The yin-yang of social media

By Dianne Bayley, Writer & Social Media Manager

According to Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin-yang (literally meaning “shadow and light”) is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world.

It is suggested that we all have a “light” and a “dark” side – the latter being the part none of us likes to look at or acknowledge. Social media is proving to have both too – and none of us wants to delve too deeply into that, either.

I am all for the incredible freedom of speech social media affords us and love its ability to get news across the oceans in mere seconds. I am also delighted that nothing can ever really be a secret anymore, no matter how hard governments, organisations and even individuals try to keep the lid on things . . . there will forevermore be a “someone” who wants to “break the news”, and word will get out efficiently.

So, here’s my beef: Being a social media manager means I spend a lot of time online and monitor a variety of trending topics. I watch to see who posts what, and how it’s received by people – then re-posted or discussed. It requires an open mind and a lot of “restraint of tongue and pen”, especially because I am as opinionated as anyone else who loves social media.

When ‘opinion’ becomes ‘fact’

August brought some whoppers on social media; items that were picked up from online news sites and tweeted, posted and shared until “opinion” became “fact”. And therein lies my problem. Twitter’s 140 character limit doesn’t give anyone the option of saying “Beware, this is an opinion. I LOVE it, but it is just an opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a knot and don’t take it as gospel, because it’s not FACT, and therefore not journalism”.

Let’s go back to when “journalists” were not writers or Tweeters or Facebookers; to the days we see in movies, when a journo would BE at the actual scene of the story and rush over to find a telephone booth, from where he (it was usually a he back then) would call into his newspaper’s offices and report the news as he had SEEN it; written it in his notebook (which was considered a legally credible source as long as another journalist could read the notes); and both the journo and his editor would stand by the story, at the risk of getting fired if the reporting was inaccurate.

Let’s go back to when a newspaper published some news and by the next day it wasn’t “news” anymore. Then the journalist had to follow up new angles and events. Now, a “citizen journalist” – or even a real one – can “re-tweet” something that was published in an online version of a newspaper, and it appears in the Twitter “tickertape” to have “just happened”. This is what has become known as “churnalism”. Sadly, because there’s no warning label, many, many people see the headline and re-tweet or post it to Facebook – and the whole bent, buckled and spindled story starts again.

In the past few weeks we’ve seen the Lonmin/Marikana tragedy unfold and be told – and not always by people who were there and often quoting “an eye witness”. We’ve seen the Woolworths issue hashed and rehashed until Facebook comments had to be locked out by what I consider a competent social media team. We’ve also seen Morgan Freeman die. Again and again and again, on Facebook. Apparently, he’s died several times a year for about four years.

Social media has given rise to “Opinionistas”, and there are millions of us. Unfortunately, the people reading what we’re writing are not always clear that this is my personal opinion, as of now. As a responsible writer who doesn’t care to merely fan the flames, I believe it’s my responsibility to tell them that. It is also important that I know what I can and can’t be sued for online – which, as far as my understanding goes – is the same as what I can and can’t be sued for saying in print or broadcast platforms, in most cases. Except for this one: In December 2011, a judge nailed a blogger with a $2.5-million fine for, essentially, not being a journalist and damaging a company’s reputation. Here it is in brief:

“The Obsidian Finance Group sued Cox in January for $10 million for writing several blog posts critical of the company and its co-founder, Kevin Padrick. Obsidian argued that the writing was defamatory. Cox represented herself in court.

“The judge threw out all but one of the blog posts cited, focusing on just one, which was more factual in tone than the rest of her writing. Cox said that was because she was being fed information from an inside source, whom she refused to name.

“Without the source, she couldn’t prove the information in the post was true – and thus, according to the judge, she didn’t qualify for Oregon’s media shield law since she wasn’t employed by a media establishment. In the court’s eyes, she was a blogger, not a journalist. The penalty: $2.5 million.” ~ From Mashable, full story here

From where I sit, I’m watching the power of social media being used for positive change as well as for slagging off people, places and organisations. It’s clear that too few people who read blogs and posts ever visit sites like Snopes.com before passing on bad news, in particular; and care little for the damage that can be done to organisations through “hearsay”. We may not like the organisations we discuss online, but do we have the right to “suggest” foul play when we’re not sure of it – and possibly destroy the jobs of people who work for those organisations?

The last thing social media needs is regulation. I think there are too many control freaks regulating the world anyway. What we do need, though, is for honest bloggers, journos, writers and citizen journalists to think before they write – and for those reading the things they write to be aware that, unless they can verify the FACTS, it is all opinion. Which, as we know, is like a bottom. Everyone has one, and nobody wants yours.

• This blog is the OPINION of guest blogger Dianne Bayley, and may not necessarily reflect the opinion(s) of Letsema Communications, where it was first published.

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Playing nice on Facebook

By Dianne Bayley

If you’re reading this, you’re online. It’s a fabulous place to be and the single biggest communications event of our lifetime. Like any playground, it has rules. Chief among these is “play nice”.

  • You know how when you post something on Facebook that reads, “I am OUTRAGED at this politician/store/product” . . . and some arb Facebook friend writes underneath it, “Hey– haven’t seen you for years! How are you?” Don’t be that person! It’s one thing to divert the thread of a conversation with something similar, but another thing entirely when you use a post to write something that should have been a “hello” between the two of you on the person’s page. Continue reading

Infobesity and the social media diet

By Dianne Bayley

While I’m highly animated about the remarkable ways in which we can communicate these days, I’m also starting to look at how much information we access daily, and where it all goes once my head is full. Probably to my hips . . .

For many, a typical day starts with switching on the TV or radio at the same time as the coffee machine. It’s not enough to be greeted with a blast of world news and three strangers in your bedroom hosting a morning show – they run tickertapes while everyone’s talking, just in case you miss a bush fire or some other tragedy you can mourn before you’ve had your first cup of coffee. Continue reading

Social media myths abound . . .

As more companies and brands see the value of a social media presence, there are a few things we need to come clean about . . .

1.    Social media is not a magic bullet
Anyone who promises you that everyone will “like” your Facebook page and follow you on Twitter, while sending reams of work your way on Linked In, is fibbing. Social media is electronic “word of mouth”. Social media fibs abound . . . know what it is you want to achieve and team up with professionals who aren’t going to fib about it. Social media is about brand awareness and an opportunity to listen to your customers – and let them know promptly that they’ve been heard when they contact you.

2.    I can get you “likes” . . .
There are entire companies set up just to get people to “like” your Facebook page. Fabulous. Can they get your target market to like it? Can they turn people who clicked on an interesting-looking online ad into customers? Not really, especially if your market is a highly specialised one. Once the “potential customer” has “liked” your page, watch the “unlikes” rise as soon as they realise what it is they’ve signed up for . . .

3.    Anyone can do it
Here’s where many companies slip up. They don’t want to pay an outsourced “someone” to manage their social media activities; hiring a whole human being just to “play” on Facebook and Twitter all day is out of the question (not least for the resentment it’ll cause in the company); and so . . . we’ll get the secretary to do it during her tea/lunch breaks. Big mistake. If you can’t have a dedicated person monitoring your social media activities as if they were a call centre, rather stay away entirely. If you do outsource, make sure your social media professional has marketing, internet, social media and people skills; and knows how to converse online. Really – if they’re sulky and stubborn offline, it’s going to show online . . .

Social media platforms really can get your name, product or service out there. Research shows that people regard recommendations from Facebook and Twitter “friends” highly. Every marketing manager knows the value of positive brand awareness, and social media enables just that. Team up with a professional, decide what you’re hoping to achieve, and get going. It’s one of the least expensive ways to
Tell people who you are and what you offer. Remember, though – it’s a tea party rather than a Tupperware party – people are there to socialise, not to be sold to.

Take a look at this post by Heidi Cohen of Riverside Marketing Strategies

*Note: Dianne Bayley is the founder of infORM Reputation Management, a company that specialises in setting up and monitoring your social media initiatives.

Freelance writers in the USA: Will work for coffee?

By Dianne Bayley

Every good freelance writer continues to look for writing opportunities on a variety of topics, from all around the globe. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been contacted (and commissioned) for work from companies in Switzerland, Australia, Ireland, the UK and, of course, my homeland, South Africa.

Each time I have delivered what was asked for and been paid promptly. Unless you count the UK connection, where the editor was dealing with a certain African country that shall remain nameless, but is notorious for getting work done and suddenly not having the money they said they had . . . Continue reading

Can someone put the fun back in travelling?

By Dianne Bayley

I’m going to give away my age when I tell you that I remember a time when your Dad took you out to the airport on a Sunday afternoon so you could watch the planes taking off and landing. No, really. You’d get an ice cream and stand at the window that overlooked the runway, watching planes for hours. And when your Grandma left to fly home, you could see her waving her white handkerchief from the plane window.

Now you go to the airport only if you have to catch a plane or meet someone coming in. While OR Tambo International is a fabulous airport – and now has the Gautrain service to make getting there and back an absolute pleasure – it’s not the fun it used to be. Continue reading