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Pulling the plug on social media? (Ethernet Cable by Petr Kratochvil, via publicdomainpictures.net)

In the wake of the fact that more and more Swedish communes are using Facebook and Twitter for ‘citizen communication’, the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL) today published a set of guidelines (in Swedish) for the use of social media.

The guidelines stem from a judicial inquiry, which has given the ‘all clear’ for Swedish communes, local authorities and regions to use social media. Given that over 60 communes in Sweden already use twitter, including local politicians and public servants, it was just a matter of time before guidelines were published.

But will this spread to Brussels?

When our friends over at Fleishman-Hillard looked into how MEPs use the internet, including social media, they found that 21% of MEPs use Twitter, among others. Couple that with the amount of Commissioners who run their own blog, MEP assistants and Commission officials active (and visible) on Facebook, etc, and you could almost be surprised that there are no official guidelines for how elected officials (and EU civil servants) are to tweet and blog!

Will there be guidelines for the Brussels-based politician and civil servant? Should there be…?

– Emil

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Twitter is expanding at a meteoric rate. Not having a Facebook account is highly unusual today among under 30s (and above). Corporate business cards include Skype usernames. Recruitment happens on LinkedIn. Digital ad infinitum….

But what about actually speaking to colleagues, friends and family, face-to-face? Now that’s a novel idea.

This afternoon I ‘spoke’ to a colleague in the US by LinkedIn inMail. I ‘informed’ a group of journalists regarding a digital initiative by sending them a Facebook group message. My inbox welcomed close to 300 emails during the course of the day. I sent a friend an MMS. I ‘discussed’ the content of an email to a client with my Bulgarian colleague on Skype chat…she sits next to me, about one metre and a half away.

'Speaking' to my colleague

That’s when it hit me, just as Stephen Hawking thinks it perfectly rational to believe in aliens (yet he thinks we should not reach out to to them, apparently things could turn sour!), I find it completely irrational that the more technology we invite into our daily lives, the less we seem to actually speak to each other.

Is technology stripping us of good old fashioned human interaction, do we lend it too much credence? I say –  try meeting up with friends, skip the conference call and have lunch instead, have breakfast, share a coffee etc. Trust me, it’s worth it.

– Emil

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Let's do better than this, shall we?

Since Ivy Lee’s famous press release in 1906, media communication has evolved. Some would argue the pinnacle of this development is the social media press release. It’s nothing revolutionary in The Lobby’s opinion, but it does hit the nail on the head in one sense – in keeping with the times.

Digital is here to stay, whether you like it or not, which to a certain degree means that tools, plied for whatever trade, that keep up with the changing face of internet technology are probably more likely to survive, thrive, and get the job done.

Here are some mind boggling statistics to reinforce this point:

  • In 1995 there were 45.1 million internet users, at the end of September 2009, that same figure had risen to 1.73 billion.
  • On average 247 billion emails are sent every day.
  • There are over 234 million websites and 128 million blogs today.
  • 27.3 million tweets are sent on Twitter every day.
  • Facebook serves 260 billion page views per month, or 37.4 trillion page views a year.

Now then, back to the social media press release. The basics are straightforward and well established, especially for public relations professionals. It’s a digital news release that contains multimedia elements such as MP3 files or links to podcasts, graphics, video, RSS-feeds, Technorati tags and ‘add/share’ buttons for popular sharing platforms such as Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon etc. Here you can see two examples of social media releases from Cisco and Symantec.

So what about the position paper, the staple food of the ever-so-non-digital Brussels public affairs scene? At the risk of upsetting our peers in Brussels, it seems the most avant-garde move that that public affairs professionals have done on this front is to turn a Word document into a PDF, ideal for – yes – printing. OK that’s not quite true, but you get the gist.

Where is the digital position paper? The tool that in the future will form the means to communicate with stakeholders (when we’ve finally evolved into a paperless society and when digital paper has taken off in a big way), the tool that will be read by Commission, Council and Parliament officials on Android powered pads. We’re not there yet, but the tools to create such a position paper are most definitely here or in the pipeline at the very least.

Imagine opening up a truly interactive and visual position paper. The key messages are there sure, but, for instance, the manufacturing process is displayed in crystal clear video, statistics and key figures come to life when clicked, diagrams and charts are smoothly plotted across your screen, the CEO of the company gives you a quick tour of the company’s upcoming priorities etc.

This vision might seem to be a simple attempt at daring to be bold, but, it could still be rather more effective when it comes to communicating with stakeholders in Brussels, than the traditional two-pager in black and white with a few logos in the header…

We’re curious to know what people think, both inside and outside of the institutions. Is the digital position paper part of the missing link? Could it improve communication in Brussels (and D.C. for that matter)?

– Emil

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Mr Buzek tweeting (probably) during a plenary (image ©European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari)

Jerzy Buzek, the Polish President of the European Parliament, has had a Twitter account for a week and has so far been delivering his daily tweet. The President and his communications team have strongly committed themselves to digital openness, with Mr Buzek already having a facebook account and his presidential website.The Lobby warmly welcomes Mr Buzek to the world of social media, but what are you doing here Mr President?

Luckily Mr Buzek himself gives the answer in a press release: “It is a pleasure and a need to use all forms of communication.  The European Parliament is increasingly influential and must be increasingly present.  Modern technology including social media gives people the opportunity to interact and have their say.”

Mr Buzek is right. Outside Brussels people might know the name of the President of the Commission and will likely become more and more familiar with the President of the European Council, but – seriously – who knows Mr Buzek? So in this new battle for attention, any means of communication has to be used.

But the message can’t only be the medium. Content is also needed, and the President of the Parliament, whatever his communication means, he will have to stand up for key issues and take strong positions in negotiations with the Commission and the Council if he is to become one of the main EU personalities. It sounds like mission impossible in the consensual and crowded Brussels, but that’s no reason not to try, is it?

– Talander

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Let's have a look at your inbox, just because I can! (Woman with magnifying glass by Peter Kratochvil via PublicDomainPictures.net)

On Monday, Lifehacker reported [via Gawker, via The Rumpus] that you really shouldn’t trust facebook with your private data. This latest claim, while not surprising, is based on an anonymous interview with a facebook employee who has spilt the beans on privacy inside the Stanford Research Park-based company. This is what makes this revelation just that little bit more interesting.

The woman, who according to the interview still works at facebook, has divulged information about a ‘master password’, for instance, which allows any facebook employee to unlock any user account, giving them full access to your photos, your wall, and your private inbox with all the implied repercussions.

“When I first started working there yes. I used it to view other people’s profiles which I didn’t have permission to visit”, says the anonymous employee in the interview. The use of the master password has since this summer been discouraged, but it might still exist. Apparently it was something along the lines of ‘Chuck Norris’ combined with a slew of upper and lower case symbols and numbers. facebook has created a Chief Officer position for privacy issues – Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly – who interestingly is running for Attorney General of California.

Meanwhile, facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ruffled a few feathers last Friday when he proclaimed during the 2009 Crunchies Awards ceremonies that privacy is becoming less important to online users…

We’re not so sure…

– Emil

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This is not enough...think before you post! (image by The Lobby)

Ars Technica yesterday ran a story about how a woman in Canada, suffering from severe depression, had her sick leave coverage pulled by her insurance company, Manulife, after seeing pictures of her at a party on facebook.

This kind of situation is nothing new; prospective employers today are known to look at facebook profiles ahead of interviewing candidates, so it is more than likely that insurance companies do the same. But this situation is very different – the lady in question, Nathalie Blanchard – posted pictures of her own birthday party on a private section of her facebook profile, i.e. only accessible to certain individuals. Her insurance company, according to the article, decided that “people diagnosed with depression are incapable of having fun for even short periods of time, because Manulife pulled Blanchard’s benefits with no notice. When she called to inquire about the checks, Manulife said she appeared to be “available to work” thanks to Facebook.”

The author of this post uses the same setup. Posted pictures are private, and only a handful of contacts can access them. So how did her insurance company, Manulife, get hold of these pictures? There are ways of accessing private pictures, even deleted pictures, but that’s another debate in itself. The worrying trend here is that companies, insurance companies in particular, are using social media to gather intelligence on its customers.

So, just to recap, as has been said and written over and over again – don’t upload pictures that you don’t want to be spread around. With reports of politicians, Commission officials, MEPs (and their assistants etc) using Twitter, facebook, and surely Flickr, there is a lesson to be learnt here. To use a term coined by the world’s number one spook agency, the ‘blowback’ that can result from pictures on social media networks can (will?) be much greater for a political figure compared to an ordinary citizen…

It’s simple really. Think before you post (and please, also, think before you tag).

Emil

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It was yesterday announced that LinkedIn, termed by some as the ‘professional version’ of facebook, has teamed up with Twitter – allowing users of both social networks to cross-post their status updates.

Both companies argue this is a good thing, as you can see in the video below, but is it? Personally, when facebook introduced its ‘stream’ for instance it really turned into an information overload platform.

The solution to make sense of all the tweets/feeds/streams is perhaps better real-time search. Come on Google, chop chop…

– Emil


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Social media platforms are dominating the headlines lately and are poised to start generating a lot of money. A US floral retailer (1-800-Flowers) has recently opened the first “facebook storefront” where users can buy and send flowers directly from facebook.

Instead of trying to drive traffic (i.e. consumers) from facebook toward the company website, 1-800-Flowers has decided to go seek out the customer where he or she prefers to spend time, i.e. on facebook rather than on a corporate website.

So far, businesses have mostly considered social media as an additional marketing tool, but this initiative indicates a possible way forward, namely the option of social platforms hosting online shopping sections and virtually (no pun intended!) transforming themselves into big online shopping malls as more and more businesses set up their own storefront and take advantage of this huge network to reach consumers.

Traditionally facebook has been dominated by young people, and it’s no secret that advertisers have long known about and targeted “tweens” (generally this is said to be children between 8 and 12 years old) for their staggering purchasing power. And just as the design of the basic facebook profile has evolved over time, so has its users. Facebook recently announced that it now boasts 250 million users, but what is perhaps more interesting is that the fastest growing demographic is 35+ year olds. Is this an indication that the techie crowd is approaching maturity? Take a moment to think about the purchasing power of 40-year olds.

Yes, exactly, that is some serious purchasing power. There is no doubt that companies, both offline and online, will put two and two together and realise the gargantuan opportunity offered up by applications such as facebook’s storefront (if they haven’t already!).

The UK internet watchdog, Ofcom, today released their annual report which indicates that, apart from food, Britons want to spend most of their money on technology such as mobiles, internet and TV. The report further states that some 19 million people in the UK, which represents 50% of internet users, visit facebook and spend on average six hours a month on the site, an increase of two hours per month compared to 2008. This means that the internet allows businesses to reach consumers with increasingly high purchasing power, even in the greatest recession since the 30s!

So the share of older people using facebook is growing massively, they have money to spend, and they want to stay wired-up even in times of economic hardship, and facebook has opened its door to  businesses – should the likes of Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com be worried? Is social trading the right term to describe these commercial activities?

Maxime & Emil

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Augmented reality (AR) technology is all about combining computer-generated data and real-world data, blending computer graphics and real footage in real time. Er, ok, good, but what does that mean? Take the case of New York: New Yorkers, and visitors to the Big Apple, will soon be able to find their way around the metro system using the yet-to-be-approved iPhone 3GS AR application acrossair (see below).

AR technology is coming, hard and fast (see the Guardian, Lifehacker, Los Angeles Times, Core 77 etc) and will most certainly revolutionise the way we use and ‘see’ data. For instance imagine an application designed for finding your way around the European Parliament (EP). Let’s call it ‘EP Insights’.

Imagine you’re a new MEP/a new MEP assistant/a still wet-behind-the-ears consultant/a visitor (pick one, they all share a common inability to find their way around the EP) and you are running late for parliamentary vote. EP Insights could allow you to take out your smart phone when entering the EP, inputting the room name/number that you need to go to and then by simply holding up your phone in front of you, computer generated directions would appear on your touch screen, superimposed on real video footage. The application could show you arrows, distance and time to destination and more. You would find your way around the EP in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

Does a digital layer on top of your real world sound really cool to you? Yes? OK, well then you are ready to meet the Swedes behind ‘The Astonishing Tribe’. They have developed an application called Augmented ID, which is (possibly) an example of the darker side of AR technology. It’s an application that visualises the digital identity of people you meet in real life.

Imagine you are giving a presentation, someone in the audience picks up their phone, points it towards you, identifies you digitally using Augmented ID; they instantly get access to whatever digital information you have decided to share (your facebook account, your LinkedIn profile, your latest YouTube upload, your digital business card etc.).

Are you scared yet (see below)?

– Emil

(UPDATE 20 JULY 2009: Wired Magazine picks up on Augmented ID video.

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On Saturday Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times published an article that has made the rounds of the blogosphere in quite some fashion (a Google blog search for the article generates just over 14,900 hits). The article “Spinning the Web: PR in Silicon Valley” is a well-researched and timely piece about how public relations (PR) execs in Silicon Valley propel new tech start-ups not by issuing press releases and calling up journalists – rather they court Web gurus, influential bloggers, and Twitter users.

The article mentions a few interesting examples, for instance, Brew Media Relations, the firm that began representing the popular photo-sharing site Flickr in 2004, never issued a press release for it, even when it was acquired by Yahoo. Ms Hammerling of Brew Media Relations explains “Flickr would publish news on its company blog, a few more blogs would pick it up, and two days later Business Week would call”.

But the piece does not tell the full story of the fundamental revolution PR is presently undergoing, as Brian Solis of FutureWorks aptly points out on his blog PR2.0. Solis explains how PR, particularly in Silicon Valley, is “much more potent than most entrepreneurs, investors, and executives realize”. He also stresses the degree to which PR today is under-appreciated and misunderstood. PR is not about ‘pushing’ news, rather it is about creating relationships “with the greater communities of influencers and users who can help extend a story, intentions, value, and sentiment as a means of driving awareness, building communities, and empowering advocates over time”.

Granted, Silicon Valley is more conducive to ‘new’ PR strategies, tools, and approaches, than say Brussels, for instance, but this should not stand in the way of PR innovation in a more ‘traditional’ arena such as the EU heartland. While there are excellent initiatives and a clear momentum towards true recognition of new PR (for example, in this year’s European Public Affairs Awards there is a new category for best Web 2.0 campaign), Brussels’ agencies are seriously lagging behind their US and continental competitors and partners. Yes, there are agencies that feature polished blogs (see Fleishman Hillard’s Public Affairs 2.0, ZN’s HyperThinker or our very own The Lobby) and there are trade associations that are successfully using Twitter or facebook (see Enviro.aero or Pesticide Information) but that’s about it. Brussels agencies are keen and the tools are all around us, but it remains to be seen whether Brussels and its opaque institutions are ready for them.

I challenge you to name a single senior Brussels PR executive who has 6 influential bloggers and 4 prolific Twitter users on speed-dial rather than 10 members of the Brusssels press corps (and who is willing to take his or her story to them rather than to the press)?

– Emil

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