Twitter Knows What You Did Last Summer

Twitter knows everything about you. Sort of. If twitter knows as much about you as it does about me it’s very likely got a few things right, and a bunch of things wrong.

Twitter thinks I’m interested in Ava DuVernay (I’m a fan), books and literature, which matches some of my personal interests. And then Big Data, Brands, Digital, Leadership, Travel, Books, Technology, so far so good!

But Twitter also got a lot wrong – it thinks I’m also interested in Automotive news (I’ve never owned a car), Baseball and MLB – um no, Soccer, Coca-cola, Fashion (barely), Office 365 and Uber. Also a whole bunch of presumably famous people that I would have to look up to find out why I am interested in them, I’m a bit hopeless on famous people. The whole thing is a bit like reading your horoscope, 25% me going “oh yes, that’s me” and 75% me going “so much no”.

You can check what twitter knows about you by going to “Settings and privacy” > “Your Twitter data” > “Interest and ads data.”

I’ve turned off the option to share my interests with partners because I’m a bit paranoid about data sharing and Twitter already annoys me with their notifications. But it doesn’t seem to go well, Vox reporter Emily Stewart shows the interests that came up for her, including family status, salary estimate and gender.

How does Twitter figure out these interests – I think mainly via tracking cookies that are picking up on my search terms, I admit I may have searched a few football/soccer related articles.

What does twitter do with them? Apparently throws that data into an algorithm to deduce the demographics to create those groups that interest advertisers. If that freaks you out, you can opt out of it.

The big platforms, including Twitter, tell us that more relevant ads will be Good For Us, in fact they’re good for the advertisers in the sense that sales rise. Harvard researchers found that when the viewer was aware of the techniques used to increased the relevancy of those ads, and judged the methods as “creepy” ad effectiveness declined. It’s a reaction I’ve noted in myself, and probably what led me to stop following brands on Facebook and to turn off the ad customisation options on Twitter in the first place.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Techlash

Techlash is a portmanteau word from technology and backlash, the FT gives a definition: The growing public animosity towards large Silicon Valley platform technology companies and their Chinese equivalents.

I’ve heard it in a few podcasts and seen it in a few articles recently, usually in reference to Facebook or twitter, often in connection to privacy issues or political fallout. But it’s older than I expected. Google trends indicates it was first in use in June 2006. Searches on the term peaked in November 2018, when Facebook was under fire for privacy breaches and for selling data to advertisers.

(This data from google is indexed with the date with the most interest being scored at 100, so it’s hard to know what this interest means. I compared the interest to other search terms and all I can say is – it’s not a very interesting term).

There are genuine concerns about “big tech” that all get rolled up into techlash;

For users this has been the decade where the internet went from being a playground to a marketplace, it’s the decade the internet lost its joy. Many consumers started to question where their data was going, the EU and California passed privacy legislation that impacted the online world. 18 months after Europe’s GDPR legislation went into effect I still occasionally find a site that has chosen not to adapt their site and blocks me – it’s not a surprise, the penalties are huge, 20M euro or 4% of global turnover whichever is greater.

So what’s the argument against change? That limiting tech companies will reduce innovation.
But these companies are no longer the innovators, Facebook buys innovators, and for a new platform to emerge against Facebook’s 2.4 billion user base seems close to impossible. Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google are the establishment now, we can stop treating them as the new kids on the block that need the special treatment to get started.

So what happens next? I expect regulation to protect users and workers (in the case of Uber et al), I expect some attempts to break up the biggest companies – which will fail, and some legislation around competition which might succeed if the EU and the US can find a way to pass similar legislation. I expect Chinese tech entrepreneurs to ignore as much of the legislation as they possibly can get away with.

I expect I will not by an AI virtual assistant in the coming year.

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.

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 Two

Last week I wrote about 4 Twitter Basics, this week I want to take a look at some slightly more advanced ways to get going with Twitter.

I’ll cover how to construct a “perfect” tweet, what content to think about in your tweets, when to tweet and building a following. I’m posting here based on several years of tweeting for myself and for (former) employers.

I encourage you to get in and try twitter, the more you practise the more you’ll learn.

1 Constructing a Perfect Tweet

Tweets can be 280 characters long; spaces, punctuation and emoticons count towards this total. Hashtags, handles and links do not.

I tweet about digital subjects and I construct my tweets with text + link + hashtags. The text is why this content is interesting, the link is from a relevant reputable source, and I had two or three hashtags to help the search function. The preview is automatically generated by twitter and picks up an image from the article (if there isn’t an image you can add one separately).

constructing a tweet

2 Your Tweets

I try to balance my content between commenting on things I’ve found on the internet, publishing my own content and interacting with other people. I am probably tweeting most prolifically at conferences and events. I’ve also used it to comment on television programmes (Apprentice and Dragon’s Den in particular). Increasingly I use it to interact with brands – sometimes to to thank them, but more often to get support. Here’s my ‘how to’ for all of these content types.

Your own content – I write this blog and connect it to my twitter account, meaning that every post is publicised on twitter the moment it’s published. This has an advantage because wordpress lets you schedule posts, meaning your tweet goes at the same time.

I’ll also post personal observations, as I’m often in random locations to write there tends to be a coffee theme.

Events – I tweet a lot at conferences and other events, my twitter feed often becomes my “notes” after the event. It’s also a good way to find other people who tweet relevant content, and conversely a good way for other people to find you.

Other people’s content
Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 19.41.37– As well as using twitter I see a lot of articles, blogs and videos online every day. If I’m sharing a tweet I tend retweet it to give the source credit.

If I find content some other way I will make a new tweet with my own comment. I try to credit the source so if I know a relevant twitter handle I will add it, as shown in the tweet at right.

I want people to credit me when they share my content so it’s only fair I do the same.

Second Screen – There’s a phenomenon going on where people watch TV, while interacting via a social media platform. I sometimes do this, mostly during the BBC shows “Apprentice” and “Dragon’s Den”. It’s fun, and a great opportunity to snark.

Chat sessions – Twitter chats are a way to have an open discussion on twitter, at a specific time and usually structured via a series of questions.

I’ve been involved in the #ESNchat, about enterprise social networks, but they cover every subject from architecture to yoga, from cakes to veganism. I’ve found a twitter chat schedule, with the appropriate hashtag, of course you can also start your own.

Interaction with others – Don’t be shy – twitter become more useful and more fun the more you interact. Just use the @someone function, or reply to their tweets. Most often the person responds. Sometimes good stuff comes from it.

Interaction with brands – Many brands offer a service channel via twitter (or facebook), and customers expectations have grown regarding the responsiveness and the content of the response.

I’ve had mostly good experiences when I’ve used these channels, and companies are increasingly using Twitter as a service channel.

3 Building a following

Only people following you will see your content (unless you use the @someone function to address a person specifically), so if you’re sharing content you need to build a following of people to share it with and to interact with. Of course if you’re just using twitter to discover information then this isn’t so important, you can just focus on finding people to follow.

Most people will follow you back, unless they’re in the stratosphere of the twitterati, where the follow back rate is typically less than one percent (of the top ten on twitter by number of followers no one follows more than 1% back). I tell you this to manage expectations.

So the best thing you can do is follow people you find relevant and interesting. If you do this slowly and steadily your follower number will grow.

DO NOT follow hundreds and hundreds of people each day, ( and do not unfollow hundreds and hundreds of people at once). You will look like an “aggressive follower” to twitter’s algorithm, which would then consider your account as likely to be spam. You also look less credible to potential followers, even humans think high follow to follower ratio looks spammy.

DO NOT buy followers, it goes against the twitter rules and it doesn’t really add anything to your account. You won’t see better content, and you won’t have a bigger real audience. All that happens is a bit of PR kudos for having so many followers – until someone looks closer and figures out millions of those followers are fake – then the PR turns negative.

4 Twitter Ettiquette

If you post something on Twitter it’s public, and permanent.

Don’t be the guy who tweets about his pay, don’t the sport’s fan that abuses players online, don’t threaten other twitter members,  think before you make a questionable joke. Check the public shaming site for more examples.

Twitter has moved to make reporting abusive behaviour on twitter easier, but there are still plenty of jerks around. Don’t be one.

Next Week; Twitter Tools (followed by companies on twitter)


Your second assignment is in three parts

1: A perfect tweet
Publish a tweet in the format shown, include your text, a link, and 2-5 hashtags.

2: Find followers
Find five people in your field who are active on twitter and follow them.

3: Build Followers
Ask your friends or contacts to follow you, you can make this request via other platforms, ask your friends on Facebook or Linkedin to follow you, you can explain that you’re new to twitter and want to build a following. 


Image: Twitter via pixabay  |  CC0 1.0