Recently in Social Media Category

ProfilesWhat do you get when you look at social media as a source of information about people? This topic usually goes off into a discussion of influence, a result of thinking of social media as media. What if, instead of influencers, you think of the people who participate in social media as individuals?

Obviously, you can go creepy if you do this wrong. Easily. But if you're careful about how you use the information, people are sharing a lot of information about themselves.

All you need to start is an indentifier—a name, email address, Twitter handle—and you start connecting dots. When people include, for example, a Twitter handle in a LinkedIn profile, you can have real name, location, employment, schools… Maybe links to more networks to continue the process, too.

It's not a question of probabilities. When people create links between their various network profiles, it's a clear statement that the accounts belong to the same person.

Why build when you can buy?
This is another niche for startups, of course. Several of which are working to reconcile public profiles across multiple social networks and using that information to create information-rich individual profiles. To make it even more useful, most of these companies offer APIs for integrating their profile data into other systems.

Your data plus detailed, individual profiles. What will you build?

Why Government Monitoring Is Creepy

Eavesdrop phoneQuiz: A government agency wants to monitor social media in the course of performing its function. Is that an obvious use of public information, or further evidence of a dark conspiracy? Oh, good, I see lots of hands for both answers. Let's look at what's really going on here.

You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.
—Scott McNealy (1999)
When people hear about social media monitoring by a government agency—such as the recent news of FBI, DHS, and CIA programs—the usual response is outrage about the perceived violation of privacy. People are living their lives online, and they don't want the government listening in.

Superficially, that's completely understandable. Most of us don't want people eavesdropping on us, even if we aren't hiding anything and don't harbor conspiracy theories. We just like our conversations to be kept within the group we think we're talking to. The usual response makes intuitive sense, even if we realize that these online conversations are, technically, public.

(By the way, I'm assuming that we're talking about governments in free, democratic countries here. Events over the last few years have clearly demonstrated the danger to people sharing information and opinions in countries with repressive regimes during times of instability. Sometimes, it's easy to decide whether the government is using or abusing people's information.)

Expectations of privacy
Where do we get this expectation of privacy in public places? Everybody knows that Twitter is public (unless you make your updates private), Facebook has public updates, YouTube is for the world, many forums are public, and blogs are a form of publishing, right?

How can we expect privacy in a public place?

Read that last sentence again, and I think we'll start to see what happened. We're not really talking about a public place—it's not a place at all. All of this Internet-based communication happens in a virtual space, which is shared by everyone. Virtual means almost, which also means not. A virtual space is not a real space; it's an artificial environment that is different from the real world in important ways.

The nature of public is one of those ways.

Public doesn't mean what it used to mean
Imagine having a conversation with a friend in a public place—a city street, maybe, next to a bus stop, or a sports stadium during a game. These are public places. We may have norms against eavesdropping, but someone standing close to you might hear your conversation. So your expectation of privacy is reduced, compared to when you have a conversation in a home or office.

The physical world imposes limits on the potential audience for conversations. Sound drops off over distance, and quickly. Other sounds in the environment block out the conversation, too. If you're talking while a bus leaves the stop or a big play happens on the field, even the person you're talking to might have trouble hearing you. A few feet away, you're inaudible. Across the street or stadium, you may as well not exist.

The Internet is different. A whisper on the other side of the world is as clear as a shout in a quiet room. A million people can talk at the same time, and we can pick out individual conversations—all of them. Say something today, and it's still there tomorrow. Time, distance and the crowd—none of them recreate the semi-privacy we experience in physical settings.

The conversation at the bus stop and the isolated tweet are both public, and yet they're entirely different. The differences come back to the difference between the Internet and the physical world. People react to the perceived violations of privacy because they learned their ideas of public and private in the physical world, and the different physics of information in the virtual world break their mental models.

A clear dichotomy
The virtual world also breaks the in-between states of semi-private and semi-public. There's no semi online. Private is uncertain, too.

Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
—Benjamin Franklin
Some online venues make the attempt to be private, but it's enforced with terms of service and technical measures that can be defeated. Any notion of privacy in online communications has an element of trust, which may be backed up by contracts or law. But it's not private in the same way as a conversation in a closed room.

Public discussions, on the other hand, are really public, in a globally ubiquitous way that the physical world can't match. Those open Twitter accounts and blog posts, the groups and forums that anyone can read. Comments on newspaper sites and book reviews. Videos and pictures uploaded all over the place. Anyone can see them—milliseconds or months later.

This isn't the first time
We've run into this qualitative change in the nature of public information before. Think about public records that the government keeps, such as on property transactions. These records have always been public, but pre-Internet, realities of the physical world created barriers to access.

If you wanted to look at property records, you had to go to the clerk in the appropriate local government office. You'd probably wait in line, and when it was your turn, you made your request. If you asked for something the clerk could find, you could look at the file, and you might pay ten cents a page to get a copy.

Where's the record today? It's on the web, with a database query engine that lets you look up properties by owner or address, with wild cards in your queries. If you don't find what you want, you look again—as many times as you like. When you find something interesting, you have all the information, which you can save or print as much as you like.

On other web sites, that same public record is aggregated with many others, mashed up in a map that shows house prices everywhere. Zoom out, get the big picture. Zoom in, find out what your neighbor paid for that house. It's the same public record, but putting it on a computer and making it available on the web completely changes what it means to be public.

The world changes faster than we adapt
We're so used to the constant rush of innovations and what we can do with them. We're not so good with thinking about the implications and adjusting our mental models. People start sharing their lives in these public channels, without thinking about what happens to the information. Remember the first stories of job applicants who shared the wrong pictures in Facebook?

Now, government agencies are opening up about their interest in what people have to say online, and we have this wounded sense of privacy based on expectations from the physical world. All that data is public, in the expanded sense of online public information. Did people think that officials wouldn't find it useful?

The value to government is obvious, but we need a reasoned discussion on the appropriate tradeoffs between government use and individual protection. All of which is far too much for an already long-winded blog post.

Related posts:

Photo by Jeff Schuler.

On an average day, I don't spend much time with Twitter. It's the social media water cooler, where there's always something interesting but rarely anything I can't afford to miss. I know, I should make better use of lists to manage the load, but on a typical day, it just doesn't matter much. To me, it's the unusual days that really prove Twitter's value.

I recently experienced two events—one good, one bad—that show Twitter at its best. The first was Social2011, Radian6's first user conference (#Social2011). The other was April 16, when North Carolina experienced a record-setting tornado outbreak. One twister passed within a few miles of here, so we were paying close attention.

Conferences and Meetups
Back in 2007, I followed the back-channel conversation at the NewComm Forum using Internet Relay Chat (IRC). It was a fairly geeky tool, and it was real-time only, but it was nice to connect with the event I couldn't attend.

Now, of course, the back channel is always Twitter, and it sometimes threatens to overwhelm the front channel (the person on stage). But Twitter and the hashtag make connecting with the people at the conference and those following remotely easier than ever. If you can keep from being completely distracted by it, the back channel is a great source of connections, discussion, and sharing that enhance the event experience.

North carolina tornado map 110419 02The back channel has been running at conferences for a few years now, but what's really changing is the role of Twitter in major emergencies. Lately, the news has been the earthquake and its aftermath in Japan, and the continuing unrest roiling the Middle East. The New York Times had a good article on how NPR's Andy Carvin (@acarvin) is experimenting with real-time news coverage on Twitter, just one of the ways in which the platform is proving useful.

Closer to home—way too much closer, thankyouverymuch—was the tornado that passed within a few miles of my house on April 16. We're fine, but the storms killed 24 people in NC and damaged or destroyed many homes and businesses. Twitter got a workout that day. Here's some of what I saw:

  • Sharing official warnings as they were issued. We had a lot of those.

  • Sharing damage reports. One user drove around Raleigh and tweeted what he found in several areas. Lots of people shared what they could see.

  • Relaying information from broadcast media to people without power in their homes (who were presumably using smart phones for Twitter).

  • Pointing to information. Of course, people tweeted and retweeted links to pictures, videos, news coverage, and other information.

  • Reassuring and checking on friends. "I'm OK" messages went out as the storm passed, and people started asking about friends known to be in the storm's path.

  • Tracking the storms' progress. Tornadoes are over almost as soon as they hit, and you can tell from the tweets where it was over. I ran a trend report on state-specific hashtags (#ncwx, #scwx, #vawx, #mdwx) to see if it showed the storms' advance, but what it showed was a lot of activity in NC—which was hit hardest that day.

  • Media reports. Our local TV stations are on their social media games. They have weather-specific accounts and know how to use the hashtags.

  • (Not much) official communication. I don't remember much official use of Twitter except for National Weather Service updates. It's interesting to see that NWS is experimenting with crowdsourcing storm reports via Twitter. Note to the #smem folks: remember that social media channels are good for both gathering and disseminating information, especially during emergencies that cover large areas.
I won't say that Twitter is only good for events. The water cooler has its purpose, and people share some good stuff there. Persistent hashtags are great for keeping up with topics and communities, and virtual events held entirely in Twitter have some usefulness, too. But when something's going on now—whether it's a conference or what the TV people would call "breaking news"—we see what you can really do with a real-time, many-to-many communications platform.

WMSN1210.pngI've been interested in things international a lot longer than I've been blogging international topics (just look up careers in international affairs). At work, that translates into tracking down companies globally; it's one way my research is different. So when somebody takes a good look at social media patterns beyond the US, I'm usually interested.

Global view

Regional view

Country-level view

If your view has been dominated by US trends, you should be interested, too. As it turns out, people are doing this stuff all over the planet.

Some lists are more incomplete than others. What sources of regional or country-level information on social media usage have you found?

Today's Wall Street Journal had Twitter abuzz about social media monitoring and privacy in closed communities ('Scrapers' Dig Deep for Data on Web). Specifically, a health discussion board and a social media analysis vendor using individual accounts to access personally identifiable health information. It's obviously an ethical question, but whose ethics apply? As far as I can tell? Nobody's (yet).

People are sharing personal stuff online, sometimes sharing more than they realize. We need to be careful about how we handle this information, but from what I can see, the ethical standards are just as siloed as the measurement standards. People brought along whatever ethics they subscribed to before they started dealing with social media, but the existing standards don't really cover the new activities.

Think about the different functional roles where you might find companies using social media data:

  • Market research
    Market researchers have strong ethical standards that come from social science research. They get into things like informed consent, but does that really apply to data mining of publicly available data? Do they apply if the data is aggregated, and no personally identifiable information is preserved? What ethical standards apply to desk research?

    Jeffrey Henning wrote about the etiquette of eavesdropping and presented a webinar on consumer attitudes towards social media market research. The short version is that people persist in expecting privacy in their online conversations, despite the public nature of the forums they use. But does their expectation of privacy online translate into an ethical obligation for researchers?

    Update: IMRO and CASRO guidelines may apply to social media research.

  • Public relations
    PR ethics say a lot of being honest and transparent in public statements, representing the client and the profession well… but what about the ethics of monitoring and measurement? A recent discussion of ethics in PR measurement suggests that that conversation has only just begun.

  • Marketing
    WOMMA takes strong positions on its members' marketing activities, but the closest it comes to mentioning monitoring or research is when it commits to "promote an environment of trust between the consumer and marketer." Other marketing codes I found had a similar emphasis on outbound marketing over inbound information collection.

    Update: WOMMA also calls for members to "respect the rights of any online or offline communications venue (such as a web site, blog, discussion forum, traditional media, and live setting) to create and enforce its own rules as it sees fit."

  • Customer service
    Is customer service sufficiently organized as a discipline to have its own code of ethics, or does it simply inherit the company's overall standards? I'll bet you that any existing ethics deal with one-on-one interactions with customers.

  • Human resources
    HR ethics related to personal information are based on information that companies aren't supposed to use in hiring decisions. danah boyd shared some thoughts on regulating the use of social media data in hiring.

  • Strategy/intelligence
    SCIP's code of ethics doesn't commit to much more than obeying the law. Other types of intelligence organizations get some leeway even on that. If you don't want competitors spying on you, your only real defense is to learn about INFOSEC.
Bottom line? I haven't seen an existing code of ethics that applies to monitoring, measuring, or mining social media sources. If you wanted to apply an existing standard, you'd have to decide which one. So, how do you pick? Are the rules determined by:

  • The source of the data?
  • What you do with it?
  • The job title/professional affiliation of the user? What if the labels themselves lack agreed definitions?
  • No ethics, just laws?
  • Nothing—there are no rules?
I have some ideas, which I'll share tomorrow. But first, what do you think? Is there an existing standard that you apply? How did you pick it?

Update: Is it time for Ethical Standards for Listening Vendors?


Photo by Thomas Hawk.

Bruce Schneier's taxonomy of social networking data (via Tim Finin) provides a helpful starting point for thinking about the various ways that personal information finds its way online.

Social Buzzword Bingo

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Just in time for the social holidays, Seersucker Social Media introduces social promotion, a powerful new social marketing tool for your social media toolbelt! Our advanced social intelligence and buzzword-compliant social functions will help you build social capital in your social networks—


I don't know about you, but I'm about done with prepending social to every word in the business vocabulary to "invent" a new, socially enhanced concept. A few years ago, Web 2.0 led a rush on 2.0 Jargon, and before long everybody was sick of it. All we need now is Social 2.0 to complete the cycle.

But that's just hype, and we can filter that. What's really bugging me is how the social buzzword generator is running roughshod over existing concepts—expropriating perfectly useful terms that had the temerity to get there first.

It all started with social marketing, meant as a more manageable contraction of social media marketing. The problem is that social marketing was an existing specialty, having nothing to do with social media. You could probably even make a case for social media social marketing, but I'll deny it if you tell anyone I said so.

I'm seeing more social takeovers lately, and to help you keep up, I'm collecting them here. Just to speed things along, I've taken the liberty of making up some that haven't shown up in the wild yet. See if you can tell them apart.

TermOriginal meaningSocial media buzzword
social (n.)see social function "I'm too hip to call it social media."

social capitalsomething about the strength of connections in social networks WPwhere Foursquare mayors go when they're promoted to governor

social functiona party with a dress codea business function with a social media makeover (or social media with a business makeover?)

social intelligence"the ability to understand and manage [people], to act wisely in human relations" WP"harnessing social media data to inform your business strategy" (Forrester)

social justice"the idea of creating an egalitarian society... based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognises the dignity of every human being" WP

when mean people lose Twitter followers
social marketingmarketing that supports desirable social outcomes, such as improving public health or education WP

social media marketing
social maturitylevel of social competence, self-help skills, and adaptive behavior (Vineland Social Maturity Scale )

progress toward implementing social [computing] technologies (Forrester)
social networka social structure made up of individuals or organizations WP

same thing, only on the web
social ordera set of social structures, institutions and practices which preserve 'normal' relations and behavior WP

a list of popular bloggers or tweeters
social promotionfailing a grade but advancing anyway WP

marketing promotion in social media
social unrestprotests, riotswhat happens when you spend all night on Facebook when you should be sleeping

social worka professional and academic discipline committed to the pursuit of social welfare and social change WP

reading RSS feeds and tweeting at work

Just remember, social x is not the same as social media x. We've been social a lot longer than we've had the Internet to mediate our connections.


Photo by greeblie.

Add to the list. You know you want to.

It's Come To This


hamsterwheel.jpgI had a long lunch today with an old friend who's active in the social media space, and I mentioned that to me, Twitter is now the water cooler. His first reaction was that I was using some new social media site called Water Cooler (Watercoolr?), and he had somehow missed it.

Not quite what I meant. Is social media buzz turning us all into hamsters, trying to keep up with the wheel?

Photo by sualk61.

Let's pick on one of the social media crowd's favorite buzzword bingo entries: engagement. Amber's thinking about what engagement means, so I'm going to bypass that question and move directly to the follow-up questions. Who is the object of your engagement? Why do want to engage them online? How does your relationship with them affect your engagement tactics?

Is this the party to whom I am speaking?
—Lily Tomlin as "Ernestine"

Engagement—responding, conversing, connecting, sharing—it sounds like a good thing. Whatever you mean when you say it, I'm sure I support it. In the spirit of and not or, I want to suggest that you consider some different types of people you might engage online.

This isn't an academic exercise. In my recent review of social media analysis platforms, I found engagement features with implicit assumptions about the object and purpose of engagement tactics. Click on the Engage button in one product, and you're in a tool for managing responses to customers. In another system, the button takes you to a media relations tool. The different objects require different tools, which will be used by different groups for different purposes.

Before you can decide which one works for you, you have to know what you mean by engagement.

  • Customers
    Well, duh. This is probably what everyone assumes engagement is all about—using social media as a channel for building a stronger relationship with customers (past, present, and future). Good stuff, but not the whole picture.

  • Influencers
    People you value because of their presumed ability to influence others. They may be customers, but the goal and approach are different when you think of them as influencers.

  • Media
    Professional influencers with different motives and expectations. You're probably already engaging reporters, but how does that play out in social media?

  • Employees
    You remember these people, right? How do they figure into your social media environment? Did I miss the memo that says that engagement means external?
We can add more. Just think of all the labels we apply to people, and ask how those different relationships might inform how, and why, you might engage them online. You could start with external business partners or investors; I'm sure you'll think of more.

If you want an answer other than "it depends," ask a more specific question.

Measuring Social Media must be the new black. Everybody's doing it—the in-crowd is, at least, and the rest are starting to realize they're missing something. Just look at the agencies who've suggested their own take on the little black dress—that is, on how marketers should measure social media.

  • Conversation Impact, Ogilvy PR

    Ogilvy proposes a framework with three sets of metrics that correlate to the traditional marketing funnel: Reach and positioning, based on a combination of web analytics, media analysis, and search visibility; Preference, based on media analysis and traditional research; and Action, based on measurable client objectives (such as sales conversions).

  • Social Influence Measurement, Razorfish (with TNS Cymfony and Keller Fay Group)

    The SIM score, as introducing in the Fluent 2009 report, compares sentiment for a company to sentiment for its industry. The report also mentions share of voice and weighting for influence, although the formulas for the metric do not.

  • Digital Footprint Index, Zócalo Group (with DePaul University)

    Evaluate a brand's online presence in three dimensions: Height, which represents the total volume of brand mentions; Width, based on consumer engagement with online content; and Depth, based on message saturation and sentiment.

Three agencies, three models that fit fairly neatly into measurement silos. I've grouped them on the somewhat arbitrary basis that they're all backed by marketing agencies, but they're not answering the same question, are they?

It was my understanding that there would be no math.
—Chevy Chase, as Gerald Ford
Breaking eggs, making omelets
Ogilvy's Conversation Impact tracks marketing effectiveness with its explicit alignment with the marketing funnel. I like that the framework intermingles different sources of data, including traditional research. The Action category, linking measurement to specific business outcomes, should help keep strategy and measurement on point.

Razorfish's SIM score is all about perception. How does the client look compared to its competitors and industry? Despite the "influence" in its title, this score is entirely about sentiment, with none of the usual indicators of influence. As a single metric, the SIM should be compared with the Net Promoter Score or MotiveQuest's Online Promoter Score, but I'll be honest here. I'm having trouble figuring out the significance of this ratio of ratios. I tried a few scenarios to get a sense for how the numbers change and got some strange results: divide by zero errors, negative scores... The intermediate Net Sentiment metric is the more meaningful number here.

Zócalo's DFI addresses PR effectiveness, as telegraphed by the "earned media" headline in the announcement. The focus on presence, engagement and sentiment pick up on important aspects of social media, but without more detail on the math behind the overall index value, this seems like another framework rather than a metric.

What are we measuring, exactly?
I'm not the first to say it: the golden metric that will answer every question does not exist. To be fair, the authors of these examples don't claim to have the ultimate answer, anyway. Social media initiatives can support diverse objectives, and so the metrics used to evaluate those initiatives or to answer questions will be equally diverse. But it is nice that we have people sharing their efforts to find appropriate metrics for some common objectives and questions. Thank you, and keep it up.

While working through the math, I was reminded of an old trick from undergrad science classes: if you're losing track of your formula, do the math with the units included. If the resulting units don't make sense (comments^2, for example), the value won't, either.

Photo by alist.

Everyone says that listening is central to social media success, but over time, we've fallen into a too-narrow interpretation of the metaphor. Think about it: if listening means monitoring, then we have too many words. Fortunately, they don't need to mean the same thing. We just need to expand the way we think about listening.

Here's the definition of listening implied by many posts and presentations:

Defensive keyword monitoring of social media for customer problems and complaints that need a communications or customer service response.
In the social media buzzword compendium, that's a great example of listening. But as a working definition, it leaves a lot out. Almost every word imposes a limitation on finding all of the value in a listening strategy. We can do more.

How can we expand the definition of listening?

  • From a defensive posture to developing valuable market intelligence.

  • From keyword monitoring to applying all of the technologies available to discover and analyze relevant online content and activity.

  • From monitoring to metrics, mining, and interpretation. It's a metaphor, so there's no reason to be stuck with the word's literal meaning.

  • From social media to all media and customer communications.

  • From a focus on problems and complaints to an interest in all relevant conversations.

  • From PR, marketing, and customer service to anywhere the information has value to the business.

  • By collaborating across measurement silos to find the right methodology for the task.
More formally, I think of listening as the application of intelligence and analytics to social media (and other sources), but that's so many syllables. If you don't mind, I'm going to continue to say "listening," and when I do, you'll know that I'm talking about a lot more than monitoring Twitter for your brand name. 'k?

About Nathan Gilliatt

  • ng.jpg
  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
  • Principal, Social Target
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