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Oct 2010

Do we really care about Mark Zuckerberg?

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As I sit discussing The Social Network, the upcoming-film focusing on Zuckerberg’s rise to power as the lord of Facebook, with a colleague in the IT department, he says something that strikes a chord with me. “But who actually cares about this guy?”

Before this film popped up, most people would be hard-pressed to tell you who ‘Mark Zuckerberg’ was, let alone pick his face out of a line-up (however, post-film, most people would end up accidentally picking Zuckerberg’s film doppelgänger Jesse Eisenberg instead). But now he’s been shoved into the limelight, and outside the cut-throat world of the Web 2.0 world of business, is his presence really that important?

There are a few names in IT that most people could name if they worked in marketing, IT or a similarly technologically-focused discipline. Bill Gates is the most obvious, followed by Steve Jobs. But after that, it begins to tail off into the obscurity of the “head of what?” names that make no difference to our lives.

Zuckerberg, he might happily claim, is in charge of a network of half a billion people, with access to their personal details. It wasn’t until this surfaced in the tabloids that most social media users glanced up from their status messages and thought about what they were entering onto a site that technically wasn’t private.

No smart admin would ever, for reasons of privacy or otherwise, deny themselves access to any part of their network. Their job requires no red tape whatsoever, and the thought that Mark might have the access to your most intimate message conversations is chilling. But are businesses opening themselves up to this as well? Surely, if someone at Facebook were to find out you were having an affair, or you’d slagged off your boss, then the results, should they make this information public, would be disastrous (though fie on you for doing either, anyway!).

But for a business, it could be much worse. Many a cast member or a media project has been leaked through idiotic updates on social media about what someone’s currently working on. It makes me shudder; if that’s what they’re giving to the public, then what are they talking about in private? We’ve never been in this situation before – one man has access to more personal and business information than any other human being on the planet, and we’re comfortable with this situation.

Sure, there must be legal fail-safes in place, and a considerable chunk of users would quit the network within days of hearing word that Zuckerberg and his cronies had abused their access privileges. But it highlights two key issues in modern communication.

The first is the amount we’re willing to share over the internet – risky amounts, at best. The other is the fact that while no one may care about Zuckerberg’s “celeb image”, but we don’t know as much about him as we’d like to. If he’s capable of stabbing friends and foes alike in the back in his rise to power, then how much further is he willing to go?

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but there are times I think I’m glad that my use of social media is a lot more subtle and focused than other people’s. If you’re in a position where people will look you up for professional reasons, by no means stick only to professional networks, but watch what you say.

It’s like drawing rude graffiti on the toilet wall at work and signing it. Sure, your work-mates might find it funny, but what happens when your new client spots it? Do we hide, or do we talk smart? I’m for the latter, but for now, I’d wait and watch Zuckerberg’s reaction to the harsh judges of his character in The Social Network when it hits cinemas this week. Not that he didn’t see it weeks, if not months ago, anyway…

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Aug 2010

Are businesses really embracing free advertising?

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

I’m sure everyone’s read this week that there’s a distinct likelihood of The Social Network, the Facebook film, being swiftly followed by a film about Google. Googled: The End of the World as We Know It, the book about the company penned by one Ken Auletta, has been optioned for the silver screen by producer John Morris.

I can’t help but wonder how the CEOs and employees in question feel about these films. Sure, they might not be representing the most positive view of the company, but surely any press is good press? I know no one needs to call attention to Facebook and Google – that’s a done job, being the two of the most popular online destinations on the internet.

But why not make a statement? Embrace the fact that the films are the talk of the town? I’m looking forward to The Social Network and the drama and controversy that the film aims to convey. Mark Zuckerberg, the film’s protagonist and arguable founder of Facebook itself, doesn’t think the film will hold to the truth. However, doesn’t he realise that Facebook’s saturation of the planet’s population means hundreds of thousands of people are going to see the film anyway?

Google’s film, however, may be far more interesting. Google is, like Facebook, a monopolistic online entity. Their market-share hovers at around 95%, they’re rapidly spreading into every digital market and medium, from their search engine to books, television and domain management and registration. I have an account, a homepage, a domain, a YouTube account and a browser, all done by Google and used by me on a daily basis.

But the end of the world? Is this really bad market for them, or is it an opportunity for Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page to show off their PR muscle and demonstrate they’re serious, business-minded entrepreneurs whose determination meant they were able to place themselves at the centre of the internet. How many companies can lay claim to inventing a verb?

It’s an interesting, online-focused Russian doll concept to consider; the film’s advertised on sites, some of which using domains sold to them by Google, to talk about a Google movie that people will research using Google. No other company can claim to act as such a seller of information, and they could raise or sink the film depending on the complex, secretive algorithms they use to determine what comes first in their search engine – the excited Google critic, or the excited Google fan.

Both Google and Facebook have had their fair share of third-party controversy – Facebook has stalkers, kidnappers and rapists, and Google’s safe-search features aren’t always as “safe” as they proclaim. But what other companies will we now see drifting into the limelight? McDonald’s PR staff must’ve had minor aneurysms after Super-Size Me was released to the public, and they’re the most dominant fast-food chain on the planet – I discovered only last night that if you’re visiting the pyramids of Egypt and fancy a Happy Meal or a Big Mac, it’s only over the other side of these sacred architectural relics.

It begs the question; are you really coping with your critics as well as you could be? Everyone releases statements, denial-esque press releases, and product changes to respond to critics without actually responding. But what if Google’s founders sat down, tomorrow morning, and used Google Video to release a vlog of them discussing what they’d love to see discussed in the film. It calls attention to a film that could be dangerously critical, while making them seem involved in how they’re perceived by the public.

As with all the major shifts in the online sphere, time will tell on this one, but hopefully we’ll get a Google film that pulls no punches and stays neutral. The Social Network seems fun, but a little dramatic. An adaptation of a critical work of non-fiction about a company with monthly online visitors numbering in the billions deserves to be taken seriously, and the company should take the opportunity for a little serious marketing of their own.

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