My (Podcast) Roundtable Rants, Part Deux

Man yelling

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of doing yet another fun and sometimes cantankerous Media Bullseye Roundtable podcast with my good friend, Chip Griffin, CEO and founder of the Custom Scoop media empire.

Among the topical issues that we covered were:

Crazy, right?

Have a listen here, or:


Image: DieselDemon, via Flickr Commons


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The Damage Done to the Ferguson Debate by Slactivism

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 7.45.14 PM
Social media can do a lot of good.  It can connect people, spawn romance, spread news before even major outlets have it, or contribute to the overthrow of dictators.  And depending upon your point of view, have a serious financial impact for non-profit fundraising  (see Ice Bucket Challenge, although while sometimes annoying, has received $94.3 million in donations compared to $2.7 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 27).

But I have become increasingly dismayed by what I view to be the damage that irresponsible use of social media has caused over the last couple of weeks, principally the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.  In my mind, people have increasingly made their social media properties billboards for the latest poorly-Photoshopped picture of a candle that make you feel like you’re a total jerk if you don’t JOIN the cause and pass on the aforementioned picture of the candle.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “slactivism” is a combination of the words “slacker” and “activist.”  Wikipedia defines slactivism as:

The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from the feeling they have contributed.

So picture someone sitting on their couch, perusing Facebook or Twitter, Liking, Sharing a picture of a sick child on Facebook, or re-tweeting something just because, for example, it has a hashtag that describes a situation that they feel passionate about – like #Ferguson.  And doing nothing else, but reveling in that self-congratulatory glow that can come only from having make yourself feel good about being an activist without even leaving your couch.  Oh – and pass the Fritos, please.

The slactivists have taken over the interwebs over the last several weeks.  And it’s not helping.


Over the last few weeks, #Ferguson has been a trending topic on Twitter and Facebook and has dominated the national news.  It’s a terrible situation and one that has yet to play out fully.

Why is slactivism a problem regarding Ferguson?

In order to make the situation better,  what we need is information, not uninformed opinion.  #Ferguson became a political statement.  “Hey, I hate the police/don’t hate the police, so I’m going to use #Ferguson in my tweet.”

Resolution in Ferguson will come from research, understanding, compassion and grasping the other person’s point of view, and right now, that ain’t happening.  Why?

Tony Haile is CEO of Chartbeat, a company that “…measure[s] what matters so you can take action when it matters.”  They gather data.  So I take Tony at his word on this.

In case you don’t want to investigate, trust me that most people don’t actually READ the articles or blog posts contained in the links that they share.  They read the headline, and whammo bammo, re-tweet done.   Slactivist pat on the back administered.  Back to the Fritos.  People are fanning the flames and passing along information based upon a hashtag or a few words in a tweet, and not on the more detailed information that often accompanies the link.

And in the process, this sort of slactivism can create a a trending topic on Twitter – making it possible for others to see the link and do the same.  And the situation becomes self-perpetuating.

Passing on #Ferguson without reading – and thinking about – the corresponding information is the offline equivalent of recommending a chiropractor to a friend based upon the name of the practice, without ever actually having visited the chiropractor.  But with much more serious consequences.

When people see a popular (or incendiary) hashtag, read a few words of a description in Twitter and then endorse the underlying content by re-tweeting it – this is slactivism accomplished.  And yes, “endorse.”  That’s why so many people like me are required by our employers to state that re-tweets do not equal endorsement.  Because that’s what people perceive.

Has there been some very good, compassionate discourse surrounding the situation in Ferguson?  Absolutely.  And I have read quite a bit of it.  And I have also been flamed on my Facebook page for expressing my views.  But where social media harms us is that it makes it so easy – SO TEMPTING –  to hit that “re-tweet,” Like or Share without even taking the time to even know the point of view or judging the credibility of the information that they are passing on.

At some point in this social media chain, people will read the information passed on via social media.  What  will this be?  What point of view will it present?  How will it help make things better (real activism), than clicking on something then moving on to see what’s new on Netflix (slactivism)?

The answer is that I sure don’t know.  But what I do know is that the noise to signal ratio around a topic like Ferguson can helped by people providing real-time, on the ground information using social media, but this can barely be one percent of instances.  The other 99% of the people are NOT there, and information that is being endorsed, shared and spread is not likely even be read by the person who is sharing it.

That’s sad.  That’s harmful.  And that is how social media is hurting – not helping – the situation in Ferguson.

Wanna feel good about yourself?  Be an activist.  Start a petition drive. Volunteer in a homeless shelter.  Want to be a couch potato, endorse  information that you haven’t even read, let alone considered?

Welcome to the wonderful world of slactivism.

Image: Peters Gadgets


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Hummus, social media and customer service

Sabra Hummus Logo

If the headline didn’t draw you in, then very little that I write will.  But inspired by Lindsay Bell’s post in today’s “Spin Sucks” about first poor, then better, then semi-competent customer service from Jawbone, I felt compelled to write this post.

And before going into extensive detail, I’ll let you know that I am the first person to speak up when something is not right – and I’m pissed.  Hell, just from posts on this blog alone, ask Lou Capozzi (and again) or Robert Scoble and again, and again. Or a host of other people whom I have pissed off.  But I believe that if you complain when something goes wrong, you are obligated to praise when something goes very right.

The story

You see, my son and I LOVE spicy food and we LOVE hummus.  So when we discovered Sabra’s jalapeño hummus, we were hooked.  We bought it at least a couple of times as week and, with mouths burning and eyes watering with every bite, we loved it.

Except – MYSTERY –  it went missing from our local grocery store about two months ago.  Every time I went there, I looked for it.  I NEEDED MY FIX.  The store people really didn’t care, so I decided to use some social media skillz and try to play detective.

I found Sabra’s Facebook page, and with low expectations, posted on their wall and asked  if they still carried by beloved, spicy little jalapeños mixed with savory chick pea goodness.  To my surprise, within hours, I got the following response:

Sabra Facebook Post
Sabra Facebook Post

Nice gesture.  They were friendly, sent me to another resource for help and they responded quickly.  And keep in mind, folks, that this is not a $100,000 purchase – it’s a $3.99 package of hummus.  I’m not a big dollar customer.

So I took their advice today and emailed customer service, again, like a lovesick teenager, inquiring as to the whereabouts of my beloved snack.  WITHIN TWO HOURS, I had the following response:

Hi Mark,

Thank you for writing. I’m very sorry for the confusion. I don’t know who would have told you that we’re still making this flavor, but the Jalapeño Hummus has been discontinued. Please know I will share your comments with our sales and marketing teams for any future consideration.

There are many reasons why a product may be discontinued, but it is usually because there aren’t enough consumers like you buying it. Sometimes stores stop carrying slower-selling items to make room for other products. When this happens, at too many stores, it’s difficult to continue making and selling the product.

Mark, I’m sending you a free product coupon so that you can try something new on us! You should receive it in about a week.

Thanks again for sharing your comments with us. I hope that one of our other dips will satisfy your taste buds.

Best regards,

[name redacted]
Sabra Consumer Relations

My Take-Aways

To deconstruct Sabra’s emailed response, they a) apologized for any confusion, b) explained why the product was discontinued (at some length) and c) even said that they were going to send me a “free product coupon so that you can try something new on us,” enticing me to find a substitute for my favorite kind.

This is what embodies how you use social media for good customer service:

  • Actively monitoring your social media properties
  • Responding quickly
  • Pointing customers to other sources to solve their problems, and
  • Ensuring that you actually HAVE the customer service infrastructure to back up the referral (which is not always the case).

Sabra did all of these things which I consider to be excellent customer service, but one that takes advantage of the power of social media to connect customers and corporations – and in a remarkably short amount of time.

So bravo on a social media listening and online customer service response done well, Sabra.  I can’t wait to try “something new.”

You should too.


P.S. –  I HAVE used Sabra’s corporate logo without their permission, but I plan to alert them to this post and and have linked the image to their corporate web site in the hopes that they can discover more, happy customers.  Sabra comms/legal people – if using the logo is a no-no, let me know and I will take it down.


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How NOT to Start a Career in Social Media

There are not a lot of topics on which I feel that I am truly an expert, but building a career in Starting Your Career as a Social Media Managersocial media happens to be one of those topics.  You see, in addition to working in online since 1997 (when Mark Zuckerberg was 13 years old), I sort of literally wrote the book on it in 2012: “Starting Your Career as a Social Media Manager” (and if you are one of the ten people who bought the book, thank you).  Interestingly enough, one of my kids found the Goodreads reviews of the book (I had never seen them), and they didn’t suck!

Eleanor Pierce’s post in Spin Sucks this morning, “Are You a Certified Social Media Professional?” got me thinking – and worrying – about the future of my craft.  In her post, she pointed out that someone found, and alerted her to, a GROUPON deal for a certificate that one can gain as a CERTIFIED social media professional – for the low, low price of $99.  That’s probably if you order before midnight tonight.  And they’ll throw in a free Flowbee too (extra credit points for ANYONE who knows what a Flowbee was – tell me in the comments).

There is so much wrong with this topic that I don’t know where to start, so without echoing what’s in Eleanor’s informative post, I’ll just add:

  • You get what you pay for.  I have taught social media at the graduate school level at two universities where my students paid THOUSANDS of dollars for a top-notch education, and many have gone on to be successful in their respective careers – many of which have involved social media.  It’s not something that you can get on the cheap, and potential employers will see right through it if you do.  Those people with degrees from Georgetown are your competition.
  • You can’t just have a lot of followers on Facebook and think that you can walk into a business setting and be successful.  Sure, it’s great if you have 1,000 friends, but that does not guarantee that you can give sage counsel to internal nor external clients on how to build a brand, respond to a crisis, or even gather a following for a business.  Nope, nope, nope.
  • Your professional path can take you many places, but most will have you working with two types of clients: internal and external.  A lot of what I talk about in the book and taught in the classroom was not only how to make external clients happy, but how to manage internal clients.  You see, there will be inevitable turf wars:  IT will want to “own” social media, as will communications, public relations, public affairs, legal, and others.  To be an effective social media practitioner, you need to develop a skill set to manage the internal turf battles of who “owns” social media in your workplace.
  • You need to have a firm foundation in communications FIRST.  Of the dozens of people whom I interviewed for my book, not one of them began his or her career in social media.  Their backgrounds were varied (broadcasting, speechwriting, politics, marketing, public relations), but all had one thing in common:  they first learned how to craft a message and deliver it to a targeted audience.  That’s a fundamental skill set in social media.  The magic in NOT in the bright, shiny social media tool, it is in your ability to use that tool to accomplish a communications objective (oh, and measure it as well to prove that you were successful).

I could go on and on (and do in the book – another shameless plug), but please, please beware of snake oil salesmen when it comes to making one of the most important choices of your life – which direction your career will take.  People increasingly spend more and more time at work, so it’s more important than ever to make the right choice – and NOT to drink the snake oil that people try to sell you in the form of a “certified social media professional” certificate.


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The Power of the Online Review, Union Street Guest House

Angry Person

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several days, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the absolutely inexplicable policy (or “mistake,” as the property’s manager puts it) of the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York.  According to several sources, the New York Post among them, the hotel was fining couples who book weddings at the venue $500 for every bad review posted online by their guests.

Yep, that’s right.  The hotel’s stated policy, which has since been taken down from their web site was, according to Time Online:

If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500 fine for each negative review.


Many others have written about this, including my super-smart friend, Gini Dietrich, so I don’t have a lot to add to the debate, especially since the hotel’s manager has backtracked from the posted policy, calling it a “mistake”:

Including the fine for negative reviews as part of our policy was a mistake. That’s not the type of business that we run. It was a case of a joke gone very, very bad.

These people got taken to the social media woodshed in a major way.  Many of the online criticism lobbed at the Guest House came from the consumer review platform Yelp.  The good folks at Yelp have been busily dealing with the thousands of negative comments posted on the hotel’s review page, including deleting “3,738 Reviews Removed for Violating our Content Guidelines or Terms of Service.”  People were, rightfully so, piling on the hotel via negative comments, but unfortunately not leaving legitimate reviews of the hotel, which were likely in violation of Yelp’s aforementioned Content Guidelines.  What it DID demonstrate, however, is that the story went viral, people got angry, and they went online in an attempt to steer business away from the hotel using the most popular consumer review site.  Welcome to the online boycott, without leaving your couch.

For me, the lesson here is not “don’t be an idiot” when it comes to your online review policy.  It’s more “beware of the power of review sites,” because I bet you that it will be some time before the Union Street Guest House recovers from this and begins to get positive reviews once again.  In a post from February of thus year (and boy, I bet the Union Street folks wish that they had read this), A-List staff succinctly explains the power of online reviews:

In a recent study, BrightLocal found that 79% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. One of the main reasons for this is because reviews are not promotional messages or paid advertisement, but are opinions that come from “real people” like themselves. People trust their peers more readily than they do advertisers and companies. What they read in a review could determine whether or not the place deserves their business.”

So when people read something online or see something on TV (I happened to catch this segment on the “Today” show), they have concrete venues on which to seek revenge on the offending parties.  Then it becomes Yelp’s problem as to whether or not they allow the reviews/comments to stand.

Learning #1:  Don’t put your insanely idiotic policies on your web site, then lamely backtrack from them, saying that it was “a joke.”

Learning #2: Beware of the power of the online review.  People believe people. (Side note:  Yelp is currently being sued by a group of shareholders over allowing potentially fraudulent reviews.  So take even peer-to-peer comments with a grain of salt).


Image: Johnny_Automatic

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