Wednesday, 28 November 2012

SABC, Nkandla and Zuma: free speech under the spotlight

The state owned South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) pulled a local fast food chain’s advert at the 11th hour, with reports initially claiming the advert was “degrading to the president”. The advert, which is available to view on YouTube below, is for a special deal on fish and chips for R25,00:

Before discussing this a little further, in my view, the Fish and Chip Co. are either extraordinarily talented or extremely lucky with the publicity received so far.  As at Wednesday 28 November, the video has over 62 000 views and three sources on YouTube. This is climbing quickly. Local media has jumped all over this.  See, for example, a Google search screenshot below for the term zuma ad banned:

free speech

Every major news orginisation in South Africa is on the story, even major foreign press outlet AFP has run a report on the banned advertisement. So, while the SABC imposes censorship rules that may be designed to protect state interests, the fast food chain is riding an impressive internet and social media advertising campaign that may well exceed expectations for the initial advert. The CEO of Taste Holdings (the corporate umbrella for the fast food chain) initially said the decision was “presumptious” but later decided to withdraw the ad saying:

we haven’t had any complaints but we have decided to withdraw it. I think that controversy was not really what was intended

Now, onto the issue at hand.  As you can see from the video above it is a satire or parody on President Zuma’s large number of wives and children (unorthodox to many Western countries), cultural differences and government (mis)spending.  The SABC, for their part, make a reasonable case as to why the advert was pulled insisting that it was an implied presidential endorsement for the Fish and Chip Co.  Further, the SABC did not want to open itself up to “liability”. Fair enough, I guess...

But, consider these reports by the Sowetan and the UK based Guardian.  The national broadcaster’s head of news, Jimi Matthews, allegedly banned all critical reference to President Zuma’s home in Nkandla, amidst contraversory around its funding and apparent excessiveness.  Words such as “Zumaville”, “Compound”, and “Homestead” are banned  by the SABC because they may be associated with past racist tendencies. 

If the State owned broadcaster sees fit to ban the use of words (essentially censoring news) and ban adverts that may be seen as derogatory towards the ruling party or president, we are, as a constitutional democracy that thrives on free speech and public debate, heading into dangerous waters (Secrecy Bill ring any bells?)

To put this in context, let me refer you to Dario Milo’s (media law expert) speech at the Media Freedom Day on 19 October 2012.  For present purposes, the key points were as follows:
  • The constitutional court has constantly reinforced the importance of freedom of expression. It is fundamental to any democracy and the “print, broadcast and electronic media have a particular role in the protection of freedom of expression in our society”. 
  • As noted in the speech, and a point I must make, I am not for one second suggesting that freedom of expression is absolute.  It must be looked at in the context of our constitution and the right to limit any freedom, if reasonable in the circumstances.
  • The recent matter of Print Media South Africa v Minister of Home Affairs,  from paragraph 71 of the judgment sums it up: “In my view, the mainstay of the law is to encourage lawful conduct rather than to seek to guarantee lawfulness by restricting conduct altogether”. Nail. On. The. Head.

Although the SABC are essentially saying the banning of the advertisment is policy to avoid negative publicity and potentially legal action, there is a worrying trend developing. Protection of political interests should not be tolerated.  One understands a decision made for pragmatic reasons, but political interferance must be limited at all costs. 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Twitter defamation (libel)

The law of defamation (libel law) is being required to keep pace with the rapid strides in technology; Facebook and Twitter legal actions are realities in our aggressive ambition towards immediacy in communication. If you are wondering what the difference between libel, slander and defamation is, look here.

In the United Kingdom, false allegations of child abuse by the BBC against conservative leader Lord McAlpine resulted in a libel matter being settled out of court. The corporate entity is not alone, as several others including popular celebrity personalities, are being targeted for comments made or forwarded on Twitter about Lord McAlpine.

An amount of 185 000 pounds (plus legal costs) was agreed upon as reasonable damages. Further, ITV and its presenter Philip Schoefield “apologise[d] unreservedly” for similar pedophilia allegations and agreed to 125 000 pounds in damages. The BBC, to its credit, responded as follows: “The settlement is comprehensive and reflects the gravity of the allegations that were wrongly made”.  These sorts of settlements (amounts) and actions are not out of the norm given increasing social media litigation and labour law disputes. 

What is out of the ordinary in terms of online defamation and libel as it stands, is that Lord McAlpine is seeking to settle with or sue any other entity or individual that tweeted about the issue in a defamatory manner on the social media platform Twitter, regardless of the amount of actions he may need to pursue. He said this after reaching settlement with the BBC; “We will now be continuing to seek settlements from other organisations that have published defamatory remarks and individuals who have used Twitter to defame me.” As an aside, Lord McAlpine has agreed to donate all damages money to the BBC children in need foundation. 

So what is this all about? Here is a snapshot: A BBC Newsnight broadcast discussed the emotive and disturbing issue of child abuse. It specifically focused its report on child abuse occurring in care facilities in the north Wales region. It’s a discussion that gets people talking, particularly in the heat of the moment on social media platforms.  It caused an outcry on Twitter and although the BBC did not directly name Lord McAlpine as a pedophile, he was “identified” on Twitter as the “offender” (and I use these terms loosely).  Various comments were tweeted and retweeted when, from what I understand, it appears no attempts were made to understand the truthfulness (and potential harmfulness) of the allegations made. There are allegedly 1000 libelous tweets (posts) and 9000 retweets (forwards).

There have been calls for twitter users to come forward and settle.  The matter has been referred to as a “lapse of journalism” by the BBC and resulted in several resignations, an independent enquiry and an in-house enquiry at the media giant.  Not a good time to be a boardroom member of the Beeb…

A screen shot of the search term “Lord McAlpine” on Sunday November 25 still shows a defamatory comment (partially obscured) below:

twitter defamation damages

In any event as pointed out earlier, there is no anonymity on the internet.  Typically, in the law of defamation in social media, in situations like this, the “main offender” or several persons with the largest Twitter followings would be successfully sued, reputation would be restored and the matter would end.  This does not mean that the legal right or legal remedy ends there.  Lord McAlpine is seeking to show that the law of defamation has a wide reach. As pointed out by top UK media lawyer Niri Shan, this matter will not necessarily result in a change of libel laws, but it will ensure that social media users become more aware of potential ramifications.

Getting back to the Lord McAlpine and this celebrity version of a series of defamation (libel) cases, briefly, if order to successfully bring a defamation claim in this context, Lord McAlpine would need to show that Twitter users published (tweeted or retweeted) defamatory matter (sexual abuse allegations) relating to him.  No rocket science needed here, on the face of it, and without all of the necessary facts, there is a case in libel law. What defenses can the shocked twitter user rely on? Typically, defenses in this arena are:

  • Truth of the allegation
  • Fair comment
  • Satire
  • Public interest
  • Public domain 

Further traditional defamation or libel defenses such as privilege, in this context, would not be applicable.  What about innocent dissemination? That’s the thing with defamation, once you have published defamatory matter relating to the Plaintiff, you are presumed to have the requisite wrongfulness so the onus will be on YOU to show otherwise.  Normally in law the onus or responsibility is on the person who brings the claim to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt – following the innocent until proven guilty rationale.  In defamation law, this is switched around once an individual can show a tweet was defamatory and had applicable reference. Then, it is presumed that this is wrongful and the plaintiff must show otherwise.

In the immediacy of the internet, particularly in the heat of the moment, the defamation bar is quite high. If right-minded members of our society think that your tweet lowers the reputation of the person you made the comment about, you could be in trouble.

So, while the law of defamation or libel law is not strictly speaking changing, what is changing is the potential risk for liability given the immediacy in publishing the internet gives most of us.  This risk is dynamic and moves with the internet. The manner in which we think about twitter and other social media platforms has probably got to change, or at least adapt slightly.  Twitter is not a braai (barbeque) on a Saturday afternoon. Think twice before indulging.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) notes from Africa: Part 3

This is the final part of a three part series discussing SEO’s integration with social media to form a holistic digital strategy.  The evolution of the internet and the manner in which users engage with one another, and the brands they associate themselves with, gives us the classic case of shifting goal posts. While it is important to be familiar with current thinking on social media, such as optimal times for posting on the various platforms, one must not lose sight of the fact that each campaign must rely on the creativity of its team and uniqueness of approach in digital media be truly successful.

Practically, engagement should be memorable; the experience is ultimately what the user will walk away with as an impression of the brand.  So, while there is a definite strategy and vision one should have in place, there is no template or “right” way of doing things – it is largely subjective and spawning an era of digital strategists.  A long-term vision should be aligned with your activation techniques and form a collective digital strategy. Increasingly, we are seeing digital morph into the traditional marketing and advertising space. Marketing must include an element of digital to be competitive. It is all becoming one very dynamic environment. Engagement is continuing to be driven by how the internet grows and behaves, as a result, activations are part of the shifting goal posts dilemma alluded to above and digital branding is going to require an agency (or individual) with a wide range of skills. This is why the hobby that was measuring facebook has now shifted into a global business model of social media analytical tools, facebook engagement tactics and so on. 

With that in mind, ensuring one gets a return on investment (ROI) on a social media campaign will almost always rely on decisions based off social media analytics, facebook analytics and the like.  Getting it right at the outset and trusting your data is imperative.   Lets consider some activation techniques that get the most success on the social media platform:
  • Free Stuff 
Everyone loves a freebie, particularly with times seemingly tough worldwide. Take for example a lottery ticket and the screen shot from Facebook below.
effective internet marketing strategies

This is my personal page.  Typically, my engagement is between about 2-10 per post.  I posted the lottery picture on a Saturday at around 4pm South African time. It received about 40 likes and 18 comments within a few hours. At least a 500% increase on what is normally the case.  To test the same theory, I did this again with a new lottery ticket but this time on a weekday. I posted the ticket at around 12pm on a Tuesday with the draw the following day.  The results were almost identical with at last a 500% increase on the norm; the Facebook screen shot of the second lottery ticket is below.
SEO South Africa

Now obviously these results are not scientific and in no way can one draw definitive conclusions from them, but the trend looks good. Also, a Facebook business page will react in a different manner, but again, the trend is what is important when engineering an effective internet marketing strategy or strategies.  With a brand, using a similar principal, on the launch of product, range, new line etc. something as simple as a branded trucker hat will probably get you a significant increase on your normal engagement levels, particularly if your Facebook business page or similar social media platform has a large fan base.   
  • Competitions
Similar to the above but this is categorized by larger scale campaigns where the cost and audience are proportionately higher. The potential return on investment is also significantly higher, but so is the risk….See for example the T-Mobile Motorola Cliq campaign.

internet marketing strategy

  • Emotional heartstrings
No one can resist a good cause, particularly when it’s a cause they would otherwise have no ability to “contribute” towards. For example, a brand could leverage an issue that is a current hot topic, such as in South Africa at the moment there is a particular push to eradicate rhino poaching.  A brand can align their charitable donations to a social media campaign to support a cause and get the issue “out there”.  A simple one could be to associate a certain number of likes or retweets to an amount of money thereby giving incentive to promote a good cause (and push the brand).

  • Humour 
Consider the screen shot below.

digital strategies blog

One could use a popular (at the time) image with a humorous or ironic take on popular culture.  The above “milk tash” is just one of many examples with the increasing popularity of men’s health month – Movember

Above all, be creative in the long and short term while taking advantage of the immediacy of social media and the increasing trend of media going viral - internet business marketing has moved on. Do not look at it as an "internet marketing strategy", it is more than that, look at the collective and how to incorporate digital media into a holistic strategy.  For example, the YouTube video summarizing and showing the JZ and Bing decoded campaign, one of the best around in my opinion.

In saying all of this, know your target.  A shotgun approach in the dark will invariably fail and an activation flop will do more harm than good. Research, research and then a bit more research. So where does SEO fit into this equation? With a quality base of users driven from other sources of the internet, an activation technique is more likely to get better engagement. With poor quality leads and “clicks”; engagement levels are destined to be lower and activations harder to be a true success. Hence, the best internet marketing should always concentrate on quality. 

There is no one or the other with SEO and social media; and there is no one or the other when it comes to traditional and digital marketing; the moving dynamic means we are having to increasingly morph and adapt to the behavior of the internet population in all forms of internet marketing. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) notes from Africa: Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I gave an overview of SEO, and some practical tips to consider when writing content and setting up your domain.  Now, let’s look at the conversion between social media and SEO.  Let me clarify: SEO can be defined as techniques and methods to make your website more visible to internet search enginesSocial media on the other hand, is a broader, more encompassing term that refers to the various social and professional internet communication platforms that people use to engage one another with, whether professional or business, or both.

SEO and social media, particularly in the ever-changing internet landscape, go hand in hand.  A holistic digital strategy will include a certain amount of convergence between the two.  These two terms are distinguishable, and should not be conflated.  Although long term strategies may be similar, the implementation and execution of an effective, holistic digital offering requires harmony between SEO and social media, but a divergent manner of execution and thinking.

Let me give a practical example.  A Facebook and Twitter campaign for xyz brand has a budget of R100 000,00. In the past (a few years ago), most strategies would look at these two topics individually (if at all) and devote the entire budget with a narrow focus on Facebook and Twitter engagement.  In the manner I am describing above, a percentage of the budget would go to search engine optimisation techniques.  If both are employed, an average site with 5000 hits a month becomes a rocking site with 20 000 hits a month.  Clearly, social media platforms will have a deeper penetration with more quality, focused exposure. Similarly, if already employing a dual approach, it is paramount that the various teams or members align their strategies and thinking towards a shared goal.

So, a SEO strategy will entail skilled copy writing, strategic placement of key phrase terms, correct setup and maintenance of your domain and, above all; relevant, fresh and well written content.  Similarly, a social media strategy requires consistency of quality, constant updates with posts, photos and other content, a varied approach across the various platforms while engaging and understanding your target market. Similar? Yes.  The same? No.

Think of it this way, if you are to build a house you need solid foundations and good plans.  This is your SEO.  Solid setup as well as clarity of thinking in strategy and execution.  The social media aspect can be looked at as the “things” in your house.  With solid foundations, you are able to bring in new “things”, such as new followers, new audience, new product and new target market.  When buying something for your house you would not simply purchase the first thing with little to no idea about how it works or where it is supposed to fit.  Your social media strategy should be the same; understand why you are doing it, who you are seeking to target and how your product is relevant to the user base you are after.  With a good foundation to your digital strategy, your SEO will compliment and augment your social media strategy.

There are nuances to each platform, and these should be taken into account. One of the most talked about is the timing and regularity of post, tweet, update etc.  My simple answer (informed by this excellent article by Jon Looman) is: it depends. Not very useful is it. Let me explain: the timing will depend on your target market and the nature of your offering to the internet. Location, cultural differences and many other factors make it difficult to give a simple 11am-3pm answer for Facebook and after 6pm for LinkedIn. While useful for illustrative purposes and using as a trend, it must depend on your social media platform, product and target market. That said, most will post in “peak” periods of internet usage.  The infographics contained in Jon’s article above set out all the various dos and don’ts but my advice will always be: understand your own market.  That will give you the necessary information on which to base decisions.

Now, onto more of those pesky nuances. There are many, and they are dynamic. You may well just do it the same on all platforms, but I am willing to bet that various subtle changes in presentation of content will generate deeper penetration. This now appears to be accepted practice but following social media news, and all technological development is now part of what is required to truly be on top.

Ultimately, the manner of implementation of digital strategies will always be dynamic, that is the nature of the beast we are dealing with.  While “likes” and brand following are important, one cannot lose sight of the fact that quality traffic will drive further exposure and ultimately yield a superior return on investment. The internet is all about fusion. The rules of engagement are changing, and will continue to do so.  Consider this in closing; the generation of “kids” that grew up on the internet are now influential consumers who see internet engagement as the norm, not something new and weird.  They, in turn, are raising a whole new generation of internet kids.  There is no turning back.