Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Social Media Is and Will Be Ever More Placeless

Mobile Facebook in SeroweImage by jamesbt via Flickr

I am on vacation this week, so I hope you'll enjoy one of my favorite blog posts from last year--one which I believe is even more relevant today.

ReadWriteWeb shares an interesting report about how cell phone users are interacting with Social Media via their phones. The study, conducted by ABI Research, found that "nearly half (46%) of those who use social networks have also visited a social network through a mobile phone. Of these, nearly 70% have visited MySpace and another 67% had visited Facebook. No other social networking site reached 15% adoption mobile adoption."

The study concludes that, "consumers do not want to recreate entirely new and separate social networks for mobile, but rather want to tap into their existing social network and have it go with them via the mobile phone." This would seem intuitively obvious--why would consumers want to create duplicate lists of friends, manage duplicate profiles, and update multiple social sites based on whether they are sitting at a PC or using their mobile device?

Of course, there are reasons that consumers may desire different profiles and friends on different sites or services, but they have nothing to do with the device used or the manner in which the data is maintained. Instead, much like we all do in the real world, consumers may want to be different people to different audiences. You might be, for example, buttoned down at work (LinkedIn), loose and casual with friends (Facebook), and downright nerdy and enthusiastic when hanging with hobbyists who share your passion (at, for example, Disney Boards, Star Wars Forums, or a Scrapbooking network).

It really should come as no surprise that consumers aren't interested in separate mobile-only networks. Their need to connect with friends doesn't end when consumers shut down their PCs; if anything, the need to stay connected is greater when people are away from their computers and out in the world. These are the times people wish to report where they are (Brightkite andLoopt), learn about others' ratings and perceptions of restaurants (Yelp), share photos of funny and unique occurrences with their mobile cameras (Twitpic and Yahoo Flickr Mobile), and broadcast updates about their experiences (Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace).

The study's finding reinforces an important attribute of successful Social Media: It is placeless. As the power and features on mobile devices continue to improve and as more consumers adopt mobile services such as the wireless Web, Internet-connected mobile applications, GPS, SMS, and broadband speeds, we will see consumers begin to erase the lines between their real and virtual networks.

If you're planning Social Media tactics, ask yourself where consumers may be most interested in sharing, listening, or collaborating with other consumers. If you're a CPG company and your Social Media campaign extends only as far as a computer keyboard, what will this do for consumers when they're at the supermarket? If you're an alcoholic beverage brand and your Social Media plan requires a PC, how will this enhance the consumer's experience at a club late on Saturday night?

If you think it's farfetched consumers will whip out their cell phones in the soft drink aisle or while ordering a beer, you may be limiting your thinking in one or both of two ways. First of all, it may be that you underestimate the rapid advances that are occurring in cell phone technology or their adoption by consumers; for example, in the past year the number of U.S. subscribers with 3G devices has grown 80 percent.

The second and more important reason a marketer may not see a compelling need for a mobile Social Media program is that they just haven't hit upon the right idea. Too many marketers hear the word "mobile" and immediately think advertising. Instead, as Adam Brown, director of digital communications for Coca-Cola recently pointed out in a MediaPost article, "the proliferation of mobile devices will 'change the whole chemistry' of social media by providing Coke and other marketers with a 'brand in the hand' to reach consumers at the right time with the right message."

With a focus on value-added marketing to consumers (listening to and engaging versus talking to customers) and consideration for where and when consumers will want to engage (on both the second and third screens), Social Media can become placeless and very, very powerful for marketers.
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sponsored Conversations: What is Your (Irrelevant) Justification?

05811 Trust must be earned (on the floor)Image by geekstinkbreath via Flickr

“Trust is not a request. Trust is earned. Trust is not spoken. Trust is a feeling.”

So notes Jeffrey Gitomer in his book, “Little Teal Book of Trust." He's absolutely correct--trust is not defined by the person who wants it but is intrinsically felt by the person who gives it. This means trust cannot be willed into existence through logic and justification.

I cannot tell you why you should trust me, nor can I justify that I deserve your trust; I can only earn your trust through my actions. This truism can help guide marketers as they set expectations and protect their brands when entering into commercial relationships with bloggers. Instead of arguing about what is right or wrong in "sponsored conversations," the time has come to instead start testing what consumers feel towards particular brands, different sorts of bloggers, and various types of blogger compensation.

Thoughts of trust and how it cannot be justified into existence have been top of mind for me lately because of some terrific and insightful discussions I've had on the topic of "sponsored conversations." I've traded insights with some smart and visionary people from Forrester, enjoyed a spirited discussion with Jason Falls over a Maker's Mark, and engaged in a vigorous debate with my fellow panelists for the upcoming Ethics in Blogging webinar. (The free webinar will occur Thursday, September 24th at 1 pm ET/10 am PT.)

I've observed that discussions about paid blog posts tend to focus on the logical reasons why brands and bloggers believe they can engage in sponsored conversations. This approach to the topic is fundamentally flawed; it considers only brands' and bloggers' justifications, but since trust is imparted and felt by readers, our justifications are meaningless.

We cannot create trust where it does not exist by presenting cogent and reasoned arguments. Keep this in mind while reviewing the following justifications I've heard in recent weeks:
  • From the bloggers: We work hard and have earned audiences, thus we deserve compensation: This justification speaks to bloggers' reasons for feeling it is ethical to accept compensation in return for blog mentions, but it says nothing of consumer perception of trust. Besides, if working hard and having readers was sufficient to justify compensation, there are 5,900 journalists--all laid off in the past year--who would love to hear this news.

  • From the bloggers: I loved the product already, so it's okay that I take compensation to rave about it. While this justification may help bloggers to feel okay about being compensated for their praise, it does not tell us what consumers will feel when they read a disclosure such as, "I love this product--really I do--and I've accepted a year's supply of it to tell the reasons why I love it." Will the consumer believe this, or is a seed of doubt planted? Will they read a blog post preceded with this sort of disclosure, or will they lose interest and move on? Will they see this as authentic opinion or as an ad (and we all know how much consumers love ads--just ask the 91 percent of moms who reported that they do not watch commercials when viewing recorded programming via DVRs)? Unless we secure the answers to these questions from consumers, this argument remains a mere hypothesis.

  • From the brands: We don't tell bloggers what to write--they have complete control to say anything, both positive and negative. I have no doubt marketers and agencies strive to be completely ethical when compensating bloggers for their posts, but once again this argument is from the perspective of the blogger and brand and not of readers. Isn't it possible (or likely) that blog readers will suspect a gift given to the blogger may affect his or her sentiment about the brand? And what happens if a blogger accepts compensation and then trashes the brand--will brands keep knocking on his or her door to continue paying for negative sentiment? Might consumers suspect that compensated bloggers are inclined to shade their honest opinion in order to avoid biting the hand that feeds them? We don't really know, because while many justify that sponsored conversations are authentic because brands do not exert editorial control, few have tested this theory to see if it holds water with consumers.
My point isn't that sponsored conversations are bad! There are, without any doubt, appropriate ways to compensate bloggers--ways that aren't just ethical but also earn consumer trust. That last part is fundamental, because what bloggers and brands believe about the trust they deserve simply isn't relevant. The only thing that matters is the trust consumers feel.

As I've noted in the past, there are important factors to be considered when marketers pay bloggers for attention; these include the value of compensation, the form of compensation, and the context of the blog. So how does a brand know what sort of value or form of compensation will be perceived as trustworthy by consumers? The answer to this question is vital, because the cost of a mistake can be substantial (to the brand and to an agency's client relationships); a single mishap can result in widespread embarrassment and everlasting infamy on Jeremiah Owyang's "A Chronology of Brands that Got Punk’d by Social Media."

There is an easy way to know how consumers will react to different combinations of value, form, and blog context in sponsored conversations. The solution does not rely on logic and justifications but on a key tool that has been in the marketers' toolkit for decades: testing. We test marketing messages, product enhancements, and ads to make sure our marketing dollars don't go to waste. Considering the stakes when engaging in sponsored conversations--the risk of viral ridicule, the potential to diminish trust in our brands, and the cost of PR crises--why shouldn't we apply simple and proven testing processes to find out what consumers feel before we write a check, send a case of product, or whisk a blogger away to a brand conference?

I can lead you to a pool of water and tell you all the reasons why it should be warm--the sun is beating down on the surface, the heater is operating, etc.--but you'll still test the temperature by dipping your toe into the water prior to jumping in.

Leaping into the Social Media pool via sponsored conversations will create waves. Make sure you will be generating the waves you want before you leap, because containing a problem once it is rippling through the blogosphere is like trying to calm a pool after someone has cannonballed.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Join a Discussion on Ethics (and Even More Vital Topics) in Blogging

I've been invited to participate in a webinar about Ethics in Blogging, sponsored by and The Social Media Group. The event will occur Thursday, September 24th at 1 pm ET/10 am PT. You can register to listen and participate for free, and the event is a steal at that price!

If you're webinared out, perhaps this will entice you to listen in: I don't care that much about ethics in blogging.

Don't get me wrong, I believe ethics are vital on a personal and professional level, but a dialog about ethics interests me far less than a discussion about how brands and blogs combine to impact (either positively or negatively) brand perception and consumer actions. Ethics are merely the table stakes--just like in traditional media, ethics are essential but the real magic in delivering results via blogs depends far more on blogger reputation, consumer attitudes toward the brand and category, the offer, demographics, and psychographics.

The operative issue for brands isn't that a blog is run ethically but that the blog, the blogger, the content, the context, the form of compensation, the value of compensation, and the type of disclosure work in concert to enhance the brand as desired. In some respects, I believe all the attention given to "ethics"--which is actually a relatively black-and-white issue--is obscuring the more complex, subtle, and important questions of how marketers can best use Social PR, blogger outreach, blog advertising, and "sponsored conversations" (a/k/a "paid blog posts").

One reason why Ethics in Blogging doesn't excite me is that (according to Wikipedia), Ethics is "a branch of philosophy which seeks to address questions about morality." I'm not a philosopher and I wouldn't presume to lecture anyone on moral right and wrong--but legal and marketing strategy right and wrong are horses of a different color.

The legal implications of paying or bartering with a blogger in exchange for blog posts are a little in flux because the FTC has issued proposed changes to advertising practices but has yet to publish the final code. But even without the final rules change, smart and experienced observers have a strong sense of how the FTC will use its enforcement power to set standards for brands in Social Media.

There are two reasons why few people expect any surprises when the FTC publishes its final guidance. The first is that the agency has already signaled its direction with their preliminary document, furnishing three specific examples of advertiser liability and disclosure on blogs and message boards. (During the Ethics in Blogging webinar, we hope to touch on a few specifics contained in the FTC's proposed rule changes.)

The second reason is that the FTC has always governed advertising with a fairly simple golden rule: Consumers must know when they are being advertised to. In forms of media where advertising is clearly delineated and well recognized--such as TV ads and billboards--no special disclosures are necessary. But when any level of confusion may exist in the mind of consumers--such as an advertorial in print or a paid blog post--then the advertising disclosure must be clear and conspicuous.

The FTC doesn't explicitly define "clear and conspicuous," but one FTC publication challenges advertisers to ask four questions about their paid media:
  • Prominence: Is the fine print big enough for people to notice and read?
  • Presentation: Is the wording and format easy for people to understand?
  • Placement: Is the fine print where people will look?
  • Proximity: Is the fine print near the claim it qualifies?
On blogs, it isn't that hard to interpret these standards. The reader must know from the start (and not tucked into language at the end of a 1000-word blog post) that a commercial arrangement exists between a brand mentioned in a blog post and the blogger. About the only real issue of any disagreement with respect to blogging ethics and the law is what sort of disclosure meets the FTC's "clear and conspicuous" standard. Is it acceptable for the entire blog to have a single disclosure? Must the blog post headline contain an alert such as "Ad" or "Paid Post"? And what of paid tweets--how can adequate disclosure be given in 140-character tweets?

Total disclosure--clear and conspicuous--of commercial arrangements (be they cash, product, travel, or other forms of remuneration) is both ethical and legal, but this is just the tip of the iceberg for marketers wishing to gain attention in the blogosphere. For example, if a blog post begins "I was paid $1,000 to write about Jinkie's brand cereal," will consumers read the article, if so will they trust it, and if so how will the article alter their opinions or actions? What if the paid blog post appears on a blog that is nothing but paid blog posts--will this affect consumer trust and the impact of the sponsored conversation?

These are just a few of the questions marketers need to answer, which is why disclosure is child's play compared to discerning the attributes that separate a blog strategy that helps from one that hurts or does nothing for the brand.

So as a member of this webinar panel, I hope to share some insights and spark dialog not about what is right or wrong for the souls of bloggers but what is right or wrong for brands participating in the blogosphere. If you have specific questions, topics, or opinions you'd like to see addressed, please comment below so we can consider your input!

I hope you'll consider joining us for the free webinar, Ethics in Blogging. In addition to myself, webinar panelists include Maggie Fox, founder and CEO of Social Media Group; Daniel Tunkelang, Chief Scientist and co-founder of Endeca; and John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing: The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

HR is the New Marketing and Employees are the New Media

For too long, Marketers have been content to focus on messaging and media while considering activities like recruiting and training to be the concern of support or operations departments. In our newly social world, in which employees create or cause interactions that can impact the perceptions of many, Marketers cannot ignore how brands are altered by employee actions and communications. In 2009, brand management isn't about what you say you are, it's about who you are, and this is what makes HR the new Marketing.

We've already seen plenty of instances where the careless and irresponsible actions of individual employees have been shared with millions of consumers, harming the organization's reputation, moving the brand off message, distracting leadership, requiring urgent PR response, and forcing organizational reconsideration of management processes. Examples include Domino's kitchen workers soiling ingredients placed onto pizzas, an ill-advised kitchen sink bath by a Burger King employee, and a Honda product manager embarrassing his organization with a lack of transparency on a brand's Facebook page.

I sometimes get asked why my blog more frequently spotlights negative examples of Social Media rather than positive best-case examples. The problem is--not just for me as a Social Media observer but also for brands--that the damaging and shocking are much more likely to go viral than the helpful and constructive. An employee placing ingredients on a pizza in a hygienic and appropriate manner just doesn't grab attention like an employee transferring a slice of cheese from his nostril to a customer's pizza.

So, I am pleased to get an opportunity to present a positive example to contrast the headline-grabbing antics of dimwit employees. As reported on, Mary Moss has worked at the drive-thru window at a McDonald's for four years, and over that time her upbeat attitude and desire to connect with her customers resulted in quite a fan base. She didn't even know what Facebook was until a customer told her she had her own fan page on the Social Network. Mary's fan page had 260 friends back when the article was published on August 11th, but it now has over 800 members.

I think this positive example demonstrates several important things of note:
  • Negative goes farther and faster than positive: Mr. Unstable gets 460,000 views on his video while Mary Moss earns just 260 friends (prior to the mainstream media attention). As noted, there is an innate human fascination with the gross, stupid, and humiliating, and this combined with Social Media's speed and reach present risks that brands must take seriously and manage.

  • Authentic Social Media success starts with positive consumer experiences: Brands can pay for tweets, reach out to bloggers for Social PR, and launch and moderate their own fan pages, but authentic, groundswell success is based on the experiences brands provide to their consumers. The brands that were Word of Mouth powerhouses before today's Social Media existed--such as Harley-Davidson, Disney, Apple, Google, Starbucks, and Honda--have known this all along.

  • Every employee is a marketer: A friend recently raved about the assistance he received from an employee in a Costco wine department (and he's eager to find time to blog about it). In his one-minute story about this employee, my friend impacted my awareness and perception of Costco more than all of the organization's marketing efforts. As Nielsen reported back in July, consumers place far greater trust in the opinions of people they know, and even have more trust in the opinions of strangers, than in official marketing communications. If HR is the new Marketing, than employees are the new media.

What does this mean to marketers? Focusing on advertising and PR while ignoring the ways in which employees are recruited, onboarded, trained, evaluated, and supported is like paddling a sail boat when you've yet to hoist the sails. Sure, you can get the boat moving with a lot of paddling effort, but why not create velocity by setting the conditions and exploiting natural circumstances?

How might marketers and others within organizations better influence and care for the power of human resources in Social Media?
  • Personality Testing for All New Employees: We all know that inconsistency kills brands; if brands are increasingly reliant upon employees communicating, networking, and sparking dialog in Social Media, how can a brand's personality arise from all those different voices?

    In an age when authenticity matters and people are expected to reflect their personal as well as professional selves in Social Media, it is much easier to find employees whose personalities fit the brand than to expect employees to be something they're not. Many organizations already conduct personality testing as part of their hiring process; in how many of these organizations do you suppose Marketing professionals have contributed to or vetted these tests?

  • Selection Criteria for Key Social Communication Roles: Any employee can (inadvertently) become a viral media star, but those placed on the front lines of Social Media by their employers have a particularly important role in brand perception. For this reason, the criteria used to select Social communicators deserves special consideration.

    Some organizations are selecting employees based on the fact they are already active in Social Media. Knowing Facebook doesn't seem like a particularly helpful criteria for critical and visible positions moderating discussion groups, listening and responding to criticism and praise on Social Networks, and offering customer service via Twitter. It's not that experience with Social Networks hurts, but there are more important communication and relationship-building skills to be considered. Twitter and Facebook processes can be easily taught; it is more difficult to instill listening skills, judgment, empathy, patience, time management, problem solving, and the other abilities necessary to succeed in Social Media.

  • Brand Training: Marketers spend a great deal of time crafting messages and broadcasting them to consumers, but how much time is spent ensuring employees know and can reflect the brand in their daily interactions with others?

    Brands have personalities, a voice, points of differentiation, and other attributes that create the expectations and experiences that forge the brand in the minds of consumers. These attributes cannot be reflected by employees in their Social communications unless those employees are intimately familiar with the brand platform; furthermore, brand information cannot be conveyed to employees in the same manner marketers communicate to each other and to agencies, but must be shared in practical ways that help front-line employees understand how to communicate and act.

  • Setting Expectations of Employees: Every employee, no matter how self-motivated, wants to know what is expected and how their performance will be evaluated. Setting an employee loose to Tweet for the brand should be no different than assigning him or her to a call center job--the quantitative and qualitative expectations of the position must be clear.

    Every brand and organization will have different expectations, so it's important to communicate rules and performance measures. In Social Media, this might include standards for the personal versus professional information conveyed, who to follow, topics appropriate for public dialog, criteria for alerting management of potential PR crises, and the like.

  • Monitoring and feedback: Monitoring employees' interactions with consumers has always been vital, but consider the increased urgency of doing so in a highly-networked world where a single incorrect or frustrated tweet or post can be shared with thousands of current and potential customers within minutes. Real-time monitoring may not be realistic for any but the largest of organizations, but implementing some form of periodic and ongoing monitoring is vital for performance evaluation, employee feedback, and brand management. Companies cannot afford to wait for a complaint or, worse yet, a viral crisis before recognizing the need to listen to employees as carefully as they listen to consumers.
Employees have always had an important role in managing brands, but Social Media has made this role even more vital. How else should organizations ensure they are proactively tapping their human resources and protecting their brands in our highly networked world? Your feedback and ideas would be appreciated--just click the "Comments" link below.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Nineteen Free Twitter Tools that Turn Tweets into Knowledge

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

Twitter hosts approximately one million tweets per hour. In mid-September, the site will accept its 4 billionth tweet. Everyone knows there is wisdom in all that group thought--some even predict Twitter could be the next Google--but how can you tap the brainpower of Twitter's 6 million (give or take) users?

That's Twitter's $64,000 question (or, according to Scoble, the $5 billion question). The reason there's so much hype about a microblogging tool with almost no apparent means of revenue or profit is that everyone realizes the amazing value contained in all those 140-character status updates.

What does this mean to you as you conduct research to assist your clients, your small business, or other interests? How can you turn those billions of tweets into knowledge you can leverage?

There are plethora of paid services and tools available for monitoring sentiment and knowledge, but since the R&D budget for Experience: The Blog is somewhat south of $.01, I cannot share any insights about these offerings. It is a sign of the growth of Twitter and other Social Networks, as well as the explosion of awareness about the importance of Social Media to business, that the list of paid offerings seems to grow daily: Crimson Hexagon, radian6, Techrigy, Sysomos, J. D. Power, Visible Technologies, Tealium, dna13, Cymfony, BrandsEye, Trackur, Spiral16, BuzzLogic, ChartBeat, Attentio, Nielsen BuzzMetrics, Biz360, and on and on and on.

But you don't need deep pockets to derive insight from the Twitterverse. Those on a budget (or without a budget) who want to tap Twitter for wisdom can select from a number of tools that are available at no cost. Here are some of my favorites. If you have others to add to the list, please comment!

Track Tweet Volume

There are a lot of search engines and trend-tracking tools available, but in my opinion one stands out for the precision and amount of data it makes available. Although a bit buggy, Trendtistic is still worthwhile.

For terms and phrases with a reasonably high volume of tweets, Trendtistic furnishes custom graphs of Tweet volume over the past 180 days. The Y-axis represents the percentage of Tweets that mention the desired topic, and the X-axis is a timeline that can be set to specific time periods. Among the helpful features are the ability to enter and compare more than one term at a time and a method for embedding charts into sites and blogs.

Track Yourself on Twitter

I've always felt that the narcissistic aspects of Twitter were overstated, but it is interesting to note how many tools are available to help compare one's Twitter habits to others. A few to check out include:
  • Twitter Analyzer provides your volume of tweets, number of conversations, reach, common subjects, the apps you use, and other aspects of your Twitter habit.
  • Twitter Grader compares you to others and furnishes a score on a 1 to 100 scale where 50 represents an average Twitterer. You can easily compare your Twitter profile to others in your city or state. How the site computes the actual score is a deep, dark secret.
  • Twitterholic shares a list of the most followed Twitterers and also permits you to find where you sit on that list.
  • is a bit like a stripped down Twitter Analyzer. Check out your average number of tweets per day, your frequency of hashtag use, your social ratio, and top terms contained in your tweets.
  • TweetPsych puts you and your tweets on the couch and evaluates your Cognitive, Primordial, Conceptual and Emotional Content.
  • TweetStats is yet another tool to graph your Twitter habits. This handy site presents the number of tweets you send per month, your tweet density by day of the week and time of day, and the top people you retweet or to whom you reply.

Track Sentiment on Twitter

There may be no hotter topic in social marketing circles (besides Social Media ROI) than how to track sentiment. To be honest, the free sentiment-measuring tools are more toys than they are business research applications, but they are not without merit.

TweetFeel allows for real-time sentiment tracking of Tweets based on the search term entered. The site labels tweets red or green based on an analysis of the sentiment in the Tweets. Half the fun is watching for instances when TweetFeel gets it wrong (such as when it labeled the tweet "It'll only be a matter of time before disney rules the world. Then we really are f***ed." as a positive one for Disney), but the site does a pretty remarkable job of getting sentiment right, albeit for a highly limited period of time and number of tweets.

A similar site for tracking sentiment in real-time is Twendz. As tweets stream down the page, Twendz not only monitors sentiment (positive, negative, and neutral), but also related subtopics and their sentiment. You might, for example, track "Disney" and also learn the sentiment on terms like "Gomez" (actress Selena), "World" (Walt Disney World resort), and "Channel" (the Disney cable net). (In my decidedly non-scientific evaluation of TweetFeel and Twendz, it seemed TweetFeel tended to gauge sentiment with a bit more accuracy.)

Track Tweets in Real Time

There are plenty of tools available to watch tweets scroll across your screen. Monitter permits users to enter up to three terms and observe tweets as they occur. TweetGrid is a similar tool that gives you control of how many windows and terms you wish to monitor--choose from grids such as 1x2 (for two real-time search windows) up to 3x3 (nine windows) and 2x5 (10 small, hyperactive windows).

Twazzup isn't technically real-time but does refresh often, combining the latest tweets along with news, photos, popular links, and the Twitterers who are most influential or most active at the moment.

And, of course, also presents search results in real-time--just use the "Search" box on the right side of your Twitter page, and watch for the "Refresh" message to appear at the top of the search results.

A fun tool for tracking tweets in real-time is Twistori. This site only tracks tweets that contain "I hate," "I love," "I think," "I believe," "I feel" and "I wish." It's like spying on the secret diaries of millions.

Track Who is Following You

Twitter does not furnish a good way to tell if someone in particular is following you. You could review your follower list page by page, or you might try sending someone a Direct Message to see if it goes through or is rejected, but there is an easier method: Just enter your and their Twitter handle into DoesFollow, and you can quickly find out if that person if following you.

Another handy site is This slow site will try your patience, but it is an effective way to discover the people you are following on Twitter who are not returning the favor ("Following"). You can also see a reverse list--people following you who you're not following back ("Fans.")

Track Tweeted Backlinks

Wonder who is tweeting links to your blog or site? BackTweets reverse engineers those link shortening tools to provide you with a list of recent tweets that include links to a specified URL. You can enter the root domain (such as to view tweets that furnish a link to any page within that domain.

Primary Research via Twitter

All of the tools mentioned thus far are fine for secondary research, but what if you want specific information from your followers? You could just tweet a question, or you could use a tool to conduct a poll.

PollDaddy couldn't be simpler--just enter your question, up to 20 optional answers, and your Twitter username and password. The site tweets your question and a link, then tracks the responses. The only problem is that it can be easy to lose your poll, since there is no way to register and track the polls you created; the only way to track the results is to save the link Tweeted so you can access it a later date after the responses are received.

Vizu offers a free and powerful polling tool. You can access your past polls, export results, and see a map of your responders. Polls are easily posted to Social Bookmarking sites or embedded into blogs.

Those are a few of my favorite free Twitter tools. Did I miss yours? If so, please comment and share your favorite knowledge-gathering Twitter sites!

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ten Ways to Identify Trustworthy Social Media Communication Professionals

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

The time has come for business to put away childish Social Media notions. It was fun while it lasted, but Social Media is no longer a new toy or an experiment; it is serious business, integral to everything from customer service to marketing to recruiting. Of course, individuals can still tweet jokes, chat with friends, or post embarrassing videos to YouTube, but professionals and businesses must now set aside naive and harmful presumptions.

Social Media is not for kids; it's big business and getting bigger. More than one in five online display ads now appear on Social Media sites. More than 60 percent of Facebook users are over 26 years old, and the site's aging population has motivated Facebook to add "Widowed" as a Relationship Status. Three of the five most visited Web sites (and seven of the top 15) are Social Media destinations. In a recent survey of diverse professionals, 86 percent reported their organizations are currently using social technologies for business purposes. In a different survey, 60 percent of US marketing professionals reported already implementing Social Media as part of their marketing mix, and another 28% were planning on implementing it over the coming year.

Because of the growing importance of Social Media to business, it is disappointing to see the scattered and grasping way some consultants, agencies, and companies are promoting and talking about Social Media and themselves. On ClickZ, Rebecca Lieb, who was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years, complained about "social media carpetbaggers," "self-anointed pundits, swamis, and social media gurus (who) perform a sleight-of-hand that so confounds onlookers" but who haven't "walked the walk." Over on The Viral Garden blog, Mack Collier rails about "kool-aid drinkers" who push the idea that Social Media is easy to use and free or cheap.

Today I participated in a Twitter conversation about Social Media, and the topic turned to how to recruit for Social Media positions within organizations. Some "experts" actually suggested looking for people frequently and deeply engaged in Social Media, as if posting party pictures, playing Farmville, and tweeting about a favorite teen singer qualifies one for a Social Media career. That's like picking phone service professionals based on the fact candidates love to chat and share gossip with friends via the telephone.

Given that survey after survey after survey after survey demonstrate the biggest hurdle to Social Media adoption is a lack of knowledge, it may be that many organizations simply do not possess the experience needed to separate trustworthy communication professionals from the self-anointed Social Media "Gurus". I'd like to suggest some ways to tell the difference, and I hope you'll add comments with your suggestions!
  1. Are they active and professional participants in Social Media? Do they have a blog, and if so, is it updated regularly? Are they on Twitter, and are their tweets enlightening or noisy? Do they participate in LinkedIn groups, and if so, do they engage in insightful discussions or are they merely promoting themselves? I am highly dubious of Social Media experts who are absent or infrequent participants in Social Media.

  2. Do they brag about the size of their Twitter following? A widely-read and respected blog is brag-worthy--traffic, engagement, and authoritative links cannot be easily faked. But an enormous Twitter following is not necessarily a sign of Social Media expertise. Some folks built their following the old-fashioned way--they earned it by being smart people who others want to know and follow--but many others have amassed tens of thousands of followers by using auto-follow tools that collect and follow anyone, regardless of relevance. If a potential candidate brags about the size of their Twitter following and not the influence they have or the way they developed quality followers, proceed with caution.

  3. How long have they been in the marketing, communications, or PR business? I have met many passionate and smart young people in the field of Social Media, but expertise is not amassed in six or twelve months. There is a definitely a place for young professionals on a Social Media team, but that place shouldn't be advising large companies or brands about the nuances, ethics, or measurement of Social Media. Professionals with an impressive background in digital, marketing, or public relations are able to ground their Social Media knowledge and recommendations in communication best practices and not simply their own personal experiences on Twitter.

  4. What are their stands on the ethics and laws in Social Media? Social Media offers great opportunities but also substantial risks. We've seen many high-profile missteps, such as companies spamming Twitter hashtags and game developers caught posting fake positive ratings on their own games. Ask your prospective Social Media consultants what their stand is on paying bloggers (they ought to have an extremely cautious approach to cash compensation and instead recommend relevant blogger outreach) or their expectations of bloggers disclosing relationships and remuneration (total disclosure--period).

  5. Do they start by asking about the audience and goals or by talking about Facebook, Twitter, and widgets? Facebook and Twitter are certainly the headline-grabbing Social Networks of the day, and they likely will be at the top of the Social Media heap for quite some time. Despite that (or perhaps because of that) any Social Media consultant worth your time will not start by reviewing opportunities on Facebook and Twitter. They should begin--as should any professional communications expert--with a thorough understanding of the target audience, their habits, and needs, as well as the goals of the program. For a high-level overview of a smart Social Media strategic process, check out Forrester's Groundswell POST approach.

  6. Do they suggest Social Media is free, cheap, and/or easy? There is no cost to set up a Twitter account or a Facebook page; pretty much everything else has a price tag. Monitoring buzz, participating, listening, identifying audience habits, measuring success, designing and programming social applications, fostering relationships with bloggers, building thriving communities, and furnishing relevant content all require time and expense. Beware the Social Media expert who underestimates the investment and time required for a successful Social Media program.

  7. Do they ground their recommendations and plans in a thorough understanding of your brand? Your brand has a point of view, a voice, a purpose, and points of differentiation from competitors. These brand attributes are no less (and very probably more) important in Social Media than traditional media. Your employees who participate must bring their personalities to their interactions with customers and partners, but they also have to represent the brand. Any Social Media plan not informed by the brand is a one-size-fits-all solution that fails to leverage and enhance consumer perception of the brand.

  8. Do they prepare you and the organization for the ongoing commitment? Some Social Media strategies might be short-term in nature (such as User-Generated Content campaign or Social sweepstakes), but most involve a long-term commitment to listen and participate. Launching and then abandoning a Twitter account, Facebook page or community is almost never the right approach, so it's vital a Social Media plan consider not only the costs and time necessary to launch the program, but also the resources or investment required to maintain the engagement on an ongoing basis.

  9. Does their plan include training, monitoring, and defined expectations for employees involved? Assigning an employee or group of employees to participate and manage Social Media profiles, groups, or communities without setting expectations and furnishing support is a recipe for disaster. Employees must be trained on the appropriate use of Social Media tools, told what is expected of them and how their performance will be measured, and monitored and coached on an ongoing basis.

  10. What is their approach to measuring success? There are two ends of the spectrum to be avoided--Social Media experts who promise ROI and those who suggest or launch plans without any regard for measurement. On the one hand, computing actual financial Return on Investment on Social Media efforts is no less challenging than it is to compute ROI on a television campaign or a customer service program; on the other hand, every business effort should have established metrics (qualitative or quantitative) so that results can be evaluated and used to revise and enhance processes. An appropriate and sensible approach is to define a measurement plan based on the objectives and to execute the means to monitor and evaluate the program per that plan.
Social Media can be fun and games for consumers, but for business is must be considered a crucial and serious tool for cutting costs, enhancing loyalty, sparking action, building and protecting the brand, or increasing awareness. Choosing the right partners should be done with the same care and planning that is dedicated to finding and securing other professional services and resources.

If you have your own recommendations for ways to identify true Social Media professionals, please comment and share your thoughts.