) Proving nothing; A Swedish family ate organically for two weeks, and tests showed a drop in the concentration of pesticides in their urine.

So the family had their urine tested for various pesticides on their usual diet, then ate organic food for two weeks, then tested the urine again. Their urine was tested daily over the two weeks and by the end there was almost no pesticide in the urine.

Note that “organic” doesn’t mean pesticide-free, so the family could still have consumed some pesticide with their organic meals. The article doesn’t report on whether that was tested for.

Which the article calls a ” staggering result”. No, not staggering, school level biology. You could do the exact same test with vitamin C. Give people a high vitamin C diet for a month, then remove vitamin C from their diet. Hey presto! No vitamin C in the urine.

This report hits the trifecta; small sample size, poor design, funded by a supermarket with a range of organic foods. Essentially this “experiment” simply proved that the Swedish family have well-functioning kidneys.

(2) Faked Data; There was a really interesting study done on the attitudes to same-sex marriage. It concluded that conversation with a gay surveyor/canvasser could induce long-term attitude change. The study seemed to be well constructed, with a good data set supporting the conclusion. The optimistic news was widely reported late last year when the study was released.

But when scientists started digging into the data, and trying to replicate the results something didn’t stack up. The study has now been retracted by one of the authors, it seems there will be a further investigation.

It’s not always the journalists at fault.

(3) We’re easily fooled; Daily dose of chocolate helps you lose weight.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 14.24.23Before you rush out to buy a week’s supply of your favourite chocolate bars, it’s not true.

But it turns out that it’s rather easy to generate the research and result to prove this, and extremely easy to get mainstream media to report on it. As John Bohannon proved in setting up this experiment and the associated PR.

So there can be flaws or outright fraud in science. Journalists can, on occasion, twist the story to deliver the headline. And we, the public are ready to believe reports that re-inforce our own opinions, and we’re too ready to believe good news about chocolate.

Turns out if it sounds too good to be true we should ask more questions.

Many of the articles in this book are already published in the Guardian, and if you want to read more on bad science Dr. Goldacre has his own site with the helpfully short title; Bad Science. He campaigns for greater journalistic responsibility on reporting science, for using the scientific method to test policy decisions, and for better education on scientific method.

He’s right, on all three.

Chocolate Image; I Need Chocolate |  Kit  |  CC BY-NC 2.0

Trend Watching Seminar

Bright Idea1 hour, 5 big ideas, 10 trends, loads of examples.

The second session of the Trend Watching Day in Amsterdam promised us the “10 Newest and Most Actionable Trends for Right Now”.

I’ve described the ideas and the trends, and tried to capture some of the examples. I’ve included the best of the examples mentioned that I could find described online.

The workbook that came with the seminar encouraged us as participants to think of what we could take away from this and use immediately.

Lens of Human Needs

There is a big temptation when talking about trends to focus on technology, to look at the newest, latest and greatest from the technology sector. There’s so much going on in the world of technology that it’s easy to forget that human needs are constant and it’s only by meeting those needs that technology is useful, interesting and forms part of a trend.

(1) Beneficial Intelligence

We’re used to talking about “artificial intelligence“, the idea that a system can take information from the environment and take action to optimise the result of whatever function it is performing.

Beneficial intelligence takes the same concept but looks at it through a human lens; use data to give context to help decision making and increase positive experience.

For example Prizm analyses the music play lists of whoever is connected to the device and provides an optimised stream of music to meet the group’s music tastes.

(2) Internet of Shared Things

The “Internet of Things” becomes internet of shared things, as technology meets the sharing economy.

For example Bitlock enables the sharing of bikes, although with a staring price close to the price of a second hand bike in Amsterdam I’m not sure it’ll fly here.

The concept has become interesting to some larger companies; Audi has launched “Audi Unite” in Sweden where groups of up to five people can jointly own a car. This extends the concept adopted car sharing networks such as Car2Go.

 Compelling Brand is About Emotion

Even in a world where a drone will take your photo a compelling brand is still about feelings.

(3) Two-way Transparency

Rating our experiences with companies has been around a while, some companies are are also rating their customers. AirBNB might have been in the lead here, letting both hosts and guests rate each other.

But other companies are getting in on the act and rewarding their customers, The Art Series Hotels in Australia now use “reverse reviews” to give feedback on their guests with the tagline “it pays to behave”.

Prêt à Manger, a chain selling gourmet, ready-to-eat food based in the UK, apparently gives staff a “freebie allowance” to use on customers who stand out as friendly. I must smile more next time I visit one.

(4) Insider Trading, Companies Appeal to the Personal

H&M vacationMake your internal policies a point of difference, make it public and use it in PR for your company.

H&M included their 5 week vacation policy on billboards – presumably in the US, since this is a standard vacation allowance in many parts of Europe.

Intel pledged 300M USD to build a more diverse workforce and announced it at a major electronics show.

Earlier this year Vodafone announced a global maternity leave policy, backing it up with a business case that highlights the importance of good maternity policies in keeping talented women at the company.

Peer Economy

Peer-to-peer transactions, collectively known as the sharing economy build value.

(5) Very Important Peers

Working on the old principle of ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’ companies are figuring out how to get individual consumers in touch with the right person – either because of what they know or what they’re doing.

Lopeca connects you to local people who can act as a virtual tour guide showing you their city via their phone.

(6) Peer Armies

Companies are finding ways to mobilise “peer armies” to answer questions, and help others. (I think Army is a poor analogy here, but I’m sticking with the Trend Watching nomenclature).

AUDI in Sweden launched “snow rescuers” app to connect you to another AUDI driver, one with a 4WD, if you’re stuck in the snow.

The Lazy Consumer

We’ve all become lazy, we want everything now, and we don’t want to work for it. We want expertise instantly and, as consumers, we want to do the right thing as long we don’t have to expend a lot of effort.

(7) Instant skills

We’d like to be able to do all the cool things, with as little effort as possible.

Instagram is probably the best example of this, turning us all into arty-hipster-photographer types by providing simple filters and tools to edit photos on the go. Obviously we’re not all expert Art photographers because of this, but Instagram photos have been hung in galleries and sold for artistic prices.

New options for the lazy gardener; Seed Sheet, which will help you design a garden online, and then grow it.

(8) Lazy Virtue

Rag Bag recyclingMany consumers have concerns about the healthiness of what they consume, and the sustainability of its production. Our ethical interests can challenge us – I appreciate American Apparel for their “no sweatshop” manufacuturing, but I hate their sexist ads. We’d like to feel virtuous as we shop, and some brands are connecting to this.

The Rag Bag encourages recycling and that minimalist ideal of non-accumulation; simply turn the bag inside out put your unwanted clothes in and send it off.

Warby Parker operates a “buy a pair, give a pair” programme, donating glasses to the third world where they’re sorely needed.

Just make it fun

(9) Small World

As smart phones and internet connectivity become ubiquitous we have tools to connect humans in extraordinary ways.

Tworlds is a photosharing app that connects people across the world who are posting on the same subject based on hashtag eg; two cups of coffee.

Lifetramp aims to connect people with inspiring mentors in a new field. You could spend a day with a cobbler, an artist, or a furniture maker.

(10) Brand fanatics

Sometimes people love a brand way beyond the pleasure gained from the product they own.

Reebok brand fanatics have been getting the logo tattoed as part of the “Reebok Forever” brand campaign.

CONCLUSION

At the end of the session we were asked to spend some time thinking about the trends we’d heard about and how we could change or business to adopt them. For me it’s more about looking at what is happening in the company and surfacing it to tell the company story in a compelling way. The stories are there already.

Image: Bright Ideas  |  The Pink Lemon  |  CC BY-NC 2.0

 

 

 

Just Stop It #5

Stop SignsToday’s complaint is about newsletter management, specifically the sign-up and unsubscribe processes.

I’ve noticed that I’ve been signed up for newsletters on the basis of a single contact with the company, perhaps a service enquiry, or a downloading a white paper. I’ve also seen email suppliers making it hard to unsubscribe from unwanted newsletters. These two annoyances combine into one big annoyance with a company that really should know better.

Automatically Signing Me Up

Please stop signing me up for newsletters without a specific opt in. Just because I visited your site, or emailed you once does not mean I want to hear from you again. Let me opt-in. Do not make it a condition of using your services (looking at you, Microsoft).

  1. There are two things I do to avoid adding to the unwanted email;
    I have an email account that I use only for sites I think might spam me.
  2. I use a junk filter est to “exclusive” in Hotmail so I never see them.

Making “Unsubscribe” Impossible

At some point Microsoft started sending me  emails relating to their products and services to my Hotmail account. Pretty sure I didn’t sign up for it, but Hotmail belongs to Microsoft so I get it.

I clicked on the handy “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of one of these emails, and got this.

Unsubscribing from Microsoft
Outlook has not given Outlook any info to help me unsubscribe from them.

Translation; Microsoft does not let you unsubscribe from their emails in their own email service. That’s a design choice, they make it difficult for you to unsubscribe so that won’t do it.

The result is that they are now blocked.

I’ve used Microsoft as the example here, but they’re not the only ones guilty of random spamming. In the last month I have been signed up for newsletters from conference organisers, potential suppliers, and random companies who guessed my work email.

I’ve unsubscribed from them all. Where that hasn’t been possible I’ve flagged them as “junk”. If that happens often enough at work their email domain could be blocked.

Please, just stop it.

 Image; Stop | Brainware3000 | CC BY-2.0

 

 

 

Boil the Ocean

boiling lake“We just need to get this done; let’s not boil the ocean”.

The mental image this phrase generates makes its meaning pretty clear. Forbes defines it “This means to waste time”. That’s not quite the sense I’ve heard it used as in the past.

Investopedia‘s definition comes closer “To undertake an impossible task or project or to make a task or project unnecessarily difficult”, but goes on to give an example I found unhelpful.

The definition that best matches the sense in which I hear “boil the ocean” comes from the Urban Dictionary;

To waste one’s time attempting to do the impossible.

Scope is too big to do in one project. Break it up into more than one. Don’t try to solve every problem at once. Identify a couple, address them, and move on.

Nailed it.

I hear the “boil an ocean” statement most often when a project hasn’t had the scope of the project defined well or has suffered from “scope creep“, where more and more has been thrown into the project bucket.

I’ve run a number of global roll-outs of tools/platforms/branding. Every time there were a raft of decisions and objections to get through. You can’t be daunted by that. You must manage stakeholders (often changing) expectations and still deliver.

Have the big vision, but define the project scope at a deliverable scale – and stick to it.

That way you won’t need to boil any oceans.

Image; The Famous Boiling Lake | Antoine Hubert | CC BY-ND 2.0