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Marie Claire’s Response Sucked. Here’s Why.

5 Oct

It’s now been almost 48 hours since I first saw the Hunger Diaries piece that trashed Kath, Tina, Meghann, Caitlin and Heather , and in that time there has been near total silence from Hearst (publishers of Marie Claire) and Katie Drummond, the author of the piece.

Hearst published a really weak statement that thanked everybody for the comments, both positive and negative (I think I saw four positive over the two days, vs hundreds and hundreds of negative ones), and Katie’s tweeted a couple of snarky tweets. That’s it.  I guess they feel that there’s nothing to be gained from them saying any more than that or engaging with their detractors, who have clearly already made up their minds.

I believe they’re wrong about that.  Here’s why:

1. Damage to Marie Claire’s Reputation
There have been an astronomical number of posts created on this topic over the last couple of days: a HUGE amount of content has been created, the vast majority of which has attacked Marie Claire. Their standards are being called into question, but they’re silent. It makes them look like they’re scared to get into a conversation because they know they’ve done something wrong. Surely if they hadn’t they’d want to defend themselves, wouldn’t they?

2. Damage to Katie’s Reputation
One of the key charges leveled against Katie is that she deceived the bloggers when interviewing them. Ask yourself one question: will a source ever trust her again? The first thing I would do if I got a call from her would be to google her name. Doing so pulls up a bunch of posts accusing her of lying to sources about the story she’s working on.  Would you want to work with somebody that has been accused of that? Whether the accusations are true or not they’re out there for everyone to see. There are always two sides to every story, but her silence doesn’t do her any favors.

3. SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
This is related to #1 and #2, but important enough to call out on its own. There are thousands and thousands of tweets, blog posts and comments out there, almost all in support of the bloggers. Again, with almost nothing substantial from Hearst or Katie out there, it doesn’t look too good.  Organic search results (that is to say the ones you can’t buy from google, that appear naturally in the larger section of your results page) are dominated by posts attacking the magazine and author. One or two you could put down to a crank, but dozens and dozens…

4. Plain Old Ethics
This one’s a bit dull, but perfectly valid. If you’ve been accused of something, particularly something like this, why wouldn’t you want to defend yourself? If you’re in the right, back your position up. If you’ve made a mistake, ‘fess up to it. But just doing nothing…. I don’t get it. Well, I do (legal and/or simply don’t care), but I don’t agree with it. It’s just not the right thing to do, period.

5. Community Backlash
A few people will cancel their subscriptions, sure, but it’s just a few bucks, microscopic in the grand scheme of thigns.  Longer term what they’ve done by failing to engage is caused an entire community (a BIG community, too), to not trust them. Right now that’s not a huge deal to them, but it could come back and bite them in future.

6. Avoiding being a Case Study
Cynical, but true.  In future this incident will be cited as an example of old media just not getting it. Failing to engage, not putting their hands up and admitting to having done anything wrong or even understanding why people were upset… is a mistake, and will be cited as an example of old media being a dinosaur.

So, what do you think about how they’ve handled the situation? Were they right to essentially shut up shop and ignore what was (and still is) going on, or do you agree with me that it’s a pretty major misstep on their part?


Spam, Spam, Spam

9 Mar

Not too long ago, spam was mostly email: viagra, pr0n, get rich quick schemes.  Nowadays tho, it’s all over: blog comment spam, twitter spam, facebook spam. Irritating, annoying, but effective: the spammers only need a fraction of a percentage of people to convert (i.e. click a link, make a transaction, get duped by a phishing scam etc) to make it worth their while. So they carry on.

There’s another type of spam though, and it’s a  particular pet peeve of mine: when an otherwise decent product or application uses deceptive or shady tactics to get me to promote that product. It’s happened to me a couple of times lately, and it drives me up the wall. Most often the promotion is in the form of a tweet that gets fired out to your network (“I just did xxx, followed by link”).  The really shady ones don’t tell you they’re going to do it, but there are plenty of others that don’t  make it super obvious that a tweet is going to go out, or are not fully transparent about what the content of that tweet is going to be.

So to app developers, I say this: if you make a good app or product, give me the tools to promote it, make it easy for me to do so, and I will. But trick me into doing it, and I’ll think negatively of you and most likely won’t use your app again.

If what if have is worthwhile, you shouldn’t need to resort to black or grey hat tactics to promote it, so don’t. Of course I get that a small business needs to promote their product, but do it legitimately, don’t trick me. The burden rests with you to be fully transparent, not on the end user to work out whether something is going to happen or not.  If there is ANY doubt in your mind as to whether it’s 100% clear as to what’s going to happen when your end user takes the desired action, you should reconsider. Please don’t be that guy (or gal).

Jack Dorsey’s @square is going to change the world. Here’s why.

1 Mar

On saturday I went to a #tweetup in New York organized by the New York Knicks.  One of the panelists was Jack Dorsey, of Twitter fame, and after the event I got the chance to test drive his new venture: @square.  Square is a mobile payment system that allows anyone with an account and an iPhone to take credit card payments . I tried it by donating to the Red Cross, and its elegance and ease of use is absolutely mind blowing. Jack plugged the little dongle in to his iPhone, opened the app and processed my payment in seconds.  I signed with my finger to confirm my donation and it was done: email receipt in my inbox, my (rather miserly, sorry) donation winging its way to the Red Cross.

My @Square donation

My @square donation

Think about that for a second…when this thing launches anyone with an iPhone will be able to take credit card payments. Anyone. Your buddy that owes you money but claims he doesn’t have any cash can @square it to you.  Your daughter’s lemonade stand will be able to take credit card payments.  Every pop-warner football game in the country, every club, every single business that was predominantly cash or cheque based will be able to do the same.  How big do you think that market is or could be? Big? More like scary big.

And what sort of impact could it have on the non-profit world?  Well, ignoring the (not insignificant) fact that square will be donating 1c from every transaction to the non profit of your choice, suddenly every fundraiser of any kind that takes place offline will be able to take card payments.  Breast cancer walks, bake sales, the fundraiser at your kid’s school, political fundraisers… it’s huge, and the revenue it could generate for good causes and @square alike is mind boggling.

Me donating to the Red Cross using @square

Me using @jack's @square

It won’t be without issues, of course. Payment and card transactions are complicated, but if they handle those pieces (particularly the security side of things), they’ll have an absolutely amazing product on their hands.  The version I used didn’t have the picture verification system they talk about on their site (let the images on the homepage scroll to see), but I can’t imagine that they’ll launch without some sort of added security layer. In any case, many of  the transactions they’ll be processing will be less prone to credit card fraud as they’ll be taking place between people who have some sort of existing relationship. Either way, as long as the vendor takes the necessary steps to verify that their customer is legit, @square will be just as secure as a regular credit card payment in a store. The bigger danger for them will be the other way round: dodgy vendors trying to rack up fraudulent charges on stolen cards. To that end, I’m sure you’ll have to jump through hoops to get an account, just as you do with paypal, to which it has often been compared.

@kaimac ()Kai MacMahon) using @jack's (Jack Dorsey) @square system

Donating money to the red cross using @square

After seeing it in action, I’m even more convinced than I was before that @square will be bigger than Twitter. It’s super quick and so simple and elegant that my mom could use it (no disrespect intended, mom! xoxo). The potential market is enormous, and it solves a very real problem.  I love that people are doing stuff like this. Brilliant.

I think Square is genius, and that it’s going to change the world. What do you think? Will you use it?

#kevinsmithgate update: What @southwestair did wrong

15 Feb

OK, so by now everybody knows the Kevin Smith/Southwest story that I covered in my previous post. I’ve read all the tweets + listened to his 70 minute Smodcast (podcast) on the matter and wanted to summarize the situation and clear up a couple of misconceptions, before highlighting a couple of areas I think Southwest have messed up pretty badly in:

1. Smith often travels on Southwest and generally buys more than one seat, he says for comfort.

2. He does not NEED to buy an extra seat because he’s fat, per their criteria: he can sit in the seat with the armrests down AND get his seatbelt on.

3. He was let on the earlier flight, then told to get off because he posed a risk, so he had to get his stuff and walk off the plane, as if he had done something wrong.

4. A big part of why Smith is so pissed is that on the second flight (the one he was originally booked on), the stewardess came and did the same thing to a girl sat in the same row as him. Well, not quite: she didn’t get thrown off the flight, but the stewardess told her that next time she should consider buying two seats. On a flight that wasn’t full. Smith also claims that the stwerdess told the girl she had to ask Smith (who owned the empty middle seat between them, remember) if he minded.  Minded what, exactly? Her being fat? If you listen to his podcast you can clearly hear the hurt in his voice as he talks about this part in particular. It does sound terribly humiliating.

Anyhow, net net: as we all know by now, Smith went ape, Southwest went kinda quiet.  They posted a weak apology on their blog, and haven’t done a whole lot since.  So where did they go wrong?

1. Too slow
It took them almost 24 hours to comment anywhere other than on Twitter, that’s WAY too long.

2. Too defensive
Their ‘apology’ basically just repeats their weight policy, instead of it being a mea culpa.  They either think they were right to throw him off (so no apology needed), or they made a mistake (and apology IS needed). but to apologize but then tell him he is too fat is just odd.

3. Not technically prepared
The blog went down under the traffic pretty much immediately they posted it. That’s just bad planning. If it was my blog that would be one thing, but Southwest are a big company. Even now, comments are down on the blog (conspiracy theorists are LOVING that, of course).

4. Radio Silence
Since their blog post went up they have said almost nothing. The Twitter handle has been completely silent for 14 hours, and they have only tweeted twice since their blog post went up, both times to let people know they were having technical issues. What use is being active in social media if you go quiet when it hits the fan?  I don’t get it.

5. No Engagement
Related to the radio silence, they’re simply not engaging: since they put their blog post up, the strategy appears to simply be to ignore the situation. Is that smart? I don’t think so.

Cliche alert: this whole episode has been a great example of the power of social media: Smith turned down a bunch of TV interviews (he even claimed that one of the networks sent somebody to his house!), and instead chose to, in his words, scorch the earth on Twitter and via his podcast. On Southwest’s side though, maybe they’re not the social media powerhouse we all thought they were? I personally am very disappointed in how they’ve handled things. Smith has controlled his message & engaged. Southwest have put their head in the sand.

I would be *very* surprised indeed if Southwest don’t announce this week that they are reviewing that particular policy, and in particular how it gets implemented. Should an overweight person have the right to encroach on my personal space on an plane? No, of course not, but should that paying customer be humiliated and put down in public by a representative of the very company they’re paying? Again, of course not.

Update @4.50, Monday: According to Smith, Linda from Southwest called him to apologize, and said that the captain DID NOT single him out for ejection. Took a while, but that’s progress from @southwestair, definitely.

update @7.45, Monday: Linda (of Southwest, though amusingly she doesn’t say what she does there) posted an hour or so ago on the Southwest blog. Again certainly progress, but still doesn’t feel quite right to me. It’s definitely much better than the previous post, and the apology is definitely much more sincere but it stops short of a full mea culpa.  The last line is exactly what they needed though:

“This has our attention, and we will be reviewing how and when this delicate policy is implemented.”

Full post is here:

What do you think?

Kevin Smith vs Southwest Airlines: Silent Bob Strikes!

14 Feb

Movie director Kevin Smith claims he got thrown off a Southwest plane yesterday for being too fat.  He’d already boarded and sat down when he claims he was told to leave as he had been deemed a safety risk by the pilot.  Understandably, he was less than pleased about this, and tweeted his displeasure at length. 32 tweets as of last night, each going to 1.6 million followers = more than 52 million impressions from the @thatkevinsmith twitter handle last night alone. Include all the other conversations and it’s gotta be in the hundreds of millions of impressions already: a google search for “southwest fat” brings up nothing but references to the incident. Oops.

Surprisingly, other than some tweets from @southwestair, there’s been no official comment from the airline. They said they tried to call him to apologize but weren’t able to get through. It’s pretty incredible to me that the higher-ups at the organization would leave so much time pass without making any sort of official statement, leaving the girl who handles @southwestair in the firing line.  By making a statement they wouldn’t make the problem go away (what happened, happened… and Smith is clearly fuming), but they would show that they were listening, and that they’d heard Smith’s complaint (tho in fairness it would be pretty hard to avoid it).  The inconsistencies alone (Smith claims he didn’t have to buy two seats on the first leg of the trip) warrant an investigation: they should have been right on that last night.

This has turned into a fully fledged PR disaster for Southwest and I fully expect the story to start doing the rounds on the TV networks today.  Smith is releasing a podcast tonight to talk about what went down, and unless he’s calmed down significantly overnight, I would expect that to be pretty scathing.

It’s fine for an airline to have a weight policy for passengers: that makes absolute sense.  It’s not fine for them to humiliate passengers by telling them to leave when they’ve already boarded. You have to wonder how often this happens to people that don’t have Smith’s megaphone.

My biggest question here is: where’s Southwest’s crisis response plan?  They’ve done almost nothing to manage the situation, which is absolutely unbelievable to me. It’s great that they’re active on Twitter, but they’re getting hammered right now, and their silence is deafening.

UPDATE @4pm: Southwest just made a statement on their blog, here:

They apologized to Smith, but basically said he was too fat, and didn’t address any of his accusations (i.e. that the plane wasn’t full), or address the fact THAT HE WAS LET ON THE PLANE IN THE FIRST PLACE, which is the heart of the issue. Instead they defended their policy (“we’ve had it for 25 years” “other airlines have the same” and “we don’t make money from it”, and completely missed the point. Smith went off because he was hauled off the plane, not because they have a weight policy…. how can Southwest not have addressed that? Beggers belief.  And what do they think is to be gained from getting defensive?  The statement does nothing other than make Southwest seem old fashioned: big mis-step guys.

Incidentally, the networks are already trying to get hold of Smith ( This one is not going to die-down.  Smith’s podcast comes out in little over an hour, should be interesting.

PS – thanks to @ellenrossano for forwarding me the @southwestair blog copy.  It’s still timing out for me.  Weak.

Update @8am Monday: Kevin’s Smodcast went live last night, and there’s a bunch of new info in there.  First of all, he was initially on a later flight (for which he had two tickets, something he says he regularly does on Southwest for comfort), but went on standby for an earlier one. There was only one seat (in the middle it turns out) available on that earlier flight.  They let him board, he’s sat down…. and the stewardess comes up and tells him the captain has told him he has to leave. He makes the point that he fits between the armrests and by Southwest’s own criteria, he’s not too fat to fly, but she wouldn’t listen. He gets his stuff and leaves the plane.

His podcast is a great example of ‘social media right to reply’.  Definitely recommend that you listen to it, here:

I’m going to post again later on with some thoughts on what Southwest did wrong here (at at 9.20am on Monday are still doing wrong).

Friending everyone you meet – what’s up with that?

9 Apr

Not so long ago, social networks were pretty straightforward:  MySpace & Facebook were for friends, Linkedin for business contacts, and a bunch of others for everything in between.  If you met somebody (online or off) that you got on with you connected with them on one of the first two, if you met somebody you were doing business with and liked (or wanted to) you connected with them on the latter.  They were, in one way or another, qualified contacts.  Seems like in the last year or so particularly, the boundries between them all have gotten blurred.  I’ve had facebook ‘friend’ requests from people whose name I don’t know, or whose face I don’t recognise.  Met them once, was on a conference call or in a meeting… exchanged cards at a conference.

Twitter self-polices in a way, in that if you’re following somebody who drives you crazy, you’ll quickly unfollow or ignore them.  Part of the beauty of Twitter is that it’s a great way to connect with folks you didn’t know previously. That’ll be the subject of a different post though…

My point is that connections run the risk of losing value.  If you connect with everyone you meet on linkedin, how valuable is that connection to you or your network?  If you can’t vouch for that person personally, is the fact that you’re linked of any worth?

Personally I try to only connect only with people I consider to be friends, or folks who I like  or liked working with and respect.  There’s a good deal of crossover between Facebook and Linkedin for me within those two groups (a different issue), but the same rules apply.

What do Web services like Facebook & Twitter owe their users?

23 Mar

There’s been lots of noise recently around Web services and their relationships with their users. Facebook users were up in arms about the recent privacy policy changes (since rescinded), there’s increasing noise about the customer service (or lack thereof) from Twitter. Facebook’s redesign has caused an extraordinary backlash: you’d think some of these folks had been personally assaulted, such is their anger. Gmail  goes down for 15 minutes, and it’s like the world has ended.

Gmail, like the others above, is free for non-enterprise users.

That’s the key point when looking at these complaints: these services are all free.  So, just as users of Google’s free analytics product have much less right to complain than those of the higher end and more fully featured (but paid) Omniture Site Catalyst, the real question is whether  it’s reasonable to expect a certain level of service or % of uptime when you’re not paying for a product?

If you’re getting something for free you have to take it as it comes to some extent, but in truth it’s more complex than that.  Long term each of these services will look to generate revenue from their users in some capacity (some like Gmail already are); whether through subscriptions, advertising, sponsorship or some other stream.  To succeed, they need a happy and active user base. Ignoring their users’ complaints at this stage could damage them long term: the Web is littered with the carcasses of services that ignored their users.

You could reasonably argue that Twitter users have no right to complain about not getting a level of service they are not contractually entitled to, but in order for it  to succeed, they need to keep users happy so they don’t go elsewhere. The road to that success starts with listening to their users’  complaints. The customer is always right, even when it comes to free services.

Interesting thoughts on this over at the Social Media Club. It’s their question of the week. Where do you stand?  Are folks being reasonable in complaining, or does the fact they’re not paying for the service mean they have to accept whatever level of service they receive?