Category Archives: Social Media Strategy

fig’s blog – The WELL’s Rules

Years after The WELL launched, a term was invented to describe what it was made of: User-Generated Content or UGC. The WELL was all text. No graphics, just letters and numbers sent to its Picospan platform in the form of words, sentences, conversations and mutual entertainment.

There was a potential problem, though – liability. What if one of its members wrote something on the WELL that was illegal or libelous or in some other way litigious? Couldn’t yoyowthe business be sued? What exactly was The WELL and what responsibility did it have for the content it carried?

Some discussion took place in the Whole Earth offices concerning this question and Stewart – who was the master of pithiness – offered this simple declaration – You Own Your Own Words.

Where today one is expected to adhere to Terms of Use that run on for pages of fine print, The WELL kept things simple. If you were going to post words (and sentences, paragraphs, short stories, arguments, insults, jokes, etc.) on our system, you agreed to take full responsibility for their legal impact. For their karma, as it were. We described the WELL as a “conduit” for delivering our members’ words to other members who could respond to them, maybe in equally offensive manner. In any case, The WELL would not be held responsible.

Of course there were no legal precedents for this position; it just seemed to make logical sense and we felt confident that the courts would agree with us if and when it ever came to that.

Some WELLbeings later attempted to expand the meaning of YOYOW to mean that one could expect to have total copyrights for words posted to the community, and that The WELL would enforce those copyrights on behalf of its members. We refused to buy in to that interpretation, which implied that we would engage lawyers and go after plagiarists both on and off of the WELL. Our actions would, at most, amount to strong language aimed at journalists who quoted individual members in newspaper or magazine articles without asking for permission. That made sense to us and on several occasions we were successful in persuading writers to honor that arrangement.

Another important factor in WELL governance came with our paid subscription model. In those days before advertising and e-commerce, online systems supported themselves through paid membership and member accounts – in what later became known as Profiles – carried the member’s true name. These were the names attached to their credit cards or checks. Members were expected to choose user names,which appeared with the posts they wrote and submitted, but those user names could be used to reveal the true names.

In other words, there were no anonymous accounts on The WELL. This had a self-regulating effect on behavior. This was not the case on USENET groups, which had no paid membership, true ID or anonymity. A short visit to many USENET groups would quickly demonstrate what the term “flame war” was all about.


Genuine Authenticity. Or Not.

On Being “Authentic”

I worked with Scott Rosenberg at in the late ’90s and I often read his Wordyard blog where he shares his sharp insight on the social aspects of technology.This week he shared an interview with Jeff Pooley, who has written an essay about the “authenticity bind” and “calculated authenticity.”
In my experience, such warping of truth and trust – which is more tied to advertising and marketing than to social media as a whole – derives from a cynical view of the public. In the pre-Web days authenticity was attributed to individuals. Did they behave online as they did in the flesh? Or did they invent roles – personas – that were intentionally fabricated to fool other community members and allow them to act out in the guise of someone else?

Of course, half-truths have been the stock and trade of advertising for decades, but social media as used today by marketing professionals, allows businesses to personalize themselves. Smart agencies understand that – as the Clue Train Manifesto taught us – “markets are conversations.” The subsequent question became, “are businesses conversing authentically?”

Scott’s interview goes deeper on that question (he’s writing a book about it) and it’s worth a read. Authenticity – true, not calculated – is an ideal from the customer’s point of view. But how many businesses can pull it off and achieve genuine authenticity?

The Web & the Fragility of Trust

Every year the Pew Research Internet Project invites experts to respond to a survey and state their opinions regarding the evolution of the Net and emerging threats to the social Web. What will it be like in 10 years? What technologies will have taken leaps forward? What should be targets of our concern?

Flickr CC photo by Kangrex

Having responded to several of these over the years I know that some people give minimal responses and some write whole essays. The folks at Pew are left to sift through the results and – since few people are interested enough to spend hours reading the whole enchilada – offer a summary of the points on which there is some consensus.

I will further condense their summary because there’s an obvious theme here, alluded to in the title of this post. Here are the most grievous threats to what we currently expect from the Web, as identified for 2024 or thereabouts:

  1. countries will interfere with the net to maintain security and control

  2. government and corporate surveillance imperils trust

  3. commercial pressures will endanger the open structure of online life

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to your virtual surroundings during your time online or even offline – reading magazines in the salon or in the waiting room at the tire store – these should not come as a big surprise. Indeed, these threats for a decade hence are already upon us. It’s about who holds power over the online social environment.  It’s about the People’s Web vs the Web of politics and corporate convenience.

How can the individual users of the Web trust huge institutions who (1) don’t get what the social Web is all about and (2) put their interests above all others just because they can. Money (tax money, too) talks.  The users mostly understand that without their presence, the content they provide and the knowledge they share, the Web would simply be an uninhabited  data exchange network. -The users create and share and give life to the Web, which is why government and corporations are compelled to exploit and control them.

Of course government and corporate power have their places in this capitalist republic. They can be useful, though there is growing impatience among the citizenry with incompetence, violating privacy, forcing advertising into the midst of social interaction and unabashed greed among the ignorant self-appointed rulers. The issue of trust is not new, nor has it ever been assumed. It has been elemental since people first began getting online and interacting with one another.

Flickr CC photo by Mr. Fix It

In the social beginnings – the 1980s – people wondered about the authenticity of others’ “personas.” “Is Bob really like he says he is on the message board?” At the personal level people were wary and kept their bullshit detectors set on Stun. Today – though there are plenty of dishonest and tricky scammers online skirting the edges of ethical behavior, businesses increasingly resort to practices like native advertising to lure us into clicking on what looks to be a post by an acquaintance but in reality is a lure and a trap, leading to the advertiser’s effort to sell you something. I call it “attention poaching .” Because it intrudes on a social atmosphere, it’s not the same as a billboard. It’s feigned – not authentic – friendliness.

As to government, we are still – and probably always will be – in under attack mode due to the long reverberations of 9-11. A humongous security industry has arisen from those ashes and the Web has become the barrel of fish that these forces shoot into at will.

Privacy? It’s already so compromised that one wonders how 2024 could be much worse. Our government spies on us while it is the only force powerful enough to protect us from Internet despotism. And it is the only force powerful enough to control or shut down content, access and open communication.

One remark in the Pew’s survey results rang especially true to me. “Commercialization of the Internet, paradoxically, is the biggest challenge to the growth of the Internet”

If the Web becomes a treaturous and overly commercialized place to be, people will leave or drastically cut down on their use of it. They will do what they need to do to feel safe and authentic. The Web will turn itself down. And remember: there are other great forces at work, changing the global gameboard as we progress toward 2024.

Social Monetization: Change Is the Only Constant

How many dollars, worker hours, member hours of attention and words written about it have gone into Facebook’s growth? It now stands as a behemoth of businesses with astronomical growth and activity. For its first few years it didn’t bother itself with ROI or revenue models. But since it went public 2 years ago, the pressure has been on to make money fast for its shareholders.

Facebook news feeds now have increasingly bothersome native advertising interrupting the content its members really want to read. amexNative ads look like posts and are created to catch readers not paying attention and lure them into clicking. So, are they working? It seems that some advertisers have their doubts.

Of course it’s long been known that people who join social media channels do so to socialize, not shop. They converse on Facebook and shop on Amazon.  In this article, @BrendanGahan cites a “recent study” that found that…

companies’ posts only reach around 6% of their fans organically on Facebook. This means if your Facebook page has 100,000 fans, only 6,000 of them are likely to see the post. The other 94,000 won’t know your post existed unless they go to your Facebook page and the chances of that happening are even slimmer. Facebook is hinting in the near future brands and companies should expect organic reach to be zero.

This reality challenges every social platform in its effort to monetize people’s activity as sharers of news and opinion. Being jabbed in the eye with commercial come-ons is not a way to win loyalty, no matter how many of your friends are there to connect with.

What does this mean for Facebook? Hard to say, but as the article suggests, pure content sites like YouTube may very well redirect attention in an environment where video ads allow you to bail after 5 seconds to watch over 5 minutes of action.

What’s the word on the street about the limits to unintentional customer exposure? Are we getting numbed yet as we were to 10 minutes of adds in every half hour of network TV programming?

What is a Social Media Strategy?

Lord knows, I’d like to help. I’d like to be able to satisfy my clients and employers with what they believe they need to have. I wish I could provide them with a document of instruction to guide them to success through Social. But in all honesty I can’t.

Many people claim to be able to formulate such strategies. I’ve claimed that ability for years, going back to the invention of the term in the mid-’90s. I now know that I was not actually providing strategies. I believe, though, that what I’ve provided has been just as useful.

Human social behaviors are more plastic than organizations. The mass flows of human attention from one social platform to the next – migrations that no organization could possibly orchestrate – illustrate the risks of committing to long-term strategies. The changes that Google just announced in its search algorithm that some pundits are calling “the end of SEO” are a perfect example of overturning the apple cart of SEO dominance and an entire industry of SEO expertise.

So what replaces social media strategy in my world? It’s not so simple that it can fit into a blog post, but take an objective look at your own social media behavior and activity over the past few years. How much of that would you have predicted in 2011? Would you have bet money on the accuracy of a social media strategy formulated then?

This is my current theme. It rose out of my noticing the constant presence of social media strategy as part of the job descriptions I’m seeing.

I invite your comments.