Has Google just removed the business purpose of Google+ overnight?

Google+ and Google Local disconnected

As the New Year approaches Google has decided to roll out significant updates to its struggling social network Google+. It’s no secret that Google+ whilst attracting billions of sign-ups has a tiny active user-base, just 9%. Of these hopefuls I would love to see a breakdown of communities of people Vs companies who just pump information out on the network.

When Google announced in November that it was rolling out a new design for Google+, it was really signalling a fundamental change for the network. The focus is now on communities and ‘interest’ collections; technically useful features but only if active users on the network increase and spam limitations are put in place.

It warranted a sort of ‘meh’ response, but then Google sneaked in something big. When Google+ launched it was seen as the central hub of Google online, connecting services such as YouTube and Local; in the same way it disconnected ‘mandatory’ YouTube integration, it’s now completely disconnected Google Local.

This means Google Local business information such as reviews, categories, directions, star ratings, photo uploads, interior photos, maps, hours, and app integrations are no longer seen by people on Google+ business profiles. Not only this, but thousands of unverifiable business accounts (considered spam) were removed without notice.

Has Google just removed the business purpose of Google+ overnight?

The integration between Google Local and Google+ kept businesses tied to the network, knowing that their business profile information would make branded search listings and their activity on Google+ previewed above paid-for AdWord links in search. In some ways, it was the Google authorship (another archaic feature) of business.

It’s worth noting that this is a staged roll out by Google, available when choosing to view the new design of Google+. It will likely go the same way as Google Maps, the old version will be provided as an option but once all fixes have been made, the new version will remain permanent.

What does this mean for businesses?

  • It may no longer be worth maintaining a Google+ page, as business critical ‘local page’ information has been moved across to ‘Google My Business’. None of the information in Google+ will appear high in search and the SEO benefits are now questionable;
  • Google+ is going through a radical redesign; it’s deleted and disconnected a number of features over the last year. As a result, Google+ is an unpredictable network with a low number of active users – expect no engagement and little traffic directed to websites;
  • Word on the cyber street is that businesses should stop investing time into Google+, and focus purely on Google Local. The only exception to this rule may be visual businesses who are able to valuable contribute to community and interest discussions.

If you do run Google+ business pages then you’re likely to either encounter that your page has been removed or its turned into a basic profile without the Google Local information. Either way, think if Google+ is now worth it for business. Unless a business friendly update happens, then the message from Google is that ‘our social network is just for people’.


The essential guide for modernising the PR workflow

Last week I had meetings with clients that spanned media relations, SEO projects, online advertising, and website design. Each day it’s becoming clearer that public relations is becoming the umbrella that holds the digital marketing mix. With this being the case, how can agencies build agile teams for the modern PR workflow?

This morning ‘The Essential Guide’ for modernising the PR workflow has launched. If PRstack was about modernising the PR workflow through making sense of the complicated third party tool market, then this new guide is the pitch just before it. Rather than focusing on tools, its five steps for evaluating and improving the workflow of a PR team.

Penned by a man on a mission Frederick Vincx, who is the owner of Prezly and has devoted his career to getting PR professionals out of ‘Excel hell’. His guide isn’t your typical link-bait ‘top 10’ post, it’s challenging and by the way it’s written – clearly coming from a voice of experience.

“The goal is to make your team adaptable for increasingly fast changing communication requirements. This guide will help you improve your PR team workflow so that you stay current and create more value for clients in less time. The result? Better work, happier clients, and more time left to sell to other clients.” – Frederick Vincx

Summarising Frederick’s work on this blog will not do it justice! Do visit his blog for a read and have a look at the infographic below for a visual summary. After a long-read, I’m proud to say that the consultancy I work for went through these modernisation steps a few years ago and structures are successfully navigating the newer digital elements of PR.

Map for moderning the PR Workflow

Domain deed poll: this blog is now michaelwhite.online

One of the flaws of being a geek is registering website addresses late at night whilst intoxicated; that’s how thoughtsymposium.com was born. That, and a lost blogging focus at the time. Over two years later it’s time for something new, something me; literally me .online.

The name of this blog may have changed, but that’s it. I’ve just returned to self-branding; welcome to michaelwhite.online. That’s right, no .com or .co.uk, it’s a new breed of domain name. If you access old links that point to thoughtsymposium.com they will automatically redirect to the new name.

A couple of years ago The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organisation in charge of registering domain names, went a little nuts. They came up with a whole bunch of generic top-level domains (equal to .com’s etc.) to reinvigorate the domain name market.

The move was also a solution to a growing problem, the internet is running out of older top-level domains (.com, .org, .net, .gov, etc.) Not helped by domain resellers; people and organisations who register domain names and resell for thousands, even millions.

So why .online? Of all the new domain names that have been registered, .online has been the most popular. A day after its launch in August 2015 over 35,000 registrations were recorded, with companies such as Microsoft and Bank of America catching a piece of the geek action. Of course, resellers also snapped up thousands of domains. As michaelwhite.com remains hostage to a domain reseller, .online was the obvious modern option.

Apart from the name, the site exists as it was. It’s had a little bit of a minor facelift (still not happy with it!) but functionality remains the same. If anything, changing the domain name has given me time to tweak some technical elements in the code, hopefully seeing better gains in Google Search.

Now, onto writing a blogging content calendar for 2016…

Managing reputation by detecting fake information on social media


I first published this post on the Lansons blog.

In the USA, Dow Jones plunged 140 points after a rumour spread on Twitter from Associated Press’ Twitter account. The estimated temporary loss of market cap in the S&P 500 totalled $136.5 billion.

When hackers took over Associated Press’ Twitter profile in 2013

This isn’t the only example of misinformation spread via social media that has had cataclysmic real-world consequences; the England Riots spread violence, false information around the Ebola outbreak caused increased deaths (salt water does not prevent or cure Ebola), and the Boston marathon blasts identified the wrong suspects.

The spread of information via social media can have real-world consequences and the notion of ‘influence’ may spell the downfall or uprising of an organisation. This is why appropriately detecting, tracking, and engaging with false information on social media is critical for managing reputation online.

In a new paper published by Aditi Gupta from the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology Delhi, social media reputation management techniques are explored in detail. Over 25 global events are analysed between 2011 – 2014 that involved the spread of fake images, rumours, and untrustworthy content.

“Online social media has the capability of playing the role of, either a life saver or that of a daemon during the times of crisis. In this research work, we highlighted one of the malicious intended usage of Twitter during a real-world event, i.e. spreading fake images. We analyzed the activity on the online social networking website Twitter, during Hurricane Sandy (2012) that spread fake images. We identified 10,350 unique tweets containing fake images that were circulated on Twitter, during Hurricane Sandy.

We performed a characterization analysis, to understand the temporal, social reputation and influence patterns of the spread of these fake images. We found that 86% tweets spreading the fake images were retweets, hence very few were original tweets by users. Also, our results showed that top 30 users (0.3% of the users) resulted in 90% of retweets of the fake image.”

Rumour tweets posted during the England riots of 2011

The research concluded that after analysing some of the top disasters over the last four years, only automated techniques were able to successfully identify credible updates and categorise. Of course, this was the only option as manually sifting through 5.6 TeraBytes of tweets would take a lifetime! At Lansons we use our own reputation management tools.

When managing online reputation you should watch out for:

  • The creation of fake social media profiles that are designed to look real but instead spread fake information;
  • Fake content, then engage, before it’s spread widely on social media;
  • Online communities that build around disasters that could be considered the ‘core’ group that drive wider conversations.

The research is a valuable contribution to managing online reputation, it allows practitioners (such as myself) to refine and improve our techniques. Whilst the focus of the paper was on Twitter, we know reputation management applies to all social media – even more prominently in Google Search. Make sure you have the right procedures in place.

The importance of Google Knowledge Graph for online reputation

Google Android garden

Even if you haven’t heard of Google Knowledge Graph, you’ve probably seen it. Google updated its search algorithm in May 2012 to present a box on the right of search to show people, places, and things. So when you search for well-known or popular subjects, you’ll be delivered top-line information immediately.

Google Knowledge Graph, Bank of England

Just where does Google source its facts and figures for this box? This is a critical question if you’re tasked with managing the reputation of a person or an organisation because it’s the first thing people see. What’s more, Google Knowledge Graph appears above Google Business information (also known as the Google Maps listing).

A new paper published by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) entitled “Semantic Cities: Coded Geopolitics and the Rise of the Semantic Web” reveals all; Google Knowledge Graph sources from Wikipedia as part of the Google funded Wikidata project.

This isn’t surprising, Wikipedia has steadily grown a reputation over the years for improved reliability and ever-increasing scale. It’s not just an online encyclopaedia; it is an online community of 25 million users who have created 5 million articles in the UK. The crowd-sourced element of Wikipedia keeps data fresh on the most important subjects.

The danger revealed by the OII is that we can take this ‘linked data’ online information economy of the internet for granted, potentially not questioning the facts and figures presented. If Google Knowledge Graph sources information from Wikipedia, then what happens when that information is wrong? Furthermore, what if that information is politically sensitive?

The focus of OII paper was on the political status of Jerusalem,

“The fact box is titled ‘Jerusalem’ followed by the statement ‘Capital of Israel’. The fact box contains a paragraph about the city, followed by a list of facts about the area size and population of Jerusalem that is cited to UNData.

The political status of Jerusalem has been widely debated in the media and by multiple stakeholder groups. This is because the city is claimed as capital by both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. The city’s borders and governance have changed significantly over the years, most recently after the 1967 (Six Day) war between Israel and the neighbouring states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria when Israel annexed East Jerusalem from Jordan. Despite vehement disagreements by governments in the region, however, there is no widespread international recognition for Jerusalem (as composed of both East and West parts) as the capital of either Israel or Palestine.”

You can read a synopsis of the topic on the OII’s blog.

jerusalem political status

In terms of managing online reputation, the paper by the OII is important for three reasons:

  • It highlights the step between user-generated content to the unchangeable (fixed) content hosted by Google (You can flag inaccuracies but the process is not transparent, immediate or potentially successful)
  • It understands that information isn’t just structured data, some information has an emotive underpinning that requires Google’s ‘deep learning’ to appreciate not all information presented in reputable crowd-sourced sites are factual. There may still be ongoing debates.
  • It reminds us that behind every smart algorithm is essentially a need for a bin of knowledge (The knowledge graph was only possible because of Wikipedia’s extensive database)

Whilst the OII research was based on a location, familiar territory for me due to my experience in managing the reputation of tourism boards, it applies to people and corporations too. Google is attempting to reach a place where it doesn’t necessarily need to drive people to separate websites, links in search. Instead it’s much more convenient to host all the content directly in Google Search; saving valuable user clicks and generating even more juicy page views for advertising.

It’s inescapable that a monotonous challenge of managing online reputation today is attempting to find ways to tell Google that their information is wrong or damaging. Perhaps the development of Google’s Deep Learning software will improve Google Knowledge Graph next year? I hope so.

What’s it like being a blogger?

Writing table

On a blogger panel last week, I admitted my number one pet hate – bad Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) agencies. You know, the ones who constantly peddle meaningless backlinks in return for cold cash. If you blog, then it’s common to receive poorly targeted emails from such agencies.

It’s one aspect that comes with the territory of ‘being a blogger’ and on a panel discussion at Lansons I explained what’s it like being a blogger for the last 9 years. Despite all working in completely different sectors, Gourmet Mum, Lifestyle Maven, Luisa Porritt, and I all had similar experiences.

A proper write-up of the panel discussion is due on the Lansons blog soon, below were some of the answers I supplied. It’s incredibly honest and I hope not too narcissistic to repeat them here.

How did you become a blogger?

Whilst my current blog has an archive dating back to 2009, my first blogging steps happened in 2005 when I set up an atheism based blog called ‘A Superfluous Ramble’. This quickly got me involved with numerous online atheism/humanist/philosophy communities and even angered a few churches! Receiving invitations to church services or choir practices was not uncommon.

As I have dyslexia, blogging allowed me to perfect my writing style – a deeply personal achievement as I wouldn’t be able to live without writing (paraphrasing the words of the late Christopher Hitchens). Today I’m known as a PR blogger, which only began after one of my lecturers at University recommended I start a PR based blog in 2008.

The blog has had a few reiterations but today stands as thoughtsymposium.com (crap name); audience tends to tread a line between seasoned practitioners and students. In reality though, the growth of the blog was a complete accident and exists merely as a hobby. My income comes from full-time PR consultancy.

Do you make money from your blog?

I would argue that the peak of this blog existed at University when I had spare time! It was then that agencies were willing to pay me between £100 – £150 to publish sponsored posts on this blog. Often these posts were completely unrelated to the topics I was writing about, as a result this paid content probably lost me a few visitors. Still, being a student meant money was tight.

As well as accepting sponsored posts I was involved with a couple of affiliated marketing programmes, receiving small amounts of commission for referral links. Whilst I’ve always had some form of advertising on the blog, this has typically been a low money earner – many bloggers can’t generate enough page views to keep blogging as a full-time occupation.

Today I’m less focused about monetising the traffic on my blog, it’s much better for me to use my content as a hook for new business and building personal profile.

What is your experience like of working with businesses/agencies?

Bad email pitches come with the territory of blogging; I suppose I should be thankful that people want to pitch in the first place! On the day of the blogger panel I read out a few of the terrible pitches I’ve received and the agency who sent it – I’ll be kind online and not mention by name.

The best pitches have all been book review based ones. For instance, a new book surprising me at my work address by post and a note from a publisher/author requesting that I review it on my blog. These sorts of pitches feel good and I always review the book in detail (I’m a relatively fast reader). Once I was invited to a mansion for a blogger party – it’s amazing what this little blog has done for me.

How do you find the time to blog?

I’m currently writing this post very late at night! This tends to be a trend, writing at the unsociable hours of the day – perhaps that’s because I can be completely focused on the task. However, balancing a demanding full-time job with keeping a blog going is difficult.

This month alone I’ve had 10 day publishing gaps which is not good enough to maintain high levels of web traffic. The sad truth about blogging is that we’re technically in competition with news sites for Google Search positions; for one person to rival professional industry publications is not possible (for most).

Give us your final tip about blogging

The best tip is start a blog! It’s amazing how many PR professionals don’t blog.

What’s it like being a blogger?

Busy. It’s a commitment for some of the reasons I’ve outlined above, but incredibly rewarding. Blogging over the last 9 years has allowed me to experiment with different writing styles and experiment with web hosting.

Scandinavian countries boast best data access

What is your internet connection like? Chances are it’s not as good as Scandinavian countries, as a new study has found they are technologically ahead when it comes to accessing computers, mobile phones and the internet.

Scientists from the University of Portsmouth have produced the first global map of data poverty showing where in the world people have the best and worst access to information technologies.

Iceland, Norway and Finland top the list of 189 countries which feature on the map. The United Kingdom is ranked 17, ahead of Germany, Japan and Russia. While Yemen, Myanmar and Burkina Faso are at the bottom of the list.

Leidig_Teeuw_map of global data poverty

In order to create the map the researchers considered internet speed, access to hardware, mobile-device availability, internet usage and education.

Lead researcher Dr Richard Teeuw, from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said: “Since the 1990s there has been concern about the ‘digital divide’ between the data-rich and data-poor – those who have and those who don’t have – access to computers, the internet and other technologies.

“Information technologies can play a key role in sustainable development, improving our quality of life without damaging the quality of life of future generations, and reducing disaster risk. ‘Data-poor’ countries do not have easy access to digital maps and other data needed for disaster preparation, early warnings and emergency response.

“This map highlights where in the world support is needed for improving access to the internet and mobile phone networks in order to build resilience to the impact of disasters.”

Co-researcher Mathias Leidig used data from the World Bank website to produce the map and found that the level of data poverty does not necessarily correspond to a nation’s wealth.

Mr Leidig said: “Italy, Antigua and Barbuda, Oman and Trinidad and Tobago are among the World Bank’s high income countries, but they’re not leading the way in terms of data wealth. This is largely due to the countries’ slow download speeds, compared with other high-income nations.

“However Belarus, Bulgaria, Hungary, Kazakhstan and Lebanon scored better than one might expect for data poverty, considering their income class.”

The paper is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The Sun scraps newspaper paywall

I wonder if Rebekah Brooks’ announcement to staff that The Sun’s paywall would be coming down on 30th November was received by cheers or worried silence. The decision by News UK was inevitable as The Sun has been losing web traffic. During the election this happened at the same time their free-to-access political site SunNation flourished. Also, their purchase of video ad company Unruly was a hint the paywall would be lowered; otherwise how could The Sun generate enough pageviews to fuel advertising revenue?

“I recently shared with you the future priorities for the company and am excited today to tell you more about our plans for the first of these: growing the Sun’s audience. This will mean setting the Sun predominantly free in the digital world from 30 November. By happy coincidence, this is also Cyber Monday, one of the best-performing days of the year for online retail.” – part of Brooks’ email to staff

Now that the paywall will be lowered The Sun will be able to benefit from higher traffic from internet search engines and social media. Both crucial components of running any sort of website. As I reported in my blog post from Social Media Week in September, leaving The Times due to its social media limited paywall was a key component in Heidi Blake’s move to Buzzfeed.

The U-turn by The Sun is an awkward reminder that whilst the importance of digital marketing is widespread in the media industry, finding a business model that delivers is still trial and error. eConsultancy tells the story behind The Sun’s decision through statistics; the estimate for lost digital revenue is eye-opening.

The Sun, predicted digital revenue

The truth is paywalls are too simplistic as revenue drivers, blocking search engines, drastically limiting social media sharing; therefore, lowering the effectiveness of online advertising. If a reader hits a paywall then they’ll visit a competitor media outlet. An already difficult situation to contend with considering BBC News’ publicly funded reporting tends to snatch 40 million unique visitors a week.

Now the wait is on… how long before The Times scraps their paywall? It seems News UK are not ruling anything out at this stage.