Category Archives: Consumer Generated Media

Social Media and Skittles

In about the time it takes to down a bag of Sour Skittles, a handful of nitwits hijacked the redesigned Skittles.com website, which Mars Snackfood relaunched over the weekend as an aggregator of user-generated Skittles content.  The new home page features the deep, Skittles-related insights of Twitter nation, and a few morons quickly figured out this was a cool way to post random obscenities on a company’s public website. Even better if that brand sells candy to kids! 

The new Skittles site also pulls in content from Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook. That’s it – nothing from the company except a feedback form and its video ads (via YouTube). In other words, Mars has turned over its Skittles brand strategy to the unwashed masses. Bad idea. The point is that social media should inform marketing strategy – it shouldn’t be the strategy. This is a nice gimmick, but I doubt it will have any staying power – and it won’t do much good for the Skittles brand.

MySpace the Media Company

As traditional media companies attempt to turn their Web properties into social networking sites, it seems that MySpace is evolving into a media company. The New York Times makes that point in an article explaining how MySpace, though still operating independently under News Corp., is taking on many of the characteristics of traditional media companies as it builds out its own content. The site has “become very mainstream. It’s about consuming content and discovering pop culture,” co-founder Chris DeWolfe told the Times, which goes on to say:

As a result, the MySpace site resembles a portal like Yahoo or AOL as much as a social networking site. Peter F. Chernin, the president and chief operating officer of the News Corporation, called MySpace a “contemporary media platform” and said the site existed to “create content and connect people to one another.”

A quick view of the homepage shows that the portal comparison is correct. New sections devoted to news, politics and celebrities all feature original or licensed content (in addition to the site’s traditional user-generated content, including, for example, links to celebrity MySpace pages). It’s a pretty clear indication of where MySpace is going, since the new content is a way to attract advertisers – the lifeblood of any media company – without soiling the personal profile pages of MySpace’s gazillion members.

I don’t know if the “mediatization” of MySpace spells doom to the purists who just go there to connect with friends. And there are plenty of people pointing to MySpace’s slowing growth as a sign that the site’s appeal has peaked, but if I were AOL, MSN or Yahoo – or any other media company trying to reload to stay competitive – I’d be plenty worried.

The CNN-YouTube Gimmick, er Debates

I did not watch the CNN-YouTube debates last night, so I must rely on others to tell me how this experimental mash-up of traditional and new media layered on top of a presidential debate went. As with any political event, the reaction varies greatly depending on whom you ask.

CNN.com told me that “Questions, Not Answers, Highlight YouTube Debate” and that “YouTube questions were sometimes personal, heartfelt and comical.” Also:

One of the highlights came when a YouTuber asked the candidates to look to their left and say one thing about that person they liked and one thing they disliked.

I had to watch the candidates answer such a riveting question, so I clicked on the “See telling quotes from each candidate” link, sat through a 15-second preroll E-trade ad, and quickly dozed off as each candidate launched into the usual drivel. This was a highlight?

Anyway, here’s how others reacted:

  • The Guardian Unlimited in the U.K. proclaimed that YouTube is prompting a “revolution in televised debates,” though it didn’t provide much in the article to back up that headline.
  • TelevisionWeek blogger Daisy Whitney called the debates “unbelievably cool and completely emblematic of the times.” Like, you know, very tubular.  
  • A blogger for the Seattle Post Intelligencer hit the nail on the head, commenting that presidential debates are pretty lame regardless of the format.
  • The LA Times said the presidential hopefuls “embraced the Internet in all its brashness and irreverence,” while cross-town rival LA Weekly News had a different viewpoint, accurately calling the debates “a perversion of Web technology” and adding:

The Net really does provide a potentially formidable challenge to both establishment politics and mainstream media — but not when cheaply manipulated the way CNN engineered this farce. Authentic Web-driven power surfaces most dramatically when online communities exercise collective accountability over institutions and individuals that were once invulnerable to instantaneous public reaction and feedback. 

Uh-oh, not good. I’m sure the Republican version in September will be even more raucous!

Hey, here’s a progressive idea for the pols and those covering them: If you want real citizen-candidate interaction, why don’t you ask voters to submit questions, pick two dozen that represent a good cross-section of the country, and put them in a room with the candidates, so they can have a real conversation and voters can ask follow-ups to the non-answers they get to their initial questions. No time limit. Let them all bring their camcorders to record the event and post their individual perspectives on YouTube. Now that’s citizen journalism.

The Blog as Public Record

Back when I had a corporate job, we used to tell employees, Don’t put anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want forwarded to another person. The blog has streamlined that principle: no one has to forward your blog posts, because they’re already there, naked,  for anyone and everyone to see (and possibly take offense to). David Churbuck reminds us of this in a post about his interactions with a journalist; even though he did a phone interview with the reporter, the scribe found a juicier quote from is blog and chose to use that in the upcoming article. David’s conclusion:

Hence, if I continue to blog in the same voice and tone, I can expect to get quoted saying that things bluntly suck or rock, or that  the best use of Second Life is trying to get virtually “laid”, or that X is a moron, Y a frigtard, and Z a knuckle-dragging mouth breather. This gives me pause, particularly since I tend to put a different filter on my spoken utterances in the presence of a reporting reporter. 

The concept of blog as public record also should give pause to nitwits like this guy, who was blogging anonymously (or so he thought) while he was a defendant in a medical malpractice suit. Apparently he was providing a running commentary of the trial:

In his blog, Flea had ridiculed the plaintiff’s case and the plaintiff’s lawyer. He had revealed the defense strategy. He had accused members of the jury of dozing.

Nice strategy. After admitting under questioning that he was the blogger named Flea, the defendant settled the case the next morning – for what the Boston Globe reported to be a “substantial” fee.

We’re just beginning to see the courts address the issue of libel as it relates to blogs. The Media Law Resource Center is keeping a tally.

Libel, slander, disclosure of trade secrets – those are the things that corporate marketers and lawyers freak out about when deciding whether their executives or other employees should launch a blog. Traditionalists will no doubt use any news of blogger lawsuits as proof points against unfettered corporate blogging.

That’s an overreaction. The spontaneity of blogs provides a refreshing departure from heavy-handed oversight from marketers who expect everyone to stay “on message” and from corporate lawyers who see potential lawsuits around every corner. But bloggers – regardless of whether they’re on their own or representing their company’s brand – have to be smart about what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. In other words, don’t expect that no one will notice or care about what your write because it’s “just a blog.” 

Journalism ‘Pro Am’

Cool experiment taking place at Assignment Zero, in which professional journalists are teaming up with the “crowd” (aka everyone else) to report and write articles on popular topics. The founders call it an open-source approach to journalism. One of the assignments is “crowdsourced journalism” – a look at the trend on which Assignment Zero itself is based. From Executive Editor Jay Rosen:

assignment-zero.gif

The investigation takes place in the open, not behind newsroom walls. Participation is voluntary; contributors are welcomed from across the Web. The people getting, telling and vetting the story are a mix of professional journalists and members of the public — also known as citizen journalists. This is a model I describe as “pro-am.”

The “ams” are simply people getting together on their own time to contribute to a project in journalism that for their own reasons they support. The “pros” are journalists guiding and editing the story, setting standards, overseeing fact-checking, and publishing a final version.

In this project, we’re trying to crowdsource a single story, and debut a site that makes other such reports possible down the road. But we don’t know yet how well our site and our methods work. Our ideas are crude because they are untested. By participating, you can help us figure this puzzle out.

Seems like a worthy exploration of next-generation journalism. I think I’ll sign up.

No Love for These Links

PayPerPost, apparently eager to cement its status as the scourge of social media, has launched an affiliate program that will pay bloggers to write items that link back to PayPerPost blogs* blog posts via a “Review My Post” badge supplied by PayPerPost. The company has come under fire since launching its business to commercialize the blogosphere by pairing advertisers with bloggers willing to write about particular topics. (The bloggers get paid by the post – but only if the advertiser approves the content.) PayPerPost recently tightened its policy to require bloggers to disclose that they are being compensated for posts, but this new Review My Post program shows that they still don’t get it.

Aside from the obvious ethical issues around being paid to link to someone else’s blog, the progam also raises the prospect of marketers gaming the search engines by paying to drive high volumes of links to their sites. With this new affiliate program, PayPerPost has taken another big steaming dump in the middle of the blogosphere. Theirs is the wrong model for social media – let’s hope they (and their clients) figure that out soon.

For further reading, Jeff Jarvis has a great post about his exchange with PayPerPost CEO Ted Murphy at a conference last month, including his discovery of the Web-based reality show (ack!) that PayPerPost is making about itself.

‘How Do You Censor Content?’

Yesterday, I moderated a webcast on social media. The presentation was given by executives from Akamai and VideoEgg, who discussed the opportunities (brand affinity, ad revenue, more traffic) and the business and technical challenges (editorial control, site scalability and performance, monetization) for media companies and marketers looking to open up their brands to user-generated content and community.

We had a large audience turnout, but clearly not everyone has embraced the democratized nature of social media and consumer-generated content. Among the questions submitted by listeners was this one: “How do you censor content?” There were others that similarly touched on screening user contributions for offensive or illegal content, but this question, posed by someone affiliated with one of the Big Three automakers, stood out for its bluntness. And for its insight into what some folks really think about losing control of their brands.