How To : Choose a Social Media Partner

Posted on April 17, 2009. Filed under: Business, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , , |

expertsWith the term “Social Media Expert” being added to just about every company and consultants profile these days it is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. What follows is my opinion on how to identify a Social Media partner for your business or organization. I want to explain why I am writing this post, it is the product of several conversations with people, clients, prospective clients and just friends who all asked me this question.

Disclaimer

Before going any further with this post it is important that I acknowledge that I & my company provide Social Media advice, guidance and execution as part of our service offerings as an integrated Marketing communication company. However, what follows is in no way an advertorial, I will not be promoting our services in this post.

The Basics

A quick search of Twitter profiles turned up 80 Twitter users just on one results page that included the term Social Media expert in their profile. I think most people know to be wary of “self-proclaimed” experts. However, just in case you aren’t, you should be.

So ignoring those who will loudly proclaim their own expertise how can you find someone to work with who can provide you and your organization sound advice? There are several important criteria to consider when evaluating a potential Social Media Partner:

  • Longevity
  • Experience – Doing Not Saying
  • Results
  • Shiny Object Syndrome

Longevity

How long have they actually been doing this? Some people maintain that Social Media is so new that it is impossible for anyone to have gained expertise in the space. I disagree, Social Media has only been new to those who didn’t recognize it for what it was – primarily the mainstream media. Social Media has been around a long time in one form or another. Podcasts used to be called Webcasts, they pre-date the iPod by several years (I launched my first series of webcasts in 1998). Blogs have been around at least that long, admittedly you had to have some coding skills to create one and they weren’t really recognized as blogs per se, they were referred more to as lifestreaming or online journals (posted my first one in 2002). So to state that the space is so new that no one has gained enough knowledge to have expertise seems to me to be a way of making excuses for those who, after 3 months of Twitter use hang out their shingle as a Social Media expert. As with any “consultant” check and see how long they have been in the field.

Experience – Doing Not Saying

This is where I prefer the term Practitioner rather than Consultant – its a semantics thing, and at the end of the day the job title doesn’t really matter. However, in my experience consultants are usually very good at talking about a topic, not necessarily good at executing. When considering a Social Media Partner find out if they have actually had personal success with Social Media. When I think of Social Media Practitioners I think of people like Chris Brogan who doesn’t just talk about Social Media, nor does he just consult with companies on the topic, he “does” Social Media and as such has gained recognition as a Social Media Influencer, being approached by brands to be an online evangelist for their product. At a more local level to me, here in Austin, we are very fortunate to have some excellent Social Media practitioners. One that jumps immediately to mind is the very talented Shelia Scarborough. Sheila is a blogger, Social Media trainer and practitioner. As a travel blogger she was invited to go on a tour of China to experience the growth and changes in that country. You don’t get invited on trips like that simply by calling yourself an expert, other people have to recognize your ability and your practice in the space.

Results

Does your prospective partner know how to get you results? Can they cite previous examples of having gained results for others? Remember that in this age of sometimes semi-transparent business practices, some companies demand that external consultants sign strict Non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from using the company name on any marketing materials. So don’t be overly surprised if they aren’t able to give you a name and number to call for a large project, but they should be able to produce data at a detail level such that they aren’t faking it.

Shiny Object Syndrome

If your potential Social Media Partner wants to talk endlessly about the latest new technology, new platform or widget that they think you should be using, proceed with caution. While a good knowledge of upcoming trends is essential, the habit of simply running to the latest and greatest platform and dragging you & your organization with them isn’t good for you. Remember that Social Media isn’t about technology, its about people. The platforms we use now will be very old hat in 2 years time. Being obsessed with the technology won’t lead to a successful Social Media strategy.

Hopefully you have some things with which to separate the wheat from the chaff when considering a Social Media partner. What qualities do you think I missed, what would you add to the list?

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Is Making Friends Social Engineering?

Posted on March 23, 2009. Filed under: Facebook, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , |

Dr. Frankenstein and His Monster

Two sessions at SXSWi that I attended have had me thinking for a few days now. They were seemingly unconnected, one by Brian Brushwood of Scam School and one run by David Armano & Russ Unger on the topic of Friendship is Dead.

The Right Words

It occurs to me that the language that we are using to using to describe friends & friendship has been overtaken by the way in which people employ activities that used to be described by them. The one that, for me, exemplifies this is “making friends”. As children we were encouraged to “make friends” with other children, as adults we are impressed with the ease that some “make friends”.

Whilst the concept is popular, and has a clearly understood meaning, I wonder if it has not been overtaken by the technology now employed by so many to “make friends”. Social Networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Myspace etc. have made Making Friends, easier even for those who were previously lacking in real life social skills. The ability to be physically removed from a situation allows everyone to be more social.

However, are these friendships “made”, are they in fact manufactured rather than grown? I would argue that real friendships are the result of an organic process, not a manufacturing process. The technology that has brought people closer together has also enabled people to employ ever increasing amounts of social engineering to “make friends”. Social Engineering, Transactional Analysis and other behavioral theories cover the same basic principles and when online behavior is compared with these theories there are some obvious correlations.

Influence

There are six generally accepted methods to influence a person’s behavior, liking, reciprocity, authority, scarcity, commitment & social proof. If you map just three of these to behaviors on Twitter for example, and look at what Twitter users see as “good behavior” recommending someone by mentioning them in something like the #followfriday posts or by Retweeting their posts, these actions can be seen to be both acts of liking and acts of reciprocity. When you examine the Twitter ranking tools they all place a high value on these types of activity. These acts of “friendship”.

To become influential on a social network requires not a friendly nature but simply an understanding of social engineering. Guy Kawasaki, in an article in Entrepreneur, talked about how to increase your Twitter followers, one method he recommended was to @reply to A listers (or SMores as he refers to them), not because they would respond but because others would see you in a conversation with them and make the assumption you had a relationship, this is the use of Authority.

There is more to it than Numbers

Of course its easy to read this post as simply me being cynical, and actually I am far from it. My own experience of using Social Networking has been very positive. Facebook allowed me to find old friends and extend relationships with new ones. However, not everyone online is using Social Media with the same intent. Numbers have become increasingly more important, especially as Marketers see the potential in Social Media. Businesses run on numbers, so measuring Influence on the basis of numbers becomes an easy way to identify people worth connecting with. The number of readers a blogger has, the number of followers a Twitter user has.

I argue that these are manufactured, that they are transient, and relate more to popularity in the celebrity sense than they do with Influence. That is not to say that influential Social Media users don’t have large numbers of followers, but there is not necessarily a direct correlation. That is where it becomes really difficult to measure influence.

Friends or Influence

So are we seeking to make lots of friends or are we seeking to increase our sphere of influence? Is the aim to be seen as a friend to all, or to be seen as influential? Is there room for both? Can we “make friends” to increase our sphere of influence and still be geniune?

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Social Media Evangelists – The Special Forces of New Media

Posted on December 18, 2008. Filed under: Business, Marketing, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , |

Cover for the 2007 reprint of The Green Berets

2008 has seen the rise of the term “Social Media” appearing in a variety of places that it hasn’t appeared before, most notably in the list of skills claimed by individuals, whether as in house evangelists or external consultants. So what does it take to be a Social Media Evangelist?

Special Forces Training

This might seem an extreme analogy, what do gun-toting, clandestine troops, featured in movies & TV shows have to do with New Media?

Well firstly put aside the images from TV & the silver screen. Special Forces are not sneeky assassins they are called special for a reason, that reason is the breadth of their skills. To be selected they must pass a testing assessment course, much of which has little or nothing to do with “soldiering” directly and more to do with being able to cope with ambiguity. This is where the analogy starts. Often having positioned themselves within an organization or branded themselves as an external consultant, a Social Media evangelist will be told, “We need to do something Web 2.0” – how is that for ambiguous?

The Skills

Linguist

One of the first things that a Special Forces operator has to be is a linguist. They learn at least one and sometimes several languages relative to their area of operation. Social Media Evangelists have to be linguists as well. They need to be able to communicate in both the language of the organization and Social Media and build a comfort level that bridges the gap between the ability of the “locals” to speak the new language and do it in such a way that is perceived as threatening.

Negotiator

This is an incredible important skill, for both SF Operators and SM Evangelists. Whilst the “locals” might have series of demands, needs & desires, the specialist needs to be able to filter this wish list and establish what is possible, what is advisable and what needs to be removed from the list and most importantly be able to negotiate this new list and define why this is the way it should be done. There are bound to be internal conflicts as different parties want to be involved in the changes, working out these conflicts is where the negotiator excels.

Educator

Hollywood & TV often portray SF operators charging in to save the day, whilst there can be no doubt that these situations have existed, most often SF operators work behind the scenes, providing amongst other things education. This again is a primary role of the SM Evangelist. It is not enough to have knowledge of the SM landscape, to know the tools or how to use them. This knowledge must be shared and shared in a way that makes sense to the recipients. Using knowledge only to inflate their own sense of worth diminishes both SM in general and the SM evangelist in particular. The ability to teach new users not only of the benefits of using SM but also the tactical use of the tools, their appropriate use builds not only a broader user base it enhances the user experience of everyone involved in SM. Properly educated organizational users will be better able to engage with their customers and prospective customers – that means us.

Weapons Expert

Ok, so you knew it had to be here somewhere, no mention of SF operators could be complete without a mention of their weapons expertise. No I am not suggesting that SM Evangelists suddenly go out and arm themselves, at least not with guns & knives. However, they do need to be experts in the weapons of their trade, SM Tools. This is difficult, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, FriendFeed and all of the other services, platforms and tools that are available is it truly possible for one person to become experienced in all of them? I would say probably not for every situation, however, knowing the capabilities of these tools, and more importantly the limitations is essential. A SM Evangelist is quickly distinguished from a SM Enthusiast by their recommendations. If they propose that all platforms suit all organizations and all strategies, they are not a specialist. Knowing when & how to deploy particular tools, who within the organization is best placed to utilize the tool and for what purpose is the skill of the SM Evangelist. This is where they can bring real value to an organization.

Anthropologist

The ability to meet the “locals” who have perhaps little or no knowledge of your “country”, or worse still they have only a media presented version and have already determined what you are capable of is the challenge facing both the SF operator and the SM Evangelist. How they overcome this will vary on the situation but a strong sense of cultural sensitivity is essential. Knowing why you are there what the “locals” are looking for and assisting them in meeting their goals will only come from a truly anthropological perspective. The ability to stand outside the internal politics, social pressures, and the vested interests of certain parties to see what is really needed, what will really work and then being able to translate that in to an actionable plan that takes into account all of the knowledge gained through observation and interaction.

The list of skills is not meant to be exhaustive. The skills displayed and used by SM Evangelists will vary from case to case and different skills will be called for in every situation. These are the basics. It should also be remembered that SF Operators do not work in isolation, they work in teams, with specialists spreading the knowledge across the team. Perhaps this is the most successful model for SM as well. An organization seeking to develop real advantage through SM will build strong teams that encompass all of these skills. Equally individual consultants might be advised to recognize where their own skills are not complete and partner with others who have the skill set they are missing, combined they become a phenomenal force.

The whole point of developing and deploying SF teams is as a “Force Multiplier”, this is and should be true of employing, whether internal or external, SM Evangelists. They should act as a force multiplier for an organizations SM strategy.

Are you an Evangelist?

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Social Media Firestarter

Posted on December 16, 2008. Filed under: blogging, Business, Marketing, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , |

success-triangleAny High School student can tell you the three elements needed for fire: Air, Heat, Fuel. If you remove the source of any one of these three elements the fire goes out. Add sufficient sources of all three and you have a firestorm.

What does this have to do with Social Media? I think that there are the same three elements for starting a fire in your social media activities.

  1. Quality
  2. Consistency
  3. Engagement

Quality

Some will have you believe that Content is king. I think this is flawed and has led to many organizations making a huge mistake in their Social Media activity. Simply having a blog post everyday or sending out your branding message in a 140 characters 8 times a day on Twitter until you have hundreds of posts and thousands of tweets to your credit is not going to create any heat around your activity.

Quality of communication is the element that is required not quantity of content. If you have nothing to say, say nothing – this adage doesn’t only apply to polite conversation, it applies to all communication. So how do I measure quality. Firstly, is it useful, not just promotional? An example: A business that sells fruit baskets could choose to post endless “special offers” or they could post recipes, How To’s, suggestions for times to give baskets. Mixing in the odd “special offer” is now going to gain interest amongst readers not be rejected out of hand.

Consistency

This doesn’t mean posting a blog entry everyday, nor posting a dozen useful links every morning to Twitter or Facebook. It does mean ensuring that what you post is suitable for your audience, relevant, helpful, informative, interesting, funny whatever your trying to become recognized for. Find something and do it regularly, consistently. Many organizations and individuals start out with unrealistic expectations of themselves and their ability to sustain Social Media activity. “We will post twice a day” or “five times a week” or some other measure of “consistency” but this is the wrong measure. What are you going to do when the day comes that you don’t have a post ready? Suddenly you have failed. You have missed a day or maybe two. Now your strategy has taken a hit. Better that you under promise and over deliver, even to yourself. Tell yourself you are going to post twice a week and then end up posting four or even five times a week, now you are ahead of your strategy. But the focus should not be on quantity but on quality, this is where the focus of your Consistency should be.

Engagement

This is, perhaps, considered the most important of the three elements by some. As with the original fire triangle remove any one of the elements and the fire dies. An imbalance of the elements will also cause the fire to eventually die. Too much emphasis on any one element in your Social Media fire will result in the same thing. Engagement should not have a disproportionate value in your strategy. Trying too hard to engage with your audience is as off putting to them as the loud embarrassing uncle at a family gathering. Everyone wants to laugh at that joke but they have heard it a dozen times. By balancing quality & consistency with engagement the audience becomes engaged willingly. They feel that they are an equal partner in the engagement and value the engagement. This is the aim of engagement. Frequent enough that there is a familiarity, and sense of participation.

How will you start your Social Media fire?

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Tribes: This is Not The Term You Are Looking For

Posted on November 28, 2008. Filed under: Marketing, Observations, twitter | Tags: , , , , , |

Seth Godin’s book Tribes has created a lot of conversation. About the concept, about the content and generally about whether the book is saying anything new or not. As an Anthropology major I was interested in the use of the term Tribe. Originally it was used by the Roman’s to describe the three ethnic groups that formed the early Roman people.

Later it was adopted by, primarily European based colonial expansionist to group native peoples together. Quite often incorrectly, but there was a need to homogenize the previous occupants of desirable land. For that reason alone the term Tribe has both outdated and pejorative connotations.

My disagreement with the use in this context is not only the potentially pejorative nature of the term but the classification is at best a very lose use of the term, perhaps best left for an aside certainly not suitable to build an entire marketing program around.

Why “Tribe” is not the word

The book is aimed at people seeking leadership teaching, and Seth Godin posits that anyone can become and should become a leader of a “tribe”. It his definition of a tribe that I take issue with. The tribes he describes are at most temporary social groups. Church affiliations, groups of friends in a bar etc. These are not “Tribes”.

Tribes have a permanence brought about through a familial connection, a shared ancestry, a shared sense of creation and a sense of reciprocity.

While I can completely support Seth Godin’s observation that some social groups both offline and online demonstrate some of these behaviors, reciprocity, a sense of self as a group. This doesn’t make them a Tribe in the same way that my ability to speak a few sentences of the French language and an enjoyment of Brie doesn’t make me French.

In a recent conversation about this topic on Twitter a fan of the term tried to qualify it by saying that I should “Think of a collegiate atmosphere – when you leave the tribe is still with you.” This typifies my issue with the use of the term. Firstly, this description is uniquely American, primarily due to the Greek system in place at a lot of US universities – it does not exist in other countries. While I can definitely see why Alumni create and maintain long term relationships, they lack either the familial connection or any of the other features of a “tribe”.

Reciprocity

What Seth Godin is really describing is the nature of group reciprocity. The sense of a group member being able to call upon other group members for assistance. This is certainly a reason why people become parts of groups. I am the member of several groups that display this advantage, from being a Twitter user through the leadership of a local Chapter of the AMA to being a member of a Search & Rescue team. These groups fulfill different needs in me and I fulfill different roles for the group. But we are not a “Tribe”. We have different lives from each other, they are not the first thought when I think of my “wellness”, though they certainly contribute to my sense of well being.

What I seek, in the 21st century, and from a “leader” like Seth Godin is a reframing of this term. Original thought is what is required of leaders, great examples is what is required of leaders. My favorite description of leadership is from Antoine de Saint Exupéry

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

This is the “Tribe” that Seth Godin is referring to, the group that shares that common longing for an jointly perceived outcome.

Do I have a better word than “Tribe”? I have several but what would you call this collective?

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Twollow: SOLD

Posted on November 25, 2008. Filed under: Sales, Social Media, Technology, twitter | Tags: , , , , , |

twollowlogoLast week I posted a review of the Twitter tool Twollow. I was interested to see that it almost immediately went under the auction hammer. The tool that took 24 hours to build, took only 7 hours to sell. Bidding started at $25, with the tool finally being sold for $1,750.00. I am surprised by for two reasons, one, it was developed in 24 hours which means the developer realized $72 per hour. Second, it was obviously built for sale. This is an interesting trend. Almost akin to the House flipping market and I wonder if it will follow the same pattern.

Tools for Sale

Will we now see a rush of tools for Twitter brought out simply for resale? I will be interested to see what happens to Twollow – there is no disclosure of who bought the tool. Considering it was really a work in progress and needed quite a bit of remodeling it might not have been the bargain that someone thought.

The model that was used was very interesting. Build & launch a tool. Garner blog coverage for it, on the auction site there were 6 different blog sites with articles about the tool, including this one. Then put it on an auction site like Sitepoint.

Facebook reportedly offered $500m for Twitter this week. An offer that was turned down by the Twitter team. $500m is not a bad offer for a company that is barely 2 years old with a tool that has really only started to gain popularity in the later half of 2008. If we take the interest by Facebook as an indication, tools that support Twitter and extend its functionality and usefulness, will ultimately attract the same type of attention. Tools that support business functionality are already starting to appear, last week I posted on Mashable a HOW TO using the Xpenser tool, which utilizes Twitter functionality to track business expenses.

Twollow had none of these to offer. There was no business functionality, no extension of existing Twitter use and yet it managed to attract both publicity and bids. One can only imagine the interest that a tool with both business and personal functionality might attract.

Tweetlater is a good example of one such tool, and one to watch.  It has been extending its functionality over the past couple of weeks.  Going from its original one trick of allowing you to schedule Tweets to adding Keyword tracking and @replies digests so that you don’t miss important replies.  I think that Tweetlater would raise a lot more than $1,750.00 if it came under the hammer.

Twitter Tool Realtor

Perhaps there is an opening for a Twitter Tool Realtor? After all Twollow was a single function tool, the software equivalent of a Shotgun Shack, and that sold in 7 hours. A Twitter Tool Realtor could bring together developers with purchasers who could then take the tools to the next level.

What Twitter tools would you buy, and how much would you be willing to pay for them?

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Twitter for Small Business

Posted on November 3, 2008. Filed under: Business, Social Media, Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Social network

Image via Wikipedia

Social Networking is the buzz these days.  Big brands are investing heavily in Customer / User generated content.  Dell reportedly has 34 heads dedicated to brand management in the Social Networking sphere.  With sites like Twitter, Plurk, FriendFeed and others generating a whole industry of Social Networking consultants small & medium businesses might feel that once again the big guys are going to corner the market.

This of course couldn’t be further from the truth.  Small & Medium businesses have always known that customer feedback is the core of their business.  They usually have a much more personal relationship with their customers than the big brands.  Most Social Networking tools are simply trying to replicate that “personal” feel that people look for from smaller enterprises.

Small businesses have used networking tools for a long time, whether its national based professional organizations or local Chamber of Commerce small & medium business owners and leaders have generated business and brand awareness through these direct tools for a long time.

So do small & medium businesses have to be bothered with online social networking tools?  I say definitely.  But they don’t need the vast array of expensive tools and consultants that the bigger brands are investing in.  They most likely already have the skill set in house – good listeners, people who are responsive to the voice of the customer.  After all its harder for a small business to come back from a bad customer experience because they are dealing with a smaller customer base to start with.

Communication Tools

First decide how you are going to send your Tweets.  You can start with the basic Twitter interface but you are likely to find that you out grow this quickly as you increase the number of people that you are following and as your own following grows.

If you want to stay using a web based interface then I recommend using iTweet. It has a better organized interface than the original and allows you to view more information on one page than the original.  However, if you are ready to move away from a web interface then you are better off exploring either Twhirl or TweetDeck.  Having used both I have a preference for Tweet Deck, but you will find your own reasons for using a particular tool.

Where is everyone?

Ok so now you are able to Tweet. Great what next?  First you should find people to follow.  The best way for a small business to do this is to use to Twitter Search.  The advanced option is where you want to focus your efforts. This allows you to make selections based not just on keywords, which of course are important, but also on the type of Tweet – was it a positive comment, a negative comment or a question, Geographic location, did it contain a link.  By using these options combined with phrases that are unique to your business you can find people who are talking about your business.  Having found them you can follow along for a while before you start joining the conversation.  Small businesses are good at this type of communication.  Listening twice as much as they speak (you have two ears & one mouth).   Once you start to understand the way in which Twitter conversations happen you can expand your ability to find conversations that make more business sense.  Tools like TwitterBeep which allow you to set up email alerts for particular keywords. 

So how do all these tools come together into a cohesive Twitter plan? The communication tools will allow you to start joining the conversation.  The search tools allow you to find people to followers and the alert tools allow you to find conversations that matter to you.

As a test I set up alerts to find Twitter conversations where people were asking for recommendations for a Mechanic in Austin (where I live).  Twitter search returns results 15 to a page.  I gave up counting after 8 pages of results!  Had I been a mechanic shop, I think I would have found enough new business prospects to keep me busy for at least a week of Twittering.

Brian Solis maintains a great list of Twitter tools that will get you started.

Are you a small or medium business that is having success using online social media tools?  Share your story here and let everyone know what worked for you and what didn’t.

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