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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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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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Six months or so ago I created a FriendFeed account, because lots of people were saying it was better than Twitter. I set it up to pull in all my accounts, including my Netflix queue (why?), then pretty much left it alone.

Earlier this week I set up a Posterous account, linked it to all my other accounts and set up all the different email addresses I could use to send posts to whatever combination of accounts I could imagine (Flickr+Blogger+Facebook, Twitter+Wordpress, etc.). Then I realized I don’t really need to do that.

This morning I sent an @ reply on Twitter to Louis Gray, who I follow but don’t actually know. It was just a quick joke in response to something he’d said. I got home tonight and saw in my Gmail account a message from him, via Friendfeed, asking if I was both David and Angela. What?

I followed the link to FriendFeed where my tweets are showing up in someone else’s stream. After an hour of digging around, I think I figured it out. It’s a feed set up by someone I know to pull in SAS-related tweets around our annual user conference. But if you look at the stream, they all seem to be coming from her. Just a small peculiarity, but it seems that if you @ reply someone on Twitter who you are mutually subscribed to on FriendFeed, it compounds the confusion.

Did that make any sense to you? If so, I will pay you money to explain it to me. As I am writing this blog post, she and I are direct messaging back and forth on Twitter trying to figure it out.

The whole exercise made me feel kind of nuts, like having an anxiety dream where you realize you forgot to drop a class and didn’t actually graduate. (I’d been out of college for ten years before I stopped having that dream.)

I have three computers and an iPhone. I have two separate contact lists, six email addresses (not including LinkedIn and Facebook email and Twitter direct messages), and more social media/social network accounts than I could probably count. I have unread messages in something like eight different places. (My apologies to anyone I owe a reply to on BrightKite or Audioboo.) Let’s not even talk about my RSS reader. Or all the barely-touched sharing apps on my iPhone that are supposed to make all of this easier.

I need a break. This is starting to feel a bit like a compulsion. My wife, I feel comfortably certain, would not argue.

What’s the larger message here, just to try to tie this rant/cry for help back to the theme of this blog?

You don’t have to do everything.

Take a look at what other people and organizations like yours are doing, and pick a few that seem to make sense for you. These days you can’t go too far wrong by focusing on blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Concentrate on those (or just one or two to start), on getting comfortable with them, building a network and providing value in those channels.

Other than a very few people who base their reputation on being on the cutting edge of social media marketing, nobody has to be active in all the available spaces.

Keep it simple and enjoy it.

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

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I’m in Charlotte, NC today for the Social Fresh social media conference. I’m on the Social Media B2B panel with Nathan Gilliatt and Jeff Cohen, moderated by Kipp Bodnar.

When we met a few weeks ago, we decided we wanted to share stories, engage the audience and interact with them, so we decided not to make slides. I know that’s the cutting-edge view these days but for a guy like me with a corporate background, being told we’d be presenting without slides makes me only slightly less uncomfortable than being told we’d be presenting without pants.

Since I don’t have a slide deck to share with you, here are some of the questions we identified in advance, and the answers I wrote out in preparation.

Let’s get this out of the way. What do you say to B2B folks who say their customers aren’t online?

Everybody needs to be the expert in their own market, so if you tell me your customers aren’t online, I’m not going to stand here and tell you you’re wrong. But these days in nearly every business, at least some of your customers are going to be online. If they aren’t yet, they will be sooner than you think. And even if you don’t think your customers are online, are your competitors?

What are some successful practices you have seen or used to ensure that your social media strategy aligned with business objectives?

You need to think of social media as a set of tools, not as a strategy in themselves. Presumably you already have established objectives for your business, and you probably also have a marketing and communications plan. Don’t think, “What is our social media strategy?” Think, “What is our established marketing strategy and how can social media support that?”

Don’t just get on Twitter for the sake of being on Twitter. Look at your marketing campaigns and see if Twitter can support them.

Are you going to a trade show? Do you have a goal of getting a certain number of people to your booth? That’s a measurable goal and something you can support with social media. Does the show have a hashtag? Is there a Facebook event page for the show? Those become other avenues, in addition to the ones that have been successful in the past, that you can pursue.

Social media isn’t always the best option from a marketing standpoint. How do you define the ROI before you decide to execute?

Don’t abandon anything that’s working for you in favor of social media. Think of social media as another tool. Make sure you have a measurable objective before you start. “We want to increase web traffic to our marketing campaign landing page by 30 percent over the next quarter.” That’s a measurable objective.

What social media tools are you going to use and how are you going to track them? Once you establish the metrics and the method of measurement, and if you take the time to do it in a comprehensive manner, you’ll see what kind of results you get. Then you’ve established a benchmark. And let’s not underestimate the importance of establishing benchmarks.

If you’re just getting started in social media, then “Establish a benchmark” is a valid objective.

The big question: Who should “own” social media in an organization?

I have two answers for that. The first is, it should be owned by the person or people who are most enthusiastic about social media; the ones who are champing at the bit to get started. Because if you force it down the throat of someone who doesn’t know or care about social media, it’s just going to become another chore, and you won’t see any progress.

Now that’s not always practical, so my politic answer is, “It depends,” both on the size and type of your organization, and what you hope to accomplish with social media. Ultimately you want to make social media tools available to everyone in your organization who has a role in communicating a message.

Marketing folks should be in charge of how they use social media to support marketing campaigns and generate leads. The external comms or PR folks should be responsible for the reputation monitoring and management aspects. Your sales folks should be using social media tools for prospecting, getting market information and building and maintaining relatioships. Your tech support and customer service folks need to take responsibility for doing those tasks in social media.

But if you have to start with overall responsibility in one place, my bias is toward the marketing communications or PR folks, because they should have an overall view of your branding, messaging and communications objectives.

Is there value in allocating resources to educate customers about social media?

Absolutely. If your customers are interested in social media and want to get started, if you show them how to do it, you’re creating a built-in audience for your message. My father jokes that he’s a Mac guy because the first computer he ever used at work was a Mac, and he imprinted on it the way a baby bird imprints on the first thing it sees when it comes out of the shell. If your customers learn how to use Twitter because you teach them, you can be pretty sure they’re going to follow you.

If you’re worried that your information isn’t getting through the noise to your customers, create a campaign to show them how to use RSS feeds, and make your feeds easy for them to get.

And even if you’re not very active yourself yet, I think there’s a tremendous value in saying, “Are you curious about social media? So are we. Follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our blog, and we’ll figure it out together.”

When is social media wrong for B2B?

Again, everyone needs to be the expert in their own market. If you’re not sure if social media is right for your audience, you need to do some research, whether it’s web research and reading analyst reports, or just asking your customers directly.

But it’s true there are times when social media isn’t going to be a viable option. If you have a lot of customers in government, for instance, you might find they can’t use social networks at work. If you’re in a very traditional industry and your major customers block access to YouTube, for instance, you wouldn’t put a lot of time and effort into a video campaign.

Do I ask for permission or forgiveness?

That depends on your company and your boss, but speaking as someone who works for a company of 11,000 people, it’s much easier for me to do my job when I have consensus, and when I have a reputation for being someone who can be trusted to take all the relevant factors into consideration before beginning an initiative.

What is the most important thing companies should know about starting a B2B focused blog?

Find someone to write it who is really excited by the prospect, not someone who should do it based on their title or position and isn’t really interested. Ideally it would be someone who already has a blog about your industry. Then make it a part of his or her job and make sure it’s built into that person’s job description, so they can make it a priority and keep it active. Because I still believe a dormant blog is worse than no blog at all.

What should folks read to stay current on social media and thoughts on its marketing applications?

ChrisBrogan.com, mashable.com, socialmediab2b.com, ConversationsMatter.org, socialmediatoday.com, the Marketing Over Coffee podcast.

What should folks tell their boss about what they learn from this panel?

If you think you don’t have time to get involved in social media, look at all the information you share every day either through email, on the phone, in conversation, in meetings, the articles you forward to you friends. You could be sharing all of that on a blog, on Twitter or in a social network. Once you get started and develop your “social media muscle,” you’ll start finding more and more to share.

You don’t have to do everything, but you can’t do nothing, so do something.

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

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If you’re active in social media, especially if it’s part of your job, you’ve probably gotten used to the feeling that you’re doing everything wrong, or that you aren’t doing enough. In the past few weeks, I’ve been told – directly or indirectly – that a Facebook fan page is vital to our brand and we need to get one ASAP, that we’re using Twitter wrong, that we need a much more aggressive video strategy in social media, that we need to radically expand our blogging program and that I shouldn’t be allowed to have my job because I moderate comments on this blog, instead of making them open. I’m sure I could think of more.

That’s one of the hazards of reading the social media thought leaders, and the people who, for whatever reason, can do whatever they want in social media. If you, like me, are trying to integrate social media into a large company, you have a lot more factors to consider than a startup with five people or a small company with a one- or two-person marketing department.

We have 11,000 employees around the world. We have a marketing division, a legal department, an HR department, an IT organization, an external communications team, an internal communications team, a creative services department, and others who have a vested interest in how we communicate, how we present ourselves as a brand, and how we behave online.

Things don’t happen overnight.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have a sense of urgency, or that we don’t understand the value of social media. But it does mean that it takes some time to make major changes.

I try to keep that in mind when I read about the next big thing we aren’t doing yet, or just as accurately the next big thing from six months ago we’re still investigating. Or the thing we’re doing wrong, or that we aren’t pushing hard enough. We have to set priorities and address what makes the most sense for us, and that means we’ll never be doing everything we could, or doing everything the way we’re “supposed” to be.

If you’ve never worked in a big corporate environment, it’s easy to say, “Just go for it and see what happens.” If you’re in it on a daily basis, you know that consensus takes time but yields the strongest results.

Feel free to accuse me of making excuses. But I’m not speaking to the mavericks and the consultants and the gurus and the startups. I’m speaking to the people who have jobs like mine in companies like mine.

There are a lot of experts out there who will tell you what you need to do. Read what they have to say. Study the success stories and case studies from companies like yours. Keep up to date with the news and trends and tech.

But only you can decide what will work best in your organization.

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

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  • People are talking about SAS online whether we are there or not. It’s good for SAS employees to participate in those conversations provided we do it in a way that is respectful of the standards of the online community, follows the Social Media Guidelines & Recommendations, the Online Conduct Guidelines, and behavior and computer use policies.
  • We trust SAS employees to represent SAS online in a professional manner, the same way we trust them to do it in the real world.
  • Don’t talk about customers, partners or vendors, reveal private or proprietary information, intellectual property, pricing, details of customer installations or anything else that could harm our business or business relationships. The exception: You can link to content on sas.com that references customers, like success stories, press releases and videos.
  • When you participate in social media, you are speaking for yourself, not on behalf of the company. Be sure to make that clear. And know that you are responsible for your actions.
  • Talk to your manager about your social media activities, what you’re doing, how it relates to your job and how much time you spend doing it.
  • Open communication among employees, customers and the community at large will inevitably lead to some uncomfortable moments, but we can deal with those, and the benefits far outweigh the risk.

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

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It is 10:00 pm and I am lying on my back in bed, writing this post on my iPhone. Why would I write a blog post in the dark on a cramped keyboard that, no matter what you think of it, is not ideally suited to larger-than-micro blogging?

Because I can. I just found the WordPress iPhone app yesterday and I’ve been dying to try it, mostly because I think it’s cool. Never mind that I’m making a lot of mistakes, my hands are going to sleep and I have three machines with full-size keyboards in the house.

And why am I obsessed with buying a netbook when I have three laptops?

I’m not going to try to explain the Shiny Object Syndrome. I’m sure many of you suffer from it yourself, or live with someone who does. No big shocker: it’s fun to get cool new stuff.

I wonder how much of that attitude drives social media participation, especially among the early adopters? How much of it is excitement at finding a new vehicle to listen and express oneself, and how much is the desire to get something cool and new?

I know that when I am immersed in the search for a new tech object (such as the one that finally culminated last night in ordering an Asus Eee 901 netbook with Linux), it becomes a way to carve out a little time to be fully (and selfishly) engaged in something outside my quotidian concerns. It’s almost meditative, as pathetic and Western as that sounds.

I get the same feeling when I’m trying to figure out a new (to me) social media tool like Ping.fm or Brightkite. I wonder how much overlap there is. Obviously you don’t have to love gadgets to love social media. But gadgets can certainly make it more fun.

Maybe we can identify a subset of people where the two interests intersect. What should we call them? Social gadgeteers?

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