It’s 2 a.m. Do you know where your email address is?

I’d like to share with you a paragraph from the New York Times on last week’s public exposure of 114,000 email addresses through an iPad security breach at AT&T:

AT&T Inc., reaching out to iPad users Sunday to explain why their email addresses were released last week, blamed the incident on “computer hackers” who “maliciously exploited” an attempt by the carrier to speed the process of logging in to its website.

The comments were the harshest yet by the carrier, which apologized for the security lapse and said it would cooperate with any efforts to investigate or prosecute the breach.

“AT&T takes your privacy seriously and does not tolerate unauthorized access to its customers’ information or company websites,” the company said.

The article goes on to say that to make matters worse, the breach was discovered by an outside company who claimed that without their disclosure, AT&T “would have never fixed it.”

Is anybody else outraged by this ridiculous statement by AT&T?  Damn it guys — How seriously do you actually take our privacy when the freaking service just went on sale two months ago and it was already hacked?  Do you think you’ve tested this sufficiently to prevent such an obvious problem? Apparently the breach was so easy it should have been quickly detected by your own internal analysts.

Can you believe those nasty ol’ “malicious” hackers would do such a thing to you? Poor babies!  What were you expecting dudes?  Benevolent hackers?  Mother Theresa hackers?  Care Bear hackers? This was your OWN FAULT!

When you observe the recent massive fails at Google, Facebook, and now AT&T, is there any question that it is just a matter of “when,” not “if” that this whole creaky system goes down in the biggest Internet privacy calamity yet?

It’s hard not to draw a comparison to the Internet fails and the disastrous oil spill.  Coming from a manufacturing background, I’m absolutely blown away that BP didn’t monitor and maintain a mission-critical process like the safety procedures on an ocean oil rig.  It’s criminal. If some hackers rubes can get around a few controls to access personal information from my iPad without much trouble, what’s brewing with the real cyber-terrorists out there?

Where are the standard testing procedures? Why aren’t these companies hiring their own hackers to discover flaws? Why is a company with the resources of AT&T taking shortcuts with our privacy?  When will it be time for national regulations and accountability on Internet security? Why wouldn’t AT&T and the others be investigated and fined for privacy breaches?

Sorry to be such a downer today folks and I know I’m opening up Pandora’s box on this issue but when I think about how our way of life on the Internet could be jeopardized by the way these large corporations are managing critical processes I can’t help but be alarmed.

The new realities of marketing through YouTube

I recently spent a nice evening at a friend’s house as he showed me his favorite YouTube videos (including the Nike soccer video) on a giant high-definition TV.  The videos were being fed into the TV wirelessly through his iPhone. It was a lot of fun until we came to the older, grainy videos which were almost un-watchable on the large-screen format. I started thinking about how much YouTube has changed and the implications for marketing. I’m just weird that way. : )

Our beloved YouTube turned five years old last week and now hosts an incredible 2 billion page views per day (third largest website) and 24 hours of new content is uploaded every minute. It’s hard to ignore, isn’t it?

Some new things to consider:

High def, high expectations –  The little episode at my friend’s house illustrates four important trends:

  • The big brands are dominating the channel with blockbuster info-mercials. The bar for quality is being raised for all of us.
  • YouTube is becoming mainstream entertainment. Watching on large-format screens is becoming typical, again pointing to a need for quality.
  • Videos can now be pretty much accessed anywhere, any time with the advent of smart phones.
  • YouTube’s new “high-definition” option is helping to enable the quality revolution.

One of the charming characteristics of the original YouTube was that it actually lowered peoples expectations for quality.  The most popular, funniest videos were usually grainy home-made clips of the “Star Wars Boy” or “Keyboard Cat.” Unfortunately those days are coming to an end.

Small screen is king. The most popular iPhone app is You Tube.  And this presents quite a dilemma. How do you produce a video that will show up well on a large screen … and also a mobile phone (which can effectively present little more than a talking head)? This is a vital consideration, especially if your target market is most likely to be mobile.

Audio quality is also a bigger deal than it used to be, driven by the needs on the high end and the low end. That built-in camera mic might not cut-it any more!

Pay-per-click advertising and promoted videos can now be be part of the search results within YouTube. The promoted videos include a thumbnail of video and drives you to a video, not a website. Participating in the paid videos also allows you to enable text overlays on the video which can be a call-to-action or a simple web address.

Video annotations — Another trend is gimmicks like word balloons on videos. This might be a good promotional tool and an effective way to add depth to your video but it might have limited effectiveness on mobile phones.

What’s not new … but still relevant:

  • Blatant advertising doesn’t work.
  • If a video is truly interesting and useful, it will be watched. Educate, inform, entertain.
  • YouTube is still a high-potential, low-cost marketing opportunity
  • Be sure to optimize your video descriptions for keyword search.
  • Don’t overlook using YouTube as a way to connect and build community.  Explore the option of providing video comments.  Tagging comments on to more popular videos could drive traffic to your channel.
  • While there seems to be an emotional backlash against Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, YouTube doesn’t seem to have the political and privacy baggage of the other guys. YouTube is the teddy bear of the social web.

Cutting through this deluge of content is challenging, especially for a small business. Everybody’s on YouTube now, so you just can’t  just be there. You have to be there and be great.

What are your observations on the new realities of marketing through YouTube? What did I miss?

Want to “go viral?” Think again!

Seems like everybody wants to produce content that goes viral.  Speaking from experience, you should be careful about what you wish for!

Last week I followed with tradition and posted something light and entertaining on a Friday. In fact I thought it was funny — skewering Guy Kawasaki for his voluminous and sometimes bizarre tweets.

To my surprise and delight, Guy actually found the post and had a great sense of humor about it.  And it must have created some traction for him — his team tweeted it out five times over 24 hours. This is a fellow with nearly 300,000 followers.

The post didn’t set a record for an individual day on my blog, but over three days, it was pretty huge — about 5X the normal rate of page views for a weekend. By some definitions, I guess you could say it went viral.

And then the problems started.

When you go viral, you reach a lot of new people outside the comfortable “normal” audience you’ve built over time.  In fact about 95% of the readers last weekend had never been to the blog before.  This was also a new population who didn’t realize I was trying to be funny. People who don’t even know what funny IS.  So I started getting nasty-grams from folks who thought I was being profane: “Who are you to call somebody a devil? You need to look in the mirror, pick up a Bible and ask this man for forgiveness.”  How do you respond to that?

Next came the imposter. Somebody logged into the comment section with a Guy Kawasaki email address and hijacked the blog. Then the “real” Guy showed up to defend himself … or was it a representative? … or another imposter? … and for awhile I didn’t know which end was up. It took me about an hour to sort through the mess, delete the imposter’s comments, and “stand watch” over new comments coming in.  Up until that day I had only deleted one comment in the history of the blog.

Since I made the choice to not have ads on this site, I don’t receive any financial benefit from thousands of new readers coming to the blog.  What about new RSS subscriptions? As best as I can tell, it was about ZERO.  They were all blog tourists I suppose.

I’m really grateful that Guy took my post in good humor and liked it enough to tweet it out.  From the imposter incident, I have a new appreciation that being a celebrity comes with a target on your back. In the end, I’ll settle for my good ol’ {grow} homeys any day!

I really appreciate the consistent friendship and support from the {grow} community, whether I suck or whether I knock it out of the park.  I don’t need viral. I just need you. Thanks!

Is this Foursquare or Bore-square?

I think I “get” Foursquare.  I really do.

I understand there could be significant business benefits and opportunities to build customer loyalty.

But I really wonder if Foursquare can reach critical mass to be a widespread consumer social media platform. To find out, I conducted  …

The World’s Greatest Foursquare Experiment.

In fact, it might be the world’s only Foursquare experiment : )

The much-hyped Foursquare is similar to Twitter in that you provide short status reports based on your geographic location.  As you visit more businesses and “check-in,” you can earn virtual “badges” and become “mayor” of a location.  You can also find friends, see reviews, ads, and coupons from nearby businesses.

I decided to give it a rigorous test by trying it in a village (Abingdon, VA) a small city (Knoxville, TN) and a metroplex (New York City) over a period of six weeks. I’ll provide my bias upfront: I’m concerned that people are becoming de-sensitized to the information they are feeding into “the machine” and should draw the line at reporting personal location and behavior patterns.  However, I’m starting to get Foursquare questions from my students and realized I needed to give it a fair shot. So I did…

Early buzz

The interface was easy to figure out.  Pulling out my smart phone became habitual as I was eager to earn badges and see what the hype was about.

The first problem was that it became annoying to me, and whoever I was with, when I fumbled around connecting to Foursquare at each location. The app doesn’t always know precisely where you are. In a “medium” town like Knoxville, I usually received a list of 10 nearby businesses and could easily select my location. However in the small village, about half of the businesses did not exist on the grid so I had to manually enter my spot. In NYC I had just the opposite problem. Can you imagine the number of suggested spots I had to scroll through while standing on a corner of Park Ave.?

Umm… Who the hell are you?

When I joined Foursquare, I started getting friend requests from dozens of random people including the city of Reading, PA.  Not knowing any better, I accepted them. Now, if I report where I am, I’m letting a lot of complete strangers know my whereabouts. In hindsight, I was not too bright with this move.

Call me Mr. Mayor

One part of the experiment was becoming a mayor. I wanted to see what happened when you were crowned king of a location.  This happened fairly quickly when I was the first Foursquare visitor to a local barbecue joint. “How sad. This location has no mayor” it reported.  So the next day I went back and became the mayor. Great for the restaurant but what did I get out of it? An electronic award. Hmmm.

Gaming the system

Did you know if you walk down the street you can check-in at every location you pass?

True value

I had heard some cool stories about people getting instant coupons upon entering a location. This never happened to me.

I did get a few on-the-spot restaurant menu recommendations but they were from strangers so it didn’t mean too much.

Finally near the end of the month I actually saw that a Foursquare friend (and somebody I knew!) was in the same location as me. That was pretty cool but since I was at a family celebration, I really didn’t want to interact and hoped they wouldn’t come by.

I think the biggest benefit of this service could be finding friends at a conference in a big city. I saw the app used this way extensively at SXSW and it makes sense.

The balance of cost versus reward

During the experiment, I had tweeted out some of my experiences and concerns, especially about privacy. One friend suggested that I simply turn-off the online reporting function … meaning I wouldn’t connect with friends, wouldn’t be alerted to deals, but still could earn badges. Huh?

Am I really doing this to earn electronic badges? Is that enough reward for me to continue using this application? No, I don’t think so.

While Foursquare could be a potential goldmine for businesses, it holds very little tangible value to consumers right now … at least in my experience. But that will undoubtedly change. In fact it HAS to change.   For this to really take off beyond the geek circles, it has to offer much more value to consumers than the silliness being delivered now.

I’ll continue to use this selectively so I can stay on top of continued innovations and benefits but I don’t see it becoming part of my regular social media diet.

And by the way …

I still have my concern.  Why are we helping the crooks do their jobs by providing our location and teaching them our buying behaviors?

I guess people will do anything for a coupon?

{grow} community alert: Gregg Morris did a great job expanding on these Foursquare ideas in his blog post

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