Archive for March, 2011

#DonationFAIL! Why Bing Got Blasted and What Gov Can Learn

March 24, 2011 2 comments

In the wake of the recent disasters in Japan, many organizations used Twitter to raise donations for the relief effort overseas. However, Microsoft’s Bing pledged $100,000 and received a lot of criticism for their generous pledge.

On March 12, Bing tweeted “How can you #SupportJapan? For every retweet, @bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K.”

Some may think it’s a clever way to engage users and make pledging more interactive. But Bing also received backlash from people accusing them of exploiting the tragedy to market itself and hijacking the #SupportJapan hashtag.

How so? Every time you retweet their message, you are mentioning Microsoft’s brand, promoting and expanding their reach to your followers, who might retweet to their followers, and on and on. If they  wanted to donate the money, then just donate the money. By turning this into a modern day digital bite-sized email chain letter (remember those?), they came across as opportunistic and self-promoting during a time of tragedy.

Furthermore, users who search the #SupportJapan hashtag hoping to get real-time updates on the disastrous situation will get intermittent tweets of Bing’s donation solicitation; not exactly what information-starved people are looking to consume.

Microsoft quickly apologized, but the damage was done.


What can government learn from this PR debacle?

1)      It’s not all about you

Nobody likes shameless promoters, people who focus too much on pushing their brand across.

This is a simple lesson that might not be easy to grasp. From our insider’s perspective, we’re just trying to figure out ways to make our information relevant and useful in the social media universe. And especially for agencies starting out on Twitter, they’ll have to push their names out just to build up their follower base.

But put yourself in the shoes of a recipient. Would you rather see an Education Agency tweet about all the activities they’re doing to improve school systems, or would you rather see “check out my homepage. Follow us here.”

The lesson is not “don’t talk about yourself,” but “don’t put yourself above the important services you provide.”


2)      Social media can be abused, so learn the proper etiquette

I’m sure Microsoft had good intentions and wasn’t trying to be opportunistic like Kenneth Cole was, but users are smart and can sniff out the perception of a hidden agenda.

Learn the culture and etiquette, which isn’t easy either, since it keeps evolving. I did a generic search for “Twitter etiquette” and the top responses weren’t completely up to date. But the more you participate and follow the influencers on Twitter, the more you naturally learn the rules of engagement.

It’s not likely that most agencies will experience the kind of backlash that Microsoft experienced, but it’s still good to keep in mind the lessons we can learn from other peoples’ failures.



Local Govs Should Check Out Location Check-Ins

March 9, 2011 Leave a comment

This week, location based service Foursquare announced its new features to enhance the social check-in experience. They also reiterated their vision to go beyond “a game built on check-ins” into “making cities easier to use.” Foursquare isn’t just trying to find out whether you’re at the coffee shop or a night club; they’re gaining insight into what motivates behavior to frequent local establishments. And the astonishing amount of data they collect can be a treasure trove for local public policy decisions.

Some cities have experimented with Foursquare, Gowalla, or other location based service for touristy reasons. It’s a great way for visitors to learn more about points of interest and public artifacts. I think this is a great way for cities to gain street cred with the mobile generation. However, the real value is in the data.

What can the data tell us?

1. Where people are and when they’re there.

This is valuable data when cities are trying to decide where to add new public resources. Parking lots, public restrooms, trash cans, street lamps, benches, etc. If city officials knew exactly which blocks are used most heavily at what times, this could be a significant input into their decision. Or perhaps public transit is looking into increase the frequency of routes during a certain time period. There are many public decisions that could greatly benefit from these analytics.

2. Why people go where they go

Besides just checking-in, users can leave tips, to-dos, and photos. This layer of data reveals, to an extent, the motivation behind why people go where they go. Restaurant goers recommend their favorite dish or warn others of negative experiences. If cities have some insight into behavior and motivation, this could be a great resource for economic development plans, small business resources, and new businesses.

3. How merchants respond

Some location-based services also allow merchants to offer incentives to attract potential users. The new Foursquare merchant platform extends special offers for swarms, groups of friends, newbies, regulars, Mayors, or everyone. Seeing how consumers and merchants respond to one another can also be a great resource for cities looking to sharpen their economic development strategy.

There’s no doubt that the data is rich and can be very beneficial to policy makers. Yes, there will be significant hurdles along the way, such as:

  • The handling of Big Brother privacy invasion
  • The provider’s terms of service.
  • The provider’s willingness to share. Maybe Foursquare doesn’t want to play with government because there are more lucrative partnerships elsewhere.
  • The needed increase of users for more robust data. This is still relatively underused by the general public, but the trend is pointing to increased adoption.

I’m not saying this is a revolutionary device that will transform how government does business. I’m not even suggesting cities go and start placing trash cans outside the hottest hipster bars. I’m saying this is a potentially rich resource that can be considered when making certain public policy decisions.