Happy 100th IBM – and a One Word Lesson for Social Media

Image representing IBM as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Light the candles (and notify the Fire Marshall) on the cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to IBM as it celebrates its 100th birthday. Despite its many technological accomplishments including the revolutionary punch cards; electric typewriters, mainframes and personal computers, its most significant contribution to social media use may be its iconic company slogan — “THINK”.

On June 16, 1911 four companies merged into the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation in Endicott, NY creating one of the great American corporations, renamed in 1924 as International Business Machines, IBM. Three years later its iconic leader, Thomas J. Watson, instituted the one-word slogan that both encourages and cautions – THINK.

And that’s the social media lesson for brands and individuals today. Before you send that photo… before you post that angry rebuttal… before you denigrate others (no matter how well deserving)… before you tweet that knee-jerk reaction that , at the time, you are sure is justified… THINK.

Think about how what you send may be received. Think about how what you say can be interpreted. Think about whether what you are about to do maintains accuracy, integrity or transparency — or — just lowers you to the same level as the muckrakers and mudslingers.

Too often, brands have been tarnished, careers ended or major revenue lost, due to the failure to employ a “digital count-to-ten” before publishing on the Web.

It’s not enough being right. It’s not enoughbeing technically correct. In social media, as in all marketing and indeed much of life itself, it’s all about how what you do is perceived. So before you post, tweet, like or digg…

In Defense of Women, or “Another Day, Another 77 Cents”

Women don’t need me (or any other man) to defend them, as they are quite capable of doing so themselves. But they do deserve my support and that of all men in their long and ongoing effort to achieve equality when it comes to treatment in the workplace, today earning about 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for similar work.

Married to a top corporate executive with two daughters working in the education and government fields, I have witnessed first-hand the challenges each face in pursing their careers. Two events last week got me thinking once again about this issue. The first, was the celebration of Equal Pay Day (Apr. 12) which strives to increase awareness of the discrepancy between male and female wages. The second was attending the “Shine On: Celebrating Women Making a Difference” awards at Radio city Music Hall (Apr. 11).

Despite the emergence of women as keen, capable business leaders the latest info shows they still only make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for a similar job. To quote the Department of Labor,

While women hold nearly half of today’s jobs, and their earnings account for a significant portion of the household income that sustains the financial well-being of their families, they are still experiencing a gap in pay compared to men’s wages for similar work.” (Dept. of Labor, Equal Pay Day Toolkit)

Yes, progress has been made over the years, and certainly,  there has been a fundamental change in the role of women in the workplace. While Stay at Home Moms (SAHM) remain a vital part of society wage equity has certainly lagged behind the realities of today’s workforce where men are not necessarily the family’s main wage-earner.

Portrait Monument image via WikipediaCongress as well has hampered equal pay progress by failing to pass HR:1519 The Paycheck Fairness Act in both 2009 and 2010 (although reintroduced last week with 168 congressional representative sponsors). Ironically, Congress itself is an equal-pay workplace, mandated to pay senators and representatives specific salaries regardless of gender. Of course, Congress also kept the Portrait Monument (left), dedicated to the pioneers of women’s suffrage Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, in the basement of the Capitol for 76 years before restoring it in the Rotunda in 1997, and even then said it’d only be there for one year (though obviously extended).  Hmm…

On a brighter note, Good Housekeeping — a “main stream media” magazine publisher that has remained relevant for over 125 years — celebrated women making history with its Shine On awards. This year’s winners were:

  • Christy Turlington Burns – For her work as an advocate via her Every Mother Counts
  • The sOccket Girls – Four Harvard grad students for combining  soccer with enlightenment
  • Elizabeth Blackburn – Nobel prize-winning scientist whose work may unlock a cure for cancer
  • Michelle Rhee – Controversial forward-thinking educator for her Students First organization
  • Lisa Switkin – Urban planner of green space including the High Line park in NYC
  • Indra Nooyi – Chairperson and CEO of Pepsico, Inc. also active in Water.org

Amazing people all, I was impressed with their intelligence, eloquence and passion to improve society.

Oh, and they just happen to be women.

Epsilon: NOT Such a Negligible Effect

From Ancient Greek ἒψιλόν (epsilon, “the letter Ε”), defined in the context of computing as “A negligible effect.”

But also, Epsilon is an online marketing unit of Alliance Data Systems Corp., servicing over 2,500 clients via the distribution of permission-based emails.  On Wednesday (March 30), Epsilon announced in a short statement to its clients (not to the public) with no details other than ” a subset of its database was accessed externally” resulting in email addresses and names being stolen. And far from having a negligible effect, this may represent the largest security breach in the history of the Web.

What does this mean to you? At a minimum it will lead to targeted unsolicited emails being sent to you in greater frequency and quantity.

I started to get wind of the problem when I received two emails from retailers I have dealt with online, but haven’t interacted with in many months, Brookstone and Disney Destinations. Then I saw other people mention on Twitter receiving similar notices from TiVo, Kroger and other brands. There had to be a common denominator and it was Epsilon.

How widespread is the breach? Hard to tell at this point, but according to Neil Schwartzman, chief security specialist for CASL Consulting, “It is the biggest breach we have ever seen; and to say no financial information has been stolen is, well, understating the massive breach and concern.”

Here’s only some of the 50 brands whose customers are affected (note the many financial institutions):

  • 1-800-FLOWERS
  • Abe Books
  • Ameriprise Financial
  • Barclays Bank
  • Best Buy
  • Brookstone
  • Capital One
  • Citi
  • Disney Destinations
  • Eddie Bauer
  • Hilton
  • Home Shopping Network (HSN)
  • JPMorgan Chase
  • Kroger
  • Lacoste
  • LL Bean
  • Marriott Rewards
  • McKinsey & Company
  • New York & Company
  • Robert Half
  • Ritz-Carlton Rewards
  • Target
  • The College Board
  • TiVo
  • US Bank
  • Visa Card
  • Walgreens

Got spam? Blame Epsilon (yes, I know they aren’t the only causal factor, but they’ve now further sullied the ecommerce waters). It’s important to note that the companies listed above and others caught in the maelstrom are not to blame. They contracted with a well-known service provider with a stellar client list. It is reasonable for them to have felt confident that a company whose stock in trade is in email communications to have safeguards in place to protect their data.

As for reparations, blogger and former co-worker during my AOL years Joe Manna says, don’t expect anyone to pay for your inconvenience based upon past incidences similar to this one:

“This is the work of offshore hackers where laws are weak, jurisdiction is limited and tracking people down is near impossible. Don’t expect anyone to get arrested, because the hackers are global.”

One more thing —  as of this morning (April 4) the Epsilon web site shows no mention of the breach even as the story is exploding online naming them as the cause, letting their clients take the blowback (and the blame?). The story went public on Friday and so the social web has had three days to spread the story without company response. It appears Epsilon needs a social media professional on staff to help modernize its marketing and public relations.

Again, old thinking or as we in social media say a PR #FAIL.


Follow the Epsilon not-so-negligible fallout: Targeted Google News Search

A Scorpion, a Frog and an Aflac Duck

By now you’ve heard that Aflac insurance fired comedian Gilbert Gottfried as the commercial voice of its Aflac duck for tweeting insensitive and offensive remarks (since removed) about the disaster in Japan on Twitter.

True, tweets like these  (here are two of 12 issued in total) are insensitive and could be considered offensive:

Charles Sykes/SYKEC, via Associated Press“I was talking to my Japanese real estate agent. I said, ‘Is there a school is this area?’ She said, ‘Not now, but just wait.’”

“Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them.”

The company stated the tweets were “lacking in humor and certainly do not represent the thoughts and feelings of anyone at Aflac.”

Fair enough, and the fact that Aflac does 75% of its business in Japan is certainly a valid business reason to end their relationship. The company was entirely within its rights — and indeed had no choice — but to do so, even though Gottfried’s voice is not used in the Japanese versions of the ads and most of Aflac’s customers likely never knew that Gottfried supplied the duck’s voice.

Insensitive, offensive and ill-timed. But that describes Gottfried who has a long-held and well deserved reputation of being, as Howard Stern recently put it, “the most foul-mouthed comedian” out there.

Example: Shortly after  9-11, Gottfried was part of a Comedy Central/Friars’ Club roast of Hugh Hefner where no one was in the mood to laugh. There, a joke about his plane having a connection at the Empire State Building was met by catcalls and cries of, “Too soon!” Concluding that it was time for a comedy “Hail Mary”, Gottfried broke into an obscene, graphic, vile, extended version of the recognized “dirtiest joke of all time” – ‘The Aristocrats.’ It is also accepted as the best performance of that joke ever.

And that brings us to the fable of the scorpion and the frog. A scorpion approached a river and Read more of this post

On Employee Appreciation Day, How Will Yours ‘March 4th’?

March 4th! The only day of the year that is also a command. In today’s socially networked environment, where companies are forced to realize that they don’t control their brands — their customers do — their best “Brand Ambassadors” are often overlooked, under appreciated and underutilized: their employees.

Employees appreciate the annual Bloomberg L.P. picnic

And that’s dangerous. When 50% of employees who say they have considered leaving their job (source: MarketTools, Inc.) mix with the explosion in social media a potentially brand killing lethal combination ensues.  For example, let’s say you frequent a social media site where new autos are discussed and saw a valued member of the community who worked for an automaker but had nothing good to say about the company, you’d think twice before considering buying one of their models.

Social media builds engagement with employees, too. Traditional internal communications efforts, typically administered by your HR team and utilized to inform employees of company news and events via e-mail, newsletter or a Web 1.0 designed internal site are no longer enough. These cascading, ‘sermons on high’ one-way communications are often discounted or (worse) ignored by employees — especially in large companies with multiple offices spread over widely divergent geographic areas.

“Just as ‘All politics is local‘; ‘All communications is social'”

As mentioned in a prior post, let Communications/Public Affairs handle PR; let Marketing handle marketing; and now, let HR handle human resources – but rely upon a social media professional (yes, that skill set, again) to optimize all three.

The application of current social media two-way conversation strategies will engage a company’s employees the same way social media is used to connect the company with its customers. The more the employees feel connected to the company, its brands and products the more supportive they will be. Acknowledge that their opinion matters and is heard.

As for quick things you can do today, Read more of this post

Twitter: The Not So Angry Bird

I’ve been speaking with a lot of people lately about the role of the social media exec in today’s business world and, of course, the conversation invariably includes Twitter. Even now, almost five years after its launch, many people have misconceptions or negative opinions about Twitter largely based upon a lack of knowledge.

And so when I saw this post on Mediabistro‘s All Twitter blog titled, 3 Things Most People Don’t Understand About Twitter, I thought I’d add a few comments on them as well.

Myth #1: Twitter is a social network: It is not. It is a part of social media, but it is not a social network — it is an information network, backed up by public comments from co-founder Biz Stone. Earlier this month, Twitter finally released its mission statement that stresses that assessment and here’s proof: We all know that Google is the king of the search world, but did you know that the #2 position is held by Twitter? That’s right, more searches are performed on Twitter each month than on Yahoo! and bing, combined.

Myth: It’s just good for one thing: On the contrary, it’s good for many things. Your Twitter is not the same as my Twitter. In fact, my Twitter changes from moment to moment. Sometimes I use it as a communications tool; sometimes a news source; and at others a marketing tool. That’s my Twitter. As we say online, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

Myth: Twitter kills productivity: Is Twitter a time suck? Well, what isn’t? Anything you do takes your time and, as mentioned above, Twitter time can be just as valuable (or not) as any other research or communications activity. The important factor is that it is a customizable experience to be used as little or as much as makes sense. As for banning it, or other social media, from the workplace I’d counsel to tread lightly. Unless you also ban all smartphones from the premises your employees will still spend time on those sites. It is better to make a reasonable social media policy where personal use of social media is akin to personal use of company phones and have supervisors continue to judge their direct reports as they always have: do they get the job done well, on time and with positive influence on their peers.

Connect with me on Twitter @roncasalotti.

P&G Shifts Ad Dollars from Soaps to Social

Further proof that social media is here to stay:

P&G info on WkipediaProctor & Gamble, the consumer products giant for whom the term “soap opera” was coined, is dropping its advertising on soap operas after 77 years, and shifting their ad dollars to Twitter, Facebook & YouTube.

It’s enough to make a social media guy like me jump for Joy.

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