Posts Tagged ‘Social network’

How memorable are you?

July 17, 2009

A local gym in my neighborhood produces some of the most memorable and wittiest offline messaging I have ever seen. We get so carried away with the latest and greatest online tools like Twitter, that we forget about holistic marketing and forget to use offline channels in addition to the new media channels. If you are a brick-and-mortar business, you especially need to blend the two.

compensateOne of the guys who works in this neighborhood gym puts out a funny new slogan on a chalkboard right outside, every single day. Each and every day, it’s different and funny and almost always a bit edgy. Please see the picture to the left for this morning’s slogan. The guy who writes the messages saw me taking this picture and ran outside to introduce himself. We chatted briefly, and he asked me if I have a blog, and I told him that I was going to tweet and write about his messaging, because I thought it was very catchy. This type of messaging would translate very well into a medium like Twitter, because it’s short, pithy, funny and a conversation starter. I certainly hope that I can help him at least set up his social media presence.

The moral of the story is: be memorable and be everywhere. It sounds really simple, but most fail in executing on at least one of these points. Being memorable should be defined by your target demographic and the touchpoints at which they interact with your message. In this example, busy customers rushing to the train will likely not remember anything longer than the message from this picture. This chalkboard message successfully cut through the clutter, which is not an easy feat: these days we have as much clutter online as we do offline. Moreover, the catchy, witty messaging is just right for the young male demographic that they are targeting. As far as being everywhere: remember to be online and off. The temptation is to go chasing the latest tools, but communication with your customers is not about the tools, it’s about the message. Engage them where they are, in a way that they will remember.

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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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Attending the 140 Characters Conference

May 26, 2009

I have attended several of Jeff Pulver‘s events in the past (Social Media 1 and Social Media Jungle 2), and have always been impressed with the content, as well as the amazing connections I had made. I am even more excited for the 140 Characters Conference (#140conf as it’s known on Twitter). This is a not-to-miss event for anyone who is passionate about Twitter as the hottest emerging communication platform.

Those who read my blog know how completely and utterly enthralled I am with Twitter, above and beyond any other social network. Most of my blogposts have at least something to do with this extremely disruptive, efficient, insightful, ubiquitous and open communication platform. Hence, my interest in a Twitter conference is tremendous. Monitoring the Twittersphere and the event site, some of the top voices in social media and Twitter luminaries will be attending the event. Networking is also a top reason of why I am extremely interested in this event.

Unfortunately, due to financial constraints I am unable to pay the fee to attend. So I am applying for and hoping to win the #140conf Scholarship. If I was selected to be a scholarship finalist, I would diligently cover the event via Twitter and blogging, adding my own insights. I will also help promote the event via all social media tools available to me.

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And… There Goes the Neighborhood…

May 25, 2009

neighborhoodI, like many others, have been concerned about the rise of spam on Twitter. First, spammers would book a user name, follow a bunch of users, In hopes of auto-follows, then auto-DM those users with spam links (this is why I never auto-follow). Then, there has been talk of spammers latching on to a trending hashtag with an irrelevant spam message containing a link to an unrelated site. I have no issue with self-promotion, as long as it’s done tactfully, and is designed to add value to the conversation. By latching on to a trending hashtag, a spammer will appear in the search timeline for anyone tracking that topic, and thus gain great visibility.

spamNow, last night, as I was following my twitter stream before going to bed, I came across this link to a “guru” site promising to amass tons of twitter followers fast. It made me vomit a little. Real estate scams, now Twitter scams? This is fueled by the rise of a blind race for users, fueled by users like Ashton Kutcher and others who amass followers like it’s some kind of a competitive sport. Amassing followers may be fun, if that’s your type of thing: a popularity contest of sorts. But if you are looking to build value for yourself and your followers via Twitter, you will be wrong to follow this path. The Twitter community is all about building long-term relationships, listening and engaging before you speak, being authentic and being human. The 30 second spot is fading in efficacy, and brands looking to really engage their hard-to-reach customers must not use Twitter as a 1-way broadcast system. Which is why I am disappointed by these developments, but also think that spammers will soon realize that Twitter is not the right medium for amassing tons of followers non-organically and blasting them with a 1-way message. As Brian Solis said in response to this development (via Twitter, of course), “Those driven by the # of followers will find themselves alone as social Darwinism ensures the survival of the loyal+helpful.” And remember that there are no shortcuts to success, only hard work and producing quality content. There is no such thing as an “automated Twitter traffic machine”.

These developments, while not surprising, disappoint me. I am not surprised, because Twitter has definitley jumped the shark, and all popular digital communication methods get invaded with spammers after they become popular. But it does make me a little sad to see this behavior going on in a medium that we have come to love for its community feel. I guess this is what happens when web products start to cross the chasm.

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How portable is your data?

May 19, 2009

Quite an interesting development yesterday that Facebook is now implementing OpenID, allowing its user to sign-up and sign-in with non-Facebook credentials. I definitely did not expect this from the “walled garden” known as Facebook. Initiatives like OpenID are a fantastic move in the direction of being consumer-centric in the face of extreme web fragmentation. As the Web 2.0 bubble grew, more and more websites were created, forgetting that the user can only visit a finite number of websites. Expecting users to go to your niche social network is not a strategy any longer, especially since just about anything can be done inside of Facebook and a handful of others. It’s hard enough to get users to go to your site, it’s foolish to expect them to create a new set of credentials. Even if they do create the new login, coming back and remembering how to login is a whole other bridge that needs to be crossed. Which is why OpenID is super important now.

Another area that’s just as important and heavily debated is: what happens to your data when you do engage with a site / social network? What about the information that you have diligently provided to Facebook about yourself? What about all of your pithy wisdom that you have shared with your followers on Twitter?  What about all the photographs that you posted to Flickr and Facebook? What about all the diligent tagging, note writing, photo album creation, wall posts, comments on your friends status updates on Facebook? And oh my, what about the e-mails? Who owns that? We would like to think that we do, as it’s our content. But reading many sites’ TOS’s, that couldn’t be further from the truth – the site owns all of the content. Putting aside the possibility of a social network misusing our content (that’s a whole other discussion), what happens when the “new Facebook” (whoever that is) dethrones Facebook, and you want to take all of your content with you that you spent so many months, even years, creating? Do you have to start from scratch? It is my theory that this is why Facebook is so successful: we have so much skin in the game, we aren’t going anywhere, and they know it. And what about the not-so-remote possibility of a site like Facebook failing? Does all of your content die with it?

I first started thinking about it when I saw exactly how formidable the amount of user-generated content is when I witnessed the below exchange, generated by my Facebook status update. My friends wrote many, and quite lengthy, comments (which could’ve been blogposts in their own right). They were so engaged and free to share, and we all got so enthralled by the discussion that we forgot that we may never see this content again after sharing it.

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One way to ensure that all of your comments at least get funneled into one depository that you can point to, and make part of your digital footprint, is to use commenting systems like Disqus. But that still doesn’t solve the problem of a site going out of business and taking you down with it.

How do you preserve and backup your content? I have tried tweetake.com to back up my tweets. It does a great job of throwing your tweets / direct messages / favorites / all of the above into a spreadsheet. However, it only goes back a couple of months; at least it did for me.

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How much should you listen to your customers

May 14, 2009

The recent upheaval in the Twittersphere regarding the new Twitter update dealing with @ replies has got me thinking over the past couple of days (in case you are not familiar with what the new Twitter update does, please read @whitneyhess’s blogpost which does a great job explaining it). Even though I am not going to rehash the details of the new update here, I will briefly mention that as a result, Twitter no longer shows you @ replies directed to people you don’t follow, even though you follow the writer of the tweet (this only happens when the handle of the person you don’t follow is the first word of the tweet).  I am not sure why Twitter did this; perhaps they were helping us reduce the noise that is produced by following everyone’s @ replies. However, this makes little sense, as you can adjust your settings from inside the Twitter.com site. What Twitter should’ve realized that a lot of users find @ replies beneficial to discovery of new users to follow. If someone I respect and engage with replies to someone else, I will take notice and at least click through to that person, and if I like him / her, make a decision to follow. Yes, there are ways to still explore these tweets via setting up a search in TweetDeck and other tools. However, by having everything come to my main feed, it was just that much easier. By taking the option away, Twitter has taken the ability to decide from its users.  If you give me an option to adjust what @ replies I see via settings tab, why take the decision away from me?

The above example shows that Twitter wasn’t particularly listening to its users and how they use the site.  Some companies pursue their strategy without paying much attention to what its users want. And sometimes it’s for good reason. This @ replies episode reminded me of a talk by 37Signals Jason Fried at last fall’s Web2.0 conference in NYC. Jason talked about how each product person / company needs to be a curator, carefully reviewing user suggestions for improvements, while implementing only those that make sense given the company’s strategy. This makes complete sense, especially as a company grows and acquires more users and thus more user feedback. And secondly, users don’t even know what they want most of the time. When they say they want something, sometimes it’s just a symptom of a larger problem they have to solve. As a business, you must figure out this larger problem and solve it, instead of solving by implementing piecemeal modules.

So the question still remains… When do you listen to your customers and when does not listening translate to anger (as in the Twitter example) and possible attrition?

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small is the new black

April 20, 2009

Seeing the STREB show a couple of weekends ago, and discussing it several times with my friend Josephine, has got me thinking about the changing business models, and the reason they are changing. Let me explain.. What I forgot to mention in my previous post is that STREB is using an innovative platform of “10 second dance”. In exchange for a $10 donation, you get to co-produce a 10-minute dance, which will be presented at the next show. This does 4 things well, in my opinion:

  1. Creates a stronger community around STREB, giving all co-producers more “skin in the game”, and allowing them to be your ambassadors and telling all of their friends about it
  2. Allows everyone to participate by making the threshold so low ($10), illustrating the power of the “power in numbers” concept.
  3. Appeals to human vanity (oh c’mon, we all have it 🙂 – in my opinion, you need to be somewhat vain to want to put your life out there with social media like we all do, and imagine that others may and will care about it.
  4. Duh! raises money!

Seems that more and more things are getting processed in bite-sized pieces. There is microlending (Kiva.org, Prosper.com, Donorschoose.com) and of course, microblogging (Twitter and other platforms). Seems that small is the new black. Even the Web2.0 conference this year was themed “The Power of Less.”

I think this reach for “less” is happening due to a confluence of several events, caused by the evolution of our society.

Firstly, and more gradually, our society (online and offline) has gotten inundated. Offline store shelves are packed with brands and brand extensions, with each brand extension in several flavors, colors, smells, textures, etc. Most innovations that corporate America parades around, are actually not that innovative, but rather are updates to the same-ole-same-ole.

There is a lot of noise. Consumers are lost and overwhelmed, and manufacturers feel like they are drowning among noise.

Online, a similar thing is happening: with the “Web2.0” bubble, there are more websites than eyeballs (seems like, but please don’t quote me, I don’t have the actual statistics), and more and more are created each day. Unfortunately, most fail to differentiate themselves. A successful solution that can cut through this noise will have to successfully build around the user, wherever the user is (mobile + twitter + web), and not make the user go to its website (this is an entirely different topic that merits another post, so I will stop here).

Secondly, in addition to this overwhelming quality of online and offline “stuff”, the global economy crash is causing us all to rethink how we spend, how we save, what we value and how to course-correct the mistakes we have made so far. I think this process is a vital one, as it will separate the companies, processes and people who add value (education, where addition of skills downright changes lives) from those that don’t (repackaged toxic assets, where no value is created). Again, this is fodder for its own blogpost.

So because of this economy of “more”, followed by a downright economy crash, we seem to be embracing the concept of “less” and basking in simplicity and authenticity. Who knows, perhaps it’s this yearning for simplicity is what is propelling Susan Boyle to such astronomical heights of popularity.

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In Twitter We Trust

March 24, 2009

I had been thinking about trust over the past couple of weeks, for a variety of reasons. Naturally, my mind started to wander towards social media and online interactions, and how they relate to issues of trust.  Perhaps this is a topic that can not, and should not, be tackled in one brief blogpost. But I would like to start with an observation of the underlying culture of Twitter and Twitterers. Across the board, the Twitterers who have amassed a significant number of followers and social capital, share a similar attitude towards “sharing and caring”.  They have been generous with their insight and advice to other Twitterers, and in turn have let us all into their worlds. They don’t tweet simply about their business, but also about their personal lives, dreams and worldviews – from the mundane to the phillosophical. (Unfortunately there is such a thing as oversharing at the far end of the spectrum, and yours truly is definitely guilty of that :).  At the end of the day, their “humanness” jumps off the screen, as they are trusting the larger Twitter community with their insights, thoughts, dreams, problems, trials and tribulations – in professional and personal lives. They are putting it (almost) all out there, to start conversations, be part of the conversation, and form meaningful connections.

This is a very cultural thing. The Twitter / web entrepreur / social media community is very much like that, and it seems to be the norm rather than an exception. As a very tightly knit community, we normalize this behavior and sometimes forget that not the entire world is like that, and other communities are drastically different. This culture of “sharing and caring” is a total antithesis to the real estate community, for example. Before I started to revolve in social media / tiwtterati circles, I spent time in the real estate investor community. My personal path evolved in quite a curious way: from a real estate investor to a real estate entrepreneur (I saw just way too many problems that weren’t being solved), to a web entrepreneur and admirer of all things social, web and Twitter.  The real estate investor community is as opposite from the social web community as can be. Not only aren’t people forthcoming with information and tips on how to be successful, you can’t even beat it out of them, if you wanted to (of course, I don’t condone any beatings of any sort). Every time that I asked fellow seasoned investors for their advice on how they became successful, and what steps I should take, their response was, without fail: “take this class, I took it and paid for it, and so should you.” It is a cutthroat, scammy community, who is anything but collegiate, with most people out to make a quick buck, and then move on to a new scam, ahem, class. It’s no wonder that no one trusts anyone, everyone guards his / her secrets and constantly looks over his / her shoulder. It is my hunch, based on years of observation and practice, that they would be so much more successful collaborating with each other than spending energy on shutting each other out.

The real estate investor culture is a significant reason of why I have started to disassociate myself from the investor circle and have started to embrace this web technology circle more closely. This happened because the “Twitter” type of attitude and spirit is much closer to my own personality and worldview, and I am just much happier here. I am very open, trusting, and don’t mind sharing my life and living it in the open (within reason of course – still plenty of personal stuff that I won’t share on Twitter or any other platform). I hold the belief that if we all work together, we can achieve a whole lot more than if we all dispersed to our corners and tapped away on our laptops alone.

Thinking about my journey brought me to this next realization: your social media personality is really just an overemphasized extension of your IRL (in real life) personality. If you are an authentic person who enjoys sharing helping, believes in Twitter Karma, believes in “paying it forward”, then Twitter and other such tools are for you. But if you like to keep all your cards close to your chest, and people at an arm’s length, then your success on Twitter will be limited. You will certainly be able to use it as a platform to communicate very sterile pieces of information (devoid of any “humannes”) in a broadcast fashion. But will anyone really care? Probably not. Unless you take the time to get to know others, interact with them, help others and share yourself. And all of this can only happen when you trust. When you trust your followers to not judge you, to not slander you, to not ridicule your “humanness”. And you have to trust that they trust you back, trust you enough to share themselves and help you. After all, you have to trust to be trusted. So take a plunge. This is a new era of openness, transparency and humanness (even our government is working on being more transparent – now that is something that I never thought I would live to see).

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Revolutions

January 13, 2009

After spending the holidays with my parents, my dad and I somehow got into a discussion on revolutions. My dad, who is the smartest person I know, and is also a walking encyclopedia of jokes, anecdotes and quotes, told me the following quote from Otto Von Bismark: “Revolutions are conceived by intellectuals, executed by fanatics, and the fruits of their labor are used by freeloaders.”

Wow, these words ring so true as I reminisce about my (albeit poor) knowledge of world history, thinking of famous revolutions,  such as the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution and others. It also got me thinking about the revolution in which we are now, which is the social web revolution. With the advent of blogging, commenting, microblogging and social networking tools, everyone now has a voice, the web has become a two-way conversation and much more democratic than ever before. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a true revolution, albeit a non-violent one (which is always a good thing in my book).  In a true revolutionary sense, it has altered, and in some cases, upended and disrupted current companies, business models and even industries.  For example, traditional journalism has had to change to accommodate a new brand of citizen journalism. Shareability and streamability of web music engines like Last.fm,  is making the once insulated music labels of yesteryear feel nervous.

So if we were to apply Bismarck’s wisdom to our current digital revolution, what cycle would we place ourselves in? Are we at the stage of  conception (thought of  by intellectuals), the execution (carried out by fanatics,) or the mainstream use (used by freeloaders)? Or do these stages even apply anymore? I am inclined to think they do. I am also leaning towards evaluating our stage as late fanaticism to early freeloader mainstream cycle. Just like in the dot-com bubble at the turn of the century, during which web companies without real business models got created and funded, a whole slew of me-too social networks and other wanna-be’s have been dominating an impending Web 2.0 bubble.

Remaining winners who are left standing at the end of this inevitable bubble, will go mainstream (arguably Facebook has already gone mainstream long ago) and “cross the Chasm.” As they do so, the temptation will be for  (mostly corporate) users to to “bastardize” this method of communication. Without really understanding the authenticiy and the comaraderie that characterizes the contributors and consumers of social media, companies will start jumping in (already started, by the way) head first into social technologies and using them the same way they have been using TV advertising: as a one-way talking platform, used to talk at consumers, not with consumers. We must realize that this new style of communication must come with a very different conversation style. Or else become inauthentic “freeloaders” who have hijacked the platform and thus altered the initial intent of an authentic two-way conversation and relationship building.

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Online vs. Offline

November 11, 2008

As I have been pondering the evolution of technologies from “web 1.0” to “web 2.0”, one thing struck me. At first, the web served to provide a one-way communication from the computer screen to the user. In this day and age, with all the social networks and tools, the web is increasingly bringing people together, and sometimes even offline. Meetup is a great example of such.

At Meetup, each person can become a “community organizer” and create a group that meets offline, around any topic or interest. Of course, online conversations can also start among group members, enhancing the offline events. Personally, I organize the Real Estate 2.0 Meetup, where I bring together tech-savvy (or interested in tech) real estate investors and professionals, for the purpose of meeting and discussing how technology can help us in the world of real estate investing.

Twitter also has a huge offline component to it. As you start to follow more people on  Twitter, you will learn of “tweetups”, regular meetings of like-minded twitterers, around a particular topic, or just over some coffee / beers. There are even “bots” that are created to track and retweet when someone mentions that they are going to a particular restaurant / establishment. Anyone who subscribes to this bot, gets the relevant updates. A good example of that is the Shake Shack FlashMob bot, which was created by a fellow twitterer to help NYC twitterers monitor the size of the line via other twitterers’ observations (Shake Shack is very popular among NYC Entrepreneur community and lines tend to get crazy). Or if a twitterer wants to get a group together, he /she announces it, the bot picks it up, retweets it, and the bot’s subscribers all get the note. Voila! Lunch date is set!

One of my favorite uses of twitter has been communicating with from within a conference with other conference attendees. Someone (typically the conference organizer, but can be any popular twitterer headed there), announces a hashtag, which serves as a code to that conference. While at the conference, twitterers retweet salient points made by speakers / panelists, as well as share their thoughts on anything from the subject matter, to the conference food. If they add the hashtag to the end (#hashtag), then other conference-goers can see the tweets, respond to them, and a rich conversation is born. This also benefits those twitterers who couldn’t attend for one reason or another, but want to follow along in real time. Several times my in-conference tweets prompted responses from other conference-goers, a conversation started and then we recognized each other in the crowd based on our avatars. A new relationship was born.

Since I started using Twitter and meeting people in cyberspace via Twitter, many of these “Twitter Friends” became real-life contacts and even friends. We were brought together by a topic / a hashtag / a common Twitter Friend, started an online conversation and finished it offline, in person. I find this extremely fascinating! Bottom line: as web tools get more social, we will keep organizing ourselves around a common idea online, while driving ourselves to enhance these relationships offline. No matter how much twittering, emailing, facebooking we do, we still yearn for face-to-face contact.

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