Friday, October 24, 2008

Twitter 101, Part 3: How to Use Twitter

This is part three of a four-part series on Twitter. If you already use Twitter, this post may not be of much interest, but as more people are drawn to the service, I find I am getting more questions about what it is, what value it provides, and how to be successful on Twitter.

In the past week, we’ve reviewed What Twitter Is and Why You May Want to Use It. If you’re not a Twitter user and I’ve convinced you to become one, how do you get engaged with the service? Next week I’ll complete this series on Twitter with tips on how to be successful, but for today’s blog post I’m going to concentrate on the basics of how to sign up and use the service.

To sign up, go to, click “Get Started-Join,” and in two minutes you can be Twittering. It’s free, so what do you have to lose?

After selecting a username and password, Twitter will present you with the opportunity to check your Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, or MSN address book for contacts that already use Twitter. Many people skip this step, but I’d recommend you take the time to see who you may know on Twitter. Since Twitter without connections is merely talking to yourself, an important first step is to find your acquaintances who are already Twittering. You will be presented with a list of people you know and can follow all of them at the click of a button.

Once you complete that step, you are ready to create your first Tweet--or two or three. Since those people you just followed in the prior step will be visiting your Twitter page to view your profile and Tweets, you will want to welcome them with more than just a single “Checking out what Twitter is all about” Tweet. In your initial Tweets, let people know what you’re doing, what you hope to get out of Twitter, or ask for some Twitter advice from your more experienced friends and family.

At this time you can also configure your Twitter account to send and receive Tweets to your cell phone. If you’re the type to use your phone for text, email, or IM, it’s a good idea to take a few minutes to link your cell phone with Twitter. This will permit you to receive Tweets from those you follow and update your status when you’re out and about. But be careful—as your Twitter list grows, the volume of Tweets you receive can be substantial. Set up your phone to send Tweets, but be very selective about who’s Tweets get forwarded as text messages to your phone. (I follow around 400 people, but I receive texted Tweets for only a dozen of them.)

Posting a Tweet is very easy. Type your message in the “What are you doing?” box and click “Update.” As you type, the character counter will track how much space you have left. Your Tweets can contain up to 140 characters; if you enter more than that, the “Update” button will be deactivated until you reduce your Tweet under 140 characters.

Many people post links on Twitter. It’s a great way to share news, interesting sites, or products that you like. One problem with posting Web addresses in 140-character Tweets is that the addresses can require so many characters. A slew of services have popped up to help solve this problem. Good ones include,, and Simply copy the address of the page you want to share from your browser’s address bar, paste it into the field on one of those sites, and click “submit.” You will be presented with a much shorter Web address that can be shared on Twitter. For example, sharing would require 84 characters, but using, I created a link ( that is only 17 characters long.

In my first post of my Twitter series, I mentioned that threading was an important feature of Twitter. Threading is a means of connecting related Twitter posts into a string of back-and-forth responses.

You can create a Tweet that is directed at someone or replies to someone by beginning your Tweet with the “at” symbol (@) followed by the username of that person. Keep in mind that replies are visible to everyone who follows you and everyone who visits your Twitter page (so don’t say anything you don’t want the world to see). Here’s an example of a reply Tweet:
@deziner Thanks for the great link. I found the article very interesting.
If you see a Tweet from a friend on your Twitter page and wish to respond, you don’t need to type the “@deziner” part of the message. When you move your mouse cursor over a person's Tweet, you'll see a little curvy arrow; click on this arrow and the "What are you doing?" field will be populated with the "@" symbol followed by the username of the person to which you are responding. You can then complete your Tweet and click “Update.”

Replying in this manner not only creates a conversation on Twitter, it also creates a way for that user to be made aware that you’ve replied. As you accumulate followers on Twitter, you’ll find your home page quickly fills up with Tweets. If someone responds and you don’t check your page in a timely manner, their Tweet could scroll off the first page (which makes it unlikely you’d see it). Luckily, Twitter figured out this would be a problem, so all the @replies you receive are accumulated on their own page. On the right side of the page, click on “@Replies” and you’ll get a list of Tweets that were directed at you.

What if you want to send a Twitter message to someone without the world seeing it? Twitter has a direct messaging capability; in the "What are you doing" field, enter the letter "D" followed by a space and then the username. Here’s an example of a direct message:
d gmil What are you doing tonight? Want to get together for a drink?
Addressing a Tweet in this manner ensures no one but the recipient will see your direct message. As with @Replies, you can see the direct messages that are directed at you by clicking the “Direct Messages” link on the right side of your page. has other features, but that is the gist of how to use the microblogging service’s site.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything more to say about how to use Twitter. Twitter permits other sites and tools to access its service, so many people use Twitter without ever visiting In fact, by some estimates fewer than half of Twitter users actually use to view and post Tweets.

You can find one exhaustive list of Twitter applications here. This list contains over 100 different applications for managing Twitter accounts on Windows, Linux, Mac, and cell phones running Windows Mobile, iPhone, Android, Java, BlackBerry, and Palm. I’ve tested only a handful of these applications, so I can’t make any real recommendations. I can tell you that the few I’ve tried have made it much easier to monitor and manage Twitter:

  • twhirl is an application that makes it possible to manage multiple Twitter accounts simultaneously. You cannot do this on the Twitter site since you can only log into one account at a time. Twhirl is perfect for maintaining a personal and business account concurrently.

  • Digsby provides a means to manage not just Twitter, but also to monitor and update Facebook, LinkedIn, IM, and email accounts. It’s a powerful tool for managing all of your digital communications in one place.

  • I’ve not tested TweetDeck, but I’ve heard great things about it from power Twitter users. Once you start accumulating many followers, it can become difficult to keep track of the people you really care about. TweetDeck allows users to split their main feed of all Tweets into topic or group specific columns.

  • On my Windows Mobile SmartPhone, I use Tiny Twitter for reading and posting Tweets and GPS Twit for accessing my phone’s GPS and posting a link to a map of my location. I also use a service called Brightkite for sharing when I am at restaurants and other commercial establishments.

The best way to start with Twitter is to begin on the Web site. After you get a sense of the rhythms, practices, and ways of Twitter, you can then download and test applications for your computer and cell phone.

Anyone can sign up and start posting Tweets, but being successful on Twitter takes a sense of what you want to accomplish, how much you care to share, and the kind of people you’ll choose to follow. Please check early next week for the final part of this series on Twitter: Tips for Being Successful on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Twitter 101, Part 2: Why You (May) Want to Use Twitter

This is part two of a four-part series on Twitter. If you already use Twitter, this post may not be of much interest, but as more people are drawn to the service, I find I am getting more questions about what it is, what value it provides, and how to be successful on Twitter.

Yesterday, we discussed What Twitter is. Of course, understanding what it is and recognizing why you’d want to use it are two entirely different things. Today, we’ll attempt to address why you may, or may not, care to use Twitter.

Assuming you’re a sane individual, you probably need a new communication channel like a hole in the head. Like everyone else, you can barely keep up with your email (multiple accounts, I’m sure), LinkedIn requests, text messages, voice mails, phone calls, Facebook wall posts, instant messages, and the RSS feeds for the blogs to which you subscribe.

The communication clutter of modern life should beg a question to those who have yet to try Twitter: What do Twitter’s 3.2 million users know that I don’t know? (For the sake of honesty and thoroughness, I should point out that only a quarter million of these users post on any given day, but many more check their Twitter accounts and follow others regularly.)

There are several sources of value that Twitter (and other microblog tools) provides that other communication tools do not (or may not do as easily):
  • Replacement for other communication channels: Most Twitter users will tell you that as they built their Twitter networks, their communication in other channels decreased. How much Twitter can replace an individual’s volume of email, text messages, or blogging depends upon how many of his or her current friends, family members, and associates are already using Twitter or can be encouraged to join.
  • Gain access to news and the insights of smart people: Many Twitter users follow existing family and friends, or at least that’s where they start. After linking up with the people they already know, most Twitter users begin to find others who share a common interest—perhaps they live in the same city, work in the same field, or share the same hobbies. For many Twitter users, the service becomes as much a source of thought and news as it is a way to stay in touch.

    Those who seek out interesting and pertinent Twitter users to follow can be rewarded with a stream of useful news, insights, and links. Each user’s interests are different, so the people they follow will be different. For the purposes of illustration, here are people I follow and why:
  • Access a social human computer: Once you gain a set of followers, you can tap into the power of your human network. Some months ago, I needed a recommendation for a presenter who could speak on the topic of social media and the law. I might have spent hours searching, but instead I posted a question to my Twitter network; within a half hour I had four recommendations, all of whom were very qualified to do the job.

    I’ve seen Twitter users ask for restaurant recommendations, seek out referrals for a good wedding band, request links to relevant research data, appeal for assistance in finding a qualified Search Engine Marketing vendor, and inquire about day care facilities. Create the proper network, and more information can be more immediately and easily available on Twitter than through Google.
  • Know where your friends are (if they want you to know): Since many Twitter users receive updates and post Tweets via their cell phones (using text messaging or mobile applications), Twitter is a wonderful tool for keeping friends informed of where you are. Either by texting or utilizing a host of geolocation tools that integrate with Twitter, you can keep your friends aware of when you’re at a restaurant, seeing a game, or visiting a festival. This permits Twitter users to get together when they discover they are in proximity to each other.

    Locally, I’m known for posting my whereabouts frequently, as well as for eating out a lot. Via Twitter I’ve had the opportunity to hook up with nearby friends, to receive menu recommendations, and to answer questions for people interested in new restaurants.
  • Maintain soft relationships: One of the most important benefits of Twitter is also the hardest to explain. Humans have always been limited as to the number of relationships they can maintain by factors such as physical proximity, communication tools, time, and our mental ability to store, classify, and utilize data about numerous individuals. Maintaining “hard relationships” with people with whom we share time, location, and intimate associations has always been easy, but “soft relationships”—ones characterized by limited contact and modest shared interest—have been much more difficult to maintain and usually dissolve with the passage of time and the indifference of both parties.

    Twitter creates a means for maintaining “soft relationships” with large numbers of people. Currently, I am following over 400 people on Twitter. For perhaps 100 to 150 of these people—all of whom began as strangers—I am able to stay in touch easily and with no special effort. More than that, I’ve also gotten to know these people—perhaps not deeply—but I’ve nevertheless become familiar with their political beliefs, their professional skills, their family situations, and their hobbies as a result of scanning my Tweets and engaging in occasional Twitter discussions.
  • Make new friends and associates: Sometimes, those soft relationships can become hard. Whereas Facebook and MySpace tend to be services that permit users to maintain their existing relationships, Twitter seems to be more effective at creating new ones. I’ve made the acquaintance of several professionals in my city, and these new relationships have resulted in networking opportunities, business discussions, and friendship.

    One way that Twitter users are creating stronger bonds with their followers is through meetups or tweetups where online associates meet and network in the real world. In Milwaukee, I’ve launched a couple of “Twappy Hours”—social happy hours announced to followers via Twitter—with considerable success in terms of attendees, feedback, and lively discussion.
  • Get service from or connect with brands: Increasingly, brands are taking notice of the dialog that occurs on Twitter. Comcast made headlines earlier this year when a well-known tech Blogger complained about service on Twitter; within minutes, the Blogger received a call from Comcast asking how they could resolve his concerns. This sort of proactive customer service isn’t limited to the famous; last month a friend of mine complained about his mobile service and was contacted by the company as a result. Smart brands are beginning to understand that they don’t have the luxury of ignoring people complaining to hundreds or thousands of followers on Twitter, and in the future you’ll see more of this proactive service offered via Twitter and other microblogging tools.

    There are other reasons to connect with brands on Twitter. My wife and I own two small businesses, and we’re beginning to test our ability to promote specials and answer questions via Twitter (at @metropawlis and @petstroller). Our small business is following in the footsteps of larger brands that can be found on Twitter, such as @zappos, @DellOutlet, @SouthwestAir, @SamsungMobileUS, and @woot.
  • Reinforce your personal brand and promote yourself: The last benefit to Twitter is important but must be approached with care and caution. I’ll discuss tips for being successful on Twitter in the last of the four-part series, but for now it’s sufficient to say that Twitter provides a means for you to promote yourself and to fashion and reinforce your personal brand. It’s important to note that you don’t do this by being self-promotional but instead by participating, offering smart and pertinent contributions, making meaningful connections, and finding and following like-minded people.

    Fullhouse, the agency at which I work, has been successful in raising awareness and improving perception among potential candidates as a result of the Twitter participation of several employees. Job candidates—at least the smart ones—show up with knowledge of our people and the work we do as a result of their research and connections made on Twitter and other social media services. Conversely, I became familiar with an individual first through his Twitter contributions and the social network he founded; he has since become a peer at Fullhouse, in part because he was able to communicate his passion, knowledge, and experience via his social media activities.

The benefits of Twitter are many and extend beyond my list. Each Twitter user seems to find his or her own benefits and purpose to Twitter, and it is Twitter’s ability to provide a unique and customized experience for each user that perhaps speaks best to the value Twitter creates.

If learning what Twitter is and how it creates value has piqued your interest, please visit later this week for Twitter 101, Part 3: How to Use Twitter.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Twitter 101, Part 1: What Twitter is

This is part one of a four-part series on Twitter. If you already use Twitter, this post may not be of much interest, but as more people are drawn to the service, I find I am getting more questions about what it is, what value it provides, and how to be successful on Twitter.

To those of us who’ve made Twitter part of our daily lives and have built extensive networks of friends and associates, it seems hard to believe that just 3.2 million people use the service (according to TwitDir). Compare that to Facebook’s 110 million active users, and you get a sense of how small Twitter is at this time. Still, considering the number of Twitter users has grown around 500% in the past year, there is reason to believe Twitter is going to get quite common in the future.

To the uninitiated, Twitter seems like an odd, time-consuming, and valueless habit. (“Hundreds of complete strangers will read what you post? Why would they do that?”) Although using Twitter quickly becomes instinctive, trying to describe it to someone unfamiliar with the service is monumentally difficult. The reason is that Twitter really is a completely different form of communications, and trying to explain how it is “like” email, text messaging, instant messaging, or other communication media often ends in frustration for both the Twitter evangelist and the listener. (“You just have to try it, and once you do it will make sense.”)

So, what is Twitter? Describing it as a microblog tool is accurate but probably about as helpful as saying that water is Dihydrogen monoxide. Rather than try to compare and contrast Twitter to other electronic media, let’s start with a blank slate. It may be best to describe Twitter as a place where you can share news, thoughts, ideas, jokes, and opinions, and anyone who cares to listen to you can do so. Of course, at the same time, others are also sharing their daily events, perceptions, and attitudes, and you can choose who you care to listen to. In some ways, Twitter is like a giant room of people talking, but you only hear the people you want to hear.

In the real world, this sort of giant and dynamic networking wouldn’t be possible. At parties, for example, you may engage in conversations with a variety of different groups throughout an evening—some of those people may be discussing politics, some parenting, some favorite TV shows, and some their gripes about their workplace. But while in the physical world you must engage in one group at a time, Twitter permits you to be part of all those discussions simultaneously.

Twitter really has three essential functions that merge to create a new online communication medium. The first function is broadcasting. In Twitter, you don’t simply communicate with one person at a time, but instead broadcast yourself to whomever cares to pay attention to you. Every time you create a post (or Tweet, as they’re called in Twitter), you create a new entry in a list that includes all of your prior Tweets. This list is accessible on; you can see my list of Tweets at You’ll note that each Tweet is very brief; Twitter limits posts to 140 characters.

It’s easy to imagine that some Twitterer’s Tweets might be very interesting and worthwhile tracking. As you find interesting and relevant Twitterers, you could bookmark their pages and visit regularly, but it would be onerous to click to every individual’s page of Tweets one at a time. This brings us to the second essential function of Twitter—subscription. When you find someone whose Tweets you care to read on an ongoing basis, you can subscribe to them. In Twitter, this is called “Following.”

As you follow people, all of their Tweets are posted to your personalized Twitter home page, making it easy to, well, follow the people you follow. The Tweets of every person you follow appear in chronological order, starting with the most recent. Unlike on MySpace or Facebook where you can join different networks that have a defined purpose (such as the New York Yankees fan club or Disney Cast Members group), on Twitter you create your own unique network, one person at a time.

Each Twitter user has two lists of other Twitter users--one list of Followers (those who subscribe to and read that user’s Tweets) and a separate list of people he or she is Following (whose Tweets appear on that user’s personalized home page). The two lists are not identical; you may follow someone who doesn’t follow you, or you may have someone following you who you choose not follow.

If Twitter was just a place where people yammer without regard for others, it would be an impersonal and useless service. This is why threading—the third and final essential function of Twitter—is so important. Twitter is rich with dialog; one person posts a question or statement, a second person responds, a third joins the discussion, and so on. Unlike on forums and bulletin boards where the threading is highly structured, Twitter is unstructured; you cannot view discussions in a threaded view but instead may follow a chain of responses from one Tweet to the next related Tweet.

Twitter combines broadcasting, subscription, and threading to create a unique communications medium. In some respects, it borrows from and combines many other electronic communication media:
  • Blogging/RSS: For those of you who understand blogging and Real Simple Syndication (RSS), Twitter is a tool that combines both the posting and subscription of tiny 140-character blog posts (hence the description as a microblogging service). It’s a bit like joining a blogging tool (such as Blogger or WordPress) with an RSS reader (such as My Yahoo or NewsGator).

  • Instant Messaging: Twitter is like participating in a multitude of simultaneous Instant Messaging discussions, but everyone and anyone who cares to see what you’re saying may do so. (There are privacy tools on Twitter, but most choose not to use them.) Discussions on Twitter can often be as real-time as on IM, but back-and-forth dialog may also occur over the course of hours and days.

  • Email: Twitter is like creating an email list and sending messages to your entire list; even when you respond to one person, you still broadcast that response to the whole list. But with Twitter there’s a twist: your list isn’t an address book of people who will receive your messages but instead is a list of people whose messages you want to receive.

  • SMS/Text Messages: Twitter is similar in form to SMS; while SMS permits 160-character text messages, Twitter is limited to 140 characters. Twitter is not only like SMS, it also uses SMS—you can opt to be alerted to new Tweets from the people you follow via Text Message and can post to Twitter via text messages from your phone.

We’ve explored what Twitter is, and here is one thing it isn’t: unique. Other microblogging tools exist—such as Pownce, Identica, and Plurk—and each provides a similar but slightly differentiated set of tools. Twitter is the microblogging service that has gained the largest audience to date, which makes it a worthwhile place to start for newbies. It’s possible some other microblog service may someday surpass Twitter—and some observers question if Twitter can be made a profitable and ongoing venture—but for now Twitter is the biggest and best of the competing services.

Visit tomorrow for the next part of our Twitter 101 series: Why You (May) Want to Use Twitter.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Social Media is Placeless: The Device Doesn't Matter

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 and Loopt), 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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Journalist's View of PR & Social Media: Tannette Johnson-Elie

Newspapers are dead. PR is dead. So many people are ready to give last rites to the news gathering and reporting business that you'd think news itself was on its deathbed.

Of course, there has never been more demand for information and knowledge than there is today. Technology may threaten the revenue models and delivery methods of news, but it also is presenting new ways for journalists to promote themselves, connect to audiences, build networks, and gather information.

I had the opportunity to learn how Social Media is challenging and assisting journalists when I met with Tannette Johnson-Elie, a business columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Johnson-Elie, who has been with the Journal Sentinel for almost 20 years, is an active Twitter user. I was curious why she chose Twitter, the value she's finding in microblogging, and how Twitter and other Social Media tools are affecting the world of journalism.

As an observer of business, Johnson-Elie has been aware of Social Media for a couple years, but she didn't jump into Twitter until after writing a story about Social Media site, LinkedIn. The article became the most read story on that day, and she realized, "We've tapped into an audience of people who are hungry to connect better." This led the journalist in her to begin to seek out more information about Social Media and to experience Twitter for herself. Since then, she has written popular articles about Facebook and Twitter.

As she ventured into Twitter, she thought, like many entrepreneurs, that the site may provide a great way to promote her column and And, like many of us, Johnson-Elie came to find that the greatest value of participating on Twitter is in gaining a network of peers and getting to know new people. As a journalist, Johnson-Elie is finding that she is relying less on her traditional network of contacts and more on Twitter--it's easier to send a Tweet to her 292 followers in order to gather information or find a new source than it is to pick up the phone and start working her call list.

Twitter is providing other unexpected benefits for Johnson-Elie. She is finding that Twitter is allowing her to explore interests beyond her day job. For example, she following a couple of beatboxers and music professionals on Twitter because her son has an interest in the music industry. Likewise, through her use of Twitter, she believes other are getting a "glimpse of who (she is) beyond her role as a journalist."

One thing that disappointed Johnson-Elie was an inability to track the clicks from the links she posted to Twitter. Like many others, she'd been using to shorten and redirect links from Twitter. If you share this challenge with her, you may be interested in, a site that works in the same way as TinyUrl and Is.Gd, but also provides a means to track the number and source of clicks.

As of yet, Johnson-Elie is not finding that she's receiving a great deal of PR spam, which I found (pleasantly) surprising. She's being discriminating about who she follows, and so far has only blocked one person.

Johnson-Elie says she finds it acceptable when Twitter followers share interesting and relevant news about their company and products, but she's "not interested in companies promoting themselves and trying to sell products all the time." Johnson-Elie furnishes an example of one such Twitterer who crossed the line. This individual represented a restaurant chain, and every time Johnson-Elie shared anything on Twitter having to do with food or hunger, she received a response with a suggestion to try a different menu item; any time Johnson-Elie mentioned she was hungry or going to lunch, her Twitter follower responded with another spammy menu suggestion. This quickly turned annoying and hurt rather than helped her impression of the restaurant chain.

Johnson-Elie offers advice for Public Relations professionals looking to network with her and other journalists on Twitter: Connect with her first, demonstrate your interests and knowledge through your Tweets, build rapport, and she will then be more open to receiving news and information about your company or products. Johnson-Elie suggests that PR professionals watch for her tweets that ask for assistance, and if you have knowledge or information that may help, this is the best way to connect.

Johnson-Elie believes other journalists may find as much value as she has on Twitter. She's observed slow but steady adoption by her peers of Twitter and quite a bit of usage of other Social Media tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook. On Twitter, she is following a few journalists with other news organizations, including Rick Sanchez at CNN and Lynn Sweet with the Sun Times, but Johnson-Elie has thus far seen few reporters leveraging Twitter as much as she.

I wondered if she, as an employee of a major metropolitan newspaper, might foresee or predict a place for the printed news in the long term, but like many others Johnson-Elie recognizes the days of the physical newspaper are numbered. She sees Social Media not as a threat but as a means to help newspapers with the transition: "It is vital to capture and engage the audience; one way to do that is through Social Media, which can help us build our brand."

Like all of us, she believes it is unavoidable that journalists and news organizations continue to embrace social media, but she cautions we are venturing into unknown territory. "There are no rules," Johnson-Elie notes. We spoke about a recent well-publicized incident where a reporter live Twittered from the funeral of a three-year-old accident victim. Johnson-Elie notes that, as always, "you have to use your judgment. Do you really need to let the world know at that moment?"

I provided Johnson-Elie an opportunity to share her thoughts on blogs and "citizen journalists." I wasn't sure if a professional journalist would respect the efforts of amateur reporters, but just like the rest of us, she finds value in them--to a point. While Johnson-Elie "respect(s) people who blog" and "welcome(s) people being enterprising," she notes there's "a lot to be said for what trained professional journalists bring to the table." She points out that journalists offer strong research capabilities, large networks of sources, access to important sources, and knowledge of the beats to which they are assigned.

Johnson-Elie is concerned about the misinformation that can be disseminated from blogs and the impact this can have. She cited a recent incident with her husband, who is a banker. In the midst of the recent banking crisis, he read some concerning information about his employer on a blog. She suggested he seek out legitimate sources of information to confirm the report, and he came to learn the information was false. We all know this, of course, but Johnson-Elie reminds us, "Just because it's been posted doesn't make it fact."

In the end, it seemed that Johnson-Elie's experiences and insights as a journalist were quite similar to my own as a marketing professional--we both are finding the same sorts of value, challenges, and surprises as we engage in Social Media. Johnson-Elie also shares the same advice that I have often offered to newbies as they venture into Twitter and other Social Media: "Keep an open mind."

How have your experiences using Twitter or other Social Media sites different from your expectations? Your comments and insights would be appreciated.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Social Media: Are we in Warren Buffett's "Idiot Phase" yet?

The Harvard Business Publishing site has an interesting analysis of Warren Buffett's recent hourlong interview about the financial crisis. Warren was asked about the innovations that led to subprime loans and the $500-trillion market in derivatives. When asked if "wise people (should) have known better?", Buffett responds "of course," but he then adds some thoughts that are insightful for anyone who makes a living in innovation.

William C. Taylor, author of Mavericks at Work, a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek bestseller, summarizes Buffett's response:

There's a "natural progression" to how good new ideas go wrong. (Buffett) called this progression the "three Is." First come the innovators, who see opportunities that others don't. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. And then come the idiots, whose avarice undoes the very innovations they are trying to use to get rich.

I've often written here on Experience: The Blog that we are going to see an explosion of Social Media sites that will be followed by a difficult period of desperate evolution, combination, takeovers, and failure. Social Media won't die--in fact, it will come back stronger than ever--but it may seem that way to the many folks who are working at the thousands of Social Media startups that are already struggling for attention, traffic, loyalty, revenue, and profits.

Perhaps Buffett's term "idiots" is a bit strong to describe the many caring, smart, and visionary people who are trying to launch new Social Media tools right now, but one only has to begin to scroll through the lengthy list of site logos on to begin to have a sense of dread for the future for these sites and the people behind them. Many of these sites will succeed, but even if "many" sites succeed, it seems hard to ignore that many more will not.

The problem with innovation that Buffett conveys is that, "You can't stand to see your neighbor getting rich. You know you're smarter than he is, but he's doing all these [crazy] things, and he's getting pretty soon you start doing it." This "me too" mentality happens whenever innovators start getting attention and making money (or at least creating paper value). On, click "Select Tag" and then "Photo." What you'll see is dozen after dozen of photo-sharing sites. What are the chances that all of them succeed? Absolutely, undoubtedly zero. If even half of these sites find financial success and longevity, it will be surprising.

This is exactly what happened in the late 90s with the innovation of the Internet. The early success of Lycos and AltaVista beget many other search engines, most of which failed. Of course, some succeeded--the domain wasn't registered until late 1997, years after Alta Vista became a popular search engine, but Google still managed to attain market domination in the search engine world.

The lesson of Google is important: First of all, they didn't try just anything, nor did they duplicate what was done before; their search engine was different, focusing on better algorithms to produce better and more accurate results for searchers. Secondly, they had a vision and they executed on that vision, starting with a clutter-free home page that left their banner-ad-selling competitors scratching their heads.

Warren Buffett's "Idiots" are the people who saw successful search engines and figured they could enjoy the same success doing the same things. These are the people who attracted Venture Capital and launched amazingly lucrative initial offerings of public stock, only to see their paper wealth disintegrate when the idiocy was revealed in the dot-com bust.

Are there Idiots in Social Media today? Maybe the term shouldn't be "idiots" but instead "unrealistic dreamers." Clicking through many of those Photo sites on, I saw a lot of Flickr and Photobucket wannabes with little to no innovation beyond what can be found on much larger, older, and more established photo-sharing sites.

There are important things for Social Media innovators to learn from the experience of the Internet era and from Buffett's 3 Is:
  • Entrepreneurs should research thoroughly, focus on points of differentiation, invest wisely, exploit niches, and strive for objectivity rather than unfounded optimism. (Ironically, this can perhaps best be done by turning to Social Media itself--involve people, gather opinions, and listen to both the complainers and the complimenters, the naysayers and the supporters.)
  • Investors need to be smarter and demand more. Is there a chance a general social network may surpass Facebook in the future? I happen to believe there's a good chance this will happen. The chances you invest in the one social network that displaces Facebook? Damn near zero. As an investor, look for smart, small investments rather than furnishing your cash to people who want to "be the next Facebook."
  • Marketers need to move cautiously and deliberately as they set their Social Media tactics and choose partners. Setting aside some budget for experimentation in more innovative sites or strategies is important, but that doesn't mean you should toss cash anywhere. Define your audience, study your consumer, set your objectives, and connect the dots from where your target audience is to where you want them to be.

At an aggregate level, there is no avoiding the natural human inclination to follow the innovators and to let optimism and greed rather than reason guide the flow of money into bad ideas. But at a micro level--you and your business--there is no reason to allow this to happen with your assets, ideas, and future. Being the Social Media equivalent of the next Google (or even Ask, AOL, or MSN, all of which have less than 5% market share) will take more than incrementally improving upon Facebook, Flickr, or Twitter. It will take hard work, intelligence, vision, careful risk assessment, and very savvy decision making.

Don't believe me? Just ask SavvySearch, WebCrawler, InFind, Contentville, GoTo, Open Text, Magellan , Remarq, Deja, Flipper, HotBot, InvisibleWeb, iWon, and Looksmart. Don't remember those search engines? Exactly!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Social Media Visualizations and What They Tell Us

A picture of the Grand Canyon communicates more in a moment than a thousand words of description. Let's see if the same holds true of Social Media visualizations. The following images, which graphically present different aspects of Social Media, may help to provide a fresh perspective on Web 2.0.

The first image is one developed by a terrific blogger, Brian Solis of PR 2.0.

This image demonstrates the breadth of Social Media sites and tools. It sometimes seems that a great deal of attention is directed at blogs as a Social Media channel while relatively less consideration is given to some other social concepts.

Brian's "The Conversation" calls attention to the ways in which consumers will share information, collaborate, discuss, and create content outside of blogs. Most corporate blogs are mere extensions of the brand site; they offer promotional content in an environment where person-to-person dialog is tightly moderated (if it is permitted at all). But Social Media will continue to grow where people can exert the most control and influence over their own communication, which means brands will have to engage consumers not just within their own branded blogs--where it is safe, controlled and convenient--but in other online places where consumers gather.

The second image is one I created based on the site, a directory of Web 2.0 sites. The directory has cataloged over 2,700 Web 2.0 sites, each represented with a logo in this graphic.

This compilation of thousands of Web 2.0 site logos tells us something about Social Media's present and future. A great deal of creativity and investment is going into the development of new ways for consumers to network, collaborate, and communicate. We can expect many more Social Media tools and sites to develop in the coming years, but this many competing sites cannot thrive. Much like the early "Wild West" days of the Internet, this explosion of sites will be followed by a period of combination and failure that will leave the remaining sites stronger and poised for success.

Speaking of growth, here are two charts (based on data derived from that demonstrate the continued adoption and usage of Social Media. The first chart displays the Unique Monthly Visitors for ten popular Social Media sites: YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr, Digg, Scribd, Reddit, Tripadvisor, Ning, Twitter, and StumbleUpon. Collectively, this group of sites has experienced average growth of 169% in traffic since August 2007.

Because of the huge amount of traffic received by YouTube and Wikipedia, the scale of this chart tends to obscure the very significant growth in some of the newer and smaller sites. The second chart contains data for five of the same sites: Scribd, Reddit, Ning, StumbleUpon, and Twitter. These five sites have seen traffic increase an average of 315% in the prior twelve months.

The first of the pair of charts conveys that even mature Social Media sites such as Flickr and Digg continue to grow. The second chart makes evident the considerable growth and adoption of newer Social Media concepts, such as social documents, social bookmarks, microblogging, and do-it-yourself social networks. What these two charts say to me is that Social Media is still growing rapidly (most likely due to demographic shifts into older age groups) and that our understanding of what comprises Social Media will continue to evolve as consumers adopt new and different sorts of Web 2.0 tools.

At the end of 2008--years after social sites such as blogs, Second Life, and YouTube went mainstream--the pace of adoption, creation, diversification, and growth remains breathtaking. If you think you know what Social Media is today, hold on--2009 is going to bring more changes and surprises.

Monday, October 6, 2008

" $100k Experiment" gets A for Content, F for Social Functionality has a marketing campaign that is worth notice, but they failed to ask "How can I improve this by making it social?" As a result, their new campaign, The $100k Experiment, will not achieve as much attention and traffic as it might have had they considered ways to leverage Social Media., which specializes in job openings with salaries in excess of $100,000, wanted to make a point to employers about the kind of attention $100,000 can attract. So, they placed that amount of cash into a glass box in the middle of a park and left it there unguarded. Ten hidden cameras captured the reactions of passersby.

The video is great--it's funny, interesting, and worthy of attention. TheLadders gets an "A" for creating content that people will want to see (and unlike Google's "5 Friends," this video keeps it short and engaging.)

But this is 2008, and engaging content--while vital and challenging--is no longer all that is required for a successful marketing campaign. Where are the Social Media hooks in campaign? Consumers cannot embed the video on their sites (which I'd consider bare minimum functionality for an online video campaign), nor can they comment on The $100k Experiment. As a result, this site is a lonely island when it could have been a bustling network of interaction.

Other than links and comments, what else might they have done to turn this lonely and isolated video into the hub of a hundred thousand conversations?
  • How about a poll to determine the charity to which should give the $100,000? Think that might generate some attention, links, and dialogs?
  • Or, another charity angle might have been for to allow people to select a charity, generate a custom video link, and then earn a charitable donation for the chosen charity based on how much traffic that link generates to the microsite.
  • How about the ability for people to ask for their city or neighborhood to be the next spot where the glass box stops? Might it be fun to see friends, coworkers, and neighbors punked by the $100k experiment?

Their agency did place the video on YouTube (where it had 0 views as of this morning--was I really the first to see it?) There is no reference to in the text and no links to the career site or the microsite--another lost opportunity for links, attention, and traffic.

It's hard for me to understand how in 2008 marketers could generate a great idea and execute it with care and style, but miss the importance and value of Social Media features. The $100k Experiment will generate plenty of deserved attention, but the career site could have multiplied their success by asking, "How can I improve this by making it social?"

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Is Google's "5 Friends" Three Minutes Too Long?

Viral video is a tricky balancing act. The number of times a brand succeeds in creating a viral phenomenon is dwarfed by the number of times marketers fail to achieve their viral objectives. Typical problems that can prevent viral success include boring or self-centered content, experiences that take too long to provide a benefit to viewers, and heavy-handed marketing messages.

Despite the best of intentions, I fear Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way and Google failed in all three ways with "5 Friends," their voter registration video launched on YouTube. It has many of the right ingredients, starting with a Who's Who of Hollywood. The video features Leonardo DiCaprio, will i. am, Tobey Maguire, Forest Whitaker, Amy Adams, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Bacon, and Halle Berry--and that's just one quarter of the stars who grace this video.

But unlike some past star turns in successful viral videos (such as "Yes We Can," which has been viewed almost 20 million times on YouTube), I'm unsure "5 Friends" will set the world on fire. For starters, it is awfully smug and preachy. Do we need Hollywood movie actors telling us not to vote for almost 90 seconds? After 15 seconds I think we all get it--you're being ironic! By the 30-second mark, it begins to insult viewers' intelligence. And by the time Forest Whitacker over-enunciates each syllable of "Do Not Vote" as if we're all too simple-minded to understand, I wanted to click off the video.

Of course, I didn't. As both an engaged voter and an interactive marketer, I wanted to see where the video would take viewers, so onward I continued. Then at the two-minute mark, the celebs start asking us if we know that we need to register. What? Who knew that, except, well, everybody? A reminder isn't such a bad idea, but when the stars begin to ask things like "You do know that, right? You do have to register first," I began to suspect that the actors all think we flyovers might be mildly mentally challenged.

The point of this video exercise is to direct viewers to, but the video doesn't actually get around to sharing the URL for two-and-a-half pontificating minutes. To make matters worse, while the text associated with the video carefully lists every celebrity, it omits a link to the site! The whole point of this effort is to get people to visit Google's voter registration site, but priority was given to crediting
the 27 celebrities rather than supplying a simple link--the one and only essential piece of functionality.

Once the URL is displayed, the video continues for another two minutes of sermonizing.
By the time Leonardo returns to chastise us--"After all this, if you're not going to vote, I don't even know what to say to you anymore"--it made me wonder two things. First of all, how many people who begin to watch the video will have the patience to view it in its entirety? Secondly, isn't it too bad that Leo and his friends didn't run out of words three minutes sooner? A more direct, less self-congratulatory clip may easily have created more emotional engagement and action.

While I really hate to criticize a program that encourages voting--a responsibility that I take very seriously--this video seems like an unengaging, overly lengthy misfire. The names will draw many viewers and with Google's backing, the PR will spread widely; but if video viewers don't wait long enough to see the URL, what's the point?

So, what's your opinion? Is "5 Minutes" just right? Or only half right?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Social Media Crisis Management: Responding in Kind

Although Social Media is still in its infancy, we've already seen quite a few occurrences when brands have been challenged by the explosive dissemination of adverse information through Social Media channels. There are few if any examples of best practices for Social Media Crisis Management, and some brands have appeared to stumble by relying on traditional channels to combat negative content spreading via Social Media.

One of the more famous examples of how far bad news can travel is Comcast's sleeping technician; two years ago, Brian Finkelstein uploaded video he captured of a Comcast employee who had fallen asleep in Brian's home while waiting on hold for Comcast home office support. Since then, the video of this embarrassing incident has been viewed 1.3 million times on YouTube, has become an inseparable part of Comcast's history on Wikipedia, and will live forever in tens of thousands of links on Google.

Here's another example that highlights the incredible speed of Social Media: On August 13th, a video posted by MySpace's Mr. Unstable started spreading like wildfire; the video showed the (now former) Burger King employee taking a bath in the kitchen sink of the Xenia, OH restaurant. Within a few days, the video had been viewed around 750,000 times on and YouTube, and news appeared on all major online news outlets including,, and the Drudge Report. The number of negative impressions generated by Mr. Unstable within a couple days was equal to many months of traffic to

Companies have long understood the need and value of crisis management, but the interconnectedness of consumers and speed at which gossip and complaints can spread give Public Relations Crisis Management renewed importance. Burger King's actions in this situation provide a good case study to consider the best and most appropriate way to respond when a Social Media disaster demands action. In this case, Burger King responded through traditional channels, talking to reporters and sending an email to news outlets that said:
"Burger King Corp. was just notified of this incident and is cooperating fully with the health department. We have sanitized the sink and have disposed of all other kitchen tools and utensils that were used during the incident. We have also taken appropriate corrective action on the employees that were involved in the video. Additionally, the remaining staff at this restaurant is being retrained in health and sanitation procedures."
Was this a sufficient response? I think it's reasonable to suggest that Burger King might have delivered their positive response to a much wider audience had they explored Social Media and not just traditional media.

Consider that those disgusting videos continue to appear and be viewed on YouTube. Consumers who see the videos won't seek out news reports, and as a result will not learn that Burger King took assertive and prompt actions to discipline employees, retrain the staff, dispose of tainted utensils and sanitize the sink. With no company-created video response on YouTube, consumers in search of information about the incident get nothing but the stomach-turning video of Mr. Unstable.

What might Burger King have done to better inform consumers who are exposed to the negative information in Social Media and not the company's positive response in traditional media? Respond in kind! With adverse and threatening content spreading via video, the best and most lasting response would have been in video.

An assertive video response strategy would have been to acknowledge the specific incident and address what was done to rectify the problems. A Social Media Video News Release might have given consumers a tour of the sparkling clean Xenia kitchen, demonstrated how the sink was sanitized multiple times, and shown the utensils that were discarded. This approach would've permitted Burger King to address the specific concerns of customers in Xenia, and in doing so would've conveyed to consumers across the country the company's commitment to safe and healthy food preparation.

Brands often have concerns about addressing problems so directly out of fear any acknowledgment will only cause the adverse information to spread even further. In this case, a less straightforward video strategy might have been executed. Instead of directly addressing the Xenia situation, Burger King might have produced a video showing all of the steps that are taken at every restaurant to ensure cleanliness and compliance with health codes. They might have included brief interviews with actual employees or franchisees who conveyed how seriously they take their responsibility for maintaining sanitary kitchen conditions.

Of course, no one believes a positive, company-sponsored video will be viewed as many times as a scandalous video that embarrasses a national brand, but by responding to a video with a video, Burger King could have increased the possibility of reaching consumers where it really mattered. By launching an informative and favorable video on YouTube with the appropriate title and tags, people searching for "Burger King sink" or "Burger King Xenia" could have come across and viewed the company's own video.

If even a fraction of the people who watched Mr. Unstable's YouTube performance also saw Burger King's response, that could have had a more lasting and meaningful impression than an email to reporters; after all, traditional news outlets were far more interesting in playing up the salacious story to grab viewers' attention than they were in conveying Burger King's spin. In this news report from WDTN, the reporter calls Mr. Unstable's video "disturbing" and "shocking" and dedicates twice as much time to interviewing an appalled consumer as to sharing the company's response and actions.

In the age of Social Media, the best response when YouTube or the blogosphere is on fire is to fight fire with fire. Press releases and emails to TV and print outlets are still necessary, but they really don't permit the company to reach consumers where they are or to combat negative PR with the speed of Social Media.