February 26, 2011

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5 Thoughts on Facebook Photo Sharing Am I the only person in America not madly snapping photos and posting them to Facebook? Is there something about pictures and images in our limbic brains that compel us to spend hours and hours deep in social media voyeurism? Apparently Facebook has lapped photo sharing sites like Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket, Shutterfly and Ofoto. Boasting 60 billion photos uploaded by the end of 2010 with projections of 6 billion more per month according to Pixable, a Facebook photo app developer, Facebook could host 100 billion images by Summer. Everyone has a digital camera in their pocket not to mention a miniature SLR stashed in a back pack. Instagram has made iPhone photography part sport and part art by enabling photo manipulation and colorization attracting 175 million users uploading 290,000 photos a day in just 120 days. Massive image-making and photo publishing is going on all around me. The average Facebook user has posted 280 pictures. Women post twice as many as men and are tagged twice as frequently. But both men and women like photos of women best. Most photos are uploaded on the weekends. Second place is the Monday or Friday weekend cusps. Given how easy it is to upload photos to Facebook by mobile phone, speculation is that it’s become a major weekend activity. Everyone tags photos. Adults 20-35 do the most but as the oldsters (45+) get the hang of it their rate of tagging spiked 281 percent. Conquest Research’s Chatter Project found that 82 percent of teenage Facebook users (16-19) look at pictures, 71% upload their own and 64% comment on their photos or their friend’s photos. So what does all this photo taking, manipulating and sharing mean? Consider a few hypotheses: We are Lonely. We communicate digitally. Our lives are meta tags of real life. We live thru the digital lens and we dangle the by-products out online and on Facebook in hope of connecting, drawing tags and provoking comments. We yearn to feel like we have some kind of life and we re desperate to connect ourselves, but without too much commitment or messy face-to-face contact, with others like us. Knowing that our photos are part of Facebook’s 100 billion images somehow connects us to a life force and makes what we are shooting seem important and linked to a common/communal experience. We Live Out Loud. Everything we do has an audience. Absent uploading, the tree never falls in the woods. We validate our lives by documenting them and posting them for others to see, tag and appreciate. Baked in is a smidgeon of personal CRM so Grandma can see the kids and their activities and Uncle Mike can comment on the dog’s Frisbee prowess. But it doesn’t count if someone’s not watching, commenting or scoring. We Crave Control. Our world and our lives are subject to so many uncontrollable, countervailing and random forces that the only thing we can compose is a photo. Making pictures allows us to cast, frame, pose, posture, color and select the life we want to have or want to show. Simultaneously fantasy and fabrication, our Facebook photos leave the realm of the mundane and take on new dimension and meaning. They become a statement of who we are or who we want to be. We Can’t Help Ourselves. Hardwired into our fight-or-flight gyroscope, is the need to see other humans. We are compelled to look at images of other humans; to scan, to assess, to be amused and to comment. Photography is a biological imperative. Facebook and photo sharing sites have simply replaced zillions of homemade photo albums with a better way to store, organize, sort and remember the drawers full of pictures that everyone’s parents had. It’s a utility serving an unconscious need. We Document. Conscious of the fleeting nature of human life, we document our likes and our lives to defy the inevitable. Our photos capture the size, shape, color, texture, places and relationships in our lives and store them as individual and collective memories. They are proof we were here; evidence that it wasn’t a passing dream or a cosmic anomaly. Online they will never be lost, crinkle, fade or tear. They will survive us and our children to inform future generations and historians.
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American Express' Anti-Loyalty Program American Express has devised the ultimate anti-loyalty program. They take their best customers and have idiots torture them by phone. In no time, you want to cut up your card and scream “AMEX sucks” into the biggest megaphone you can find. If you doubt me, just trying booking a trip using Membership Rewards. Note to readers: If you aren’t up for a rant, bail now! Here’s how I entered AMEX Hell. I’ve been a Platinum Card holder since 2003 and I amassed 200,000 membership rewards points. Over the years I’ve paid bills with the card, flown extra segments and generally hoarded reward points thinking they have extreme value. So now, humbled by an extreme winter, I fantasized that I could redeem the whole lot and add my wife’s 100,000 Gold Card points for a great, free sunny vacation at an ultra-lux resort. Thus began 6 hours of phone calls over 4 days that resulted in no bookings and 30-45 minute passing relationships with Valerie, Cindy, Amanda, Tamika, Damian, Victoria, Toby, Kareem, Sally and Hovi, who subjected me to endless repeated verifications, put me on hold forcing me endure the world’s worst Musak, disconnected me, told me wrong or contradictory information or seemed entirely clueless, as if they never really talked to a sentient human before. It all began with a call to the Platinum Concierge, where I entered a maze of corporate silos. Evidently Travel, Amex.com and Platinum Travel are different entities with different properties and rates. They don’t talk to each other. Agents in each silo don’t know the rules or parameters of their silo or the other silos. In several cases, after being disconnected we got conflicting information and different rates for the same property. When the travel people warm transfer you to the Membership Rewards desk everything goes to hell in a hand basket. First, you wait on queue. Amex to Amex agent transfers get no priority in the phone queues, so you have an accompanied waiting experience. Then the Rewards people tell you that they don’t have partnerships or deals with the properties that Travel does so your basic plan, that you spent an hour hammering out, is un-doable. Then they tell you the real value of your Rewards (my 200,000 points was worth $1500) and your blood pressure spikes and you feel like the biggest chump in the world. When quoting rates, I asked if AMEX got special rates, deals or packages. Only 1 out of 4 agents even understood what I was asking about it. With each passing second, I realized that there is no added service, no special or personalized treatment, no inside deals, no savvy travel insights and basically no value proposition to having a Platinum Card. As explained by Amex’s own agents, each offer has so many complicated provisions, restrictions and requirements that you walk away thinking the whole system is a switch-and-bait scheme and that AMEX has a vested interest in keeping you from getting the prize. In a world where consumers expect seamless and immediate access to information and advice, this system is designed to confound, confuse and stymie customers. It is the antithesis of customer service. Maybe my expectations were out of line, but a 10 minute call, prompted online from the Westin website got me a vacation at the same place, at a better rate with a few extras thrown in. Evidently membership doesn’t have rewards.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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