Is Privacy Still a Choice?

It happened in the middle of a Liz Phair concert. One moment I was dancing with friends and singing along to songs I’ve known by heart since “Exile in Guyville” came out in 1993. The next I was in turmoil.

Phair asked for a volunteer to join her onstage at the Troubador to sing “Flower.” Hands shot into the air, begging to be the chosen one. My friend turned to me and said, “You should do it!”

“Absolutely not,” I responded.

“Flower,” for those not familiar with “Guyville” or Liz Phair’s oeuvre, is an explicit song about a sexual act. This frankness is a hallmark of Phair’s early albums and, as an artist, it’s her choice to create a stage persona who shares supposedly intimate details. As a public figure, presumably she understands that singing about certain subjects is going to bring her both adulation and unsavory attention from fans. But, what of the average concertgoer, plucked from the audience? Is she given a choice?

Phair selected a young women in her mid-twenties. Let’s call her Jennie. Jennie’s friends giggled and cheered as she made her way to the stage and Phair whispered encouragement in her ear, showed her to the mic, and counted out the beat.

As the last lines of the chorus echoed around the venue, Jennie thrilled to the applause and her moment in the spotlight. When she rejoined her friends in the crowd, the first thing one of them said was, “I got the whole thing on video.”

And that’s when I grew terribly worried for Jennie. Because while her friends might have her best interests at heart and agree not to post the video to Facebook or YouTube, there were, of course, dozens upon dozens of recordings of Jennie, all taken by strangers.

If even one of them doesn’t have scruples about invading Jennie’s privacy, then she may have to live with a video of herself singing a salacious song, out there where everyone and anyone can see it, for the rest of her life. Who knows? Someone might recognize her and tag the video with her name, or perhaps her friends already have on their Facebook pages.

When she’s 27 and applying for a job. When she’s 32 and needs clearance to do research. If she wants to run for office some day. When she meets the man of her dreams. If her parents Google her. Because of one innocent and spontaneous moment in a club, she’s going to have to face the questions and consequences (like not getting a job) that stem from those four minutes of fame.

Okay, maybe this doesn’t happen to Jennie. But, if you visit popular social sites, it’s obvious that inviting audience members onstage to sing this song is a regular part of Phair’s repertoire. There are plenty of other Jennies online, dueting on “Flower” for eternity.

(This is not about Liz Phair, mind you. Obviously, I’m a fan or I wouldn’t have been there that night. What this is about is claiming privacy that we all have a right to.)

Perhaps these women posted those videos themselves, but I worry that they may never have had a choice about keeping this moment private. Moments that, when I was 23 and attending concerts dressed in safety pins, dog collars, ripped T-shirts and studded bracelets with purple hair, I never had to spend a second worrying if someone was going to video me and my friends. Think of all the crazy, fun, messed up, spontaneous things you did before the days of smartphones. In retrospect, how many of those times would you revisit if someone pressed Record and turned a camera on you?

There are so many benefits to the transparency and connection of digital and social media, along with the simplicity of online publishing: making library resources available to people who couldn’t otherwise access them, opening up the practices and processes of government, helping people find and reconnect with family during a disaster. It’s hard sometimes to see the downside.

Choose Privacy Week, which takes place from May 1 – 7, isn’t a bunch of Debbie Downers wagging their fingers at Facebook. Rather it’s about creating a conversation about privacy – and what it actually means – in the digital age as the boundary between public and private morphs and becomes more permeable.

The goal is to give people, especially young people, resources to make informed choices about how they use digital/social media and where they might want to draw the curtain.

There’s a fascinating Choose Privacy video featuring authors Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow, Camila Alire, past president of the American Library Association, and other librarians, as well as children and parents. It explores the practical approaches that families are taking to protect personal privacy and looks at the efforts of libraries to protect intellectual freedom. As one librarian notes, only you should be trusted with your information.

The website offers more information, a video gallery and links to resources, events, position papers and surveys related to Choose Privacy Week.

I still worry about Jennie. But, it’s nice to know there are organizations out there, including the American Library Association, dedicated to keeping the discussion going about digital privacy and helping everyone who uses these platforms to educate themselves about the issues involved. To paraphrase one of the speakers in the Choose Privacy video, it’s indifference to privacy that makes you vulnerable.

Writing that inspired me this week:

Moss: “My mum’s on Friendface! My mum! I’ve opened up another channel of communication with my mum.”
Jen: “Isn’t that good?”
Moss: “No, it is not good. She’s put down her current mood as ‘sensual.’”

~ “Friendface” episode of the British TV series “The IT Crowd”

The Tweet of My Death Was an Exaggeration

Beyonce’s pregnancy. The raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. The arrival of the 7 billionth person on Earth. The passing of Steve Jobs.

What do these events have in common?

They were all considered major news on Twitter, driving exceptionally high traffic and retweet rates, which ultimately became more of a story than the original news.

Is this the Desperate Need to Be There First or the Desire to Try to Quantify Everything about Social Media in Order to Prove its Relevance? I think it’s a little of both, yet I’d argue that neither improves the quality of social media discourse.

I promise this isn’t one of those grumpy posts about social media. I think Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Cowbird, Digg and many, many other platforms are highly relevant, useful and engaging. They’re even great sources of news.

But, I’m suggesting that while there’s relevance to be found in studying social media content and usage, it’s not going to come from stories about who got there first or how much traffic is generated by a celebrity’s pregnancy – or divorce or death or Oscar win.

Here are four essential reasons:

First doesn’t mean best – The received wisdom is that “Twitter broke the news of bin Laden’s death” before traditional news media. If you look at what really happened the night of the bin Laden compound raid, what you get, according to this Fast Company article, is essentially Twitter-user Sohaib Athar’s account of a helicopter making a lot of noise over his neighborhood in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A helicopter circling overhead is not breaking news (especially if you live in L.A.), and it does not reveal what was happening in the compound, why, how, when, and to whom – the basic tenets of genuine news.

As the article continues, it reports Twitter’s attempts to quantify the tweeting as details of the raid spooled out. There’s even an update from Twitter, advising readers that while New Year’s Eve in Japan seemed to be more important than bin Laden’s death – in terms of tweet ratings – the news was more popular than similar news about Michael Jackson.

And, when it came to the 7 billionth inhabitant of planet Earth? We learned that the actual event and person was going to be impossible to identify, rendering social sharing on the subject moot.

Social media platforms are upgraded too frequently – Service improvements increase the speed of traffic, making comparisons of tweet rates (like Michael Jackson’s death vs. bin Laden’s) impossible.

These will always be Apples-to-Oranges comparisons – Since celebrities can’t die twice, or give birth to the same baby more than once, the Twitter counter is left to compare news about one person (who may or may not be popular among social media users) with similar news about another. Popularity contests of this sort will never generate information that allows you to draw meaningful conclusions about the social media platform or the value placed on news or human life.

This is counting not measurement –Counting just adds things up and gets a total. Measurement takes those totals, analyzes what they mean, and uses that meaning to improve business practices,” notes Katie Delahaye Paine in her groundbreaking book on social media analysis, Measure What Matters.

Steve Jobs was considered by many to be a cultural icon and technology hero, and it’s not surprising there were people who wanted to share their sense of loss with others using some of the very technologies that Jobs helped to invent. But, what exactly is the relevance of reporting the rate of tweeting following Steve Jobs’s death? Applying a number to it doesn’t make it meaningful or insightful; it makes it news from nowhere.

Avoiding the Echo Chamber Effect

In Delusions of Grandma, Carrie Fisher comments: “Talk show hosts interviewing other talk show hosts. Many held this to be one of the twelve signs that the world is ending.” What Fisher’s describing is a closed loop, and that’s exactly what’s happening with these so-called Twitter statistics.

So, next time you’re tempted to retweet one of these headlines that don’t add up to anything, take a moment to reflect before clicking: Does the world really need another tweet about Twitter traffic?

Trying to get there first with a tweet or clogging up the social media ‘verse with bogus statistics about social media statistics doesn’t create engagement or enlighten – and that’s really what being out there is all about. When you’re engaging with followers, customers, friends or fans on social media, you’re listening and sharing (not simply pushing) relevant content with the goal of encouraging meaningful dialogue and the exchange of valuable information that people need to know or find useful for managing their daily lives and workload.

Related post: Statistical Significance: Making Sense of Numbers


Madonna on Twitter: 24 Hours to Express Yourself

In a move that seems more like a misstep, Madonna’s promotion for her new album, “MDNA,” includes a brief encounter with fans on a one-day-only Twitter account, @MadonnaMDNAday, starting tonight at 10 p.m. (EST).

For many years, since she first appeared on the scene in the ‘80s, Madonna seemed especially connected to her fans through new mediums, like music videos. Madonna’s music transcended her talent and engaged fans in powerful and empowering ways. Which is why I’m surprised to find the singer making such a token effort at outreach in this era of proven social media campaigns, whether they be for Lady Gaga or for films like “Hunger Games,” which rallied fan support on social media channels for a full year before its successful opening weekend and wound up spending a fractional amount of the millions doled out to push Disney’s bomb “John Carter.”

Queen for a Day

What Madonna’s doing feels more like descending from the throne for a day to mingle – at keyboard’s length – with the little people. It might be the kind of thing a real queen could get away with, but not an over-50 pop star whose records need to reach the lucrative teen and tween audiences.

I was going to suggest perhaps true Hollywood royalty could be forgiven this type of obvious promotional approach – someone, say, like Elizabeth Taylor – but Dame Elizabeth had a Twitter account and did engage her fans on a regular basis for several years before she died.

Yoko Ono – artist, musician, mom, peace activist, and keeper of the Lennon legacy – is another public figure who, by all lights, probably doesn’t need to involve herself with Twitter. Yet she’s an active tweeter, keeping fans up-to-date on her latest exhibitions, music remixes, philanthropic efforts, and news related to John Lennon’s vast musical oeuvre. She also uses social media to gather and answer fan questions about any subject under the sun every single week, not once every few years when a new album drops.

Lady Gaga engages her Little Monsters in much the same way on Twitter. These are great examples of utilizing social media rather than cynically using it.

I thought we’d reached the point where it’s understood that social media can’t be an afterthought or glued onto the back end of traditional marketing efforts. One-time social media outreach isn’t community-building. While existing fans may take advantage of such singular offers to see if, in her meager time online, Madonna will deign to answer their questions, a short Twitter Q&A isn’t the way to draw new fans and build a committed community. That takes time and transparency and, frankly, responsibility, because once you’ve grown a community, you are to an extent responsible for it and accountable to it.

If you’re in it for the long haul, you’re going to behave in a way that isn’t just about self-promotion and personal benefit, you’ll want to be friends and an advocate and a news source, and be receptive to all the same kinds of input from your followers. And isn’t that what makes these communities so much more rewarding (and not just in the monetary sense) and meaningful over the long run?

What do you think? Is this a brilliant marketing move that makes fans crave more or a social media misstep? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Writing that inspired me this week:

“Everybody’s talking and no one says a word.”
~ John Lennon, “Nobody Told Me”

The Social Full Monty: Are You Being Transparent on Purpose or by Accident?

I’m still shocked at the number of people who share their Twitter feed on LinkedIn. Facebook and Pinterest accounts, too.

It’s one thing to make a conscious decision to do the social equivalent of the Full Monty: after all, your social profile will be vetted thoroughly by most HR departments before you ever sign a contract, so why not make it explicit? Share everything in one spot and make it easy for potential employers to get to know the real you.

But, if you run your full Twitter stream on LinkedIn just because the functionality enables it, then you may want to consider doing some social redressing.

Know Your Channels

Just as television networks target certain demographics – Spike programs for young men; OWN and Lifetime seek female viewers; if ESPN doesn’t offer enough of the sports you like, there’s always the Golf and Tennis channels – social media channels serve different purposes for different audiences. (That’s why there’s so much discussion about the number of women who use Pinterest: it makes the channel a highly targeted way for brands to reach that demographic.)

Check out this interesting view from Brian Solis of the vast spectrum of social media channels and who they’re targeting.

LinkedIn is a bit unusual among the social channels because it focuses exclusively on your professional profile. Sure, you may have created a blog to showcase your professional expertise, but blogs don’t have the same capacity for professional networking and being spotted by headhunters. Likewise if you’ve shared your profile on the website of a professional organization that you’re a member of, you’ll be able to share within the organization, but it’s harder to network these profiles beyond the group’s members.

Channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, MySpace, and Orkut are far more social and casual than professional in nature. You tend to let your hair down in these settings, share opinions (sometimes regrettable ones) and photographs (ditto), swear, diss other people’s favorite bands, and sometimes even log on from places like bars or the Superbowl to write updates that demonstrate, perhaps, a propensity for imbibing intoxicating substances.

You Can Leave Your Hat On

Sure, you’ve heard all the warnings about drunk-tweeting or putting Saturday night’s party pictures on Facebook. My point is that different channels require different levels of social behavior. You wear your friend (or sister/
brother/cousin) hat on Facebook; on LinkedIn, you put on your business hat. It’s the digital equivalent of dressing up for an interview.

Unless you’re using the other social channels exclusively for business, and your only social profile is professional, then beware the convenience of linking accounts. You may reveal far more than you intended.

What’s at Stake?

You say something that a potential employer doesn’t like – and you will never know why you didn’t make it to the first, or next, round in the hiring process. You simply won’t get a call back about that dream job you wanted.

You say something negative about your existing company – and find yourself being reprimanded (worse, fired) for violating the company’s social media policy.

Your network tunes you out – and Unconnects you – because your Twitter feed clogs their Updates stream – you become the social version of spam. LinkedIn now allows you to anonymously Unconnect from Connections, which means you may already have reduced your networking options without even realizing it. Keep spamming them and see how your professional network shrinks.

You risk looking like you don’t understand the purpose of LinkedIn – which is unfortunate for anyone in any field, but especially so for communications, PR, marketing, advertising, and social media professionals. The better you understand the purpose of the social channel, the better it will work for you in reaching the people you most want to connect with.

You show the world that you don’t understand how to use LinkedIn – because there is a way to connect Twitter and LinkedIn without going Full Monty. If you decide to add your Twitter account to your LinkedIn profile, make sure that you click the option to “Share only tweets that contain #in.” As The B2B Social Media Book notes, “although it can be easy to forget to add the #in hashtag, it’s better than the alternative of posting too many irrelevant updates to your professional network, which could easily overwhelm your connections.”

You miss real opportunities to share your expertise on LinkedIn and network in a professional realm – using the Share an Update feature or within LinkedIn groups, which offer you options for starting a discussion, asking a question, or creating a poll. Like all the other social media platforms, LinkedIn has its home-grown methods of sharing, and one of them involves answering questions and professional knowledge-sharing within groups. This is where you truly network with people beyond your existing network, show them you care as much about helping them as promoting yourself, present yourself as a seasoned professional with excellent advice, and look like someone that other professionals might want to work with in the future. Don’t forgo the networking opportunities of LinkedIn by relying on a one-way blast of tweets intended for a different audience.

You look like you spend more time on Twitter than you do on your real work – and that’s the most important stake of all. Being on Twitter may be part of your job requirements; you may be a freelancer, using it to promote your work and attract new clients, but if your LinkedIn network – and the headhunters who search that network looking for good job candidates – don’t know that, your constant stream of tweets may look more like play than work.

So be your best professional self in a professional networking channel like LinkedIn and consider, in all those other social arenas, that your social self may need to be somewhat more guarded than your real self. Perhaps treat social channels like a PR or marketing person does the media. To excel in those fields, you’re always “on,” always playing the role of brand or company representative, and you never let anyone sneak a peek behind the curtain.

Be a professional spokesperson for yourself in social channels, and you may find far greater social success the less you reveal.

Check out this related post:

8 Twitter Tips for the Savvy Social Media Practitioner

Giving Thanks

Tomorrow is a day for sharing dinner with extended family and giving thanks for the abundance in our lives.

The U.S. celebration of Thanksgiving is also famous for a big parade of balloons in New York City, an endless exhibition of college football bowl games, overindulging, long naps, and sneaking a second (or third or fourth) slice of pumpkin pie, among many other traditions.

Before joining the festivities, I’d like to offer a heartfelt thank you to everyone who’s helped me this year as I began learning about social media, especially you, the readers of this blog, which launched almost nine months ago.

I’m profoundly grateful for your willingness to come along for the ride with a blog that veers from discussions about corporate communications and PR to reading and the value of public libraries to Twitter, blogging and Facebook. I recognize that it’s hard to leave comments or join a discussion on this blogging platform (and I’m working over the holiday season to make that a lot better for you), but I appreciate those of you who’ve reached out to me via email to share your thoughts, which have guided many of my choices.

One solution has been to create additional spaces where No Bad Language lives; you’ll now find pages for the blog on Facebook and Google+, which should give those of you who are members of these networks more options for discussion and comments minus the onerous log-in process.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to the following pros who have been generous and gracious in sharing their expertise and insight about social media. I’ve included links, so you can meet these amazing folks, too:

Rita Wechter, author of the beautiful One Day in America travel and photography blog, and Tracy Fox, writer and creator of the Good Green Words blog for those interested in eco-solutions to everyday life – you were there at the start of this journey; thank you for your encouragement and continued cheerleading!

@rockieshapiro, editor and communications pro par excellence and good friend, who, as all good friends should do, pushed me to dig deeper and learn more – thank you!

Erik Deutsch, media and marketing strategist and principal, ExcelPR Group, who packed more social media insight into six weeks than anyone could possibly imagine. In addition to supporting PRSA in Los Angeles, Erik teaches the essential “Best Practices in Social Media for the Communications Professional” course at UCLA Extension. I’m grateful for everything Erik has to teach.

Chris Lam, social media marketer, PR pro, and animated blogger – thank you for your inspiration!

Serena Erhlich, executive director at Attention, and Dr. Natalie Petouhoff, president of the Social Media Club Los Angeles chapter and author of Like My Stuff – thank you for encouragement and continuing education.

Eric Snoek, new blogger, old and wise friend. We started this journey (oh, so many years ago) as fellow journalism students and professional radio broadcasters and have both grown into blogging. Eric shares his expertise in institutional advancement and so much more at Advancement Synergy. Bang a gong, my friend!

Social media is evolving so fast, I find it’s important to keep an open mind about it all and find good sources of knowledge to help gain perspective and ensure standards in the practice. I’d be at the start of the journey without a compass if it weren’t for all of these wonderful people and you, and that is something truly to give thanks for.

Does Timing Affect Engagement on Facebook and Twitter?

At a webinar today on “The Science of Social Timing” with Jay Baer and Eric Boggs, the two speakers shared data showing that both B2B and B2C companies are still posting content to social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, when they’re at work, rather than focusing on the customer’s schedule. They also pointed out an important opportunity that most companies are missing.

Baer, social media consultant at Convince and Convert, presented several hypotheses, and Boggs’s Argyle Social crunched the data from 250,000 posts (two-thirds of which were from Twitter, one-third from Facebook), examining the highest engagement times on these social networks.

Often we want research to generate “oh wow!” results, but findings, like Argyle Social’s in this study, which show that engagement levels remain steady Monday through Friday, can be just as valuable to your business. A key discovery, that Baer highlights in a follow-up blog post, is that “there may be a large opportunity for B2C marketers on Facebook on Sundays.”

“We found that few companies publish status updates on Sunday, yet engagement (clicks divided by audience) is 30% higher than Saturday, and even higher than versus weekdays.”

Baer and Boggs believe Sunday posts to Facebook are a big, overlooked opportunity because the audiences for both B2B and B2C companies tend to drop off Twitter as the end of the week approaches and ramp up their use of Facebook to plan weekend activities. Even if you schedule Sunday Facebook posts in advance, Baer believes there is a strong chance for greater engagement.

Note that they are using clicks to determine engagement, not retweets, likes, comments or conversions.

The bottom line? Baer (@jaybaer) and Boggs (@ericboggs) recommended that brands and companies should beware of social media “rules of thumb” because every business is different. They encourage devising your own hypotheses (i.e., what’s meaningful for your business, your customers) and running your own experiment (rather than using historical data to justify a conclusion) to determine the best times for engagement with your audiences.

You’ll find the complete infographic here, which shares the main findings about the effectiveness of social timing, and you can listen to the free, one-hour webinar on the Argyle Social website.

8 Twitter Tips for the Savvy Social Media Practitioner

As Twitter and the lightning-fast adoption of Google+ demonstrate, social media are an easy, cost-effective, timely way to put targeted content in front of your audience.

Here are eight strategies to help your Twitter content get the attention it deserves – while dodging common Twitfalls:

10 tweets aren’t better than 1
Maybe you’ve seen this guy or gal on Twitter: They’ve written a list-blog offering 10 pieces of advice about something and then they tweet each item on the list separately. With only 140 characters (or fewer, if you want a retweet), Twitter is supposed to encourage pithiness and creativity. It’s not supposed to feel like a run-on sentence or a skipping record.

See when your audience is sleeping, know when they’re awake
Now that the infographic on best times to tweet has come out, beware crowding the Twitterverse during these times, especially if your key audience is in a time zone that doesn’t correspond with daylight hours on the east coast of the United States. Wise communicators find the best times for their followers, so have fun and experiment to discover which time of day brings you more replies, retweets, click-throughs, audience engagement, and “favorite” designations.

Unless you are actually in a Witch House band, use hashtags and symbols sparingly
You know these folks: Their tweets look like Witch House* set lists. There are more # and @ symbols than actual words. Yes, you want to engage people. You want your content to reach its intended audience. You wouldn’t be a good communicator or social media practitioner if you didn’t want these things. But, most important of all, you’re going for meaning when you communicate. Write something clear and concise first, then identify the most appropriate audience for your content. Figure out the one hashtag that will reach your audience (two at the very most). Remember, your peeps are already following you. They’ll do the work of getting the word out when your tweets contain content that’s valuable and coherent enough to retweet.

Avoid rerunning old tweets or linking to ancient content
A social media expert I follow, who shall remain nameless, spews out automated (AKA scheduled) tweets all day and night. In order to feed this constant flow with what looks like new content, he resorts to rerunning links to blog posts from several years ago. Nothing sillier and more credibility-crushing than having your latest tweet promote “The Top 5 Twitter Trends of 2008.”

Source your content when retweeting
It can be disconcerting – and reflects on credibility – when someone on Twitter links to a blog post or breaking news, and you discover that they didn’t author the content they’re so actively promoting. If you want to share valuable content from others, take the time, and the extra step, to look up the author on Twitter so you can give them credit. What to do about the person who clued you in to this content? If there’s room, include them in your tweet this way: via @NoBad Language. Or DM (Direct Message) them with a “thank you” for providing a valuable link. It’s only fair and not only will you build credibility for yourself as a content provider, you may find yourself with some grateful new friends.

Don’t run your Twitter stream on LinkedIn
Especially if your Twitter channel goes beyond your professional life to include personal contacts and musings. LinkedIn is for your professional brand. Linking it to a channel that functions as your personal stream of consciousness is risky. The headhunters and HR folks who search LinkedIn for potential job candidates may rule you out if they see Twitter posts about what you did for entertainment over the weekend, your political views, your use of salty language, or rants against your cell phone provider. Know your channels and present your best self – to friends, to recruiters, to fellow alums, to colleagues – in each one.

Resist being drawn in
It’s hard not to chime in when the entire Twitterverse seems to be sharing witty reflections on the topic du jour. As with the previous piece of advice, if you’re tweeting under your real name or can be identified by your Twitter handle – or tweeting on your company’s account – remember that HR is always watching. Social media background checks for job candidates are the norm today, and something you tweeted two years ago can come back to bite you – hard – and you’ll never even know why you didn’t get a second interview for that job you really, really wanted.

“Scoring” is for wild-and-crazy bachelors
Checking your score is the social media version of Googling yourself. We all do it; we all get a little thrill from it. But, you move away from being a truly effective and reliable content provider the more tricks you use to bump up your score.

Here is another reason: Have you ever noticed a true correlation between your activity on social media, like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and your score? Most people I know have the same concern – they’ve been highly active and their score plummets or, like me, they’ve gone on vacation and not touched their social media accounts for two weeks, only to see their score jump 10 points. Whatever algorithms they’re using to calculate your social media status, these scoring services are not yet reliable and they take your eye off the real reasons for engaging on social media.

Focus on content, reliability and engagement within a valued community of professionals or friends, and you’ll be a top-notch Twitterer.

For additional tips on Twitter, check out Larner Caleb’s “10 Ways to Send Out the Wrong Twitter Message.” Helpful and a fun read.

* What’s Witch House? It’s like that time when Prince decided to go by an unpronounceable symbol instead of his name, and everyone was stuck referring to him as TAFKAP (The Artist Formerly Known as Prince). Prince is also known for penning songs with titles like “I Would Die 4 U,” predicting texting- and Twitter-speak by several decades. Witch House bands use symbols for names and song titles, making it ultra-difficult for people to pronounce them or follow them (try typing a Witch House band name into a search engine and see what you get).

Making Your Social Media Accounts More Secure

This holiday weekend saw the latest in a string of Twitter hacks, when one of Fox News’s many accounts was broken into and tweets were published implying that U.S. President Barack Obama had been assassinated.

These hacks mainly target popular or celebrity Twitter accounts. According to The New York Times story, representatives from Twitter are claiming it was not the company’s servers that were compromised, while Fox News appears to be investigating where the security breach came from.

While Twitter has had ongoing issues with its servers, especially during periods of heavy traffic, there are steps individuals and companies can take to make accounts more secure:

Use complicated passwords – and protect them
The NYT article suggests that it was a Fox News email account hack that led to the Twitter takeover. Whether you are working remotely, via mobile technology, or in the office, I’m sure your IT department will remind you that you need passwords for all of your personal and social media accounts that are longer than six letters and include numbers and symbols. Change your passwords regularly. And don’t share them with others or let anyone shoulder-surf when you’re typing them on your mobile or tablet devices.

Consolidate your company’s Twitter accounts
The hacked @foxnewspolitics Twitter account was apparently one of many accounts belonging to Fox News. While the news organization is presumably trying to offer more targeted information to its audiences, the most effective way to target and curate is by offering a variety of custom feeds from your website and blogs, rather than on a microblog. One Fox News Twitter handle can promote new content on the various blogs and on the website and audience members can subscribe to the content they’re interested in and ignore the rest. Same thing goes for other companies. Twitter has become a helpful way to reach customer service and receive direct responses from companies, but it’s increasingly unhelpful to users to type in a company name and come up with literally hundreds of options that need to be sorted through to determine which one is correct.

Figure out what’s manageable
To use the @foxnewspolitics example again, the NYT report notes that this particular account was dormant, possibly because of the long holiday weekend. It took 10 hours to notice the break-in, regain control of the account, and remove the phony tweets. This is a manageability issue: there are too many Twitter accounts at this company and not enough people overseeing them, especially on a holiday. Back in the day, when I worked in radio, stations would go off the air overnight when there wasn’t enough sponsor interest to keep a graveyard-shift DJ employed. They did not remain on-air during this time, risking that someone might enter the studio and commandeer the airwaves for their own personal messages. Leaving a Twitter or other social media account unmanaged over a holiday is the equivalent of leaving a radio station transmitter on and a microphone wide open. If your company has social media accounts, it needs to have a plan detailing not just content, but who manages them and when and who covers over holidays.

Have an emergency plan
In addition to a regular editorial and management schedule for your social media accounts, you need a crisis plan. You need to know who to contact at companies like Twitter and Facebook (including how to reach these folks after hours and on holidays) and how you will prove that you indeed are you if someone else has locked you out of your account.

Twitter: The Movie? You Bet Your Hashtag

Tan Siok Siok discusses “Twittamentary” after the June 28 screening in Los Angeles.

When I heard someone was making a documentary about Twitter, I had the same sort of reaction that folks did when they first learned there was going to be a film about Facebook: Were the filmmakers simply going to point the camera at a computer screen and let it all happen real-time?

What could possibly be so fascinating about Twitter beyond the Twitterverse?

I found out tonight when director Tan Siok Siok, a filmmaker from Singapore who tweets at @sioksiok, held a beta screening of “Twittamentary,” hosted by the Social Media Club of Los Angeles (@smc_la).

One of the fascinating things about this documentary is that Siok and her team relied on the same crowdsourcing approach that Twitter does to get the film made: she tweeted the whole time she was making it, people responded and shared their stories, Siok filmed them, and now that the piece is almost finished (she’s still making final adjustments to sound and color), she’s getting the word out and creating interest through these beta screenings via Twitter.

“I experienced a lot of generosity from people who wanted to help get the film made,” Siok said after the screening.

The structure of the doc – which takes the form of a road trip across the United States – is a smart choice; it stays out of the way and showcases the poignancy of the people who share what they’ve become because of their experiences on Twitter.

Yes, some of it’s silly and downright funny (as one interviewee gripes, she gets tired of trying to explain Twitter to people who’ve never been on it and who think it’s all about sharing what you had for lunch), but as the filmmakers travel to social media hubs like New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, the audience meets a growing, connected community of Twitter users whose humanity is unquestionably moving.

As Siok says, “The documentary explores the work of the human heart.”

There’s the homeless woman whose Twitter followers help her cope with loneliness and post-traumatic stress disorder, and make sure she has warm clothes in wintertime; there’s a female trucker tweeting to raise awareness of troublesome issues around sexual assault for people in the trucking industry; there’s the trucker’s dog, who has more followers than the trucker (which, she admits, is kind of depressing when a dog has more followers than you do); and there are writers and musicians, artists and advocates, rich and homeless, and a host of humankind all dealing with the quiet flow of daily life, the enormity of death and everything else in between, all contributing their personal and collective wisdom about this crazy channel that brings them together. You’ll want to follow all of them by the time the credits roll. I sure did!

There’s an interview with Siok on the Social Media Club of LA website. For more information on the documentary, visit the “Twittamentary” website.

Whether You Engage with Social Media Followers Is Just As Important as Why and How

Some fascinating developments in last week’s big Twitter miscommunication stories.

On Thursday, I published this post about Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Twitter fallout and the gaffe by a PR pro, who was defending his client. Since then, The New York Times has done some digging (reported in this excellent article, “Fake Identities Were Used on Twitter in Effort to Get Information on Weiner”) and discovered that Weiner’s Twitter account appears to have been monitored by political opponents, that people using fake Twitter handles (i.e. not their real names) were trying to engage him in online conversations, and they were contacting young women Followers of the congressman to try to learn more.

In an effort to provide deeper insight into the Redner Group’s upset Tweet about reviews of its client’s game that went “too far,” Jim Redner has written a lengthy guest column for Wired dissecting what happened, why he wrote the Tweet and how he goes about selecting the media outlets that receive a few hundred free review copies provided by the gaming company.

I don’t know of anyone worth their salt in the PR, corporate communications, marketing or news business who hasn’t had something blow up in their face at some point in their career, especially early on. Whether it happened on camera, in print or in a client’s office, these are the moments that we learned from, generous peers forgave us for, and, after incorporating this new knowledge into how we practiced our craft, made us better, wiser professionals.

After these stories hit the presses last week, the two pieces of advice I offered to individuals, communications folks and brands were: Never assume you know your Followers (mainly related to Rep. Weiner’s concerns) and Never confuse your professional Twitter account with your personal account (relating to the Redner Group story).

To these I’d like to add: Be careful how you choose to engage.

The reason most of us – as individuals or companies – are using social media is to engage audiences large and small. Often that means an auto-Follow back when people Follow or Friend us. On Twitter accounts belonging to public figures, you frequently see Followers request ReTweets. Sometimes these have to do with asking support for charities or help finding a missing person, other times they’re like reading ancient Greek. Companies are often lauded for responding with the same empathy as humans, so it is understandable that some might want to ReTweet about a missing person or promote a good cause. However, some of these requests may not be about genuine nonprofits or real missing people. Do you or your company have the time and resources to investigate every one of these requests to ensure that the information on your Twitter account is reliable and accurate? And doesn’t your reputation, or your company’s, depend in part on the quality and accuracy of the information it shares?

Note that social media influence, as tallied by tools like Klout, is based on the frequency of your online engagements, and being ReTweeted by someone with a large Klout score – someone like a celebrity – will boost your score even higher. So Twitter users aren’t always engaging with your or your brand to be friendly; in some cases, there’s a self-serving interest.

Then there are the Direct Messages that some choose to reply to and others clearly have a policy of not responding. While I would never encourage a company to ignore a DM that related to a customer service issue, responding to DMs can get you in trouble if you don’t know the person making the request.

Remember that the concern is not only this individual (who may not be who they say they are), but everyone else who can view one or both sides of the conversation, and it doesn’t even depend on who they Follow, rather it’s determined by how much reading of your Twitter stream and your correspondents’ they want to do.

For companies and brands, establishing guidelines around conversations with Followers and Friends is a must. Thinking through why you might or might not want to engage in DMs or RTs with Followers you may or may not know – and what one RT might invite in terms of requests for others, and whether you can handle the volume – will go a long way to maintaining a consistent and positive online presence and help protect brand reputation.

In the world of online forums, people who don’t contribute comments, but regularly read all of the threads of discussions are known as “lurkers.”

So, be extra careful with your online and social media presence and engagement practices because you never know who you’re talking with and you really never know who may be lurking out there.