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Twitter

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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Last week, Jamie Sandford began the day with what I’ll call a “metatweet.” I responded. It took off. Here’s how our conversation evolved throughout the course of the day:

@jsandford: <something about coffee>

@davidbthomas: <something about Mondays>

@jsandford: <inspirational way-too-much vim and vigor tackling-the-week tweet>

@davidbthomas: <excessive use of motivational hashtags>

@jsandford: <ending of day tweet>

@davidbthomas: <expressing an interest in a particular foodstuff and/or alcoholic beverage>

@jsandford: <general agreement and/or countering with alternative item which is more complex or uses rarer ingredients>

@davidbthomas: <enthusiastic agreement, onomatopoeia representing consumption of said foodstuff>

@jsandford: <comment related to upcoming TV show, hashtagged>

@davidbthomas: <parenting anecdote>

@jsandford: <emphatic sport event comment!>

@davidbthomas: <support for the opposing team expressed as ridicule of your character>

@jsandford: <denigration of your team based on menial historical statistic relating to prior triumph in the series>

@davidbthomas: <rejection of the importance of your quoted statistic, followed by equally trivial statistic from earlier contest>

@jsandford: <commentary on the difficult nature of putting small descendants to bed and/or humorous pre-slumber saying>

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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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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 have a friend and colleague who is debating whether or not to change her Twitter handle. Right now she’s @Postgrad. She likes the name. She’s gotten attached to it. She feels it says something about her. I think she should change it to her name, Meg Crawford, or some available variation.

Why?

Because that way people will know what her name is.

I follow more than 1,100 people on Twitter. Some use their names, some use something else. I just heard @unmarketing on Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation podcast this morning. I follow him on Twitter and he shares great information. He has more than 57,000 Twitter followers.

I have no idea what his name is.

Clearly his Twitter strategy is working for him, and he may have reasons for wanting to brand “Unmarketing” instead of his name. Is @Mashable really Pete Cashmore, or is it Mashable, the online tech news site? We already know that @GuyKawasaki isn’t just Guy Kawasaki, it’s a network of people that share information for, essentially, the Guy Kawasaki brand.

I met Wayne Sutton close to two years ago. I never had a moment’s trouble remembering Wayne’s name, and that’s no mean feat for a 44-year old brain that is constantly bombarded with information, noise and toddler.

Why didn’t I have trouble remembering Wayne’s name? Because his Twitter handle is @WayneSutton.

The question you need to ask yourself is, “What is the brand I am promoting on Twitter?” For most of the people I know, the answer to that question is, “Me.” Even if you’re tweeting on behalf of a company or organization, you’re trying to establish your credibility. Your value. Your brand.

If your name is your brand, make it your Twitter handle.

photo by quinn anya

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I’m flying home from Ragan Communications’ excellent Social Media Summit, held at Cisco’s HQ in San Jose. It was my first trip to Silicon Valley, and it was both impressive and a little disorienting to see all the well-known company names. Of course I knew that eBay must have a physical presence, but there’s still something slightly odd about seeing the physical manifestation of something that has such a large presence on the Web.

It was a bit like the time recently that I saw Elizabeth Edwards in the snack bar of our local Target. Yes, she’s famous and presumably still wealthy, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t shop, or eat.

Even I’m a little confused by that simile.

As I always do immediately after a conference, I’m running nearly everything through my newly-energized social media filter. So my ears perked up when I heard the flight attendant say, “We’ll do everything we can to make your flight as enjoyable as possible.”

Really? How about a foot massage?

What would happen if they said, “Folks, there’s a whole lot of you and only two of us. If you need something special, feel free to ask, but we probably won’t be able to get to it right away, if at all. Also, it’s really tight up here, so we’d appreciate it if you’d stay out of our way as much as possible.”

Wouldn’t that blow your mind? But why not? We all know that’s what they mean.

Lots of companies say they put customer satisfaction first. Do they really? If companies truly put customer satisfaction first, they’d give their stuff away for free for as long as the money held out, then go out of business.

“Our top priority at XYZ Corporation is to make as much money as possible so that our owners, shareholders and, to a lesser extent, our employees can buy more and/or better stuff, travel to nicer places, find more attractive mates and drink higher-grade booze. We can only do that if you keep buying our stuff, so we’ll do what we can within reason to keep a lot of you happy.”

I would be a customer for life.

We all tell well-intentioned lies every day, of course. When the woman in the terminal who sold me a bottle of aspirin asked me how I was, I said, “Fine.” Should I have said, “Obviously I have a headache. Did you think this was a souvenir?”

But we need to be careful not to carry these empty platitudes over to our social media communications. It’s one thing to have them in the boilerplate on our websites. But if you respond to someone on Twitter and say, “We’ll do everything we can to fix your problem,” you’d better mean it.

Look at the Twitter streams of companies that do a good job of social media customer service, like Comcast or Zappos. They are responsive and helpful, but they’re also realistic.

(Guy Kawasaki told a great story at the Ragan Cisco conference about testing Virgin Airlines’ responsiveness by tweeting, “I’m in seat 2A. Can someone get me a Coke?” Virgin responded, “Why don’t you ask the flight attendant?”)

Social media is forever changing our customer interactions. It’s making them more immediate and, in many cases, more raw – on both sides. Between the expectation of an instant response and the brevity required by platforms like Twitter, every word must count.

Don’t waste them on things you don’t mean.

::UPDATE:: I was paraphrasing Guy’s Virgin story. I found it in Guy’s own words on the WebEx blog.

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Photo by Arenamontanus

There’s a Southern States store not too far from our house, a slightly anomalous reminder that Carrboro isn’t exclusively a haven of tattooed hipsters and Prius-driving professors. We go there to buy cat food and litter, and plants and planters in the Spring. I just got back and the woman parked next to me was wearing riding boots, so I guess she was there for oats or Pony Chow or whatever horses eat.

They generally have very helpful customer service and friendly staff. But there’s one thing that always bothers me about going there. When you go to check out, the first thing they ask you for is your phone number. The nice young woman who checked me out today asked, “Is your phone number in our system?” The woman at the next register applies a different approach. She barked “Phone number?” at her customer. (I’ve gone through her line before.)

Generally when they ask I say, “No, thank you,” and they leave it at that. I find it a bit intrusive and time-wasting, but here’s the main thing: I’ve been shopping at that store for maybe 20 years, and not once has anyone even tried to explain to me why they want my phone number. I just assume it’s so they can more effectively spam me in some fashion. Maybe it’s for market research. Maybe it’s so they can send me a coupon for a free truckload of cat litter. But I have no idea.

I give the same information freely at Harris Teeter because I get discounted prices for being part of their VIC program. (I looked on the page for about 30 seconds and couldn’t find a definition for “VIC” so I’m going with “Very Important Customer.”) They make the value proposition clear to me, and in exchange, they get lots of data about my shopping habits and the overall habits of Carrboro shoppers.

In what ways do you ask your customers for their information? Are you asking them to register on your website? Are you making it clear to them why they would want to give you their information?

Are you asking your customers to follow you on Twitter or Facebook? What will they get out of it? Are you making the value proposition clear?

And just as important, are you living up to it? I follow lots of businesses and companies large and small in social media. Some of them do a great job of sharing useful information. I also follow a couple of small businesses on Facebook, a few run by friends of mine, and mostly what I get from them is, essentially, spam. “Come here and buy stuff! Hey, we’re open tonight and selling things!” If we weren’t friends I would have stopped following them by now.

Information is a valuable commodity and people are bombarded by requests for theirs. Think about why you’re asking, make sure your customers understand what they get, and be sure to honor the promise.

photo by Arenamontanus

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