Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Customers not so satisfied with social media

This recent story sheds some surprising data on the public's satisfaction with social media sites like Facebook. Here's some quotes:

  • "A new poll says the site scored 64 on a 100-point scale, which “puts Facebook in the bottom 5 percent” of private sector companies “and in the same range as airlines and cable companies, two perennially low-scoring industries with terrible customer satisfaction.”
  • “Facebook is a phenomenal success, so we were not expecting to see it score so poorly with consumers,” said Larry Freed, president of ForeSee Results. “At the same time, our research shows that privacy concerns, frequent changes to the website and commercialization and advertising adversely affect the consumer experience.”  
  • “Social media has become too big to ignore, so we added it to our list of e-business measures,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and professor of business at the University of Michigan. “We are quite surprised to find that satisfaction with the category defies its popularity.”
  • Facebook has been under fire much of this year for everything from the ways it shares data to changing the site around so frequently that regular users are confused and frustrated, especially when it comes to privacy settings.
  • Other prominent social media sites had relatively high rankings. At the top, with a score of 77 was Wikipedia, the encyclopedia site where just about anyone and everyone can and does contribute information."

  • Wikipedia is more satisfying than most of the ACSI-measured news and information websites," Fornell wrote. "Like Google, Wikipedia’s user interface has remained very consistent over the years, and its nonprofit standing means that it has not been impacted by commercialization and marketing unlike many other social media sites."

Cyberculture needs to get out more often

More thoughts on Q. J. Schultze (2002) Habits of the High-Tech Heart. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI.

In chapter six, Schultze addresses the limited vision of those whoschultze chart our information futures. The key problem he sees is the narrow inputs of informationism and its instrumental practices spare little room for virtue and diversity. Schultze proposes a more diverse notion of "knowledge workers" that need to be invited into the discussion. Most of all, of course, is the input of religiously derived moral wisdom.

Overall, Schultze posits a "cosmic diversity" that embraces uniqueness while at the same affirms our common humanity. Here's a key quote that sums up his thesis: "Our informational endeavors will be more morally fruitful when they are shaped by respect for more non-informational ways of knowing...Information technology without cosmic diversity is likely to be monotonous, uncreative, and even oppressive, whereas with cosmic diversity it will always be more interesting, rich, and liberating (pp. 162-163). If I can paraphrase, Schultze feels those who shape cyberculture need to get out more often to see other perspectives and then allow those perspectives to shape cyberculture with more diverse and holistic values.

It's crucial to examine whose voices are influencing our views on technology. It's fascinating to watch celebrity tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple finding themselves on the receiving end of criticism instead of the acclaim they've been used to for some time. It's as though a different perspective is finally being allowed that points out that some of their actions are in their own interests instead of their claims of innovation and progress. Ironically, it is through technology like blogs and YouTube videos where other voices have caused a firestorm that helps force a response to infringing on people's privacy (e.g. Google's data storage practices), unilateral decisions (e.g. Facebook's privacy settings) and faulty products (e.g. iPhone 4's antenna). I think these companies have found themselves in the bind Schultze describes as celebrity and virtue not mixing well (p. 149).

Recently, Microsoft released an ad campaign in response to the influential yet narrow message of the Mac vs PC ads from Apple. I think it captures the essence of Schultze's message in portraying the delightful diversity yet commonality found though technology when a wider vision and diverse voices are brought into the discussion.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Authenticity: Bearing true witness 2

I would like to offer a recent example of exposed inauthenticity in Christian higher education. My purpose is to illustrate relevance to this discussion and offer a sobering example within the Christian community. Riley (2010) reports on a statement issued June 25, 2010 by Liberty University (LU), based in Lynchburg, VA, explaining that an investigative committee concluded that Dr. Ergun Caner, dean of the seminary, made “factual statements that are self-contradictory.” For months several bloggers outlined discrepancies in Dr. Caner’s public sermons and speeches. Caner had risen to prominence since the 2001 terrorist attacks, presenting himself as a former militant Muslim who had converted to Christianity, an expert on Islam, and the first former Muslim to become a seminary dean in the U.S. Among the details under criticism included Caner’s embellishments over just how devout his Muslim family really was, where he was raised, when he converted, his expertise on the Quran, and his claims of being involved in Islamic jihad as well as engaging in apologetic debates with prominent Muslims.

In their official statement, LU said they found “no evidence to suggest that Dr. Caner was not a Muslim who converted to Christianity as a teenager, but, instead, found discrepancies related to matters such as dates, names and places of residence. Dr. Caner has cooperated with the board committee and has apologized for the discrepancies and misstatements that led to this review” (Liberty Student News, 2010). As a result of this inquiry, the school decided that Caner will be removed as dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary on June 30, when his contract expires, although he will stay on as a faculty member.

In my opinion, this case has distinct connections to concepts from Schultze and George (see previous post). Some online respondents have voiced their opinions in cyberspace in ways that I feel demonstrate these connections. On the Liberty Student News website, one commenter on the story named Dan (2010) writes:

The issue here is the heart... As you look at the false claims made by this man over and over again for years, the reason for these claims becomes quite clear - to expand his own personal influence and reputation among Christians. He clearly recognized early on the power of a testimony like this - a man with Muslim roots converting to Christianity - and allowed his depravity to lead him to embellishing his story for personal fame and personal gain. It is so easy for the heart to deceive us in these matters... I can almost hear the self-rationalizations can’t you? He might have thought, “Well, I do have Muslim roots (somewhat) and if I tweak this story just a touch here and a touch there it will allow me even greater influence for the Gospel of Christ...” But at the end of the day, this is just dishonesty plain and simple, no matter how noble the reason. Old Dr. Bob Jones Sr. once said, “It is never right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right.”

In addition, one blogger known as Bene Diction (2010) posted this comment on his site:

Caner has a truth problem. For months Christian and Muslim bloggers outlined discrepancies in Dr. Caner’s sermons and speeches before traditional media picked up this story, necessitating the review by Liberty University administration… Caner being Muslim was not in dispute. Nor is this statement clarifying on any level what Dr. Caner apologized for; the lack of clarity in this brief statement indicates an integrity problem. Liberty U originally declined to review Dr. Caners background, but changed direction when media paid attention, and launched its review May 12th…Liberty U has an integrity problem.

My purpose in including this case, and especially the comments, is to illustrate how people perceive inauthenticity. These writers specify their concerns with both Caner and the university as a lack of truthfulness, integrity, and failing to provide full disclosure. Moreover, I think this case also demonstrates the symbol brokering that Schultze criticizes – namely, disingenuous self-promoting.

The importance of authenticity is clearly underscored – it is a moral issue and those under a person’s leadership expect it from them. The failure to be authentic before others is a disservice to them but also a sin before the Lord and it will surely find a person out.


Ergun Caner Guilty: Removed As Dean From Seminary. Liberty Student News (2010, June 25). Retrieved July 2, 2010 from Liberty Student News: http://www.libertystudentnews.com/?p=520

Bene Diction. (2010, June 25). Ergun Caner, Liberty University President demoted. Message posted to http://www.benedictionblogson.com/2010/06/25/ergun-caner-liberty-university-president-demoted/

Riley, J. (2010, June 29). Liberty Univ. Demotes Ergun Caner After Investigation. The Christian Post, Retrieved July 2, 1010 from http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100629/liberty-univ-demotes-ergun-caner-after-investigation/

Authenticity: Bearing true witness 1

More thoughts on Q. J. Schultze (2002) Habits of the High-Tech Heart. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI.

In chapter five, Schultze discusses authenticity by focusing on theschultze[3] key problem of symbol brokers, whom he defines as “professional communicators who broker mass-mediated messages between different audiences.” (Schultze, 2002, p. 122). In sum, his main criticism is of communication that is too often focused on selling a willing public the optimistic messages it wants to hear. Schultze calls these people disingenuous self-promoters who are more successful at brokering an ethos than building a quality or needed product.

In response, Schultze calls cyberculture to turn from deceitful posturing toward authenticity which requires us “to know who we are, to present that known self to others, and to avoid persona-building activities” (p. 131). In short, he believes authenticity in cyberculture must be marked by:

  • Truthfulness: this consists of more than but never less than factuality or correctness.
  • Empathy: admitting our own limitation; learning from another's perspective
  • Integrity: a unifying center instead of a smorgasbord of consumer options.

Let’s compare some ideas on authenticity with an article by well-known leadership author Bill George (Winter 2004). For George, an authentic leadership style shows that success is not only for here and now, but the true measure of leadership is when success is attained years after your time in power. This endurance stands in contrast to Schultze's reference to a criticism that many Silicon Valley companies were founded by mercenaries not interested in building something of lasting value, but rather something they could easily flip (2002, p. 35).

George describes several dimensions of authenticity but for the sake of brevity, I will comment on just three: clear purpose, accepting your weaknesses, and solid values. The first quality he posits is that authentic leaders understand their purpose – they have a clear and moral direction of leading. He feels without a real sense of purpose, leaders are at the mercy of their egos and vulnerable to narcissistic impulses. In this state, George says people are driven by an attraction to power, prestige, and the lure of financial rewards. This reminds me of what Schultze calls persona building and is reflected in his comments on the corporate culture of Oracle under the leadership of Larry Ellison, who failed to establish a common ethical direction for the company (2002, p. 130). It seems Schultze suggests that inauthenticity will lead to expediency – that is, striving to win by any means necessary.

Next, George states that strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin and accepting your “shadow side” is an essential part of being authentic. For George, the problem comes when people are so eager to win the approval of others or appear invulnerable that they try to cover their shortcomings. Such efforts diminish authenticity because people know our weaknesses anyway. Schultze remarks that symbol brokers frequently simplify and even distort technological reality, often reformulating these myths for each new technological innovation (2002, p. 126). Few examples illustrate this better than the famed reality distortion field associated with Apple, Inc. CEO, Steve Jobs. The term refers to his seeming ability to warp the public’s powers of judgment concerning Apple’s newest products.

Lastly, George feels solid values define the holder’s moral compass, so they do not end up like high profile executives now facing prison sentences. One crucial value required for every authentic leader is integrity, which means telling the whole truth as agonizing or even unexciting it may be. I see continuity here with Schultze’s comments on how symbol brokers were able to convince the public that technology companies were far more solvent and better positioned in the market than they actually were (2002, p. 128). The infamous AOL Time Warner merger in 2000 is a good example of such brokering.


George, B. (Winter 2004). The Journey to Authenticity. Leader to Leader 31, 29-35. Retrieved July 2, 2010 from http://www.leadertoleader.org/knowledgecenter/journal.aspx?ArticleID=75

Schultze, Q. J. (2002). Habits of the high-tech heart. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.