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A New Year’s Resolution You Can Keep: How to Re-Vamp Your Social Media Habits for 15 Minutes a Day

January1I’ve tried making resolutions every January 1st and found that making small changes in my daily routine is what works best. For instance, instead of trying to lose 15 pounds, I’ve tried to work out every morning before heading into the office. The same goes for my social media habits. Sometimes I spend way too much time reading my Twitter feed; other days, I’ve noticed I have completely neglected my LinkedIn account and forgotten to reply to comments and messages on Facebook.

Devoting just 15 minutes per day, on the other hand, keeps social media management quick and consistent.

You may be thinking, “Only 15 minutes?” But, you’d be surprised how much you can accomplish in that timeframe! Let me break it down for you. 

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The Human Aspect of Social Media and Guidelines for Handling a Crisis

‘I knew I was going down’: 78-year-old Boston Marathon runner Bill Iffrig captured in viral photoWatching the aftermath of the Boston Marathon tragedy really hit home for me. Boston was  the place I called home for 11 years. I have family and close friends who live there. As a proud graduate of Boston University, I remember enjoying sunny afternoons on Patriots’ Day cheering on the valiant runners as they came through Kenmore Square on their way to the finish line. I was deeply saddened to hear the news that one of the victims killed was a BU student. During my days as a broadcaster in the area, I often stood right at the finish line just steps away from where the explosions went off, waiting to interview local runners as they reveled in their accomplishment. It’s hard for me to comprehend how such a joyous event can turn into a horrifying disaster in the blink of an eye.

Over the past few days, I’ve been consuming the news coverage, reading the latest online reports and viewing the responses stream across Facebook and Twitter, and it amazes me the power that social media has over traditional media channels. This coming from an old TV guy. At the time of the blasts, people began sharing the images of the chaotic scene across social media channels. It continues today with a tremendous outpouring of support for the City of Boston and the victims of this unspeakable tragedy. Folks from around the globe – celebrities, politicians, even the rival New York Yankees have joined together to demonstrate to all this city’s unity, strength and resilience. Seeing hashtags such as #BostonStrong, #PrayforBoston and #OneBoston littered across Twitter reinforces my belief that social media is not just another medium to promote the news, but a means of connecting human beings especially in the face of adverse conditions.

As PR and Social Media Managers, it is often our responsibility to handle communications when a crisis occurs. One can’t even imagine having to deal with a catastrophic event like the one that unfolded in Boston, but regardless of the situation, it’s our job to have a communication plan in place to control and effectively respond to a crisis as quickly as possible. Disseminating accurate information in a timely manner during a crisis is a priority, but social media has certainly changed the game. Too often media outlets put a priority on getting the news out first rather than getting it right. The Huffington Post learned this the hard way when it incorrectly reported that BU graduate student Zhou Danling was one of the fatalities of the Marathon bombings, when it fact, she survived the ordeal. They’ve since posted a retraction. This rush to report and scoop your competitors mentality can backfire and has certainly drawn its share of criticism.

You can never be too prepared when it comes to crisis management. Having a plan in place will help you deal with a terrible event like the one we saw this week. Here are a few guidelines to remember when dealing with a crisis situation:

  • Plan ahead – Don’t wait until crisis hits to put a crisis management plan together.
  • Act like a human being – Express empathy and concern when victims are involved.
  • Activate appropriate mechanisms to keep the public and media informed on an ongoing basis.
  • Integrate social media into your plan – Be quick, but get it right.
  • Keep your message simple and clear.
  • Select a primary spokesperson to represent the organization throughout the crisis process.
  • All communications should go through one channel.
  • Respond to incorrect information that may be circulating as necessary.

Ross Coyle is an Account Supervisor at Sterling Communications. Follow him on Twitter at @rossjcoyle

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Lessons Learned from the Super Bowl: Knowing the WHY Behind a Campaign’s Success

FootballAnyone who watched Sunday’s Super Bowl doesn’t have to look much further than the power outage to find the WHY behind the Niners’ much-needed-but-not-quite-enough momentum. Yet, finding the WHY behind the advertising campaigns that worked requires a deeper look.

In Twitter We Trust

Sorry, O’Doyle, but Twitter rules! In about half of the 52 national commercials that aired between kickoff and the final seconds of this year’s Super Bowl, Twitter was specifically mentioned. Facebook, by comparison, was mentioned in only four of those commercials — about eight percent. Google+, which is reportedly the #2 social network in the world, wasn’t mentioned at all.

What this means is that, while Facebook and other social sites remain valuable, Twitter is becoming the premier tool for campaign success. Just as these Super Bowl ads got an immediate boost with some mention of Twitter —whether a hashtag, a logo, or a URL— campaigns of any size across any industry are benefiting from the recognition that Twitter is where they need to be to attract the online conversation around their brands and companies.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Timing As Well

With the aforementioned power outage stalling the start of the second half of the game, Oreo saw the delay as a chance to market itself in a very clever way on Twitter. The cookie company reacted quickly with this brilliant power outage-related tweet that was retweeted and favorited thousands of times in only about 15 minutes:

Twitter

The lesson here is that a campaign’s end-date should never be set in stone; always keep your eyes open for ways to insert your product where appropriate and position your client or company in a timely and relevant way.

Bad Publicity Is Better Than No Publicity

GoDaddy’s ad, in which model Bar Refaeli kisses an overweight “nerd,” appeared to be the loser in the stack of Super Bowl ads, with a strongly negative sentiment across social media users (according to analysis of social chatter during the game by our client Attensity). Yet, despite the negativity, the GoDaddy ad netted 290,000 reactions on Twitter — 126,000 more than the runner-up, Budweiser.

This goes to show that viewers couldn’t quite get the “kiss” out of their minds. While I can’t, as a PR professional, endorse devising a campaign with the intention of spurring a negative reaction, I have to acknowledge that people in the case of GoDaddy will remember the ad and presumably the brand – which is more than you can say for many of the other, more positively received Super Bowl ads.

Feel free to share in the Comments field below any other winning ad campaigns from this year’s Super Bowl that offer a lesson to be learned from the WHY behind their success.

Jordan Hubert can be reached at jhubert@sterlingpr.com. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jahubert.

Photo credit: http://andrewzimmern.com/2013/02/01/go-fork-yourself-super-bowl-sunday/

Amanda

2012’s Most Notorious Events

Happy New Year! As we head into what will inevitably be an exciting 2013, it’s interesting to sit back and reflect on some of the most notorious events of 2012 that caught our attention, and the lessons we’ve learned from each…

In January, just in time for Martin Luther King Day, many visitors to the new MLK monument in Washington, D.C. were taken aback by a misquote of the late Dr. King etched into the new monument. Thanks to the actions taken by the public, including poet Maya Angelou, the quote was eventually changed. Lesson: whether a misquote is printed in a magazine, written online or literally etched in stone, it’s important to speak up and make sure what’s being written is both correct and taken in the desired context.

February brought us the Super Bowl, and of course, Super Bowl commercials. Last year more than ever, companies not only shelled out big money for a 30-second spot on game day, but many ran ads and posted online videos in advance, essentially creating advertisements to advertise their advertisements! While many companies undoubtedly did this in order to supplement their pricey ad spots with cheaper or free additional exposure, ultimately the ads that garnered the most buzz were those who didn’t unveil their spots until the big day. Lesson: Timing is everything, and reaching the right audience at the right time is often more effective than sheer number of impressions.

In March, a Goldman-Sachs employee posted a scathing farewell to the company in the New York Times, igniting a media firestorm that ultimately cost the company a lot of money, as their stock price dropped 3.4 percent after the incident. Lesson: A PR disaster of great enough magnitude can have immediate monetary consequences.

In April, we discussed the Trayvon Martin shooting case, and how two brands – Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea – found themselves tied to the case through no effort of their own. While the association was positive (sales of the two brands increased due to people buying the products to show support for Martin), both companies chose to keep a safe distance, and released nothing more than a statement expressing their sympathy for the Martin family. Lesson: Don’t take credit where you haven’t earned it; we’ve certainly seen the pendulum swing the other way when brands find themselves negatively affected by an event.

We discussed the growing second screen trend in May, when ABC partnered with Yahoo!’s “Into Now” smartphone and tablet application to reach a large audience on ABC’s hit show, “Revenge.” Other popular shows like “Glee” and “America’s Got Talent” soon followed suit by encouraging viewers to use special hashtags while viewing. The verdict is still out as to how effective these specific tactics are, but it’s safe to say that innovative ideas like this are headed in the right direction, given the growing tablet usage and second screen trend. Lesson: Go where your audience is.

In June, we blogged about Facebook’s lack of courtesy for its users, when they made the decision to hide users’ email addresses in favor of displaying their own “facebook.com” email address. This is yet another example of the social media giant changing settings without regard to what its users want, in favor of what’s best for the company and its bottom line. Lesson: While Facebook may be able to do what it pleases with its users now, due to a growing dependence on the social network, they should tread carefully, lest they end up like Netflix, who fell from grace, thanks to poor customer service and increased competitive offerings.

July brought us tragedy when a gunman opened fire in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, killing more than a dozen people. July also brought us two notoriously ill-timed tweets, first when the NRA took to Twitter the morning after the shooting with “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?” CelebBoutique.com also posted an inappropriate Tweet, speculating that #Aurora was trending due to a dress worn by Kim Kardashian. Understandably, the backlash against both tweets was brutal. Lesson: when you’re a polarizing organization such as the NRA, perhaps scheduled tweets aren’t the best idea. Also, it’s a good idea to figure out why a topic is trending before jumping into the conversation.

Few events can inspire as much social media buzz as the Olympics, and the London games in August were no exception. From the bizarre rants by U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte to the downright racist comments made by Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou, there were enough media gaffes to make any PR person sweat, just reading about them. Lesson: An athlete does not a spokesperson make, and anyone thrust into the public eye could benefit from some basic media training.

September led us into the thick of election season, and Sterling’s own Dave Gifford traveled to Charlotte, NC for some contracting work with the Democratic National Convention. Three days before the event, some unexpected weather forced the DNC to change venues, throwing a wrench in what was already quite the logistical undertaking. Thanks to quick planning by Dave and his nimble team of volunteers, the venue was changed with minimal inconvenience to attendees. Lesson: It’s not always about having a B or C plan; sometimes pulling off a successful event requires the willingness to shift gears quickly should the unexpected occur.

In October, Nike found itself in a pickle when compelling evidence against celebrity spokesperson Lance Armstrong was found by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. In the end, Nike made the decision to let Armstrong go. While Nike has been known to stand by spokespeople plagued by personal scandal such as Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant, this time was different in that Armstrong’s transgressions took place on the “playing field” – something Nike takes seriously. Lesson: Stay true to your brand and mission, and have a good crisis communications plan in place.

In November, a snarky and entertaining restaurant review in the New York Times went viral. In the review, award-winning restaurant critic Pete Wells thoroughly flamed Food Network celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Not surprisingly, this scathing review sent Fieri’s PR team into crisis mode, with Fieri himself appearing on the Today Show to assert that Wells had a personal agenda when writing the review. Fieri’s response took the lead in any follow-up coverage and in the end helped douse the flames on the poor review. Lesson: A well-delivered and timely response can help negate bad publicity.

We discussed Redbox’s entrance into the streaming market in December, and speculated how the move would affect an already ailing Netflix. Ever since Netflix alienated their customers in 2011 by poorly communicating a pricing change, the company has been headed downhill, both in terms of stock price and public reputation. Lesson: while it still remains to be seen who will come out the streaming king, it’s clear that treating your customers poorly only diminishes brand loyalty and gives them a reason to switch to your competitor.

What do you think of the lessons learned in 2012? Will 2013 bring us more savvy crisis communications? What new and creative tactics and technologies  will companies employ to reach their target audiences? Will we see more polished tweets and media soundbites, or are brands and spokespeople destined to make the same mistakes as those who have floundered before them?

Amanda Hoffman can be reached at ahoffman@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @hoffmandy.

Image via dreamstime.com.

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How Social Media Became THE Destination for Election 2012 Predictions and PR Lessons

The 2008 US Presidential Election may have been referred to as the “social media election” but that was then, and this year’s election campaign season was unlike any before it.

Four years ago, 1.8 million tweets were sent on Election Day. But now, in 2012, there are 1.8 million tweets sent every eight minutes.

This Election Day, Twitter narrowly avoided a much-expected crash, peaking at 327,452 tweets per minute as a re-elected President Obama was called by news organizations around the country – including even veteran journalist Katie Couric who was given the job of social media expert during ABC’s election night broadcast.

I have been closely following the election all year as our client Attensity analyzed social media conversations about everything from the Super Tuesday primary elections (for which Attensity correctly predicted Gov. Romney as the top vote-getter), to the Presidential debates, to the most recent Election Day (for which Attensity provided Yahoo! and Bloomberg TV with real-time social analytics). In the end, Attensity found that, while the spread was much larger in social media, the candidate with the most voter support in social media won.

For this election, age demographics particularly seemed to be one of the largest dividing lines. Perhaps younger voters weren’t tuning in to watch the election results on the evening news this year (Twitter and Facebook are much more convenient), but they were watching some TV—namely the comedic satire news programs such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Making guest appearances on these shows gets viewers’ attention by meeting them on their terms. But, it wasn’t just appearing on a nightly news program that stirred so much attention and engaged so many conversations—it was the use of social media during the interviews. With hashtags on Twitter, watchers and (potential) voters were able to engage with each other in an easy, portable way. In fact, 39 percent of US adults have engaged in political activity on Facebook or Twitter. Additionally, research has shown that social media users in the US are six times more likely to go to a political convention, three times more likely to influence other voters and two times more likely to actually vote.

That sort of potential offers a clear lesson to make sure your business or client is where the people are: online! Make a point to be engaged on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

As the election comes to a close, the politicians who did best in social media are the ones personally invested in a digital strategy that was integrated into all aspects of their campaigns. For instance, the time the largest number of people were engaging on Facebook was during prime time TV viewing hours, and the smartest campaigns ran their ads then on TV and also on Facebook. That way a constituent might have seen a commercial on TV and had that message reinforced with a Facebook ad that told them which of their friends support that candidate.

The benefits of harnessing this kind of knowledge in social media extend well beyond politics into any client’s industry.

At the moment, the number of active Facebook users of voting age is about 150 million, and they each have an average of 130 friends—so there is a gigantic potential for people’s opinion to be swayed. While the numbers may not be quite as astronomical for your business or client, the opportunity to build your brand and target potential customers is certainly there.

Jordan Hubert can be reached at jhubert@sterlingpr.com. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jahubert.

Photo credit: http://www.facebook.com/FamilyGuy

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Why Social Media Doesn’t Begin and End with Sales

I’m still shocked every time I hear social media managers talk about measuring ROI based on new sales. I wasn’t aware that Facebook and Twitter were sales tools. That’s not to say that they can’t help generate more leads, but if you’re looking for a quick fix, you’re in the wrong place. Social media can be used in conjunction with your other efforts but as the old adage goes you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. A still emerging tool, social media should be treated as a long-term investment — something that a few people seem to take issue with. I came across one of these naysayers while participating in a tweet jam sponsored by PR Daily about measuring social media results. Below is a snap shot of the frenzy that ensued after one user suggested that the beginning, middle and end of social media is sales. You can view the whole exchange on Twitter using #RaganSocial.

Clearly the tweeps are having a hard time buying into the idea that new sales is a good measure of how you are doing on social media.  Rachel Strugatz said it best in this article, “At this point, observers say, few brands, if any, are seeing significant sales result from their postings on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other sites. Social media hasn’t been about driving transactions; it has been about building brand awareness and a ‘community’ that will be devoted to a brand and, thus, buy it. Social media isn’t about sales today; it’s about driving sales in five, 10 or 15 years as the Internet-mad generation of twentysomethings matures.”

In fact, according to Melonie Dodaro of Top Dog Social Media, selling through social media doesn’t work and is one of the three massive mistakes sales people make with social media. She goes on to say, “Trying to pitch and sell somebody on social media is silly because they don’t have to listen to you. In fact, people are only exposed to the information they want to see online so if you try and shove your product/service down their throats, you’ll just end up blocked, deleted or unfollowed! If you have a PVR or DVR at home, ask yourself this: do you watch commercials you aren’t interested in when you have the power to fast-forward through them? I didn’t think so.”

If all you are doing through social channels is selling, you are going to lose most of the following you have and quickly. People don’t want to listen to your marketing garbage. At best, they’ll tolerate it if you add enough value through your other content. The more garbage you spew the harder it is for the rest of us to cut through that noise and reach the customer. Do us and your audience a favor and try to be a brand that your audience wants to engage with; someone they look forward to hearing from — not someone they can’t unfollow fast enough. To do that you can’t simply broadcast your own message — you have to put out content your audience will find interesting.

Monika Hathaway can be reached at mhathaway@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jazzpatron

 

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People – The Forgotten Element of Technology

“People are the forgotten element of technology.” – Ina Fried

At Tuesday’s PRSA In The Newsroom: AllThingsD event hosted at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, mobile reporter Ina Fried reminded us PR folk in the audience that people are still the most important, and overlooked, aspect of the technological bubble that surrounds us.

My colleague Jordan and I at PRSA’s In the Newsroom: AllThingsD event

As professionals in a tech-focused public relations agency, we are constantly surrounded by news about all things digital — from the behemoths of Silicon Valley to the start-ups hoping to get an inch in, to apps, websites, and products all competing for a bit of recognition from the most influential journalists in the media. We must always keep ourselves up to date on trends in the industry, so we Tweet, blog, post on Facebook, create infographics and more, but we forget that the most important aspect bringing all of these new tools together is a simple, yet complex one: people.

Without people, we wouldn’t have a reason to be pitching stories. Without people, we wouldn’t have the products to pitch stories about in the first place.

The members of the AllThingsD team presented this simple fact: stories without people aren’t good stories. In fact, according to Liz Gannes, the worst type of story is one in which the only person made happy is the PR person who pitched it.

So what makes a good story? How do we look for ways to engage the people around us? What kinds of stories should we pitch?

In short, a good story has these key storytelling elements:

  • It is more complex than can be summed up in a tweet.

Though we appreciate the microblogging platform that Twitter affords us and its ability to keep news short, sweet, and to the point, the truth of the matter is that few stories can be summed up well in under 140 characters. If it can, then it’s probably not a good story. We like Twitter for its demanding nature of attention-grabbing headlines and creative copy. It’s a fast, real-time provider of trends and news reaching over 500 million people daily. Tweets with snarky, witty comments are shown to get the most traction. Link to your story, and you’ve got a winner. But if your story — from start to finish — can fit into that 140-character box, it’s probably nothing worth pitching, and most definitely not something a good journalist will think worth writing.

  • It has a progression.

A good story flows well and keeps a reader involved from start to finish. If I can learn everything about an article within the first paragraph, I’m not going to read past the fold. Keep me wondering and want me to get to the end of that story. Give me the answer to my, “So what?

  • It has details, details, details about people.

The AllThingsD journalists stressed the fact that people and details about people are what make a story good. A personal touch can easily turn a blah story into a story a reporter wants to write. It’s the small details about the developer who once burnt his toast and was inspired to make an app by it, or how he found his graphic designer at the 24-hour diner down the street. Those little details draw writers and readers in and color stories with little facts that make another app article a little more relatable.

  • It includes something interesting that makes you think and learn.

A good story — a story that a reporter wants to write — contains a fact that makes you think, “Huh!” when you’re reading it. It makes you want to tweet it out to your followers and share it with your friends. Ultimately, reporters are inherently curious. Spark their curiosity and give them something to talk about. You, your client, and the reporters, will be glad you did.

In the end, journalists are people too, and a relationship with a reporter is just like a relationship with any other person. Even among all the new tools, apps, and social media platforms that consume our lives, don’t forget about the people in the process. They are why we do what we do.

Kallie Bullock can be reached at kbullock@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @kallieswaggg.

Kawika

11 Tips to Bore People Stupid Using Social Media

Thrilled Beyond All Scientific Methods of MeasurementI think we’re well past the point of convincing companies they should maintain a presence on popular social media sites. There’s even consensus that companies should attempt to be strategic about their efforts by mapping their tactics to corporate goals. However, there still seems to be debate on whether it’s OK for companies to have a personality.

Frankly, the duller other companies look, the brighter Sterling and our clients can shine. So, with that in mind, here are 11 tips to help waste your time and your company’s resources in social media:

  1. KILL (Keep it long, lazy). People are busy. Don’t have empathy for their situation. Instead, use a dozen paragraphs to say as little as possible. Additionally, bury your lede and make people hunt for links to sources you cite.
  2. Bore people. People are distracted easily. A recent study from Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and other universities found tweets that are informative or funny — or, ideally, informative and funny — evoked the best emotional responses among 43,000 people who participated in the survey. So, whatever you do, don’t share items that help inform or entertain people you want to influence.
  3. Stay petty. Whining and small-mindedness is a big turnoff. Complain about the service at lunch or long lines at the DMV to drive people away. Just don’t be humorous about it.
  4. Try monologuing. It’s a heavy commitment to engage people on Twitter. Chatting back and forth with reporters, analysts, bloggers, superusers, angry customers, and so on requires listening and thoughtful (if rapid) responses. Don’t bother making those connections. Instead, just tweet the headlines to your press releases or share links to your next webinar and leave it there. That way you’ll just be talking to yourself.
  5. Ditto yourself. Whatever you blog, share the same thing in the same way on Twitter. Whatever you tweet, share on Facebook. Whatever you post, copy on LinkedIn. Don’t use each social networking site in the way it was intended. Rather, pretend you’re going to a house party where you tell everyone to go to a cocktail lounge. Then, at the cocktail lounge, ask everyone to chat with you at a club. At the club, talk to the waitress because no one else will want to hang out with you.
  6. Blog erratically. Better than not having a blog at all is starting one and then struggling to keep it up. Let weeks or months go by without posting, and ignore advice that illustrates how fresh, quality content are valued not just by readers but by search engines as well.
  7. Stay home. By that I mean, don’t reach out to other blogs for guest posting. Don’t comment on popular articles. Shy away from inviting influential people to interview you. And ignore basic public relations efforts. Instead, assume people will find you and come read everything on social media sites controlled by your company.
  8. Copy that. You probably don’t have much insight into your business or industries that surround it. You’re experience is short, your good fortune is from chance, and you’ve learned nothing from challenges along the way. Good. Because you certainly don’t want to share that with people looking to learn more about your company or work. Instead, just retweet and re-post what others have to say as much as possible.
  9. Deflavorize everything. First, be safe. If there’s controversy, avoid it. Second, ensure every message is reviewed by several mid-level managers. Third, have legal take a look at it. Fourth, make sure not to offend anyone.
  10. Sell, sell, sell. You have numbers to hit. There’s no time to waste. Don’t bother cultivating a following or finding out what other people might be interested in or taking time to listen to people in the industry. Instead, pitch the hell out of your business as much as possible.
  11. Leave it to an intern. Better still, choose a night janitor to “manage” your social media. Because, really, why would you want your brand to represent the best of your work and the brightest of your future? Instead, assume anyone can do it, give them little direction, and don’t strive to integrate their work with your campaigns in marketing, website SEO, or lead generation.

And there you have it. Eleven helpful hints to boring people stupid on social media. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter if there’s a way companies not affiliated with Sterling can lower the bar and make us look better.

Kawika Holbrook is Sterling Communications’ creative director. You can email him or follow him on Twitter @kawika.

Photo credit: unknown.

Lisa Hawes

Facebook Is Not a Free Lunch

A unique approach to customer service.

I am not a Facebook customer. I am a Facebook user. That’s a distinction that many of the 900 million people with profiles on the site seem to forget. Facebook’s customers are the companies that pay to advertise on the site. We, the great unwashed 900M, are Facebook’s by-product that they serve up to advertisers in much the same way that NBC serves up viewers to its customers – also its advertisers.

Facebook is FREE to its users. That’s key. Because of that, you, the user/consumer, do not have any say over what Facebook does with your data. You have offered it to Facebook in exchange for the ability to connect with your high school friends. It’s a fair exchange, and Facebook is within its right to decide to change the “rules” by which it operates at any time.

That’s the end of my Facebook apologia. Now the critique: Facebook seems increasingly disdainful of its users. Last weekend, it switched the published email addresses on user profiles from “display” to “hide” and substituted its own “facebook.com” email address on the profile as the sole displayed address. (Forbes broke the story in the mainstream media, after a blogger caught the change.) Now, I don’t have a problem with Facebook wanting to add its own address, but I do object to its decision to hide my preferred address. Facebook claims it announced the change in April, but it was not clear that the new address would replace the existing one. That Facebook springs changes on its users is nothing new, but this address switcheroo seems particularly egregious, considering it affects a user’s contact channel.

Do you have control over what ABC, CBS, NBC and the rest of the “free” TV networks broadcast? Yes and no. No, in that you do not directly manage the content of the TV shows. Yes, in that if you do not like a particular show, you do not need to watch it — and by not watching it, the show will eventually wither and die. Well, if you do not like Facebook’s policies, you can show your “dislike” by not using Facebook. And that is what Facebook should fear. I know people, even people working in high tech, who have either shut down their Facebook profiles or shun the site altogether, out of fear of security breaches or simply “change fatigue” with Facebook’s constant tinkering. (See my client Attensity’s analysis last month of the social media comments expressed about Facebook Timeline.) Maybe that’s why Facebook’s growth in the U.S. has hit a wall, according to comScore research.

So I don’t appear to be picking on Facebook alone, the recent behavior by the URL-shortening service bitly – another free service – bears mentioning. It changed its entire user interface overnight, resulting in a lot of confusion. To its credit, bit.ly listened to complaints and did make some adjustments within a few days. At some point, Facebook, too, will need to stop treating its users — not just its customers — in such a high-handed manner, if it wants to keep those users from straying.

I recommend to clients that they maintain a Facebook corporate profile, but it’s hard for me to understand why a small business would want to allow Facebook to become a critical asset. Yes, you need to “fish where the fish are,” so if your customers are chatting on Facebook, you definitely need to engage with them there. In the long run, though, since you have no control over Facebook, it would behoove you to encourage your customers to engage with you via your own website or a forum which may charge you but allow you some ownership.

There’s that old saying, “you get what you pay for” and it’s just as applicable to the brave new world of social media (and to news sites!) as it is to any old bricks-and-mortar shop. It wasn’t long ago that Myspace seemed invincible, just as the original three TV networks seemed invincible through the 1970’s. But then along came Fox and HBO and hundreds of cable channels, and the content offered by the original three no longer seemed as compelling. Viewers moved on, just as social network users moved from Friendster to Myspace to Facebook. Where will they go next? Ideas?

 Lisa Hawes can be reached at lhawes@sterlingpr.com. Follow Lisa on Twitter @lisakayhawes. Neither Lisa nor Sterling Communications has any relationship with Facebook beyond that enjoyed by other Facebook users.

Photo credit: gordon2208 via flickr