Social Media Must Be Human to Work

The Harvard Business Review just ran a piece by Umair Haque called “The Social Media Bubble” in which Haque likens growing social media buzz to the subprime trading that put our banking institutions into the death spin they’re still trying to recover from (a great read…make sure you take the time to do so).

I agree with his most of his suppositions, however I think there’s a very clear path to avoid the “pop” when the bubble bursts. You just need to be human. You have to be personal.

Social media has unfortunately become a numbers game, with people and brands doing everything they can to gather audiences and build the size of their following / fan bases. Many rely on auto-bots to follow (and unfollow) people, and have tons of programs to manage the connections.

Everyone wishes they had the Twitter following of Ashton Kutcher, or the Facebook fan base of Starbucks, and they end up getting stuck building up their numbers instead of making sure that they’ve got a clear purpose backed by great content.

Ashton and Starbucks are great social media case studies because they both do a stellar job of connecting with people. (By the way, I’m an ardent Peet’s supporter, but Starbucks’ social media success is undeniable.) They listen to their criticisms, they answer their detractors. They’re doing everything they can to add value to the people who follow them on the respective networks.

This must be a driving force in any effect and long-tail social media strategy: focus on your connection with your community, not only on the size of it.

Yes, you can use a hundred different tools to build substantial Twitter followings, or Facebook fan bases, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You can run giveaways to pull people out of the wood work. But mark my words, people won’t stay and continue to follow you if you aren’t engaging. If you aren’t providing compelling or contagious content, you’ll be discarded.

So, pay attention to what Umir’s talking about, because he’s right about a lot. Social media relationships can be shallow, and at times hollow, but you can change that by working hard to connect with your community in each and every way possible.

Try it right now. Instead of spending time building up your fan base or following, spend the next two days only working on improving the quality of your conversation and communication with your existing community.

Do it, and let me know how that works out for you.

Please jump in and get involved in the conversation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment below and sharing/bookmarking this article. Thank you kindly.

Is Social Media the Front Lines of Customer Service?

Last week, a few days before heading out of town to South By Southwest in Austin, I ordered a box of Kodak’s (relatively) new handheld HD cameras, the Zi8. When I received the cameras, a few days before leaving to SXSW, I immediately opened one up that we had purchased for me, and tore into the box eager to play with the camera.

I was pleasantly surprised by the camera, and was blown away by some of the smaller details and unexpected items in the box: an HDMI cable (which many other devices require you to buy separately), a convertible USB/power cable, and a very nice and sturdy leather strap with a great little “Kodak” stamp in the steel piece that held the strap together. The screen was big, the controls simple, and I really couldn’t wait to start shooting my first HD footage.

But when I pressed the power button, nothing. No response. So, I looked around and found the power cable, and plugged it into the wall to start charging. I’m not one to get stuck on something minor like that, so I kept sifting through the box to make sure that everything else was in order.

And then came strike two in the new product experience came with the realization that there wasn’t any internal memory on the camera, nor was a memory card included in the kit. At this point, let me be clear – neither of these things take anything away from the camera itself – it’s a great full-featured camera, and I love the purchase. It wasn’t a completely negative feeling, but I really wanted to play with my new toy, and I imagine that I wasn’t the only person to experience this disheartening realization. As it was, I had to go out and buy something else for this camera to work.

I think we should be able to open up any new equipment we buy and be able to turn it on and immediately start recording/shooting/listening (depending on what the product is, of course). That seems like a pretty reasonable thing to want as a consumer, and a fairly attainable goal as a product company.

Instead of getting bent out of shape, I did what I felt was the best possible solution: I sent a tweet to Kodak’s wildly visible and gregarious CMO, Jeffrey Hayzlett, and their Chief Blogger, Jennifer Cisney. (Important to note: the role of ‘me’ will be played by @Breakcom, which I write and manage for my employer, Break Media.) In my mind, it’s important to share both your frustrations and your happiness with the products you purchase, because then you can help make the products you love, better.

So I sent this tweet through, excited to share my happiness, and to offer my suggestions on how to improve the initial customer experience with their new product:

Needless to say, when this arrived as the response, I was less than thrilled:


Let me be clear here, I hold no malice or resentment, but I don’t understand the response, and from their CMO for heaven’s sake. It was bookended with a little :) emoticon as an attempt to keep it light-hearted, but that just cheapened the response even further.

In fact, I immediately started packing the camera back up into its box, and didn’t follow through only because I was quickly hit with a barrage of tweets from @KodakCB, who, in my mind, completely outdid her superior in every single way.

The reason that I’m writing this blog post is nearly identical to the reason I sent the tweet through in the first place: I believe in sharing my experience with companies when it is exceptionally great, or poor. If we listen to our fans, whether dissenting view or praise, we have a real chance to learn how to grow and become more effective. Hopefully, Kodak will pay attention and find ways to communicate a little better in the future.

After all, isn’t social media the front lines of customer support? For a company still struggling to find its way in a world that doesn’t need film any longer, you’d think Kodak would be more eager to embrace every fan willing to still patronize the brand. Companies interested in improving their products and branding don’t get defensive when offered constructive criticism – they welcome it.

As a company, and as a marketing team, they’re doing a lot right, for sure. Hopefully things like this don’t happen often for other customers, because it really bummed me out and had a deleterious effect on the experience with my new camera.

Twitter, Please Stop Asking People What They’re Doing

Maybe I use Twitter differently than its intended purpose. I try to use Twitter as both a mass communication tool and also as a source of nearly instant conversion and chatter around a variety of topics, news and interesting/relevant links. Since very early on I’ve done my best not to update with “Eating a sandwich” or “starting the day with a cup of tea and inbox sorting” types of emails.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rsilfver/178134761/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/rsilfver/178134761/

Unless I’m going to provide a link to the restaurant, the tea, or the GTD application that’s helping me achieve and maintain my inbox-zero status, I become one of the millions of people standing around yelling into this empty tunnel hoping someone hears me…or the reverberation of my nonsense. I have this visual of millions of people lined up with their heads stuck inside a big pipeline that stretches off into the horizon…and if you could see in, you’d see these million people just yelling things like:

  • “Just finished my coffee, off to class.”
  • “Loving this cake.”
  • “Think I’ll walk today.”
  • “I’m going home now. I’m bored, and hoping there’s something good on tv.”

Something tells me, if we could have something different next to the status update box, instead of “What are you doing?”, we might be able to reduce the amount of useless blabber. Maybe something along the lines of: “Anything interesting to add?”

I look down my list of tweets on my profile page from time to time to see how much red there is (red is my link color). The more tweets I have without any red…the more I’m one of those ostriches with my head in a tunnel.

Now, not everyone is going to find what I have to say relevant or interesting all of the time. I don’t presume to think that I’m that important. But I do know that there’s probably a reason that people follow me: either a) we’re friends in real life, b) know each other in the online space (or design arena), c) they’re following me because I follow them (in which case, they might not be listening at all), and/or d) they’re following me because they get something out of what I have to say.

So, in my mind, it’s my job to provide something of import or relevance when I tweet. A link. A picture. A reply to a question or conversation. Something.

But look, this is just my opinion. What do you think? How do you use Twitter? Do you try to provide added value to your stream and followers? What are you doing, if you’re not doing that?

Please jump in and get involved in the conversation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment below and sharing/bookmarking this article. Thank you kindly.

Fritter? What Facebook’s Opening Up Means for Twitter

twitter-vs-facebookFacebook has just made a bunch of significant updates today, most notably opening “up access to the content and methods for sharing through…status, Notes, Links (what we used to call Posted Items), and Video…” Not sure if you read the article awhile back over at AllFacebook, but Nick called it a few weeks back. I’m concerned that we will lose the inherent privacy that, for me, is so enjoyable.

Personally, I enjoy the two applications/services operating differently, but it was only a matter of time until Facebook realized a way to compete with Twitter in their ability to facilitate a means for instantaneous and widespread conversation. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to see a bunch of Twitter-inspired clones that will be taking up the cause clawing for their stake of the Facebook open status game.

Twitter applications like Tweetdeck, Twhirl, and the ton of other applications operating as satellites around the Twittersphere would do good to investigate and see how difficult it would be to recreate their applications displaying Facebook streams.  That is if they care about being involved in a niche that is about to completely blow wide open.

Twitter has a few million users, which admittedly is on the significant rise over the last few months with all the new celebrity users, media mentions and resulting attention, but their userbase pales in comparison to Facebook’s gargantuan 150m+ users. That being said, I wonder how long until Myspace decides to jump into the fray…I’m sure that they’ll arrive fashionably late.

What do you think about this? Do you think we’ll see people jumping ship for Facebook, as there will be a completely different level of integration with all of your other Facebook data and information? Or do you think the Twitterworld will buckle down and get ready to fight the good fight? Or will this really change little for Twitter faithfuls that already sync their Facebook statuses to their Twitter posts?

Can Facebook create the same level of underground endorsement and loyal buzz with their service? Do you think Facebook will have a greater ability to capture trends because of the wider user-base and dedicated audience?

Honestly, my biggest concern is that Facebook is going to become completely overrun with marketers and as a result we’re all going to get 100x the amount of friend requests that we currently get. I enjoy keeping my Facebook friends list filled with real-life friends. Facebook, for me, is a completely private opt-in community. I share different things on Facebook that I’m less likely to talk about publicly on Twitter.

In fact, I probably only have 10 or maybe 15 people that I don’t actually know who are my friends on Facebook. This is something that potentially could ruin the Facebook experience, and turn it into Myspace all over again…sans the horrible PimpMyLayout services.

What do you think? Chime in.

Please jump in and get involved in the conversation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment below and sharing/bookmarking this article. Thank you kindly.

To Friend Or to Follow

Facebook Profile BarThe connective branches of the web are spreading out at an ever-increasing rate. Have you noticed how many of your old friends from high school and college are showing up in droves on Facebook? If you’re on Twitter, have you witnessed the literal flood of new registrations each day?

As more and more people jump into the social media space, regardless of their motive and catalyst for doing so (which we’ll address in a minute), you are going to be faced with the questions: should I accept that friend request and/or should I reciprocate following that person that just followed me on Twitter?

On Facebook, I have made very few exceptions to my general rule: I only accept and make friend requests to people that I am really friends with, online or otherwise (after 10+ working in the digital arena, I certainly have friends on Facebook that I’ve never met face-to-face). There are a very few exceptions to that rule – like, under 10 – which I made in either the interest of developing a friendship or widening a networking relationship with someone in or around my field.

With Facebook, there’s a simple reason for the wall. I use Facebook to share my personal information. I share pictures of my wife, my kids, and my closest friends. It’s my private space. Ha, it’s my space.

Twitter on the other hand, is a completely different beast for me. I find myself constantly squabbling with myself over whether or not I should be following everyone that follows me first. And so at the same time, I have to set my expectations on other people following me just because I followed them first.

Listen, I’m all for following people out of kindness and reciprocity. But the more users that fill up my Twitterstream with nonsense, the less I follow the stream. I originally fell in love with Twitter because of the amazing content that was steadily delivered to Tweetdeck.

I felt like I was getting smarter by spending lunch at my desk eating and reading Twitter. Now, as I follow more people, I don’t really feel the same way. I feel like I’m wearing waders and searching for post-rush gold.

So, what I’ve been doing as of late is checking out every single person’s Twitterstream that follows me, if only for 5-10 seconds. I look long enough to read the bio, check a handful of Tweets, and maybe 50% of the time I click on their URL to see what sort of stuff they write about (or design).

Twitter ProfileHere are the things I’m looking for:

  • Humor
  • Links
  • Information relative or useful to me
  • Retweets and @replies
  • Engaging gravatar (lets me know the person has a good idea what they’re doing)
  • People I recognize in their followers list

Here are the things I try to avoid:

  • Rudeness
  • Tweets about the sandwich you just ate
  • Pointless rambling
  • An entire list filled with only “New blog post: How to make your Mac look like D.A.R.Y.L.”
  • Following 1995 people, with only 32 people following back
  • Under 10 posts (unless they are totally brand new, and those 10 pass the criteria in the first list)

I would say that 75% of the people make the cut. I mean, really, the list of things that I’m trying to avoid are pretty basic. I just don’t want to fill up my Twitterstream with useless nonsense, and since I’m not trying to win any popularity contests or prepping for Magpie ad insertions, the size of my following is far less important to me than it’s quality.

I expect that someone has followed me because they enjoy what I’m adding to the larger conversation. If they aren’t and are just baiting me for reciprocation, I don’t mind if they unfollow. I still don’t think I’ve unfollowed someone once because they hadn’t followed me back, and I don’t plan on starting to do so anytime soon.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Thank you kindly.

I am more important than you

Yesterday, an interesting blog post went up on Loic LeMuer’s website requesting an advanced Twitter search and how you should be able to filter search results based on how many followers you have. He simply stated, “Comments about your brand or yourself coming from @techcrunch with 36000 followers are not equal than someone with 100 followers.”

I don’t want to get into the discussion about the filtering and advanced search, because I would clearly like to have some filtering features added to search.twitter.com. (And there’s already been a bunch of discussion around this…in fact, probably far too much. Take a look at what Robert Scoble had to say about the matter…and he also talks a little bit about the issues raised later in this post.)

I still think ranking by number of followers is a little odd, but that’s neither here nor there for me, because there are apparently a lot of people who will find value in that funtionality.

The conversation to be had, in my mind, is the underlying problem: the importance placed on the size of your following.

I’m not sure how each person goes about gaining followers, but I have done my best to purposefully NOT follow a thousand random people in the hopes that I’ll end up with more followers. Sure, I love seeing new followers pop up in my inbox just like the next person, but I suppose it’s even that much more meaningful to me because I’m going about this organically.

I like to think that I tweet about stuff that matters, things that add value to the greater stream, or in the least, may make someone feel good or think deeply on a subject. I hope that that is why I have new followers.

There are plenty of people I follow that don’t have a thousand followers who I feel add 10x the value of someone like Loic, whose tweets (not right or wrong, mind you) tend to be more of the personal status updating nature.

Of course, Twitter is used for a bunch of different purposes, but for me, I tend to search out people that are talking about social media, interactive marketing, design, philosophy, humor, etc. I like posts with links much more than those without, because I am largely on Twitter to learn and participate in the community, hopefully adding some value along the way.

I guess it’s just human nature to enjoy the feeling of celebrity that comes with having 10,000 people watch your every move. It’s something that a great many people are interested in attaining. And for those Twitterers/bloggers out there trying to earn a living from their time on Twitter and other social media channels, I totally understand why they think they need to grow their following by any means necessary.

I think all of us using social media are trying to increase our reach, but I hope that we’re working hard to make sure that we’re not gathering subscribers and followers just for the sake of building up the numbers.

For me, I’d much rather have a closer-knit community of people interested in furthering dialogue, conversation and cooperative learning.

So, if you enjoyed this post, please follow me on Twitter and tell 100 of your friends to do the same. ;) I would however, love to read your comments and thoughts on the matter.

The reporter is dead! Long live the reporter!

Tonight showed, yet again, how our current news system is filled with holes, and dying a very long and drawn out death. It’s not as if I’m the first to suggest this…it’s been coming for years and years and years. But in the past few months, it has become painfully obvious that both traditional broadcast channels and the trusted online news sources are both turtles to the hare of the social web.

At least 20 minutes before the first comment was made on CNN.com regarding Continental 1404 sliding off the runway at DIA, there were sizable reports coming in bite-sized 140-character chunks through the waves on Twitter. BreakingNewsOn was the one to hit first with the news: “BOEING 737 CRASHES IN DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT — LOCAL TV (BULLETIN),” just as they were the first to report the terrorist attacks in Mumbai a few weeks back.

As soon as I read the report, same with the first Mumbai chatter, I told the people close to me that might be affected to start watching for news and info, and then I started checking everywhere else for more information. In both cases, I had been given much of the important information before CNN.com had their “Breaking News” banner pop up at the top of their page. I knew the flight number, the flight plan, and the low probability that there were any fatalities.

In fact, before CNN.com reported, I witnessed at least two different groups of Twitter friends devolve into discussions about why Denver International’s Airport code was being listed as DIA in news reports, but written as DEN on Kayak.com.

Sure, they’re (we’re) all nerds that get distracted easily, but what that means is that this group of people had already started to calm down knowing that everything was likely going to be fine before major news channels were readying to give their shock-and-awe “breaking news” productions. We are witnessing the changing of the guard.

Even now, after the situation has come to a close and fallen off the radar of significance for most people (no one died, so people don’t have to stay glued to the news…sad, but true), there are still very few reports of what happened…except for Mike Wilson, who was actually on the plane that crashed! He hasn’t been interviewed, hasn’t been debriefed, but keeps on tweeting things like “You have your wits scared out of you, drag your butt out of a flaming ball of wreckage and you can’t even get a vodka-tonic. Boo.” This is just hilarious, and a little sad.

I guess changing directions for these guys is like cornering a semi, in the snow.

This is a fairly small-scale example of the failure and collapse of the old guard of journalism. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai at the end of November showed how a small team of citizen journalists lead by Dutch journalist Michael van Poppel (good interview here, article here and details here), can change the way people are informed  of (literally) breaking news. Michael’s team at BNOnews.com were so many steps ahead of the “frontline” reporters, triangulating details, it felt like the rest of us had about a 20 minute headstart on everyone else. Amazing.

As our friends on Facebook were starting to pass messages around that something was happening in Mumbai, we were able to tell them how many attacks, at which specific locations, and rough fatality numbers that were much more accurate than what was being reported by other online news retailers (I’m not using that word lightly, either).

It’s time for news to decentralize. Actually, that has already happened…it’s time for the old guard to abandon their post and start to expand their sources, lest they be left in the dust. What other choice is there? My CNN Twitter update didn’t come until 3 hours and 28 minutes after I first heard the news from BNO. But this, again, shouldn’t really be shocking news. CNN bowed to the speed of the social web in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

What’re your thoughts? I’m terribly interested to see other opinions. Are teams like BNOnews going to take over the breaking news space? Are sites like AssociatedContent.com and NowPublic.com going to start to serve as our trusted news sources? Is BleacherReport.com the new CNNsi.com?

Chime in, let me know what you think.

How To Get The Most Out Of Twitter

For those of you who aren’t Twitter users (also commonly referred to as “twitterers”), this article is meant as an introduction. For those of you who are just getting your feet wet, hopefully this will serve as a guide reviewing some of the popular Twitter tools and applications.

First things first
If you have no idea what Twitter really is, instead of explaining it, I’m just going to suggest that you go and watch a brief little movie which does a better job explaining Twitter than any other site I’ve seen online: go watch videos at Common Craft.

Get yourself signed up with Twitter
When signing up, I strongly recommend choosing a name that is either widely recognized as an alias of yours, or some arrangement of your name. For me, while 417north would probably be recognized by a certain group of design industry folks, my name Greg Huntoon has far more recognition at this point in my career. To keep it short, I played around with the idea of using “ghuntoon” as my handle, but my name is pretty distinct, and so I made the decision to use my full name “greghuntoon” as my username/profile name on every single service where it’s available.

Don’t underestimate the power of this recognition. You will be easier to find by your friends and colleagues, and also by search engines. I would say that 75% of the people that I follow on Twitter agree with this based on their Twitter handles.

Figure out your voice
Find out what it is that you really want to say. When you’re new to micro-blogging, figuring out what to say might be a little difficult, because you’ll be tempted to just tweet about every little thing. For me, Twitter is largely a business tool. I have Facebook to stay connected with my friends, and Twitter allows me to follow the conversation leaders on a wide variety of topics that are of interest to me. And in turn, I try to make sure that my tweets (the name given to Twitter’s 140-character posts) are relevant, and hopefully not boring to my followers.

Don’t use multiple posts to get your point across. Part of becoming a good twitterer is learning how to condense your thoughts into the 140-character limit. After a while, you’ll totally see the utility in keeping things short and sweet. It’s really amazing how much can be communicated, and culled, from 140 characters.

Find people to follow
Search for topics that you’d like to find “experts” in, and then check out the profiles of the authors that are returned in the search results. That’s one way, for sure. There’s also the TwitterPacks Wiki, which will give you some lists of people to follow based on a bunch of different filters / categories. I can nearly guarantee that you will walk away from the Wiki with at least 30-40 new people to follow (and depending on their reciprocity, you will probably end up with a bunch of new people following you).

Once you have a handful (20-30) followers and people that you are following, I strong urge you to follow Mr. Tweet “Your Personal Networking Assistant”, by visiting the site and clicking on the “Follow Mr. Tweet” gray button on the front page of the site. That is all you need to do, and within about a 1/2 a day later, you’ll get a reciprocal follow from @MrTweet with an accompanying link to their report which will show you two things:

  1. Which of your followers you should be following in return.
  2. Who the influential people are that you should be following (and it is different for each person, depending on your interests, what you post about, and the types of people that you already follow).

Which programs and tools you might use
I always have my main Twitter stream open using Tweetdeck. This allows me to split my stream into the main tweets from me and the people that I follow, all of my @replies, and my direct messages. Additionally, Tweetdeck has the ability to add multiple columns so that I can filter off specific people, searches, or fine-tuned groups of people to follow. This is the ultimate tool if you are managing one account, or have one account that gets 75% of your attention or greater.

TweetdeckSince I have multiple Twitter accounts I use, I also use Twhirl to manage all of those other accounts. Twhirl isn’t quite as great for showing me everything all at once, but it does a great job of managing tons of accounts all at once, including your friendfeed, seesmic, and identi.ca accounts if you so choose.

Tweetdeck and Twhirl are definitely the two applications that I use to post tweets with the most, but I take advantage of quite a few other services that really make it easy for me to Tweet wherever and whenever I want:

  • Twitter Tools – a WordPress plug-in that auto-posts your blogs tweets as part of the publishing process
  • Twitterfeed – the best, and most painless way to auto-tweet your blog entries (any RSS or Atom based feed), which I use for all of my non-Wordpress posts and entries
  • TwitThis – a bookmarklet that uses javascript to prepopulate a Tweet with relevant data like the title and the url of the page you are currently viewing in your browser
  • Twitterific – although not often, sometimes at home it’s just far easier to rattle off thoughts and links via the iPod Touch (in my case). This, however, is definitely the best iPod/iPhone Twitter app on the market.
  • Tweetburner – a great service if you’re really wanting to track your tweets
  • Twitter.com/home – although rare, sometimes I’ll exceed my limit on Twitter (long story, more on that here) and returning to your web home, tweeting by IM or by txt are your only options

Etiquette: some do’s and don’ts
Most importantly, unless you’re a chef, don’t tell me what you’re having for lunch today. The only other exception to that rule is if you’re giving links, reviews and/or dining tips that are useful. I guarantee you that the quickest way to getting yourself unfollowed is incessant tweeting about mundane eating habits, such as “Really enjoying this apple. It’s the best after a Subway sandwich.” I cringe at posts like that, while, conversely, a food-related post like this would be much more engaging: “Just finished off a caprese panini from @atlanticgrille on South E St” (fictional post…don’t go searching for Atlantic Grille on South E).

On the other hand, a very important Twitter practice is getting involved in the conversation(s) by replying to people. Let your voice be heard, and contribute when you have something constructive and new to offer into the stream. When done effectively, you’ll make new friends, followers, and widen your experience on Twitter.

I have made new business connections and friends, and learned a ton since joining Twitter way back when. But it continues to redefine itself, and there are new tools and services jumping into the fray nearly every day.

So, the sooner you sign up and get involved, the better for you…