Social Media’s Benefit Magnified in Wake of Paris Attacks

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Following the horrific attacks in Paris that has claimed more than 100 lives, people around the world took to social media looking for their loved ones. Social media has put forth tools to help people in times of crisis.

Facebook activated its Safety Check tool, which allows users in an area affected by a crisis to mark themselves or others as safe. Facebook created the tool to help in times of crisis, and it has activated it five times in the past year after natural disasters.

Twitter kept followers informed by highlighting top news tweets, as well as well wishes posted by people around the world. It also turned into a message board Friday night with information to help people in Paris get to safety. The hashtag #PorteOuverte or “open door,” became a vehicle for offering shelter to those in Paris who needed it. Twitter has revealed that 1 million tweets were associated with the hashtag in 10 hours. The hashtag #StrandedInUS gained a lot of traction in the United States to help French people whose flights had been canceled.

A Buyer for Twitter?

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I hate to join a mob scene, but really Google, it’s time to spend some money wisely and buy Twitter. The little blue bird has been having a tough year. It’s trading at about $30 with a market cap of about $20 Billion, which is roughly half of where it was 18 month ago. Its investors are screaming about profits, which must make trying to plan ahead tough (trust me, I know of which I speak). Its management team is looking a little shaky, and it’s also seen slowing membership growth, which makes the market nervous. Last time I checked, Google had roughly $60 Billion in liquid cash stuffed behind the sofa, more than enough to pay cash and still have walking around money to fund their next moon shot projects.

 

Some argue that Facebook, Microsoft or Apple should make an offer, but Google would be the best fit. Apple has more than enough to do already, Facebook doesn’t need it, and Microsoft has their own social effort in Yammer. In contrast, Google could really use Twitter. To start with, in addition to the cash behind the sofa, it has another $440 Billion in market cap to play with, so putting the deal together seems feasible. Next, Google has been getting it in the neck of late for spending cash on projects with a high cool factor but no actual revenue. Google isn’t a car company or a Wi-Fi company or a VR company; at its core it’s an advertising company and a really good one at that. What twitter represents is a massive pool of end users who could be great consumers for the advertisers Google already possesses.

In recent months, Google has been killing off its failed social media effort Google+ (may it rest in peace). That leaves Google with a ton of advertisers, a difficult landscape in terms of making money out of mobile users, declining desktop traffic, and no social media component. If they were smart, they would make a play for Twitter and get them under their wing as a wholly owned subsidiary like they did with YouTube. YouTube thrives with a light managerial touch from Google and is now the second largest online search. If Google can annex Twitter, it can pretty much guarantee that it will also have the third largest search in Twitter as well.

Facebook has been focusing more on search recently, Apple has fired Google as their search, and with Windows 10, there is a chance that Microsoft will be able to grow Bing’s market share. If Google loses Twitter to one of those guys, its opportunity to grow its search in social will be greatly reduced at the same time their rivals are making aggressive moves into Google heartland.

It will be expensive, no doubt, and many will cry “foul” and “monopoly,” but it’s a move which makes perfect sense in many ways. It may by now be as close to a “must do” play for Google as makes little difference.

In the Name of “Digital Sovereignty”

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Russia’s cyber world has grown in recent years, and now has more than 80 million users, or about 60% of the population. But in the name of digital sovereignty, Russian authorities are stepping up efforts to corral it, part of a worldwide race between running online technology and the desires of law enforcement to keep tabs on all that activity. The battle lines are forming around the challenge of encryption, which companies are increasingly upgrading in the post-Edward Snowden era to satisfy the privacy concerns of customers.

Russian authorities are fighting back with a law that comes into effect in September, requiring all global Internet platforms, such as Twitter, Google, Facebook, and Apple to store data of Russian users on Russian servers. Furthermore, it directly warned that due to the encryption employed, Russian servers may be forced to take down entire platforms in order to block one piece of objectionable content.

The idea is that data stored on Russian servers will be protected from the prying eyes of the US National Security Agency. Experts say it may also rope off Russian cyberspace and make it easier for Russian authorities to control what their own citizens are posting and reading on the Internet. The main way Russian authorities have been doing that so far is through a complex register of banned websites that Russia-based ISP’s are required to block.

The list currently contains over 10,000 websites, mostly for content even an ardent civil libertarian might have trouble defending, such as child pornography, pro-terrorist agitation, and sites that glamorize suicide. Last week, the Russian communication supervising entity Roskomnadzor sent out warning letters to Google, Twitter, and Facebook, reminding them that they are required by Russian law to hand over data about any Russian blogger who has more than 3,000 readers daily. Any user of the services who posts items calling for “unsanctioned protests and unrest” must be blocked, and due to the companies’ use of https encryption, that could force Russian ISPs to block the entire site.

In barely three months, the new law requiring all companies that operate in Russian cyberspace to store the data of all Russian users on local servers will come into effect. Experts say the law is a sweeping declaration of “digital sovereignty,” but it’s also impossible to guess how it may be enforced. And while Russia may be using its own unique mixture of threats and ill-focused laws to try to address the encryption challenge, it is a global issue.

An Update from Hell

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It turns out Samsung follows their twitter, so they found my ranting about their service. This is my reply to the nice Samsung lady who reached out and said she would love to help. Apparently, my file is going to be reviewed by Corporate and a “decision on how to proceed will be made within three business days.” Oh, goody. I can hardly wait.

 

Hi Nice Samsung Lady (whose name I won’t mention),

Many thanks for reaching out. I have been wildly disappointed by the process I have been put through by Samsung. The plot so far is set out in my Blog (http://thinkjudd.com/2015/05/01/technology/this-is-samsung-welcome-to-hell/). Subsequently, I have had several more conversations, totaling about another hour of my time wasted.

I gave up on your team being able to find your own 700 reference number to allow you to move this to the refund team. So, I called the service company myself and obtained the essential number. I then gave it to your team, but they were unable (or unwilling) to read the paperwork which I scanned and sent over (attached for your interest). I even included an enlarged scan of the receipt portion. Your team then went on to tell me, in clear terms, that they needed a copy of the till receipt. I pointed out that Home Depot doesn’t issue them; rather, they print the till details on the large sale doc in the top right corner. Surely your guys should know this?

Nonetheless, this still isn’t good enough. So, tonight on my way home, I will divert to my local Home Depot to ask for (and hopefully receive) a “purge document” (whatever that is) to convince your doubting team that I really paid for the fridge. Assuming I get that proof, I confidently expect to be delayed and annoyed by the refund process, and I expect not to receive the full amount in refund.

So far, I have amassed action numbers 412-998-9370, 511-1362-271, 511-137-1308, 413-015-8046, 511-137-7475 and finally 413-0158-046. Oh, and the vital 7001431338. You can figure at least two phone calls per number, at about 20 minutes each, so I’ve wasted about 3 hours of my time trying to resolve this.

Do you have any idea how this makes your gigantic corporation look? I run a company, and if I found this level of bureaucracy and incompetence, I would be firing people by now. The sad fact is that almost everyone I have dealt with has been pleasant and down-right nice in many cases (only Julio really got up my nose). You clearly train well, but your process is broken.

When there was any doubt that it might not be a warranty repair, you were ruthless in insisting over and over that I would have to pay for the visit and parts. When it became clear that this was entirely down to you and covered 100% by warranty, you raised delay after delay: the 700 number, the receipt, the illegible receipt, etc. At no point did you ever call me back when I lost signal on a couple of calls. You never called me back with an update or status. Every time I have to start over in the process, it’s a “Groundhog Day” of customer support. You can’t call it service.

It was not our fault that your top-of-the-line refrigerator we purchased a little over a year ago is faulty and unbelievably entirely beyond repair. Yet, your process and the hurdles you put in the way makes it feel like you think we are trying to cheat you. We obviously aren’t. This is a massive inconvenience and one still not resolved. The irony (if irony is the right word) is that last weekend, we were back at Home Depot ordering new appliances for a kitchen upgrade. This time LG got our disposable dollars.

There is still an opportunity for this to end well, or better in any event. You should, at the very least, circulate a copy of my blog and this note to your customer support management. Better yet, run a simulation. Come collect my broken fridge and put it in the home of Gregory Lee (Samsung US CEO) and have him live without a fridge freezer while your company fumbles around for three weeks.

A Very Social Moment #NBCAGT

It’s fascinating to watch an old dog learn a new trick… almost as much fun as watching him chew toffee. The incident I refer to was my experience at the Pantages Theatre in LA. If you haven’t been there it’s an excellent old theater in the unfashionable end of Hollywood where the homeless meet to mingle. I was there to watch a recording of Americas Got Talent. Ever since Howard Stern (blessed be his name) joined the show, I have become a firm fan of its eclectic mix of dancing dogs, jugglers, comedians, and singers. A long time a go I worked at a TV studio for a year. I was mostly the “Studio Gopher” (Gopher Tea, Gopher coffee, lunch, etc), but I did get to see a lot of recordings and it’s almost shocking to see how little the entire process has changed in 30 years. It’s still lots of very important people talking into headsets and ordering the poor benighted studio audience around; much like the guards at a WWII POW camp… come here … go there… no food or water for you… stop screaming!

The tickets were free and I’m always looking for interesting and exciting new places to fight with my lovely wife at, so we grabbed a hotel and went on an AGT adventure. On a side note, I used a new app called “Hotel Tonight” to get a room. It only sells hotels for that day, and doesn’t start selling until 12 noon local. Unlike Hotwire, it let’s you see the hotel before you commit. It has some decent deals and the price actually dropped as I was booking.

We arrived at the theater to begin several hours of waiting in line in the sun and general hanging about before we were brutally strip searched by the camp guards, given a change of clothing, deloused, tattooed, and finally admitted to the theater to be further bossed around.  I was actually pleasantly surprised at how they managed the process of recording the acts, the delays between each contestant were manageable and the audience wrangler did a good job of keeping us reasonably entertained. At the beginning of the recording, they asked the entire audience to learn a simple mini dance routine to “living in America” for use in the opening credits (maybe). It was all fun and games for the first dozen or two runs but by the time we had passed 20 the natives were getting restless… we were about three more forced repetitions from an all out camp uprising.

So what about the old dog learning new tricks? Well, it wasn’t much of a trick…but it was interesting to watch. The audience is patrolled for the entire show by what can only be described as video bouncers. They watch avidly for anyone trying to sneak a pic or video of a dog dancer or belly dancer (yes we had one and yes she went through to the next round). Any attempt at video is leapt upon, water cannons are turned on the audience the offending person is dragged out, beaten senseless and in some cases water boarded on stage. However in a massive break with tradition, they did allow the audience to video the judges’ progress from the back of the theater to the stage. In fact, the audience is actively encouraged to do that… and post the pics or videos on their Facebook, Twitter, Vine or Instagram. In a further concession to the real world, all the busy and bossy crew wore t-shirts with #NBCAGT emblazoned across the back. They plugged the heck out of the Hashtag, and from the number of followers and tweets they are getting it seems to be working reasonably well. In my video (attached) of the King arriving, it’s interesting to note that you can hear cheers from the crowd but not much applause… for the simple fact that you can’t clap when you are recording… and fully 75% of the crowd was recording.

What would have been much more interesting would have been for them to let the crowd film anything they wanted, publish, and be damned. What I suspect would have happened is they would create tons of buzz on the show long before its real broadcast driving people who want to see the event in HD, as opposed to shaky phone cam – but baby steps still count as progress.

Schadenfreude

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The Germans have a word for it… Schadenfreude.  It literally means something like shameful enjoyment… the pleasure one takes in seeing a good friend fall off a roof… it’s also a terrific song in the show Avenue Q.  In any event I was guilty of the “S” word yesterday watching Google fall off the mobile roof. The guilty banana peel is the new app from our good friends at Facebook called Facebook Home. As far as I can tell, it only works on Android but what it does is let loyal Facebook users turn their mobile device into essentially a Facebook Phone. The home screen of the phone, and all the other places and apps which a phone might reach out to, can be controlled through Facebook. The millions of Facebookers using Android devices can now lead a much more highly integrated Facebook world… mostly at the expense of Google… and there’s not a whole lot Google can do about it.

One of the great strengths of Android is that it does allows apps to talk to each other and do just these kind of things. It’s very open and Google, unlike Apple, doesn’t police who can offer what in their store… so they are vulnerable to those kinds of integrations. I imagine there will be an immediate rush to adopt the new tool… after all many Facebookers are just rabid in their devotion to their craft. Once Facebook has taken control, it can set the defaults for things like search to its preferences. It’s a brilliant move essentially allowing Facebook to gain a substantial foothold in mobile without having to come up with an operating system, a handset, or a deal with a carrier. Facebook can essentially hijack android devices.

The real pleasure comes from watching Google, who so studiously ripped off iOS by Apple, getting a piece of their own medicine.  Steve Jobs was just furious when Android came out… indeed he had the Google guys over to yell at them from his death bed.  So to see Google’s beloved Android having copied Apple then built a significant market share so comprehensively hijacked (just as mobile is exploding) by the only people who could pull that off in a large enough volume to hurt them, does warm my cold dead heart very slightly. Ironically, were Google to release a similar product featuring Google+ I’d be prepared to bet that they wouldn’t get anywhere near the same traction. Google+ is famously a bit of a ghost town with many profiles adopted but not much going on… where as Facebook is still the place where the cool kids hang out… actually Twitter is where the cool kids go but you see my point.

All Of A Twitter-verse

Jay Leno Jimmy Fallon TwitterI was at a conference recently and was entertained by a presentation from the CMO of Twitter taking us through how just, Gosh Darned marvelous Twitter is. I found it interesting that they were making the case that “it’s not just for news and celebrity.”  Funny… I’d of said it is exactly all about that. Away from news and celebrity, 81% of users have less than 50 followers and 75% of users follow less than 50 people. There are certainly a relatively small number of people who are followed by tons of people. Twitter collided with the news this week in a couple of ways, which reinforce it really is all about News and Celebrity. The SEC carried out an investigation into announcements or comments, which might impact investors from people involved in the company. They concluded that it is indeed OK for folks who work in public companies to use social media for announcements about the company provided that they tell all investors where the announcement will be made. Visualizing thousands of Wall Street types trying to figure out how to hash tag or retweet is hilarious. Always keen to make things easier for the “buy at 10 sell at 12 go home at 3″ brigade Bloomberg announced today that they will be adding tweets from companies to info about those companies on their screens. Luck WSJ types can sort by company, industry proximity to any Kardashian.

To reinforce that it really is all about news and celebrity, Twitter is being cited as an unindicted co conspirator to the recent re-death of Jay Leno as host of the Tonight Show. Leaving aside the inherent goofiness of the public execution (again) of the lantern-jawed late night hack, one of the key reasons for his demise is (supposedly) the modest Twitter following he has accumulated. Strictly speaking, Jay doesn’t have his own page but the Late show does and it garners a measly 500+ thousand followers. In contrast, his replacement Jimmy has over 8 million followers and is famous for viral videos. In terms of online engagement, he’s head and jaw ahead of Jay. The late night TV crowd typically skews old… or very old.  It’s unclear that Fallon will be able to bring with him any, or some, of his twitter flock… many of his crowd are no doubt out having fun when his show runs live.  In any event, the battle for the key 18-49 demographic has already been lost to the Daily Show and my personal favorite the Colbert Report. Had they broken ranks and made one of those guys the new king of late night, we would really have a battle on our hands… and remember, Twitter is not just for celebrity and news.

Targeting Twitter

Good news from Twitter today for those of us looking to reach potential customers where they hang out online. The explosive growth of social media in recent years should (in theory anyway) have been a Godsend to any advertiser looking to make a personal, and hopefully effective, connection. The problem is that despite all the hoopla and excitement, the verdict still seems to be out on social engagement as an effective medium. Today’s announcement from Twitter that it will allow advertisers, especially small businesses, to target by interest, gender and device represents another step in the right direction. The use case they point to is (for example) a golf products company who might want to target people who follow Tiger Woods.

It certainly seems like a good idea. My concern is that, as far as I can see so far anyway, it doesn’t allow for geo targeting which would be problematic for a bricks and mortar local business looking to drive foot traffic or a plumber looking for more clients in their service area. In our experience, a good majority of local businesses only want local clients… running a national campaign would be potentially wasteful. We have tested with social media multiple times, but for the kind of results we are looking for it simply doesn’t convert as well as search does by significant margins… orders of magnitude in some cases. Is it likely that this Twitter approach will work any better, only time will tell. There are some reasonably good stats out there, which indicate that for the kind of local and time sensitive clients we serve the more immediate level of Twitter engagement scores better than the more passive Facebook engagement.

Whether either will rise to anywhere near the level and target-ability of search remains to be seen. The complicating factor here is of course as always, mobile. As mobile usage continues to explode, the available real estate for any kind of advertising declines. Social media has sprinted to mobile devices; indeed so, that Facebook was caught so flat-footed with mobile contributed to their stock problems last year. All the signs are that end users are resistant to ads in their mobile social experience. They don’t mind it quite as much in search, as frequently the commercial result is the right answer to the question. It will be interesting to see if squeezing albeit targeted ads into the limited Twitter real estate on mobile devices will fly. We will certainly test it out and we will keep you posted.