SitePoint Podcast #37: Social Media: The Bad and the Ugly

Episode 37 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week, your hosts Patrick O’Keefe (@ifroggy), Stephan Segraves (@ssegraves), Brad Williams (@williamsba) and Kevin Yank (@sentience) discuss Patrick’s Blog World Expo 2009 panel, entitled Social Media: The Bad and the Ugly.

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Interview Transcript

Kevin: November 20th, 2009. The team assembles to discuss Patrick’s Blog World and New Media Expo panel on the dark side of online communities. This is the SitePoint Podcast #37: Social Media: The Bad and the Ugly.

Kevin: And welcome to another episode of the SitePoint Podcast. It’s a bit of a special one this week. Normally, in between our new shows we have interviews and one-on-one type things but we’ve got all the troops with us, the usual suspects, we’ve got Brad Williams, Patrick O’Keefe, and Stephan Segraves, and we’ve come together today to talk about—Patrick, you chaired a panel at the Blog World and New Media Expo a few weeks back called Social Media: The Bad and the Ugly and you had a great suggestion that we should go through it here because it’s very relevant to our audience.

Patrick: Right, sounds great. That’s a great setup! Basically, the premise of the panel is to discuss trends in social media that concerned us as far as the growth of the medium as a whole – and “us” being myself and Amber Nusland who is Director of Community at Radian6, Wayne Sutton who is a partner of OurHashtag in blog, SocialWayne.com and also Robert Scoble who is the Managing Director of Building43.com at RackSpace – and basically, trends in social media that we feel are maybe a detriment to the growth of the medium as a whole.

Kevin: Yeah. So I suppose you said there were six things that you covered in the panel?

Patrick: Six specific trends, yes.

Kevin: Alright. Well, maybe we should just dive right in with number one.

Patrick: Okay, and the first one we talked about was the unforgiving nature of the loud minority. So basically, what this means is it seems like there’s always a group of people online who are waiting for someone else to make a mistake and it’s almost like you can never make a mistake anymore because it’s going to be saved online, archived forever, talked about, trending topic, shared with everyone. It’s like an expectation to be perfect. Otherwise, it’s boycott or petition or fail and that’s dangerous to me because, well, I look at it as a user. That was the perspective of the panel. So as a user, why don’t you want to do this? For me, I think you want your words to have meaning. Boycotts and petitions these days are really so cheap. I mean, it’s as cheap as table salt. There are boycotts and petitions at any second on Twitter and everything is a fail – but not all of those things are meaningless, and you want to be someone who, when they boycott something or when there’s a petition, you want people to view it as being truly meaningful. But if everything is a fail, like I said, then your words are going to be discounted and you’ll become the boy who cried, “Fail”.

Kevin: Yeah, definitely. There’s that old saying, “Oh, oh, someone is wrong on the internet.”

Patrick: It never happens. So I guess the answer to the question is how can you be better than that? How can you not allow yourself to fall into that trap?

Kevin: Well, sometimes, we can definitely talk about trying to avoid making mistakes but as often as not, I think it’s as much about how you deal with the mistake you’ve made after the fact. If you own up to it and if you take ownership of your mistake and you go out of your way to do the right thing by the people who’ve been, in most cases, simply inconvenienced by the mistake you’ve made, often, you end up better than when you started if the exercise had gone perfectly.

Patrick: None of us here have ever made mistake. So this is all simply a scientific discussion, right?

Kevin: I know. It’s all talking hypothetically.

Patrick: Yeah, totally hypothetical.

Kevin: I know definitely SitePoint has made one or two mistakes. It’s inevitable as a publisher that a typo will slip through or the shopping cart setup will be not quite right when we launch a new book and we’ve had cases of people being unable to open the PDF files that they have paid for. Things like that happen every now and then and we find that if we’re diligent in owning up to it and apologizing and doing a little extra something to make it up to our customers, they become our biggest advocates.

Patrick: And just on the other side of that just as a user, so how do you not become that person who’s waiting for someone else to fail? I think it starts with giving people the benefit of the doubt and assuming good faith and treating people as you’d want to be treated. That says we all – but we don’t – but we all make mistakes. So everyone makes mistakes. So how do you want to be treated when you make one? I mean, do you want …

Kevin: Right, people in glass houses and all that.

Stephan: Sink ships.

Brad: I almost like it is human nature at this point but to kind of want people to fail, just like in entertainment in general, I mean, look at the whole bubble boy story. Everybody was fascinated by it and as soon as the first word hoax came out, they were wanting to burn them at the stake – whether they knew it was a hoax or not. So it’s almost like people are more fascinated by watching someone fail than they are by watching someone succeed.

Kevin: That’s definitely true. I have a double life. In my spare time I do a lot of Improv comedy and Improv is all about failure. People don’t come along to see you make up on the spot a seamless, perfect piece of theatre. They come to see those glitches when you’re sweating because you can’t think of the right words. That’s what people come along to see Improv comedy for. They want to see you take the risks and every once in a while slip off the balance beam and do terrible damage to yourself. So yeah, there is this, I don’t know, it’s like the traffic slowing down as a road accident happens to rubber neck. There is this culture on the internet – that we’re all watching for the people making asses out of themselves.

Patrick: And we try to take this from a company perspective, right? That’s a scary thing. I mean, as a company getting into the Internet or making some strides in social media – that you can’t make a mistake or someone’s going to pounce on you. That’s why I think it’s a bad thing and I think the perception is that there are a lot of people out there waiting to fail but personally, I think those people are just more vocal than others. I mean I think most people are well meaning people that are not looking to triumph your failures, so to speak. I think we can probably move on at the second point, which is related, which is the mob mentality. So where does this differ? This is more about the spreading and I guess dissemination of information. So a mob mentality, a mob in this light is basically a group of people who is just passing something along for the sake of passing it along, people that are piling on when they don’t really know the full story or taking the time to understand the full story. You could apply this at Twitter with re-tweets, when you’re just like re-tweeting something without looking at it, and then that thing becomes trending and maybe it’s a good thing, maybe it’s a bad thing, maybe it’s true or untrue. You can apply to a lot of other different things as well but what can happen is, and this is a bad thing for, again, social media and the Internet because it’s sort of has its reputation of being unreliable with some things and there’s this phrase that I don’t like, ‘the blogs’. When you hear it in mainstream media, you hear people say, “Oh, the blogs are talking.” There’s really no such thing but there’s just this perception of this nasty mob that’ll just pass along false information.

Stephan: Okay, I’ll be the first to admit to this – when this Northwest thing …

Patrick: Really?

Stephan: Yeah, I’ve done it once. I’ve done it once, once. I’ll give you an example. When this Northwest Airlines thing happened with the pilots that everybody thought went to sleep, there was a tweet out there that these guys were actually twittering on the flight and that’s why they were distracted and they had this whole conversation. Well, then it just seemed like great cannon fodder to re-tweet it and come to find out that it’s fake. I did my best to go back and say this was fake, don’t read this, this is a joke so, but I fell into the trap. I saw something out there that was really interesting. I read it. It actually looked real and re-tweeted it, and it was fake.

Patrick: So the question I think is what did you learn from that as far as next time?

Stephan: Wait a little while and see if it gets…

Brad: Don’t trust what Stephan tweets.

Stephan: Yeah, don’t trust me.

Patrick: That’s not what I learned.

Brad: I actually saw you tweet that. I scrolled down to the very—like they have a bunch of tweets from the pilots and one of the very last one said, “Oops, missed the airport, I guess we’ll turn around,” or something – and as soon as I read that I was like this is fake.

Stephan: Yeah, it just didn’t click with me. It just didn’t click. Yeah, yeah, I’m an idiot, I know.

Kevin: But it’s true. Sometimes the fake news is so much more tantalizing and interesting than the correction that comes after the fact and because of the mob mentality, as you put it, Patrick, the fake news gets more exposure and so many people read it and pass it along and many of those people never get to see the correction, the correct information.

Stephan: What I thought was interesting people actually re-tweeted when I said this was fake.

Kevin: Oh, that’s good.

Stephan: That was good. I was glad to see that because I felt stupid for doing it but it was good to know that other people were like, “Oh, he wasn’t just jerking us around.”

Kevin: There’s a great blog I follow called Bad Astronomy by Phil Plait and every August, it seems like a hoax email makes the rounds about how Mars for the next week or so is going to be at its largest in the sky for a decade – and I’m quoting from the email here – “It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide at a modest,” blah, blah, blah. It goes on to say Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. Now, anyone who knows anything about astronomy knows that that is completely impossible and that Mars will – to the naked eye – never be more than a particularly bright star, and yet every single year he has to debunk this email. It’s gotten to the point where he goes, “Yep, it’s August again, you can read my last three annual posts about this to find out why it’s a bunch of bunk.” But what used to be the unreliable nature of news arriving passed along as a chain letter in your email, that problem has spread to social media in all of its forms and will we ever reach the point where we can trust news that is spread by the mob?

Patrick: I don’t know the answer to that but I think another question – I’ll answer the question with a question – so how can we, as individuals, take responsibility and not be a part of it and then maybe one day from that, there’ll be more trustworthiness available in passing news along through this medium. And I think the way that you’ll do that is it’s going to – on us as individuals – not to trust everyone in the world implicitly and do your own research when something seems odd or maybe oddly sensational and of course, people will pass along the juiciest stories. That’s been happening since the beginning of time – cavemen passed on the juiciest stories but us as individuals…

Stephan: Fire!

Patrick: Exactly. That’s a vicious rumor. So I think we all have to decide how we want to be taken and that responsibility will then dictate our voice in what we pass on.

Brad: I think another service out there that’s kind of fueled this mob mentality is social news sites like Digg and Reddit and these are very popular sites, and literally, people are up-voting articles based on one sentence or maybe two sentences of the title and they’re not actually not reading the articles but they’re making their decisions based on that. So something may hit the front page at Digg that’s completely false but most people that see it aren’t going to read the full article and they’ll probably automatically assume it’s true or it’s accurate because it’s made the front page and a lot of times that’s not the case.

Kevin: So Patrick is right. We do need to think about how we can do better. The thing about social media is that it makes us all responsible for the news that we choose to pass along and before you hit that re-tweet button, maybe you owe it to all of the people who follow you to do a quick Google and make sure that this absolutely spectacular news that just arrived in your Twitter stream is actually something that is legit and worth passing along.

Patrick: That sounds like a good closing point for that section.

Kevin: Then what’s number 3, Patrick?

Patrick: So the third one is finally something a little bit different – unreasonable time expectations. There’s a couple of immediate examples of this. One would be something like, “Why haven’t you replied to the friend request that I sent you seven minutes ago?” I think we maybe all had those people who email us or maybe it’s not a friend request, maybe it’s a Twitter DM or maybe it’s a voicemail or an email or a forum post where someone says, “It’s been 10 minutes, where are you?” And I think that’s a side effect of social media because I know a lot of us are viewed as being always online or always connected from your cell phone, from computer, from a laptop. You’re always in front of a screen and people then place an expectation upon your time and expect you to respond within what, to you, maybe an unfair amount of time.

During the panel, I actually passed this question over to Robert Scoble because he’s a great example of that because he is someone who is connected all the time and he is someone who has a family, has a job, has other things to do, but he’s always viewed as this always connected person. I’ve seen him say things before in public about how this person wanted his time here or his time here, and it’s just not possible to accommodate every one when you have so many people latching onto you for a moment of your time or sending you a product to review or whatever it may be.

Those time expectations again apply to like a company trying to even the space and if they can’t respond in 10 minutes, then they’ll have someone who liked them now be angry at them, and that scares people away from the space.

Kevin: Something that I’ve had experience with on this and it’s something we’ve had to deal with in the SitePoint Support Team – is that your response time isn’t always consistent either. If you send something at 6 p.m. Australian time, everyone at SitePoint has gone home and you’re going to be first on the list when we get to the office in the morning, but nevertheless, that means you’re going to be waiting 8 or 9 hours for response. And then someone who sends an email maybe 4:30 p.m. Australia time – our support staff by that point have cleared the day’s backlog and they may be replying to stuff in real time.

Depending on when you send it, you get a very different support experience and if you get an immediate response one day, you may come to expect that the following day when you send something after we’ve all gone home. I’m curious if anyone has any thoughts on how that expectation can be managed.

Patrick: Well, I’ll say that I think one thing that comes to mind is – I guess – communicating expectations. One way you could do that, I guess, is through response email to their email, it’s probably some sort of ticket system and communicate, “We respond to tickets during this time for our reply time to be between x and x hours, and we will respond as soon as possible.” I think with a community support perspective or a support ticket perspective like a host support for example or in SitePoint’s case, the support of the books and products and whatever, it’s very feasible to post operating hours on your site or to send that because it is a business and it is seen that way. I don’t now if that’s something that businesses enjoy over individuals, but it’s interesting to consider.

Brad: In my own experience, sometimes I’ll work on client work on the weekend or maybe in the evenings just to kind of catch up and get ahead. Then you’re right, you do send out some emails maybe late at night or on the weekends and a lot of times, once you do that once then they just assume, oh, he’s working all weekend, so I can call him and send him emails and this and that. Always – I’m very upfront about it as well. I’ll say, “Look, I may email you on a Saturday night because I’m working on something. That doesn’t mean next Saturday night I’m going to be working and you can just pick up the phone and call me.” I’m always pretty upfront about that too, and I think most people understand as long as you tell them.

Kevin: Getting away from support email for a second and getting back to these social networks, more and more of us are carrying around phones that let us access things like Facebook on the go, and that creates an even more real time expectation – “Hey, my poke to you on Facebook – you could have picked out your phone out of your pocket at any time and seen it and poked me back, why didn’t you?” Maybe it’s as simple as your batteries died that day and you just were offline when normally people do expect you to be checking your phone every 5 minutes for a Facebook message.

Patrick: Right. It’s something that I think people need to work on to have that expectation on other people. So, with you, just be reasonable, be fair with people if they can’t get back to you within a specific amount of time.

I know there was another example that Wayne talked about and I was actually with him at the time, so it was funny. We were in Orlando at another conference and it was like 10 p.m. at night. We’re kind of getting into a social event for the conference and he says someone actually left a message on his Facebook wall about some information that they wanted him to send them that he had already taken care of – he thought. It was a request for information posted actually on his Facebook wall, like “Why haven’t you done this, why haven’t you done this yet, I’m waiting on you.”

So it’s in front of everyone where this person could just as easily send their message through Facebook or, if you know Wayne, you know he’s available everywhere; you can Google his name and you get his phone number and all this kind of information. So to actually take it and post it publicly at 10 p.m. at night – publicly at all really is the issue, but not having the proper respect for boundaries of time – it’s always a dangerous thing.

Kevin: Yeah, and this kind of comes back to the first point of how you choose to point out when people – whether you’re right or not, when you feel like someone has failed you online, whether they’ve made a mistake or whether they’ve not gotten back to you in a timely fashion. If you choose to point that out in a public forum, that’s a strong thing you’re doing and you really need to think that through. Whereas in many cases, a private message can do just as well and you need not draw attention to the temporary failings of the people that you are dealing with online.

What’s number four?

Patrick: So the fourth point is self-entitlement and this is against many forums. “Only the A-listeners get attention” is the popular one online, whatever it be the Twitter A list or A-list bloggers or people on Techmeme, or in the technology field anyway. Whatever it is, there’s a sense of entitlement to Twitter followers, to RSS subscribers. This is related to our appeal of course and web developers and technology people; and a good example is this celebrity getting on Twitter and having a lot of followers all of the sudden.

I’ve heard people tweet and I’m sure probably all of us have heard people tweet “This person just got on Twitter, they got all these followers and they don’t deserve those followers, gosh dang it! I’ve been here since day 1 and I have 1,000 followers.”

It’s just this entitlement online where it seems like it’s almost a disease with some people where if someone has more than them, then they don’t deserve it. I don’t know how you’re experience has been with that?

Kevin: What does it mean to deserve followers?

Patrick: Right. I mean, that’s the question, what does it mean to deserve followers, subscribers, whatever it is because to me, there’s not really such a thing as that, and if we talk about celebrities for example – Oprah got on Twitter, that caused kind of a stir. She’s got a lot of Twitter followers all of a sudden, yet she rarely tweets or at least she did at the start, I haven’t checked her account now – but the thing about Oprah and the thing I think people don’t understand or they forget about Twitter and about any of these services is that your work you do everywhere gets you more following, everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re on Twitter or you’re on some other site. If you are creating media and you’re getting in front of people and you’re getting exposure, that’s obviously going to help you everywhere – and that includes your Twitter followers.

We could say like I released a book – Kevin released a book – that wasn’t about Twitter or anything, but, because we put out a book, people bought it, they searched for our names so they went into our sites and they found us on Twitter and they followed us. The book is not about Twitter, but the book helps us gain a larger audience and that translates into more Twitter followers if you want to look at that metric or more web traffic, or whatever it may be. I go speak at a conference – I’m not doing that for Twitter followers – but yet everyone in the room might follow me on Twitter.

I think the key is that you have your work everywhere and you could use Oprah as a great example as probably one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time especially on television in the entertainment field. She has this huge audience and she brought that to Twitter or people who are already on Twitter know her and followed her – so just everything that you’re doing is contributing to your overall success.

Stephan: See, I have 300 followers on Twitter.

Patrick: You deserve every single one, I tell you!

Stephan: I worked really hard for those 300, but it doesn’t bother me. I have less than all of you guys, and it doesn’t bother. Who cares, right? I mean… For people who follow me, I try to make good tweets. Sometimes, I fail – Balloon Boy stuff.

Patrick: It can only be you.

Stephan: Exactly, and I think people who see me set low expectations themselves when it comes to followers.

Patrick: I mean, followers – that’s just one example. And maybe it’s not the best example, but it is one that gets put out there a lot because people are always talking about the number of followers.

Kevin: So, when you are judging someone’s worthiness for the followers they receive on Twitter, it isn’t just about Twitter. The biggest Twitter star – if all they do is Twitter – they’re only going to reach a certain amount of people whereas the Oprah and the other celebrities of the world who have made their bones in other media, of course they’re going to come on and capture a lot of eyeballs.

Stephan: You see, that’s the thing too. I don’t contribute to WordPress. I’m not a WordPress developer, Brad.

Brad: Loser.

Stephan: I don’t write a book, I don’t have a network of sites, Patrick, and I don’t work for SitePoint. I don’t have the means out there for me to have a bunch of Twitter followers right now. In that case, even blog readers. I don’t even know what my numbers are, but my numbers aren’t that high and I don’t have a huge expectation of getting a lot of readers. I’m just writing. I guess, I’m really confused by this one because I don’t really understand people’s obsession with it.

Kevin: I think there’s a certain enviable aspect to having a small, focused number of followers. I mean, I don’t have – by Twitter rockstar standards, I think all of us here are pretty C- if not D-list, to be honest.

Patrick: Well I never!

Kevin: And I don’t mind that at all. I like that the people who are following me, most of them have met me personally and those who haven’t are genuinely interested in the stuff that I write about, that I speak about, that I find interesting day to day. I never, as I’m writing a tweet, need to check myself and think, is this interesting enough to my follower base or is it only going to be interesting to 25 percent and I’m going to annoy the other 75 percent, so I better just keep my mouth shut? It’s nice not to have to check yourself.

Patrick: I kind of had this conversation with someone I know who’s in the music industry because I caught them using something that generates followers – and the power of your following is in what they will do and what they will share. So, if you have 10,000 followers but they don’t read what you write, that doesn’t really mean a whole lot. If you have a thousand followers and they read every word, that’s very powerful.

I think that’s the difference and I don’t know what that translates to or how you measure it in numbers. We can’t lie, right, and numbers are important and numbers are what you get judged on. When you sell ads, you get judged on traffic, you get judged on click-throughs and that’s kind of the balancing bar is the actual traffic that converts. But, numbers are still important and you need to work for those numbers. You are entitled to one reader, one sale, one follower, one anything – you’re entitled to nothing. You have to work for #1 and then you work for #2, so you shouldn’t fall into the trap of self-entitlement.

Kevin: Number five?

Patrick: Point number five is trying to force everyone to use a tool or community the very same way. So we’ve all seen this, I would assume, on various platforms whether it be Facebook, social networking, Twitter, microblogging, forums, whatever – someone who is basically saying we use it this manner and you should use it in this manner too.

Kevin: The World Series has highlighted this for a lot of people on Twitter over the past week. I myself am not really a baseball fan and yet so many of the people in the technology world that I follow on Twitter seem to be huge baseball fans because that’s all they have tweeted about for the past week. Understandably, there has been a bit of a backlash – people going, “Man, I wish I could just filter out the baseball tweets and there have been calls for people to get a new Twitter account if they want to Twitter about baseball and keep their normal Twitter feed about technology the way it always is. Obviously, this prompts a lot more negative responses than constructive ones – people saying, “Well, if you’re not interested in my baseball tweets, there is a big Un-follow button right over there – go ahead and click it.

You don’t want to click it. You want to follow the person’s stream and so – but yeah, you need to accept the fact that you’re not going to be able to dictate the way people publish to these networks just to suit you. The best you can do is to look for a better tool for yourself.

Patrick: I think at our core – and I don’t know if you guys agree or disagree with this but – at our core we want people that use them differently I think – or a lot of us do – because here’s the thing. We didn’t see all the uses for Twitter when it first came out. We don’t see all the uses for any tool when it first comes out, and if we’re all doing the same thing then none of these tools ever grow. They never become any better. It always takes someone to use it differently. The first person to use a tag, let’s say; the first person to use Twitter to track their location. You always have to be the first person to do something to determine whether or not it’s good or not. So I think that instead of complaining about people doing it differently – and you can let people experiment and to try new things without being there to judge them because even if it’s not a good idea. Again, if we never try anything new, the medium would never grow.

Kevin: And if you’re in the business of creating these social networking tools, it’s probably best to be open-minded about how your users are going to use it. If Twitter were quick to implement things like a re-tweet feature or as we’ve spoken about on this podcast before, taking URLs out of the character count for Twitter. If Twitter made quick decisions on those and changed the service to tighten the way people use it, it wouldn’t be the big success it is now because as you say, Patrick, the users wouldn’t be free to experiment and play with it and find interesting, unexpected ways to use it.

Patrick: When Twitter first came out no one ever – they didn’t see it as someone tweeting from jail saying, “Arrested” right? I mean, they didn’t really see it as that sort of thing and that’s just one of the great things about the service is it has evolved and it becomes what you want and I would never say, “You know what, there’s an Un-follow button. Hit it.” But I would say that that is the power of Twitter. You know, we all can follow whoever we want to follow and rather than complaining what someone else is doing, you can – it’s true, you can always un-follow.
Kevin: Social networking in general gives every user the power to vote with their eyeballs as the case may be for the types of publishing that they appreciate.

Patrick: Exactly, and you know there’s a bunch of people out there that don’t like automation in Twitter feeds and I can understand that. But I would say also, and this is something I’ve said many times to people is, “You and I know what RSS is. Guess what, most people don’t” and most people want to subscribe to their favorite publication in one way or another and a lot of the people like to do it on Twitter. I hate to break it to you but some people do follow their favorite blog or CNN, or whoever, because they want to see the new entries on Twitter. That’s just how they receive information. And guess what, it’s not really hurting you or me for publications that do that because we don’t have to follow them. So just let them breathe I guess is the point.

Kevin: Yeah, I’ve seen you can get traffic alerts on Twitter for your particular area – if the traffic authority offers updates in that particular form – and sometimes even volunteers will automate the scraping of the traffic authority’s web site in posting new updates to Twitter. I know when we had the big bushfires last year here in Australia the fire association opened up a Twitter account and were posting updates as to where the fire fronts where and where evacuations were being considered, and all that sort of stuff was coming through Twitter. It was really quite useful.

Patrick: So the sixth and the final trend that we highlighted was being a sock puppet and just to elaborate on that. Basically, it’s pretending not to be affiliated with something that you are in fact affiliated with. I have a really great example of this and that’s a poker tournament that was promoting itself on MyCommunities. And they came to my site and first they asked me if I wanted to work with them, I said no. So they came to my site anyway and posted an advertisement. I removed it. A little while later they posted again but this time they acted like they were an interested consumer and they asked, “I’m looking for a destination to go with my fiancée” and then a member on our site replied helpfully. I replied and said I didn’t have any thoughts but good luck. And then that person replied and said, “Oh, thanks for the replies but have you heard about this tournament?” So you know that’s a really good example of it and they had done a lot of other things as well but basically it’s posting promotional comments where they’re not welcome or more specifically where you’re hiding your affiliation with whatever it is that you’re promoting. So you’re acting just as a third party when really you’re not.

Kevin: So we can all agree this, from a user perspective, is undesirable.

Patrick: Right.

Kevin: Having fake users out there shilling for products. But how do we avoid it? It seems like there will always be – as long as there will be social networks there will be companies interested in getting their message out there by any means. Does it pay off when people do this?

Kevin: Yeah, I mean the perspective of the panel is basically why you don’t want to do this, right. So why wouldn’t you want to do this? It’s clear I think why users don’t want it because it’s lying – which is a bad thing, but you know I think the problem is – and again, it’s funny because we mentioned Oprah. She had a quote about doing things in the light and not doing things in the light and how it will all come out in the end and I can’t remember the quote, but the point is that if you’re hiding something there’s a pretty good chance it’ll come out. It came out with this tournament, I exposed it and you know people will find out and when they do, they can’t trust you and that trust irreparable for a lot of companies. There are some times you can come back but I wouldn’t bet on your side, if you’re caught to be doing this sort of thing, that you can regain some of the public’s trust. So I would hope with most people they would know this is a bad thing but I think a lot of people would be surprised about how many people think it’s okay. How many businesspeople either don’t have a concept for it or the Internet or how it all works, or people who were just totally results driven and they don’t care because they think the Internet’s anonymous and they’ll never be found out. But I mean the reality is that people can be tied to organizations and to companies. Their IP addresses can be helpful. People can tie names, email addresses. The odds are that you’ll slip up rather than that you’ll be able to hold the façade up. So from the start you always want to disclose who you are and who you work for when posting comments that relate to your company because when you do so, you’re fostering trust.

Kevin: And because if you don’t and you do slip up, that’s going to do way more damage to your brand than whatever message you were trying to get out there would benefit you.

Patrick: Right.

Kevin: Is there any way to do this – if you do it out in the open is it okay, necessarily? Is it beneficial? I’m thinking right now it’s November, for people interested in writing it’s – what do they call it? NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and the idea is that people who are interested in writing as a hobby will try and hunker down in November and write an entire novel during the month of November. Now I can imagine that – I’ve already seen a lot of ads and sales for software for creative writers, things like Scrivener for the Mac. They’re out there trying to push their products obviously during this month when people are going to be thinking, “Oh, I could really use a better software tool to help me get my novel written in November”. If these companies wanted to get it out there in these National Novel Writing Month forums where people are discussing their creative writing and saying things like, “Well you know there’s a great feature in Scrivener that let’s you lay out a timeline to plan your writing.” Is that okay? Is that going to work for you if you put, “By the way I work for Scrivener” at the bottom?

Patrick: You know it’s… I did it though from my background is forums so that’s a good example. Thank you, Kevin, for the softball.

But no, I don’t think it will work because there’s more to it than that and I think it varies by the medium. If you go on Twitter and you sign and that you identify who you are. Also community discussions lead to Twitter, if that wasn’t already clear. And so if you go out on there and you disclose who you are in your little description, your little bio, and you discriminately contact people that you think might be interested in your services, that’ll be one thing, but forums are a whole different beast. They’re really a structured community and most of them have guidelines or moderation of some sort. Most of the active ones, most of the ones that you would care to reach do have some sort of moderation. Before you enter any community, whether it be Twitter – which is a community to some, not to others – or forums or any other site, you need to check the ground rules and observe before you jump in so you see how other people are using the service. You see what the guidelines say if they mention that you can’t mention your company or if there’s even any doubt in your mind, you should never jump in and just start posting. You should always ask the staff and make sure it’s okay just because the damage that can be done – like you said – far outweighs the potential benefit if in fact they don’t like what you’re doing or what you’re doing is not allowed. So I think with forums and structured communities like that in particular, you definitely need to check the guidelines, check the staff and always err in the side of caution.

Kevin: Alright. Those are the six points you covered in your panel at Blog World and New Media Expo. So how was it received?

Patrick: It was received really well. It was interesting to hear all the feedback in person, on Twitter. Very positive stuff from a lot of different people. There was a lot of people that were there that I know and know that they’re very savvy, smart, and that the panel was – not necessarily their area but they still showed up to support and be a part of it like Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, like Mari Smith who knows a lot about Facebook, and afterward it was very well received. So it was really good. I think that the overwhelming – how we closed the panel was why do people care? Why should you care if social media grows because that was the theme of the panel and I think the thing is the growth of social media is good for everyone who’s in it legitimately – and everyone who wants to benefit from it in some way – professionally, personally, business-wise. If it grows and you’re doing it right then we all win, and if you are part of the problem then you know it’ll be reflected on you very badly and your company and so on, and you won’t benefit. But with proper consideration you can benefit from the space greatly.

Kevin: So think twice before you join the loud minority when someone makes a mistake. The mob, if you’re going to be a member of the mob you should try and be a thoughtful one. Before you pass things along you check them out. Be reasonable about your expectations about people’s time. Try not to think less of people who get many followers on Twitter because often they’ve earned it in some other medium. Be flexible about how people choose to use these tools because that’s what enables them to evolve in exciting ways. And finally if you’re trying to get a commercial message out there, do it openly and be sensitive to how people are going to take it in any given forum or environment. That was a great talk, guys. And yeah, I think that the more people can take those pieces of advice to heart, the better a future that we can see in social networks. Guys, let’s go around the table.

Brad: I’m Brad Williams from WebDevStudios and you can find me on Twitter @williamsba.

Patrick: I am Patrick O’Keefe of the of the iFroggy network ifroggy.com and you can find me on Twitter @iFroggy.

Stephan: I’m Stephan Segraves. You can find me on Twitter @ssegraves and my blog is badice.com.

Kevin: And you can follow SitePoint on Twitter @ssegraves. I though we’d just throw you a few extra followers there Stephan.

Stephan: And add them to a list too.

Kevin: You can follow SitePoint on Twitter @sitepointdotcom and you can follow me on Twitter @sentience. You can visit us at sitepoint.com/podcast for the latest episode and email us at podcast@sitepoint.com.

This episode of the SitePoint Podcast was produced by Karn Broad and I’m Kevin Yank. Bye for now!

Theme music by Mike Mella.

Thanks for listening! Feel free to let us know how we’re doing, or to continue the discussion, using the comments field below.

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  • OldManDoubleU

    This is a really interesting topic. Social media has become more powerful than most realise but with power comes responsibility. While social media can help you to build your business or personal profile relatively quickly and cheaply, it can also be the very thing that damages it irreparably in the blink of an eye.

    I dislike walking this knife edge and my philosophy is to tread lightly with social media. Well actually, I avoid it altogether. I find that you can still make a good living in IT and web development by maintaining the quality of your skills (technical, creative, etc) and letting that quality do the selling for you in other ways.

    What you also need to remember is that by becoming deeply involved with social media and sharing private information, you are selling your identity to the corporations and helping to build the social control systems of the future (have you read the Facebook user agreement lately?). Contrary to Eugene Kaspersky’s opinion, I think we need to be working toward making online anonymity more achievable for the average person and giving full control of personal information back it’s owners. Anything less and I think we’re moving away from Tim Berners-Lee vision of a free and accessible Internet for everyone.

  • http://fcOnTheWeb.com ferrari_chris

    I can’t seem to download this episode – it’s saying it can’t find the file.

    Although, I’ve been having network issues this morning, so may be that at fault.

    Can someone check the download link and confirm it’s working OK? Thanks.

  • http://www.ifroggy.com iFroggy

    Thanks for the comment, ferrari_chris. The episode is working here. Thought I’d mention it. Sorry that you’re having trouble.

    Thanks,

    Patrick

  • http://fcOnTheWeb.com ferrari_chris

    Got it now, thanks.

    The IT team must have fixed whatever network issues we were having before. :)

  • jakab

    Very nice discussion about the pros and cons of the social media