Taking the piss out of Social Media

Through the medium of piss, the essence of each Social Media website listed below has been captured concisely and with varying degrees of accuracy.

The list was inspired by numerous tweets doing the rounds over the last few days, none of which ventured beyond LinkedIn.

I guess it was quite funny up to that point and then I had to go and spoil it.

Mind you, I am quite proud of the Wikileaks entry!

Have I missed any?

Twitter: I need to pee.
Facebook: I peed!
Foursquare: I’m peeing here.
Quora: Why am I peeing?
Youtube: Watch this pee!
LinkedIn: I pee extremely well.
MySpace: Peeeee, maybe the face I can’t forget…
iTunes: Download the single for just 79p.
Bebo: Mummy I need a pee pee…
Urbanspoon: The pea soup was to die for.
Wikipedia: I just passed a liquid by-product of my body, which was secreted by my kidneys through a process called urination and excreted through my urethral passage.


I just peed my pants…

Let’s all pee in a circle!


Asda’s Green Room re-visited

This time last year I scribbled down a few thoughts on Asda’s Green Room, a website where Asda staff can get together to find out what’s happening around the company as well as share their own stories, pictures and videos.

What makes the Green Room so special is that whilst most companies do this kind of thing, very few do so in public. There’s no hiding behind the corporate firewall here.  Customers, shareholders, media, rivals – in fact anyone with a passing interest in Asda can visit the site and have their say.

So when I heard that the Green Room had a makeover last week I rushed back to pay a visit – and I must say it looks amazing.

The new homepage is very easy on the eye and packed with attractive hooks to draw you deeper into some great content.  Additional functionality has been added to make it easier to submit comments, upload and preview pictures, and receive progress information on both.

New design elements have enhanced navigation around the site as well as point you to other linked resources like the Green Room’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. I really really like what they have done.

I said some pretty negative things last time round about my disappointment at the lack of obvious staff interaction with the site. I’m pleased to say things have improved on that front.

There was a lovely news piece from early December where Asda President and CEO Andy Clarke thanked staff for their Herculean efforts in keeping the business going during the extreme weather conditions, in short informal video. This in turn attracted a bunch of comments from staff and customers, telling their own stories of braving the Arctic conditions.

If I were to be really picky (which obviously I am!) I’d have loved to have seen a follow-up comment from Andy Clarke in the thread acknowledging the stories, in particular the comment from an Asda customer who explains why the residents of Slack Head in Beetham are “very lucky to have one of your employees in our community”. This kind of content is priceless. But only if people are reading it.

There is still a lot of work to be done to make the Green Room the runaway success it deserves to be. Despite improvements, levels of engagement with staff are still patchy. Most of the news stories don’t seem to attract comments, including one where the company announced it had raised £4m last year for partner charity Tickled Pink. Another story about a member of staff who had just won £5.6m on the National Lottery attracted a single solitary comment.

The same lack of engagement is reflected on Facebook, where since the beginning of December, the 30-odd posts on the Green Room wall have attracted just 4 comments.

The next step for the Green Room team has to be off-line.

The on-line offering is more than fit for purpose. It is actually bloody good. What is needed now is awareness, education, and encouragement.  Staff need to be encouraged and empowered to get involved. The easy bit has been done – the hard bit starts now.

The key to success in my opinion will be getting the entire management community to lead by example. They need to demonstrate through their own actions that engaging with the Green Room is not just permitted, but genuinely encouraged.

When is a Blackberry not a Blackberry?

I’m no longer on the cusp of leaving my current mobile phone provider. I’m feeling much better than yesterday thank you very much. Two things have helped.

One is simply the cathartic effect of writing.

The other is the reaction the ‘deliberately provocative tweets’ I published as promised. It only took two tweets. The first one was too late at night to be picked up.

The second one did better.

First to react was T-Mobile.

Swiftly followed by Vodafone.

I responded to both, which prompted the following responses.

These interactions helped. They did not solve anything as I had to do that myself. But they did take away my anger and went some way to restoring my faith in humanity (or something like that). Not sure what happened to O2; they either missed my cry for help or decided not to play.

It matters not. I’m no longer on the cusp of leaving my current mobile phone provider.

And in the unlikely event that I do in the near future, it will be Vodafone that get the call.

I’m not Spartacus

There was something really quite exciting about seeing the deluge of support sweep across the twitterverse in real-time this morning. In a humbling display of defiance and solidarity, twittizens across the world ignited and united in support of one of their own, falsely accused and wrongly convicted.

His crime was to tweet 109 characters that went on to be interpreted by the judiciary as a menacing threat to blow up an airport: “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” were the words he apparently wrote to a woman he was due to visit by plane from an airport closed by excessive snowfall.

So on the one hand I find myself rather impressed by the #IAmSpartacus campaign. It resulted in thousands of tweets replaying the offending message. It led to a pledge from the King of Twitter Mr Stephen Fry to pay the fine and associated court costs. It led to 360 news pieces on Google so far today…

On the other hand I chose not to join in all the fun and frolics because I do think that @pauljchambers was a touch foolish to tweet the words ‘airport’ and ‘blowing sky high’ in the same breath (as it were).

I’m sorry but was a bit silly.

But since when has being a bit silly become a criminal offence?

Anyone can see that there was no intent to cause alarm nor to be threatening in any way. In his own mind and in the mind of any right minded person, he was just engaging in a bit of harmless banter and bravado.

None of the pre-requisites of a proper bomb threat were in evidence. No contact with the airport. No intended victim. No attempt to hide his identity. No muffled phone call. No coded message. No known terrorist affiliations. No innocent bystanders at risk.

It looks like the police weren’t sure what they were dealing with. “I had to explain Twitter to them in its entirety because they’d never heard of it” @pauljchambers later told the Telegraph.

The real crime here was the blindingly obvious lack of understanding and common sense from the bench. The judge described the tweet in question as “menacing in its content and obviously so. It could not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed.”

I think not. That’s just crazy talk…

The Social Media Revolution

Ask anyone which invention had the greatest impact on mankind and you’d probably get a mixed response. The wheel, gunpowder, the compass, the steam engine, electricity, sliced bread; take your pick.

Me? I’d go with the printing press.

Think about it. Over the history of civilisation, who has held the keys to social and economic power? Answer – the aristocracy, aided and abetted by the Church. In other words, those with access to education, culture and knowledge.

The printing press democratised education, culture and knowledge. Its contribution to spreading knowledge and learning destroyed the age of belief and blew apart the Church’s claim to a monopoly on knowledge. It paved the way for the Reformation, the Renaissance, Nationalism, the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, and pretty much everything else we see around us today.

So here’s the thing. If the printing press had such a profound effect on the advancement of mankind, what on earth is Social Media going to do to us? OK, so a single printing press in the 15th century could churn out 500 books in the time it took a scribe to write one. Those 500 books still needed to be distributed and consumed.

Just 20 years ago the giant publishing houses controlled much of the printed word. Today it is truly democratised. Anyone with access to a computer and the internet can publish whatever they want in a matter of seconds.

It is estimated today that there are around 1.4 million blogs in blogosphere, and around 900,000 million blog posts are published every day. Facebook has 500 million active users, who share over 30 billion pieces of content every month. Twitter has 100 million registered users and is growing at the rate of 300,000 per day, with 55 million tweets a day. 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute, while the site enjoys 2 billion views per day. I could go on but I think you get my drift.

But before we get carried away on the tidal wave of social media euphoria, hold onto this thought. If you spit in someone’s face you’ll get their undivided attention. If you spit into the middle of the Pacific Ocean no one will ever know.

The power now resides with those who can help us navigate through all of this stuff.

Unclear proliferation

We live in a connected world. Buyers have found new ways to buy. Sellers have found new ways to sell. Motorists have found new ways to insure. Students have found new ways to study. Writers have found new ways to publish. Recruiters have found new ways to recruit. Gamblers have found new ways to gamble. Musicians have found new ways to be heard. Families and friends have found new ways to share.

In under a second Google can find more stuff than a pre-internet research assistant could have hoped to have found in a lifetime. In a matter of minutes companies can be rocked to the core by the whiff scandal spreading across the globe faster than the speed of light through multiple virtual channels that are virtually impossible to control.

Yep. We live in a connected world all right.

Many companies are jumping on the social media express, leveraging new and exciting communication technologies and behaviours to find new ways of connecting with their customers and staff. So given the ease, speed and reach of communication technology these days, it’s little wonder we all understand our company’s strategy right?

Wrong. On the contrary, while the world around us has never been more open, transparent and accessible, life in a typical organisation has never been more opaque and trust has never been in such scarce supply.

Why is that? Could it be because many organisations still hang on to the mechanical, bureaucratic, command and control models of organisation that have been with us since the days of the carrier pigeon? Is it because they still cascade carefully crafted, legally sanitised state of the nation speeches through multiple layers of distracted or disengaged management? And because they strip out any semblance of personality from CEO communications to make sure they don’t put a foot wrong, nor waste a single precious word? Somebody told me the other day that their company still sends memorandums around in the internal post! For sure – this could be part of the problem.

Too many organisations continue to inflict somewhat outmoded values and behaviours on an increasingly sophisticated young workforce; a workforce which is already shunning email because it’s too damn slow. Banning Facebook? What’s all that about? You may as well ban prayer in the mosque or swimming at the pool.

I am a very enthusiastic champion of social media. Getting active on Twitter has expanded my professional horizons immeasurably and demonstrated the power of networking on and offline. So when Yammer popped up inside the organisation I was one of the very early adopters because I got it. I didn’t need convincing. I tweet, therefore I yam.

And Yammer has been a very positive experience for my company. It has got our people sharing ideas, intelligence, information and (dare I say it) banter, across the company irrespective of traditional organisational boundaries, allegiances and geographies. It provides us with a means to improve knowledge management, collaboration and innovation in ways I had not thought possible just a few short years ago.

However, it has also given us another channel to contend with. Another application which needs to be opened up every morning, and another source of potentially distracting real-time alerts set to interrupt us as we go about our work.

As you can imagine this causes me some conflict as I have been beating the social media drum hard and fast for quite some time in and out of work; while at the same time witnessing my own increasing failure to keep track of an ever growing number of external and internal sources I rely on for professional and industry news, views and ideas.

I managed a wry smile when I read the following tongue-in-cheek plea for a ‘ceasefire’ recently on one of my favourite community forums:

“Most working days start with logging in to desktop, Yammer, Intranet, IM, Jabber, Jira, Confluence, Conference Calls, Outlook, OCS and getting a coffee. By then it’s almost time for lunch.”

Beware folks, there’s many a true word spoken in jest. As Internal Communicators we absolutely need to embrace these new channels, but we cannot let them multiply at will with no checks or balances. There is a clear and present danger that important information and meaning gets lost in all the noise. Rather than bringing more clarity, the proliferation of communication channels could well be making things less clear. There needs to be some form of unclear deterrent if we are to avoid meltdown.

When it comes to Internal Communications you need to have a single source of truth. One place that staff enjoy visiting and trust; which is a well-managed, easy to find and full of good quality up-to-date, fresh content. I still believe that place is an intranet; albeit the 2.0 versions built on blogging software that encourages instant feedback and interaction as well as opt in/opt out and ‘alert me’ functionality.

Sure, drive footfall through a multi-channel approach, including word of mouth, email, noticeboards, video on demand, and the pervasive SM channels including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn that to varying degrees most staff are using already. But do just that – drive footfall. Don’t repeat the same messages time and time again across every different channel. It’s called spam and your audience will switch off sharpish if you do it.

Social Media in particular should not be used by corporate communicators for pumping out corporate messages. These channels are designed for discussion not presentation; relationship building not hectoring and lecturing.

Everywhere I look I see people predicting the demise of the machine bureaucracy and the rise of the ‘networked’ or ‘connected’ organisation. Centralisation will be swept aside by decentralisation; formal hierarchy will bow down to informal networks; executive planning will succumb to collective learning; leadership will be usurped by the ‘wisdom of crowds’ and instead of working for departments, we will all band together in tribes. Their message is clear – organisations that fail to embrace these new paradigms are dinosaurs heading for extinction.

Poppycockasaurus. It’s all a matter of balance. Machine Bureaucracies that loosen up a little and open their minds to the new possibilities and opportunities offered by embracing the ‘networked’ or ‘connected’ revolution will live long and prosper. But only if they hang on tightly to some of their rigour and discipline at the same time.

And thrusting new business upstarts will find that all that flashes, blinks and swarms is not necessarily the route to salvation and sustainability. There will always be a place for strong leadership and high level company strategy will never successfully be determined by an all-staff vote.

Maybe, just maybe I could be persuaded to turn up for work in a loin cloth.

Do you believe in ghosts?

There is an old Burmese saying which goes “the blind person never fears ghosts”. I suspect there are millions of ‘blind’ people out there reading blogs and following tweeps in blissful ignorance of the fact that they are victims of a subtle yet deliberate deception, and the person they believe they are listening to is not who they imagine.

I wrote a piece on ghost blogging last month and was delighted today to have the opportunity to listen to a fascinating debate on the subject by two real heavyweights. Marketing Magazine dubbed Mitch Joel the Rock Star of Digital Marketing. His Six Pixels of Separation is a well respected blog and 19k followers on Twitter is not too shabby. Mitch is in the blue corner, arguing, like me against ghost blogging.

In the red corner stands Mark Schaefer, marketing consultant extraordinaire, with an equally not too shabby 14k followers on Twitter.

Listening to the debate you get the feeling that Mark would love to agree with Mitch, and indeed on several occasions he clearly does agree on a fundamental and emotional level. The bottom line for me was that he could not allow himself to agree on a practical level because he has a vested interest in promoting ghost writing to his own clients.

If you are interested in the morality and practicality of ghost blogging, try and find 40 minutes to listen to these boys – it is worth every second.

Trust is still a must

On the rant I mentioned yesterday. Maybe rant is a little strong. Letting of steam may be a bit fairer. Anyway, the post came across as an impassioned plea for more trust and transparency in the work place.

The guy was clearly frustrated, and he broke a few basic rules of social media netiquette by ‘SHOUTING’ a bit at unnamed individuals who in his eyes seem to get a kick out of  ‘being in the know’.

I was with him 100% in sentiment, but feared that his manner had the potential to undermine a very important debate, as well as create a negative perception among people that didn’t know him and thereby damaging his own personal equity.

I also feared that the naysayers could use the post to take a swipe at my beloved Yammer.

So I called him up for a chat. And guess what – I was beaten to it. A call from up on high had already been made to his boss, along the lines of “have you seen what this guy has written – how can he be trusted with sensitive information after writing something like that?”

Exactly as I feared. His rant had diverted attention away from the real issue and drawn attention to himself in a way that he had not intended or desired. Many people would have been put off by such a reaction and it would have been easy and forgivable to say “sod that, I’m not playing on Yammer again, it’s far too dangerous”.

Fortunately he didn’t. After a few hours of reflection he returned and apologised for his earlier rant, explaining how his passion for the company and his desire to see it be the best it can be lay behind his emotional plea.

He then went on to list the following reasons why he believes transparency in the workplace is a good thing:

  • It helps employees understand why
  • It allows for consistent messaging across the organization
  • It leads to faster, more efficient execution
  • It heals we/they divisiveness
  • It keeps good people from leaving
  • It facilitates the best possible solutions

That’s better! That’s what I call a proper contribution to a very important debate.

And it’s made even more compelling by the fact that it’s not from a text book on employee engagement or from the mouth of an organisational effectiveness guru.

It’s straight from the heart of a very engaged employee.

Ghost blogging

I guess I probably still qualify as social media virgin. Lots of frantic petting as I try to make up for lost time, but the truth is I’ve only been blogging for 5 months, active on Twitter for just over a year and still cannot really be arsed with Facebook.

Like all virgins, I am therefore somewhat by definition a touch naive. I like to believe that when I follow someone on Twitter or subscribe to a blog, I get to connect with the actual individual I’m interested in.

For example, I enjoy following Duncan Bannatyne on Twitter. I have enjoyed reading his books; he has a very interesting life story, which in many respects he lives out on Twitter, and I enjoy the opportunity to feel part of it. Now if I ever had an inkling that he was not responsible for his own tweets and that he employed a ghost writer or even shared the job out with his PA, I’d be off like a shot.

I’d feel cheated. It’s as bad as a doting fan paying big bucks to watch a mega recording artist perform live, only to discover half way through the show she was lip-synching. It’s probably as bad as removing ones wedding ring before entering a singles bar….

I only found out recently that there is a massive ongoing debate on this very issue. It’s been raging for years.

In the red corner you have the PRs, the seasoned command & control communications veterans and the ghost bloggers themselves. These guys think ghost blogging is an honourable and essential profession, given that their clients are far too busy and important to actually write for themselves.

And if they didn’t do it for them the world would be an emptier place because we’d all be missing out from their nuggets of wisdom, and sparkling wit & repartee.

Of course their clients don’t like them to disclose who they write for – that would be embarrassing right? That could lead to reputational damage right? So it’s OK to do it provided no one finds out. Oh dear. So where is the integrity and honesty in that?

So the red corner argues that professional communicators have always supported CEOs, celebrities and politicians by writing their speeches, their books and their letters since time immemorial. It’s true, and I have no issue with that. But these media are not social. They are not blogs; which have fundamentally changed the rule book.

Needless to say, I am in the blue corner. If I want to read facts about a company, I will read its annual report and check out its website. If I want to understand what makes a company tick I’ll subscribe to its employee blogs and follow its staff on Twitter, where I can connect with them directly. And part of what makes the experience so interesting and the connection so compelling is the blend of work and play; the immediacy; the shared pleasure in sharing; and the free-flow of consciousness.

Actually this blog post was triggered off by a comment I read a few days ago in a piece on www.ragan.com called It’s just ridiculous to argue about ghost-blogging

Try the link, it may work for you. I cannot access it now unless I pay a rather chunky subscription fee.

An anonymous contributor added this in a comment in his or her anonymous defence of ghost blogging (spot the irony): “a highly polished, marcom speak-laden entry, is highly preferable to undisciplined, poorly constructed, rambling from a great CEO who is not a writer”.

I’m sorry I don’t buy this. I don’t read blogs to be entertained by brilliant writing. I read blogs because I am interested in listening to that person. I want to feel connected to the author. I can’t do either if I know the blog is ghost written. If you don’t have time to blog, don’t do it. That’s fine. I won’t think any less of you! But if you are going to blog, be genuine and be real.

I like the advice that Kodak give on the subjectin their Kodak Social Media Tips: “Always be transparent. When you are communicating in social media say who you are and who you work for. Don’t try to be sneaky and plant comments, don’t hire people to go out and say nice things about you and stay away from ghost writing. Be genuine and be real.”

I’m going to leave the last word to an old pro who knows what he is talking about. If I’m a social media virgin, I guess Robert Scoble, is the Casanova. In his 2003 blogging manifesto he wrote: “Use a human voice. Don’t get corporate lawyers and PR professionals to cleanse your speech. We can tell, believe me.”  Scobleizer – The corporate weblog manifesto

Wise words indeed from the undisputed heavyweight champion of the blogging world!

Profits, passion & purpose

Delivering Happiness officially hit the streets today – although it kind of feels like it has been out there and read by millions of us already. It deserves to be a major success if for no other reason than the extraordinary way in which it has been marketed over the last few months. It will be a best seller because never before has an author put so much heart and soul into launching a book.

I suspect it cost a few bob as well, but how much better to spend your marketing budget on delighting a legion of existing fans and admirers and leveraging their already enthusiastic advocacy, which has already resulted in 40 reviews on Amazon, 32 hits on Google News just today, and attracted pieces in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and CBS News.

So what is all the fuss about? Read the book and certainly in the early stages you encounter a pretty ordinary guy. If anything, an under achiever. A flighty, fidgety sort who seemed to lack focus and drive. As a teenager and young adult, he was far from being a model student and a worthy employee. To put it bluntly, his low boredom threshold and inventive ways to avoid doing work did little to point to the fact that he would become a multi-millionaire by his early twenties.

That should be pretty inspirational stuff for thousands of listless teenagers out there who think life is sooooooo unfair.

Like many successful entrepreneurs, Tony Hsieh was far more interested in finding ways to make money than to focus solely on his studies. He was making $200 a week from a mail order business making buttons at High School. And while his parents thought he was diligently practicing his violin for an hour every day, he was reading ‘Boy’s Life’ magazine behind his bedroom door whilst the rest of the house listened to a pre-recorded loop of him scratching away at the fiddle.

At Harvard he did as little academic work as possible, spending a lot more of his study time in bed than I ever did at Uni, and instead of working nights for one week every term at the local bakery to like I did to make ends meet, Hsieh was making considerably more from his late night fast food operation selling burgers and pizzas to his peers.

Somehow he graduated with a degree and got a very well paid job with Oracle. That did not last long as he found it tedious and unchallenging. His subsequent stint as a self employed web designer went much the same way.

All the time, Hseih was learning the importance of doing something you were excited by. So much so that a few years later when he sold his Link Exchange to Microsoft for a mere $265m, with a personal fortune of $41m, Hseih gave $8m back because he didn’t have the patience to wear his golden handcuffs for another few months. He had worked out that for him, following his passion was more rewarding that chasing the buck.

And then came Zappos. Having read the book I can see that Tony Hseih’s passion had very little to do with selling shoes. Online or offline. No – his passion is for driving human (and therefore corporate) performance through amazing customer service. It could have been furniture, whoopee cushions, griddle pans or fishing tackle. It just happened to be shoes. Aided by the inspiration of some people he met along the way.

What drives this man is the pursuit of happiness and the recognition (or is it faith?) that there is a proper commercial virtuous circle, where happy staff equals happy customers, equals happy shareholders.

Most companies focus their efforts on creating shareholder value. Tony Hsieh knows that very few people get out of bed in the morning to create shareholder value. A few companies flip this convention on its head and works their butts off the make their staff feel valued, empowered, trusted, respected and dare I say loved. This rubs off on customers big time. And so it’s pretty good for profits too.

If any of this resonates, you should read Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose. If you think it sounds like a load of old tosh, you should read Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose.