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Posts tagged with: Facebook

Why Twitter works better than Facebook for discussions about the EU


Following my earlier blog entry about Twitter chats I was confronted by a familiar charge – ah, Frans Timmermans is a Facebook guy. He doesn’t like Twitter. That’s the problem. There are probably some pretty good reasons he likes Facebook, and not Twitter, and I will come to those at the end of the post.

But, sorry Frans, but I don’t “Like” your page on Facebook, and I have some pretty good reasons for that.

The first, and most minor problem, is my issue with the word. To me “Like” implies endorsing something. Follow (on Twitter) does not. I in no way endorse Frans Timmermans. Oh, you’re exaggerating will come the riposte, yet when I “Liked” Guy Verhofstadt in his bid to become Commission President, friends of mine fired back the accusation that I was wrong to Like Verhofstadt as he’s a liberal and I am leftie. What you like on Facebook comes with a social norm attached. If I saw a journalist Liking politicians it would raise a question mark about their impartiality, and there are personal friends of mine who refuse to Like anything political on Facebook because they fear what work colleagues will make of it.

Second, Facebook is useless for thematic discussion. I might have some interest in what Timmermans does on Better Regulation in Brussels, but I also have interest in what a dozen other politicians might have to say about that. Putting it another way, I want to be able to consume content from people and to consume content by theme. Only by Liking the Facebook pages of a dozen politicians could I possibly follow a thematic debate, and even then it would be split up all over Facebook without any coherence. Hashtags on Twitter are what can hold a thematic discussion together – hashtags on Facebook have never proven to be nearly as effective.

Third, Facebook controls what I see, while on Twitter I am to a much greater extent in control of what I see (and my obsessive use of Twitter Lists and filters in Tweetbot helps further). The problem is Facebook’s News Feed, and its algorithm that will only show me – on average – 1 in 20 posts from a politician’s page, and then according to factors Facebook determines rather than ones I determine. That might be handy for information I was not looking for (it throws up significant developments in friends’ lives, for example) but it’s pretty horrid if I am trying to follow a debate.

Those then are the reasons Twitter works better for EU political debate than Facebook does in my view.

Then finally my feeling about why Facebook appeals to Frans Timmermans: because Facebook inspires a kind of fan-like fervent following for this most supremely confident and charming politician, who gives the impression that he is rather a fan of himself (perhaps with good reason). Frans seems to be more about Frans than he is about the issues – you Like Frans because he is Frans and worth following. That feels good for his ego. And that’s a perfect match on Facebook.

Commission Twitter-chats: interactivity-washing

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 14.40.50At 1600 CET today, First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans will do an online chat on Twitter and Facebook* – tag is #AskFrans. Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc will do the same on Monday 27th April at 1400 CET – tag there is #ITS2015chat.

Oooooh, look, little users of social media! Come and ‘chat’ to the Commissioners for an hour! Look at how interactive I am!

So the Commissioners can thereafter resort to form and then broadcast out pictures of them shaking hands with people, or retweet quotes of theirs spoken at events, for the rest of the time.

Put it another way: Twitter chats are convenient interactivity-washing – they demonstrate some engagement, but strictly on the Commissioner’s own terms, and at a time they themselves set. In the case of Bulc and Timmermans it therefore means that @-replying them at any other time is like tweeting into a black hole. Not only is next to impossible to get a reply from either of them, but it is also a perfectly reasonable assumption that none of the everyday tweets written first person in their name are actually written by them. If you doubt it, look for any sort of normal Twitter interaction here from Timmermans or here from Bulc – you won’t find any. Malmström and Georgieva are the exceptions in the Commission, not the rule.

That doesn’t mean these chats are useless – they are better than nothing. But they are far from being the solution for good online communications from Commissioners!

* – yes, I am aware that Timmermans is more of a Facebook fan than a Twitter person, but Twitter is the social network for EU policy discussion, and all Commissioners are present on it.

A life without Google. It’s harder than you think.

2568436053_a9734f5d0d_zSo I am in China for a week. I will write about the wider politics of the place when my time here draws to a close, but for now I will focus on just one aspect: what China’s block on Google tells us… about our use of Google.

China blocked access to Google services before the 25th anniversary of the Tian’anmen uprising, and it seems that things have not improved since. On my laptop I can access no Google services through my web browser at all. The only thing that works is Gmail via IMAP (web interface is also blocked). Twitter and Facebook are also blocked, but I do not actually need those as urgently, or they are not as central needs. Dropbox not working is a pain, but for a week I can live without it, as I use it mostly for my own files anyway.

So I can live without Google Search, right? Indeed that’s actually the easiest part. I have added DuckDuckGo to my browser and it works fine. Bing.com is just about passable if I need it. The interesting thing here is how I have become so used to browser address bar search – after years of doing just that, going to a website for search felt really odd.

The next challenge was maps. I have used nothing but Google Maps for a good few years, so what’s the best bet for a replacement? Turns out that the search on Bing Maps is rubbish unless you use the Chinese characters. So here Apple Maps (and indeed the Maps app in Mac OS that I’d even forgotten existed) has turned out to be a fair substitute.

Then what about calendars? I use Google Calendars for a bunch of collaborative projects (I don’t use these for my own use), so those I will have to live without for now. Were I to be in China more often I would have to find an alternative, as would businesses doing China – non China collaborations.


Then, to my surprise, there is Google’s Font APIs that are increasingly heavily used, even in open source software – including WordPress that powers this blog. Yes, pages will load without these fonts, but browsers keep on trying to load the APIs, and slow down the loading of pages.

Last but not least, and rather central when in China as I do not speak Mandarin, is Google Translate, which is also built into my browser. Baidu’s translation tool is useless as its interface is just in Mandarin (unless I am missing something), so Pons is basically my only option.

So the conclusion is this: while Google makes the argument that provision of web services is a free market, and that anyone can switch to alternatives, we nevertheless find ourselves so dependent on Google as a matter of habit that those habits are damned hard to break.

Revisiting politicians and Facebook – what makes a good Facebook page for a politician?

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 13.26.37

A few weeks ago in Brussels I had a cup of coffee with Roberta Metsola. Since April 2013 she has been a MEP after the resignation of Simon Busuttil. Roberta and I studied on the same Masters programme, and it was good to chat and catch up. One question she posed me sounded simple enough, but actually rather threw me when I looked into it in more depth: could I find her good examples of politicians using Facebook Pages?

So the first question is: what to include and not include? Pages like Angela MerkelDacian Cioloş or Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen are out, as the leading positions of these people in their respective parties or organisations, plus the additional resources that can be given to their Facebook work as a result, mean they cannot be compared to a regular MP or MEP. All three pages mentioned above are worth looking at though.

The second question then is: what is good? This means making the best use of what Facebook can offer as opposed to what other networks can offer, and not just automating content. This eliminates pages like Peter Hain’s (thanks @AlexWhiteUK for the tip) – it generates discussion, but the content is automated from Twitter. I also eliminate politicians using just personal Profiles, unless they have the Follow function enabled.

What then can Facebook offer that other networks cannot, and hence how can a politician use it? Facebook still has an extraordinary reach – it reaches users that no other social network can get to. See here for an overview of the stats. It is a place to reach voters or activists directly, rather than through intermediaries such as journalists or bloggers. The problem is that while you might be able to theoretically reach thousands of people on Facebook, chances are you will not (because getting to them is hard), and as Facebook needs to make money the main way to drive up numbers of Likes, and the numbers of people seeing your content, is to pay (details here about Likes, and here about content).

Also the type of content is important – Facebook allows combinations of text, pictures and video, and links out to external sites. This multimedia mix is better than, for example, Twitter continuing reliance on text over everything else. Conversely the amount of information that you can post on a Facebook page is lower than the amount of tweets you can send, or news you should put on a website (see here for more analysis).

So who then is actually doing it at all well? Thanks to tips from @AndreasKjeldsen, @tinamellergaard @captain_europe, and my own digging, we have a few reasonable examples. These are: Tim Farron (MP from the UK), Alyn Smith (MEP from Scotland), Dan Jørgensen (MEP from Denmark) and Morten Løkkegaard (MEP from Denmark). Thanks also to Tim Farron himself for taking the time to discuss his experience on Twitter. All of these pages have a relentless focus on the work the politician in question is doing and, particularly in the case of the two Danish MEPs, have managed to build a considerable following as a result. All these examples avoid posting too often, try to craft their messages for Facebook, and make some effort to use photos (esp Jørgensen) and video (esp Løkkegaard). In essence they all cover the main bases reasonably well.

So far this analysis is only starting to scratch the surface of good Facebook use by normal MPs or MEPs. If you have seen good examples then please do leave a comment – there must be better examples out there. While I personally remain a bit of a Facebook-politics-sceptic, the reach of Facebook remains unparalleled, so who is actually making the best use of what it can offer?

(Thanks also to @ylemai, @alessandraBXL, @IPA_thanks and @ellispalmer94 for additional help researching this piece!)

[UPDATE – 26.7.13, 1415]
New examples – French MEP Sylvie Guillaume. A little bit too much this-is-what-a-politician-does, but decent multimedia mix. Tip given on Facebook. Also Deborah Bergamini (suggested by @geekeconomist) – plenty of content, but is it really especially engaging?

App.net – the new way to finance social networks

If you’re observant then you will notice a new icon above the menu in the top right of the screen – the one with the tick on it. That’s a link to my profile at App.net, a new social network that is trying to break the mould of the ad-financed networks like Twitter and Facebook. The creation of the network is directly as a result of Twitter’s API changes that restrict the ability of third party applications to use its data, essentially building the walls of Twitter’s walled garden higher and higher. Twitter earns no money from advertising if you use a third party app to access it, and hence the crackdown. Twitter could of course have introduced a pro account, but seems to not want to go down that track.

The developers of App.net saw all of this as an opportunity. Instead of designing a network to be ad-funded, and hence to have to be more and more cunning in the placement of the ads, App.net uses a subscription finance model, costing $36 / year for a basic account, or $3 / month. Now it takes quite a leap for most users to want to pay to use a social network, but viewed another way it is actually cheap – it’s like buying two newspapers in a month, and most of us wouldn’t think twice about doing that. In return there will be no advertisements, application developers will have relatively unrestricted access to the API, and the network can be designed with users and developers, rather than advertisers, in mind.

While App.net has something like 20000 members at the time of writing (I was one of their initial Kickstarter donors), it nevertheless also has one further important asset: Tapbots has released a version of its excellent Twitter client Tweetbot, called Netbot. The free web app Appeio also looks promising.

So if you’ve had enough of ad-funded networks then head over to App.net and help build something different!

Social Network friend/connection/follow criteria

My presence on various social networks was getting rather out of hand, so I’ve had to work out a rule of thumb as to who to add on each network. Here are my conclusions – comments most welcome!

Facebook – I’ll accept friend requests from anyone I’ve met and – if I happened to be in their city – I would be happy to meet for a beer or a coffee. Otherwise people can Subscribe (explained here) to my public updates, or Like my page. I will only Subscribe to others or Like pages if there’s no better way to follow news from a person I don’t know well enough to add as a friend, or from an organisation I want to follow.

Twitter – Anyone is welcome to follow me – it’s all public anyway! I will follow back if a user’s biography seems interesting. If a user is especially compelling I’ll add them to a Twitter list, but only after experience following them. I will prioritise people who discuss on Twitter rather than people just broadcasting.

LinkedIn – I’ll accept requests from anyone I’ve met and I might conceivably do business with in the future. I will take the same approach on XING and Plaxo.

Google+ – Anyone can add me to Circles as everything I post is public. I will add people to my circles if they are posting interesting content, although I am likely to be less systematic at this on Google+ as I am on Twitter, as I am a more intensive user of the latter.

Foursquare – I need to know a person very well before adding them as a contact.

Quora, Instagram, Pinterest, TripIt, Path – I am not an intensive enough user of any of these networks to know what my criteria are yet!

Design changes, and some WordPress code and icons

I’ve amended the design of this blog a bit, simplifying things and moving away from a amended version of Twenty Eleven theme, and instead using a (lightly) adapted version of Busby. This theme incorporates some HTML 5 elements, and also is much neater on devices with small screens.

One aspect I have worked on is an improvement of the Social Media integration in the theme, with new icons at the top of the screen, and share buttons on posts. The icons (and a PSD file) can be downloaded here.

The share buttons – for Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Flattr are coded into the theme (some of the functionality could be achieved through Plugins, but I didn’t find any that did the job the way I wanted). The plugin needs two pieces of code. The Facebook Like button is the hardest to get working – more details on that here from Michael Fields.

Note that these scripts work in March 2012. I cannot vouch for what will happen in the future – Social Networks can be fickle!

Put in header.php

<!-- Twitter button script -->
<script>!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");</script>  

<!-- Facebook Like script - replace all the 99999s with your App ID -->
<div id="fb-root"></div>
<script>(function(d, s, id) {
  var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];
  if (d.getElementById(id)) return;
  js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;
  js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_GB/all.js#xfbml=1&appId=99999999999999999";
  fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);
}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));</script>

<!-- G+ script -->
<script type="text/javascript">
  window.___gcfg = {lang: 'en-GB'};

  (function() {
    var po = document.createElement('script'); po.type = 'text/javascript'; po.async = true;
    po.src = 'https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js';
    var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(po, s);

<!-- Pinterest Script -->
<script type="text/javascript">
(function() {
    window.PinIt = window.PinIt || { loaded:false };
    if (window.PinIt.loaded) return;
    window.PinIt.loaded = true;
    function async_load(){
        var s = document.createElement("script");
        s.type = "text/javascript";
        s.async = true;
        if (window.location.protocol == "https:")
            s.src = "https://assets.pinterest.com/js/pinit.js";
            s.src = "http://assets.pinterest.com/js/pinit.js";
        var x = document.getElementsByTagName("script")[0];
        x.parentNode.insertBefore(s, x);
    if (window.attachEvent)
        window.attachEvent("onload", async_load);
        window.addEventListener("load", async_load, false);

<!-- LinkedIn Script -->
<script src="//platform.linkedin.com/in.js" type="text/javascript"></script>

<!-- Flattr Script -->
<script type="text/javascript">
/* <![CDATA[ */
(function() {
    var s = document.createElement('script');
    var t = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0];

    s.type = 'text/javascript';
    s.async = true;
    s.src = 'http://api.flattr.com/js/0.6/load.js?mode=auto';

    t.parentNode.insertBefore(s, t);
/* ]]> */

Put where buttons are to appear

<!-- Twitter share button Start - replace XXXXX with your Twitter name -->
<div class="buttonwraptwitter"><a href="https://twitter.com/share" class="twitter-share-button" data-text="<?php echo get_the_title(); ?>" data-url="<?php echo get_permalink(); ?>" data-via="XXXXX">Tweet</a></div>
<!-- Twitter share button End -->

<!-- Facebook share button Start -->
<div class="buttonwrapfacebook"><div class="fb-like" data-href="<?php echo get_permalink(); ?>" data-send="false" data-layout="button_count" data-show-faces="false"></div></div>
<!-- Facebook share button End -->

<!-- G+ share button Start -->
<div class="buttonwrapgplus"><div class="g-plusone" data-size="medium" data-href="<?php echo get_permalink(); ?>"></div></div>
<!-- G+ share button End -->

<!-- Pinterest share button End -->
<div class="buttonwrappinterest"><div class="pinterestbutton"><a href="http://pinterest.com/pin/create/button/?url=<?php echo get_permalink(); ?>&media=<?php
$attachments = get_children( array('post_parent' => get_the_ID(), 'post_type' => 'attachment', 'post_mime_type' =>'image') );
foreach ( $attachments as $attachment_id => $attachment ) {
  echo wp_get_attachment_url( $attachment_id, 'medium' );
} ?>" class="pin-it-button" count-layout="horizontal">Pin It</a></div></div>
<!-- Pinterest share button End -->

<!-- LinkedIn share button End -->
<div class="buttonwraplinkedin"><script type="IN/Share" data-url="<?php echo get_permalink(); ?>" data-counter="right"></script></div>
<!-- LinkedIn share button End -->

<!-- Flattr share button End - replace XXXX with your UID -->
<div class="buttonwrapflattr"><a class="FlattrButton" style="display:none;" title="<?php echo get_the_title(); ?>" data-flattr-uid="XXXXXX" data-flattr-button="compact" data-flattr-category="text" href="<?php echo get_permalink(); ?>">Flattr</a></div>
<!-- Flattr share button End -->

A collection of vital social media resources

In the social media training work I do, there are some themes that I keep coming back to. This post summarises some of those things, and gives links to resources. Some of these things are behind my thinking, even if I do not always state them explicitly.

1. 10 things you still need to know about social media / social business
Mathew Lowry drew my attention to this post (via his EU version). It’s an excellent and succinct guide to many of the principles of social media, starting with “Social” is something you are, not something you do.

2. Australia State of Victoria Social Media Policy for staff

Thanks to @puffles2010 for pointing this out to me. Social media policies should be clear and easy for staff to follow, and based on principles. This video is the best I have seen to explain that ethos.

3. Social Media Around the World 2011

How the social media scene varies between different countries is fascinating, and too often the US focus of everything wins the day. These slides help develop strategies suitable for different countries. Supplement with CheckFacebook and Social Bakers stats.

4. How the US Air Force responds to blogs
I still haven’t seen a better and simpler structure to deal with online critique than this one. With some small adaptions it can be applied to almost any social media.

5. Gartner Hype Cycle

@RichardStacy first got me thinking about this, and how it applies to social media. Apply it in conjunction with the stats from number 3 above and you start to get an interesting picture of how to use different tools in different contexts. I think it’s also behind things like this. More on Gartner’s original analysis here.

6. The Real Reason Your Customers Don’t Like You on Facebook
This is just one of a series of excellent @jaybaer posts about customer engagement on Facebook. The average Facebook user Likes just 9.8 pages. How are you going to be one of those?

You should also always serve up the information on social platforms where your people are already. But that’s common sense really.