A hashtag and photo alone does not a call to action make

I want to make clear from the outset, this is a viewpoint expressing on how people use social media for good intentions – but their intent doesn’t deliver effective results. This isn’t either for or against a specific, current missing person, but uses an online exchange in relation to them to highlight the problem.

Now, with that out of the way – let’s get to the point.

As my fingers touch keys, law enforcement authorities in the USA are working to find Isabel Celis, a six year old girl who has gone missing from Tuszon, Arizona since last week.

And is the fashion, people across all social media channels have commendably mobilised to assist in what ever way they can to help the effort to reunite this young girl with her family. From Facebook groups, twitter hashtags and the like – the users in these communities are at least helping to raise awareness about the case.

Image of a tweet that appeared in my twitter timeline today relating to the missing US girl Isabel Celis - Click to view full sized image.

Image of a tweet that appeared in my twitter timeline today relating to the missing US girl Isabel Celis.

This case came to my attention today when this screen-captured tweet was retweeted in my timeline, and is the basis for this post.

My issue with this tweet is this: It requires the user to do too many things for the information to be useful and actionable. Or put simply – a poorly crafted tweet, and a badly executed call to action.

When you hear or read about a missing person, and if your mind is anything like mine; you ask yourself a couple of important questions such as:

  • who is it?
  • where are they missing from?
  • how can I help find the person?

This of course goes back to the Five W’s of basic information gathering; which we were all taught in primary school. I’ll avoid talking about their origins in Latin for reasons of brevity.

Problem one: Reliance on prior knowledge

Only the first of these three questions comes close to being answered, provided and buried by way of a hashtag – a method on twitter for indexing a group of tweets or discussion – denoted by the string of words prefixed by the hash (#) symbol.

If you’re an inexperienced twitter user, you’re not likely to know what a hashtag is. This is most likely amongst the 17% of US internet users over the age of 30 who use twitter.

The use of a hashtag to convey important information is a poor choice. It is reliant on the assumption that the user knows what they are and how they are of value to the message being conveyed. The problem is best summed up by the following, and less offensive expression:

To assume is to make an ass out of u and me

Problem two: Key questions not answered

We move on to the second and third questions asked by the inquisitive mind when seeing a message about a missing person – where are they missing from, and how can I help.

The tweet doesn’t provide any answers to these important questions. It repeats the same mistake of assumption, and hopes that the user will click on a hashtag, to find a tweet, that contains relevant information, so they can get the answer to the questions they have.

The response from a user after being called out on a poorly crafted tweet that did nothing to inform interested parties on how they can help - click to enlarge.

The response from a user after being called out on a poorly crafted tweet that did nothing to inform interested parties on how they can help.

And the problem with this was highlighted by the somewhat flippant and idiotic justification received from the tweet’s original author (see right) when I questioned the original tweeter on his methodology and message, and its poor use of the medium that helps rather than harms the search for this girl.

How does looking at only the photo of a missing girl as an isolated act help with her recovery? Short answer – it doesn’t. Just ask people who write Missing Persons Investigative Best Practices Protocols, let alone the social media operatives for various agencies who already provide this information (and do it well), on how they think the tweet in question would be more hindrance than help.

However, this clicking creates an unnecessary barrier to providing the user with information. In order to answer their question, they will have to click on a hashtag, to scroll through a list of tweets until finally, amongst the signal to noise ratio that is social networks; find a message that gives them some of that information.

At least three to six clicks, and two minutes wasted trying to find it by my count. All of it unnecessary, and could have been easily fixed with a properly crafted message.

So what would the solution look like?

A screen capture of how the tweet should have been composed to ensure maximum effectiveness of the message - Click to view larger.

A screen capture of my tweet showing exactly how it should have been composed to ensure maximum effectiveness of the message.

So given Twitter’s 140 character limit, If I was the person sending that tweet – how would I have crafted it to actually be useful?

These are my two suggestions for crafting a better tweet in issues such as this:

  1. The message is the medium: Add as much relevant information as possible; so people who want to help can, without them getting frustrated, disinterested and ultimately taking no action.
  2. Use easily understood shorthand to maximise real estate: wk. for week, pic for picture, yr for year, fr. for from.

Here’s exactly what should have been tweeted (and I did by the way):

Isabel Celis, 6yr old fr. Tuscon AZ missing since last wk. Pic http://t.co/LF6bMmMl Info http://t.co/wljNonWM Please RT #findisabelcelis

And yes, I know I broke one of my own rules in this tweet – asking/begging for the reader to take action (by including the phrase Please RT). However, I make a small exception for this one because I can; and no parent (no matter how dark your heart is) should have to live with the uncertainty of a missing child.

Rinse and repeat on LinkedIn spam

Time for another missive on LinkedIn spam. I’ve touched on this topic before, discussing the notorious Pav Sanka and his inability to use a contact for its intended purpose.

Well fast forward to today, when the equally slimy John Keats – the Chief Sales Officer of 123 Greetings (visit at your own peril). Another person from the sub-continent who feels it appropriate to ignore clearly written information on what types of messages I’m happy to receive via LinkedIn.

For those who don’t remember, here’s a recap:

Contact Settings
Happy to share my knowledge and consider job offers, but please don’t contact me with spam.

Interested In: career opportunities, consulting offers, job inquiries, expertise requests, reference requests, getting back in touch

With that in mind, here’s the message I received today from John Keats:

Subject: CPO & CPM – Strategic Partnership
From: John Keats Chief Sales Officer at 123GREETINGS DOT COM
Date/Time: April 25, 2012

Hello Michael

I represent 123greetings.com (World’s #1 e-Greeting company) with 30 million opt- in users across the globe.

We help advertisers to reach their targeted audience on CPO and CPM basis via our email campaigns.

The Average performances are 6% open rate and 5% CTR and we can target users demographically and geographically.

You can message me for more information and I will be happy to discuss with you further. You can add me in Skype (greetings_sales)

Best
John Keats
Cell phone: +1 646- 257- 3763
Email:john.keats@123greetings-inc.com

Chief Sales Officer
123 Greetings.com, Inc
1674 Broadway, Suite 403, New York, NY 10019

Ok, let’s look at what messages I stated that I’m happy to receive via LinkedIn and which of these it matches up to:

  • career opportunities: No
  • consulting offers: No
  • job inquiries: No
  • expertise requests: No
  • reference requests: No
  • getting back in touch: Are you seeing a pattern emerging yet?

So – should John have sent his message? No way.

If I had even a remote interest in electronic greeting cards as part of a marketing campaign I might be running, I would have gone out looking for the relevant information.

And looking at this companies’ website, it doesn’t inspire me with confidence. It’s a design reminiscent of mid 2000, with all the design queues which give it the look and feel of something dodgy and untrustworthy you’d associate with India – right down to the use of generic and dodgy stock photos and more advertising than you can shake a stick at.

The consideration and application of ethics in marketing is something oft ignored by less scrupulous users of social media and communication networks. Those who fail to consider ethics in marketing also fail to realise the damage their activities do to their business and reputation.

I’ll bet this is why Pav Sanka tried to get in touch with me last week by phone, considering that Pav’s own name and business name (Vinsky Consulting) doesn’t appear on Google results without my entries appearing right next to or even before him and his company. It’s the same level of permanent record that’s given to Contractjobs.com and Lucy Plumridge thanks to their lack of business ethics and my well-honed SEO skills.

So, here’s the reply sent to the latest LinkedIn spammer. Will it achieve anything – likely not. However, if it does make the person in question reconsider their obnoxious tactics and think twice before misusing LinkedIn, then it has achieved its purpose.

John,

Let me be blunt and respond to your message with a question, did you bother to read the contact box on my profile which clearly states what kind of contacts I’m interested in receiving?

Let me answer that question for you – No, you did not.

You have sent me a message, a message with no purpose or relevance to why I’m here, and offers me nothing that’s aligned to the messages I’ve expressly stated up front that I’m willing to receive.

Spend a moment in my shoes – I get several messages here a day, on top of all the other informational networks I need to participate in to stay at the top of my profession. If you think that messages like yours are a valuable use of my limited and valuable time, you are sorely mistaken.

Connecting with you is of no value to me. You’re not a social network practitioner – you’re a bleeding sales person who’s so ineffective in their job that they don’t bother to read available information and form sound judgement. There’s simply no benefit to me in connecting with someone like you I don’t even know who is of zero relevance to me.

In short – you’re just another pain in the arse spammer who abuses networks like this for their own means and wastes other peoples time.

I’d thank you to refrain from such wasteful messages, and future pay better consideration to the messages you send so as not to waste other peoples time. Needless to say, I’ll be circulating your message and my response amongst my circle of influence both online and off to make sure that they never do business with you or your company.

Michael.

As I said last year – people like John need to learn the purpose of social networks, and understand the manners and expectations that goes with using them.