Facebook, Foursquare, Groupon and… Joni Mitchell???

In the world of social networking, Facebook continues to be the dominant player, but two things happened rather quietly last week that show that the media coverage surrounding online is remarkably similar to the hysterical media that covers politics.

The advent of 24-hour television news has created a gaping maw that must be filled. Whether it gets filled by accurate information is not always a primary consideration. The competition for attention, and ratings, is vicious and the press that covers online and social media trends is no different. The clamor to be first can sometimes trump the responsibility to be right or, in this case, trump any inclination for trend analysis.

 

So, what am I talking about? About a year ago, Facebook went head-to-head with foursquare in the location-based  “check-in” space. The media spin was that foursquare, the scrappy start-up, would be eaten alive by the Facebook monster, especially considering fb had a gargantuan user base of 600 million subscribers. Funny thing- it didn’t happen that way. Facebook has scrapped the “Check in” feed from its mobile apps and interface.

 

Man bites dog.

 

Groupon, and other daily deals services that continue to pollute the Internet, was also in the crosshairs of the Facebook assassin when they rolled out “Facebook Deals” a little over four months ago in a few select cities. The media take was the same, and so was the outcome. “After testing Deals for four months, we’ve decided to end our Deals product in the coming weeks,” quoth the unnamed Facebook spokesperson.

 

Not exactly steamrolling the competition.

 

I have seen similar media hyperventilating over Google Plus in recent weeks, with the obligatory “Facebook killer” headlines all over the place. I am willing to bet that if you asked 100 non-tech people what Google Plus is, 99 of them would stare back at you blankly.

 

This post is not to critique facebook’s marketing choices or whether Google Plus will make Facebook look like Friendster in a few months (but their marketing sucks and Google Plus won’t). No, my real point is to counsel temperance when every shiny new things comes along. The online world is fueled by innovation and there are winners and losers, but it takes some time to shake out.

 

I’m reminded of the lyrics to “Black Crow” by Joni Mitchell:

 “Diving down to pick up on every shiny thing

Just like that black crow flying in a blue sky.”

How Your Business Can Succeed in Latin America- 5 Quick Tips

For roughly the past 20 years, I have worked in the media business (first radio, then the music business, followed by TV and now online) and much of that time has been spent focused on the Latin American market. In that time, I have observed American companies make similar mistakes when attempting to reach this large, and growing, consumer base. Some of the errors I see are cultural ones, some are language-based but most seem to come from companies simply not doing their homework.

Consider this a cheat sheet on the five major pitfalls that I have seen hinder a successful business launch.

 

1. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

 

First, some background: According to comScore, the Internet population of Latin America grew 15% during 2010 to 112 million people. Venezuela and Colombia showed the highest growth, while Brazil led the region in having the most engaged users.

 

I want to stop here, at the risk of offending some readers, to point out error number one that I have seen: Brazilians speak Portuguese and the rest of Latin America speaks Spanish. As shocking as it may seem, I have worked with plenty of American executives who did not realize this and plowed ahead with their Spanish-language marketing plan for the entire territory. Brazil is home to nearly 200 million people, 40 million of whom are online, but they don’t speak Spanish. This fatal error falls into both the “cultural” and “language” categories I mentioned at the outset. In any setting, it is critical to know your audience. Part of knowing your audience means knowing what language they speak. (More on Brazil in a moment.)

 

2. “IF IT WORKED HERE, IT WILL WORK OVER THERE”

 

The second error I see time and again is when US or other English-language companies repurpose their content or service assuming that “if it worked here, it will work there.” You might be able to get away with that attitude in the music business since the fact remains that even in our multicultural global village, American and British music continues to dominate the worldwide music scene. Other forms of content and web-based services or apps do not necessarily translate as well and market research is a must. Latins know a lot about Americans, but the reverse is not true so we’re back to  “know your audience” again. Latin American Internet users have been bitten just as hard by the social networking bug and twitter has some of its highest market penetration rates, with Chile and Argentina ranking 11th and 13th globally, so the engagement is there. Now it becomes a question of finding your market sweet spot.

 

3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST

 

The third most common error I see is naiveté or, dare I say, arrogance. This can sometime spell the demise of a great idea, product or service, too. Just because you may already have great name recognition and a good reputation, charging US prices for your app, conference, product or service might not be the best way to go. One must also take note of variances in population and numbers of people connected to the Internet from country to country, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Mexico is not the same size as Venezuela, for example, but Venezuela had a 27% growth rate in 2010, the highest in the region. Internet companies are taking hold in Latin America, from Google data centers to online pay systems. The economy is rebounding faster than the US, the middle class is booming and technology infrastructure is superior in some cases to that of the US. This is a pattern I see repeating from my days in the cable TV business. Many countries, like Argentina for example, never laid the cable TV infrastructure that we spent so much money on here. Instead, they jumped right to fiberoptic cable and were therefore able to offer sophisticated digital tiering before that was the norm here in the United States. Similar technology “leapfrogging” is taking place throughout the territory.

 

The torrid economic growth is Brazil is expected to level off at around 4-5% per year, which would even make China green with envy. The government is committed to upgrading its dilapidated infrastructure, and many analysts see big expansions of consumer markets as people join the middle class in increasing numbers.

 

4. FIND A LOCAL PARTNER

 

I might even go one step further and say, depending on your business and your goals, find several local partners. Mexico is not Colombia. Colombia is not Venezuela. Venezuela is not Argentina. And there is only one Brazil. Don’t paint all of Latin America with the same broad brush. Historical, cultural and, yes, even language differences among Spanish-speaking countries need to be deftly navigated and you need someone on the ground to help things go smoothly.

 

5. THE AMERICAN WAY OR THE HIGHWAY

 

Yes, the US has the world’s biggest economy and we know how to make money. But long term relationship building is critical when doing business in Latin America. It takes time to build trust and understanding so take the time to learn how and WHY business is done in country. If you come in with guns blazing with the attitude “we’re gonna show these guys how business gets done,” you’re going to run into some serious problems. Listening and learning will go a lot further than pushing your way of doing business. As my grandfather used to tell me, “No one ever learned anything while they were talking.” (I guess I would correct him and say, “Except maybe  a foreign language.” But you get the idea.)

 

To recap- do your homework before jumping in. Remember that in every way, Spanish speaking Latin America and Portuguese- speaking Brazil are NOT the same market. (Market, cultural and social conditions vary greatly within Spanish speaking countries, but I said this was a cheat sheet, not a 1000-page textbook.) Make sure your product and message translates, and I don’t just mean that in terms of language. And, remember, a little humility can mean the difference between success or failure. Working with someone who knows that lay of the land(s) can help maximize your investment.

The comments are yours.

 

The iPad 2 and why I’ll never cancel my NY Times subscription

I finally got around to getting an iPad2 about a month ago and it has replaced my laptop, for all intents and purposes. My workflow is centered around my desktop, and the laptop had become a big, clunky travel workstation that I realized I was mostly using for email and reading.

Ahhh, reading.

As many have already written about at length, the iPad is a wonderful consumption device, maybe not so much for content creation. For someone who travels a lot, it’s a great thing to not have to lug a bunch of different books around, or perhaps make an impulse buy based on a conversation or a quick browse through a Hudson News.

But how about newspapers?

Reading the morning newspaper is lifelong habit critical to my sanity. No matter where I travel, I will always read the NY Times as well as a copy of, as my father used to call it, the local blat. To their credit, the Times has worked as hard, if not harder, than any other old media outlet to try and keep their offering current, relevant and, above all, profitable to a new generation of readers or an old generation, like me, who might consume the paper in a different way.

Lots of virtual ink has been spilled over whether the Times app is any good or whether their paywall idea is sustainable or not. I don’t review apps and I don’t know if the paywall gag will work or not. For me, I don’t use the app for two simple reasons:

1- Holding an actual newspaper in your hands is not incidental to the absorption of its contents and,

2- I simply cannot shake the nagging feeling that I am missing something when I read the paper via the app versus the actual paper. And after a side-by-side comparison, it turns out I think I’m right.

Taking the above points in order: With any web interface, so much development time is devoted to UI and UX (user interface and user experience). You may have a great product, but if one or both of those elements are lacking, you’re kind of dead in the water. I have never ONCE heard anyone talk about the UI or UX of a newspaper, so let me be the first. Well laid out newspapers, like the Times, Washington Post or WSJ, will guide the readers’ eyes to the most important stories. Over time, you “learn how to read” a newspaper, and you figure out the best way to scan the content. But perhaps more importantly, during this process of scanning, every once in awhile you will come across something that you might not ordinarily have read. The physical act of holding a paper, however, offers the reader the chance to see the paper in its totality, something apps cannot really match. I cannot prove this, but I believe that being exposed to two facing pages of text and photos has an affect on the way readers take in the information. To me, it’s like the difference between information and knowledge.

With regard to point 2 above, I spent four days in Boston last week reading the Times app in bed upon waking up, and then buying a copy and reading it over coffee. I don’t know if its for editorial reasons or for reasons of space, but there is a lot missing from the app that you can find in the paper. Despite the categories that attempt to mirror the analog reading experience (Top News, Opinion, Sports, Arts, etc.), the app takes some getting used to, particularly the way a story from yesterday’s paper might hang around in the app for two days or more. While it is indisputable that a printed paper has no chance keeping up with fast moving events in other time zones like the Middle East revolutions, there is a sense with the app that I have only experienced with certain cable channels: “Is this new, or is this just new to me?” It seems like a hedge for a news app to tout its immediacy, but also keep old bananas on the shelf.

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I am no Luddite. But I’m keeping my newspaper subscriptions for as long as they’re still around.

What do you think? Are apps just as good as the printed paper or magazine? Am I just being stubborn?

 

How to make social media work

Today’s New York Times featured two articles, one in the Arts section and one in the Business section, about how word-of-mouth reliant businesses were having different results employing social media to advance their goals.

The two industries mentioned were hotels and Broadway theaters, but honestly what struck me the most was how tough it must be to edit a newspaper. The thrust of the Broadway-focused article was that social media has not resulted in an uptick in sales because only human ticket brokers were adept at “aggregating details about the 39 Broadway shows this spring and then differentiating them for longtime customers whose preferences are reflected in databases listing their past purchases.”

Meanwhile, the hotel piece talked about how successful some hotels have been using social and web-based apps because “Facebook offers analytics showing the aggregate demographic information of the people who “Like” a particular page.”

So, to recap: social media doesn’t work because it can’t aggregate details about its users, except when it does a bang up job of aggregating details about its users.

Alrighty, then!

(Assuming you have not gone over your allotment of free NY Times pieces this month, here are the links to the two articles. Broadway and Hotels)

Moving past this basic contradiction in both fact and substance, let me offer a couple of my thoughts, slightly off the topic of whether social works or not.

The Broadway article talked about how “50-year old white female tourists, the average Broadway ticket buyers” were not taking their buying cues from twitter or Facebook. Fair enough. But I am reminded of an anecdote I heard at a convention way back in 2007 during the frontier days of what we still call “new media,” particularly podcasting. The Los Angeles Opera realized that in order to continue to filling seats in its shiny new facility, it would need to reach out to a new audience to get them to sample opera. One of the ways it did this, and continues to this day, is via a regularly produced  behind-the-scenes podcast http://podcast.laopera.com/pr/laopera/default.aspx While it’s debatable whether this outreach reaches its older demographic (I have no data either way), the LA Opera wisely went to where a potential NEW stream of customers might emerge. Not to put too fine a point on it, but their audience was, quite literally, dying off.

Broadway tickets are still largely sold via group sales, repeat sales and old fashioned telephone work. Adding social to that mix not only makes sense, but might be the only way that Broadway can survive.

Of course, the travel business lives and dies by word of mouth, never more so than in this age of search marketing. As we noted in this space about the evolution of search online, trusted recommendations about where to stay and what to do has never been easier for the shopper or more critical for the destination.  David Godsman, the VP for global web services for the Starwood chain is quoted in the Times saying, “We want to be there when someone transforms the recommendations of their friends into booking a reservation. If they press the ‘Like’ button, we want to start a conversation.”

What both of these articles are saying is that social must be a part of both of these very human businesses, but it does not mean putting your business on auto pilot and letting social solve everything. Social works when you work social.

 

My Thoughts on Social Media ROI

Lately I have been getting pulled into conversations with clients about how to measure their social media efforts. There are lots of differing opinions about WHAT to measure, what realistically CAN be measured and how to figure out whether the time and effort  of implementing a social media strategy is worth it.

As you might expect, I have some very clear ideas about all three topics.

The aim of this post is to try and shed a little light for other professionals confronting this issue as well as for clients considering extending their digital influence through social media. (I am going to assume, for the sake of this blog post, that everyone’s first step is to set some very clear goals and  understand what “success” will look like. A HUGE assumption, I know, but a necessary one in order to keep from bogging down this post.)

WHAT TO MEASURE– The obvious, but maybe not the most useful, metrics are Facebook fans, twitter followers, and blog/website traffic. “When we started, we had no Facebook presence and today we have 10,000 fans. So we’re doing great, right?” Maybe, maybe not. If those fans are not actually DOING something, who cares how many you have? So the question becomes, what was it that you wanted them to do in the first place? And what did YOU want to do when you got into this whole social media thing? Are you a restaurant trying to improve foot traffic on Monday and Tuesday nights? Are you a somewhat hard to understand service that requires the testimonials of customers in order to persuade their peers to give you a try? Are you trying to build awareness of who you are and what you do?

Whatever the answer is, I submit that the REAL value in these networks is not their size, but their quality. 500 motivated fans who can’t wait to hear about what you’re up to is much better than 5000 ones who joined your Facebook page and then never came back. This can be very hard to sell to the C-level, but the logic is unassailable. Magazine ads, radio spots, slick brochures, in-store appearances- none of them are held up to the same level of scrutiny nor do they always generate a lead or a sale in a straight line fashion. But which would you eliminate, if you had to? Is it as simple an answer as “the most expensive one?”

WHAT CAN BE MEASURED?– I revert back to the above answer in terms of hard numbers. But, of course, there are other things, too: newsletter sign ups, coupons downloaded and used, sentiment, e-mails forwarded, etc. But what are most people REALLY trying to figure out when they talk about measuring social media efforts? I think in the majority of cases it’s two things: 1) Am I selling more stuff and, 2) Have I increased mind share around my brand/product/company/service?

Both of these are valid questions, but it’s back to the influence thing. How can you determine at which point someone decided to pull the trigger and buy you? There is a big difference between causality and just a simple correlation. (I know nothing about math, but I know what I’m talking about here.) Yet people tend to look for causality because it’s easy: I did this over here which made that happen over there. Does that happen sometimes? Sure. But social media is not about causality in most cases. Like any other PR or Marketing effort, it is more about the steady drip-drip-drip of trying to earn mindshare and, hopefully, wallet share.

I don’t know about your life, but I know mine does not move in a straight line. And neither are decisions about whether to engage with your brand made in a straight line. Sales cycles can be long and influence comes from multiple, and often invisible, sources. As a customer, you might happen across something on the internet. A few days later, you hear a friend mention it. Maybe you see a blog post or tweet about it. Next thing you know, you find yourself on their Facebook page, which leads you to their website and BOOM!, you’re trying whatever that something was you first saw two weeks ago. The point for marketers and brands is, it can be a long and winding road involving multiple touch points. If you’re going to make social media a component of your brand’s identity, the only thing you CAN control is your authority. In other words, you need to be seen as solving problems honestly, repeatedly and well. So, did that sale come from social media? Hard to pinpoint the EXACT moment someone made up their mind,  but clearly it was one of many critical stops along they way to making a decision.

If someone tells me they can’t tell if their business is benefitting from social media, I think three things right off the bat:

1- They never set up a clear, measurable plan to get them from point A to point Z. If you don’t have a map, how will you know when you get there?

2- They’re too heavily focused on the numbers, i.e. Facebook fans, twitter followers, etc., instead of the opportunity those numbers represent, namely what can they DO for their fans and followers and what would they like for their fans to do for them? (Was JFK talking about social media at his inauguration?)

3- They did their homework and it became clear that the opinions and assumptions they had about their business were not shared by their customer base. In other words, the measurement data they got back made them take a hard look at themselves and they were not prepared to do that. Not a fun place to be.

A critical thing to remember in terms of social media activity is that MOST people do not actively participate on blogs, twitter or even on Facebook fan pages. Most internet users, and the percentages have been put as high as 80%, are “lurkers.” They read and  take in information from trusted sources, but they don’t feel comfortable or compelled to add their voice. But the messages are definitely getting through to them. So what’s your message? Are you constantly refining it? If you make people feel recognized, heard and understood,  you will have a connection for life. Social networking should just be an extension of what you’re already doing in real life.

Here’s an example: Well over a year ago, I had a nice salesman help me at a Banana Republic. I’ve been back to that same store a few times since then, but never saw that salesman again. Today, I stopped in there and there he was. The truth is, so much time had passed, I forgot about him. But he saw me, asked why I had stopped coming in (I hadn’t, we just kept missing each other) and if there was anything I needed. Just that simple act of recognizing me as a former customer and making me feel welcomed made me more inclined to buy something. But, how many times can he do that per day? Now think how many people you can connect with per day online, and the ROI calculation becomes easier.

So what’s the ROI of having a telephone number? What’s the ROI of a round of golf with a client? How about a dinner? Or the ROI of making someone feel heard?

Now multiply that by the Internet.

I want to hear your thoughts in the comments.

This just in…

Today’s blog post is less about analysis more about some exciting company news.

We are very excited to announce the launch of our new website which better reflects who we are and what we do. Since the business launched in 2003, we have gone from being strictly a video production company creating both broadcast and corporate communications, to a full service social media consultancy and video production company.

Of course, back in 2003 there really was no such thing as social media. Facebook was still a year away from launching, podcasting was in its infancy and iTunes was only about two years old. Social media was e-mail back then. It boggles the mind to think of how quickly communications has changed in less than a decade.

We have also incorporated the blog right here on the website, so no more jumping from place to place. I even broke down and got some new head shots.

We recently got around to launching our Facebook fan page (I know, I know- what took us so long), so we hope you’ll become a fan. The idea is to use the fan page to share links that we hope pique your interest and get you thinking and talking.

We’re not done with the exciting news, but the next bombshell will be in a blog post in the not too distant future. In the meantime, let me know in the comments what you think of the new site. And stay tuned for some big news coming soon.

Thanks to all of our clients and friends for their support for the past 8 years. We would be nowhere without you.

Not another facebook privacy rant. Actually, no.

Facebook is everywhere. If it’s not a story about its gargantuan user base, it’s Oscar buzz about the film “The Social Network.” Recently the talk has been about its pending, or not pending, IPO and the massive influx of cash it recently received. Through it all runs the ever present discomfort over facebook’s often cavalier attitude towards privacy that makes some users blanch and might be the factor that keeps non-users from becoming users.

But that’s not what this post is about.

I am beginning to have an issue with the ubiquity of facebook for a slightly different reason. facebook’s strongest selling point might be its ease of use. Its basic features are drop dead simple, and once you have mastered the basics, there are only a few nuances that catapult you into the elite echelon of “power user.” Let’s face it: technology is scary to many people and an impediment to the success of scores of great ideas down through the ages. But technology, and I am using the term broadly to include everything from running water to the printing press to space travel, has been the catalyst for every significant social, cultural and economic shift in human history. But there will always be a segment of society which finds technology daunting enough to reject it outright. (From those with clocks perpetually flashing 12:00am on their VCRs to touchtone phone holdouts, Luddites unite!)

Enter facebook and, more specifically, facebook Pages for businesses. With a few clicks, you can have your business up and running on facebook and in front of their 500-million strong user base. And, why not? The opportunity to reach your customers directly, generate leads to attract new ones, address customer service concerns, improve your Google ranking, etc etc etc. And all without having to know about writing code or hiring someone to maintain your website. Sounds pretty good, right?

But, at what cost?

I return to the privacy and, more broadly, control issues touched on above and in other posts here and here. All facebook pages look, feel and function pretty much the same, which makes it harder to separate your business from the pack. Access to the social web was supposed to be the great playing field leveler, theoretically allowing a local soda producer to compete with Coca-Cola. If all websites begin to look, feel and function the same and are controlled by the same gate keeper, well, I think you see where it might lead.

I recognize that for some businesses having a facebook page might be their only point of access to the world wide web, and for them a presence on facebook is likely an invaluable boon to their business. After all, there’s no dollar cost to set one up, although the cost in time and effort can be significant. I think that making your business more social should be one more arrow in your marketing quiver, if possible, not the whole marketing/customer service arsenal.

Facebook has a history of making arbitrary changes to its terms of service, it has shut down Pages and their customer service is virtually non-existent. For a small business, setting yourself apart from the rest is the key to success. Controlling your presence online is critical, too.

KCRW- Your one stop shop for finding great music online

I am going to take a break from the usual social media trend analysis to share with you all a fantastic iPhone/iPod Touch app I discovered over the weekend. Don’t have an iPhone/iPod? It’s also a website, so no worries.

Ever since radio officially stopped caring about you and me, finding good music has become a real chore. Like mining for gold, hours spent searching often results in a few nuggets that lose their luster in short order.

Enter KCRW.com and the KCRW iPhone app. For those who do not live in the Los Angeles area, KCRW is the NPR station for Southern California which has become renowned for their excellent music, public affairs and political programming.

The app does so many things perfectly, it ought to be shown to all app developers as the “how-to” use case. Like other radio station apps, you can listen live, or filter by “news” or “music.” The “On demand” feature, however,  is where this app really shines. There you will find 25 different shows/DJs and the option to play back either their latest show or a past one. A playlist pops up in real time that allows you to then take the songs you like and create your own playlist, buy the song in iTunes or share the show you’re listening to with friends. But here’s the real kicker. As we know, Apple does not allow apps to work in the background. This non-feature becomes particularly annoying with a music app such as this one. Well, fear not, music seeker- the “Play in Background” feature is what separates the men from the boys here. AND, the music streams over WiFi or 3G, and I have not had any problems with the hand off. (In other words if you start listening at home over WiFi and then get in your car and switch to 3G. The music keeps right on playing.)

OK, so whatever- all these features are cool. But what about the music? You’ll find KCRW’s signature daily music program “Morning Becomes Eclectic” as well as world music, jazz, indie pop, trance, hip hop, remixes, soul, and on it goes. The DJs themselves are all excellent and, unlike on hit radio, they don’t blather on endlessly. They play the music and stay out of the way. (Special shout out to Tom Schnabel, who was my favorite DJ to listen to when I lived in LA. I probably learned about more music through him than anyone else. Nice to hear you again, Tom.)

So, look, all the time you’ve spent reading this post, you could have spent the .99 cents and downloaded the app already and gotten as much pleasure from it as I have. Ever since I left Los Angeles, I have missed listening to KCRW. Now I don’t have to miss it anymore, and you can have a great LA experience, without all the freeways.

At last, a great way to find great music.

facebook and the losing battle over privacy

So facebook doesn’t seem to care about your privacy. Until they do. Or, do they? Kind of hard to tell. The people who run the service that was pitched to all of us a few years back as a semi-private club where we would have control of who saw our photos, status updates and hackneyed inspirational quotes have now, for the fourth or fifth time, moved the goal posts on what constitutes “privacy.”

Finally, on May 26, facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced to address the frenzy whipped up online and off over what many perceived as a sneaky attempt to manipulate people’s information. Past attempts have stirred up a storm among the digerati and have been mostly confined to blog posts and tweets. This time, however, it landed on the front page of the New York Times which for an internet business can only mean two things: you have stopped being cool because the stodgy Times found out about you OR because you did something bad/stupid/illegal or some combination of the three.

This is not the first time they have done this, nor the first time I have written about it. But for some reason, THIS time it is really freaking people out, and not just the techie geekerati. So what is at the heart of the problem, and what can be done?

facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg firmly believes two things:  1)  the web is making us all more open and that privacy is an illusion and 2) facebook is on a mission to transform they way we all interact with the web. Facebook wants to be the center of our digital lives, the starting point of our engagement with the internet. facebook believes that “By making the world more open and connected, we’re expanding understanding between people and making the world a more empathetic place.” Oh, brother.

The hue and cry was so intense about their ham-handed changes, that Zuckerberg was forced to acknowledge their mistakes and offer up different settings options for users. The previous privacy settings had 50 pages of clicking and over 170 possible permutations. Who the hell is going to go to all that trouble? That, of course, is EXACTLY what they were counting on- that few of us would.

So, is facebook evil, stupid or crazy like a fox? The truth is, there is not as much of a business for them in only being a place for you to upload your photos and provide status updates as there is in collecting massive amounts of data about their users which can then be used to earn advertising income by more effectively targeting those ads based on your online activities and expressed interests.

If you believe their  numbers, facebook has over 400 million active users, two thirds of whom live outside of the US, but the privacy features are explained in ENGLISH ONLY. So many users have invested so much of themselves (ourselves) into the service that simply quitting facebook is not really a viable option. And even if we did, what would become of all those pictures, videos, intellectual ramblings, etc.? facebook would tell you that they are simply reflecting the change in people’s attitudes about privacy. I have seen no evidence of that. Rather, I would suggest that they are forcing change in order to be able to better target advertising and make more money. The truth is, given the choice, human beings typically opt for convenience over privacy.

(Side note: the implication here is that young people don’t care about their privacy. Zuckerberg himself is only 26, and that may very well be his personal ethos. Yet a Pew Reserch Center study released on May 26, 2010 about reputation management and social media found that 71% of social network users aged 18-29 have changed their privacy setting on their profile to limit what they share with others online. “Reputation management has now become a defining feature of online life for many internet users, especially the young.” Here’s a link to the survey.)

For those who were freaked out by this latest breach, I think the main reason is that  our privacy has been under assault from so many quarters, and that is a real concern for many of us. From illegal wire tapping and circumvention of FISA to self-inflicted revelations in public fora, many of us face a constant push-pull over how much to reveal and the harm it may inflict. When I say “harm,” I don’t necessarily mean physical harm, although there are many heartbreaking stories of physical harm. It could be embarrassment, getting caught in a lie, or just forgetting that you are sometimes speaking to a broader audience. But these missteps feel manageable because we realize that WE were the ones that made a mistake by revealing too much. It’s quite a different, and creepy, feeling when someone ELSE reveals our personal information without our informed consent. Betrayal is tough to come back from. Unless you’re facebook and no one seems to give a damn.

For all intents and purposes, facebook has no competition and, as danah boyd points out, the deeper a relationship, the higher the cost of ending it. So what can be done? Not much, I’m afraid. Stay on top of the changes (because this WILL happen again. And again.), and remain ever mindful of what your goals and objectives are when you join an online club.

As always, I would love to hear your comments.

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What’s the big deal about Foursquare?

There has been lots of talk in the press lately about location-based applications and Foursquare seems to be earning the lion’s share of the coverage, even though there are others in the space, like Gowalla, Loopt and Brightkite, with similar offerings.

So what is Foursquare, anyway?

Foursquare is a location based service with a bit of goofy competition thrown in for good measure. You load up the Foursquare app on your iPhone, Blackberry or whatever you carry around that is GPS-enabled. When you arrive at a destination that has a “hang out” quality to it (think bar, restaurant, book store, museum, clothing store or anyplace you might be awhile) you “check in” at that place. If you don’t find the place already listed within Foursquare, you can add in the name, address, phone, etc., of the place, and THEN check in. All of this activity earns you points and helps you unlock different badges (this is the goofy competition part). Additionally, you might find that your other Foursquare friends are hanging out in the same place or, perhaps, they are somewhere nearby in the neighborhood. There are literally dozens of badges and the more times you visit a particular place, you end up becoming the “mayor” of that place. Here is where Foursquare gets interesting for businesses. (Click here to see what Foursquare is doing to help businesses take advantage of their service. They make it VERY easy.)

Every successful business has regular customers. Now, via Foursquare, you can reward those loyal customers and their friends. 10% off an item of clothing if you’re the mayor of a local clothing retailer. Bring in 3 other friends and your meal is free. You get the idea. It’s a new twist on loyalty programs, but in a much more public forum. Your Foursquare updates can be tied to your twitter feed and posted to your facebook page, letting people know about the places you like to eat, shop or hang out. Why is this significant? Because people trust the recommendations of their friends and peers more than they do celebrity endorsers or commercials. And if you are a local business, you’re not going to have a celebrity endorser anyhow. (I love this Jimmy Choo treasure hunt around London using Foursquare.) Foursquare also allows users to leave tips about different businesses in sometimes clever ways. I was recently having lunch and when I checked in, someone had left a tip that automatically popped up that said “Make sure you try the ice cream across the street at Miss Mooie’s.”

Location based apps have a certain creepiness factor, but I see them as a huge boon to businesses of all sizes. Foursquare does allow for advanced privacy settings, so you don’t have to broadcast your whereabouts to the whole world. Maintaining connections to customers is so critical for the survival of ANY business, and Foursquare enables those connections, and also helps with the important work of having your customers act as your marketing street team. As Twitter and facebook continue to integrate location into their services, Foursquare is a logical complement. For business owners, it is not a silver bullet, but IS a clever and effective way to engage and reward your most loyal customers, and steadily build a new customer base.