Should Community Managers Open The Echo Chambers?

Look around your neighborhood. You’ll probably find people a lot like yourself: similar income, similar education levels, similar outlook, similar views.  It’s what journalist Bill Bishop called The Big Sort, the tendency to choose to live among people similar to ourselves. It’s one of the factors that has led to America’s polarization. When we meet and make friends with people who are like us, we find it harder to see the world from a perspective different from our own. Read more

An online hub is interactive; it brings all the different elements of your online activity under one roof

Websites vs Online Hubs: Your Whole Business Under One Digital Roof

An online hub is interactive; it brings all the different elements of your online activity under one roof

An online hub is interactive; it brings all the different elements of your online activity under one roof

The term “online hub” is often used interchangeably with “website”, but they represent two different forms of online communication and activity. A website is, primarily, a one-way conversation: you might have a contact form or a comments section, but for the most part, a website acts as an online brochure. An online hub is interactive; it brings all the different elements of your online activity under one roof, it encourages community and conversation.

WordPress is fantastic at enabling people to create their very own online hubs, with very little technical knowledge required. Rather than taking people to Google Hangouts on Air or another third-party site for a webinar, plugins like WPWebinar allow you to host it on your own website landing page. There’s a wide range of CRM plugins available, allowing you to edit forms and manage contacts through your WordPress site (if you’re already using Woocommerce, the “WooCommerce Customer Relationship Management” plugin is well worth a look). You can use plugins like Sendpress to manage your newsletter. If you run a podcast, you can use your WordPress blog as the foundation for the podcast’s RSS feed.

And, of course, you can use the PeepSo plugin to create your own private social network, rather than having people come back and forth from a Facebook group.

There’s multiple benefits to this. Driving people to your own website improves your search engine rankings (the more visits you get, the higher you’ll rank). It gives you full control over and ownership of the information you share, and in turn, the information people share with you. Plus, while people are on your website doing other things, they’re likely to have a look around and see what else you have to offer; eg, if you’re hosting a webinar on your own website, you can put some links on the page for people to click and view while they’re waiting for it to start. You’ll also slash your advertising spend: it costs you nothing to run an advert or promote an event on your own social network (keeping your money in your own wallet, rather than Facebook’s). Plus, you can never underestimate the power of connection and conversation when it comes to conversions. If people are interacting with you and your business rather than just reading about it, that’s going to build trust and that trust is going to translate to sales.

To learn more about how PeepSo can help you go from a simple website to a thriving online hub, check out our features here – we’re adding more all the time.

Reddit, Quarantine and the Problem with Vague Policies

Since its creation ten years ago, Reddit has been one of the most liberal social media/networking sites when it comes to moderating unacceptable content; while Facebook has very strict rules around what you can post and what you can’t, Reddit’s general approach has always been “everything except child pornography, spam and personal information is fine”. This incredibly liberal approach caused Reddit to come under fire as a hotbed for extreme racism and misogyny;  top level employees left the site in droves, as its sheer size and sprawl made the site increasingly difficult to manage and maintain.

redditJust over a month ago, new CEO and site founder Steve Huffman proposed a new content policy. This new policy bans illegal content, harassment and bullying, the publication of other people’s private information, and anything that might incite harm or violence against other people (on top of the existing ban on spam and sexual content featuring minors); anything that would be considered “adult content” must be tagged NSFW (not safe for work). On top of this, content which violates “a common sense of decency” is to be quarantined, meaning users must log in and opt-in to see the content. Quarantined and NSFW content is free from advertisements (ie, generating no revenue for Reddit) and does not show up in public search results.

While the policy sounds good in theory, allowing Reddit to maintain the freedom of speech which has made it so popular while distancing itself from transgressive content, the vague wording is already causing some problems.

Twice in his official statement, Huffman suggests that you know pornography and transgressive content “when you see it.” What comes across as explicit sexual behaviour to one culture might seem completely benign to another (eg, a couple kissing); violent, racist speech may seem acceptable (right, even) to a religious minority, even if everyone else finds it abhorrent. Given that Reddit mostly relies on unpaid moderators to keep content in check, any policy those moderators have to enforce should be clear enough to transcend cultural differences and misunderstandings. Further, they should also make sure that they have enough moderators to keep up with the enormous amount of content posted to the site every day, and apply the new policies to existing subreddits in a timely manner. While some of the most notorious offenders, like racist subreddit Chimpire, were immediately removed following the implementation of the new content policy, other incredibly disturbing subreddits which feature illegal content (like Watch People Die, which includes incredibly graphic video content from car accidents and even murder scenes) are still standing, with only an age restriction in place.

Banning “illegal” content is also mildly problematic, as different geographic regions have different laws; for example, a Redditor based in Colorado should be perfectly within their rights to promote and sell marijuana via the website, whereas a Redditor based in New York should not.

If you’re running your own private social network, you’ll need to have content policies in place to make sure it’s a safe, welcoming environment for your members; you’ll also have to be mindful that you may need more staff as your community grows (voluntary or paid). That policy may also need to evolve as your community does. PeepSo will take care of the technical side, with a fantastic admin interface that works right out of the box; it’ll be up to you to come up with a set of rules that is clear, fair, and will allow your community to run smoothly.

10 People Who Were Arrested for Social Media Posts

It’s not just people living under oppressive governments who get arrested and imprisoned for what they post on social media. Even your “friends only” content can end up getting you in trouble; your contacts might report your post to the authorities, and Facebook will get in touch with police if they believe someone poses an immediate threat to themselves or others, or if someone has uploaded criminal content.

It’s pretty clear that in most cases, people simply don’t understand the implications of posting to a site with millions (or even billions) of members; that when you post something to Facebook, you’re writing with permanent marker (if you have a teenager, it might be worth creating a private social network for family and friends until they’re aware of and prepared to deal with the consequences of what they say).

Here’s some examples of people who were jailed or fined for what they put up on social media; sometimes jokingly, sometimes not.

1. Up in the Air

Paul Chambers wasn’t very happy about his flight being delayed due to snowfall; he tweeted that the airport (mentioning it by name) had “a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!” A week later, he was arrested under the Terrorism Act and detained for seven hours.

In another case involving British travelers, two young British tourists were  detained on arrival at Los Angeles airport (LAX) after one of them tweeted that he was going to “go and destroy America.” Even though “destroy” is just British slang for “party”, the man and his traveling buddy spent the night in separate cells, and were put on a plane back home.

2. Photographed Red-Handed

Maxwell Marion Morton was charged with first degree murder after posting a photo of himself and his victim to Snapchat (one of his friends took a screenshot of his perhaps unintentional confession, with his username in full display). 

A teen mom in Florida was arrested after posting a photo of her then-11 month old son seemingly smoking a bong on Facebook. The authorities decided that the photo was staged and the child had definitely not ingested any drugs, but the mother was still fined for owning the bong and forced to undergo an assessment of her parenting ability.

3. Friends or “Friends”?

Maxi Sopo fled Seattle for Cancun after he was charged with bank fraud. He bragged about it to all his friends on Facebook, including a former justice department official. He was arrested and sent back to the United States.

Jacob Cox-Brown posted “Drivin drunk… classic 😉 but to whoever’s vehicle i hit i am sorry. :p.” on his personal Facebook page. One of his friends reported the post to police, who matched his car to an unresolved hit and run case and he was prosecuted. 

4. Evil Exes

Mark Byron was going through a custody battle with his wife, after she claimed (and he disputed) that he’d committed an act of domestic violence. He posted “… if you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband’s life and take your son’s father away from him completely — all you need to do is say that you’re scared of your husband or domestic partner…” on Facebook, and a judge ordered him to post an apology to his wife on Facebook (to be left up for thirty days) or he’d end up spending two months in prison.

David Voelkert was friended by a stranger called Jessica Studebaker on Facebook – or rather, someone pretending to be a stranger called Jessica Studebaker. He knew that it was really his ex-wife Angela, who had created the profile to try and get information she could use against him in their custody battle. He told her, via the fake profile, that he’d planted a GPS in Angela’s car and was planning to kill her. Angela took the information to the police and David was arrested; he was released immediately when he produced a notarised affidavit stating the following:

“I am lying to this person to gain positive proof that it is indeed my ex-wife trying to again tamper in my life. In no way do I have plans to leave with my children or do any harm to Angela Dawn Voelkert or anyone else.”

5. Pitiful Pranks

Dakkari McAnuff posted “100 RT’s (Re-Tweets) and i’ll shoot someone walking,” on Twitter in March 2014. After that, he posted a photo of a rifle pointed at a Los Angeles street, someone lying dead, and himself (apparently) in a police car. Police used the posts to track down his location, raided his home, and charged him with making criminal threats (costing him a hefty 50,000 dollars in bail money). He and his friends claimed it was a prank that got out of hand.

A 14 year old Dutch teen sent a tweet to American Airlines (under the username Queen Demetriax_), saying “Hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m going to do something really big bye.” Although intended as a joke, American Airlines responded with “Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.” She pleaded with them not to tell her parents or take action, but eventually had to turn herself into police where she was charged with posting a false or alarming announcement.

 

 

Pottermore, Fandom and Social Networking: A Case Study

When it hit the internet in 2011, Pottermore was near revolutionary. It was interactive fan fiction, written and sanctioned by the author herself; taking the world of the books outward in an “official” capacity, rather than allowing fans to extrapolate freely where they could see open doors and unfinished threads.

PottermoreThe major drawcard of the site was (the aforementioned) new content from JK Rowling, giving greater insight into characters, events and objects from the books. Fans of the books could be sorted into a house by a “real” Sorting Hat quiz, rather than relying on fan-made ones to determine whether they were more Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. The site promoted itself as a safe haven for young Potter fans, requiring parental consent for users under 13 and ensuring no personal information was given through a user’s profile.

The social networking aspects of the site didn’t become fully realised until July 2013, when new features allowed users to comment on every section of the website (from JK Rowling’s original content, to the interactive pages devoted to each chapter of the books), chat with other members of their house, submit fan art and post status updates. Once established, the comments section became a place for fans to interact as themselves, or as role players (pretending to be Hogwarts students).

Despite taking multiple precautions to ensure a safe, G-rated site (for example, banning the use of numbers – so people couldn’t share phone numbers – and certain words, introducing a reporting function), some role players integrated sexual references into their roleplay (“unicorning” being the euphemism of choice). Other role players would describe the injuries sustained from duels in graphic detail. People began to use nicknames (placed at the end of their posts), rather than just their randomly generated usernames, for ease of identification.

pottermore-feature-3In April 2015, the social networking features of Pottermore were pulled. The Pottermore team said that they felt these features weren’t serving the community, and they were unable to effectively monitor comments, statues and comments as user activity increased. The sudden loss of these features was met with dismay by many users, who had no way to contact the friends they’d made on the site and enjoyed interacting with on a daily basis.

This may look like a case study of the pitfalls of social networking more generally, but I’d argue that it makes a better case for why smaller, independently governed social networks tend to be more successful for niche interest groups – particularly fandoms. Bringing the entire Potter fandom together in a single space without roping off sections for role play, chapter discussions etc (ie, having everyone in the same place) was always going to cause problems – if people are in a space (or a sub-space) where they understand and agree with the rules, you’re less likely to be overwhelmed by reports from users who aren’t okay with what’s happening around them. It’s an important reminder of why you have to inherently understand (and accept) the ins and outs of a community and how they behave and interact online before opening up a space directed at them. What happened here was predictable (fandom being fandom); and yet, the closure was still credited to user activity getting beyond what the Pottermore team could manage.

The fan social networks which have succeeded tend to be segmented, or directed at a particular niche; MuggleNet is an excellent example, with different areas available for different kinds of discussion (they’re so successful, in fact, that they make thousands of dollars in advertising revenue each year). If you’re thinking of creating your own, fandom-based social network, it’s worth investing in software that will allow you to add features as your community evolves, and build it in a way that works *with* fan culture, rather than trying to restrain it.

Interview: Samantha van Vleet of Cassava Shop

Samantha van Vleet owns Cassava Shop, an organic non-GMO herbal supplement company based out of the United States. She also owns TTCTwins, a semi-private forum/network for people trying to conceive twins. Her company is a great example of how niche social networks can benefit small business owners, and even create business opportunities; we interviewed her about her experience running a niche network, and how it gave rise to a very successful online business.

samantha van vleet

Tell me a little bit about TTCTwins; why you started it, where it came from.

I have been fascinated with twins from the time I was little. I had a set of Cabbage Patch twin dolls and I always had them. I dragged them everywhere. Once I got older, I still thought the idea of twins was amazing. I looked online for places that discussed it, but there really weren’t many and the places that were available, weren’t so friendly. Women would be attacked and vilified for wanting twins because of the potential health risks involved and “no one should want that for themselves or their babies.” Yes, there are risks involved in having twins, but the decision to try for twins isn’t anyone but the couple who is trying’s. So in 2009 I decided to set up a simple forum and I posted the link two or three places. It grew insanely fast and quickly became the authority on the subject, simply because there was no other site dedicated to the subject. It became a safe haven for these women who wanted twins to find information, support and assistance without being judged for that desire.

Why did you decide to start your own membership site, rather than using existing social networks (eg, Facebook groups)?

For the same reason I was avoiding the other sites; the judgement and condemnation of choosing to try for twins. By creating a membership based site, you give members the ability to protect their privacy and conceal their identity much more so than they would be able to on Facebook. And with such a delicate subject, this is important. I wouldn’t want to post on Facebook under my full name, about my attempts to conceive twins where my family or friends could easily stumble upon it and identify me.

How did TTCTwins become, or give rise to, Cassava Shop?

Many of the women on TTCTwins were talking about yams increasing fertility. This sounded odd to me and a few members and I decided to research more on it. Turns out it was a very specific type of wild yam that had this twinning effect. A village in Africa had a twinning rate of 1 in 11 and it was believed to be due to the estrogen-like substances in the skins and peelings of sweet cassava, consumed daily by members of the tribe. Obviously, we all wanted some, however, at the time there was only one source for it. I had ordered a bottle, but it just seemed fishy to me. I started looking into it more and I just had an off feeling about it. I decided to make my own to see if it was even possible to replicate the powder in the capsules I had bought and still include the skins and peelings as advertised. There wasn’t. I later determined that those capsules were filled with gari, a cereal like product made from cassava that didn’t contain the beneficial skins and peelings. At first, I intended just to make them for myself, but when other members of the site learned about the gari in the other capsules, they were outraged. After all, who wants to take a supplement that doesn’t even contain the stuff it needs to work effectively? Members started asking me if I would make them a bottle as well. I agreed, and next thing I knew, I had emails nearly daily requesting bottles of sweet cassava supplements. My husband looked at me one day and asked “So, when are you turning this into a business?

Do you think niche social networks are better for small business owners, or prospective small business owners, than the larger social networks?

Absolutely. We use coupon codes to track where our sales are coming from (along with other tools) and I would say that 80% of our sales stem from TTCTwins. The reason is simple. We are the trusted authority. We have had competitors pop up since we started Cassava Shop, but they don’t have the advantage we do. We’re trusted. We’re the authority on the subject. We are the place everyone turns to for information on trying to conceive twins and one of the first results on Google.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start up their own niche interest group or private social network online?

Find something that isn’t out there yet and make it work. Focus in on a specific niche. Don’t be afraid of it being taboo or eccentric. Odds are, if you’re interested in it, there are surely other people who are too.

Social Networking Digest: What’s Making News This Week

It’s been a busy week in the world of social networking, with more and more independent, smaller networks emerging, and all the major players taking a hit on the stock exchange. If you’re thinking about starting up your own social network or work in online advertising, here’s three news items you should be aware of.

Social Networking Digest

Image via Associated Press

1. Things haven’t been looking so great for major social networks on the stock market; even Facebook, which isn’t suffering from the same drop-off in sign-ups and activity as Twitter, Yelp and Linkedin wasn’t safe, dropping 2.6 percent. Facebook’s stockholders may simply have decided to cash in after the company’s stock reached record highs a few weeks ago, but it’s also been suggested that people have been spooked by their 82% rise in expenditure (hiring new staff, and investing in technologies that will bring the internet to remote parts of the world). By contrast, smaller social networks like Migme are having a fantastic run, with their shares showing continuous growth.

2. 18 percent of social networking site users have blocked, hidden, or unfriended someone for posting political articles and opinions they disagree with or find offensive. If you want to argue about politics and religion but don’t want to stir up trouble with colleagues or family, there’s two social networks just for you. Roust is an invitation-only social network for people who want a space to talk about important, hot-button issues in a space where lively, controversial debate is welcomed (encouraged!). They’ve introduced a dislike button, and the creator thinks it works well because people go in expecting strong, potentially unpopular opinions. Sean Parker, founder of Napster, has been working hard on an app called Brigade; this social network was designed to encourage Americans to engage with current events and political news.

This is interesting because it shows that niche social networks can be as much about *how* we communicate (eg, providing a space for people who want to be able to share strong opinions or do everything via video), as they are about creating spaces for people with similar interests to come together.

3. They’re calling it “the right to wipe” – that social media users should be able to completely remove any trace of posts they made before they were 18. Social media vetting of prospective college students and employees is becoming increasingly common, and increasingly easy; some employers have even fired current employees based on what they posted on social media as a teen, years after the posts were made. It’s something that’s worth thinking about – should we be looking at encouraging teens to join smaller, less public social networks while they’re going through their formative years? It’s also important to consider, before admonishing young people for not thinking about how their posts could affect them later, that large social networks are collecting huge amounts of data about users, regardless of how careful they are about their privacy settings – and they aren’t particularly transparent about how they share that data, and who they’re sharing it with.

Getting On the Same Page…Literally

The saying goes, “are we on the same page?” Meaning: do we understand each other, is everything clear, has everyone learned what they need to know so progress can be made.

It’s an ideal metaphor for good communication, particularly when applied to web pages; if all your colleagues and customers are scattered across different platforms and channels, it’s going to be much more difficult to ensure people are getting the information you need them to get, when you need them to get it.

PeepSo's admin interface.

PeepSo’s admin interface.

Creating your own social network saves you from having to post the same message, over and over. You can have a real conversation in a quiet, dedicated space, rather than participating in the online equivalent of shouting in a crowded room. It works better from the customer’s end, too: rather than being unsure whether they should inbox you, text you, tweet you, send you a carrier pigeon, etc to get in touch with you, they’ll have a central communication hub where they know they’ll be able to get the support and advice they need. Further, it’s all on your website; the same place they’d go to purchase your product(s). 

PeepSo is the ideal plugin if you’re looking to start your own social network; it’s clean, streamlined, and easy to use (no coding knowledge necessary). The admin interface will be of particular interest to business owners, as it allows you a huge amount of control and insight (similar information to Facebook’s Insights tool, but easier to read and interpret); you can track post engagements, check reported content (you decide what’s acceptable, not Facebook), check your member demographics, and much more.

All of your information and communication in one place. Simple, smart, and effective.

Case Study: Gamurs and Niche Social Networking

Last week, we talked about Christian niche social networking site Facegloria, and how it stands as proof that people are looking for a smaller, more streamlined social networking experience. Gamurs, a social networking site for gamers, is yet another success story; since launching around three weeks ago, they’ve attracted over 6,000 members (by comparison, Facebook gained 150,000 members in its first four months).

Gamurs: another niche social network success story.

Gamurs: another niche social network success story.

It’s intended to be a one-stop-shop for everything gaming; a place where members can find news, share with like-minded people, and talk about different games and platforms all in one place (filling a major market gap; existing offerings tend to focus on one platform or game). Most of their revenue so far has been raised through seed funding, but further down the line they’ll be looking at partnerships with developers and offering premium subscriptions.

Again, this is a great example of why we shouldn’t think of sites like Facebook and Twitter as the be-all and end-all of social networking; there’s a clear demand for a new kind of social networking experience, and sites like Facegloria and Gamurs are capitalising on it.

PeepSo can turn any site into a social network, opening up this experience and opportunity to everyone with a WordPress site; the possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

Market Networks: The New Way to Do Business Online

In an article he wrote for TechCrunch last month, James Currier looked at the rise of market networking software; software that provides an intersection between online marketplaces (sites like Etsy, eBay and AirBnB which allow multiple buyers to connect with multiple sellers), and social networking sites (sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, which emulate our offline social networks and are based around identity); he provides HoneyBook as an example, a market network for the events industry which allows professionals to connect around projects and keep all of that project’s transactions and paperwork in one place.

Image by NFX LLC.

Image by NFX LLC.

Currier suggests that these market networks have an edge over simple online marketplaces – and I would add, websites with selling capabilities – as they encourage a connection more meaningful and long-term than a simple transaction. They emulate how business happens in real life: the networks of professionals and clients which pop up on these sites often begin with people who have been communicating for years inviting each other to the site, and creating an online version of a network that already exists via fax, phone, invoices, etc.

Installing PeepSo on your website is the first step to creating your own market network. It allows you to bring all your professional connections together in one place and introduce them to each other. You can tell people about a new product and send them to the checkout page, with them staying on your site the entire time. You can build meaningful online connections within the parameters you want to set for them, eliminating the blurring between personal and professional that Facebook doesn’t just enable, but enforces (you have to have a personal account, for example, to use their Business Manager tool).

Marketing networks are the next step in successful online business, and PeepSo has everything you need to get started.