Archive for July, 2009

Alert! Cyber Thieves Are Stealing Into Social Networking Sites

Posted on July 31, 2009. Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Heads up— the world of social networking is turning a little antisocial these days. Hackers and other cyber bandits are breaking and entering user accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

As was reported on Yahoo Tech News, one of the main culprits is a virus called Koobface, which has been targeting unsuspecting account holders and directing them to sites that contain malware—nasty software that can enter and infect a computer with malicious intent. For instance, once on your computer it might ferret out details such as your bank account numbers and other sensitive personal information. The Koobface virus has been around for a while but has recently been picking up the pace.

There are thousands of variants to the virus, including a pop-up message telling the user that his/her Flash player is out of date. The pop-up includes an invitation to install a software update, but it’s actually the virus. Koobface can send fake messages to inboxes with compelling subjects such as “You look funny in this new video.” When the user clicks on the link to the video it leads to a malicious site.

Another variation hides in certain games, quizzes and other fun stuff that’s so popular on Facebook. Still another stows away in birthday and holiday greeting messages.

So be aware, if you use social networking sites for business and/or personal purposes, you may be vulnerable to attack.

Here are a few basic steps to help thwart these cyber crooks:

Be careful who you let join your network, be they friend or follower
This is easier with personal accounts. You know who you know, right? Company accounts by their very nature are more open. Yet even in these instances precautions can be taken. A fair number of the cyber hooligans are operating out of Russia, the Ukraine, China and Brazil – if you get a request from someone in one of these countries you might want to verify they are indeed who they claim to be. In fact do this for any request that strikes you as suspicious. Or just go with the rule: When in doubt, toss it out.

Review the “about” page of a Facebook application
An application can access your profile. You want to feel secure in letting it do so. Facebook applications are listed in a directory where you can obtain more information by clicking the “about” link. This leads to a page where you can see who built the application as well as user reviews. Be sure to peruse the reviews and discussion boards. If something seems problematic or fishy then give it a pass.

Be wary of pop-up windows that instruct you to update software
Just like when you are surfing the net—where these same sort of ploys are used—do not install or download anything unless you are certain that it comes from a legitimate source.

Put up a fight with anti-virus software
Many computers have some level of anti-virus software already installed, but if you don’t have this type of security system, now might be a good time to get it. There are many options from the biggies in the field, such as Symantec as well as plenty of smaller boutique shops, like SpyHunter.

Finally, if you do become the victim of a malicious attack, be sure to alert the platform’s support staff.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think about cyber crime infiltrating social media sites? Comments welcome.

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Lawsuit Over A Tweet

Posted on July 29, 2009. Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , |

Did you know you can be sued over a Tweet?

As was reported on, among other places, a disgruntled female apartment dweller in Chicago is being sued by the company that owns the building she had lived in because she sent out a tweet in May that read: “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay.”

Horizon Group Management LLC is now suing the woman for $50,000.

The woman’s Twitter account has since been closed. She reportedly had less than two-dozen followers. However, her account was set to “public,” meaning anyone on Twitter who happened across her page could see it. Or as Horizon puts it, the tweet was “published throughout the world.”

The “public” setting along with the verbiage of the tweet, which the company claims is “defamatory,” is the basis of the lawsuit

To the layperson, the woman’s tweet could appear to be little more than a complaint uttered out loud, or perhaps more accurately, Tweeted out loud. Basically, a kvetch.

I don’t know all the details here. If Horizon is suing for libel perhaps the woman’s defense is freedom of speech. And yes, I could ask an actual lawyer to get a professional opinion concerning whether the suit has any real merit, but since there are both lawyers for the plaintiff and lawyers for the defense in any court case, you can always find opposing points of view.

We’ll just have to let the court decide.

There is a lesson to be learned here as relates to communications strategy. Which is that you would do well to be mindful of whatever you put out there on the web. It’s the most public forum going. People can sue for many reasons. So mind your p’s and q’s and all other letters; even on a platform where messages are limited to 140 characters.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think about this lawsuit, and this post? Comments welcome.

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The Survey Says: It Pays To Publicize When You Post A Poll

Posted on July 28, 2009. Filed under: Marketing and Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

It’s no secret that surveys are a useful way to interact with your target market. Asking for feedback helps create a relationship between your organization and people who are interested in your product or service.

And if the survey topic carries enough interest, it can catch the attention of the media and the public, as happened recently, when the National Museum of American Jewish History posted a poll to help select who will be inducted into its Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame.

The museum is currently constructing a new building slated to open in 2010. The Hall of Fame gallery, a signature component of this facility, will spotlight just 18 individuals; which, when you consider all the potential people who might qualify for the honor, is truly a select group.

Screenshot of The National Museum of American Jewish History online Hall of Fame pollTo help make this selection the museum created a web site soliciting a public vote on who deserves Hall of Fame status. A catchphrase — “Who will be Chosen?”— a sly reference to the religious belief that Jews are the chosen people, added a wink of fun.

The special site, online for one month — it expires on August 6 if you want to see and/or take the survey for yourself — explains what the gallery is all about, and it features a ballot box with 218 names, complete with photos and bios.

The museum sent out a press release announcing its virtual voting booth. According to Jay Nachman, NMAJH public relations director, the release generated notice, “in publications across the country, both Jewish and secular.” Nachman adds that the survey sparked conversations within the blogger community.

The museum bought ads on the web through the Jewish Ad Network. Nachman says its buy of 1 million impressions resulted in a click-through rate of .27.  Clearly the public was interested in helping decide who gets into the gallery.

Beyond that the poll fired up fans of certain folks whose names were left off the ballot. “Some people asked ‘Why isn’t this person included?” states Nachman. “For example, Neil Diamond is not there, and so his fan club mounted an effort to have him included through write-in ballots.”

The takeaway here: If you create a survey it’s worth considering whether this might make for an interesting news item. The subject of the survey can be something of substance or even something silly. There are many niche audiences in this wide world and the media often picks up on the offbeat.

Publicize your poll. Send out a well-written press release. Remember to include the blogging community because that’s where a lot of underground buzz starts. Then see where it goes.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU Think of this post? Comments welcome.

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Report Reveals How Top Brands Succeed With Social Media

Posted on July 26, 2009. Filed under: Best practices, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

It’s easy to get in the social media game. Set up an account, post some content, and there you go.

Sure, it’s more complicated than that. Still, ultimately, the big question many companies what to know is if the investment into social media has a real impact on its brand and does that impact lead to profits.

Engagementdb Report coverA new study by Wetpaint and the Altimeter Group, in a joint effort known as Engagementdb, attempts to answer this question in a report titled “The World’s Most Valuable Brands: Who’s Most Engaged?” The report analyzes the social media activities of the 100 most valuable brands, evaluates how that correlates to revenue and profit, and presents examples of best practices for making the most of social media.

The findings indicate the top ten most socially engaged companies are: Starbucks, Dell, eBay, Google, Microsoft, Thompson Reuters, Nike, Amazon, SAP, and there’s a tie in 10th place between Yahoo and Intel.

Big names all; still there are plenty of big name brands, so how come these rise to the top? To make that assessment the report examined several factors including how many channels are used, in what manner are these channels used, and who in the company participates: CEO, marketing, everyone?

Not surprisingly, those that are the most engaged fared the best. According to the study, companies with the greatest breadth and depth in social media increased revenues by 18 percent over the last 12 months. Conversely, companies with the least amount of engagement experienced a 6 percent drop in revenue during that same time period.

But there are nuances regarding what constitutes being engaged. Simply having a presence on one or more platforms is not a social media strategy.

The study offers several case studies detailing how companies in the top-tier engage, and these are certainly worth reading (the full report is downloadable for free at the Engagementdb web site). Meantime, here’s a quickie super-simplified summary of certain key findings that are good to know if you want to follow the leaders:

Be social
This one sounds obvious, after all it’s called social media. However, it cannot be overstated—you must have a dialogue. The idea here is to develop a relationship with your customer. Don’t just post material and monitor comments. Respond to the comments you receive in an open and honest fashion.

Know thy channel
Different channels offer different value propositions and methods of interaction. How you engage on Twitter is likely different than on Facebook. Understand how users of the various platforms interact with one another and what kind of information and/or promotional offer is best suited to each specific channel.

Don’t start something you can’t finish
Setting up an account then rarely making posts is bad practice. So is starting a blog only to be told by higher powers that they don’t want the company to have an online exchange with customers. Make sure you have the resources and support to maintain on ongoing stream of fresh content and that you can keep up your end of the conversation.

It can pay to be selective
It may not make sense to be in a lot of channels. In certain cases, less is more. Deep engagement in a few channels is better than shallow engagement in many channels.

Spread the socializing around
Companies that are the most engaged, and consequently derive the greatest benefit and profit from social media, have more open policies regarding who can contribute to different channels. Rather than keep a tight lid on things let many people contribute in areas where it makes the most sense and where they have appropriate expertise.

– Deni Kasrel

What do You think of this post? Comments welcome.

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Looking For Media Attention? Then Do Something Bold.

Posted on July 23, 2009. Filed under: Marketing and Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Sometimes it only takes a little imagination to make a media splash. If you can come up with a marketing or public relations tactic that no one else has thought of, that’s news.

teimo logoTeimlo, a mobile phone service company based in the U.K., recently announced that it’s seeking a marketing specialist. The job notice states that they are looking for someone sassy who is good with words and has a working knowledge of mobile and social media. Standard stuff, right?

Here comes the kicker: The company says it will devise a shortlist based on the impression each applicant makes via a single text message of 160 characters.

The full job notice was placed on the company’s web site with the headline “We’re Hiring By Text” and a condensed version was posted on several Twitter sites to help stir up a viral campaign, which did indeed occur, spurred by a rash of re-tweeting.

Soon the press picked up on the unconventional tactic. Teimlo’s CEO gave interviews to several media outlets, including BBC News and stories appeared in U.S. publications, too.

Of course Teimlo is not completing the hiring process via text. Sassy individuals that make the cut will need to go through a conventional face-to-face interview process.

Whether or not the text ploy turns out to be a good way for Teimlo to attract a good pool of potential marketers remains to be seen.  Still, the idea of a mobile phone service company using a brief text message to screen job candidates is an audacious hook that attracts attention.

Not only that, the scheme is original, which serves to reinforce the notion that Teimo is an innovative company.  So it scores marketing and PR points on a number of levels.

The net effect is what ad agencies refer to as cutting through the clutter. You want to stand out.

You can do it, too. It just takes a little imagination, smart strategy, and a desire to be distinct.

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Resistance Group Turns Its Weapons Into PR Share

Posted on July 23, 2009. Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , |

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, is turning its swords into plowshares. Or rather, it’s turning its weapons into PR share.

So reports the New York Times, which today ran an article titled “Hamas Shifts From Rockets to Public Relations.” According to the story, Hamas has decided, at least for the time being, that firing short-range missiles and otherwise engaging in acts of warfare, isn’t really helping its cause.

Hamas is currently taking a less militaristic approach in order to convey the concept that it is not a group of terrorists, but rather a resistance organization fighting for the rights of an oppressed people. These methods include using arts and culture—such as plays, art exhibits and TV shows—to communicate its point of view. Kind of a contemporary take on what was known in the 1930’s as agitprop.

I am not going to comment one way or the other as to what Hamas is or is not. Nor will I support or decry this latest tactic. This is not a political blog. And I am a pacifist by nature. But I will say that if a group that has previously used rocket-fire to fight for its cause is now trying to win support for its purpose through arts and culture, then that’s a curious example of public relations.

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Do You Need To Capitalize The Letter “W” In The Word “Web?”

Posted on July 22, 2009. Filed under: Web Style Guide, Writing Style | Tags: , , , , |

Style is often in the eye of the beholder. That’s surely so when it comes to the topic of whether or not to capitalize the first letter of the words web and internet, as well as assorted variations of the same; such as world wide web and net.

If you are someone who follows what’s called AP (short for Associated Press) style, you are likely having a fit over the fact that I did not capitalize any of those words.  The same goes for individuals who take their lead from policies established by other members of the fourth estate (a fancy way of saying the press corps) such as The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World’s Most Authoritative Newspaper or various popular references, and I’ll use for the sake of simplicity. The proper style for these folks is to go with uppercasing the first letter of terms relating to the Web and the Internet. However, if you’re across the pond in the U.K. and adhere to rules set by Guardian News and Media, it’s web and internet. As my people say, oy vey.

Meanwhile, if you go with Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age the rule is to use lowercase, because as editor Tom Long wrote back in 2004, “Why? The simple answer is there is no earthly reason to capitalize any of these words.”  Many other technology/web-related publications and bloggers are lowercasers.

Now what about Wikipedia? Well, it would appear to be an “it depends” kind of thing. The entry for World Wide Web has it both ways and there’s even an entry about this very topic as pertains to the Internet.

So what should a smart communications strategist do? Well, if you work for a place that has well-established style usage rules, then it’s best to use those guidelines. You know, do as is done, when in Rome, etc.

If you are a business that has a web site, go with what you feel comfortable with—if anyone gives you a hard time just point them to whatever reference reinforces your point of view.  My personal opinion is that the tide is turning toward favoring the lowercase option.

FYI: I, for one, follow the lowercase rule of keyboard. Just so you know.

– Deni Kasrel

What to do YOU think about this post? Comments welcome.

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Deliberately Pointing Out Changes To Your Web Site Can Enhance The User Experience

Posted on July 22, 2009. Filed under: Web User Experience | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

With the web, the only constant is change. The pace of improvement and innovation is such that a web site or web application that remains the same for even a couple of years may be considered out-of-date.

If you’re involved with the web you must buy into the “change is good” mantra. Of course this does not mean that all change is good (oh, did I just hear someone mention Facebook’s Beacon fiasco?).  Still, in the scheme of things, if you’re involved with the web, you’re into change.

But it is also important to consider how change can affect users, who may be perplexed by the sudden appearance of something new on your site.

Allow me to use an analogy: Say you own a car that you drive on a regular basis and one day a new knob just pops up on your dashboard. You have no idea what it’s for, and maybe there’s a label on it, but in any case, it’s all new to you. So you think, “Whoa, I never saw that before. How’d it get there and what the heck is it for?” The new knob, however useful it may prove to be, distracts you from the task at hand, which is driving the car. This can lead to an accident. Not a good thing.

Making changes to a web site or to a web-based application is similar though not the same. Becoming distracted by the presence of a new link is presumably not hazardous. Yet it can be disorienting. A new feature that appears out of the blue in a space where users otherwise know the lay of land may cause a person to become confused and/or think they have faulty memory.

So you might want to consider taking a tip from Google email, which alerts users when changes appear.

Goggle lets users know Tasks is a new function

Google lets users know Tasks is a new function

In mid-July of this year the word “New!”  popped up in red next to a link for Tasks on the left-hand side of the client interface. This serves two purposes: First, it reassures any potentially confused user that “Hey, you really haven’t seen this link here before.” Also, calling attention to what’s new transmits a subliminal message that Google is constantly adding functionality to make things better.

All of this directly relates to an improved user experience. Which in simple terms means visitors should not need to deliberately think about what they are doing on a web site because it’s intuitive by design.

As Jared Spool, a well-known user interface engineer notes in his article Designing Embraceable Change, “We must take care to ensure that we’ve considered the process of change as much as we’ve considered the technology changes themselves.” FYI, I recommend reading this article, especially if you are making major changes to a site.

So yes, change is good. And surely not all changes need to be pointed out in red. Still as many a mom might say, it’s a nice gesture.

Remember, anything that throws a user off is a reason for them to leave your site – and perhaps seek out a competitor.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think of this post? Comments welcome.

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We’ve Lost A Remarkable Communicator: Walter Cronkite (1916-2009)

Posted on July 20, 2009. Filed under: Commentary, Famous Communicators, Outstanding Communicators | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

When it comes to identifying an individual who personifies what it means to be an effective communicator one name that surely fits the bill is Walter Cronkite, who passed away on July 17, at the age of 92.

Cronkite is best known for his role as the anchor of the CBS Evening News, a position that he maintained from 1962 through 1981. During those years, if there was an event that you wanted to get the straight honest story on, Cronkite was the man to turn to. He had a steady manner that was direct and to the point. And yet there was also warmth to his baritone voice, such that you knew there was a genuine human being reporting the news of the day, as opposed to simply a person reading a teleprompter.

Cronkite’s forthrightness acted like a magnet. You wanted to tune in and hear what he had to say. When he ended with his famous sign-off “And That’s the Way It Is,” well, you knew it was so.

The man’s work is considered so definitive that clips of his reportage are frequently included in documentaries about any number of important situations. Anyone who was around during the 1960’s and 1970’s can likely recall events that they learned about from Cronkite. His announcement of the assassination of JFK— how he halted slightly as he pondered the reality of what he was saying—is legendary.

The same goes for when Cronkite uttered a slight laugh, rubbed his hands together and let out a “whew” and “oh boy!” when man first landed on the moon. It was a monumental achievement that represented the accomplishment of a great technological challenge as well as a triumph for our nation and Cronkite communicated all that in his delivery.

Occasionally Cronkite included commentary in this broadcast. His coverage of the civil rights movement helped to bolster the public’s support for that issue, and his searing observations regarding the futility of America’s participation in the Vietnam War is said to have led to then-President Johnson’s decision to not seek re-election.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. The man mattered. What he said made a difference in how we perceived what was happening in the world. And at times he even made a difference in what happened.

I am not aware that Cronkite had a communications strategy per se, but if he did it might go something like this: Do your homework, check the facts, be honest, stay in control no matter what the circumstance and tell it like it is.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think about Walter Cronkite’s legacy? Comments welcome.

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No Blog Is An Island: A Comment About Comments

Posted on July 19, 2009. Filed under: About This Blog | Tags: , , , , |

It’s been said that most blogs have an audience of one. So I could just be talking to myself here (it would not be the first time).

But the best blogs prompt conversation. They get people talking in the office, at home and in the comment box.

The comment box is often one of the liveliest parts of a blog, especially when a post strikes an emotional chord or provokes controversy.

Here in my city of Philadelphia for instance, when a sports blogger writes about Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, or the team’s coach Andy Reid, well, let’s just say the comments can come in hard and fast. And boy can they be colorful.

Comments enable a blog to present additional and/or different perspectives on a given topic and that makes the content all the richer. Which means you, dear reader, are a vital component of The Communications Strategist. Sure, I can write an interesting post but your comments can make it even more engaging. Which is to say, I want them.

So please feel free to add your two cents about a post. Send a hosanna or toss a virtual tomato. Either way, express yourself.

– Deni Kasrel

What to YOU think of this post? Comments welcome.

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