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Somehow I missed that Mashable had declared June 30 Social Media Day until yesterday. People are celebrating with meetups. I’m celebrating by sitting in a coffee shop working on my enterprise social media book and being distracted by Twitter and Facebook. Seems appropriate. (Writing blog posts is another of my favorite ways to distract myself from writing the book, ironically.)

I’ve spent most of my career in marketing and marketing communications, mostly for technology companies, but with some interesting detours, including one into the music industry. I’ve written everything from radio spots to 40-page technical marketing manuals. I’ve thought a lot about how people and companies communicate, and why those two are usually different.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince business people that it’s okay to talk like human beings. I’ve written and re-written press releases to try to make them sound like the way people talk, only to have the product manager or marketing manager put the buzzwords back in. “If we don’t use them,” they argued, “people will think we don’t know them.”

I’ve wondered for years about the real-world possibility of taking a radical transparency approach to corporate communications. I’ve been lucky enough to work for a few companies, most notably SAS, who really do live the values they profess. What would happen if a company told everybody everything? Not the proprietary details of the products they’re developing or who they’re about to acquire, but the internal debates and discussions that went into tough decisions. What if they really did say, “Whoops. We screwed up”?

What if companies talked to their customers as peers, as equals, as friends? Often the differences between the people on opposite ends of the telephone amount to where they’re sitting and the company name printed on their paychecks. Most of us spend the day talking to other people like us. What if we removed the artificial boundaries, which are almost solely boundaries of perception?

Social media is making all of that happen. It’s helping us see that companies are made up of people, with all the good and bad that entails. It is frightening. It is exhilarating. It is revolutionary. It is not going away. It is good. We will never go back to thinking of companies as gray, faceless edifices that speak with one voice. And hooray for that.

There is no field I would rather be in right now.

Happy Social Media Day!

image by Mashable.com

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I’ve been working on this post a bit at a time over the course of a few weeks. In the meantime, Amber Naslund posted a compelling argument why she doesn’t want to write a list of social media predictions for 2010.

But I’d much rather spend my efforts at the end of a year planning what I can and will do, instead of musing about what may happen (and that’s typically out of my control).

An excellent point and a valuable call to action for social media practitioners. And I think I will consider it the very moment I finish my…

Social Media Predictions for 2010

The heyday of the Social Media Manager

This will be a growth year for jobs with titles like mine (social media manager). We’ll see more companies hiring people to create strategies, implement policies and coordinate social media activities. Hopefully those people will have a background in marketing or marketing communications and an understanding of how marcomm supports sales and marketing efforts, and not just a Twitter handle.

We’ll start to figure out the methodology and the staffing and the workflow, and be able to track a tweet to a lead to a sale. It will be hard work, but this is the year we’ll come to terms with it.

Some of the people who take social media manager jobs won’t even know that Chris Brogan thinks it’s a silly title, and that leads to my next prediction…

Cracks in the fishbowl

In 2009, nearly every social media practitioner I knew was connected to one another on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, read one another’s blogs and shook hands like old friends (whether or not they’d ever actually met) at events like BlogWorld or the Inbound Marketing Summits. Many people refer to that as the “fishbowl,” and it’s an accurate metaphor.

In 2010, we’ll see more and more people active in social media who aren’t swimming in that bowl, and even if they know it exists, might not be peering in. There are plenty of traditional marketers these days who aren’t reading marketing blogs or falling asleep at night with the latest marketing book on their chests. In the future, not every social media practitioner will be a geek and a zealot.

This is a two-edged sword: Getting some new ideas and perspectives will be beneficial, but I’m afraid we’ll start to see some lessening of the passion as well. And a lot of charlatans.

Spammers, scammers, and your mom

Tired of DM spam in Twitter? Noise? Too many friends? Foursquare updates from people you’ve never met? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. 2010 must be the year we put practical strategies in place to filter through the chaff. We’re exactly where we were in the early days of email. We need to get on top of the problem in social media before it’s too late.

We chill a little

I’ve spent as much time in 2009 talking to people about the hazards of participating in social media as I have talking about the benefits. Corporate marketers, lawyers, HR folks and brand cops are still pretty worried about what might happen. I’m hoping that as 2010 rolls along, we’ll relax a bit and start to get on with it. Although there will inevitably be some fresh horror stories along with more positive case studies.

We tuck in our shirts

At one conference this year I spoke to a social media consultant who seemed interested in working with SAS. He was wearing a ball cap, a shiny disco shirt and a five-day stubble. As I’ve said recently and often, I used to work in the music industry, so I’m perfectly comfortable with the concept of a smart and hard-working professional who dresses like a teenager. But other people I work with are at different stages of their acceptance in that regard. I remember thinking, “If I bring this guy on campus at SAS, people will think I’m trying to sneak in my dealer.”

Chris Brogan owns the dissheveled pirate thing. David Armano has a trademark on the cowboy hat. Jason Falls is the shouty, downhome guy. Geno and Spike from Brains on Fire are… um… Geno and Spike. They are all great folks, have proven themselves, are masters of their craft and can do what they want.

If you’re a social media consultant hoping to get enterprise work in 2010, don’t think about your shtick, just focus on what problems you can solve. And tuck in your shirt.

We define ROI

Return on investment. Return on influence. Return on engagement. We must define ROI. We must not define ROI. Blah blah blah. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The only measure that matters to the people I most need to influence is how much software we sold compared to how much money we spent. It is my profound hope and optimistic prediction that in 2010, we start to come to terms with what social media ROI actually means, and we find a straightforward and compelling way to demonstrate it.

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

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One of my favorite podcasts is Media Hacks, which features Mitch Joel, C.C. Chapman, Julien Smith, Chris Brogan, Hugh McGuire, and Christopher S. Penn discussing a loose agenda of topics spanning social media, marketing, technology and the ways we create and consume content in the modern world. On one episode, for instance, they debated the question, “What is a book?”

I often learn new things from the podcast, but I enjoy it more as a peek into the social media zeitgeist. Plus, the vibe is more like sitting around a bar with a group of smart, funny, enthusiastic friends than like a seminar.

On their most recent episode, Mitch said he occasionally gets complaints from listeners about the “NSFW” (not safe for work) language they sometimes use. Julien especially likes to shoehorn the F-word into every conversational nook and cranny.

The question they pondered was whether or not they should be worried. Here’s how they described it in the show notes:

  • Grappling with the use of naughty language and how it can affect both reputation and growing audience.

  • Is swearing and “Selling out” related?

I have no problem with strong language. I worked in the music industry for several years before coming to SAS. People at the record label seemed to use swearing as an auditory reminder, both to the speaker and the listener, that they weren’t working for “the man.” The Media Hacks crew touched on that in the “selling out” discussion.

But I have a different perspective as someone who now works inside a large company. On many occasions I’ve wanted to forward episodes of Media Hacks to colleagues because they were discussing a topic directly related to what we do. Every time I’ve had to stop and wonder if there was swearing in what I was sending, and if I thought the recipient would be offended. Sometimes I haven’t been sure and haven’t forwarded the content.

Does that mean I’m too uptight? Too concerned about superficial things like etiquette rather than the value of the content? No, that means I work for a large company, that, like every other large company, has HR policies and conduct guidelines.

It’s not just that I don’t want to break the rules. I don’t want to offend anyone, make them feel uncomfortable or, at a stage where I’m trying to convince people that social media is an important tool for business, give them a reason to dismiss it as unprofessional.

On several occasions I’ve been asked to recommend social media speakers for events. I’ve tempered my recommendations based on what I know of the speaker’s public persona. I would not recommend a speaker to one of our large executive events who I knew was going to stalk up and down the stage shouting obscenities.

So my answer to you, dear hacks, is yes, swearing can affect both your reputation and your growing audience. I’m not saying you should necessarily care about that. I’m not judging you or wagging a finger.

I’m just telling you that right now, you’re NSFW. Whether or not you want to be SFW is up to you.

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

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I’m in one of the last few sessions at Blogworld. I’ve hit the point of overload. I truly appreciate all the time and effort all the speakers and organizers have put into making this an incredibly useful and practical event. I love how much people are willing to share. I just looked at today’s schedule again and there is honestly not a single session I would not find interesting. It was an embarrassment of riches.

Now to carp a little bit. It’s my job to create the strategies for incorporating social media into SAS’ marketing and external communications. Most of my job revolves around coordination, training, sharing resources, creating policies and guidelines, and building consensus.

A lot of it involves overcoming objections. Some of those objections are far-fetched and ill-informed. A lot of them are completely legitimate. I can’t do anything to advance the cause of social media at SAS unless I can convince everyone that we’re doing it the right way.

Stop telling me that no one should own social media in a company and that it must be part of everybody’s job starting right now. I agree, but changes like that don’t happen overnight, even if everyone agreed it was a good idea.

Stop telling me that everyone in my company should be empowered to talk to anyone about anything whenever they want. That idea still scares the hell out of a lot of people. If I lead off with that, 80 percent of the people I need to influence will stop listening and write me off.

Stop telling me that our CEO and all our top execs must be blogging and tweeting. I would love that, but they’re pretty busy right now trying to run the company in a tough economy. Some of the people I’ve heard this week seem to think I can plop myself down in our top execs’ offices whenever I want and preach at them until they’re convinced.

I cannot.

And finally, stop arguing about what ROI means. For us it means how much money we spent compared to how much software we sold. No other measure matters to the people I need to influence.

Here are some things I want:

  • Show me organizational structures from companies that are doing it well.
  • Give me case studies, and not the same ones I’ve heard. I know about Comcastcares and Zappos. And more enterprise and B2B examples, please. I’ll share ours when I can.
  • Show me a flow chart of how to track a tweet to a sale. Or show me how you think it would work.
  • Show me companies that are using Facebook and LinkedIn really well, and how they set their pages up.
  • Point me to great training materials that I can use.
  • Walk me step by step through an example of social media/CRM integration.
  • Give me real-world examples and statistics to prove that open communication isn’t dangerous.

I’m ready for the nuts and bolts.

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

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Considering I’m at Blogworld it’s not surprising I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways we communicate in social media and how blogs fit into the equation. I contributed to my first blog in 2001 and started my own in 2003 back when there weren’t all these other options, like Twitter. I like Twitter for the connections I’ve made and maintain, and for the instant stream of useful information I get now that I’ve filtered my streams with TweetDeck. But I had a realization yesterday that’s likely to change the way I use it.

When I arrived at BlogWorld I started tweeting interesting tidbits from the early sessions. Watching the hashtag, I realized I was basically tweeting the same nuggets of information as everyone else. Often it was interesting and useful, but it was also fragmented and lacking context. More important, I realized I was spending half of each session paying attention to my iPhone rather than the speakers. In a weird way I was limiting what I absorbed and remembered to what I tweeted. I was self-limiting my own experience of the event to what I would get if I were sitting in my office following the hashtag.

Wayne Sutton has been blogging the sessions and posting them to his blog within a few minutes of the end of the session. That’s providing real value to his readers, as well as giving him some great searchable content for his blog. When we were talking about this yesterday, he crystalized it for me pretty succinctly with a concept he attributes to Louis Gray: Tweet less, blog more.

With that in mind I decided not to tweet from Chris Brogan’s keynote and instead turn it into a blog post. I took notes in Google Docs during his keynote, then tidied them up a bit as soon as he was done and posted them. (I will never regret having started my career as a reporter.) I sent a tweet linking to the post and tagged it with the BlogWorld #bwe09 hashtag.

The result: quite a few people retweeted it, including Chris. As of now, about 18 hours after I posted it and two hours after Chris tweeted it, I’ve had 350 people click the link, according to bit.ly.

There are several lessons I’ve learned or re-learned from this, none of which are new:

1. Provide good content that people want to read and they’ll read it.

2. Writing a blog post takes more effort than sending a tweet, but in the end you have something of substance.

3. If you want to get attention in this space, you’ve got to work. It would have been easier for me to send some tweets, then bust out of the room and go get a drink. Instead I sat in the room for another half hour getting the post up and adding a photo. In the end, time well spent.

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

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Ten Tips for Establishing a Social Media Policy from David B Thomas on Vimeo.

A preview of the panel discussion I will be participating in at the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer in Chicago, Oct. 21-22, 2009. The panel is called Positioning Your Company to Reap the Benefits of Social Media. I’ll be focusing on creating an effective social media policy for your company.

::UPDATE:: If you don’t want to watch the video (even though it does have a few yuks), here are my 10 tips:

1. Get everybody together in the same room.
2. Invite the skeptics as well as the evangelists.
3. Involve the practitioners, not just the rulemakers.
4. Get Legal and HR involved from the start, and don’t make them adversaries.
5. Decide how you’ll deal with conflicting opinions and make decisions.
6. Include best practices in your policies: the dos as well as the don’ts.
7. Make sure your policy reflects your company’s personality.
8. Publish your policy.
9. Communicate it constantly in every avenue available to you.
10. Lead by example. Participate yourself and highlight positive examples by others.

Do you have any questions about creating a social media policy? What’s worked for you? Or not worked?

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

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Jenny on the JobI wrote a lot of poetry in college. (Don’t worry, that was pre-web so I have no links to subject you to). When I was doing it regularly, thoughts would come to me in poetic terms, or a snippet of conversation would spur an idea. The more I wrote, the more that happened.

My love of photography also began in college, and carried through to a job as a professional photographer for The Chapel Hill (N.C.) News (which nearly killed my love of photography, but that’s a different story). The more photos I took, the more I saw things in photographic terms. My eyes sought out angles and patterns and juxtapositions and I would mentally compose the photo before I ever brought the camera to my eye.

The same principle holds true in social media. The more you participate, the easier it gets. I’ve been referring to it as “developing your social media muscle.”

Blogging isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s downright difficult to come up with an idea worth sharing, find the time to write it, find a photo to illustrate the post and do all the little logistical things that go along with it.

But you know what? The more you do it, the easier it gets. That’s why bloggers like Chris Brogan and Wayne Sutton can be so prolific. They’ve developed their blog muscles. Thoughts and ideas come to them more often because they are receptive to them.

When I was blogging every day in the early 2000s, I nearly always had an idea I wanted to work up and one or two in the queue. And I’ve found that to be true in the last couple of weeks as I’ve tried to notch up my blogging to where it should be for someone with a job like mine. I have three ideas on a note stuck to my monitor.

It works for Twitter as well. The more you do it, the easier it is to digest ideas into 140 characters. When you see something that interests you, you’re more likely to think, “I should tweet this because other people might find it useful.”

The more you develop your social media muscle, the easier the heavy lifting becomes.

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

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My colleague Alison Bolen, editor of sascom magazine and the sascom voices blog, does a great job coaching our bloggers here at SAS. We had a meeting last week with a group of bloggers to help them deal with some of the issues involved in blogging regularly while at the same balancing the pesky demands of having a job. One piece of advice we both find ourselves giving people is, “Not every blog post has to be a white paper.”

So in honor of 09/09/09, here’s Alison’s list (with one or two additions from me) of nine easy ways to write a blog post.

  1. Go through your sent items on Friday. Pull out anything that’s more than five paragraphs long and polish it into a blog post.
  2. Go to search.twitter.com and search for two key words. Write a three-paragraph post that responds to one or more of these tweets.
  3. What are you consuming? Business books, other blogs, podcasts, TV shows – anything that you’re finding especially useful and interesting? Tell people about it in two or three paragraphs.
  4. Take 20 minutes at the end of the day and think about who you’ve talked to today and what you’ve learned. How can you summarize that into a 200-word post that others can learn from as well?
  5. What did you explain to someone today that you’ve explained at least three times before? If you get asked often enough, others would probably love to hear the explanation too. Give it to them in a blog post.
  6. What cool things are your customers doing? What have you learned from them lately? What innovative ways are they using your product or service? Can’t talk about customers without approval? Maybe you can mention them anonymously. Give details, just not names.
  7. What documents or presentations are you working on right now? Can you excerpt two or three paragraphs into a quick blog post to give readers a sneak peak?
  8. What are you researching? What would you like to learn more about? Ask your readers to explain it to you. Or do a Twitter search on the topic and see what you find. Link to results and share your thoughts.
  9. Read the blogs on your blog roll. Find at least one to comment on. Then copy your comment on your blog and expand on it slightly. Link back to original post.

Is it bothering you that it’s nine, and not Top Ten? Okay, then:

10. Write a top 10 list.

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

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Because of my job as social media manager at SAS, a lot of people ask me how to get started in social media. I’m working on several different resources to help our sales, marketing and communications folks understand how to integrate social media into their activities and provide bottom-line value. Some are done, some will be ready soon, some are still in the pipeline.

But I get frustrated. Sometimes I just want to shout, “Here! Go do this!”

So here it is, my bare-bones Four-Step Plan for Getting Started in Social Media. Is it perfect? No. Does it cover every base? Not even close. Will it get you started and help you figure out what’s useful for you and how to move forward?

Yes.

Ready? Here we go:

1. Join LinkedIn, create your profile and search for groups relevant to your professional activities.

2. Do that on Facebook, too.

3. Use Google Blog Search to find the most important blogs in your industry, and set up an RSS reader like Google Reader to help you quickly and easily follow them.

4. Join Twitter, set up your profile and use the search function to find people talking about things relevant to you. Follow them and see what they talk about.

There. Go do that and come back and tell me how it went.

Originally published on Conversations & Connections, my SAS social media blog

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care04mod

One of the nicest things about having a job is not having to interview anymore. I chronicled my annoyances with the job search process pretty extensively while I was in it, and I’m very happy to be out of it. I’m also happy that my current employers didn’t ask me any of the stupid b.s. questions that I had heard from so many other HR types, including my all-time favorite, “What would you say is your biggest fault?”, which as I believe I pointed out at the time may have cost me two jobs in a month.

I’m thinking about all of this because Jean has a phone interview this afternoon and asked me to throw some questions at her last night. It took quite a while before I could think of any but the annoying ones, and then I started thinking of amusing variations. Well, amusing to me anyway. Not necessarily to someone who was trying to prepare for an interview.

Where do you see yourself in the next five minutes?

What would you say is your biggest arm?

Think back to a recent conflict with a colleague and describe how you resolved it — using only facial expressions.

Would you describe yourself as a person?

Do you consider yourself a self-starter? Would you be willing to help start others?

What did I mean by that last question?

We want to get to know you as a person, not just as an employee. What are you like in the sack?

What makes you so goddamn special?

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