Single Source of Truth

Although this sounds vaguely poetic, it has a specific meaning in the world of information systems. It has particular relevance for large systems.

Done well, it makes content management a whole lot easier.

I’ve heard this used most often in relation to company intranets – large companies where the intranet must serve a mass of information to thousands or hundreds of thousands of employees.

In many large companies intranets grew rather randomly, each business line created their own intranet site, as connectivity improved these were joined together allowing employees to browse from one site to another. But the business retained control of all the information that was available on their site, and employees tended to enter the maze of the the company intranet via their business line home page. Very often this works out well.

In companies of this size there are a policies and defined processes on a wide variety of subjects. Many relate to the employee’s own situation; holiday/vacation entitlement, performance review processes or claiming expenses. Others relate to the company’s operations; finance, brand guidelines, recruitment. Often there is a potential legal penalty if the employee does not follow the policy.

In an intranet that is a collection of connected sites the policies tend to be copied and republished multiple times. Which means keeping those versions up-to-date and consistent becomes difficult and introduces operational risk. Imagine an employee in a far-flung office following the finance policy she has downloaded from her local intranet, relying on it to conduct business, and finding out later that it’s months out of date.

The idea behind the single source of truth relies on improved connectivity between local intranets, and a strong information architecture so that a piece of content – in this case a policy – is published in just one place. It may appear in more than one place across the intranet, but in fact each appearance of it is drawing from the same place; that single source of truth.

To deliver this companies must have a connected intranet, a fully thought-out information architecture, a good content managements systems, technical know-how, and governance on the publication and storage of documents. It’s not easy to put this in place in large companies, particularly as intranets are often the “poor cousin” in terms of digital spend.

Obviously the content management should become easier and cheaper, but the really big benefit comes from a risk and compliance stand-point. Having a single source of truth means that you know people are using the same policy across the company, this lowers the risk of errors being made, errors that might leave the company financially liable or create a reputation error. It’s a cost avoidance benefit that can be hard to quantify – until such an event occurs in your company.

Image: truth / Jon Starbuck / CC BY-NC-SA-2.0

The Marshmallow Test

The Marshmallow Test is series of experiments on delaying gratification in children. Researchers tested whether children could delay eating a treat when told that delay would mean an extra treat.

Researchers then followed the children’s development and found that those who had been able to delay gratification for a greater reward had been more successful by various life measures including academic achievements.

Would I have passed the marshmallow test? Easily, I’ve never liked marshmallow. I’d do less well if the temptation involved chocolate, even now.

Can the “Marshmallow Test”  be applied to companies?

There is pressure within companies to meet monthly sales targets, project deadlines, quarterly results – multiple drivers of short-term performance requirements. A company’s strategy should provide a longer arc but the relentless pace of change compresses even this.

Are there companies out there that refuse short term revenue or profit to build long term gain?

Don Pepper identified 3 “small” examples in a Linkedin Post which got me thinking about specific incidents where I’d deferred instant result for a better result in the future.

I came up with three;

  • delayed a high impact project, that had some urgency, until I could get a knowledgeable project manager in place. A good decision.
  • rolled a mobile deployment of an intranet tool into a larger project, thinking that it would be easier to solve the significant security challenges once and the outcome would be a better user experience. A bad decision, two years later it still wasn’t done.
  • turned down an excellent candidate, because I didn’t think it was the right role for him – and hired him a year later for the right role. A difficult, but good decision.

In all cases I feared missing out on an opportunity when I made the decision, in two cases it was a good decision, in one perhaps not. I try not to give into the “fear of missing out” factor, and one way to do that is to imagine what I will think in six months if I say yes, vs saying no. You can also take time to imagine what it will take to deliver if you say yes now – in the first example I had to defend a delay, but had I taken on the project I had no resources for it’s unlikely the project would have been delivered any earlier or any better.

Have you deferred short term benefit for long term gain? If so, what was the eventual outcome?

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
Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 12.57.26
“The official twitter page for Victoria Beckham”? probably not.

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

tweetdeckhack1The 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.

tweetdeckhack2I 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.

 

Twitter Basics; Part Four

There are lots of tools for using twitter, some for tweeting and scheduling tweets, some add greatly to existing twitter functionality, others help you manage your followers, and some focus on data visualisation based on twitter’s data.

In generally they are using twitter’s API to pull publicly available data from twitter and presenting it to you in more useful ways. There are loads of tools out there that are lots of fun to play with, in researching this I found this list of 93 free (or freemium) tools. and this list of 21 must-have tools for twitter. Be warned though, things change quickly in the twitterverse and some tools may already be dead (RIP Storify).

I’ve tried a lot of tools over the years I’ve been using twitter and these are my favourites. PS They’re all free, or have free versions.

1 Tools for using Twitter

I am a fan of TweetDeck, I can manage multiple accounts from it, across multiple devices, and it provides multiple columns which is handy for specific searches and for any tweetchats that you join.

It will also let me schedule tweets. There are social media experts out there who say you shouldn’t schedule tweets, and there are examples where it has gone wrong. But it’s a practical way of managing your account.

Twitter now allows scheduling from company accounts, and their are other tools out there, Hootsuite is probably the most popular and it has the added advantage of giving you some analytics, although the most interesting data is only available for paid accounts. (See the advantages and disadvantages of Hootsuite).

2 Analysing Twitter

engagement statistic twitterI use twitter’s own analytics tool, just go to https://analytics.twitter.com/ while you’re logged in to twitter and you’ll see basic analytics data for your twitter account.

Twitter’s analytics tool provides decent reports on your follower growth, overall tweet performance, and performance per tweet. The downside is that only 5 months of data are held, if you want to use more you need to download your data regularly. Oh yeah, it’s free.

FollowerWonk works on a freemium model but gives in depth analysis of your followers and who you follow, it has all sorts of neat tricks from suggesting the best time to tweet, to the “Social Authority” of your followers, to their activity.

This graph shows when my followers are most active – it makes sense to tweet more in periods of high activity.

3 Managing Followers

I use Status Brew to track my followers. I’ll generally follow back if the account looks like a real person who is tweeting genuine content, this tool helps me identify fake or inactive accounts. It also shows me who has followed or unfollowed me recently and lets me follow back (or unfollow) from within their application. Manage Filter offers similar options. Both companies work on a freemium model, for individual use the free tools are already pretty helpful.

There’s another tool around that will validate followers for you called truetwit. I haven’t used it but have been asked to validate my account by people who are using it. Most days I only get a few new followers so it’s easy enough to validate them myself, but I can imagine for those on very popular accounts who want to ensure their followers are real, this would be a time saver.

4 Visualising Data From Twitter

MentionMapp, shows you the relationship between hashtags and people. I’ve used this to find relevant hashtags for posts, and to find people who are currently tweeting about a subject, the presentation is dynamic, and you can click on any hashtag or person and the graph rebuilds.

One Million Tweet Map shows you local clusters or a heat map of where subjects are being discussed based on a hashtag search. 

5 Hashtag This

If you want to know the trending hashtags around the world Trends24 lists them all with a national and city breakdown. Just for fun I made a comparison of what LA and NYC are tweeting about. Apparently there’s a thing called The Bachelor that’s the most interesting.

 

6 In App Tools

There are a few things you can do on the twitter app that you can’t do in the web version of Twitter.

Tweet Thread

Twitter was tricky to use for long form conversations in it’s original incarnation. Each tweet was only 140 characters and that included hashtags and URLs, writing tweets was almost an art form. It’s improved the character count to 280 which excludes hashtags and links. But still people needed more and came up with a work around, breaking your long story into a tweetstorm, a series of tweets, and using a numbering convention to help the reader; (1/4) at the end of a tweet indicated that this was the first of a four tweet series.

Last year Twitter introduced threading and you can just add a tweet to thread and they will be presented together. Much easier for the reader. This is only available on the phone apps at this stage and it’s really easy to use.

Bookmarks

The latest feature rolled out from Twitter is a real bookmark option, you are now able to save tweets to read later in a private list. There’s now a share button below each tweet, clicking on it reveals a short menu, click on “Add Tweet to Bookmarks”.

You can find your bookmarks saved under your profile and all bookmarks will be there.  They’re not visible on the desktop version, yet.

I’ve got one more post in this series – around etiquette and things that can go wrong in Twitter. I’ll publish that next Tuesday.

Astroturfing

astro turfingIf 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.

Twitter Basics; Part Three

It’s time to talk about follower strategies and tips for building a solid following. I spoke about this briefly in Part Two, but I’m diving into detail here.

My goal with twitter is to discover new content and new expertise. I also want to share my own content through twitter, so I have tried to build a following of people who will be interested in what I write about. This means I look for people with interesting expertise in the fields I work in and follow them.

Six Ways to Gain and Maintain Followers

1 Follow People You Know

Twitter has been around since 2006, and now has 330 million users, so you do know people who are already there. People who already know you through work or professional connections are most likely to follow you back.

Search using the full name that they usually use, if someone is using twitter professionally they want to be found and their name will come up in the search results. Only one person can have the handle @JohnSmith, but an unlimited number can use the name in their profile and a search will find them all.

Click on “People” in the top bar to list accounts using that name. Twitter lists anything close to your spelling, which means that when I searched for John Smith, I got also got Nick Smith. You can refine your search with more terms, John Smith digital for example. But Twitter search engine seems to only look in profiles, so unless John Smith has added digital to his profile it won’t help.

2 Ask People to Follow You

You’ve probably already got an account on LinkedIn in or on Facebook, ask your friends, colleagues and connections to join you on Twitter.

Create a short post telling people you’re on Twitter, include your twitter handle, and invite them to follow you.

3 Follow the Followed

Search for industry experts or thought leaders in your field, follow them for their great content and then check who they follow. When you’re starting out look for people with followers in the hundreds or thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands – they’re more likely to follow back.

4 Hashtags

Search for a topic of interest and find relevant hashtags. If you’re interested in social media use by companies for example then #socbiz is a relevant hashtag, if you’re working on building leadership skills then #leadershipmatters has thoughtful content. Look for the hashtags associated with events, the Digital Workplace conference coming up in June will use #DW18 for conference related tweets.

By searching on the hashtag you can see who is actively tweeting on these subjects/events, and follow them.

5 Publish Your Twitter Handle

Include your twitter handle on your LinkedIn profile, you add it under your contact and personal info. Add it to your profile on your blog or website if you have one. Include it in any posts you publish, it’s common to see twitter handles included in footers on LinkedIn or Medium, sometimes as the author’s preferred method of contact.

6 Follow Back

This is so important to maintain a following, if someone follows you, follow them back.

I’ll follow anyone back on twitter who is vaguely relevant to my themes of digital, communication, innovation and leadership.

Follower Limits

Twitter has put in place some limits around follower numbers in an effort to stop “spammy” behaviour.

You can follow up to 5000 accounts, although only 1000 per day. After that you can only follow more accounts if your own following/follower ratio is close to 1 (the actual acceptable ratio is not published). If you want to follow every politician in the world (for example) you would hit the limit pretty quickly, but there is a way around it by using lists (more in the next post).

I regularly search for new people to follow, and unfollow inactive accounts, but only perhaps 20 at a time. On Twitter aggressively following and unfollowing behaviour on twitter can also result in a ban.

These limits are put in place to limit spamming, and in a normal management of your account you probably won’t encounter them but it’s good to know they exist.


Your third assignment is all about followers

1: Publish twitter handle

Add your twitter handle to your LinkedIn profile (under the contact information section). If your Facebook page is somewhat professional you can add it there as well. 

2: Hashtags

Search for hashtags in your field, just pick the keywords associated with your job and look for relevant content. Then see who is tweeting that content and follow them.

3: Follow the followed

Search for 10 people who absolute leaders in your field; influencers, thought leaders, and innovators who are active on twitter. Then look at who they follow, check the profile to find people whose interests match yours, and check their twitter account to make sure they’re active.

Aim to add 40-70 new people in total from tasks 2 and 3.


Image: Twitter via pixabay  |  CC0 1.0