The British Airways strike, the union boss and Twitter

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British airways B777
Image by griffs0000 via Flickr

British Airways cabin crew are on strike for the second of what could be a number of strikes this year. Last minute talks were taking place over the weekend until they broke up. And BA CEO, Willie Walsh, is blaming the collapse of the talks on Twitter. Or more specifically on the Tweets of Derek Simpson, the boss of Unite the Union, the trade union representing the cabin crew, sent whilst the negotiations were happening. These formed something of a running commentary of proceedings, with messages such as “Talks still ongoing …. Still hard going and progress hard won”, Arguments over the 8 sacked workers” and Fear of more sackings to come”.

Hardly the most revealing and confidential of information, but enough to frustrate Willy Walsh who, in his words:

[...] was shocked and angry when I found out that Derek was doing that. Sending out his version of events to the wider audience, that really did undermine my confidence in his desire to resolve this situation. It is a really serious issue.

The Tweets also seem to have caused disagreement among members of Simpson’s own Union. They served to broadcast not only what was being said (or at least one side of that story) but perhaps more importantly the location of the talks between the two parties. This led to militant protesters storming the talks later in the day, them being abandoned and the strike going ahead.

All because of a Tweet. Or perhaps, more accurately, all a consequence in part of this great example of hypertransparency.

One of the real benefits of social media tools is that they let us connect with people who share a similar interest and tell our story, share our ideas and ask questions. Twitter is a great tool that lets us reflect on and share stories about what is happening to us, what we have seen, what we think or what we find interesting. These stories are shared with anybody interested in reading them and in real time. These stories can also carry information such as the location from which they were sent.

What these social media tools lead to is a change in behaviour and communications. We share more, with more people and do so more quickly than ever before. Previously, a meeting such as this would have ended and each party released a press release giving their side of events. This release would have been written and issued after talks had ended and allow the author to reflect on the full process of talks and on the eventual outcome, and then convey this to their audience. This type of communication is reflective and allows a message to be refined and developed based on a series of discussions and decisions. Twitter is very different. It allows you to send snapshots of opinions at a point in time. Not after talks have concluded or after any decisions have been made.

This is a very different type of communication and a very different tool in the hands of people in the meeting. It means you can share an opinion formed on the basis of just a few moments of discussion. You can rely one side of a story or you can react strongly to something somebody says quickly but is then forgotten. Your messages out to the external world, those not privy to the full flow of discussion, will be difficult to interpret and evaluate as anything but a reflection on the meeting, the discussions and the potential decisions. This is a kind of hypertransparency - a powerful tool for the person sending the messages but also a difficult one. You have to think about your audience, what they will read and if they will understand what you are saying and sharing in your sporadic messages from an event. The chances are it will be difficult to portray the discussions and to share what is going on fairly of consistently. And this poses problems.

Simpson showed a great example of hypertransparency. On one hand what he was doing could be seen as a positive thing. He was sharing events in the negotiation room with members of his Union, keeping them up-to-date. Of course the reality is that his messages could only provoke a response that may not fully reflect the flow of discussion throughout the session.

So was Simpson right to send them? Hypertransparency is a dangerous thing but a growing trend. It requires the person sharing their stories to fully understand what they were doing and this new communications medium. But overall it was probably for other reasons that Simpson’s sharing on Twitter was misplaced. Sharing without the knowledge of the other people in the room could only serve to frustrate and to alienate the people he was quoting. They were playing by one set of rules (the traditional ones) and he was playing with hypertransparency. It’s not surprising they were annoyed when they found out what he was doing.

The Dangers of Social Media

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Trojan Horse via shutterstock

Trojan Horse from shutterstock

A post on the econsultancy blog this week told the story of Jason Calacanis’ iPad hoax. This is the most recent example of social media spreading lies at pace.

The viral potential of social media makes it a powerful tool for seeding and rapidly diseminating information. Sometimes that information is accurate and sometimes inaccurate. And it’s a sad indictment of human gullibility that messages originating from a seemingly respected source are too often believed first and questioned second.

There are also numerous examples which show that well-packaged information, shared on social networks, can make patently false statistics seem plausible.

Below are two videos that did the rounds last year. Thanks to good production skills, the videos appear to be professional and as a result they were believed by far too many people. The first video is pretty harmless - a riff on the Did You Know video mixed in with a little Social Media Evolution.

Did You Know 4.0


The second video is more worrying. It’s a politically motivated anti-muslim film that masquerades as balanced (it was apparently uploaded by “firendsofmuslim”). However it is highly charged and many of the key statistics are false.
Muslim Demographics

Sure, it’s the message, not the medium that is the real issue here. And social media ought to be capable of quashing the incorrect information, fallicies and hoaxes just as it lets them propagate in the first place. The online community from Snopes is a great example of social-media-driven crowdsourced fact checking.

And, I’m glad to say there were a few responses to the Muslim Demographics video that tried to set the record straight. For example, BBC Radio4′s More or Less team probed (as they always do) the claims in more detail and posted the following response to clarify inaccuracies.

Muslim Demographics: the truth

Yet there is still reason for concern. Over 11million people watched the sensationalist version and only a few thousand saw the responses. I think the makers of this video have achieved their aim. They successfully used social media marketing to spread anti-muslim feeling and distrust.

Traditional v’s Social Media
But we live in a world of dodgy dossiers. Just because social media can spread lies, does that mean we’d have been better off sticking with traditional media?

Traditional mass media does have a reputation to protect: newspapers may have built up their brand equity over decades, they face a higher risk of lawsuits and have to answer to ombudsmen, shareholders and advertiser pressure.  Compare that to an upstart video-jockey with a good idea for making a splash and you can see that there is a lot less to lose.

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The unnatural lingo of the online world

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The composition of two point reflections is a ...
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As online professionals, like any profession, we have a set of words and terms relating to our job. We talk about moderation and trolls and forums.

We talk about features and modules and fields. But unlike many other professions, we also expect the lay people using all those things to recognise what they mean.

We use a very unnatural language, and I’m concerned that it puts up false barriers between users and the platforms they’re engaging with.

Why do we use these funny, clunky words?I think it’s two-fold. The first adopters of online communities were tech-enthusiasts, of course. They were – and I use this term fondly – geeks. And as a geek I can attest that geek-language is not Joe Bloggs’ language. But the early lingo got stuck, and when the Joe and Joanna Bloggs’ of the world started to find their way to email discussion lists, instant messenger, and ultimately online communities, the lingo was set.

Early community managers tended to be the person that had been their longest or showed most interest (again, likely to be a geek), and naturally, the lingo would remain and be dished out top-down. Let’s start with ‘community manager’.

On our recent blog, What does a community manager do? I included a word cloud of all the one-word suggestions we’d had in answer to that question.Not one of them was ‘manage’.

So are we really community managers? Am I really Head of Community Management? Do we manage communities, or do we do something else? By far the most popular words were ‘facilitate’, ‘enables’ and ‘connects’.

None of those are really anything like management.

What would be a better job title? What do we really do?

Community Connector?
Community Enabler?
Communication Facilitator?

All rather ugly… what do you think?And then we have ‘Trolls’, as @SueOnTheWeb suggests. Yes, offline we have insults of course, but these don’t normally become professional parlance. I’m sure the police don’t have handbooks about dealing with ‘crims’, even if they say far worse than that in the locker room.

Trolling apparently dates back to early 90s Usenet group, alt.folklore.urban, but its meaning has been adapted and is standard community/moderation speak. It doesn’t – and shouldn’t – mean anything to a happy community member though, perhaps time to give up the geek-speak?

Moderation, of course, is the backbone of a healthy community. Whether it’s reactive-moderation, post-moderation or simply a culture of self-censorship amongst users, such as with many mature email communities, it’s vital.

But does the word ‘moderation’ really mean anything to most people? When we write our disclaimers and use the word, does it mean what we think it does to community users or is it just another word to gloss over?

Do we not need something a bit better, a bit more ‘human’?

Of course we have the abbreviations, the ROTFLMAOs and the LOLs and the IYKWIMs… and that’s fine, that’s a snowball that’s melted across all social media and even seeped into emails and txtspk so that non-community connected people (like my mother-in-law and mum) will use it.

And for many people that’s part of the fun of using social platforms. But it can also be very exclusive to people new to the experience. We probably can’t do anything to prevent the spread, in fact, embracing it is part of the community management experience at many communities, but if we run abbreviation-heavy communities, the least we can do is slap up a dictionary, like iVillage do on their message boards.

So again, what’s missing? What lingo remains solely to divide people? What should be replaced with more human words and what can community managers do to ensure language-use doesn’t create unhealthy cliques?

Crowdsourcing the winning National Lottery numbers

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Image by seyahmas via Flickr

Last Wednesday, illusionist, Derren Brown, correctly predicted the winning number in the National Lottery live on air. Quite a feat. But one he achieved with 100% accuracy.

Between the Wednesday live prediction and the Friday explanation, social media sites were awash with theories and conspiracies explaining what had happened. From discussions on Twitter to videos on YouTube. Most of these suggested a slight-of-hand or other such trick. The real answer was much more interesting. Brown cited ‘crowdsourcing’ as the magic behind his impressive prediction.

The explanation was actually quite simple, at least on face value. He got 24 people to collectively predict the numbers using crowdsourcing, The Wisdom of Crowds.  The theory that together people can more accurately resolve a problem or reach a decision when working as a group than when operating alone. Whether you believe this explanation or not (and there are certainly those who are sceptics), the use of crowdsourcing in this mass-media entertainment show highlights the widespread understanding and acceptance of this tool.

We’ve written before about the power of co-creation for businesses and how working with your customers to crowdsource new products and ideas for your organisation can produce better ideas and better products than you might have developed internally. From creating t-shirts (in the case of Threadless), encyclopedias (in the case of Wikipedia) or maps (in the case of OpenStreetMap), using crowds to solve problems has proven to be very successful. In a business-environment it can be incredibly effective.

The most intelligent people probably don’t work in your firm, and so if you can find them and let them work  with you to solve a problem you will often get the kind of innovation that you just can’t get internally. This is where online communities such as Innocentive come to the fore. They allow companies to ask the community to solve a specific problem or issue and reward them (in this case financially). Community product design is used in such cases to provide extra support and input either when internal resources don’t have  the time or the ability to solve the problem.

So whether Derren Brown’s crowdsourcing explanation holds water or not, it is clear that  there is a lot you can do when you get people to work together in a community to solve a problem.

If you missed the show, then you can watch it (at least in the UK) on 4OD.

The brave new world of Traveler 2.0

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My suitcases
Image by mollypop via Flickr

I recently chaired a roundtable on social media in the travel industry for Travel Trade Gazette where agents, providers and those working in PR in the travel industry discussed best practice use of social media and also what they hoped and thought would happen in the future.

The travel industry is a great place for social media innovation, as is seen by the many examples of online communities in the travel industry. Consumers tend to search for information and advice before making a purchase and want advice from people that they recognise as being like them. If these people like that particular hotel, resort or country, then I might too. And travel is an industry which generates a lot of stories, media and experiences, which are perfect for people to share with others. So people are looking for information to help make their purchase, and other people are generating a lot of stories, pictures and media. If organisations get it right, travel should offer a real opportunity for innovative and effective use of social media.

This week’s Required Reading at FreshNetworks comes from David Griner, and looks at how the role of the traveler has changed with social media (and the rise of what Griner refers to as the Traveler 2.0) and at how organisations in the industry can use social media to leverage this growing breed. The basic advice is the simplest (and best): encourage customers to share their stories, interact with them when they are doing it and start your own stories.

The presentation is below and is great for it’s look at how traveler (and consumer) habits have changed, but especially for a wealth of examples of great use of social media in the travel industry.

The Brave New World of Traveler 2.0
View more documents from David Griner.