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The Google Buzz Backlash February 12, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Google Buzz has been a topic of excitement this week for anyone interested in watching the line between social media and e-mail communications blur. But in the past day or so, as the novelty has evolved into practicality, a serious privacy matter has come to the forefront.

It annoyed me, the first time I logged into my rarely used Gmail account this week, that I was told I automatically have Buzz followers. For one thing, I didn’t sign up for Buzz; for another, the Gmail account I have is used exclusively for my job-hunting activities, which means that automatically, the recruiters and hiring managers I’ve been in contact with over the past few months are, suddenly and without my permission, my Buzz “friends.” Not a big deal, I thought, since I don’t plan, for the moment, to use Buzz to post my status updates or keep in touch with friends.

Wrong. It turns out it is a very big deal.

On Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, users must sign up, create an account, and deliberately connect with others. I’ve not been the only one bothered by Google’s presumption that everyone I e-mail is a social networking friend, or that I even want to be linked to Buzz.

Many people have complained that they have too little control over who follows them and that its blocking controls are inadequate. Google’s auto-following and public listing can expose personal connections that some users would consider private; or as in my case, turn even the most casual e-mail contacts into Buzz “friends.” Most alarming is the concern that some have that even their addresses and contact information, courtesy of Google Earth and Google Maps, may now be available to anyone who has their e-mail address.

What does this mean for crime victims, journalists, government sources, whistleblowers, employees, attorneys? It’s not Big Brother that has your information now: EVERYONE has access to it.

Today, Google acknowledged the outcry over privacy complaints and made changes to the social networking tool. A Google spokesman naively said in a Google blog post that Buzz is still young and there are many improvements on the way.

Excuse me? Why on earth would Google prematurely throw the switch on Buzz when the tool actually poses a safety concern for some users in its current form? Having worked for Yahoo! once upon a time, I know Google has an army of attorneys that must have counseled its execs on liability and privacy matters. And common sense tells you that any program should be opt-in. Google: FAIL.


Facebook’s Communications: Fail February 10, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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It’s amazing how Facebook has managed to become the heavyweight in social media, considering its patent disregard for its 400 million or so active users.

Facebook has established a well-earned reputation for not communicating with the public or its users. A simple blog post will be the only notification most users will get from the company when it makes major policy or user interface changes — which it does on a quarterly basis. The unchecked rumor mill is constantly churning with charges that the company will begin charging for its now-free service. Privacy scandals break out regularly over what information is being shared with advertisers, who owns content, or what user information is made public — and Facebook weighs in, it seems, as little as possible. In fact, when the media covers Facebook and its various scandals, the company has appeared fairly dismissive of its many critics.

Over the past week, Facebook rolled out major changes to its user interface, which many users have complained are counter-intuitive and difficult to use. On top of that, technical issues have plagued the service, resulting in delayed news feeds, disappearing posts and the like. The only acknowledgement Facebook has made in the ensuing firestorm of dissatisfaction was an hour ago, when it notified users that some bugs have been fixed and that the news feeds will gradually return to normal.

The user-interface changes doubtless were in anticipation of yesterday’s debut of Google Buzz. But With Google Buzz aching to go up against Facebook, it will be interesting to see how users react. Are they too invested in Facebook to make a meaningful change in their social media behaviors? Or will Facebook’s lack of commitment toward user satisfaction and acknowledgement of user feedback be its eventual undoing?

Impressive statistics released by Facebook this week in celebration of its sixth anniversary (timed nicely to combat Google Buzz) revealed one interestingly buried fact: On the whole, a notable percentage of Facebook’s users are less engaged with the site than they used to be. Could it be that Facebook’s poor public relations strategy has eroded its core, leaving it vulnerable for other social media leaders such as Google to scoop up its disenfranchised users?

Not only does Facebook have no core principle of what the site should be, but it has also demonstrated repeatedly that it doesn’t care what users think and can’t be bothered by their needs, desires or privacy concerns. Will I stop using it? I haven’t decided yet, but one thing’s for sure: Facebook had better be worried.

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