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Social Media Happenings for February

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There’s been a slight change of plans, readers: I was all set to give you a rundown of the great stuff that happened at Paul Greenberg’s recent SCRM Summit in Herndon, VA, but a funny thing happened on the way to the Capitol Region. Somebody mentioned snow, and all the DC-area airports rolled up their runways. I didn’t get to go, and neither did a lot of people. Sad.

However, while I was sulking over my misfortune, a couple of new developments in the world of social networking caught my attention. (Yeah, there were probably more than two, but these are the ones I feel like mentioning.)

First, Facebook just changed its home page, and not for the better in my opinion. Many things aren’t where I expect them to be, and my bookmarked apps (mostly games, I admit) seem to have been randomized—I never quite know what I’ll have available. Everything requires more clicks. I am not as vehement a Facebook-basher as some people I know, but a little warning about this change would have been nice. As it stands, Facebook has traveled through time to an era before UI design was considered important on the Interwebs.

Second, and equally jarring, Google surprised us (or at least me) with the launch of Google Buzz, a built-in social networking function for users of Gmail and presumably any other piece of the Google empire. Mashable has this to say about it, if you want full coverage. I say that it’s a good thing there’s a way to turn Buzz off, because I wasn’t looking for yet another social media environment to integrate with my daily explorations. It’s already far too easy to get lost in the things we do; Buzz might have legs—it’s a network for people you actually know and correspond with, as opposed to weak-tie pseudofriends—but right now it feels like a “me-too” offering.

The lesson from these two news items is that I’m an extremely grumpy person when somebody moves my cheese. But the more applicable lesson is this: Don’t be content with your current approach to social media, because it can become obsolete in a day. New apps will replace old ones, and the conversation moves whether you like it or not.

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Dare We Call It Social Security?

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In the event y’all don’t read ZDNet, I’d like to direct you to a report by security firm Sophos about the rise of malware on social networks. Basically speaking, the state of computer security in the social world is 70 percent worse than it was a year ago. According to the report, 57 percent of users surveyed in December 2009 reported being spammed on social networking sites, while 36 percent said they had been sent malware via one or more social channels; both represent a 70 percent increase from April of that year.

I recommend reading the entire report, though it’s not a happy story. We can expect security threats to increase, and there’s no particularly good news in the entire document, but at least there are some suggestions for how to mitigate the dangers. Meanwhile, 72 percent of businesses surveyed indicate concern that employee activities on social networking sites puts company data at risk, and the majority name Facebook as their biggest single source of worry. Yet 49 percent allow unrestricted employee access to Facebook, up 13percent from last year.

My intent here is not to scare people away from social networks—career suicide for me—but to make them aware that security issues do exist. Social CRM is still fairly new, and it can be hard sometimes to tell the difference between a poorly executed marketing campaign and a phishing scam. It’s up to users, developers, and businesses to keep an eye on their activities as best they can, while security professionals work to plug holes in social coding. Let’s be careful out there.

While we’re talking about social networks, security, and ZDNet, I’d like to shine a light on a recent post by the inimitable Paul Greenberg about his recent security breach on Facebook. (Wow, this is a bad week for Marc Zuckerberg, huh?) Let it serve as a reminder that businesses shouldn’t forget the human side of their activities while dealing with computer security; making it difficult for legit users to reinstate their privileges after being hacked doesn’t make things harder for the hackers, but it does make it harder for users to want to come back.

One final note: I’ll be in Herndon, VA next week (February 8-9) attending Paul Greenberg’s seminar on social CRM. Look me up if you’re there, but make sure you pay most of your attention to Paul—he’s got some great advice.

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That’s Not What Twitter’s For

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I ran across an amusing little incident (via MetaFilter) that happened recently in San Francisco, and I felt I needed to share. Members of the Fred Phelps-led Westboro Baptist Church gathered recently for a protest outside the offices of Twitter. I’m going to be smart and stay well clear of discussing the ministry, its protest signs, or the counter-protest to their small rally—you can read and see more of that at either of these not-safe-for-work links—but I have to address what one of the protesters was reported to have said. To quote the Asylum article by Harmon Leon:

As the verbal assault continued, I raised my hand and asked the obvious: “Why Twitter? Does God hate Twitter?”

“We have not quarrels with Twitter. Twitter is a great platform,” stated a gray-haired WBC woman juggling several signs that could be interpreted as funny and ironic if they were actually funny and ironic. Gesturing to one of the younger WBC women, she added, “Meagan, she’s Twittering right now.”

But she explained the reason behind the protest: “Twitter should be used to tell the punks of doomed America that God hates you!”

As a staunch advocate of the use of social media, I have to say this shows a complete misunderstanding of how Twitter works, and reveals the difference between the old and new schools of mass communication. Protesting at the Twitter offices to get the platform to be used in one way or another presupposes that Twitter is a one-way channel that controls all the messages sent through it. It’s like seeing a soda can on the ground next to a recycling bin and complaining that the bin doesn’t reach out and pick up the can.

The new model of social engagement starts with interested parties reaching out to other interested parties. The correct action to take if you want Twitter to “tell the punks of doomed America that God hates you” is to start telling them yourself via Twitter.

Of course, that’s going to be somewhat problematic, since Twitter doesn’t work by telepathy. You can spout all the hate you want (subject to Twitter’s terms of service) but if nobody’s following you, you won’t be heard. The punks of doomed America aren’t going to follow these people to receive daily reminders of how a fringe group thinks they’re damned—well, the masochistic ones might—so the message dies. That’s how it is with social: If you want to reach people, you must have something worthwhile to say.

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