Friday, 28 January 2011

Internet 'Kill Switches' and the Egyptian Protests

Today, during my morning Twitter check, I found an astounding blog by James Cowie of Apparently, while I was sleeping, the internet was switched off in Egypt. 

Like this:
Image courtesy of

After shutting down mobile phone and text messaging (SMS) services, it seems the Egyptian government has also ordered the big four ISPs  (Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt, Etisalat Misr) to halt internet provision as well. With the telling exception of, which has these high profile clients.

What were the government hoping to achieve by this? Some would have us believe that they wanted to stem communication between the protestors to help quell the riots. Others would have us believe that they wanted to suppress communication with the international media, so that they could deal with the rioters out of their gaze. It is rumoured that the Egyptian internet went down shortly after a video of a protestor being shot by a sniper was circulated by the Associated Press.

Whatever the cause, can this act, which denied internet access to over 80 million people, be justified? Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are recognised rights of citizens of democracies, but with the internet as a conduit of press freedom and popular expression should we be trying to protect this too?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Social Media and the Law

Everyone's heard a story about an employee who got sacked because of an ill-judged Facebook status. If you haven't, check this out:

Image from

Although 'Facebook firing' is another branch of the personal vs. work profile debate (what is really private? when are you the face of the brand?) it does raise another question - the stance of the law.

Legal precedents are being set left right and centre in the digital sphere, but is there a consistency, or a guiding principle? Privacy law, intellectual property law, libel law all these can easily be applied to a virtual space where people voice their opinions and engage with others. Or can they?

Where are people saying these things, for example? If I tweet something, is that tweet subject to the law of my country or the law of the country where Twitter is hosted?

And what about advertising laws, and the laws that govern fair trading? In the U.K the Advertising Standards Agency are clamping down on social media marketing, but this is considerably behind the times. We needed regulation on how companies promote themselves on social media years ago, as companies saw these mediums as a way to circumvent existing offline rules, creating misleading campaigns and unfair competitions.

Can the law keep up with social media, or will it always be one step behind? I have a feeling this won't be the last blog I do on this topic, and i'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The great Android vs. iPhone 'I told you so'

I'm sorry, I have to do this. You see, back in 2009 I swapped my chunky little Sony Ericsson (which, may I add had a very nifty camera) for an HTC Hero.

At the time, I was egged on my the nice gentlemen at Square Circle Media. These guys all had iPhones, but knew I hated the mac operating system, so they wanted to see how i'd get on with another option. At the time, this was very open minded of them. When I say they 'had iPhones' what I really mean is they were pretty much card carrying members of the Steve Jobs party. The morning a new iPhone version came out the office was empty until 11am.

So, partly in an attempt to prove there was 'another way', and partly because the idea of synching with my google mail appealed, I got an android phone.

Image from

I remember going to PokerCoder (what? I code a bit. Free bar </of>), an event filled with some of London's most techie people, and bringing up the iPhone v.s android debate. Needless to say, here I was in apple heartland and encountered a lot of opposition. Lengthy debates ensued. Strangers played with my phone, I became known as android girl. (I kid you not, however considering it was a 98% male event just 'girl' would have done). The conclusion was, that although my android was a nice bit of kit, the design wasn't as attractive and although the android market was open, this would actually mean a lot of junk to be filtered through in the search for useful applications.

It appears that my android rantings may have hit home on one occasion, as I got a DM from the lovely @creacog in June last year, to tell me all about his new HTC desire. The android movement was gathering pace. Earlier in 2010 it had hit North America - sales had increased 707% year-on-year and Carphone Warehouse recently released interesting third quarter figures.

Chief executive Roger Taylor said Carphone did not keep precise figures on how many phones were selling on either the Android or Apple platform, but added: "At some point in 2010 the Android overtook every other operating platform." 

And if that isn't enough evidence that android is victorious, from the same article: Nielsen estimates Android accounts for 40.8% of US Smartphone sales – against 26.9% for iPhone."

I think it's about time to declare a winner people. I won't say it....

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Great Cull - 'Unfollowing' on Twitter and 'Defriending' on Facebook.

The other day I was in an office at lunchtime and a colleague was checking his personal Facebook. Work usage aside (check the corporate social media policy post), it was his exclamation which interested me:

"Dammit Megan, I don't care whether i've survived another friend cull. Who does that?"

I've noticed that many of my Facebook contacts have started 'culling' their Facebook friends. Statuses like this are appearing regularly on my feed:

Announcing that you've de-friended people on Facebook can alienate some people (like my colleague) but judging from the number of 'likes' the post above got, it also has the effect of reinforcing the relationships you value.

But, why delete contacts?

These are two very different questions from a business and a personal perspective. On a personal level when I first join any social network I add almost everyone I know, a few people I almost know and a whole bunch of people of people i've just met (this isn't necessarily best practice, but it's very tempting!) A few weeks, months, years later and i'm left wondering who on earth that person is that has just posted a status about their cat on my feed, but leaving them be in case they get more interesting.

Yesterday I attempted my first personal Facebook and Twitter cull, and discovered it's not easy. I tried to be ruthless, and reasons for de-friending included:
  • Irritating/immature statuses
  • No statuses
  • Couldn't remember who they were! 
To my shame also, a few people were saved from the cull because their work info included something interesting like Google, or UK Parliament. They may just come in handy one day...

Twitter was even more difficult as I tend to follow quite a lot of people and their statuses are generally interesting and informative. I do tend to keep my 'following' count under my 'follower' count as a rule of thumb however. Eventually I only ended up 'unfollowing' the accounts that I don't remember seeing a tweet from, and only then if any tweets on their feed are dull or spammy.

Should I ever delete, block or 'unfollow' people from a business account?

99% of the time, no. If you have a business Facebook persona that has friends (not adviseable anyway) then anyone agreeing to be your friend, knowing that you are a business, must really like your brand. De-friending them would be a complete faux pas. Even if people are posting criticisms or complaints, a complaint that you can resolve, will mean that a customer is 70% likely to do business with you again.

Unfollowing on Twitter is a different matter. Although websites such as TweetEffect can tell you which Tweets gained/lost you followers, it's very hard to find which individual has unfollowed. This means that on a corporate level you can unfollow without causing offence.

Important things:

  • Don't be offended. If you are unfollowed learn from it and think what you can do to make your tweets/statuses more interesting.
  • Some platforms (especially Twitter) can have 'bugs'. My 'following' count sometimes fluctuates of it's own accord, but is usually rectified.
  • People can be useful. You never know when you might need to get in touch with the Ukelele society (well, ok, but you know...). Without sounding too cynical, maybe only remove people who you no longer know well enough to ask a favour!

I don't mean to sound ungrateful in this post. I have a great many people who I am friends with on social media platforms who I go back a long way with, and I truly value their online and offline friendship. Some people, however, I met once, possibly with drink in hand, and added them the next day because they made an impression. I doubt they remember me either by now!

What does anyone else think? Feel free to post your 'culling' experiences in the comments.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Social Media Policy (or "how, when, where and what to tweet. Love from, your employer")

Social Media Guidelines, Social Media Rules, call them what you will, now large companies have wised up to social media, they have started making policies.

For any company with staff tweeting and blogging their way into public consciousness, what these staff are saying will be a concern. Even on their own time, an employee that comments on a competitors blog, or tweets a company secret is a huge liability. There are two camps on this one. Some people leave employees (within reason) to their own creative juices, in their own time and ask that they provide a "these opinions are my own" disclaimer. Other companies actively encourage employee social media activity on behalf of the company and set out regulations to guide their posts.

It's a tricky path that companies tread, between stifling micromanagement and potential PR disasters, and I personally don't think the balance has been found in a lot of cases. Social Media is about openness and sharing, and the more you restrict that, the less value it has to the individual. Who wants to speak when they're being told what to say? More importantly, who really wants to listen to someone who can't speak freely? It's a very hard task juggling transparency and professionalism on such new channels and it often requires whole new outlook.

Some businesses have decided to go public with their corporate social media policies which is great news for us as studying the social media strategies of the giants can be interesting reading.

I'll leave you with a positive example taken from IBM

BM Social Computing Guidelines
  1. Know and follow IBM's Business Conduct Guidelines.
  2. IBMers are personally responsible for the content they publish on-line, whether in a blog, social computing site or any other form of user-generated media. Be mindful that what you publish will be public for a long time—protect your privacy and take care to understand a site's terms of service.
  3. Identify yourself—name and, when relevant, role at IBM—when you discuss IBM or IBM-related matters, such as IBM products or services. You must make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of IBM.
  4. If you publish content online relevant to IBM in your personal capacity use a disclaimer such as this: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions."
  5. Respect copyright, fair use and financial disclosure laws.
  6. Don't provide IBM's or another's confidential or other proprietary information and never discuss IBM business performance or other sensitive matters publicly.
  7. Don't cite or reference clients, partners or suppliers without their approval. When you do make a reference, link back to the source. Don't publish anything that might allow inferences to be drawn which could embarrass or damage a client.
  8. Respect your audience. Don't use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in IBM's workplace. You should also show proper consideration for others' privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory—such as politics and religion.
  9. Be aware of your association with IBM in online social networks. If you identify yourself as an IBMer, ensure your profile and related content is consistent with how you wish to present yourself with colleagues and clients.
  10. Don't pick fights, be the first to correct your own mistakes.
  11. Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective. IBM's brand is best represented by its people and what you publish may reflect on IBM's brand.
  12. Don't use use IBM logos or trademarks unless approved to do so.

This is only a small part of the full policy, although somehow the guidelines manage not to seem to restrictive, just professional. Maybe it's because i've already read this lovely paragraph:

BM is increasingly exploring how online discourse through social computing can empower IBMers as global professionals, innovators and citizens. These individual interactions represent a new model: not mass communications, but masses of communicators. Through these interactions, IBM's greatest asset--the expertise of its employees--can be shared with clients, shareholders, and the communities in which it operates.

It's got a nice feel to it, no? The final two lines are my favourite though:

Don't forget your day job. You should make sure that your online activities do not interfere with your job or commitments to customers.

Right, back to work then! ;)