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Facebook

There’s been a great deal of controversy about Facebook’s purchase of photo sharing site Instagram for $1 billion. As always, people are heralding it as a harbinger of a new social media bubble.

How can a site like Instagram possibly be worth that much, and how can it add to Facebook’s share value? But that’s the wrong question. The real question is, “How much is the future worth?”

Facebook is in the same league with Google and Apple as a company that transcends commerce and is defining how we live digitally. Steve Jobs didn’t make decisions based solely on immediate gain, as anyone who has read his biography knows. And I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg is making decisions based on share price. (I don’t claim to know anything more about him than anyone else who saw that movie, but I bet they have some interesting board meetings.)

Instagram has changed the way people share and engage around photos, and has brought together photography and mobile in a way that nothing else has. I’ve waited patiently for a good Flickr app for the iPhone. I finally got it with Instagram. I would go so far as to say Instagram is helping define a new visual paradigm for communication.

Facebook has so much money, that, like Google and Apple, they can afford to spend it on buying things that make sense, that are cool, that work, that define the future. Whatever Facebook does with Instagram, they own it now, and no one else will. In Zuckerberg’s mind, I’m sure that sounds like a bargain.

Now, when will Amazon buy Pinterest, and for how much? 2 billion?

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I’ve had a self-hosted WordPress blog at dbthomas.com for several years, because I wanted to have control over my content for the long haul, and because, frankly, I thought as someone working in social media, it imparts at least a little bit of geek cred.

These days I find myself using Facebook more than anything, along with a new fascination with Pinterest and a lingering obsession with Instagram. I also find myself coming across a lot of excellent and interesting Tumblr blogs. In fact, when I designed this blog on the Thesis framework, I intentionally wanted it to have attributes of a Tumblr blog. I wanted to be able to post quick photos and thoughts, and share images and videos.

I suppose I could do that, but I seldom do, except for the Daddyblog posts. It just occurred to me this morning what’s missing:

When I go to a Tumblr blog or a Pinterest board or an Instagram photo, I see items that people have shared from other sources, and shared items from people in that network I haven’t yet discovered. Often that leads me to those places and those people, and I find a new source I want to follow. When I do that, those new sources show up, for instance, in my Pinterest or Instagram feed.

That doesn’t happen for me anymore with blogs, because I just don’t get any pleasure out of using Google Reader. I have a lot of blogs loaded into Flipboard, but I don’t read them as much as I used to.

I want a blogging platform that is:

1. As easy to post to (desktop or mobile) as Facebook.

2. As easy to follow people (and be followed) as Twitter.

3. A good bookmarklet and mobile app that makes it quick and easy to grab and share images from the web and photos I’ve taken.

4. Allows for serendipity.

5. Treats images as well as Pinterest does.

6. Allows me to share posts directly to Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. (I know Facebook doesn’t want me to do that.) And not a plug-in that does those things; I want to be able to pick and choose. That’s a check box in Instagram that asks where you want to share your photos, why can’t it be one in a blogging platform?

7. Let’s me easily export my content, or maybe archive it to this blog. Or something. I still have a hard time getting over the idea that any platform I pick other than this one is likely to be gone in five years.

What do you suggest (other than medication for OCD)?

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I’m a little frustrated right now. Over the last several years, quite a few people have asked me for advice about getting into social media. Some of them are good friends, and a lot of them are people with a professional communications or marketing background.

My advice has been the same for the last several years: if you’re a professional communicator or marketer, you must understand and use social media if you want to stay relevant in your profession. Some of them have heeded that advice. Some of them haven’t.

And that’s fine. I have no problem with people ignoring my advice. I am far from always right. Just take a look at my resume. Or ask The Mrs.

Here’s why I’m frustrated: if some of those people had taken my advice when I gave it to them, I would be hiring them right now. I need to find smart, resourceful people who understand the enterprise business world, and also understand how social media fits into it. Those people are few and far between, and the really good ones have really good jobs.

The people I’m thinking of as I write this post have all of the requisite skills I need, except for experience in social media, which they could have developed on their own in the time since I first gave them that advice.

You don’t need to be doing social media as part of your job in order to build your own understanding of how companies use social media, and in the process make yourself more valuable as an employee. There are dozens of webinars, blogs, e-books and podcasts—free and paid—to help you learn more about enterprise social media.

When I am evaluating a potential hire for my team, I am willing to except a lack of professional social media experience if they can show me a well-written blog, a well developed LinkedIn profile with recommendations, and an active Twitter presence that addresses business issues. If you can show me that you understand business and know how to engage with people and to write, I know I can teach you the rest of it.

So here are my recommendations for any communications professional who wants to stay relevant:

1. Start a blog

Start a blog on WordPress.com and write about the industry you’re in or want to be in. I’ve said this before, but if you can show me a blog post that I wish you had written on our company blog, that carries more weight than all the superlatives you can cram into a static resume. I hired somebody this year in part because she had already written an informative, well-written post targeted at the audience I need to reach. I didn’t need to wonder if she could do the work; she had already done it.

2. Build your LinkedIn presence

Build up your LinkedIn profile with people in the industry you want to be active in. Get recommendations. Get active in the LinkedIn groups that discuss your field, and show me how you’ve added value in those groups.

3. Develop your Twitter, Facebook and Google+ presence

I don’t need to see 5,000 followers. I need to see you understand how businesses are using these networks to meet their bottom-line objectives. You can show me that by showing how you are using these networks to meet your career objectives. Then I’ll know you can do it once you’re hired.

4. Show a sense of wonder and curiosity

The people who are the most successful and interesting in social media are the ones who just know, without someone having to prove it to them, how cool this stuff is. They knew it the moment they first saw Facebook, or an iPhone, or Twitter. They hate the idea of being left behind. We are in the midst of a revolution, and I want to work with people who know that and are excited to be part of it.

If building your personal networks feels like a chore, either you’re in the wrong business or you haven’t dug in enough to see the real excitement, wonder and value.

Sure, go ahead and question if you really need to be on Google+. But get on it anyway and see what it’s like. No, you don’t have to be on every network. But the people who feel a tingle when they hear about a new network and think, “I really need to get on there before someone grabs my username,” are the people with the attitude I value most.

I know it’s a tough job market out there. I know there are a lot of smart, capable people who are unemployed, underemployed or in jobs that are going nowhere. Social media is not going away. Don’t limit your opportunities by leaving yourself behind.

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The Boy eating ice cream with two spoonsDisclosure: Post title is fatuous linkbait.

I was on vacation last week when Google+ happened. I kept my email inbox in pretty good shape when I was away, but when I returned I felt like I was a week behind on creating circles and +1′ing and learning all the new stuff. Some folks dove in head first. Chris Brogan, for instance, is all over Google+ and has even replaced his Facebook icon with a Google+ logo with the phrase, “I have moved,” and unless I’m missing something, he’s shut down his personal Facebook wall. He really has moved.

I’ve seen lots of useful how-to articles, and lots of posts from people pondering the significance of Google+ for social media in general, business in particular and, inevitably, whether or not Google+ will replace Facebook. That’s a big, thorny question. So I’m going to ignore it.

I’ve joined quite a few new social networks over the last decade and a half, starting with a (pre-WWW) forum on the old Delphi network (a competitor of AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe) called “The UK American Connection.” It consisted mostly of Yanks asking Brits questions like, “I watched Cracker last night. What the hell does ‘naff’ mean?”

I joined Friendster just in time for my girlfriend (now The Mrs) to tell me it was dead. I joined Twitter in May of 2008. I still remember the first person who followed me (former colleague Jeff Batte), and pondering my next follower, an American journalist living in Germany. I spent hours trying to work out how I knew him and why he would follow me.

My point, if there is one, is that I have yet to see a new social network take off as quickly as Google+. I’m sure there are statistics that either support or refute that, but for me it seems that my nerd friends (and I have created a circle for you called “Nerds”) are taking to Google+ extremely quickly. (Cynical Girl and Pixie of the Apocalypse Laurie Ruettimann linked on Facebook earlier today to a Mashable post that said Google+ was about to hit 10 million users, so as you can see, I’ve done my research.)

It takes me a while to work out how I feel about a new network or online tool, and I’m the kind of person the slow, dull-witted “how to” videos were created for. Unlike Brogan, who within minutes had written a post outlining 50 ways Google+ could be used, I have to be shown it, and shown it again. And again. Then I will become a violent convert.

So far I think Google+ has tremendous potential to unite messaging, photo sharing, video calling, chat, document sharing and other features. This may be the locus that brings the value of Google’s various services and applications into one place. But here’s why I think it’s gotten so popular so fast:

This morning I was flipping back and forth between Facebook and Google+. I have lots of good friends on Facebook, but also a lot of people I’ve accepted as friends who I don’t actually know, or know very well. I accepted some of those out of politeness, and I haven’t taken the time to hide or unfriend the people or companies who clutter up my stream. I scroll for a while before I come to an update from someone I really want to keep in touch with, or something I really want to read.

My Google+ stream, on the other hand, has been filled with interesting posts and long, enjoyable comment-thread discussions with clever people. It feels the way I’ve heard other people describe the early days of Twitter. Everyone I’ve added to my circles so far is someone who I know personally or have built an online relationship with.

So maybe we like Google+ so far because we haven’t cluttered it up yet, and because it’s easier to keep tidy? Time will tell. Just like Twitter, it will be months (years?) before we know the real value.

Should you join now? You don’t have to (and Doug Haslam has posted a cogent argument in favor of Google+ patience), but so far it’s fun. And if you’re a marketer or communicator, I suspect it will become mandatory before too long. Google’s previous attempts at social networking (Orkut, Buzz, Wave) didn’t take off, but Google+ is so much more than even the sum of all three.

image by me

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I am a huge fan of buying local. I got a warm glow at a coffee shop this morning when I saw the list of their local sources of ingredients. I pay more money for locally-made items because I want those businesses to succeed and stay in my community. Heck, I buy soap from Piedmont Biofuels. I know it’s a by product of something or other and I don’t really care, because it’s local.

But today I’m trying to buy a chair for my new home office. I did a Google search for furniture stores in my town and got a more-or-less useless mishmash of results. Only one of the stores I had in mind showed up on the first page of results, and it doesn’t appear to have a website.

Then I searched for a store by name. Its site won’t open. I followed the link to its Facebook page, but that has no useful information.

Ten years ago, I would have spent the day driving around to furniture stores. I don’t have that kind of time anymore, and I don’t think The Boy would enjoy it very much. (Or he would enjoy it too much: “Cool! A hundred beds to jump on!”)

Local merchants, I love you and I want to buy from you, even if you cost a little more. Please, make it easy for me. Before I come to your store, I want to look at your website. And I don’t just want stock photos and your hours. It would be nice to know what brands you carry, but I also want to know what your prices are and if you have what I want in stock. Before I get in the car, I want to know there’s at least a reasonable chance I’m going to come home with what I want.

If I can’t get that, why wouldn’t I just order it from Amazon?

Image by me

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Facebook, as you know, has gotten a lot of grief in the past for the way it treats users’ privacy. Seemingly every few months, they make some change that has users up in arms because more of their information is exposed.

I understand why people get upset, but at the same time, most people who use Facebook every day don’t take the time to learn how it works under the hood, even when there are hundreds of posts online that explain in simple terms how to manage your privacy settings. If you opt in to use a free service that provides a lot of value to you, is it too much to ask that you put in a little effort to understand it?

That attitude went out the window today, thanks to the new Facebook Groups feature. This article in PCWorld does a good job of laying out the problem (and the prank Michael Arrington of TechCrunch pulled on Mark Zuckerberg that clearly shows one of the fatal flaws). Essentially, anyone can create a Facebook Group and add anyone else to the group. You then start getting emails any time anyone posts to the group. If you don’t want that, you have to go and opt out.

Someone I know, although not very well, added me to a group this morning. By mid-afternoon, my inbox had more than ten emails telling me that other people had posted in the group. Who do you know who is eager to get more email, especially without their knowledge and possibly against their will?

Yes, I can go in and turn it off, and I did. And just like everything else with Facebook, it took me a long time to find that control, and I’m not entirely sure it did what I think it was supposed to do.

And if you go to that group’s page, I’m listed as one of the members, even though I didn’t actually join it. So, as we saw from the Arrington – Zuckerberg prank, I could go create a group called “Kitten-Hating Devil Worshippers Against Springtime” and add you to it. You’d show up as a member, and get an email whenever another member posted about how the sight of a flower in bloom makes them want to punch a tabby.

(If you now feel you need to go and create that group and add me to it, I’ll understand.)

Imagine what this has been like for the big name social media folks. I wonder how many groups Chris Brogan, Scott Stratten, Amber Naslund, David Armano, Brian Solis et al have been added to?

I wrote a while ago that Facebook needed a business board of advisors to help it make better decisions about its functions that affect the way Facebook is used by companies. I still think that’s a good idea.

But now I think they just need some people with common sense.

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So far this is the only "Place" in my neighborhood.

I have no problem so far with Facebook Places. I like the idea that you can see where your friends are (assuming they’ve opted in to do so). The ability I want that so far I haven’t seen in location-based apps is to say, for instance, “Where is Jeff Cohen right now?” That would have come in handy at SXSW this year, for instance, where I spent a lot of time muttering that actual question.

That sounds like a much more useful feature than seeing randomly where your friends are, especially if they’re having lunch in a restaurant on the opposite coast.

So far, in my limited use of Places, I can’t tell how easily that can be accomplished on a mobile device. It looks like I would have to go to my friend’s page and see if his or her most recent check-in is shown in the activity stream.

Facebook could make it easier to find. On my iPhone, when I look at a friend’s page, down at the bottom I see Wall, Info and Photos. Why not add Places? Then I could just click and see the last check in.

(Feel free to tell me if this ability already exists in Places or other location services. I make no claim to comprehensive and exclusive knowledge of anything beyond what the inside of my eyelids looks like.)

“But wait,” you say (assuming you’re concerned about privacy), “What if I don’t want people to know where I am?” My answer to that is, “Read one of the thousand articles written yesterday on how to turn off or customize this feature.”

I understand people’s privacy concerns, and I share them. Facebook has played fast and loose with privacy, making things open by default that should have been closed, because ultimately it is financially beneficial to them to have more and more people sharing more and more information.

But shouldn’t we be assuming that by now, not just about Facebook in particular, but about the Web in general? Essentially, many people are saying, “I’m using this free service and now I’m mad because I don’t like the things that I agreed to without trying to understand what they were.”

I’ve seen people online yesterday and today counting down to the inevitable Facebook Places backlash, and they’re right — it will be here any minute now. Regardless of everything I said above about the necessity of understanding what you’re getting yourself into (and I’m sure by saying all of that I’ve doomed myself to doing something public and boneheaded in social media this week), Facebook really does shoot itself in the foot, over and over. For the life of me I cannot fathom why they would give users the ability to check their friends in to places, and turn that on by default. That one should lead to some interesting lawsuits. I’m also wondering how soon before it shows up as part of the plot on “Law and Order.”

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In my last post I mentioned I had sent a friend a long email in answer to her questions about using social media to promote her orthodontia practice. I talked about the difference between spamming your friends and promoting your business. In the second part of the email, I gave her some specific tips for integrating all the social media channels.

Here’s a quick blueprint for what I would do if I were starting a small, service-oriented local business:

Try to give your business a unique name that you can own in Google search results, that has the URL available, that you can get as a user name on Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. All of that will make you more searchable. Think about how people might be searching Google to find an orthodontist.

There’s a white truck I’ve seen driving around town. On one side it says chapelhillelectrician.com. On the other, carrboroelectrician.com. There’s a small business owner who understands search engine optimization.

Once you’ve picked a business name that you think you can own:

1. Buy the URL from someplace like GoDaddy or Network Solutions. Once you buy the URL, you can point it wherever you want, like to a blog or your business’ website, (although these days there is less and less difference between the two).

2. Set up a blog at WordPress.com. Write about who you are and why you’re starting the practice. Try to post something useful and interesting at least once a week. If you read a great article somewhere that answers a question a patient might have, write up a quick post about why you think it’s interesting and then link to the article you read. You don’t have to write something original, long and thoughtful every time, as long as you’re frequently sharing things of value.

3. Set up a Facebook page for your practice. Let all your friends know you’ve started the page. Use your personal Facebook account to let people know you’ve created the business page, but only mention it occasionally. Let people decide if they want to follow the professional you; don’t force it into your personal stream.

But don’t shy away from mentioning what you’re doing at work. When you open the practice or have milestones, share them in your personal stream if you want. That’s what I do. I don’t talk about SAS all the time, but I do link my SAS blog and mention big happenings, because that’s part of the totality of who I am.

Link your blog to your Facebook business page, so that when you post on your blog, it’s shared on your Facebook page as well. You can do that through the Facebook Notes feature, but I find the Networked Blogs Facebook app works better.

3. Create a Flickr account for your business. Maybe your patients will let you take pictures of them and post them there. (You’ll have to feel that out. No idea if that runs afoul of HIPAA. Also, a lot of your patients are likely to be minors and then you’d need parental permission.)

Link your Flickr account to your Facebook page as well, and promote it on your blog.

4. Create a YouTube channel for your business. Buy a small handheld video camera like a Flip or Kodak Zi-8. Shoot a video of yourself talking about who you are and why you became an orthodontist. Shoot videos that explain procedures, or answer questions people have. I’ll bet if you made a video called “Top Ten Misconceptions People Have About Orthodontists” and put it up on YouTube, you’d get lots of hits.

Link your YouTube channel to your Facebook page, and embed the videos as posts on your blog.

When you post blog posts, videos or photos, include key words in the description and tags like “orthodontia,” “orthodontist,” “braces,” “Chapel Hill,” “Carrboro,” etc. That will make it more likely people will find them in a search.

4. Create a Twitter account for your business. Use the Twitter account to promote your blog posts, videos and photos. But more important, use it to share information about orthodontia that people will find useful, as I described above.

Search Twitter for all the important keywords and see who is talking about those topics. Follow them, and the people they follow. See if there are any Twitter lists devoted to your field.

Use a tool like Tweetdeck that will allow you to set up search columns. You could set up columns for search terms like “Chapel Hill orthodontist,” and you’d see if someone tweeted, “Does anybody know a good orthodontist in Chapel Hill?” You could respond and say, “I’m a Chapel Hill orthodontist. What questions can I answer?”

You can also set up Google Alerts for all those keywords as well, and you’ll get an email notification from Google whenever anybody talks about them.

Lots to think about. You wouldn’t have to do all these things at once, or all of them at all. In order of value I would suggest:

1. A blog
2. A Facebook page
3. A Twitter account

Set up all three of those and get them integrated, then think about adding other channels.

For even more information about using social media to promote your business, big or small, I highly recommend the Marketing Over Coffee website and podcast. They have these connections — especially local search — down to a science.

And for more specifics about Facebook marketing, my friend Justin Levy wrote the book.

photo by ShieldConnectors

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I’ve had an interesting back-and-forth via Facebook email with an old friend who is starting an orthodontia practice. I had complained in my Facebook status about my friends (some of whom, in the peculiar world of Facebook, I don’t actually know) who only seem to use Facebook to promote their band or their book or their business.

Some of that is perfectly fine, and when The Executive’s Guide to Enterprise Social Media Strategy is published, it’s for damn skippy I’ll be talking about it everywhere. It’s a part of me and what I’m doing, but it’s never going to be all of me or all of what I’m doing.

So where do you draw the line? How do you promote your business via social media in a way that won’t get you unfriended? Here’s what I wrote to my friend in response to that question.

The ones who annoy me are the people who I know as people, who friended me as people, and then never share anything about themselves. All they do is talk about their next gig or their business. The worst iteration of that is when they use Facebook email to send me emails about their shows and upcoming events.

In other words, when I signed up to be friends with Joe Blow, I did it because I know him and like him and am interested in his life. I didn’t do it because I wanted to get reminders three times a week on my wall and in my inbox that his band The Puffy Sleeves is playing in Greenville. When all you get is the business and none of the personal, it feels like bait-and-switch.

There’s a book by Jim Tobin from Ignite Social Media called Social Media is a Cocktail Party. The thesis is you don’t walk into a cocktail party and immediately start telling people about yourself and what you sell. You make a connection first, and if it’s appropriate to the conversation down the road, you might mention what you sell.

The right way to use Facebook to let people know about your band or your book or your business, in my opinion, is to create a Facebook page for that entity, then people have the option to “like” that page. When they choose to “like” it, they are opting in to receive messages in their Facebook stream. It’s clear what the purpose is and what kind of information they will be getting.

If you start a page for your orthodontia practice, think about what you can do to make it fun and informative. People have all kinds of questions, concerns, doubts and fears about orthodontia. What could you do to help them understand the big questions, get the right information to make better decisions, and show them that yours is a practice where they would feel welcome and maybe even have some fun?

photo by BarelyFitz

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Nothing new to anyone, I’m sure, but my bank just called me at home. I listened because, you know, it’s my bank. Maybe something weird was happening with my account. He thanked me for being a customer, so I knew it wasn’t them calling to tell me a check had bounced or anything. Then he offered to send me $20 worth of coupons in appreciation. Then he offered to enroll me in a program that would… and I said, “No, thanks,” and hung up.

Calling me at home is the LEAST effective way to sell me something, other than perhaps running up to me in the street, tugging my sleeve and shouting, “Hey, mister!” But as soon as I hung up I thought, “Wait, I wonder what that program does?”

From a quick search, it does not appear that my bank has a Facebook fan page. If they did, I would be inclined to join it, because I find that’s a good way to get information from businesses I have interest in, provided they do it well. If my bank used their Facebook page to talk about the service they were offering me in a straightforward way, I might read it. And if I saw that people in my network “liked” that service, that would make me more inclined to sign up for it.

No big revelation, just further evidence that you need to reach your customers where they are in the ways they want to be reached, even if you’re selling something they want.

photo by Rego – twitter.com/w3bdesign

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