Archive for June, 2009

Try not to lose your voice

June 30, 2009

voiceI have been pondering this topic for a couple of weeks now; it’s been like a splinter in my mind. What brought this on was one of the liveliest exchanges I had ever had with my Twitter followers. Here’s some context: in the wake of the Iranian election, a lot of people on Twitter chose to change their pictures to green or spread a green overlay on top of their avatar. Don’t get me wrong, I support democracy as much as the next gal. In fact, I can appreciate it a lot more than some others do, due to the fact that I grew up in a repressive Communist society, where freedom of speech was nonexistent, snitches were plentiful, and Siberian camps were full of “dissidents.” As much as I consider what’s happening in Iran a travesty, I consider veiling your avatar in green a non-genuine, lazy and conformist attempt to follow the latest trend. So to stir up some discussion (because that’s why I am there: to discuss, express myself, and form relationships), I asked Twitter why they chose to do it. I wasn’t doubting the authenticity of all the green avatars, but because everyone seemed to do it at the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder if only a small portion of those people actually researched the cause. Of course, there are exceptions: there are some people with family and friends over there who are quite well educated on the issue or feel passionately about it. I am not stating that no one is passionate about it, I just seriously doubt that *everyone* is passionate about it.  Moreover, it strikes me as a half-assed attempt, done because you feel like doing something, but don’t have the bandwidth to do anything meaningful. If I was an Iranian blogger, I do not think that seeing an overlay or changed coordinates would do much for me. However, people raising money or another act of actual activism (alliteration intended) would go further.

Moreover, I think that such a display of conformity was a slap in the face of democracy. By trying so hard to fit in, without really understanding what you are doing, you are undermining the definition of democracy. Democracy is about choices, not following the herd mindlessly (that’s what they did in the Soviet Union). If you choose to follow the crowd, please make it a choice that you made. I think  exchanging actual thoughts on Iran and banding together to raise money go so much further than changing your avatar color. All it does is take away your voice and make your followers’ Tweetdecks look like they are “covered in Leprechaun droppings” (per my friend @toddhavens).

spamSocial media gives us all a voice. Unfortunately, a lot of times, it makes people lose their voice. This episode is not the only display of conformity on Twitter and other social media. Unfortunately, Twitter is home to more herd-like behavior. Case in point:  Follow Friday. When used sparingly and thoughtfully, it can be a valuable source of discovery, even though I think other sources, such as (thoughtful) RTs and @ replies, are better, because they offer more context and substance. If someone I respect and interact with suggests people to follow, I will at least take a look, although I have to admit, I have never followed anyone based on Follow Friday recommendation. Follow Friday was OK when it started, but like most trends on Twitter has been bastardized and spammed. Seems that every week I drown in mindless RTs of my friends’ Follow Friday recommendations. One friend includes my handle in their recommendation, then it gets retweeted by 10 spammers with zero context, and voila! my @ replies pane is full of non-relevant regurgitations of one meaningful endorsement. My question to people who do that: do you even read what you retweet? If you must participate in Follow Friday, please use your own head and give your own recommendations. I am not undermining the viral quality of social media, which is essential to all of our success. I am just asking you to think.

As with everything, I urge you, whether you are an individual or a brand, to think before you speak: online and offline. Really get to know the medium and interact with it in an authentic way. If you don’t understand why people do something, just ask. Whatever you do, please don’t follow the trend blindly; if you make a conscious choice to follow the trend, then go for it. Just promise me you will think about why you are doing something. What you put online is forever part of your brand, part of your legacy. Please don’t forget that.

Please share your thoughts: do you have any other examples? How do you develop your voice? How do you stand out amongst so much noise?

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A more powerful and precise firehose

June 29, 2009

fire_hoseIt’s no secret that we are overloaded with information. Social platforms like Twitter and Facebook (especially with the new Facebook “wanna-be Twitter” home screen) remind me of a fire-hose. A very powerful fire-hose passing a whole lot of water each and every minute. Sometimes I think that I could literally watch my social streams 24 hours and not do anything else – that’s how much is out there. Obviously, no one does that. You tune into what’s relevant, and tune out the “noise”. Twitter search tools (web search, as well as search tools on Twitter clients) allow to extract necessary information, and not just from your own “network”, but from the entire Twitterverse. However, search and organization tools are still rudimentary. If I was an account manager handling AT&T in New York City, I would like to see AT&T mentions only in NYC. Right now, there is advanced search on search.twitter.com, but not via Twitter clients. What about people I follow? I may have a good reason to follow someone, but not want to read their every tweet. How do I find what’s relevant? I think fine-tuning search and contextualizing tweets is the natural next step. For example, if I follow John Smith, I only want to see John’s tweets about social media, and not about the food he ate today. As more and more people get on Twitter, we will follow more and more people, and will need a better fire-hose to extract valuable tidbits. Or risk losing a ton of valuable information.

friendfeed logoAre there tools now that attempt to do that? I think Friendfeed is positioned to do that. Friendfeed helps you aggregate your social media activity, to be tracked by your subscribers. Conversely, you can subscribed to others’ aggregated feeds. On the surface, Friendfeed is an even bigger fire-hose, if it aggregates Twitter and other tools (Twitter alone is enough). This is why I haven’t been an avid Friendfeed user – I simply do not want more stuff, I want better and more relevant stuff. However, if Friendfeed does it right, it will intelligently learn users I follow (based on their aggregate streams), at the same time as learning about me, and automatically curate what I see. For example, Friendfeed would know that I am interested in wine tasting, based on my tweets, videos and blogposts. Then it would extract relevant material from the streams of the people I follow and add it to my “Best of Day” section. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a tool like Friendfeed would also observe my activity outside of the social networks (with my permission, of course) – based on my Google searches, Twitter searches, etc? I think so! And I think this is where the social web will be heading next: a socially semantic web.

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LEER: Listen Engage, Empathize, and Respond

June 19, 2009

(this post was first conceived 1.5 weeks ago, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to complete it until just now, due to my heavy blogging commitments at the Good Wine Journey blog, which I as part of my application to A Really Goode Job by Murphy Goode).

Last Sunday night, I went shopping for two airline tickets to Russia.  After I found my desired flight, I was all ready to check out. I input my credit card, and was one happy camper until… my card got rejected. What?? It certainly wasn’t my credit limit or the price of the ticket. “Ah, it must be because it shows up as a foreign vendor, and Bank of America (my card company) just wants to make sure that I  am cool with this transaction,” I thought. After receiving horrendous customer service online and via phone, and unable to unlock my account, I ended up losing my airfare deal. Within 30 minutes, the price went up, as is often the case, and 3 hours later I still couldn’t get BofA to unlock my account.

twitter_headerWhy am I telling this story and why should you care? While all of this was going on, I tried to find BofA on Twitter, but wasn’t successful. So I sent out a couple of tweets mentioning BofA, hoping that anyone monitoring Twitter from BofA would find my rants (note to readers: that is a practice of the best community managers). But no such luck. What did happen amazed me. I was tweeted and retweeted around 50 times, until someone pointed me at the BofA twitter handle. What amazed me was how quickly other tweeps jumped in with their negative sentiment of BofA and we formed a conversation around it. If BofA was watching these exchanges, they would know that they need to spend some time getting back to these disenfranchised customers, because there was quite a bit of dissatisfaction out there. And because the brand wasn’t interacting with us, we formed our own “BofA hate club”.

listenAs I am writing this, I am sitting at the 140 Characters Twitter Conference produced by Jeff Pulver. An earlier panel was discussing how brands are working with their consumers on Twitter, and how great customer service is the new marketing. Just take a look at the following customer service accounts from some of the most beloved companies: @zappos_service, @jetblue, @askseesmic, @comcastcares. These companies are so well-loved on Twitter because they provide excellent customer service and they have their “ear to the ground and “finger on the pulse” of the Twittersphere. If you are on Twitter, it is not enough to just broadcast your company news and blast all of your followers with product information. Twitter is not the right channel for that. Rather, Twitter is about creating and encouraging a 2-way conversation. Because word or mouth spreads virally and lightning-fast, it’s imperative to establish delightful experiences for clients by discovering conversations, taking part in them, jumping in with helpful answers when there are questions, addressing issues and making upset customers “whole” again, as well as rejoicing with happy ones. The truth is, your customers are out there talking about you, not necessarily to you, and it’s up to you to join the conversation in an authentic, empathetic and non-spammy way.

As a voracious student, observer and participator in social media, I am always watching how companies are responding to these customer service issues: are they turning the possible liability into an asset and are they doing it in a way that’s authentic, helpful and empathetic? Just today I was lucky enough to listen to and capture conversations about this very topic at the #140Conf, including a keynote by Gary Vaynerchuck (or @garyvee as he is known on Twitter). The resounding bottom line that Gary drives home is that you need to listen, you need to care and you need to engage. You need to stop obsessing about the number of followers and focus on the quality of the conversation.

So what happened with my BofA episode? Well, I sent a @ message to the BofA twitter account, and they eventually responded the next day (during normal business hours of course), and the only reason they responded was because I @ replied to them, i.e. they weren’t actively monitoring the sentiment. A true community manager would be able to pick up these rants via Twitter search tools and would respond to “tweeps” beyond the ones who send a direct message or an @ reply. Moreover, a good community manager doesn’t tweet between the hours of 9 and 5; a community manager is on whenever people are talking about their brand, all over the world.

cotweetFor some companies, there is so much twittering that has to be done, that they may need to hire an additional person. Do it! It’s worth it! Especially with tools like CoTweet, you can have more than one person “listening” and tweeting on behalf of your brand. As a rule of thumb, any brand that wants to be successful in social media, must listen first and talk second. Just like  individuals, businesses should act as if they have 2 ears and 1 mouth. But first, you need to make listening part of your corporate culture and provide the right infrastructure for your employees to be effective community managers.

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Twitter and Otaku

June 14, 2009

I wrote about the state of otaku and the near-fanaticism that some products, brands and product categories inspire. Seems that my favorite tool Twitter (including applications within its ecosystem) had produced quite a bit of otaku within its lead users. Its most active users have traded in real names for  Twitter handles when referring each other, and when we go to a new place, we feel the need to “check-in” on location-based services apps like Foursquare and BrightKite (which may or may not be synched to Twitter). When we need to ask people a question, we go to Twitter to crowdsource, we support each other by retweeting good and relevant information, we share our thoughts, feelings, blogposts and whereabouts with the Twitterverse, and we feel lost without our Tweetdecks and Tweeties. Twitter is top of mind, part of life; and the community is strong.

At least this was the case before Twitter went mainstream. I feel that among the “bleeding edge” users, enthusiasm is starting to wane, as Twitter crosses over into the mainstream. Although it achieves the same purpose, I think part of the excitement of being first and “in the trenches” associated with being on Twitter is starting to wane. As Twitter crosses over into mainstream, the demographic of who is communicating with whom, as well as the dynamics of the conversation. Businesses and individuals start to tweet, not because they love the service, but because they feel like it’s the hot new thing, and they have to be on it, because everyone is. When this happens, a lot of authenticity is lost, and the medium is used in a gauche and ineffective manner (i.e. one-way broadcasts, spamming, autofollowing and auto-DM’ing. Moreover, as people start to follow more and more people, there will be more and more noise, and relevant information will have a higher chance of getting lost. A lot of this has already started to happen.

To counteract these effects, tools have to be put in place that allow to funnel, search semantically and display information contextually (this merits a whole new post, which has ben swirling in my mind for a while, so look for it). As Twitter goes from a quaint neighborhood to a large, noisy city, I do not think that it can maintain its strong cult-like status past the early adopters. This is just my view. What do you guys think?

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Bacon Otaku

June 3, 2009

(originally posted on http://goodewinejourney.wordpress.com)

bacon I tweeted a couple of times today about Bacon, which always gets a ton of response. As I monitor the Twittersphere, the two        foods that come up most often are bacon and cupcakes. Not only are there a plethora of chatter about the two foods, there are also    multiple #bacon bots that follow you and interact with you as soon as you mention this greasy, yet delicious food. I even received  this  recipe that incorporates not one, but both foods (via user @baconinja) It seems that, especially on Twitter, there is a ton of    conversation about and loyalty to these quirky foods. I am still baffled by whether Twitter users are just more into bacon and    cupcakes than the general population, or if my view is just extremely skewed, due to the specifics of both groups (online and offline) that I participate in.

In any case, as a marketer, I always think about what generates buzz and instills loyalty. Bacon and cupcake aficionados are quite staunch fans, and every time I think of them, I can’t help but think about Seth Godin‘s “Purple Cow.” In this book, Seth talks about Otaku, people who are more or less obsessed with a certain product, hobby or topic. Originally, Otaku (of Japanese origin) referred to Anime aficionados, but it has been somewhat adopted outside of that realm. Godin posits that certain foods, such as hot sauce, inspire Otaku-like behavior, while others don’t.

If someone can tell me why bacon and cupcakes inspire such passion (other than being sinfully delicious), I am all ears. I would also love to hear from marketers some success stories on how they built a passionate community around a fairly mundane product or brand.

Red_wine_by_em_davidson(2) 

 P.S. I feel that wine, especially wine tasting, also inspires loyalty and a lot of passion. Other than the obvious lifestyle benefits of being a  “social lubricant” and enhancing coversations at the dinner table (especially with a really good bottle), people who are good at tasting  wines seem to belong to a close-knit group that is rich in its own traditions and even vocabulary. Wine tasting is an art, and the people  who are good at it, have committed time and resources to learning how to be good at it, and I think that’s where the passion comes from.    For the rest of us, while the fine art of wine tasting is aspirational, enjoying wine is open to all.

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