Is Hugo Chávez really running his country by Twitter?

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Hugo Chavez world leader and twitter user

Courtesy of guapacho.net

The Guardian today wrote that Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, is using “Twitter as a tool to govern remotely while he undergoes cancer treatment in Cuba”.

This is the sort of headline that should have us social media agency types  delighted at how significant and revolutionary this is. Or should it?

As the host of  his own talk show, Chávez is no stranger to amplifying his voice via the media, but this story in itself feels a bit over-hyped. Is he really “running the country”?

It looks like he is merely using Twitter to talk about things that are happening in the real world, from his own meetings and decisions to his reactions to Venezuela’s football matches.

This is not insignificant - the reality is that a world leader is using social media to give his citizens (and the rest of the world) an insight into his life, and bringing us closer to him. Not only that, he can demonstrate that even while hospitalised, he remains involved and relevant.

The truth of the matter is that Twitter makes a great hook for news stories, and the hype that surrounds it is displacing the reality, which is extraordinary enough as it is.

It’s more than significant to think that world leaders are tweeting about their lives, and we shouldn’t de-value that with exaggerated claims.This is something amazing in itself -  a real change in behaviour and an opportunity to see a side of people we could not before. We don’t need to over-hype that.

Can Google+ rival Facebook and Twitter? Some initial thoughts

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Google+ Google Plus icons for Circles Spark Hangouts

Google+'s features - Home, Circles, Sparks, Hangouts, Photos and Huddle

It’s too early to tell whether or not Google+, the company’s challenger to Facebook, will find success. Google’s Documents and Apps have seen widespread use, yet other services have struggled, like Wave. Early feedback suggests that from a user perspective, Google+ is getting some things right, but is not yet a solid package or a true rival to Facebook or Twitter.

The plus

Its real USP is ‘Circles’, which is a way of quickly and easily managing those you follow and then targeting those groups with content. This is a fantastic addition to friend/follower management and is something Facebook users have needed for years. It’s also potentially one of its biggest problems: if Facebook reacts quickly and introduces better peer management and targeting, then Circles ceases to be a differentiator.

Beyond Circles, it’s also promoting group video chat (‘Hangouts’) and topic browsing (‘Sparks’). Personally, I like Sparks. It works for me in the same way Bing does, i.e “let me browse but yes, give me that initial spark”. Hangouts is a great feature for those who like video chats. But I’m not sure it’s enough to take audience from, say, Skype. Google has fantastic voice recognition facilities for its mobile services. It would have been great, for example,  to support Hangouts with automatic voice transcription for the hard of hearing or for business meetings.

…and the minus?

It’s therefore going to be an uphill climb. Google hasn’t done itself any favours with its staggered approach to release. It worked for Gmail because people were looking for a great, free e-mail service and its central features did not rely on who or how many people you knew. Google+, however, requires you to have friends who are also using Google+. I have 300 friends on Facebook who are constantly chatting with me and giving me content to explore. Why should I go to Google+ to interact with 20 people?

If they want to succeed, then from a user perspective they really need to offer more of what the other networks don’t have (and a killer could have been decent cloud storage and streaming) and they need to make it easy for users to aggregate. Something as simple as grabbing contact e-mails from your Facebook friends en masse would have instantly made this more interesting. Why not allow me to connect using Twitter and Facebook to pull in feeds from both? Google could have made Google+ something I want as my homepage, my one-stop shop to the internet. They could have reinvented the internet portal - something Microsoft has been trying for years with MSN but failing because of poor application.

The value for brands?

As for brands, I don’t think there’s anything in this for them in the short term. Longer term I think brand engagement will be in the form of specialised search and content advertising (eg through ‘Sparks’ or interspersed through the stream). There’s a lot of white space that would be perfect for advertising. On top of that, Engadget found references to game sharing in the background code, suggesting that there’s much more to come that users and brands can do.

Perhaps that’s the central benefit Google will try to sell? ‘Come to Google+. We have ads, but it’s not nearly as invasive or pervasive as on Facebook!’

What are your social media photo rights? Image T&Cs examined

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What are your social media photo rights?It’s always an area that has little transparency, who actually owns the rights to our images once we upload them to social networks? Could I end up seeing one of my photos all over the web, in the papers or on TV? It’s a common question that’s asked when we run our social media strategy sessions with clients.

Steps to retaining the copyright of your content

First, determine whether sharing an image is a bad thing. Sometimes, an image being viewed many times can be good for your personal and professional brand image. However, if you want to protect yourself:

  1. Understand the rules of the site you use (they change often)
  2. Avoid posting pictures that you’re particularly ‘protective’ over
  3. Delete or export any content that you don’t want shared if it’s on a network that could distribute it (see a great post by The Next Web for more information on this)
  4. Be selective with your privacy settings and licensing selections
  5. Use sites like TinEye to see if your images are being shared where they shouldn’t be.

Kathy E Gill from Media Shift compiled a great list of the terms and conditions relating to photo usage on most social media sites. It’s a great resource for seeing the relevant information side by side and identifying which platforms could take credit for the photos that you create. (She also wrote a great blog post covering this in more detail)

So who are the good, the bad and the ugly in the world of photography rights?

Retain most rights:

Posterous
“You retain full copyright of any original content that you send us. By posting to Posterous, you’re granting us a license to distribute your content on this site.”

Your images are licensed for use on Posterous but you retain how they are distributed.

flickr (by Yahoo!)
“Photos and/or images found on Yahoo! Images or Flickr are the property of the users that posted them. Yahoo! cannot grant permission to use third party content. Please contact the user directly.”

As long as you control your licensing settings you can limit use to Yahoo! properties.

yFrog (by ImageShack)

“The content that you distribute through the ImageShack Network is owned by you, and you give ImageShack permission to display and distribute said content exclusively on the ImageShack Network.”

After the Twitpic cotroversy, ImageShack have reversed their policy to give you more rights and limit the use to the ImageShack network.

Publicity / partner sharing:

Picasa (by Google)

“You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”

This distribution of your content is also extended to the Google Partners, of which there are many!

Instagram

“Instagram does NOT claim ANY ownership rights in the text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, musical works, works of authorship, applications, or any other materials.”

However any content that is shared publicly can be used by Instagram for their promotion across any media.

Limited rights / sublicensing:

All of the following services have some form of ‘sub-licensable’ rights:

Facebook:

“You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.”

Twitpic

“However, by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service.”

Tumblr

“Subscriber shall own all Subscriber Content that Subscriber contributes to the Site, but hereby grants and agrees to grant Tumblr a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, transferable right and license (with the right to sublicense), to use, copy, cache, publish, display, distribute, modify, create derivative works and store such Subscriber Content and to allow others to do so (“Content License”) in order to provide the Services.”

Twitter

“By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed)”

All the statements about terms and conditions of the various photo sharing sites in this post are my own interpretation. Please visit the terms and conditions of the relevant site to view the official statements.

Klout coupons for Facebook – will it work?

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Audi Facebook content available with Klout score

Score!

A new app for Facebook pages will take a user’s Klout score into account before giving them access to certain content.

While exclusivity is great for generating publicity, could this tool risk leaving some legitimate fans feeling snubbed?

Klout measures activity and influence across Twitter and Facebook, using 25+ metrics, and calculates an overall score on a scale of 1-100. The idea behind the Facebook app is that brands can then offer exclusive content, deals and discounts to users who meet a certain influence threshold. Theoretically, this “gating” should reward and capture the attention of social media users who are more likely to share their experience with their audience.

Audi is the first brand to use the technology, and the first “perk” available is a desktop wallpaper - a relatively minor prize but certainly a gesture that I’m sure Audi fans will appreciate.

Klout, like other influence measurement tools, does have some drawbacks - if you’re not satisfied with your rating you can “game” your way to a higher score  so the accuracy of the number may not really reveal much about how much influence a user genuinely has.

Another difficulty is that the quality and areas of interest for your audience are not indicated. Using Audi as an example, even though I have a score of 38, my involvement with automotive discussions and communities is very low and there are equally likely to be petrolhead types who may already be Facebook fans of Audi but don’t have enough of a social network to be considered worthy of additional content, even if they post in specialist car forums.

As a gatekeeper, using Klout risks letting in the wrong kinds of fans, or worse - it could alienate genuine ones. I’m of the opinion that while rewarding loyal and influential social media users will clearly have benefits for word of mouth, tools such as Klout and others may need to become more refined.

That said, maintaining a user’s interest and engagement requires something in return for their time, so I really do appreciate the direction that this is taking. Brands should always be thinking about what they can offer their fans, friends and followers in return for their interest.

Using Twitter for customer service: @ChilternRailway

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Chiltern Railways cow disruptionLast night I was pleasantly surprised at how well Chiltern Railway are using Twitter for customer service.

Like many other commuters, my journey home was disrupted by cows! Even though it was a very unusual situation, I wasn’t too surprised as I’d already seen a tweet from the Chiltern Railway account before I had even left the FreshNetworks office.

As I already follow @chilternrailway , I immediately had all kinds of updates in the palm of my hand - relevant information on alternative travel arrangements and even news about the steps being taken to get the stranded passengers and train moving. I felt informed and was able to make my way home using the information they provided - while it was frustrating to a certain degree I was glad that Twitter was being used, even though it was well after office hours.

I also saw lots of engagement and individual questions being answered, and even received a personal apology in reply to one of my tweets about the disruption. The Twitter account was in full swing until about 1am this morning, and back with updates at the usual rush-hour time just a matter of hours later, all in a cheerful tone of voice and personality.

However, even as a social media advocate, it took me a while to learn that Chiltern Railway even had a Twitter account, which is a shame.  Chiltern Railway appear to be very pro-social, having given the Foursquare mayor of Marylebone the privilege of turning on their Christmas lights (which I’m hoping will be me this year!). Before seeing another commuter tweet Chiltern Railway, I was unaware that they were providing such a great service, and even using it for promotional messages and general announcements such as the introduction of a brand new train.

I think their execution of Twitter for customer service is excellent and it has changed my perception of them for the better. Chiltern Railway are the only train company I have available to me, and before following them on Twitter my perception of them was neutral at best - viewing them as a means to an end. Now, though, I feel much more involved and informed about the company and their service, and feel more forgiving when unexpected incidents like this one take place.

What I would suggest to Chiltern Railway is only a small thing - they could improve their promotion. They currently have about 2,000 followers and I imagine there are many many commuters like me who may use social channels but don’t know what they are missing.

A quick fix suggestion to this could be that the in-carriage scrolling LED signs on trains, giving a Welcome message, next stop and other stop information could have a simple ‘Follow @chilternrailway on Twitter for travel news and updates”, which would surely reach the eyes of thousands of smart-phone equipped commuters.