Your data is being watched – the Snowden lesson

Some call him a traitor, others call him a whistleblower, but what Edward Snowden has truly done is wake Americans from a dormant sleep of indifference. Snowden’s announcements have been a wake-up call for many Americans that feel safe placing confidential information online. It is a lesson that all individuals should learn; in the era of big data everything you do is being tracked, recorded, and saved for future use.

Many Facebook users, myself included, participate in a “Facebook stalk” – sitting around visiting the pages of your friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and random people you met once at a party. Facebook is tracking exactly what you are searching, what you click on, what your mouse cursor moves over, and the photos you view.  Without a doubt, Facebook understands which advertisements work best on you, your sexual preference and individuals you’re interested in, the restaurants you visited and with whom, the movies you watch, the conversations you have, and the places you have visited.

When the Boston Marathon Bombings occurred, I’m sure that someone called up Mark Zuckerberg to ask whether Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev had Facebook accounts. Is there a doubt in my mind that Zuckerberg doesn’t back up data from everything conducted on Facebook? No.

While “deleting your creeper Facebook Search history” may make you feel more secure from the prying eyes of friends and family, it’s just as unreliable as deleting files off of a computer or deleting your Google Search history. Someone has that data. Think about how the computers of sex offenders or other individuals are confiscated and searched for data. Your information is being stored.

Every tweet you send, note you make, trolling you do on online forums, and email you draft may be watched. Think about the downfall of General Petraeus and the email trick that he used, a trick that is used by terrorists and those looking to hide their search history. He left draft emails that he figured would never be discovered. And we all know how that story ended up.

What can you do? Know that what you search, whether at work, home, or even through Google Incognito has the chance of being recorded. Sure, it may not be a secret that the NSA or CIA may be monitoring for, but what you do is never safe. We are all guilty. Don’t trust the Internet because you have a secure password, instead, research techniques that lesson your likelihood of a problem, while also bearing in mind that what you say is being recorded (also, don’t research things that may be compromising). There are more dangerous things in the world than Trojan Viruses infecting your computer.

Get social for a job

Occasionally, I find an intuitive post on hiring that really blows my mind. With a PR client that’s in the hiring space, I find myself consistently reading and tweeting with those that write on recruitment for new grads and seasoned veterans.

Yesterday, I read a piece on BostInno “Congratulations Graduate! Also, 9 Reasons Why I Will Never Hire You” by Mark O’Toole and it actually caused me to do a double-take. The piece outlines thinks that I wish I was told as an aspiring PR guy and that I will now tell my future interns.

What left the largest impression was not the dress to impress regardless idea, rather, it was “you don’t get social media (but think you do).” And this can be a big problem for anyone now coming out of school. We think that because we grew up on Myspace and Facebook that we’re naturally experts in social media. A 30 second dissection of someone’s social network profiles would unearth the lack of actual social-ness behind their networks. If you’re not ruling Twitter or connected on LinkedIn with your friend, his/her parents, and your entire graduating class, you’re starting at a major disadvantage.

Sadly, to be truly good at social media, you need to understand that you’re not any good at social media. By the time you truly become an advanced user, another network has come out or your head becomes too big and you begin neglecting what actually got you there. Maybe you learn the best way to market using Instagram, but in the time you spent mastering that skill, a new update came out, or worse, an even better social network has taken it’s place.

How important is customer service? My experience at Valvoline

Excellent customer service, whether online or in person, makes or breaks a business. We’re not in a Seinfeld-esque world where people will tolerate “Soup-Nazi” style service, instead, we’re living in a time where EVERYONE can have a voice. Businesses that focus on providing kick-ass service online and offline will make it through and flourish.

Too many people misunderstand the importance of what social media is and what it’s capable of achieving. Many of my friends perceive my infatuation with social networks as worthless and assume that it’s a fetish comparable to being an adamant sports fan. Understanding social media is further convoluted by those that staunchly believe that they have never and will never buy anything on Facebook, from Pinterest, or as a result of someone’s tweet on Twitter. At least once over the next year, I guarantee that you’ll make a purchase (or not make one) that was influenced by social media.

Last Monday, in recognition of my favorite president, Grover Cleveland, I celebrated Presidents’ Day by purchasing an oil change. A few days prior, I had received a coupon in the mail for a discount off of my next oil change, and, as a person fixated on getting the most bang for my buck, I brought along the $10 discount coupon for my premium oil change. I’ve been getting my oil change at Valvoline and expected the traditional “upselling” and subpar service that often accompanies a trip to a car mechanic.

I wasn’t disappointed as I received both terrible service and an inquiry on the condition of my car. I didn’t mind the “upsell” as the gentleman was very nice while asking about my sparkplugs. What did bother me, and what will keep me from going to a Valvoline again, was a combination of bad customer service throughout my stay.

Before proceeding, let me clear up one thing. I rarely write reviews as I often empathize with customer service workers dealing with disgruntled customers.

My day at Valvoline starts …

  1. I drove to the Valvoline Instant Oil Change, walked inside, and was told to move my car up to the garage door and park it next in line.
  2.  Once I walked back inside, no one is at the counter.
  3. The line behind me gets longer. Seven minutes pass and no service.
  4. The clerk takes my keys after I tell her i’m looking for a high mileage – premium change. She doesn’t thank me but moves on to those next in line looking for an oil change by asking “who else needs a change?”.
  5. After my oil change, the clerk calls “Honda Accord”. That’s not my name.
  6. She starts to ring me out, but calls me by my first name, Andrew. Somehow she actually knew my name.
  7. She rings me up after I give her my $10 off coupon. She puts it in as $6 off. I nicely point out the error and she explains that the $10 off is for a tire rotation. I mention that i’m from out of state and that the coupon does say $10 off a premium change.
  8. She goes out and speaks to her manager to ask if this is okay She comes back in, attempts to input the $10 off, it fails. She goes back to her manager and he comes in as well. They explain to me that because my discount is out of state, they won’t honor it, but will give me the $6 discount.
  9. They don’t place the oil sticker on my car, rather, they hand it to me.

There are many reasons why my experience could have been so sub-par. Perhaps the clerk felt under the weather or was having a bad day. Maybe they were completely understaffed and trying to do the best job possible. Or maybe they just didn’t care. Whatever the reason, people that go to the Internet and social media to write about their bad experience are impacting future sales for the business. If I raved about Valvoline, I might tell all my friends. If I had an awful experience, I might swear off of Valvoline Instant Oil Change forever. And, worst of all…

I could go on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp etc. and explain my situation while pushing it to my six-thousand+ contacts. In this situation, unless Valvoline Instant Oil Change is watching social media, they won’t realize my dissatisfaction with their service or what I would be saying about this brand.

Why does this matter? Let’s say I convince three current Valvoline customers to never go there again because of a bad customer service experience and they can identify with me, that $4 compounds into much more. Considering people like to frequent the same mechanics and auto body shops, this adds up. Now, maybe each of these three people convince another three…

Sure, a large business, such as Valvoline, won’t be greatly impacted. But what if this was a small restaurant or business?

And what can Valvoline do to change? The easiest fix is to monitor social media channels, take me offline, and remedy the problem. Perhaps then I will give them an excellent online customer service review for their handling of the situation. Obviously, they could also change their store customer service, but having a brand notice the problem is enough to hopefully start making a change.

That’s great, but won’t people just abuse this? They haven’t yet, why would they try? It can be embarrassing for someone to spout off about a business, have the business remedy the problem, and continue doing it. This is why people mock others behind their backs but won’t say anything face-to-face.

Is social media powerful? Absolutely. Can your small, mid-sized, or large business afford to avoid what’s being said about them online? Do you ever share your less than positive customer service experiences on your social channels?

Am I more social when focusing on Klout?

Your Klout score may mean everything in social media. Well, not everything, but it means a lot. For all you social media fanatics, or even job searchers, this post is for you. 

Klout is a scoring system analyzing your activity on social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, Tumblr, Instagram among others. 

Many social gurus and social freaks HATE Klout. They dislike it so much that they choose to opt out or consistently rant about how it’s ruining social media and relationship building. 

To be honest, I once shared that same mindset. 

My old mindset was this: Klout is ruining interpersonal relationships. Those concerned with their Klout score focus more on adding mass amounts of followers and less on maintaining relationships. 

People trying to game the system care more about the numbers than the interactions. 

It’s a great argument and one that isn’t wrong; it’s just incomplete.

WARNING: “social gurus and experts”, please close your eyes.

I’m guessing that if I focus on improving my Klout score, I will improve my score by at least 5 points and make new friends along the way. Will this make me a bad person that cares only about self improvement? No. It will signify that i’m sick of sitting around and waiting for individuals to come to me and show that i’m interested in creating and nurturing new relationships. 

It will accomplish the real aim of social media, which is to aid in social interactions. And maybe i’ll get some cool stuff from Klout, too! 

Watch out LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Stumble Upon, and WordPress. I’m coming for you. 

My goal is this: until December 10th rolls around, I will focus on raising my Klout score as much as possible. Each week I will provide an update with my score and with news of my progress, or lack of it, and tactics that i’ve found help. I’ll strengthen this Klout muscle.

Am I ridiculous for focusing on my Klout score? 

Tweet While You Work: Developing a Social Graph Helps Business

Facebook and Twitter LogosFacebook and Twitter are not just fun things to do in your off hours; they are tools for success in business. They are living, breathing devices that create networking opportunities and business leads. If you want to continue using social media as a way to keep up on celebrity gossip, photo stalking, and your most recent game of Farmville, please do. But if you want to see what opportunities are available in your life, it’s time to truly become social.

Continue reading

6 Social Media Resolutions for 2012

2012: Year for Your Social Media Resolutions

1. Be a first responder

The old adage “success comes to those that wait” is not always true. The people that jump on the bandwagon or jump before it often benefit in social media. Think of Facebook. If you waited until now to join Facebook, you and your business are already behind in the game. The people that take necessary risks succeed

2. Slow and Steady…

…wins the social media race. Companies that expect to crush their competition within a month of using social media need not apply. We have all heard that “social media is a marathon and not a race”. To win a marathon, you need to learn to outlast and out train your competition. You won’t have a viral video or Twitter account overnight; it took Justin Bieber a while to become successful.

3. Tweet 20 Times a Day

Maybe some of your friends will unfollow you, but if they are real friends then this shouldn’t matter. Ask yourself, what do you want to get done on Twitter? Do you want to create and maintain relationships? How will you get this done without maintaining a constant stream of contact?

4. Blog 3 Times a Week

Most people shy away from creating content online. A minority of people produce content and even fewer produce content worth sharing. It’s better to write often than to not write at all

5. Re-Assess Facebook

Sure, updating a Facebook Timeline will make a difference, but so will changing the way Facebook is used. Timeline has radically changed the way to view Facebook (Hubspot).

6. Maximize Google+ and LinkedIn

Make an effort to remain active on both networks. Google has enough money to make Google+ work. Think of it as the NBA’s Miami Heat. So much money and talent is poured in that Google+ and the Heat are destined to be successful.

LinkedIn is truly a resource that should be used by anyone and everyone. Take the time to network and add people that you know. Join some groups and create relationships. LinkedIn is a tool unlike any other, so stop comparing it as an adult Facebook.

Restaurants and Tablets: A Trend to Watch

Social media and mobile is changing the traditional marketing game for all businesses, restaurants included. But what’s the next trend that you should jump on the bandwagon for? Prediction: Restaurants that use tablets for dining will be killing it (USA Today article on iPads at restaurants) Scroll down to find out why or view this video from USA Today

USA Today Tablet Restaurants

Tablets (iPad, Xoom, Kindle Fire etc.) allow for users to…

The Eating

Order drinks

What if I could request my martini shaken, not stirred? Or what if your waitress can’t remember your list of single-malt scotches? Think an interactive drink menu where I can specialize how I want my drink by dragging and dropping. Interested in the amount of calories? Find that out as well. Do you need a refill on water, hit that button as well.

Order Meals

I hate it when a waitress asks me to repeat my order because she didn’t write it down. Or worse, the wrong meal is brought over. Having my order sent to the kitchen remedies this problem.

Order from the Dessert Menu

There should be no more waiting 20 minutes to receive a Dessert Menu because my waiter is too busy. Instead, I should be able to put my order in and receive the molten volcano cholesterol plate within two minutes

Request Assistance

Maybe someone at the table has a birthday party and we can’t slip away to tell the server. What if we could send a message saying that Kristen in the red is turning 30? Or maybe we spilled (hopefully not on the tablet) and we need some paper towels.

The Technical

Log In

Do you come by the restaurant a lot? Maybe you would like to order something the way you had it last time, or five times ago. By logging in and creating a user name, you can track your favorites and rate the meals. Maybe return customers receive a discount. Maybe you can provide advice for future users. Or a business can direct you to a plate you may like. Check on gift certificate balances or order one for others.

Rate a Dish

Maybe there was too much garlic. Why not allow for your customers to rate their meal and comment on what is good and bad? The only way to make a dining experience better is to hear from your customers.

Connect Online and Rate

Provide links to Yelp, Facebook and Twitter to allow for customers to rate and discuss your food. Plus, this is an easy way to get some new “friends” or “likes”.

Pay the Bill

Everything is going mobile these days. How about being able to pay my bill without needing to ask for it? I can swipe my card and sign on the screen. For large tables, people can break up who buys what (and the tip is right there on the screen!). There is no more “I paid $5 more than him, but he ordered more”.

Use Cash

Hit a button requesting change. Since they will not be swiping your card, change will be much easier to get.

Damage Control:

Keep Their Kids Busy

What is more annoying than children asking “Mom, can we leave yet?” What if you could keep them entertained with a tablet and headphones so they can watch their favorite kid oriented material? Plus, other customers won’t give you and your children the evil eye (or maybe you need to send an email).  

Speak to the Manager

We all occasionally get so upset with our service or food that we think paying should not be an option. Maybe our well-done steak was too cooked or there is actual hair in our angel hair pasta. Regardless, we are going to tell the world how upset we are.  Instead of attacking a waiter/waitress, why not allow for the manager to help quell tensions and save a relationship with a customer? In the long term, providing a free meal is worth it more than allowing a customer to storm out and broadcast their disgust with the business