Posts on Internet Policy

Hash Tag Hijacking… Say No to Black Hat Tactics

Posted on 10/22/2012

I was at PubCon last week which is a very good show. It’s a geeks’ geek show about SEO and social media and a great place to network for new ideas. That said, one presentation really took me aback. A representative of an agency (name intentionally left out) did a “best practice” type presentation on hash tag hijacking. I was appalled.

For those of you unfamiliar with some of the black hat social media tactics, hash tag hijacking is like a repeated photo-bomb on a twitter hash tag, usually associated with a company or brand event. In the example presented, the agency represented a company that competed with one of’s products. Salesforce was having an event and of course, being very active in social media, the company had set up some hash tags so people could follow along in person or virtually. Hash tags for events are a common and very good tactic. The agency in  question built a white paper on why their client’s product was better than Salesforce’s with a side by side comparison then proceeded to highly promote the download of the whitepaper by leveraging the hash tag from the event essentially hijacking the purpose and audience connected with the hash tag.

Did they get lots of impressions – yes.

Did they potentially get a lot of downloads – possibly yes.

Did they create a positive and lasting brand connection – doubtful.

Did the agency alienate some prospective clients – absolutely, me included.

Many forget that in social media the world is watching… always. There is no place to hide so HOW you engage is as important as WHAT you engage about. I’m a big advocate for organic social media growth because social media is about engagement, connections and conversations which are not quick hit things. If you want to buy impressions use more traditional media like TV, print or banner ads, not social media.

True there is a lot of debate about the time required to build organic growth in social media and the trade off of the stickiness of organic growth (usually stickier) vs the hit and miss of other tactics. If you want 10,000 Twitter followers very quickly, there are tools and services to do that but it’s a body count, not a quality community result. Like growth hormones in meat, you get nice fat chickens in a few days but the long term health effects of eating that chicken are not good. Black hat social media is the artificial growth hormone of communities and they won’t stay healthy very long. Do you really want your brand associated with that?

As a CMO and CEO it’s important to understand these tactics so you can ask good questions of your agencies and not end up in a situation you’ll later regret. Also, you’ll want to include guidance about hash tag hijacking in your employee social media policies so no one (with all good intentions for sure – people are proud of the products / services they make) decides to have some “fun” at the expense of your broader branding strategy.

So skip the hash tag hijack and earn your connections the old fashion way – by building value and connection. Your connections may be fewer in number, but they will be huge advocates for your brand and over time be some of your best customer recruiters possible.

Remember, the world is watching… always. Make sure you leave behind the brand impression you want.

Virtual is Real: How Well Do You Know the Virtual You?

Posted on 06/02/2011

How often do you interact either in person or on the phone with everyone you know at the same time?

Think about it for a minute… If you are like most people, your answer is “not often” or “never”. But regardless of frequency, you think about who you are calling and what you will say before making a phone call. You plan a face-to-face meeting from topics to locations to attendees to what you will wear all ahead of time. You know exactly how you “show up” in the real world of face to face meetings and phone calls.

But what about the virtual world? Where and how do you show up? Do you know? Can you describe the Virtual You? People who may not yet know you in person will form full opinions about you – who you are, what you can do, if they want to have any connection with you – all from what they see about you online. To them the Virtual You is the Real You.

Give it a try. Google, Bing or Yahoo! your name. What comes up? This is what people will see and know about your first… before they ever meet you in person. Is this the virtual you that you want people to know? Maybe the answer is yes or no, but either way you owe it to yourself to guide this virtual you in the direction you want. You are the only person who has to live your life so give yourself the best opportunity and marketing plan possible. Make the Virtual You an accurate and good reflection of the Real You.

Now you are thinking “Great, so how exactly does one do this? How do I make the virtual me the best reflection of the in-person, real me possible?” The good news is with some simple steps you can make major progress whether you are a seasoned online guru or a novice.

Remember that your virtual world includes all the same facets of you as your real world. We all have professional, social and hobby or special interest parts of us.  Every day you directly interact with people in the real world as part of your professional life, social life and hobbies. Professional communities and company websites are all online. Social media is everywhere. Each of us has hobbies or other interests that appear in blogs, organization websites and so on. Your church, photography club, coupon clipping group, etc. will all have either an online presence of their own or a group of people who gravitate toward each other as like-minded people online.

Most people’s lives spread across these three areas – professional, social, interests – so you need to decide if you want the virtual you to balance across them or focus in one particular area.

Here are a few simple steps to get you going:

  1. Make a list – 3 columns with Professional, Social, Interests at the top.
  2. Write a quick sentence or two as to what you want the virtual you to represent in these categories.
  3. List the organizations the real you belongs to or participates in
  4. List the online organizations you participate in

This exercise will give you a view into your goals, the audiences you want to reach and how you are reaching them today. Here’s an example exert from my list:

  Professional Social / Personal Interests
The Virtual Me Will…
  • Show my range of business skills to attract potential consulting business and other career opportunities.
  • Mentor and “give back” to the professional communities that have helped me throughout my career.
  • Attract talent to work in my company or organization.
  • Connect with friends that I cannot see as often as I’d like.
  • Provide support to my friends in their dreams and ambitions.

  • Connect with friends that I cannot see as often as I’d like.
  • Provide support to my friends in their dreams and ambitions.
  • Fashion: Follow influencers and trends.
  • Technology: Participate in technology conversations that can make people’s lives better.
  • Education: Be an advocate for my children’s education
Organizations American Marketing Assoc Bunko group University Alumni Org
IABC High School Alumni group PTA
Company Mentor Program Girls Night Out Group Women in Technology
Online LinkedIn (profile, groups) Facebook Alumni community
Personal Blog   Kids school websites
Xing   WITI
Twitter   BlogHer
Quora   Personal Blog
IABC   Education activist sites

Thinking through the people or audiences you want to reach is the most critical step in this process. Do the people you want to connect with fall in to the professional, social or interests part of your life? Do any them belong in more than one category? A long time colleague from work who has become a close friend over time or a great friend from college that you now work with are a good examples.

Why is this so important? Well think about the real world for a moment. You would not invite your mother, your high school BFF, your boss, a prospective employer, your girlfriends / guy friends and your child’s teacher all to your house for dinner at the same time would you? Of course not. So why would you mix all those audiences in the virtual world?

Not thinking through audiences early is what gets most people in to trouble in the virtual world and in social media in particular. We have all read the stories of people fired for Facebook comments and there are likely countless other missed opportunities or missed promotions because of bad audience mixing that never make the news. Do not leave it to chance. Having a plan for the virtual you improves your chances of success dramatically.

Now that you have your list, you can sort through your connections in each of the online communities where you are active. Sort people into the appropriate part of your life and if needed, reconnect with them in the new and more appropriate way. Do not worry about ruffling anyone’s feathers. If someone asks, for example, why you un-friended them on Facebook but sent them an invite from LinkedIn simply say you value the professional connection with them and wanted to make sure the way you stay in touch best supports that connection.

Then you can add some humor if people push back. Humor always makes people back off. Here’s one I’ve used: “I so much enjoy talking to you about channel marketing opportunities, but I thought I’d spare you the Facebook pictures and commentary of my gourmet cooking escapades. So I moved our connection to a better venue for dialogue that helps both of us and cuts down on the noise for you.” Trust me, it works. I have used exactly that reply myself with a corporate recruiter who wanted to friend me on Facebook after a couple phone calls. We now connect regularly on LinkedIn and I have sent several referrals his way and vice versa. Maybe if over time, I get to know him much better I will add him as a friend on Facebook, but for now, this is a much more productive arrangement.

This approach is logical, fits with the real you and lets the virtual you be the best reflection you can create. Putting the people from your life in to the virtual connection that makes the most sense for how you know them will help you enjoy the virtual you more. And it will give others who do not know you a more accurate reflection of what they can expect from you and wonderful reasons for them to get to know you.

I hope you find this helpful and that the Virtual You is a positive mirror image of the Real You.

E-G8: Storming of the Internet Bastille? Well, not yet..

Posted on 05/31/2011

Last week the E-G8 Summit was held in France. For a few days, the leaders of the G8 countries plus many leaders of the Internet companies such as Google, Facebook, eBay, Groupon, plus researchers and innovators gathered in the timeless beauty of the Jardin des Tuileries to discuss how to work together in the Internet age. With $8 trillion of e-commerce revenue globally last year and the Internet driving 21% of GDP growth in mature markets, they had a lot to discuss.

You have to give props to the French for organizing this E-G8 event. If you paid attention in history class, this event was very French indeed. The French have historically taken the approach of creating economic dependencies to avoid war and prefer diplomacy over bullets. The historical irony of holding the meeting at the Tuileries, where Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were detained prior to their ultimate demise during the French Revolution was not lost on many of us. One had to wonder if this was the beginning of the business equivalent of an Internet Storming of the Bastille that we’ve seen in many recent global events. Indeed Sarkozy is on a mission for a “civilized Internet” per his opening comments. He called for collaboration for the greater good.

The governments fear Internet companies, especially the social media variety, will undermine their authority and with good reason. The Internet was a central communication mechanism in recent uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and countless other places that allowed people to move much more quickly than was possible in the past. The result, new governments being formed in many countries as we speak.

But most governments also worry about the safety and privacy of their citizens which are concerns shared by the Internet attendees at the E-G8. No CEO of an Internet company, especially a social media company, wants to accidentally contribute to either individual or widespread harm. After all, these companies depend on all of us to participate in their site, services, etc. to stay in business so they fundamentally have to provide the appropriate level of security, privacy and convenience that we all want. Otherwise, they will go out of business or worse, bring on the wrath of a government regulation in a reactive stance of power. For the government officials, failure to protect their constituents does not always lead to such a swift demise, or could it? Recent events have everyone more nervous than ever so talking it out is a good idea. Kudos to Sarkozy and all the attendees. Agree with them or not, the dialogue is useful.

Lots of good summaries have been published during the event. The best one I’ve seen is from Alex Howard at the O’Reilly Radar. His article has links to many other good sources as well.

So what’s next for the E-G8?  Let them eat cake! Or will they bake the cake together? Time will tell.