To Regulate or not to Regulate? That is the Question…

Having read an article on Digg which, funnily enough, condemned the application for the recent banning of several users, I thought that I would clarify my position on regulating user generated content on the Internet. As you may have noticed, I am a keen advocate of limiting regulation of the above; personally, I find most forms of content regulation obtrusive. By constricting the user’s ability to freely express themselves, organizations are creating a significant deterant to contributions. In most cases, if you do regulate user contributions, there will be a competitor that won’t. In such cases, the negative content will eventually appear. The downside in my opinion, is that the detering organisation will lack the capacity to effectively engage in the ensuing discussion, thus eliminating their ability to convey themselves as in touch with the user.

I agree that certain regulations are required. For example, regulations to exclude coarse language, socially unacceptable topics, and identification of trade secrets are but a few examples of areas which naturally require some degree of regulation. These ‘limitations’ represent obvious exclusions that should be respected by the application user, and hold recognisable similarities with real world examples. Content which contains elements of any such topics should be addressed to ensure that the detrimental effects thereof are contained within reason.

The process of generating content involves two parties; the organisation offering the community, and the user members that represent it. Each party must be held equally accountable for any actions that may affect the position of the other. Remember that, to a degree, neither the application, nor the application-specific community can exist without the other. Although the application providers rely far more upon their community, particularly in the presence of an abundance of alternative product offerings, common sense should direct users to only post content that is appropriate for the forum into which it is being offered. Unfortunately, we all know that in practice, common sense does not always prevail; someone will always ruin things for everyone else. Even in these cases though, moderation software which relies upon human determination of appropriateness is available to sort the relevant material from the rubbish. If anything, it is these human moderators that should be regulated to ensure that they suitably understand the material that should and shouldn’t be displayed. If implemented effectively, such content sifting need not represent regulation.

In the case of the article described above, it reads more like a case of ‘sour-grapes’; a term taken from one of the comments made by one member of the Digg community in response to the report. Yes, social communities such as Digg have an obligation to their community. Similarly, the community has a responsiblity to respect the rules governing the use of the application. If these are not upheld, then action should indeed be taken to limit the detrimental impacts of their actions in the community at large. If the offence is adequately significant, then of course exclusion will represent a viable course of action.

This debate is likely to continue for as long as social communities remain popular, but these are my thoughts. I would love to hear your views on the matter.


It’s all about Growth… Or is it?

Mark Zuckerberg recently made comments in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung detailing Facebook’s strategy for the next few years. The focus; growth. Zuckerberg’s plans revolve around efforts to grow the organisation over the next three years. Whilst growth represents a major strategy for retaining competitive advantage in a time of economic instability, attention must be paid to how ventures will be funded. Even the most innovative of organizations will only succeed if they have the capital to fund their expansions.

Many social media organizations seem to be neglecting the importance of generating capital at present. Whilst organizations such as Facebook and Digg clearly hold contemporary competitive advantage acheived through critical mass, such advantages are only likely to be sustainable in the presence of ongoing revenue generation. Larger organizations, such as Microsoft and Google, have a significant warchest from which to draw funds. These established organizations have time and again proven their dominance in those fields which they choose to enter. As such, firms with a proven track record in revenue generation are likely to prove a very real threat to the contemporary social application provider.

If I were Zuckerberg, I would seriously reassess my situation, and exploit today’s competitive advantage to tomorrow’s benefit.

Social Media and the Economy

In case you hadn’t noticed, the economy isn’t too strong at the moment. With organizations already beginning to make large scale redundancies to cut ever increasing costs, much recent speculation has queried whether or not the social media is likely to remain a viable marketing tool in the years to come. My response; unquestionably.

Despite the need for organizations to justify every expense incurred against ROI, it should be acknowledged that social media marketing can be free. If implemented effectively, an organisation’s workforce can be impassioned to truly represent their employers online. By empowering the workforce and creating a culture of creativity, the employees will feel a far greater connection with the organisation. Under such circumstances, the workforce is far more likely to convey their passion for the organisation online. This allows the organisation to convey a more human aspect to its business. Such actions are only likely to result as a corollary of an absense of regulation. Whilst minimal monitoring of employee participation in the social media is necessary, for example to exclude the presence of obscenities and trade secrets, I passionately believe that overly regulating the process will result in mechanistic perceptions. This will without doubt be recognized by the communities into which the content is received, and any social media marketing efforts will be rejected.

I recognize that in times of economic instability, justification of all expenses is an important requirement. Abandoning social media though is likely to represent a mistake. I truly believe that those organizations that remain focused on the social media will retain a competitive advantage over those that supposedly ‘streamline’ their operations. It is my opinion that it will be the firms which retain this social media created advantage that will succeed when we emerge from the current economic crisis.

The CEO and the Cesspool; Consumer Created Misinformation in an Age of Social Media

Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently referred to the internet as a ‘cesspool’ of misinformation. These comments are likely to come as a shock; after all, Google have taken firm position as the main information gatekeeper since its creation ten years ago. Schmidt made the comments at a conference for magazine executives; an ironic twist when considering that Google has profited more than most from shifting media consuption away from traditional towards the new media. The comments are likely to once again spark debate as to whether or not user generated content represents quality or dross.

Although the social media has facilitated the consumer’s ability to create new and original content, these platforms have simultaneously opened the floodgates of opinion. As such, information available online is becoming ever more voluminous as anyone with an opinion inextricably records it online. Whether or not this is detrimental to public knowledge is likely to remain a topic of debate for the next few years. In my opinion though, access to a far wider pool of information can never be a bad thing. Whilst information has historically been a corollary of traditional establishments, such as the major press organisations, there are limitation to the scope that these organisations can achieve. As I have frequently said before, ‘We’ can achieve significantly more than ‘I’; more often than not in a fraction of the time, and at a fraction of the cost.

Whether or not regulation of the social media is a requirement for sifting the accurate information from the misinformation is another question. My personal opinion is that if social media is regulated, a large proportion of those that engage in the conversation willingly are likely to be detered from doing so. As such, the conversation is likely to become hideously directed. If users are unable to accurately convey their opinions then social media is not accurately meeting its potential.

A case of do what I say, not as I do? The Position of Social Media and PR Firms

So the Social Media is real buzzword at the moment. Many people are advocating its use as the future of marketing (myself included), but are the people that really push the benefits of social media truly aware of what it is that they are selling? I myself have been plugging the benefits of blogging for almost a year now, but it was not until two weeks ago that I actually sat down and thought it appropriate to practice what I preach. According to the attached article, i’m not alone.

Numerous PR firms are raving of the possibilities afforded by blogging, Search Engine Optimisation and social networking, yet according to Andrew Smith, the author of the attached blog, many firms fail to recognise these principles within their own organisations. Unless PR firms can be specifically identified as professional social media purveyors, it is unlikely that potential clients will approach them; or as the article suggests, even be aware of their existence. It would appear to me that the best way to demonstrate one’s marketing abilities would be to incorporate every relevant lessons into my business practices. In doing so, the client has tangible evidence of the organisation’s expertise; a particular asset given the current economic climate and the resultant reluctance to outsource.
As has been discussed in recent posts, the importance of influence online has become instrumental for success in the current economic climate. Influence is only possible through visibility. Although said visibility need not necessarily be achieved digitally, the reach of electronic word of mouth easily exceeds the abilities of individuals to convey their thoughts in the physical words. The level of visibility achievable through the social media is one of the core benefits thereof. Clearly, by acknowledging the social media as a means of increasing visibility, PR firms are not only influencing potential client decisions, but simultaneously demonstrating an ability to implement the new media to the organisation’s advantage. This is an advantage which clients will want to replicate.
As talks of influence tracking software becomes more common place, PR firms must realise that unless they too employ the social media into their businesses, their visibility and hence their influence will decrease. They will lose ground to those who they advise, particularly as their clients create their own networks and become experts in their own rights. Although PR firms clearly have a lot of insight to offer, standing apart from the social media will cause them to be left behind.
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Another Example of Consumer Power!

So the plan was to post this two days ago. Unfortunately, i’m working hard to revise for an exam on AdWords that I have next week, so blogging has taken a back seat for the past few days. Sorry if this is old news now!

To briefly highlight, PayPal recently gave in to demands to change the rules for refunding eBay buyers affected by fraud. Reading through the article, it would appear that the central reason for the change of heart was consumer power. Hate sites created against PayPal managed to make the organisation reassess their position on consumer refunds.

In this instance, I would suggest that PayPal made the correct decision to listen to the views of the parody websites. Many organisations are still of the impression that hate sites represent a threat exclusively. This opinion is naive. More often than not, these sites are established by those with an interest in the organisation’s offerings. As such, these sites are likely to identify important points that the organisation should consider. Simply buying the domain names is unlikely to resolve the inherent problem. Further, were the issue to cause a second individual to establish such a site, the organisation would find itself back at square one. It makes far more sense to actually listen to the consumer and resolve their problems as they arise.

The Lovable Rogue also known as Chris

Having recently completed my MSc in Marketing Management at the University of Kent, I have begun my search for a job. Over the coming months, I shall be looking for a job within the area that interests me most; electronic marketing, particularly social media marketing. My concluding dissertation in 2008 examined the effects of the social media on an organisation's brand equity. Having spent much of the first half of 2008 examining the effects of blogs, reputation aggregators, e-communities, and social networks, I was keen to follow up my knowledge by creating a presence in each. Over the coming months, I shall be maintaining a blog recording my thoughts on marketing, identifying relevant developments in social media marketing and offering a commentary thereon.

History of the Rogue