Saturday, 31 December 2016

Fake News is part of the New Fourth Estate: The Queen is Dead, Donald Trump takes Super Pills, and Pizzagate is Real

Like many Canadians, I woke up this morning, poured a coffee, and checked my phone for news. The first article, claimed a fake news story announced that Queen Elizabeth II had died. The story was published, distributed, discredited, and damage control counter stories published. Those stories are distributed throughout the Internet, and the main stream media picked up on the “buzz” and began playing catch-up reporting. All of this in the few hours I slept.

As I grew up in the 70’s my father advised me, “Don’t believe everything you read”. Today, as a father of a young “Millennial”, I now advise my daughter, “Don’t believe anything you read”, and you can hardly blame me for feeling this way.

The proliferation of fake news, combined with the smartphone/social media delivery mechanism, has left the “real news” agencies scrambling. The Fourth Estate (Professional Journalism) is being undermined by this new technological reality, and being irrevocably changed.

Countless individuals throughout the world, not only have the ability to publish false media, but publish false media that appears genuine. For every single professional journalist, there are thousands of bloggers, webmasters, content creators, and the like, publishing directly to readers smartphones. This dilution of credible content has fallout, and this fallout is impacting on our society.

Whether at the individual level, where a violent man believes that a pizzeria in Washington D.C. harbours a child trafficking ring, or at a community level where massive numbers believe Donald Trump has their best interests in mind; you cannot deny that “fake news” is now affecting us all.

I recall in the 70’s the “Emergency Sirens” that were mounted on telephone poles throughout my home town of Ottawa. They had been put up in the 60’s as part of an “Emergency Preparedness Strategy”. But we knew what they were really for... fallout of another kind.

Thankfully, I only heard my neighbourhood’s siren scream once, and that was part of a well publicized test. But I imagine if we had those same sirens in place today, they’d either be going off daily as we react to one published scare after another, or forever staying silent due to the lack of information credibility. The later being the most likely scenario.

It is a precarious position for society to not trust its Fourth Estate, and we are rapidly heading to that eventuality. This slippery slope of misinformation must be put in check now.

Before all trust is gone, profit models associated with social media published and promoted “news” need to be eliminated. Credible fact checking organizations need to be more involved and given more visible authority to approve content. Governments must establish policies regarding production and dissemination of false information. And we, as content producers, need to take responsibility for the content we create and use to populate the Internet.

For my part as web developer & content publisher, I pledge to stop acting as an interim step for those wishing to spread false information. I never flat out lied when publishing content for my clients, but I did act as a “spin doctor” massaging content, and I greatly regret that fact.

Like it or not, we are the New Fourth Estate. Maturity and responsibility are demanded. I know that now. As gatekeepers, we need to stand our ground against those wishing to spread falsehoods and hate. We need to revisit the concept of “Netiquette”, and take the honest, trusted high road.  

I know we cannot stop it all, but perhaps, we as “cyber authors” can begin ebbing the flow of fake news.

I invite all my counterparts out there to join me in this pledge.
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Thursday, 21 January 2016

Like You Said Rick Mercer

Thank you Rick Mercer for bringing light to something close to my heart.  I too remember when the Internet "happened", and the idea of a virtual debate was first suggested.  I was part of it, helping to make it happen. Online comments were never suppose to be this way.

I remember long discussions with my fellow web youngsters about the possibilities associated with the concept of the virtual debate.  Greater cooperation, knowledge sharing, education reform and on and on we went, with feel good outcomes to this new media world.  But 25 years later, those outcomes haven't materialized all that much.

Sure if you do some digging, the Net can be a tremendous resource.  I contribute to message boards and engage in discussions as they relate to software usage or coding.  I've had tremendous knowledge sharing within these discussions, and I've learned most about coding from these same sources.

But here's the thing.  Those discussions are a few more mouse clicks away.  A little harder to get to. And Neanderthals, like TunnelSnake87, will likely never stumble onto them.  And if they do, they have to create an account before contributing.  I think this "distancing" holds part of the solution.  As does Rick's suggestion that anonymity is being misused and generates hate messaging.

Article comment sections are super easy to get to.  And as a developer, I like that ease of use.  But most comment sections currently allow contributors to have their say with nothing more than a Twitter/Facebook account or email address for credentials.  Of course you're going to attract abuse when you make it that easy to use while maintain anonymity.

Combine "ease of use" with "anonymity" and you give a platform to the last segment of society anyone should be listening to.

In many cases the comment sections have been removed entirely from a website due to this very problem, and that's a real shame.  It's "Throwing the baby out with the bathwater", and it can be avoided.  Either loose the anonymity option, or give the "webmaster" better tools to manage the abuse.

The Internet is still a maturing entity, and we are still learning how to properly use it.  As a society we've historically overlooked many obvious dangers when it comes to learning new activities.  (Goalies without face masks and hover boards come to mind.)  Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites have been under the microscope for years regarding their publishing policies. Some are taking steps to try to gain some measure of control, but I feel this is a fleeting effort that will not result in any meaningful change.

Don't wait for Facebook and Twitter to change.  Make the changes at your end.  For any organization trying to engage their audience, the solution is to take matters into your own hands.  There are ways to engage without opening your organization up to a Neanderthal attack.

My hope is that Rick's Rant on this subject will help the business community recognize that the online community is not just filled with TunnelSnake87 and the like.  There are tremendous benefits when engaging with your audience.  Relationships are built, knowledge is shared and on and on.  You just need to have the right tools, and people in place who know how to use them.

I'll keep doing my part in this ongoing effort to Stop the Inspamity, and continue to spread the word to organizations , provide them with my Open D application, and share a few other best practices I've learned over the years.

Thanks again Rick. It's reassuring to hear this issue bothers you too.

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Monday, 5 October 2015

Is posting a link always the best way to go?

Content marketers have a well established technique to drive traffic. Publish a social network posting containing a link to further content, and hope the viewer finds the opening paragraph interesting enough to select the link.

But it doesn’t work all the time. Not even close. And it’s only going to get worse.

The proliferation of content writers and marketers has created a diluted stream of link postings throughout all social networks. As a result viewer fatigue has become a real issue. Viewers start filtering more and more selectively what they click on.

Filtering content is what we all do every day. What alternative do we have? So for online business, the question is, “How do we filter postings, and what’s the best way to get through our own filters”?  
One criteria we use to determine whether or not we select a posting is, “are there comments?” Comments cause a posting to stand out. Comments provide more initial information for us to draw from. Comments stimulate our curiosity and the need to be in on the discussion. So naturally they get more attention.

A recent discussion on LinkedIn talks about the declining amount of traffic content marketers are seeing navigating to the websites they are promoting. A number of issues have been brought up and I encourage a read.

One of my favorite comments in that discussion was submitted by Rupert Waddington who suggested directly, “Maybe just post better blogs?” That indeed is one way to get more comments, more engagement and more through traffic, but we can’t all have the best blogs.

An alternative is to post the synopsis of your blog posting directly into the social media channel. This more simplistic approach gets through the viewer filter that blocks postings with links, and leads to a comment stream that would not otherwise occur.

Once the comment stream begins, you have an opportunity to introduce your blog posting to an already engaged audience. With the link added into the comment stream, you revitalize the discussion and feed new comments and thereby new traffic to your promoted page.

This approach may not be practical for Twitter due to the character limitation, but within Facebook and other social media channels a direct post can be the difference between driving traffic and not.

Much like so many marketing efforts of the past, this new promotion environment requires the same considerations. It is critical to know the media, and how people interact with that media.
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Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Over-the-Virtual-Counter - The New Business Engagement Model

I have worked the counter at restaurants, retail shops, trade shows, and even an arcade back in the day when pinball was all the rage. And I can tell you from experience there is no better way to engage with your contacts, and cultivate rewarding relationships, than having that face to face "over-the-counter" discussion. Because they are expecting it.

Over-the-counter is such an established engagement model, we don't even realize we change our entire persona when we step into it. When you approach the counter, whether it's at a bank, an Apple store, or a chip wagon, you know the routine of back and forth and banter associated with the model. The shyness you typically have with strangers is lessened to a large degree. Your confidence goes up. You become purpose driven, and at the end of the engagement you expect a result.

For the experienced counter person, it's a slam dunk. You can do the job with one hand tied behind your back, it's such and established point of contact. And business knows this.

Business knows this is where the "rubber meets the road". That's why every counter person has been provided a pre-established script for up-selling, promoting , thanking, etc. In addition, staff regularly attend training sessions to improve their ability to engage with the customer or contact. Business spends billions every year to further the effectiveness of this point of contact.

But what about the virtual counter? Who's working that?

For most organizations, it's nobody.

For most organizations the virtual counter is nothing more than a box full of brochures and a box for visitors to drop their messages into. It's info and an email address. That's it. No back and forth. No banter. No effective engagement. A missed opportunity repeating itself over and over again, as each on-line visitor enters and leaves your site.

As a business manager, this would be the first thing you'd fix if it were a live situation. But it appears that most business are unaware of the engagement opportunities the web holds.

And it's not surprising. The over-the-counter engagement model has been around for centuries. This new Over-the-Virtual-Counter engagement opportunity is new, and the best way to approach the issue is largely uncharted territory.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, emailers etc. are the first of the new tools for over-the-virtual-counter engagement. They do a reasonably good job. But they can be an overburden as the number of places to engage keeps changing and increasing as new applications are developed.

Over-the-virtual-counter engagement will get better in time. My application, for one, is built to address that fact. But software alone will not resolve this issue. Business needs to do their part.

Organizations need to realize the capacity of the web to elicit participation from their audience. They need to realize on-line engagement can be just as effective as in person engagement. They need to realize that they can engage in live interaction. They need to realize that a new engagement model is emerging, and their competition might be on to it right now.

I'm working with StartUp Ottawa right now, being tasked with cleaning up and upgrading their directory of businesses. This past weekend I went through each of the couple of hundred businesses in the directory to compile a contact list. In doing so I visited each organization's website and soon discovered the "Just Info & Email" pattern. Some had a blog, some used social media, but almost all failed to invite participation. And thus the reason for my blog posting.

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Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Influence Marketing Strategies - The do's and don'ts
An old concept is being re-invented by the modern on-line community. Influence marketing has arguably been around since the birth of society, when someone first had something to sell. We called it "Word of mouth". Today, social networks make word of mouth far more reaching, faster, and if you're smart about it, the most effective influence marketing strategy ever witnessed.

The key is to be smart about it. And that's the rub. How can you learn to be smart about a technique that has so little empirical data to draw from?

Influence marketing in today's on-line marketplace, is different for every SMB. There is no single solution to finding the influencers that benefit an organization, or the perfect means to interact with them. Marketing tools that include mass emailers, cookies, squeeze pages and data trackers have popped up over the last several years claiming to assist. Many an article has been written about how best to use social media to advance an organization's on-line marketing effort. But if there is one approach that has seen more success over others, it is relationship building.

Building relationships and allowing those relationships to grow through social networks is today's word of mouth. Today's influence marketing. For an organization, it is cost effective and has arguably the best ROI of any marketing expenditure.

The important thing for an organization to keep in mind when trying to build an on-line relationship, is engagement. It sounds simple, but for the most part the only visitor engagement organizations cultivate on-line, are comments within blog postings and email interaction. Rarely does an organization follow up on comments and emails are not open to community interaction.

Too often SMB owners think "Top Down" when they post to the web or communicate with their contacts. Simply deliver information with no invitation to engage, and that is an opportunity lost.

The on-line community likes to contribute when asked. And they really like to share what they personally contribute. Especially if they feel their contribution means something to someone.

So give them the opportunity to contribute. As an SMB you should allow them to engage with you. Ask their opinion on subjects. Ask questions. Conduct discussion. Do everything you would do with a face to face customer.

Those that contribute with you will become high value contacts. Your relationships will be strengthened, and they will become your front line influence marketers as they share within their social networks.

Understanding your best approach to an effective influence marketing strategy is something that takes a bit of time. You need to acquire your own empirical data, and develop your own best practices from there. Whatever tools you choose to use, just ensure you are thinking "Bottom Up". Think about what your community would like to discuss. What they would like to contribute to. And you'll begin growing an influence marketing community.  

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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

And the Scams Just Keep on Coming

One of the things you get a lot of when you're a freelancer, and you've been working the social media markets and forums, are proposals for partnership and revenue earning.

Yesterday I received a "Make Money From Home" offer that presented me with the pitch, "All you have to do is Like our postings". Followed by an outrageous claim of making up to $1000 per day.

This of course is just a complete scam. I recommend to all my freelance and start up colleagues, before anyone pursues anything like this, have a read and watch the following expose. Scamworld: 'Get rich quick' schemes mutate into an online monster.

Back in 2002 I took part in a workshop being sponsored by the local economic development committee. The workshop was entitled "How to Make Money", and as you suspect by the title, it was a scam. It should have been titled "How We Can Make Money; While Offering You False Promises".

I don't think the committee had any idea they had invited snake oil salesmen into their town, but for myself and several other recent start ups attending it became very apparent within moments that all these people wanted to do was sell us all on their new book, "How to Make Money".

The thing that I thought was exceedingly bold was their cyclical approach to the scam.

The scam is quite simple:
1) Write and publish a book on how to make money,
2) Invite all interested to attend a paid workshop on how to make money,
3) Then sell the book to all who attend.

The content of both the book and the workshop are the same. They each describes the above three steps! That's it!

I was amazed. I simultaneously thought, "Wow, nice con!", and at the same time, "Is anyone buying into this?" As it turns out more than half did.

Fortunately, I was able to consult with some of the other attendees I was friends with, and we decided to discreetly walk out of the workshop/snake oil presentation without purchasing their book. We were $25 out of pocket for attending but the lesson learned was worth far more.

The internet has introduced many new opportunities for scams, and many new terms have become part of our vocabulary. Phishing, malware, spoofing are all possible pitfalls in the new realities we find when we navigate through the internet. In all sincerity I do hope that those reading this are wise enough not to fall for such a scam.

So many have lost so much, I consider myself luck that I was only taken for 25 bucks.

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Monday, 11 May 2015

When is a Poll not really a Poll? When just asking, alters the results!

I worked in politics for a few years. As part of that effort I designed and managed the on-line portion of a few provincial election campaigns in Ontario. |In each campaign I was involved in, "the Team" would pay particular attention to the ongoing polls. And each time, after the election was complete, the result didn't reflect the ongoing polling at all. Why?

It's likely because the polling methods for the most part, are out of date. Ever get a phone call from a polling firm just as you're sitting down for supper? You're not alone.

So what do you think the likelihood is that you're going to achieve any degree of accuracy, when most of your data comes from people willing to talk to you on their home phone in exchange for sitting down to a meal?

"Just keep calling until we get a thousand responses", is the instruction given to telephone callers. 

It's old technology using old "top down" thinking. Just like the ambush interview you get outside your grocery store or on your doorstep. How can the results be valid in any way? And more to the point, how can we continue to give credence to this polling approach in the 21st century.

The UK just had an election where David Cameron and the Conservative Party were the majority winners. But that wasn't suppose to happen according to the polls. In the days and minutes leading up to the election the media was claiming that it was a dead heat and the election result could be an unstable government and perhaps another election could be called before the year was out.

Lots of predictions by those, who you would think are far more "in the know" than you and I. But almost all were incorrect. Was the problem the same as I had experienced in Ontario? Out of date polling methods. It seemed so. In this case the constituents didn't want to show their hand prior to the election. The polling process couldn't get the data out of them.

On the other hand, Alberta just finished a provincial election with the NDP coming out on top. And what do you know, it was predicted. Vote Compass called it. Public opinion and media dismissed the prediction, suggesting the 40+ year reign of the Tories would carry on.

Days before the election predicted the NDP would finish third.

So what's the difference with Vote Compass?

The difference is bottom up participation.

Vote compass has created an app that engages the participant and provides immediate feedback. This is no supper time phone call. This is bottom up thinking at it's best and a great example of how we should be thinking in business. It is an unobtrusive and a rewarding experience.

Get people involved by giving them the control. Vote Compass gives the constituent the control. The constituent can pick the time and place they take part. They work at their own speed. And in the end they learn something. Perfect! Now we're polling. Now we're getting reliable data.

Now we are working with our audience, not at our audience.

This is the point. Whether you are managing political, consumer, or any other kind of polling, you need to recognize that your polling method has great impact on the results. And if you're impact the results are they really worth anything.

Canada has a federal election coming up this fall, and the US has theirs next year. I hope that with all the money that get's spent on elections (much more so in the States) someone will spend a few bucks and take the time to educate the media and the public that not all polls are created equal.

In fact if a poll is conducted in an intrusive format like phone calls or ambush interviews, it is systemically inaccurate and should be ruled inadmissible in the "court of public scrutiny".

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