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Archive for the ‘integrity’ Category

Snake-oil 2

Part 1: Return on Incompetence

Here’s a flash of obvious: When most of us don’t know how to do something, we typically know that we don’t know how to do it.

Let me illustrate: As much as I would love to be an F-18 pilot, I don’t know how to fly an F-18 (or any aircraft, for that matter). As a result, you don’t see me walking around in a flight suit  pretending that I am an F-18 pilot.

More to the point, you don’t see me advertising my services as an F-18 flight instructor.

For the exact same reason, you don’t see me trying to sell services as an ice-carving, cat wrestling or underwear-modeling instructor. Why? because when most of us don’t know how to do something, we have a) enough sense and personal integrity not to pretend that we do, and b)  enough professional acumen not to pretend that we are qualified to teach it.

Yet this line of logic (and basic sense of professional ethics) seems to escape a disturbingly large group of people who evidently have latched-on to Social Media as an easy meal ticket  – one to be earned, in many cases, on the backs of people and companies who don’t know any better.

To add injury to insult, most of these would-be Social Media “experts” aren’t even good at masking the fact that they have no clue what they are talking about. You would think that they would at the very least grasp the most basic building blocks of social media… like the fact that a Twitter follower, a Facebook fan and a YouTube subscriber are essentially the same thing, but evidently, even that simple of a concept escapes some of these folks. In far too many instances, they don’t seem smart enough to realize how little they understand about a discipline they claim to be experts in.

Yet these are the people who increasingly find themselves advising companies around the US as to how to build, integrate, manage and measure social media programs.

Now, those of us who actually do this for a living and take it seriously can spot these posers a mile away, but how are unsuspecting executives supposed to? To the uninitiated, anyone with a neat sounding social media measurement formula and a whiteboard presentation can sound like they know what they’re talking about. (If you had never seen what gold looks like and a self-proclaimed expert came along with a bag of yellow dust and told you it was gold, why wouldn’t you believe them?)

More often than not, the otherwise innocent combination of inexperience, ambition and lack of professional accountability are to blame. But in far too many cases, an unhealthy blend of raw opportunism and… economic conditions  have given rise to a mob of social media snake oil salesmen. Whatever the causes may be, it worries me to see how quickly both dangerously inexperienced amateurs and deliberate hacks alike have taken over the “social” management business with their special brand of complete nonsense.

Perhaps more troubling: Very few among those of us working hard to build up this discipline are speaking out against bad practices and obnoxious BS from this unscrupulous crowd.

Look, leadership isn’t just about thought leadership. It isn’t just about being pioneers or evangelists or mavens. It certainly isn’t just about getting the accolades and the followers and the invitations to speak at conferences.  Leadership is also about responsibility. And we have a responsibility to keep our community and this field as ethical, professional, and free of BS as we can.

If leaders in this field don’t stand up for its integrity, who will?

28-tweets-later

Return on Inaction:

The reality is that the hijacking of Social Media by hack jobs isn’t happening in a vacuum: Every instance of an agency, firm or consultant promising results and delivering a goose egg makes it that much less likely that their  clients will put their trust in a social media adviser again, genuine or not. And rightly so.

To outsiders, there is no difference between a Chris Penn (who knows his shiznit) and a Joe Shmoe (who couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag if Twitter drew him a map), and that is a big problem: Anyone with a little bit of SEO savvy can have his/her bogus methodology pop up at the top of Google searches. And if no one calls him/her on the BS, there will be no indication anywhere that what s/he is selling is complete nonsense.

Case in point: How many companies have already fallen for misguided methodologies like these? (I use the term misguided since as far as I can tell, their authors seem to have developed these methods in good faith.)

Social Media ROI Calculator no.1. (Go here for the analysis.)

Social Media ROI Calculator no. 2.

Social Media ROI Calculator no. 3.

Bogus Social Media ROI measurement methodology no. 327.

And then there’s  this conversation on LinkedIn. Count how many of these folks are consultants. Tell me that level of widespread confusion and ignorance about the mechanics of Social Media doesn’t open the door for abuse and nonsense on a large scale.

We can do better.

If you believe that the hacks and misguided amateurs will eventually go away on their own, you’re wrong. Why would they? The money isn’t bad, the opportunities are growing and there is still virtually zero accountability in this line of work. Every other company is looking for a social media expert to teach them how to either develop, integrate, manage or measure social media, yet the vast majority of business execs couldn’t tell a true professional from an agency flunkie with a Facebook account. You do the math.

We’re going to be on the wrong side of that growth curve for while unless we start establishing standards for the industry. And I mean sooner rather than later.

How Not To Measure Social Media – Part 2

Here is Part 1.

Below is another example of social media nonsense passing for expertise. I don’t want to make any assumptions about anyone’s motives in this specific case, so to be fair, it’s probable that whomever put this together genuinely thought that the thinking behind the equation and methodology was sound. There is no reason to think that anyone at Digital Royalty was trying to make a quick buck off unsuspecting clients when they developed this. (My guess is that they mean well.) But the fact remains that the people behind this thing don’t understand either Social Media or program measurement well enough to teach either. And that’s the danger: Regardless of people’s intentions and motives, bad methodology is bad methodology no matter how you look at it. And bad methodology quickly turns into bad business for everyone involved.

But don’t take my word for it: Watch the video and make up your own mind. (Watch carefully because I’ll have questions for you afterwards.)

And here is the “equation” referenced in that video:

DigitalRoyaltymetrics

If the video doesn’t play for you, go watch it here.

Rather than listing out all of the flaws in this methodology and equation, let me ask a few questions that outline some of my key concerns. You can try to answer them yourselves or go straight to the answer/comment. You choice. (These were questions I asked the author on her blog post. They remain unanswered.)

1) Why do FB fans and Twitter followers fall into the volume column but YouTube subscribers fall into the engagement column?

Twitter followers, Facebook fans & friends and YouTube subscribers fall into the same category. They should be in the same column. (The “reach” column – not featured in this methodology.) Reach is neither hot nor cold. It’s a hard metric.

Demonstrating a lack of understanding about something as basic as this throws up a bright red flag right off the bat.

2) Why do frequency and reach apply to volume but not engagement or conversions? (Warning: This one may hurt your brain, so feel free to skip ahead.)

Assuming that Volume and Engagement are relevant categories/columns, (and that’s a very big if) Frequency and Reach would apply to both.

Let’s take a step back and look at the definitions of Frequency and Reach:

Frequency is a measure of how often something happens. (An activity, a transaction, etc.)

Reach is a measure of how many people you can touch. To use Amy’s own ecosystem terminology, reach is the number of people who live in your ecosystem.

A subset of reach is how many people within that ecosystem you actually touched or engaged with for a particular campaign.

Once you realize that, you start to see how the concept of a volume column is a bit shaky: You would have to include “reach” as an element of the “volume” column even though they are basically two words describing the same thing. See how this makes no sense?

But I digress.

Based on this model, Frequency (of interactions) should also show up in the engagement column: (How often do you engage?) Likewise, Reach would manifest itself in the engagement column in terms of how many people were touched/reached through… engagement.

If a Conversion column exists, then Frequency also applies to it: Frequency of conversions = how often conversions happen. (Or transactions, for that matter.)

Regardless of how flawed your method may be, this is simple, basic, common sense stuff that can be plugged in properly IF you understand it.

The lack of basic understanding of reach and frequency raises another red flag.

3) What does “actual activity and action” mean?

Transactions? Website visits? Who knows? Knowing what you’re talking about matters. Letting other people what you’re talking about matters too. “Actual activity and action” doesn’t mean anything.

Another red flag.

4) The size of your “ecosystem” = Reach. How can reach fall into both the cold and warm columns?

The size of an ecosystem is the definition of reach.  Calling something two different things doesn’t actually make it two different things. (This doesn’t happen when you know what you’re talking about.)

Having the same element appear twice in the same equation is bad math.

The red flags keep popping up.

5) Return on Influence = Adding 3 web analytics values to sentiment x reach (again)? Seriously? That’s the equation?

Before we dive deeper into this, the equation needs more work, starting with the fundamental flaws I already outlined.

Once you’ve revamped the basic elements of the method and equation, you have to then understand how the pieces fit mathematically (assuming they even do). Throwing a bunch of unrelated values together does not constitute serious social media measurement.

6) What unit of measure do you use? If it’s a “return,” what are we talking about? What does the number mean? What is it in reference to?

If the equation is supposed to create an influence index, then it doesn’t need a unit of measure. Just call it a Social Influence Index (SII) or whatever you want, and you’ll be fine. Whatever number the equation spits out is your “score”. Fair enough. There is nothing scientific about it, but you can probably get away with it.

But if you are going to call it “return on X,” you need a unit of measure. In real Return on Investment, you distill the investment in time, human capital and other resources to $$$. The “return” on that investment therefore is calculated in $$$ as well. Money is the common unit of measure.  The ROI equation gives you a ratio of money invested to money earned. The same rules apply here: If this is to be a “return on influence,” what unit of measure is used to calculate that ratio of return?

Without a clear unit of measure, you cannot calculate “return” on something. Basic 101 stuff. Learn it.

7) If “warm” data is “intangible and hard to measure,” why is it part of the equation to begin with?

Either it’s soft data and thus anecdotal or it is hard data and it can be used here. You have to pick one. You can’t claim that “warm” data is intangible/hard to measure and then add it to your “equation”. This is not a gray area.

Data isn’t cold, warm or hot. There’s only reliable data and unreliable data.

8) (Just added) Why does the equation on the board not match the equation in the graphic?

I knew something else about that equation was bugging me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Yet it was under my nose the whole time:

In the video, the “cold” half of the equation is interpreted as (Page Views x Visits) / Time Spent

In the graphic, the “cold” half of the equation is interpreted as (Page Views x Visits) + Time Spent

Which is it? Do we divide by Time Spent or do we add Time Spent?

(Thanks to @AnnaObrien for pointing it out.)

Incidentally, Frequency is not defined either in net page views or net unique visits either…

… And most of the KPIs explained early in the video seem to completely vanish…

… but by this point, who cares.

I could go on and on and on, but you get the picture: At first glance, the equation and the methodology look solid to the average person: Clean graphics, columns on a whiteboard, buzzwords we’ve all heard before, the promise of a digital agency backing it up, etc. Because the video and equation has already been posted on a variety of sites that fail to ask basic stink test questions by people who don’t know what flaws to look for, it makes its way to the top of search queries. Before you know it, complete nonsense goes mainstream and passes for real methodology because of three things: Decent packaging, Search, and confirmation of validity by other non-experts who barely skimmed the material.

Ca-ching.

This is how real Social Media expertise gets hijacked, and how Social Media management – as a discipline – loses credibility in the business world before it even gets a chance to prove its worth.

Last words:

This stuff isn’t just going to go away on its own. It’s great to see some folks in the Social Media management community speak out against this kind of BS, but they are the exception rather than the rule. At some point, the incessant retweeting and arse-kissing has to start making room for more relevant and responsible behavior: Call a cat a cat. When you see BS, don’t just look the other way. Call it out. Ask real questions. Put people to the test. That’s what leaders do. That’s what professionals do. We can’t keep allowing remedial BS to invalidate the real work being done in this space by those of us who actually care about it.

Rant over.

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Robert Killick on the need for intellectual curiosity and courage in the face of “unknowns” in today’s business leaders:

Risk was once seen as a catalyst for competitiveness, innovation and change in enterprise culture. Now it is seen as a negative barrier to be avoided with all sorts of precautionary measures. ‘Risk consciousness’ is the order of the day, but the preference to always dig up the dark side of humanity betrays a lack of faith in human reason. Curiosity and foolhardiness are often derided as irresponsible and egotistical traits, but the great heroes of the past have taken personal risks that benefit all of us.

Today, research and experimentation that does not have a measurable ‘positive effect’ is seen as irresponsible. Yet it is precisely through experimentation, risk – and, yes, mistakes – that some of the major scientific breakthroughs and technological inventions have come about. Without risky experimentation, and without individuals willing to take those risks in the pursuit of knowledge, we wouldn’t have aeroplanes, penicillin, MRI scans or X-rays.

The ability to handle risk – though technology, human ingenuity, reason and resilience – is a measure of modernity and it can only be achieved through more experimentation, not less. The hard won freedoms to creative expression, communication and to technological innovation should be treasured, and the twenty-first century should be when we take them even further.

Risk-adverse/risk-paralyzed leaders aren’t leaders at all. At best, they are followers promoted or appointed to positions they should have had enough common sense, integrity and professionalism to turn down.

Fact: Leaders “lead.” They take their companies in a specific direction and make sure that course corrections occur as needed along the way. Standing still, ignoring emerging market trends, rewarding business-as-usual strategies, waiting for competitors to make a move before testing the waters, or building protective walls around organizations are not examples of leadership.

No one is advocating making rash decisions of course, but in order for companies to be successful, their leaders must possess certain key personality traits – among them the essential combination of vision, courage and an unbreakable pioneering streak.

Bear this in mine when placing your bets on a company, new boss or potential candidates for an executive-level position.

Have a great week, everyone!

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Ever noticed how positive attitudes are infectious? You walk into a store, and everyone who works there is jazzed and happy to be there and energetic… and by the time you leave, you have completely adopted their mood?

Ever noticed that the opposite is also true: Walk into a business where everyone is negative or apathetic, and you find yourself feeling the same dread and negativity?

Sitting in Houston’s Toyota arena with thousands of the world’s most innovative Microsoft partners, I was reminded of the power that other people’s attitudes and moods have over our own – and remembered a post that Kathy Sierra shared many moons ago on her brilliant but now sadly defunct “Passionate Users” blog. It talked about happy vs. angry people, emotional contagion, and the role mirror neurons play in our involuntary tendency to be drawn into other people’s positive or negative attitudes. Very cool stuff, and particularly relevant to some of the discussions I have been involved with in the last few days with some of my international peers. I did some quick digging to find it so I could share it with you. Here are some of the highlights:

Mirror neurons and our innate tendency to pick up other people’s behaviors, good and bad.

There is now strong evidence to suggest that humans have the same type of “mirror neurons” found in monkeys. It’s what these neurons do that’s amazing–they activate in the same way when you’re watching someone else do something as they do when you’re doing it yourself! This mirroring process/capability is thought to be behind our ability to empathize, but you can imagine the role these neurons have played in keeping us alive as a species. We learn from watching others. We learn from imitating (mirroring) others. The potential problem, though, is that these neurons go happily about their business of imitating others without our conscious intention.

Think about that…

Although the neuroscientific findings are new, your sports coach and your parents didn’t need to know the cause to recognize the effects:

“Choose your role models carefully.”
“Watching Michael Jordan will help you get better.”
“You’re hanging out with the wrong crowd; they’re a bad influence.”
“Don’t watch people doing it wrong… watch the experts!”

We’ve all experienced it. How often have you found yourself sliding into the accent of those around you? Spend a month in England and even a California valley girl sounds different. Spend a week in Texas and even a native New Yorker starts slowing down his speech. How often have you found yourself laughing, dressing, skiing like your closest friend? Has someone ever observed that you and a close friend or significant other had similar mannerisms? When I was in junior high school, it was tough for people to tell my best friends and I apart on the phone–we all sounded so much alike that we could fool even our parents.

But the effect of our innate ability and need to imitate goes way past teenage phone tricks. Spend time with a nervous, anxious person and physiological monitoring would most likely show you mimicking the anxiety and nervousness, in ways that affect your brain and body in a concrete, measurable way. Find yourself in a room full of pissed off people and feel the smile slide right off your face. Listen to people complaining endlessly about work, and you’ll find yourself starting to do the same. How many of us have been horrified to suddenly realize that we’ve spent the last half-hour caught up in a gossip session–despite our strong aversion to gossip? The behavior of others we’re around is nearly irresistible.

Why choosing who you work, play and hang out with matters.

When we’re consciously aware and diligent, we can fight this. But the stress of maintaining that conscious struggle against an unconscious, ancient process is a non-stop stressful drain on our mental, emotional, and physical bandwidth. And no, I’m not suggesting that we can’t or should’nt spend time with people who are angry, negative, critical, depressed, gossiping, whatever. Some (including my sister and father) chose professions (nurse practitioner and cop, respectively) that demand it. And some (like my daughter) volunteer to help those who are suffering (in her case, the homeless). Some people don’t want to avoid their more hostile family members. But in those situations–where we choose to be with people who we do not want to mirror–we have to be extremely careful! Nurses, cops, mental health workers, EMTs, social workers, red cross volunteers, fire fighters, psychiatrists, oncologists, etc. are often at a higher risk (in some cases, WAY higher) for burnout, alcoholism, divorce, stress, or depression unless they take specific steps to avoid getting too sucked in to be effective.

So, when Robert says he wants to spend time hanging around “happy people” and keeping his distance from “deeply unhappy” people, he’s keeping his brain from making–over the long term–negative structural and chemical changes. Regarding the effect of mirror neurons and emotional contagion on personal performance, neurologist Richard Restak offers this advice:

“If you want to accomplish something that demands determination and endurance, try to surround yourself with people possessing these qualities. And try to limit the time you spend with people given to pessimism and expressions of futility. Unfortunately, negative emotions exert a more powerful effect in social situations than positive ones, thanks to the phenomena of emotional contagion.”

This sounds harsh, and it is, but it’s his recommendation based on the facts as the neuroscientists interpret them today. This is not new age self-help–it’s simply the way brains work.

Emotional Contagion explained.

Steven Stosny, an expert on road rage, is quoted in Restak’s book:

“Anger and resentment are thet most contagious of emotions,” according to Stonsy. “If you are near a resentful or angry person, you are more prone to become resentful or angry yourself. If one driver engages in angry gestures and takes on the facial expressions of hostility, surrounding drivers will unconsciously imitate the behavior–resulting in an escalation of anger and resentment in all of the drivers. Added to this, the drivers are now more easily startled as a result of the outpouring of adrenaline accompanying their anger. The result is a temper tantrum that can easily escalate into road rage.”

From a paper on Memetics and Social Contagion,

“…social scientific research has largely confirmed the thesis that affect, attitudes, beliefs and behavior can indeed spread through populations as if they were somehow infectious. Simple exposure sometimes appears to be a sufficient condition for social transmission to occur. This is the social contagion thesis; that sociocultural phenomena can spread through, and leap between, populations more like outbreaks of measles or chicken pox than through a process of rational choice.”

Emotional contagion is considered one of the primary drivers of group/mob behavior, and the recent work on “mirror neurons” helps explain the underlying cause. But it’s not just about groups. From a Cambridge University Press book:

“When we are talking to someone who is depressed it may make us feel depressed, whereas if we talk to someone who is feeling self-confident and buoyant we are likely to feel good about ourselves. This phenomenon, known as emotional contagion, is identified here, and compelling evidence for its affect is offered from a variety of disciplines – social and developmental psychology, history, cross-cultural psychology, experimental psychology, and psychopathology.”

[For a business management perspective, see the Yale School of Management paper titled The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion In Groups]

Can any of us honestly say we haven’t experienced emotional contagion? Even if we ourselves haven’t felt our energy drain from being around a perpetually negative person, we’ve watched it happen to someone we care about. We’ve noticed a change in ourselves or our loved ones based on who we/they spend time with. We’ve all known at least one person who really did seem able to “light up the room with their smile,” or another who could “kill the mood” without saying a word. We’ve all found ourselves drawn to some people and not others, based on how we felt around them, in ways we weren’t able to articulate.

Happy People are better able to think logically

Neuroscience has made a long, intense study of the brain’s fear system–one of the oldest, most primitive parts of our brain. Anger and negativity usually stem from the anxiety and/or fear response in the brain, and one thing we know for sure–when the brain thinks its about to be eaten or smashed by a giant boulder, there’s no time to stop and think! In many ways, fear/anger and the ability to think rationally and logically are almost mutually exclusive. Those who stopped to weigh the pros and cons of a flight-or-fight decision were eaten, and didn’t pass on their afraid-yet-thoughtful genes.

Happines is associated most heavily with the left (i.e. logical) side of the brain, while anger is associated with the right (emotional, non-logical) side of the brain. From a Society for Neuroscience article on Bliss and the Brain:

“Furthermore, studies suggest that certain people’s ability to see life through rose-colored glasses links to a heightened left-sided brain function. A scrutiny of brain activity indicates that individuals with natural positive dispositions have trumped up activity in the left prefrontal cortex compared with their more negative counterparts. “

In other words, happy people are better able to think logically.

And apparently happier = healthier:

“Evidence suggests that the left-siders may better handle stressful events on a biological level. For example, studies show that they have a higher function of cells that help defend the body, known as natural killer cells, compared with individuals who have greater right side activity. Left-sided students who face a stressful exam have a smaller drop in their killer cells than right-siders. Other research indicates that generally left-siders may have lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.”

And while we’re dispelling the Happy=Vacuous myth, let’s look at a couple more misperceptions:

“Happy people aren’t critical.”
“Happy people don’t get angry.”
“Happy people are obedient.”
“Happy people can’t be a disruptive force for change.”

So can Happy and criticism live happily together?

One of the world’s leading experts in the art of happiness is the Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Just about everyone who hears him speak is struck by how, well, happy he is. How he can describe–with laughter–some of the most traumatizing events of his past. Talk about perspective

But he is quite outspoken with his criticism of China. The thing is, he doesn’t believe that criticism requires anger, or that being happy means you can’t be a disruptive influence for good. On happiness, he has this to say:

“The fact that there is always a positive side to life is the one thing that gives me a lot of happiness. This world is not perfect. There are problems. But things like happiness and unhappiness are relative. Realizing this gives you hope.”

And among the “happy people”, there’s Mahatma Gandhi, a force for change that included non-violent but oh-most-definitely-disobedient behavior. A few of my favorite Gandhi quotes:

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings.

The argument for and against anger

But then there’s the argument that says “anger” is morally (and intellectually) superior to “happy”. The American Psychological Association has this to say on anger:

“People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance. They can’t take things in stride, and they’re particularly infuriated if the situation seems somehow unjust: for example, being corrected for a minor mistake.”

Of course it’s still a myth that “happy people” don’t get angry. Of course they do. Anger is often an appropriate response. But there’s a Grand Canyon between a happy-person-who-gets-angry and an unhappy-angry-person. So yes, we get angry. Happiness is not our only emotion, it is simply the outlook we have chosen to cultivate because it is usually the most effective, thoughtful, healthy, and productive.

And there’s this one we hear most often, especially in reference to comment moderation–“if you can’t say whatever the hell you want to express your anger, you can’t be authentic and honest.” While that may be true, here’s what the psychologists say:

“Psychologists now say that this is a dangerous myth. Some people use this theory as a license to hurt others. Research has found that “letting it rip” with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you’re angry with) resolve the situation.

It’s best to find out what it is that triggers your anger, and then to develop strategies to keep those triggers from tipping you over the edge.”

And finally, another Ghandi quote:

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

If the scientists are right, I might also add,

Be around the change you want to see in the world.

Strong organizations and communities are able to harness the power of emotional contagion to create engaging, productive and extremely effective collaborative ecosystems. The truly exceptional among them also manage to extend this collective positivity to their human/customer touchpoints (retail outlets, salespeople, CSRs, etc.). Obvious examples of this are Starbucks (except in airports), Mac Stores, and Whole Foods grocery outlets.

This week, a very large scale example of this (and the trigger for this post) was Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, TX.

The complete opposite of this might be, say, the checkout at Walmart, Home Depot or Taco Bell, a prison ward, or an Vietnamese sweat shop.

Success breeds success. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. Professionalism breeds professionalism.

Likewise, mediocrity breeds mediocrity. Apathy breeds apathy. Negative attitudes breed negative attitudes.

Now you know. What you do with this knowledge is up to you. For me, the choice is pretty simple. Always has been.

Have a great Friday. 😉

photo credit: Christopher Wray McCann

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