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.

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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.

After a Twelve Year Arch, It All Comes Full Circle

When I graduated from college in 1997, I had a degree in Ecological Anthropology and Writing under one arm, and a driving passion to jump headlong into the publishing game. As editor-in-chief of my college’s weekly rag, I was sure I’d found my calling…the classifieds section just didn’t seem to agree with me.

break_logo-160square_plainI became a designer (which I had always been passionate about as well), because I figured it could be a way in the side door. After kicking around a couple of shops building up my skills and resume, I figured I’d be working in a publication’s layout department within a couple of years at most. But in reality, two years later I’d already forgotten about that passion, as I was hired to be Media Temple’s (a brand-new web design and hosting company at the time) first Creative Director.

Twelve years later, I’m now working for one of the bigger content companies in the game. I’m no longer designing (full-time, nor by title), and I’m not writing either. I’ve found my way right into a position that fits me quite snug.

October 1st (a day that’s held some pretty important events in my life, oddly), I started as the new Director of Social Media for Break Media (purveyors of Break.com, MadeMan.com, CagePotato.com, etc). My sixth week will start on Monday, and I’m having a blast. The last five weeks have been packed full learning the ins and outs of my new company, and getting accustomed to not working in Photoshop and Illustrator on a daily basis (which has not been the easiest transition).

As I said, this position fits me well. I’m a social person by nature. I love people. I thrive on communication. And most importantly, the last few years have shown me that I really enjoy digging into the strategies and bigger picture.

I’ve spent the better part of the last ten years building websites, corporate identities, and various ephemera for a wide range of clients. It’s been fun, but I’m keen to the idea of backing up a step and being able to implement concepts across the entire spectrum: websites, social networks, mobile devices, offline networks, etc.

I’ll do my best to document this adventure, and I’d love for you to be along for the ride. With that, I’m going to get back to some much needed rest, and I’ll leave you with this quote from the man who said most things the best:

All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.” – Mark Twain

The Self-Proclaimed Expert

If stock market experts were so expert, they would be buying stock, not selling advice. – Norman R. Augustine

experts-090109So-called experts are quickly flooding the relatively new social media niche in large numbers, each and every one clambering for attention. While Facebook, Myspace, Virb, Flickr, Twitter, and countless other social sites and apps have been around for years, we are currently experiencing a significant boom in focus, understanding and adoption. There’s a massive influx of new users, people that normally remain on the sidelines waiting for the early adopters to help apps through beta phases and assist in ironing out the kinks.

But, how are those new to the scene supposed to find their way? Who are the leaders?

Perhaps these self-proclaimed experts are under the impression, as Seth Godin suggested in his review of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers last week, that it’s much easier for people to get past The Dip1 and find success in “niche areas, new areas, unexplored areas. You can get through the Dip in an online network…because being seen as the best in that area is easier…”

What are the benchmarks for success? Is it number of blog readers? The size of your Twitter following? Is it your ability to soapbox, wax poetic and pontificate with confusing 2.0 jargon?

Or is it the ability to convince a town to rename itself for one of the largest marketing coups in history that makes you an expert? While Mark Hughes is undoubtedly an expert, he isn’t the benchmark either. He is one of those grand slam success stories.

So then where is the marker for the upper echelon of thought-leaders and exemplary masters? Do we leave that title reserved for people who have figured out how to make a name for themselves, or are we frugal with the moniker, giving it more often to people who are masters in making a name for others?

Does being an expert even matter in this landscape, or are we all just people trying to figure out the best way to connect with each other?

Just whom is that “expert” stamp in the social media arena reserved for?

1 Godin defines The Dip as “a temporary setback that will get better if you keep pushing.”

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Make your suggestions on who you think should be classified as an expert. 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.