The Rise and Fall of Social Media Platforms

Turn the sound off and drop the speed, and watch as the companies bounce up and then disappear.

In 2003 everyone was on Friendster, and back then “everyone” meant 3,5 million people. Their membership peaked at around 50 million, but by then Facebook had 120 million members. The company is “on a break“, and has been since 2005.

By 2005 everyone was on MySpace, but they were overtaken by YouTube in 2007 and had a peak user number of about 73 million in 2008 by which time Facebook had also overtaken them. MySpace still exists, and has tried to position itself as a platform for artists, it still has 50 million monthly active users.

By 2011 Facebook had overtaken and has remained in the top position ever since.

It’s interesting to see how the companies go up and down the charts, but I’m not sure exactly what it tells us – I think a social media platform can be financially successful serving a smaller audience. Linkedin no longer ranks in the tables, and it was purchased by Microsoft in 2016, but it’s a revenue generator for them because of it’s bespoke business tools, and the high level of influence the members have in the business world. The biggest option might not always suit your purpose. Making a profitable business out of a social media channel needs to be about more than ad revenue.

This was compiled by TNV, and they’ve sort of explained how they did it in an article, nowhere on the graphic or the article does it say what the measure is, it seems to be monthly active users (I compared published data from Weibo and Facebook), but I suspect that the Google Buzz figure is not accurate – it plateaus at 170 million, and then is overtaken by other platforms.

Their conclusion was

One thing’s for certain, judging by how many times the top spot changed hands over the past 16 years, none of the social media giants should be resting on their laurels. Really, anything can happen.

Not really. Only three companies held the top spot in the first 8 years; Friendster, MySpace and YouTube. In the last 8 years the top spot has been held by Facebook, and I expect it will take the top spot again this year. Given that “everybody” is now on Facebook it enjoys a position of being an entrenched network, the more people are on it the less likely people are to leave – even if some of us are reluctant users.

If a challenger comes for the top spot I suspect it will be from China, Sina Weibo sits in 7th spot on the 2018 data. They started out as a Chinese only, but now produce a site in both traditional and simplified Chinese to capture much of the Chinese diaspora, and have started to support other languages. Tencent has a billion users already, but is China only so was not included in the data.

Meanwhile I suspect that groups disillusioned with Facebook’s privacy and data practices will start smaller interest-based sites. I’m curious to see where this goes.

Just Stop It: Twitter Notifications

Just Stop it

Having used twitter for many years, on two personal accounts and one work one, I’ve been using it less lately. And there’s a simple reason – the icon is no longer on my phone’s home screen.

Most apps give you a notification count in a little circle on the app,twitter icon six notifications in the image to the right you see that I have six notifications on my twitter account. It tells you that six things have happened on my account since I last looked. It used to be six interactions; new followers, people commenting on my tweets, and retweets. But about two years ago Twitter added notifications about updates and interesting links to its notifications tabs, and I was really quickly overwhelmed. I wasn’t alone. It’s Twitter’s effort to soak up more of your attention and keep you on their platform longer, it hasn’t worked Twitter still lags behind Facebook by miles, with 2.7 minutes a day and 58 minutes a day respectively.

Here’s what twitter says it does:

Here’s what that means, Twitter recommended I’d be interested in tweets from these two gentlemen, you’ll note that I’m not following either of them. Mr Verbruggen’s tweet was in Dutch (I tweet in English) and mentioned him having a shower and a beer. I’m sure Mr Verbruggen is a perfectly nice man, I just don’t know why Twitter thinks I will be interested in his bathing habits. The other tweet was from Henry Winter, a sports writer. I am rubbish about sport, I only care about tennis and maybe the Silver Ferns when they play Australia I’m pretty sure I’ve never tweeted about football.  But Twitter thinks I might be interested in a book about English football?

There seemed to be no way to opt out of this nonsense, and the twitter “recommendations” quickly overwhelmed the genuine interactions.

I got fed up. I moved the Twitter icon off my home screen on my phone, my twitter interaction declined. I once used it every day, It used to be my news feed, I followed people in tech, NGOs, companies I like, people I’d met at conferences and comedians. I barely look at it now except when I make a blog post.

Twitter’s efforts to engage me on the platform have had exactly the opposite effect. I haven’t even added the app to my new phone.

Please Twitter, just stop it.

And would someone please notify me when this is fixed? Thanks.

Facebook’s Fall from Grace

Following the attack at a mosque in Christchurch in which 50 people were murdered, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called on Facebook to do better;

“They are the publisher, not just the postman. It cannot be a case of all profit, no responsibility.”

She has a point, during the shooting in Christchurch the shooter live streamed his rampage through two mosques. I have seen a couple of screen grabs from the video and the images look like a very graphic shooter game. We now know that the first man to see him at the first mosque greeted him with the words “Welcome, Brother” and presumably this greeting was recorded on the live stream. It’s now illegal to publish the video stream in New Zealand, and the article where I saw these images has been taken down. To give Facebook credit once the New Zealand police alerted them I understand their Global Escalations Teams worked to remove instances of the live stream from their platform. But technically, under US law, they cannot be held responsible in court.

The video may still be out there, I’m not interested in seeing it but when researching for this article I found an interesting autocomplete in a google search, and it seems the effort to remove the video was not perfect.

In the Easter shootings across Sri Lanka which had a significantly higher death toll, their government worked quickly to block social media, and continue to circumscribe citizens’ use of social media. It’s not the first time the Sri Lankan government have blocked social media due to concerns about the spread of extremism via social media sadly.

How is this possible?

Social media platforms have benefited from a piece of US law, section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act which says;

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”

It’s an important part of maintaining free speech on the internet and it means I’m not liable for comments someone leaves on this blog, and nor is WordPress. The EFF explains in more detail.

More scandal

This isn’t the only issue Facebook has been faced with, last year they admitted to a security breach that may have affected 90 million accounts.

There are also growing concerns about health impacts as research piles up about the harmful impact of social media, particularly on children. There’s also evidence that anti-vaccination activists are targeting ads to people likely to be wavering on the vaccination question, and the number of Measles outbreaks keeps growing.

More famously their algorithms have undermined democracy in at least two countries. This is via the link to Cambridge Analytica, here’s how that worked as explained by journalist Carole Cadwalladr;

With all this scandal, how is the company doing?

Well. Facebook is doing well.

Revenue continues to grow, user numbers continue to grow. User numbers have apparently levelled off slightly in the US and in Europe, but it’s not clear that this is due to scandals.

Facebook currently makes more than 1.6 million USD per employee, 98% of their revenue is from advertising (2018 annual figures).  Which begs the question of just who the customer is. Remember that they don’t pay for any of the content placed on Facebook – in contrast to, say, a glossy magazine like Vogue which at least provides some content to dilute the advertisements. So we, the users are the content providers and our attention is the commodity sold to advertisers.

Regulation Required

It seems this isn’t a problem that the free market can solve. We’re now living with a platform that is with us 24/7, pulls together a global community of almost half the world’s population, and holds data on our every move – and tends to seek more data rather than less. One way that Facebook has grown is by acquiring Instagram and WhatsApp, and the company is now so rich that it can buy any competitor thus stifling innovation. Governments have seen the impact on their country – in Sri Lanka, in New Zealand with devastating effects – and in their elections. During the campaigning to appeal the 8th amendment in Ireland Facebook banned all ads that were funded from outside Ireland, showing that it is possible to contain the damage of foreign influence. The EU put the GDPR legislation in place, in an attempt to protect citizens against the power that Facebook and other social media companies have accrued, in response Facebook moved millions of accounts from Irish servers to US servers – out of the reach of EU legislation.

The US is also stepping up, with the FTC investigating Facebook’s use of personal data and a hefty 5 billion USD fine looming over the company. Even that might not be enough, there’s a bipartisan call for tougher protections on consumer privacy.

I started writing this post in December, it’s been re-written more than any other post I’ve ever made, but every time I thought I was ready to hit publish something else happened. I nearly delayed again to analyse the information coming out of F8 and more analysis on the appearance of a change in Facebook’s policy on privacy, there’s a pretty good analysis on the Vergecast – they’re not convinced and nor am I.

Image via pixabay

Social Media Fail – How to Lose a Job in Two Tweets

Woman gets great internship at NASA.

Woman loses great internship in two tweets.

NASA withdrew their internship offer.

Ooops.

It’s the second tweet posted by Naomi that’s problematic. Because Homer Hickam isn’t kidding around, and he’s properly famous with a wiki page, an amazon page, and an IMDB entry.

There’s an almost-happy ending to this, apparently Naomi has apologised and Homer is trying to help her find a role in the aerospace industry. I’m betting she dials back on the sweary tweeting.

This isn’t the first time a celebratory social media post has cost someone their job, there was the day care worker in 2015, and the Cisco new hire in 2009.

How is this still happening?

I think there’s a trend that our work and private lives are blending, mobile phones have freed us from the office desk meaning that we are always contactable. I am contactable on a company mobile phone but I also have access to personal social media accounts on the same device. Work itself is less hierarchical and more informal. When one of my 20-something-year-old colleagues made a significant error on social media, the reaction of my boss was that he “wasn’t fully socialised yet”. She might be on to something. For anyone entering the workforce now there’s a period of adjustment and that might be getting harder to negotiate as the gap between popular or youth culture and work culture grows.

I’m quite bad at swearing, as in I rarely do it, but I recognise the cathartic effect it has, the great release of tension following a good swear. But it’s not what I want to hear at work, especially not directed at me.

If you talk about the company who just hired you on social media, you are in some way representing them to your followers. Three tips to avoid this;

  1. Celebrate on social media – and try to sound like you want to work there
  2. Imagine the CEO of the company reading your post – before you post
  3. Save the rants, expressing your fears, and the swearing for private channels.

Maybe as a forth tip: use Google to check who someone is before telling them to suck any part of your anatomy.

Everyone looking for jobs/internships works really hard to get through the process, so this must be hugely disappointing. One day our work culture might be closer to the social media culture and all of this might be accepted, until then play nice and remember what you post online is permanent and public.

Building a Content Calendar

Using social media creates a content monster that needs to be fed. In most organisations a lot of thought and planning goes into the concept, design and development of content. Today’s post is a framework for building that content plan. I am focusing on social media, but the principles of building this plan work for other types of content.

Think about your content in terms of layers.

Content can be broken out into three types; evergreen, events and spontaneous. Each requires a different approach but when used together will increase the impact of your social media presence.

Evergreen Content

Sometimes also called drumbeat content, evergreen content can be planned and developed ahead of publishing.

Use dates that are important in your industry

Think more broadly than company specific dates. For example Philips, manufacturer of X-ray machines, posts on Marie Curie’s birthday.

Build out from campaigns and events

If you’re running a campaign on a specific product build brand content that supports your campaign message. For example, if a bank is running a campaign around savings products then the brand content could include articles on the psychology of saving.

Build a theme

Even if there is no specific date to connect it to you can build content around a theme, for example designate May as “Internet of Things” month and produce content around the trends, technology and developments in this field, of course you can connect this content to your own connected products,

Build a series

Use a specific rhythm to activate one idea. For example there’s a “Meatless Monday” trend in certain healthy circles if you’re a food company you could use this and promote vegetarian menus every Monday. Alternatively use a series of longer articles to go into depth on a specific area of your company’s expertise.

* To make this work

  • Research relevant dates for you and determine which themes/ series you want to build on.
  • Develop quality content, which means spending on design, photography, writing or filming the content you need.
  • Don’t be afraid to re-use this content, either posting highlights onto twitter/facebook, or repurposing it for other platforms.
  • Keep cultural differences in mind, not everyone celebrates the same thing, in the same way, or even on the same date. (Mother’s day is widely celebrated – but not on the same date).

Events

There are already a number dates to use on social media; those company announcements, conferences, events and campaigns that your company attends or produces.

Product launches are known months, or even years in advance, adding brand content to support the launch can increase the impact of the campaign.

Company leaders attend and speak at events throughout the year, decide which of these would be of more general interest, take any “infographic” or suitable images from presentations and re-use them on social media.

* To make this work

  • Add the known events and campaigns to your calendar, include the event/campaign contact person.
  • Work with the event/campaign lead to develop content that supports their plans.
  • Use a simple hashtag for your own event/campaign and encourage a wider audience to publish under it.

Spontaneous

Your company wins an award, there’s the announcement of a merger (or divestment), you’re finally in the ranking you’ve been working towards, you hear of an significant date that matches your company’s portfolio – on the date itself.  Every content team I’ve ever worked with has “last minute” content needs. So while I’m a big fan of planning ahead you also need a little flexibility to take advantage of these opportunities.

* To make this work

  • Prepare likely potential images for your asset library, eg relating to awards ahead of time. The more diverse your asset library is the more likely you are to have a suitable image to hand.
  • Use your social listening tools to monitor awards in your industry, and watch for the announcement of relevant rankings.
  • Maintain good contact with the colleagues who handle last minute announcements. Explain to them that you don’t need to know the content of the announcement which may be confidential, but if you know the timing and the sort of content they’ll need you can work with that. Encourage their input into the asset library to build relevant assets.

Putting the three layers together we can see that the impact of your content, whether measured in exposure or share of voice, increase when the layers are combined.

 

Planning Ahead

All three forms of what does a content calendar need good planning to be successful, but how far ahead to you have to plan?

The honest answer is “it depends”.

For this blog I have a plan that’s about 2 months ahead, with a content deadline of about a week before publication. But that timing needs to change if you’re collaborating on content with a team or you have approval steps needed. Large organisations are more likely to have deadlines further ahead of publication and the plan for content themes is probably running 6-12 months ahead. Making that “Spontaneous” category harder more important in order to stay relevant.

Tools

I use a google calendar, I can look at anywhere, on any device, I can add assets and links as I go. But my blog drafts are written directly into wordpress (not best practice). That works for a one person company and would probably scale up to a small team. For large companies there is an amazing array of sophisticated tools on the market. They enable planning and collaborative development of content, publication, sharing/editing of posts and assets, and reporting on content performance.

None of this is that hard to work out, but maintaining quality content requires a rare combination of creativity and discipline, with a dash of flexibility to take advantage of those out of the blue opportunities.

Image: Desktop via Pixabay

Twitter Basics; Part Five

As with any other community on or offline Twitter has its share of malevolent members. Some are merely irritating, some are more distressing and some pose a danger to your reputation.

In this post I’m going to talk about ways to spot some of the fakers, trolls, hackers and scammers, why they exist, and what you can do about them (if anything!)

Fakers

How to spot them

  • incomplete profile, or random statements (see image below)
  • “women in bikini” avatars
  • profile goes somewhere strange
  • ratio of followers to following is less than 1
  • repeat tweets of the same content
  • promises to get you more followers

Here are more signs that an account is fake, and some tools to help you test whether your followers are fake. Unfortunately the creation of these accounts is getting smarter, and the bots behind the accounts have got better at mimicking human behaviour, even twitter can’t always spot them.

Why they exist

The accounts are most likely spam accounts, if you check the profile and the tweets all links published connect to the same marketing site.

It’s possible to buy followers on Twitter, it goes against the terms and conditions of using Twitter, but it’s possible. There’s even a site dedicated to reviewing the various services on offer.

The services are sold as social media marketing; which makes no sense if you’re building an audience of bots. The other sales rationale is that it boosts your online credibility. Well, perhaps, temporarily. Companies doing this often follow genuine accounts in the hope of follow backs to increase their credibility.

What to do

There’s no real risk with these accounts, your follower count is higher and if you follow back your stream has some pointless posts in it. So you can just ignore the accounts. I don’t follow back if an account looks like a spam account. If you sign up to Manage Flitter they identify fake accounts you’re following and allow you to unfollow, the paid subscription allows you to identify fake accounts following you

Trolls

How to spot them

An internet troll has been defined as “an abusive or obnoxious user who uses shock value to promote arguments and disharmony in online communities”. You can spot them by their consistently mean and abusive comments, and their failure to back down or apologise when called on it.

Why they exist

A failure of evolution? The online world reflects the offline world, there are nasty people offline, you can expect them to also be online. Where anonymity is possible online some trolls use it as a shield to hide behind while they post abuse. Some platforms and some subjects are more famous for attracting abusive comments.

What to do

You have four options;

1 Ignore; Trolls thrive on your outrage, if you don’t provide it there’s a chance they’ll go away.

2 Respond; You can respond, challenging the person. It’s unlikely to change their mind or elicit an apology. It’s more like to earn you further abuse and others may join in, escalating it in round after round of competitive abuse.

3 Block; Twitter offers the option to block users, this means you will no longer see their content including tweets those which @ your handle.

4 Report; You can also report users to Twitter if you think their behaviour is abusive or threatening. If you think a threat of violence is credible you should contact your local police. In the UK this has led to arrest and prosecution.

Hackers

How to spot them

The scary thing is you might not know until it’s too late, be alert to any strange activity on your account including multiple password resets.

I spotted a hack going on with tweetdeck one day some years ago. I noticed two very strange tweets, supposedly retweets by me, containing a script which mentioned tweetdeck.

I checked whether anyone else had seen this error and there were already a few tweets reporting a problem with tweetdeck, including one linking to a Mashable article. The good thing about sites like Mashable or Techcrunch is they will report real time on attacks and they have the expertise to analyse the problem and tell you what to do. At that point they were saying there’s been a hack on tweetdeck and advising users to logout. I did, reverting to using twitter through the twitter site, where I checked the tweetdeck twitter account. They were already reporting on the issue.

Why they exist

The hackers want to steal your money, your identity or destroy your reputation. Alternatively they want to blackmail you. Sometimes they want to cause damage a the company by stealing data, and you have the bad luck to hold an account there. Or they could be looking to blackmail a company.

What to do

What you can do comes down to prevention and staying alert.

Prevention; secure your accounts with strong passwords, use different passwords for each site, and use two factor authentication whenever possible. Here are more tips to protect yourself (although there’s debate on whether changing your password really does help).

Stay alert; follow the twitter accounts of the tools you use, if you have doubts check reliable sources such as Mashable, TechCrunch and NakedSecurity. If you are attacked your actions depend on the attack. In the example I gave above from tweetdeck the advice was to log out of everything, when returning Tweetdeck advised a password change.

Scams

How to spot them

There are the usual scams that promise easy money via work from home schemes, and there are those connected to phishing scams, there are those that spread malware.

They’ll often send you a tweet or a direct message with just a link, or they’ll make an outrageous claim in the tweet, “someone is spreading rumours about you” was around a couple of years ago.

Why they exist

The people behind them want to steal your money, your identity or destroy your reputation.

What to do

Don’t click on links in messages or DMs that you’re uncertain about. Don’t fill in any passwords ever unless the URL of the site in the top bar is what you expect, so https://twitter.com/ for twitter. There are more suggestions on protecting yourself here.

As for the hackers stay alert, pay attention to credible warnings.