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It’s time to take social media seriously; and it’s not all fun and games

Safebook - staying safe online

You may read this post title and think ‘oh here she goes again’ but actually today I’m taking a different view on social media. As someone who whole heartedly believes in the benefits of social media, I also whole heartedly believe in the power of social media. And power does not necessarily mean good things.

With a generation of children and young adults who have grown up in an extremely social world, we’re looking at a dynamic outside of the school environment that we’ve never had to deal with before. A world where a small amount of playground teasing turns into a an online world of hatred and constant torment. Where hideous trends like ‘hot or not’ are causing huge amounts of already self-conscious teens to rely on their ‘friends’ to rate their appearance. And where young girls still in their school uniforms are being allowed to behave like 20-somethings flaunting themselves to whoever chooses to engage with them.

There have been so many – too many – instances over the last year alone where we’ve heard about another young person having taken their own life because of constant online torment.

I previously referred to social media and the ‘surround sound effect’. Well here it is in all it’s ugly glory – surround sound bullying.

And in my opinion, those who should be taking responsibility are shying away from what needs to be addressed, immediately. And that’s not through lack of desire, I believe it’s through lack of knowledge of whats really going on; perceived lack of ability to do anything about it (how do you control the whole internet right?), and genuine fear of the repercussions of taking a stand. But, how many cases of online bullying that have ultimately led to a young person feeling that they have no choice but to take their own life, does it take before we stand up and properly do something about it.

So what’s the solution? First we have to really understand the problem. What has led to a culture where this type of activity is able to harbour online seemingly uncontrolled? I believe there are three key issues:

  • Lack of supervision and moderation: We wouldn’t allow our children outside during break time with their fellow classmates, left to do entirely as they choose, without any adult supervision. This is because they don’t necessarily know the dangers that are out there, they often don’t know where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour are, and sometimes they need someone to turn to if they need a helping hand. So why are they left unsupervised online? Lack of supervision and moderation of online conversations means a small amount of ‘harmless’ teasing manifests itself into a daily torrent of abuse that the individual is unable to get away from. This is unacceptable.
  • A culture that says this is ok: This type of activity is only allowed to manifest itself for as long as its being accepted. Until someone really questions it and take a stand, it will continue. Without education, young adults will continue to behave as they currently doing, as they are naive to the longer term repercussions. This is unacceptable.
  • Social networks not taking responsibility: There was once a time not so long ago where Facebook was quick to shut you down if the cover photo on your fan page had text covering greater than 25% of its area. They were quick to spot that. But they don’t seem too quick to spot potentially harmful messages posted between members in the network it created. I understand that policing social networks is a seemingly impossible task – where does the responsibility begin or end? But, doing nothing? This is unacceptable.

So there’s the problem; how do we find a solution? In my opinion three key groups have to stand up and take action: parents, schools and the social networks themselves. Now I am probably in no position to preach about what should or shouldn’t be done – I don’t have children, I’m not a head teacher and I certainly don’t own a social network. But one day I will have children, I have a little sister (although she’d hate for me to call her that) who has grown up in this very social world I’m talking about, I’ve so far spent the majority of my life in a school, and I like to think I know a lot about social networks.

So here’s what I think needs to be done:

Parents
It is the responsibility of a parent to educate, protect and encourage the best from their children. Just as for brands and companies, the birth of social media brought crazy new parameters to communication and a new overwhelming world to which parents had little to no experience in. They didn’t understand it, didn’t know what to tell their children about it, and believed it to be merely another form of communication. Years on, many parents are on these social networks and understand how their children use them – even policing them from afar. But what about those that don’t?

Parents need to take the time to educate their children on what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to engaging in social media. They need to teach them how to feel safe; when to bring an adult into a situation – when to hit that ‘report’ button.

How can we hope for things to change if parents don’t take this first step towards protecting their children?

Schools
But it’s not all resting on the shoulders of parents. Some schools are taking action in the area of online safety – and it’s good – but it’s not enough. Talks are being held with both parents and children, but they are not compulsory and they are assuming a certain amount of knowledge of social media to start with.

But it’s not all bad news, Childnet International are a non-profit organisation aiming to make the internet ‘a great and safe place for children’. Aimed at young people, teachers and parents, the organisation aims to do exactly what is needed in this area – educate and provide the necessary tools to keep young people safe online.

Friday saw Safer Internet Day where a number of schools around the country dedicated part of their curriculum to educating their pupils about the potential dangers of the social world, and how to stay safe. This is good – and some of the initiatives were really excellent – but this shouldn’t fall to one day a year. I’d like to see this as a dedicated curriculum piece throughout the year, from a very young age. With 59% of 11-12 year olds having a social media profile, they need to understand what they are doing from that very age.

And it’s not just about learning how to stay safe – that is really just theory. And it also assumes that ‘staying safe’ means being wary of adults posing as peers. But what about peers? Some of the worst stories we’ve heard over the last year have been due to online bullying by classmates. For this, it’s not about learning to be safe, it’s about there being repercussions for those individuals who assume that hiding behind a keyboard makes their behaviour is ok. These repercussions have to fall under the remit of schools when the event is an extension of what is happening in the school environment.

Social networks themselves
And then finally it’s the responsibility of the networks that are hosting and harbouring these activities. There needs to be greater accountability for the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. And steps in the right direction are being made. Following the inquest into the tragic death of Tallulah Wilson who killed herself after extensive activity on self-harm pages on Tumblr, Culture Secretary Maria Miller is this week unveiling at the cabinet meeting a call for social media companies to transform how they police their sites. This call will see representatives from a host of social networks hopefully form consensus about responsibilities in policing and removing offensive, potentially harmful posts.

It is the likes of these individuals who understand the blurred lines where our offline lives meet our online lives – why is what would be considered beyond unacceptable – even illegal – in an offline environment, are we having to accept as ok in a social environment.

So let’s hope that this drives change; let’s hope social networks stand up and take things seriously, and that legislation is brought in to police social networks better and protect those that are most vulnerable within them. Let’s hope that both parents and schools step up to their responsibilities of education and implementing repercussions. Because it’s not one person’s responsibility – none of these things will work in silo – change will only be seen if all three parties step up and take action to change the culture that we seem to have found ourselves in.

As children leave the likes of Facebook because their parents are on there, it’s no longer enough to be there too. You can’t follow them round the internet, but you can make them smarter internet users. Social media will not go away – and I’m glad about that because of the good that it can bring – but this is an area that needs to change.This will change because it has to. No question about it.

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Tick tock, tick tock

Time and social media

I haven’t been so hot on the blogging recently (half finished drafts sat in my WordPress app I realise don’t count!) but I vow to get back on the wagon. And the reason for my lack of published posts? Social media! Ironic you may say.

I’m having a pretty exciting time at work – social media has now taken over all that I do, and I couldn’t be more pleased, I LOVE it. But, it has meant a lot of long days and no time for blogging, tweeting or finding the twenty-or-so new social networks that have probably come out since my last post.

And with that, I get to the point of this post (and begin to contradict myself…) – time and its relationship with our online behaviour.

More often than not, we face objections to actually doing social (from our peers, clients, and even that voice inside our head) in the form of one of the following:

  • I don’t have enough time in my day to do social
  • Social media is too instantaneous and real-time; it scares me
  • I won’t be able to respond or engage with the community in the real-time manner that is required by social media
  • I can’t see the ROI on the necessary time I’ll need to invest to make social a success

I could write a blog post on each of these alone, exploring the reasons why, in fact, none of these are valid reasons to not do social (duly noted that I used the first one in my opening paragraph…) However, I think when faced with these oppositions, the best thing to do is flip it on its head. Let’s not think of reasons why we can’t do it; let’s think of reasons why we can’t NOT do it. And that of course is just a confusing way of saying, you have to do it.

It was a few months back now, but something I saw that really said to me who was leading the way in terms of understanding and integratng social into their business, was (perhaps surprisingly) the recruitment initiative run by Pizza Hut, ‘Because I’m Great’. This was a complete 180 on the traditional interview – a live LinkedIn review was conducted right before a 140 second interview took place. No paper CV, no half an hour presentation, just 140 short seconds to demonstrate why you have what it takes to be the head of digital. And the reason? To demonstrate an understanding of the short amount of time we now have to grab people’s attention and convince them to take action. And of course using Twitter’s 140 character limit as a rule of thumb for the time constraint. I personally think it’s brilliant.

So back to my original point. If Pizza Hut get the importance of doing social to such an extent that it even impacts their recruitment process, then so should the rest of us. This initiative also goes to show how time doesn’t have to be a barrier to doing social – if we can now recruit our most senior staff in 140 seconds, we can certainly put out a few tweets.

On to the next point about the instantaneous nature of social and the potential risks involved. I again urge anyway quoting this as a reason, to flip it on its head and understand the value of a instantaneous communications tool. The best way to rationalise this is thinking back a few weeks to the birth of Prince George. If my office were to be used as a representation of the British population as a whole, then all 65 million of us  were glued to @ClarenceHouse awaiting the announcement with baited breath. As soon as they knew, we knew. As soon as we knew, all of our followers knew. And so went the spiral until everyone knew about the arrival of the next King.

This demonstrates how important social media can be from a business perspective – using it as a word of mouth marketing tool, but on steroids. Of course, we have to think of the flip-side of this, when things can go horribly wrong and spread like wildfire through the social space. But that’s where you get a good PR agency, a good social media team and a robust issues management plan (get in touch if you’re interested…!).

So to end, I think this quote from Aaron Lee really sums up both the necessity for using social media, and also the need for consideration of time in all its various meanings:

“These days, social media waits for no one. If you’re late for the party, you’ll probably be covered by all the noise and you might not be able to get your voice across. It could only mean that if you want to be heard by the crowd, you have to be fast; and on social media, that means you have to be REALLY fast.”

So hurry up, the clock’s ticking…

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Social customer service done right

This post is to say a quick thank you to Chiltern Railways. A little odd, I know, but sometimes you just receive good customer service and these rarities should be celebrated.

Thursday night was a bit of a #fail for me. After a busy week and one too many wines after work, I fell asleep on the last train home. Having woken up just as the doors were shutting at my stop, I sprinted off – pretty pleased with myself that I’d not stayed asleep all the way to Banbury. Then to my horror, I realised I was bag-less.

Any girl will back me up here – my handbag is my life. Car keys, house keys, purse, ID, kindle, make-up….the list goes on. So combine the loss of this, with the late hour, and you have a pretty upset PR girl on your hands.

So to get to the point. I get home at 1am and try to call Chiltern Railways on any possible number I can find. Of course they aren’t open. So in what I felt was a stroke of genius I decided to tweet @chilternrailway and ask them what I should do. I then put myself to bed thinking all hope was lost.

I wake up the next morning to find a tweet from @chilternrailway advising me what I should do. Bearing in mind this was 6.30am, I was pretty impressed. I then proceeded to have a -albeit short – back and forth conversation with them. And I’d like to note here that this was a good five and a half hours before any sort of office opened that could help me.

So the point of my story is about using Twitter for customer service.These guys were responsive, helpful and that all important one – personable. They were responding to me like they actually cared about the loss of my bag (I know working in PR I shouldn’t be a sucker for these things, but it really does work!), and most importantly, they were available when no-one else from the company was.

Let this be a lesson to all of you out there: Twitter is a hugely valuable asset for maintaining excellent customer service. Oh, and don’t leave your bag on the train.

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How private is private?

Privacy

Anyone who has a twitter account will have heard about the security breach this week, with hackers gaining access to user data from 250,000 accounts. This has got me thinking about security and privacy with social media in general – how much of what we put online is really ours? Now I don’t mean that hacking is acceptable – it’s absolutely not – but what about the information we willingly share on our profiles? Are we forsaking our right to privacy if we choose to share our photos, our thoughts, our activities and relationships; ultimately our lives?

I think there’s privacy in a variety of senses. There’s the expected privacy that random strangers aren’t looking through the pictures of your summer holiday to Ibiza. But what about if it’s a ‘friend of a friend’ type scenario? Does that still count as a stranger? Then there’s the type of privacy that I’m sure my 15-year-old sister requires, and that’s for my mum not to have any idea what she’s up to! But I go back to my first point: you can set all the privacy settings you like, but ultimately you are posting personal content to a place that technically can be accessed, in one way or another, by 2.5 billion people. In a world of posting and sharing, how can we really control what happens to information and content that we perceive to be ‘ours’?

This, however, should not be a deterrent for social media use; it’s what should be embraced. Know it, accept it, understand it and positively exploit it. Use it the right way, and this very nature of ‘no walls’ is what we, as social media lovers, use for a whole host of reasons. The access to conversations, information and peers at the touch of a button, is what makes social media so successful. Really I think it’s just a common sense call. It’s as simple as take your ‘is this for public knowledge’ filter from your offline actions, and use it online.

Privacy is something I think we are still learning and negotiating every day both on a personal level and as part of the work we do on a daily basis. Ultimately, whether we like it or not, and indeed whether we agree or not, the whole point of social networking – as I referenced in my very first post – is about sharing. So to answer my own question, I don’t think it’s really a question of who ‘owns’ your content, it’s who has the right to share it. And the answer to that is, really, anyone who comes into contact with it.

Now, this isn’t a cautionary tale – far from it; I sort of love that nothing is secret anymore – it’s just something to bear in mind before hitting that post button. Just think, would it be ok if your (*insert scary authoritative person in your life*) sees it? If you have to ask this question, the answer is probably no.

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