Some months ago, the Southeastern Conference launched a Twitter feed and started promoting content on their web site and on their Facebook page. The only problem is that they failed to include links, so followers had to guess where the content was located. This is not an isolated incident as ESPN's Joe Schad was guilty of the same "crime" today. So we will use him as an example of how to properly propagate content notices, and how to manage the risks around doing so.
Thanks for the Non-Working Link Joe
ESPN Sportscenter has launched a new blog. Joe Schad, ESPN's College Football Reporter, has been a great social marketing resource for ESPN. He is always abiding by company guidelines in promoting ESPN content through his accounts. The only problem is that sometimes he forgets about the user by not including properly formatted links in his posts.
This morning he posted a tweet and/or Facebook post about the new blog, but it has a problem as shown in this screenshot:
Do you see the problem? He did not include the "http://" prefix, so it did not get converted into a link. So if one of his followers wanted to go to the page, they had to cut and paste the address into their browser navigation bar.
If you want people to go to a site you are tweeting or Facebooking (and you should be doing this as part of your social media marketing plans), you need to include a working link. You need to reduce the burden on the end user. Better yet, you need to convert it into a bit.ly short link if you are concerned about squeezing it into 140 characters.
What is Bit.ly and Why Use It?
Bit.ly is a tool that shortens URLS to a limited number of characters so that it can easily fit into a Twitter update or any other tool that has character limitation. You can use it with registering for the site, or you can create an account. There are other services such as Tinyurl. It has far fewer features than bit.ly, except for one area to be discussed later.
So Why Sign Up for a Bit.ly Account?
By using this tool, not only do you save space, but you can track how many people have clicked on the link, and where the shortened link has been used in conversations:
You can also see exactly where the link was used in conversations:
The Risk in Using URL Shortening Tools
While using tools such as Bit.ly and TinyURL, you can provide much more content in limited space. But the bad guys are out there and are using the tools in hijacked Twitter and Facebook accounts to send out links to Phishing sites and Malware Sites that will try to install malicious software, trojan horses, keystroke logging programs, and more on visitors' computers.
So if people trust someone like Joe Schad, or even this site, to only link to real content, that trust can easily be broken if the account is hijacked and people are sent to a malicious link. Once that trust is broken, business reputations can be sullied.
This is also a reason you should use unique, strong passwords on any web sites, because if your account is hijacked, even temporarily, this is what can be sent out in your name:
Note: In fairness to the people above, it is not clear if the above examples are the results of poor password use on their part or security holes at Twitter.
Even worse, this can also happen if someone creates a fake account in the name of some trusted authority like Dick Vitale or Verne Lundquist and redirects people to malicious content.
Can The Downside Risk Be Mitigated?
Yes the downside risk can be mitigated. If you do not want the reporting tool functionality of Bit.ly, TinyURL allows you to create the link so that it goes to a preview page first. As an example, I am going to create a shortened URL link to one of Ken Fang's "Fang's Bites" posts using both Tiny URL options. The original link used in this example is http://www.fangsbites.com/2009/11/your-thursday-links.html. The link is 58 characters long. Note that the following links will open in a new browser window.
Now here are the shortened URLs. Click on them and see the difference. The first is a 26 character TinyURL without a preview: http://tinyurl.com/yazr587.
The second is a link 34 characters in length that sends the user to a preview page first: http://preview.tinyurl.com/yazr587.
So by using a preview link, you add a layer of trust to your link, but you lose valuable characters space in a Twitter update. And, as mentioned earlier, you lose the detailed tracking that Bit.ly gives you.
Now the geekier among our readers might think, "What if create a preview link with TinyURL, and then shorten that link in Bit.ly." Stop thinking that right now. In doing this you will save 18 characters, but the Bit.ly system does not like this when users click on the link. Users will be stopped dead in their tracks with this page:
The ironic thing about this behavior on Bit.ly is that it is treating a TinyURL as pure evil (which may be from their own bad experiences, yet a Bit.ly url that is purely spam will get through.
So What Else Can You Do?
One option you have with both tools is to use a more user friendly alias for the short URL:
But What Should You Do?
If you ever ask someone a question and the answer "That's a very good question," it usually means that they do not have an answer or there really is no one set answer. The latter is the case here. Only you and your organizations can answer that question.
It all depends on your risk appetite. Are you willing to to use the tools and hope that nobody does the wrong thing and compromises your brand? Is your brand to valuable to risk using tools like this? Are you afraid of losing your branding by using URL shortening sites? Do you recognize the risk as being so great that you have to encourage, or even dictate, that your employees not use the tools when linking to your content.
Nobody can answer these questions with any certainty except for you (and sadly your corporate lawyers who probably are as risk averse as any group of people can be).
Oh Come On, There Must Be Some Answer?
OK, there is an answer/suggestion I can give that can get you using the easiest tools possible and reducing, and possibly eliminating, the risk of using the tools.
But some things just cannot be given away for free.
If you would like to talk to us about how we can work with you on these and other business process issues, both technical and non-technical, you can email us at infoATthecayugagroupDOT.com (replacing the AT and DOT of course) or call us at 706-363-0299.