Oscar, Africa, social media and schadenfreude

The tragic Oscar Pistorius issue aside, I’m tired of the inference that the “wealthy” in South Africa are all hiding behind walls, when the truth is, we are ALL hiding behind walls. The more we earn, the higher the walls. I have been robbed several times – twice in my “wealthy, gated community” in one of Johannesburg’s northern suburbs (it’s an apartment block with walls, like many, many others in South Africa) . Once by Annanias Mathe, then the most wanted criminal in South Africa, a murderer and rapist. Once, years before, I fired a shot (yes, from a gun I owned back then when women were being hijacked and take to places where they were gang raped etc) at two men who had robbed my house and were coming out of my house and towards me as I arrived home. My OWN home. Where I should be entitled to feel safe. Fortunately for me, I didn’t kill anyone. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t raped or murdered either.

To understand how each and every one of us is living “inside”, we have to understand that the “fight or flight” response (already fixed when people still refer to us a “foetuses”) is tested every minute of every day in South Africa. Stop at a light and you don’t know if the person who appears at your car window has an avocado pear for sale or an AK47. Our society, as a whole, is NOT normal. You discover this when you go to civilised places like Toronto and walk the dog at 11pm without getting murdered.

Whether I think Oscar is guilty or not, it would benefit all of us to look at how WE are . . . how quickly someone is an “asshole” on the road; how much sheer hatred (with little action taken) is generated by our opinions on the Middle East or the horse meat issue or any number of other things we hear and see on Facebook and in other “news”. Where does that anger/hatred go, once generated?

The Oscar tragedy has brought out some interesting and disturbing reactions – blood baying, disregarding his right to a fair trial before finding him guilty, massive jealousy about wealthy young people . . . and yet I haven’t seen as much outrage about the crowds around the taxi driver being dragged to his death. HIS death, yes – but the people standing around CHEERING the police on?? THAT is what our nation has become . . . But we’ll find something to blame that heinous, cheering behaviour on – laws, history, poverty etc etc – when what should really terrify us is our collective propensity toward violent and vicious thoughts ourselves.

Rant almost over – here is one of the best pieces I have read on the Oscar killing, by the reasonable and thoughtful Justice Malala  – note this piece:

“The truth, however, is that South Africa is a country of violence. We have often been labelled the “crime capital of the world”, and many like Pistorius own firearms, supposedly to protect themselves from burglars and robbers. Last week, the country was in mourning after a 17-year-old girl died after being gang-raped. It is who we are. Perhaps that is why we struggled to accept that “one of us” might have pulled the trigger – with tragic consequences.”

It’s time each of us turns our energy towards looking at ourselves, rather than at others every time a heinous crime is committed in South Africa. In fact, it’s time we all stop and look at how quickly we “take sides” before knowing all the facts; how we continually pass on “the bad news” in social media; how few times a day any of us reads any good news at all (or makes a decision based all three sides of a story), let alone passes it on.

Schadenfreude – pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others – creates sick societies. And “slacktivism” – the idea that you may do some good from behind your keyboard by “making people aware” on social media rather than actually taking some action – is schadenfreude’s first cousin.

Social media: The window to the soul

By Dianne Bayley

Any business using social media that would post pictures of its bank statements, transcripts of in-house dramas and videos of HR firing people would be nuts, right? Right. But individuals do the equivalent all the time. Take, for example, the run up to yesterday’s US election . . .

I lived in the USA for a few years and have had ties with many of its people for the last 15 years or more. I always loved the way I was welcomed wherever I went; how “innocent” many Americans appeared compared to those of us who have grown up in Johannesburg, where you learn to watch your own back in shop windows as you pass by. I loved how honest and kind Americans were, in all the 13 states I was lucky enough to visit. Then . . . Social Media + Election came along and, to be honest, has shattered my illusions . . . Continue reading

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.

Damages: When social media managers lose it . . .

Somebody recently mentioned that “Mercury is in retrograde”. I had no idea what they meant, but I’m beginning to suspect that it’s a Latin term for “social media managers in South Africa have lost the plot”.

Over the past week or so, several incidents confirm that there are still too many companies that believe social media to be something less than brand and reputation management and the most incredible way to engage clients on a one-to-one basis.

The first occurred with a site I imagined to be a tourism site (of sorts), given its name. The (I can only imagine young) men who run the Facebook page posted a picture of a woman almost wearing underwear, though I’m not sure what it had to do with events in Cape Town at all. A couple of people found it offensive and one said so. The party started round about there . . . The “social media manager” told her to unlike his page; she suggested that wasn’t really the way to deal with issues on social media; the young SMM called in the troops . . . and the woman was slagged off, mocked, degraded and lambasted – on Facebook and Twitter – for hours.

I tried to reason with the young SMM, suggesting that whether one found the pictures (yes, there are more of them; some entirely inappropriate for a site that doesn’t warn parents not to let their youngsters go there) offensive or not, it doesn’t make sense marketing-wise to treat people badly online. My comments went unnoticed and the attack continued. I had no idea South Africans could be that vicious. Don’t these blokes have a mountain they could climb to get rid of that kind of pent up anger??

The second incident was the now-famous SANRAL comment to someone who complained to the organisation on Twitter. The SMM found it necessary in that case to immediately attack the man’s looks. Not nice, not clever and not a secret anymore that SANRAL’s social media accounts may just be managed by someone with little online experience and even less people skills. SANRAL deleted the comment a short while later but – too late . . . screenshots of the exchange were all over Facebook, out of the SMM’s control. Silly, silly thing to do.

The sad part about all this is that so many companies know they should have a social media presence, but fear negative publicity. Issues like those mentioned here just confirm their fears, when the real problem is who they hand their brands over to: I’ve heard many a decision maker suggest “Jason in IT – he’ll handle it AND he’s got LOTS of Facebook friends”; or “Meredith can do it in her spare time”; or even better, “Let’s hire a college student – they’re cheap”.

If you’re about to hire any of the above, ask yourself this: “Am I willing to put my brand’s (and my own) reputation in the hands of Jason, Meredith or Cheap? What does my brand’s value mean to us as a company, and to current and potential clients?”

Social media is not about how many Facebook friends someone has, or even the number of “likes” a page gets. It is an opportunity to keep your brand top-of-mind and to be proactive when someone has had a bad or a good experience with it. Would you employ a call centre manager who slammed the phone down on people or told them their complaint wasn’t valid because their hair looks shoddy? I imagine you wouldn’t. So, here’s what a good social media manager looks like:

  • Even tempered and able to detach personally from criticism
  • Good people skills and the ability to make people feel as though they have been heard
  • Genuinely has your brand and your customers at heart
  • Marketing skills – they beat technical skills hands down in this arena . . . you’re building brand loyalty, not websites
  • Good writing skills, thus avoiding having to use Grade 5 text-speak on Twitter and posts of naked women on Facebook on slow news days
  • A good knowledge of your products and/or core focus, as well as your image . . . and a dedication to protect that at all costs – even when there’s this, like, RAD pic of a chick in a bikini just waiting to be posted, Dude . . .

Incidents like these two (and there were others, but you get the general idea) serve only to damage the social media arena and the reputation of both brands and people. Especially the SMM people who don’t have the social skills required to deal with the opportunity to address customer’s concerns in a positive and pleasant manner – which is exactly what CAN be done on social media, with millions of people watching.

Choose your staff with care – and remind them that slander and defamation are offences for which they (and you) may be sued, online as quickly as off. (And, in case anyone was wondering, this was not written with the “social media managers should be under 25” article in mind – but the “managers” in this case probably are.)

Dianne Bayley is a freelance writer, former editor of Marketingweb and the founder of infORM Reputation Management, a company that specialises in setting up and monitoring your social media initiatives. This blog was originally published on Letsema Communications’ publicrelationspnderings blog.

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

Why WiFi in the sky shouldn’t happen

By Dianne Bayley

So last week one of South Africa’s domestic airlines – called Mango, even if it doesn’t count as one of your five daily fruits and veggies – became the first local airline to offer in-flight WiFi on a promo flight filled with journalists. 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.