A new guide to help you verify digital content from any source

Giant beach ball on the loose...Verifying facts before publishing a news story is one of the cornerstones of trusted behaviour that we have traditionally expected from the mainstream media.

Even in the disruption of traditional sources of news over the past decade – with the rise of social media, of newer sources of news and information that compete with the traditional, of newer digital platforms from which to make news and information available, and in changing behaviours of people from purely consumers to creators (citizen journalists and the ugly-sounding ‘user-generated content‘) and questioners of the news story wherever and whenever it appears – we still largely hold the mainstream media to a higher standard with a continuing expectation that reporters and editors will get the facts right before they go to print or (more likely) publish online.

Nowhere is that more expected than in cases of disasters or tragedies. When there is so much happening so quickly, confusion and misinformation abound – mostly accidental but some deliberate – as a reporter tries to get the facts from many different places, increasingly including user-generated content in addition to traditional sources, eg, newswires and official spokespeople.

Especially at times like that, you want to be sure of what you intend to report with confidence, based on verifiable facts, that others will read, see and hear. And you need to do it very quickly.

Enter the Verification Handbook, a ground-breaking new resource for journalists and aid responders which provides step-by-step guidelines for using user-generated content during emergencies, and how to verify that content and the sources of it.

Verification Handbook

In a crisis situation, social networks are overloaded with situational updates, calls for relief, reports of new developments, and rescue information. Reporting the right information is often critical in shaping responses from the public and relief workers; it can literally be a matter of life or death.

The Handbook prescribes best practice advice on how to verify and use this information provided by the crowd, as well as actionable advice to facilitate disaster preparedness in newsrooms

The Handbook is divided into the following chapters:

  1. When Emergency News Breaks
  2. Verification Fundaments: Rules to Live By
  3. Verifying User-Generated Content
  4. Verifying Images
  5. Verifying Video
  6. Putting the Human Crowd to Work
  7. Adding the Computer Crowd to the Human Crowd
  8. Preparing for Disaster Coverage
  9. Creating a Verification Process and Checklist(s)
  10. Verification Tools

There are also a number of cases studies – including one that explains the giant beach ball on the loose photo at the top of this page – so the guide starts out with real credibility and not purely an academic-looking work.

Publisher The European Journalism Centre in Maastricht, The Netherlands, says it’s the first-ever guide for reporters and editors who use user-generated content during humanitarian emergencies. It is edited by Craig Silverman, author and founder of Regret The Error, now at The Poynter Institute in the US, and includes contributions by some credible and trusted names from across the world of journalism (scroll down from the website landing page to see who the authors are).

Significantly, the Verification Handbook is positioned as being a useful resource not only for reporters:

While it primarily targets journalists and aid providers, the Handbook can be used by anyone. Its advice and guidance are valuable whether you are a news journalist, citizen reporter, relief responder, volunteer, journalism school student, emergency communication specialist, or an academic researching social media.

If you publish anything online in a professional capacity, whatever your role, journalist or not, on which you have based your content on that of others, you will find the Verification Handbook worth bookmarking.

The guide is available as a website and, next month, as a downloadable PDF file, and in print, as well as a Kindle version for Amazon’s ebook reader.

What an excellent resource.

How to be smart about guest bloggers

Guest Bloggers Ahead!Every week, I receive two or three requests to publish guest posts on my blog.

The requests come by email from people I don’t know who almost always have a Gmail address, not a recognisable company domain. And there is usually nothing in the email about the person other than a name (which often doesn’t quite match the name in the email address), and no links to any presence on the social web.

They offer to be guest bloggers, writing posts for my blog on a wide variety of subjects, some of which match topics I am interested in and/or have written about myself in the blog. More recently, many of the emails that arrive offer to create or post infographics.

Are such requests worth considering, even accepting?

In a word, no. I’ll explain why in a minute.

The typical email I get is like this one I received this week:

Hello,

My name is Chris and I have been a pro guest blogger for a number of years. I currently have a couple high-quality original posts that I think would be a good fit for your site. One is called “Social Marketing Trends in 2014.” The other is called “Copywriting Tips and Tricks in a Digital World.” So if you’re interested in either one, I can send it right along.

Thanks for your time,

Chris

That was it. No links to anything, just the email text. Nothing to make me drop everything and get back to Chris.

And this one:

Hi,

As an energetic writer and keen web enthusiast, I have the habit of browsing through informative and well-written posts and articles. I have recently come across your website (nevillehobson.com) thought that the posts are quite interesting and informative.I was just wondering, if I could contribute something to your site or not. If yes, then as a guest blogger for your site,I promise that I will be producing articles that will be entirely unique, written just for your blog and will not be posted elsewhere.

I also promise that I will comply by your rules and regulations meant for guest posting and hope that I can produce work that is in conformity to the desired quality sought by you.

Will be eagerly awaiting your response. Looking forward to forge a meaningful collaboration.

Thanks & Regards,
Samantha Jones | Writer & Editor

Samantha Jones included her Twitter handle. But no profile information there, no photo, no link to anything anywhere… nothing there would prompt me to get in touch.

And this:

Hello,

My name is Angelina and I’m a writer and editor that has a real passion for Infographics. I am associated with many communities and sites and have been providing them infographic based content on finance since quite a long time now.

I came across your site http://www.nevillehobson.com/ and I really liked the way you have presented it. So I was wondering if I can contribute an infographic for your site too?

The infographic would be designed by me with a short description and a link to my site [redacted].

If you agree, please let me know and I can start working on it.

Awaiting your positive response.

Until about a year ago, I used to politely reply to such emails thanking the sender but declining the offer.

I soon realized that this was a waste of time. It became obvious to me that nearly all of the people sending me email about guest blogging weren’t really interested in my blog at all – this is purely an outlet for their content that would enable them to ride on the reputation this blog offers, its readership (and content syndication via RSS and other means), and potential traffic-driving to wherever any links would take a reader.

In short, I soon figured it was more about search engine optimisation and manipulating Google PageRank than supposedly creating great content for my blog.

Now I either ignore or delete such emails that make it through the email spam filters (and you’d be surprised at how many don’t make it through: more than 60 percent).

All of this comes to mind after I read “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO,” by Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, on January 20 in which he rings a loud alarm bell on the risks to bloggers of allowing guest blogging on their blogs, and engaging in guest blogging themselves.

[...] In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.

[...] I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there.

[...] I just want to highlight that a bunch of low-quality or spam sites have latched on to “guest blogging” as their link-building strategy, and we see a lot more spammy attempts to do guest blogging. Because of that, I’d recommend skepticism (or at least caution) when someone reaches out and offers you a guest blog article.

Cutts makes it clear where the risk is. It’s not guest blogging per se, it’s SEO and Google PageRank manipulation that’s the issue. And doing that can have serious consequences for the blogger on whose blog the ‘bad’ content is published.

I encourage you to read Cutts’ post in full, and watch the four videos he made that are embedded in the post. You will get a clearer idea on the full scope of guest blogging and the pros and cons.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t usually take guest posts on this blog. The few times I have, I either know the person who asks or they made a pretty good case for doing it.

I would consider one from a guest blogger I don’t personally know who has credentials and fits this 6-point profile:

  1. If the writer says he or she has written guest posts for other blogs, I want to see some of the posts on those other blogs – not just links to posts – that show that they are a good contextual ‘fit’ for those blogs and what they cover.
  2. Any links in guest posts to relevant content or specific sites elsewhere on the web do not include the ‘rel=dofollow’ attribute.
  3. A presence on the social web – the writer should have at least a Twitter handle complete with profile info, a photo and a link to another presence online, and with some longevity of being on Twitter, plus a good balance of followers and following.
  4. A presence on a social networking site (generally, I tend to pay more attention if someone is on Google+ rather than on Facebook).
  5. Their name shows up in Google search, with links and references to them and their work across the social web, suggesting a credible presence that I’d expect to see for someone whose says they’re a “long time guest blogger” or similar.
  6. Last but not least, something in their email that suggests they have at least read my blog and demonstrate that they have a pretty clear idea of the relevance of their proposed content to it.

I wonder what the next email that makes it through the spam filter will propose.

The sorry state of trust according to Edelman’s 2014 Trust Barometer

14-point trust gap

A key finding in the 2014 Trust Barometer published today by Edelman PR shows that, once again, public trust in governments around the world trails far behind trust in business.

Moreover, the ‘trust gap’ has increased markedly in the 2014 findings compared to 2013 – now a 14-point gap – and, indeed, overall compared to five years ago when the financial crisis was starting to bite.

While this gap illustrates a global average, where people’s trust in governments varies within each of the 27 countries in which Edelman conducted its research for the 2014 survey, it’s small comfort as the gap is driven by a decline of trust in government and not an increase in trust in business, Edelman says, with the gap at 20 points or greater in nearly half of the countries surveyed.

A few other highlights from the 2014 report’s findings:

  • Business is now expected to play a much bigger role around the debate and design of regulation as 79 percent of those surveyed believe government should not be working alone when setting policy.
  • A majority of respondents (84 percent) believe that business can pursue its self-interest while doing good work for society.
  • There is call for more regulation in several industries including financial services (53 percent), energy (51 percent) and food and beverage (48 percent). Regionally, the study found that 66 percent want more regulation of the financial services industry in Germany, 73 percent of people in the UK want more regulation of the energy business, while in China, 84 percent desire stronger regulation of the food industry.
  • Trust in CEOs has plateaued, and while they have recovered from a low of 31 percent in 2009 to 43 percent this year they still rank seventh out of eight, sitting only above government official (36 percent), as most credible spokesperson (and Edelman believes that CEOs must become “chief engagement officers” in order to educate the public about the economic, societal, political and environmental context in which their business operates).
  • Academics (67 percent) and technical experts (66 percent), a “person like yourself” (62 percent) and employees (52 percent) continue to be far more trusted. CEOs can build trust in themselves and their companies by communicating clearly and transparently (82 percent), telling the truth regardless of how unpopular it is (81 percent) and engaging regularly with employees (80 percent).
  • Globally, family-owned (71 percent) and small- and medium-sized businesses (68 percent) are more trusted than big business (61 percent).

Companies

  • Companies headquartered in BRIC nations continue to suffer a trust deficit compared to western-based companies. Globally, respondents rated companies based in Germany, a market known for efficiency and productivity, highest (80 percent) followed closely by Sweden (79 percent) and Switzerland (79 percent), both of which are known to have strong policies aimed at protecting the environment and employees and communities. Companies based in Mexico (34 percent), India (35 percent) and China (36 percent) were trusted least and have seen no improvement over the past five years.
  • Technology (79 percent) and automotive (70 percent) were once again the most trusted industry sectors, while banks (51 percent) were least trusted with dramatically low trust levels in Western Europe – Spain (16 percent), Italy (23 percent), UK (32 percent), Germany (33 percent) and France (38 percent).

This is the 14th annual report from Edelman that examines the state of trust in major economies. During the years, it has become a credible and trusted source of valuable insight into the intangible thing called “trust” that, increasingly, has tangible impact on business and government performance.

Retrospect

Note from the retrospect, above, the milestone findings in 2006, 2009 and 2012 – the effects of which we see markedly today.

One other finding in the 2014 report caught my attention – the power of search.

According to Edelman, there was a consistent answer to these questions:

When looking for general news and information, how much would you trust each type of source for general news and information?

On a typical day, what is the first source that you go to for general information about business?

What is the first source you go to for breaking news about business?

Which of the following sources do you turn to MOST often to confirm/ validate information on breaking news about business?

The answer? Not the mainstream (or social) media, but online search.

The power of search

People clearly prefer their own “natural search” methods rather than the pre-packaged (and untrusted) alternatives.

Edelman will be formally launching the 2014 Trust Barometer during a presentation and meeting in London on Tuesday January 21, 2014, at 8:30am GMT. You can see it live.

  • Shel and I will be discussing the 2014 Trust Barometer in this week’s episode 739 of The Hobson and Holtz Report podcast, recording today and publishing later today UK time.

Additional reading:

Dropbox outage shows the fragility of the cloud

Dropbox - 500

Cloud storage and file-hosting service Dropbox suffered a severe service outage this week that began on Friday night and, as I write these words on Saturday evening UK time, is still continuing.

If you go to the Dropbox website, you’ll probably get only a screen with the headline ‘Error (500).’ That signifies some kind of server error.

I say “probably” because on Twitter, Dropbox said the problem is resolved and the site is back up. I saw people tweeting that this is so. Yet I see others saying it’s not and certainly, in my case, it definitely is not back. And note that Dropbox’s tweet was over 13 hours ago.

I look at the ‘Connecting…’ dialog box in the status area on my Windows desktop PC. It’s been saying that since I turned on this PC earlier this morning, some ten hours ago.

dropboxisstarting

In that dialog box, I should see reference to recent activity in my Dropbox account – files and images uploaded or downloaded, deleted, etc. But as you can see, nothing.

As a long-time Dropbox user with a paid account, this concerns me. That said, it’s the weekend so at the moment, I’m not overly alarmed about that lack of being able to synchronize the files I store on Dropbox’s servers and which sync with the various devices I’ve enabled to do that.

Equally, I’m not too worried at comments I’ve seen around the social web on Twitter and elsewhere that Dropbox has been hacked. In a note on the last status update on its tech blog, Dropbox says its not so.

Yet this has some strong ingredients to suddenly surge into a major crisis of confidence if that kind of talk escalates – such as into mainstream media like this report less than an hour ago in USA Today, one of the big-circulation US papers:

Popular backup service Dropbox went down late Friday – and a hacker group is claiming responsibility.

A group called The 1775 Sec says via Twitter it compromised Dropbox’s site in honor of Internet activist and computer programmer Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide a year ago.

Dropbox is saying the outage, which appears to be resolved, arose from routine maintenance.

If you can get to the user-supported discussion forums – just about everything connected to the Dropbox domain is extremely slow – you’ll see many comments by very angry users.

Dropbox Forums

In particular, check out the seven pages of comments in relation to this specific outage.

I have no doubt that Dropbox is working feverishly to fix whatever the problem is that they said, 13 hours ago on Twitter, was “caused during internal maintenance.”

They do have a status update post on a tech blog that announced the problem and then said it’s solved. The post is dated today, January 11, but there’s no indication of when it was originally posted or when it was updated.

What I see now is, well, little more from Dropbox and a lot more from anyone else with an opinion – including repeating rumours about a hack attack – that stokes up good old FUD: fear, uncertainty and doubt.

A classic point from which a crisis can erupt: no trusted words from the organization, lots of untrusted words from everyone. I say “untrusted” because the majority is uninformed opinion that’s passed along via everyone’s social networks.

Correcting incorrect information just can’t happen as fast as a tweet, a retweet or a like.

I hope Dropbox can fix the problem quicker than it looks like they’re doing. Yes, feverish work in the background, of course, I have no doubt as I mentioned earlier. But in reality, I have no idea exactly what that means.

Some people are holding this outage out as an example of never relying on the cloud for your content. Always have a secondary option: if one fails or you can’t access the content, you have a backup.

Common sense and it’s certainly a practice I follow.

Yet I think what this illustrates mostly is how a lack of timely, continuous and trustworthy communication is the spark that creates FUD, and that can lead to a collapse in confidence and the potential subsequent exit of many customers to something else (Google Drive, maybe).

It does highlight the fragility of the cloud when things go wrong, to be sure. But that fragility is seriously – and unnecessarily – compounded by a lack of communication.

And once things are fixed – surely by Sunday at the latest – most people will likely breathe a sigh of relief and carry on as usual.

At what cost to Dropbox, I wonder, when the next outage happens.

[Later:] And the jokes will flow… Thanks, Sean Trainor, for this timely cartoon:

[Update Jan 12, 08:00 UK time:] Dropbox is up. At least, I can now access my account on the website even if the desktop app still cannot connect to the web and synchronise files.

An update last evening US Pacific time on the previous status update post on the Dropbox tech blog adds this discomforting note:

Dropbox is still experiencing lingering issues from last night’s outage. We’re working hard to get everything back up, and want to give you an update.

No files were lost in the outage, but some users continue to run into problems using various parts of dropbox.com and our mobile apps. We’re rapidly reducing the number of users experiencing these problems, and are making good progress.

We’re also working through some issues specific to photos. In the meantime, we’ve temporarily disabled photo sharing and turned off the Photos tab on dropbox.com for all users. Your photos are safely backed up and accessible from the desktop client and the Files tab on dropbox.com.

Clearly, whatever happened is very serious – that’s how it looks in the absence of any detailed explanation from Dropbox. So far, the outage has gone on for nearly two days.

Good luck with the complete fix during today Sunday, Dropbox, looking forward to hearing what you have to say about it all.

[Update Jan 13, 08:25 UK time:] And Dropbox is finally working as expected, not only on the website but, more importantly, on all devices that synchronize content with and via a Dropbox servers account.

In a concise post to the Dropbox blog at about 7.20pm US Pacific time last evening, Dropbox VP of Engineering Aditya Agarwal said the service “should be up and running for all of you.”

He went into more technical detail on the Dropbox tech blog in explaining what went wrong during the maintenance update that Dropbox has said was at the heart of the outage, and what they did to fix it

[...] A subtle bug in the script caused the command to reinstall a small number of active machines. Unfortunately, some master-slave pairs were impacted which resulted in the site going down.

Your files were never at risk during the outage. These databases do not contain file data. We use them to provide some of our features (for example, photo album sharing, camera uploads, and some API features).

To restore service as fast as possible, we performed the recovery from our backups. We were able to restore most functionality within 3 hours, but the large size of some of our databases slowed recovery, and it took until 4:40 PM PT [on Sunday] for core service to fully return.

That, and the rest of the post, should provide some comfort that a) no data has been lost (a thorough check of your content on Dropbox would confirm that); and b) they’ve fixed the problem.

Agarwal’s post on the tech blog talks about what lessons Dropbox has learned from this experience, talking about “distributed state verification” and “faster disaster recovery.”

These are core elements of the overall technology and its management, and something that is part of reassuring users and others that Dropbox is a service you can trust.

Yet I see no mention of “communication.” That’s the missing element in the learning experience for Dropbox, essential for completing the customer reassurance circle.

During the weekend, one alarming and confidence-draining element in much of Dropbox’ communication, especially from its support Twitter account, was a clear signal that they had no idea when service would resume normally.

It’s tricky line. What level of detail do you communicate that isn’t going to alarm people even more? Or do you keep mum other than saying “we’re working on it” and risk seriously alarming people and fanning the flames of FUD? It seems they chose the latter path.

What would have served Dropbox well in this situation would have been a community of advocates – brand champions, if you will – who could have taken the detail, and communicated it within their own communities of influence.

I saw no evidence of any such activity, just the occasional update to the original status post, and lots of auto-like tweets such as the one above.

Dropbox may have fixed the serious problem technically. Where work is pending is building strong and trusted connections with their users and others who can support them online.

When I first wrote this post on Saturday evening, I included a screenshot of the user forums, showing a thread containing 193 posts across seven pages about this outage.

Now, that forum thread contains 1,290 posts spread across 43 pages, filled with anger, frustration and negativity (hostility in some cases).

There’s your feedback, Dropbox, a rich resource to learn from on what your customers think.

[Update January 13, 21:00 UK time:] Shel and I discussed the Dropbox outage kerfuffle at some length in this week’s episode 738 of our weekly business podcast, published a short while ago. The segment starts at 16:39 into the show.

The thrill and heartache of BlackBerry: employee perspectives

BlackBerrys

Whether Canadian mobile technology company BlackBerry has a viable future or not is still a big unknown.

The company fell from grace during this year as sales of its smartphones plummeted in the face of competition from Apple and Android devices, plus a collapse in confidence in the company,  in the brand and in its leadership, and a knock-on effect on its lucrative software and services business.

The cost was catastrophic. Calling BlackBerry “a company in crisis” would be an understatement.

While some reports now talk about success with its BBM messaging service, others paint a dire picture of a company whose market share in hardware devices had all but collapsed by the end of the third quarter 2013 in key markets – to near zero in the US, China, Spain and Japan, for example, as the Guardian reports, also highlighting one ray of sunshine in one market: the UK.

Meanwhile, interim CEO John Chen affirmed in an open letter last week that BlackBerry Ltd is “very much alive, thank you” as it rebuilds itself as a niche player concentrating on the enterprise market.

Whatever the future for Blackberry, its past is a rich library of compelling memories and stories told by employees, former employees and others with strong connections to the company from its founding as RIM in 1984 to the present day.

You’ve heard the massaged and nuanced PR stuff from company leaders past and present: now hear the unfiltered stories of employees.

Such stories have been captured by Bloomberg Businessweek magazine in a feature report that paints a picture of the people of BlackBerry and their perspectives of their lives and connection to BlackBerry:

Over the last two months, Bloomberg Businessweek spoke to dozens of current and former BlackBerry employees, vendors, and associates. Here is their account of the thrill of BlackBerry’s ascension – and the heartache of watching its demise.

It’s a series of powerful vignettes of people and their experiences. It brings BlackBerry into life – it’s about ordinary people, not inanimate objects like phones – as it presents a timeline of events in the mobile-device marketplace, from its early days and, especially, over the past decade, as seen from the perspective of people who made up the once-12,000-member workforce.

Two handfuls of those experiences:

Gary Mousseau, eighth employee at RIM and software developer and manager, 1991-2007: I first met [founder and ex-CEO] Mike Lazaridis when he interviewed me. Mike is a very good orator and communicator of technology. He was a convincing-enough soul that I ended up taking a 13 percent pay cut to join RIM. I started in 1991. My first job was to build my own desk. There was no more room for me. They put me in the fax reception area. I was the guy receiving packages. I sat beside the fax machine, which was not fun. It was a small place. It was crowded. We were above a pizza joint.

Jim Estill, member of the board, 1997-2010: In the early days at RIM, people had no idea what a smartphone was. People had no idea what two-way pagers were. But they had such a cool factor. You’d take one out, and everybody would want to touch it and play with it and see what it was.

Chris Key, global account manager and carrier sales and relationship manager, 2001-09: In 2004, I shipped off to India. I became very active in feeding devices to Bollywood celebrities. I recall going to Bombay fashion week, and I took a box-load of BlackBerrys. A friend of mine is an editor for Vogue. She put me in the VIP section, and I drank Champagne and ate strawberries and handed out BlackBerrys to all the celebrities.

Lidia Feraco, senior marketing manager for Latin America, 2005-11: In the Jamaica/Trinidad launch, we did an exclusive campaign where people would come into a discotheque. We would give them temporary henna bar code tattoos, and people could use their BlackBerrys to scan the tattoos to get people’s [personal identification] numbers. People would say, “Scan me, scan me.” And as the evening went on, people would get more risqué and put the tattoos on different parts of their body. So instead of asking, “Hey, can I get your number,” the conventional line in a nightclub, it was more, “Hey, can I get your PIN?”

Brendan Kenalty, customer base management, 2007-10: I was in the loyalty and retention group. People would be, like, “You’re in BlackBerry retention? Why would anyone need that?”

Jesse Boudreau, vice president, BlackBerry software excellence, 2004-08: In four years we went from [approximately] 2,000 to 12,000 people. Having been at Nortel, the politics that get played is exponential. I was starting to see it be like Nortel. There was bureaucracy. There was pointless process. You were getting decisions by committee.

Vincent Washington, senior business development manager, 2001-11: One thing we missed out on was that Justin Bieber wanted to rep BlackBerry. He said, “Give me $200,000 and 20 devices, and I’m your brand ambassador,” basically. And we pitched that to marketing: Here’s a Canadian kid, he grew up here, all the teeny-boppers will love that. They basically threw us out of the room. They said, “This kid is a fad. He’s not going to last.” I said at the meeting: “This kid might outlive RIM.” Everyone laughed.

Ray Gillenwater, managing director, 2007-12: If BlackBerry was going to be serious about consumers, they needed to make a fundamental shift in the way products were thought about, created, iterated, marketed, and sold. This was done but never to the extent necessary. It was always a partial effort. There was a period of time when this could have been corrected, but when it became apparent that HQ and senior leadership were not addressing systemic issues, people like myself left.

Jeff Gadway, current senior manager for product marketing: When you go into the focus groups, and you talk to customers about brands in the technology space, there are brands that don’t come up at all anymore. And then there’s BlackBerry. People have fond sentiments about BlackBerry. If people didn’t have that affinity toward the brand, I would be challenged to really believe in what we’re doing. People want to see BlackBerry succeed.

‘Thrill’ and ‘heartache’ are indeed the sum total of much of these experiences:

Much more at Bloomberg Businessweek: The Rise and Fall of BlackBerry: An Oral History.

I was never a BlackBerry user. I never bought into the “doing my email wherever I am” culture. Yet, today, reading those emotive snapshots, I say: Good luck, BlackBerry.

(Photo at top via the Guardian.)

Related posts:

Beware lack of Plan B in a Twitter hashtag chat #AskJPM

Tomorrow's Q&A is cancelled...

Using Twitter as a channel to engage in public conversation is a tactic that’s been employed by a number of large organizations in high-profile examples over the past few weeks.

Focused around a hashtag – a word or single-word phrase starting with the ‘#’ symbol – such ‘tweet chats’ can be an effective method of articulating perspectives and opinion on topics of interest to you and your audiences, be they customers, investors, employees, the mainstream media, etc.

They also let you surface issues that interest your audiences as well as concern them, serving as useful barometers of opinion to complement other or formal methods of analysing online opinion related to your company, people in your company, your brand(s) and topics that interest you.

A tweet chat can be hugely useful in creating and strengthening connections between an organization, its people and tweeters and their communities out there as the Bank of England experienced recently.

But is it very much a double-edged sword where things can very quickly spin out of anyone’s control – no matter how hard you try to exercise control – as British Gas and Ryanair discovered last month; and as investment bank JP Morgan found out to its cost last week when it tried to conduct a tweet chat around the hashtag #AskJPM.

It was a classic example of being not in control of the message where it was hijacked during a relentless, unceasing storm of hostile tweets using that hashtag.

Yet it’s deeper than that. It seems to me that the exercise was one of futility for JP Morgan. While I have no idea of the specific and measurable goal they set out to achieve by holding such a tweet chat, it’s clear there was no structured plan that included one all-important element:

What is our Plan B if things go awry? If we get aggressive questions or hostile opinions about our business, corporate and individual behaviours, our culture, our plans, anything that isn’t what we want everyone to talk about, namely a Q&A session with Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee on career advice and leadership?

Within minutes of announcing the tweet chat, the hashtag was overwhelmed with hostile and amusing/sarcastic tweets in almost equal measure, causing the bank to throw in the towel on the exercise.

But the reputation hit was immediate as mainstream media around the world revelled in stoking JP Morgan’s discomfort and highlighting its failure – gleefully in many cases – with commentary and opinion that has one thing in common: portraying JP Morgan as totally clueless in its plans for using Twitter in this way.

#AskPJM media headlines

While this is a ‘good’ example of the consequences that may result through not having a Plan B (assuming there is a solid Plan A), there’s a more fundamental aspect of JP Morgan’s effort than that.

I would argue that a tweet chat for the reason understood – that of a Q&A with a senior executive of the bank – was probably a terrible idea given the landscape and climate surrounding big banks following the role many played in the financial crash of recent years; and the public hostility online about specific banks, such as JP Morgan.

(In contrast, take a look at the positive results the Bank of England experienced in its recent tweet chat. Although at the heart of the financial crisis in common with other central banks, this is a largely untarnished financial organization, enjoying positive sentiment partly due to a new man at the helm, Governor Mark Carney.)

It doesn’t matter whether such poor sentiment and hostile opinion of JP Morgan is justified or not. It doesn’t matter whether the criticism of JP Morgan and highlighting its apparent cluelessness is fair or not.

All that matters is that the organization ventured out onto the public social web to engage with people and quickly learned that the landscape they wished to survey is a pretty hostile one, for which they had no plan of defence, and have suffered a reputation hit that is still in the news (and will be in Google search results for a long time to come).

So the first question they should have asked was:

Is this tweet chat a good idea, or not?

And that should be the start of Plan A.

“Bad idea, back to the drawing board,” declared the JP Morgan official tweeter upon cancelling the event. I hope we see the outcome from that drawing board.

Meanwhile, if you want review JP  Morgan’s discomfort, take a look at “J.P.Morgan shows us how NOT to do Twitter #AskJPM,” an excellent Storify curation by Gabrielle Laine-Peters.

There is some genuine learning there.