Giving Credence To A Fugitive

Giving Credence To A Fugitive

He has been called many things, ranging from a traitor to a whistleblower to a protector of privacy rights, but what no one can argue with is that he is a fugitive from the USA because he has broken laws — such as stealing documents that are not his to steal, and revealing them to international audiences that are not his to reveal, and setting himself up as the judge and jury, in violation of his contractual agreements.

And despite the fact that Edward Snowden can’t set foot in the United States for fear of arrest for felony charges of espionage and theft of government property, former National Security Agency whistleblower, Edward Snowden, has joined the speakers’ roster at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival held in Austin, Texas, and will appear via teleconference, of course, in a virtual conversation with Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union.  And, as seen by the way in which the session has been publicized, it certainly gives the impression that the 2014 Festival thinks that it has a coup on its hands.

Really? I would venture to say it feels more like a stain…What price publicity?

Understanding that surveillance and online privacy are to be one of the biggest topics of conversation at this year’s Festival, why would anyone want to give credence to a person that willfully breaks the nation’s laws, and who has taken it upon himself to singlehandedly judge NSA’s tactics (right or wrong) and do something about it that puts the foreign policy of the US into jeopardy?

Apparently Snowden will discuss “his beliefs on what the tech community can and must do to secure the private data of the billions of people who rely on the tools and services that we build.”  Why is he more credible than all the brains that are presently working on this in all the major tech centers worldwide? The quick answer he is not, but he carries the publicity factor, albeit an empty one. No substance behind that.  We know some things about Snowden.  We know he never graduated college; we know he was good at duping one of the highest calibers of global intelligence agencies; we know he was good at evading his followers as he ran for his life. But good at building secure tech tools and service?  Not so much…

His mentor and helper (or savior), Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who was also called upon to chime in at this Festival with another “virtual conversation” told an audience that people power is the key to rolling back the power of the National Security Agency and other surveillance agencies.  Is this then another kind of a coup, from another kind of a fugitive?

I understand that organizers at SXSW wish to prompt a healthy debate with regards to the limits of mass surveillance, which is considered vital to the future of the online ecosystem, but credible leaders, rather than fugitives escaping the law, should lead it.

Facebook Is Ten.

Facebook Is Ten.

facebook-birthdayThere is no question that in its first ten years, Facebook has transformed the way we live.  There is no argument.

We may now know more details of people we met only once in our lives, than we do of our neighbors’ lives next door or across the street.  Our kids can interact with “friends” across the world and may know more about them than they do about the ones they see everyday at school.  Our employers know more details about people they are recruiting than they ought to know.  The community is the world, but it is not the neighborhood.

It took almost these ten long years to adjust to our new “toy.”  Judgment mistakes were made and, because of it, lives were bruised.  Still, to be fair, we had no precedence for this.  Traditionally, we learned from our elders’ experience – grandparents, parents, teachers and mentors. With Facebook, there was no trusted counsel to advise as to what baby steps to take. Instead we followed the vision of a kid, who had an idea, guts, perseverance and lots of real life friends around him that understood that he, Zuckerberg, was on to something that even major corporations had not thought of…

And now we cannot do without it.  But let’s put all this celebration into perspective…

If in fact, as is often said, that there are no new ideas, just old ones that evolve and eventually transform into new concepts and ideas, then there is never a reason to celebrate a company’s birthday, except to mark the day as a personal accomplishment for the founder.  For in truth, there is no company birthday.  As Dino Grandon wrote so brilliantly in The Huffington Post, when does one mark the day?

In the case of Thomas Edison, it was easy. The light bulb went on. But seriously, how do you define a company’s birthday?  By the day it incorporated? By the day a germ of an idea happened in a shower?  By the day when the company first opened its doors, and in the case of a website company, a site?  How did Apple celebrate its birthday? The day that Wozniak and Jobs connected all the “dots” in the computer they were building in the garage, or the day  they invented its new operating system?

So after the brilliantly executed PR blitz of the birthday celebration dies down, we are left with a communication platform whose diminished novelty,  has become an activity as intrinsic to our lives as any other, let’s say even brushing teeth. So after the brilliantly executed PR blitz of the birthday celebration dies down, we are still left with a communication platform that may have lost its newness, but that has become an activity as intrinsic to our lives as any other, let’s say even brushing teeth.  Facebook follows in the footsteps of Xerox, as well as many other companies, in becoming a verb.

And so, let’s continue to Facebook each other but maybe now do it, collectively, a bit smarter, recognizing what we did not realize when we first marveled at our new toy that opened up the floodgates of communication — that our posts have a world stage (or world billboard) and not all needs posting – just some of it.

Still, it is all very deserving of a Happy Birthday on any day, even if it is not on the arbitrary day of February 4.  But let’s not make it a lonely substitute for that real life talk we were planning to have with a friend and never did.

It’s that Time again…

It’s that Time again…

Time Magazine’s most coveted cover of the year is the one that carries the “Person of the Year,” which generally appears on its last annual edition. Whoever it turns out to be, the person stares down at people round the world from news kiosks, at airports, train stations, in malls across Europe, South America, Middle East and Asia — and is often Time’s most devoured edition — whether or not you are a Time Magazine fan.

After all, it is safe to say that the choice of candidates and the final selection comes from some of the most eminent minds in journalism today. One has the expectation that the editors who do the final selection are people steeped in news and newsmakers around the globe and have the critical analysis, coupled with an in depth understanding of the nuances that affect world news. Their choices over the years since their 1927 edition when Charles Lindberg was first selected as the “Man of the Year,” have ranged from the best to the worst of people who have impacted the world – those that caused consequences that ricocheted across continents.

But now, for the sake of creating a populous interactive conversation or to gain traction and extend the suspense, or some other purpose that boggles my mind, Time magazine has chosen to team up with Twitter to choose its Person of the Year, although Editors are quick to say, in the same breath, Time’s “real” Person of the Year is chosen, as always, by the editors and not through social media sites. Using Poptip to gather the tweets, the publication will be assessing tips from readers that contain the hashtag #TIMEPOY and asking them to cast their votes for the person they think most influenced the news this year for better or worse – in both a straight yes/no poll and a candidate face-off by 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 4. Not only will Twitter users be able to suggest candidates through the social media site, but Time will also share Vine videos of the contenders on The combined winner of reader polls will be announced on Dec. 6.

The Editor’s pick will be announced five days later, on Dec. 11.

So what’s the point? Vote just for the fun of it, knowing it is going nowhere and have no effect? Vote for a lark or maybe as a prankster? Or to have the Twitter-speak symbol, become part of one of the most important conversations of the year? Good for Twitter, not so much for Time.

So, is this a publicity ploy for Time or what? I am all for populous interactions and definitely think that casting votes for such TV Shows the likes of “America’s Got Talent” and “American Idol” or any other contest where a public opinion matters and changes things, is one of the great options that social media has brought. But I, for one, want my vote to count for something and have my vote impact an outcome.

In the case of Time’s “Person of the Year,” those votes don’t matter. It trivializes and dilutes the brand.

There are just some things better left for the experts to do…

Yelp Reviewers Are Yelping About Pay

Yelp Reviewers Are Yelping About Pay

Yelpers, as Yelp’s reviewers are often called, are rising up.  Well, some are and they want to change the rules of the game.  After having written 1000s of reviews (in some cases) as willing volunteers, they are asking to get paid and are taking their complaint all the way to the courts — with a class action lawsuit.

There is one problem that is not being considered.  Yelpers are not professionals and as such the quality of the review is always in question.

But this speaks more to the whole social landscape of free online opinions that are reigning over the Internet.  This isn’t just about Yelp.  Consumers can be swayed by commentary that follows the news, by individual blogs of thought leaders, influencer blogs, etc.  Online opinions range free and have become the new “gossip” center of the old “Town Square,” where people exchanged opinions in person.  Yelpers are simply consumers exchanging opinions on a site that is widely visited by a large segment of the same consumers.  They have volunteered to write reviews on a myriad of subjects, which basically is about their personal experience.  In the process they been paid of sorts, not with cash, but through multitude “perks” often such as free food, liquor, use of premises such as salons, etc. Moreover have been buoyed by the notoriety that comes with being a reviewer on a site that has been an important resource to consumers.

The root of the matter of payment for Yelp reviewers is that they do not have contracts with Yelp, and therefore do not have to write anything, ever.  To date, they simply wanted to…  Isn’t that synonymous with volunteering?  And then, if they demand payment, there is the matter of subject expertise.  Are any of them steeped in any industry? What is their knowledge base? Are they foodies, or experts in anything?  No, it is their opinions based on their subjectivity.  Not that a New York Times reviewer may not have his/her own biases, but at least the trust is there that the publication will hire an expert – and they get paid for their expertise.

Look, the Internet is full of people who review lots of things, for a myriad of reasons, and do not ask to get paid.  According to a Fast Company article, “Until that changes, the site can do without the few volunteers that demand more, especially since they’re far from professional critics.”

A Retailer’s Woes

A Retailer’s Woes

Here’s what happens when a retailer remains clueless about the ire it can cause from its own demographics – the iGen generation (sometimes called Generation Z), those born between 1994 and 2000, that just came of age in 2012 as the new consumer.

Just look at this past week…

Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F) got hammered when the retailer came out with their new t-shirt with the text written on it “# more boyfriends than t.s.”  — a reference to Taylor Swift.  The “Swifties” (fans of Swift) gathered up their folks and created a petition on asking Abercrombie to remove the shirt from their merchandise. It got worse: one self-described 18-year-old “huge Swiftie” fan recorded a YouTube video explaining the situation, urging fellow fans to call the retailer’s public relations line to complain.  And they did — and got some “corporate speak” about the fact that the Taylor Swift t-shirt was no longer available.   iGen-ers do not do well with this kind of “corporate speak.”

Apparently “Swifters” had A&F by their “tail,” and forced the retailer to withdraw the t-shirt from their merchandise, stopping its sales.

There’s more…

Last month, A&F CEO Mike Jeffries’s original comments made in 2006, regarding the retailer’s policy of catering exclusively to thin and beautiful customers, resurfaced in a post on Business Insider.  Just consider that in 2006, Twitter was just five months away from its public launch and, as such, his rant was barely noticed. This time around, the Internet erupted, big time.

A&F had not factored in having to deal with the iGen generation who will have none of this. They gathered supporters, created a petition urging people to boycott the fashion retailer and stated that they would not lay off until Jeffries offered plus sizes in his stores. It received 75,000 signatures. Some of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars are backing a boycott of Abercrombie & Fitch. Jeffries apologized, but provoked more outrage when he reiterated that the chain’s clothes were for a “particular segment” of “aspirational” young people.

Actually, when you think of it, a brand has the right to be who they are and market themselves accordingly, to their specific demographic niche.  It’s the arrogance of Jeffries stance that triggered the eruption.  Abercrombie should have known better in the first place than to ruffle the feathers of this fiercely altruistic generation that was born with consumer-driven capitalism at its core.  Their patterns and behaviors are opposed to anything that has come before them and they basically ignore messages from brands.

To be successful in this new disrupted environment, brands need to recognize that it is in iGen-ers’ DNA to listen to their trusted network, and be suspect of messages from brands.  Brand communications will need to change to be relevant to iGen-ers.  Brands will need to realize that traditional strategies and tactics are increasingly ineffective, that they need to become fluent in iGen-er’s language and habits, and recognize that they now need to converse in two-way genuine and authentic communication, to gain admittance into iGen’s circle of trust.

As they say, once trust is chipped, it gets harder…