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Archive for January, 2010

Privacy and the currency of disclosure on social networks

January 15th, 2010

Comments by Mark Zuckerman, founder of social network Facebook, have reignited the debate on the value of individual privacy, an argument expanded in an elegant blog post by Kieron O’Hara, senior research fellow in Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton.

Kieron argues that privacy is actually essential, not only for the individual to act freely but also for society to function effectively. While his argument addresses broader issues than the impact of social networks, it acts perfectly as a test for these communities.

Social networks redefine the notions of individual privacy. We join tribes of people who we may have never met and who do not “belong” to our physical community. Our individuality is reshaped as we adopt new or different personas to mesh with the norms of these groups and to engage successfully with these tribes, we need to disclose ‘personal’ information.

In these exchanges, the essential, private “me” is revealed to be a chimera. Online, we are who we choose to be and we do so because it a benefit to aspects of our multi-faceted selves, and to the communities we belong to. The selective disclosures we make blur the line between private and public spheres in positive ways for both us as individuals (playing the game) and our communities.

Of course, communities are not simply atomised “game players”; they are also host to business entities, and the individuals who play the role of corporate sentinels. Communities have swiftly educated companies who thought that they could hide their commercial purpose and the sentinels also find that the selfish, disingenuous strategy has no place in these open, sharing groups.

In this sense, communities are self-healing and corrosive activity, which damages the tribal members and the tribe as a group is kept to a minimum. Information is exchanged “on my terms”.

The isolated, private individual whose engagement is limited mainly to passive adoption of social and commercial transmission is the ideal consumer unit. Association with social networks, with a subscription paid in the currency of disclosure, is clearly a benefit to both individual and community, offering multiple reference points for informed choice.

Does the Zuckerman imperative then present challenges to the legal concept of “reasonable expectation of privacy”? Responsible consent informs this challenge and there is little doubt that unwitting disclosure of personal data by an individual – and its misuse by third parties – would be deemed unreasonable. If the agent enabling that misuse is a commercial entity, like Facebook, then the consequences for that company would be terminal.

Facebook’s business strategy is almost wholly dependent upon the currency of disclosure. It is in Zuckerman’s interests, and indeed all those leaders of social networks, to ensure that this currency is exchanged equably.

There are certainly issues over how the multi-faceted individual reforms and represents aspects of his/her online selves. The networks archive snapshots of personas, which do change and the management of these progressions is complex. It requires continual disclosure and responsible openness – neither of which is in itself harmful; quite the opposite.

Unexpected and catastrophic use of personal information by government or commerce must surely educate individuals to understand the true value of their personal information, which persona they adopt and how much they give away.

There is a recent and shocking UK legal case in point where a woman who alleged she was raped by a group of men had IM messages she had posted used against her by the defence. According to reports, her credibility was “shot to pieces” with the submission to the court of excerpts from her MSN messages, which showed that she was “prepared to entertain ideas of group sex with strangers”. The judge at Preston Crown Court ordered the jury to return “not guilty” verdicts.

Should the messages – fleeting representations of her changing thoughts and ideas – have been kept private? There is a strong viewpoint made on the F Word about the case. I personally find the court judgement extraordinary and dangerous. Whatever the view, the judgement is a clear lesson on the need to understand the currency of disclosure.

A regular guest on the Liberate Media blog, Lorraine Warren, Director of Postgraduate Education and senior lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the School of Management at the University of Southampton, has blogged on the complexities of privacy, freedom of speech and management of relationships on social networks like Twitter. We’ll be picking up the arguments and discussion on privacy with her and hopefully with Kieron over the next few weeks. There’s a world of ideas to explore – and we’d love to hear your views.

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Will social media have a real impact on the 2010 UK election?

January 15th, 2010

For my first post in 2010, I thought I would look at a major event that is looming on the horizon, in which social media could play a major part, or simply be a missed opportunity.

This year’s UK election will soon be the main talking point for our collective media, whether offline or online, but this year, the political parties themselves could make a real impact online, and therefore on the outcome. Why do I only feel it ‘could’ have an impact? Simply because it depends on how much effort the political parties put into their online campaigns, whether they are able to reach and converse with their communities, and who, if anyone, they will ask to help them in this endeavour.

To look at the importance of digital communications in elections, the UK political parties need only look at the success of President Obama’s election campaign, much of the success for which has been put down to Obama’s ‘online organiser’ Chris Hughes, see the Digital Communities Blog for more information.

In short, according to the Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe: “Technology has always been used as a net to capture people in a campaign or cause, but not to organise. Chris Hughes saw what was possible before anyone else.”

How did he do this? Basically, Hughes built a virtual mechanism for scaling and supporting community action. He also captured and interpreted human behaviour data, in other words he listened, and utilised a range of social tools to reach his audience. This allowed Obama supporters to become online activists long before Obama’s staff were able to interact with potential voters face-to-face.

His main tool was a fun, easily accessible networking site that allowed Obama supporters to create groups, plan events, raise funds, download tools, and connect with one another, simple but effective. It was also dramatically ahead of Obama’s competitors: Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

By the time the campaign was over, volunteers had created more than 3.2 million Facebook profiles on the site, planned 200,000 offline events, formed 35,000 groups, posted 400,000 blogs, generated 14.5 million viewing hours on YouTube and raised $30 million on 70,000 personal fund-raising pages. In total the campaign raised more than $500 million through average donations of under $100, in addition to mobilising new voters.

Pretty impressive, and certainly something that you would hope the UK parties have paid attention to. So where are they today, and how will they emulate this lesson from the U.S. elections?

Looking at their current offerings, the political parties start to 2010 is not overly impressive. Using data from natural search conversion agency Tamar’s political search index (Tamar is a client of Liberate Media) we can see both the Conservatives and Labour are failing to protect their search results. This is hugely important as search offers the gateway that voters will use to find essential information to base their vote on, and if they can’t even find the information that the parties are putting out, what’s the point?

Searching for the terms ‘Labour’ and ‘Conservative’ returned relevant official websites, as you would expect, but a search for either David Cameron or Gordon Brown, which some might argue are equally or more important in an election, returns unofficial blogs for both, with negative information. Gordon Brown alone is attracting around 400,000 searches a month on Google with around 30,000 of those resulting in people visiting the unofficial sites.

How should they rectify this? Well, following the Obama model, simply listen to your audience and offer them relevant content that will be useful and engaging. The more useful and relevant it is, the higher it will rank. Furthermore, social media tools such as Twitter are easy to set up and highly ranked, and again according to the data, although Gordon Brown has a Twitter account under the Downing Street name, which has 1.7 million followers, but there are no other official Twitter accounts in the name of either Brown or Cameron, though there of course plenty of unofficial alternatives.

Conservative leader Cameron’s official tweets come via the @Conservatives Twitter account, which has just 17,727 followers, but this is more than the official Labour Party account @UKLabour with 8594 followers.
So what else is out there? The conservative party has launched, which is very similar to Obama’s site, and Labour has that promises to be the place where “Labour-minded people can come together”. While not formally linked to the Labour party, the site’s bloggers include Peter Mandelson and Douglas Alexander – and it has been set up by one the Government’s original spin doctors, Derek Draper.

To really understand what level of importance the parties will place on social media for the election it makes sense to see what they have to say on the subject. If we look at quotes from two of the Labour parties’ key players online we can see:
Jessica Asato who is acting director of pro-Labour party organisation Progress, said: “Obviously the web is going to play a bigger part in election 2010 than it did in 2005 but the internet won’t determine the outcome. Most voters still get the message from the general media.

“Voter apathy is again the biggest hurdle and with last year’s MPs’ expenses crisis it could be an even bigger problem this time around.”

“Obama’s campaign team were highly-calculated on Twitter and with MyBarackObama. It was less about messaging and more about engaging and I think UK politicians have some way to go before matching that.

“The Tories have invested more (online) at the moment. The Labour page for members is good, but it needs to open up to a wider audience.”

Kerry McCarthy Labour’s new media campaign spokesperson said: “I think new media could potentially play a very important role in the election, in a number of ways.

“Firstly, it will drive the news agenda and accelerate the pace at which announcements are disseminated, dissected, challenged and in some cases comprehensively rubbished, in hours or even minutes rather than in days.

“The parties will find it very hard to control this agenda in the way they’ve been accustomed to doing in past elections.

“We’ve already seen email making a real difference to the ease with which people can contact MPs, but for those MPs with an online presence their voters will also be able to search through their websites, read their blogs, contact them on Facebook and Twitter.

“Anything which makes politicians more approachable and, by extension, more accountable, is a good thing. Politicians who aren’t willing to engage in this way will lose out.

“New media is not without dangers… there is a tendency on Twitter for activists to talk/argue amongst themselves, which can put off other people who are politically interested but not involved.

“Too many MPs using Twitter are still in ‘broadcast’ mode, whereas they should treat is as a two-way conversation.”

These two view points from within the Labour party seem to show that the knowledge is there, but whether it is going to be used across the board remains to be seen. My feeling at this time is that online communications will be hugely important for the upcoming election, and although the parties are taking it more seriously, they simply don’t have the organisational understanding or willingness to get stuck in. A situation that they may live to regret if one party can surpass the doubters and make a real impact online.

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Weekly Social Media sites, tools and posts round-up (15-01-2010)

January 15th, 2010

Welcome to another installment of the ‘Weekly Social Media sites, tools and posts round-up’

1. HeadWay is a WordPress plug-in that enables users with no coding knowledge to create a bespoke WordPress theme via an easy drag and drop process. There is a small fee to pay for the plug-in. Highly recommended.

2. T Lists is a very visual way of searching for Twitter lists. Just add your keyword to the search bar, wait for the results and finally follow or apply to the selected lists.

3. Twendly is a great way to find and connect with people on Twitter. Results are ranked in terms of  relevancy to your given search term and the user’s level of activity over a 12-month period. Highly recommended.

4. If you like playing around with images but aren’t sure how to get some of the snazzy effects you see everywhere, Rollip might just be able to help. Upload your photo and select one of the 40 effects and add it to your image, simple.

5. TweetsQue, as the name suggests, lets you add Tweets and set time intervals for them to be Tweeted out.

Social Media post of the week: 30 Tips for Using Social Media in Your Business

SEO post of the week: Web 2.0: Buzz-Monitoring and Tracking

More of the same next week!

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Is the Press Release still effective?

January 12th, 2010

The Liberate Media team would like to ask you a small favour, which will take 30 seconds of your time in the name of research.

We have put together a very small survey asking 4 questions on the effectiveness of the traditional press release.

Over the last few years there has been much talk about the need for an updated press release format, similar to our own service; Pressitt, but as one journalist tweeted the other day: “If you don’t like press releases, you’re in the wrong industry.” Is this a common view shared amongst journalists, or do you think otherwise?

The survey is best suited to journalists who read/use press releases on a daily basis, but if you have strong views on the traditional press release, feel free to take the survey.

Of course we will share the results with you once they have been finalised.

Many thanks in advance, the Liberate Media team.

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Why are women changing their Facebook status to a colour?

January 8th, 2010

If you’re a Facebook user, you may have noticed that women have been changing their Facebook status to a colour over the past day or so. Mine currently reads as ‘black’. It’s been driving men mad, including my husband! So what is it all about?

Well I hope I won’t get shot down for revealing that the colour corresponds to the bra that we’re wearing. It’s all in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness, and has been a beautiful demonstration of how the most simple social media marketing idea can reach epidemic proportions within a matter of hours.

Last night I received the following Facebook message from a female friend of mine:

“Some fun is going on…. just write the color of your bra in your status. Just the color, nothing else. And send this on to ONLY girls no men …. It will be neat to see if this will spread the wings of cancer awareness. It will be fun to see how long it takes before the men will wonder why all the girls have a color in their status… Haha!”

The tone of the message was perfectly executed – it had the desired affect of making me giggle, change my status message, and pass onto my female friends as instructed. I’m not the sort of person to usually participate in chain messages and so this demonstrates how important language remains in social media PR communications. Within minutes of forwarding the message I could see friends of mine getting excited and updating their status messages – I received a number of texts from recipients expressing their enthusiasm for the idea. If it’s possible to sense a ‘buzz’ across Facebook, there was definitely one last night among female users. This morning when I logged into my Facebook Newsfeed, I was greeted with a long list of colour themed status messages.

The Breast Cancer Awareness raising exercise was free and quick to implement, but has been highly effective in terms of reminding people about the cause. It just goes to show that social media PR doesn’t have to be about big budgets, but just a neat idea.

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Weekly Social Media sites, tools and posts round up (08-01-2010)

January 8th, 2010

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year. Welcome back to another installment of the ‘Weekly Social Media sites, tools and posts round up’.

1. BannerSnack is a fantasic tool that lets you create Flash web banners without the need for Flash knowledge. A free version is available where a small BannerSnack watermark is visible in the banner, while a branding-free version is on offer for a few dollars. Highly recommended.

2. Twitter Alerts allows you to receive Twitter messages via mobile phone (SMS), instant messenger or email. There is a small charge to receive via SMS.

3. Your Fonts enables you to create your own fonts in a few easy steps, which can then be used in programmes like Microsoft Word and Powerpoint. There is a small charge of $9.95 for the privilege.

4. This is a compendium of useful Facebook widgets from profile badges to Live Streams – very useful!

5. Interactive Buttons with Hit Counters are all the rage at the moment, and here are some of the best.

Social Media post of the week: Huge List of Over 250 Social Media Websites all nicely categorised with Alexa ranks.

SEO post of the week: What does an SEO Strategy look like? Great visual to add to your SEO efforts.

More of the same next week.

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"I found a higher degree of contacts and enthusiasm and then something far more interesting. They listened, challenged and questioned with a focus and knowledge that I've never experienced before."