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The world before social media

Back in the day, most people were disconnected from the world. They lived in small family groups, peer groups, villages and neighborhoods, seldom connecting with the outside world. Aside from merchants, soldiers and sailors, few ever really scaled their reach beyond a few miles from home. Yet people were social in ways that we aren’t today. Life was by its very nature social. We didn’t watch TV or surf the web or read magazines. Laundry was washed at the local laundry fountain, where all the women washed their clothes together. Without adequate refrigeration, food had to be purchased daily from crowded markets. We lived and worked in close quarters. Neighbors lived much closer to us than they do today. Our homes were less spacious, the streets narrower, and the world was something that existed well beyond a horizon we hardly ever had a chance to discover. Annual festivals, celebrations, catastrophes and cultural events pulled us together at regular intervals and cemented our bonds with each other. Some might say that we were more social then than we are now: Pressed together in an analog world where little distracted us from human interactions and bound by strong social ties, we lived and breathed together as full-fledged members of our respective communities.

Then came the industrial revolution, and mass transportation, the telephone, television and the internet… and it all changed. We grew apart. Our homes became more spacious, our yards broader, and suddenly our neighbors were little more than strangers. We turned away from each other, preferring other modes of entertainment to basic human contact. Books, magazines, television, the internet, video games, portable music, cars, sports… We essentially became anti-social. We erected walls. We separated ourselves from the community and reconnected with it only on our own terms. We stopped writing letters and began writing emails. Our daily interactions became more and more impersonal. We isolated ourselves in comfort.

Then Social Media emerged from the antisocial communications machine and changed everything.

Yesterday, Edelman Digital’s Maria Prysock and David Armano asked “would a world without social media be more social?” It immediately made me think of this clear separation between the analog world of old and the new digitalized world. Having spent the last few weeks in Europe – much of it with my parents, both born in the 1930s’ – I was reminded of how much things have changed even in the last 50 years. People of my parents’ generation seem to both marvel at the way Xers and millennials adopted communications technologies but in the same breath bemoan the fact that digital connectivity is eroding our basic social bonds. Our ability to be comfortably content in each other’s company without having to push a button or interface with a device. Imagine how 13th century Europeans might have felt had they witnessed modern day people spend half their day fiddling with objects rather than talking with other human beings.

While it might be tempting to think of the answer to Maria and Dave’s question in terms of quality vs. quantity of social connections, it really comes down to a far less philosophical point: simple reach.  The world before Social Media may have seemed more social, but it was also clustered. Social had very little reach. It didn’t scale. It was limited to rigid, often closed social groups with their own power structures, rules, and limitations. The web may only be a proxy medium compared to say, the village well, the tribal long house or the local market – each a face-to-face medium – but it has served to significantly extend Social‘s reach (globalizing and liberating it, even) without stripping away its basic nature. Social Media’s ability to connect people globally, in real time and on their own terms redefines the very nature of the term “social.” It shifts it from a localized, tightly controlled phenomenon to a global and highly adaptive one. And in that, it is a cultural revolution unto itself.

Think about it this way: 200 years ago, what was the size of a typical person’s social circle? (The very term “social circle” is pretty telling.) 30? 50? Maybe 100 people? Your family, your neighbors, the butcher, baker, blacksmith and other tradesmen? The local clergymen? Your shipmates? Your troop? Your fellow students? More to the point, what was the size of that social circle’s geographic footprint?

See where I am going with this?

Compare it to today: Users of Social networking platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Linkedin and YouTube (to mention only a few) haven’t just broadened their social circles and turned them into complex webs of connections and interactions, but extended their reach geographically to a quasi global network as well. Social hasn’t just scaled. It has been redefined.

So I suppose at the very center of the “would a world without social media be more social?” question lies another question: How do you define social? Or rather, how do you separate old-world social – that focuses mostly on depth of connections – from the new, digitalized social – that focuses on breadth as well?

The thing about it is… digitalized social (social networks and socialized media) doesn’t and cannot replace the age-old social interactions generations of humans grew up with. Nothing can replace the nuances and impact of face-to-face communications, of one-on-one interactions, of handshakes, of hugs, of sharing drinks and stories and the warmth of a fire. Not video conferencing, not foursquare, not even augmented reality. Just as a newborn baby needs to map out her mother’s face with her own eyes, we need to press flesh and eat together and experience a bit of road together in order to form the bonds that our communities, businesses, organizations and social ties need to keep from coming apart. You still need to visit grandma and hug her. You still need to pet your dog. You still need to visit your parents and your friends every time you get a chance.

This is why Social Media fans rush to conferences where they can meet in person – the ultimate irony of the Social Space being that most of the money being made under its auspices still happens offline: #sxsw. #Blogworld. #LeWeb. #140Conf. #Social Fresh. #Blogwell. (Should I go on?) The same social dynamics are why remote meetings don’t work as well as on-location meetings. It’s why working groups who can’t be in the same room are typically far less efficient than working groups who can share the same space. Contracts are signed in person. Important meetings are worth traveling to. People still like to look a client or partner in the eye before pressing on with a relationship. Here in Cannes this week are the Cannes Lions, one of thousands of events that would never happen if we didn’t have a need to come together at regular intervals to celebrate what makes us tick.

More than 80% of human communications are non-verbal, still. The web hasn’t changed that. Ask an emoticon.

What the industrial age tore apart in our once simple and finite social habits is now being patched up by the socialized web and social technologies. Our need to be social isn’t affected by twitter, blogs or facebook. It isn’t affected by mobile technologies or the web either. How social we are as individuals isn’t dependent on our access to technology or lack thereof, but our ability to choose between being locally social or globally social is. And that’s the crux of this whole discussion: technology is just a tool. It provides a medium. Enablement. Socialized media are channels, nothing more.

Social technology is simply a proxy medium: The town square, the tribal long house, the hunting party’s fire multiplied by millions and touching every part of the planet equipped with an internet node. “Social” is a behavior first and foremost. The technology, the apps, merely pipes and real-estate.

Would a world without social media be more social? Yes. No. In a way. Social would simply take on a different form. A different meaning. Without the web itself, without cell phones, without Twitter and Foursquare and email, without TVs and earphones and shopping malls, perhaps we would turn away from the outer edges of our world and once again turn inward to our own local peer groups, to our neighbors, to our local social networks. Maybe. But those of us with social wanderlust would still find ways to reach out over the wall and the next forest and the next hill, by telegraph or carrier pigeon or corked bottle, knowing that half a world away, someone was dying to reach out to us as well.

Before Social Media, we built walls... and sand castles.

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Pop quiz: You own or manage a restaurant. A hotel. A coffee shop. A specialty goods store. A hot dog stand. A bank. A movie theater. A shoe store. A gym. A bodega. A hair salon. A sushi bar. A pub. A public park. A swimming pool. A museum. An art gallery. A city. Do you know who the mayor of your business is?

If you don’t, find out today. Right now. Here’s why: It could help your business grow pretty quickly if you play your cards right. More on that in a minute. First, here’s how to find out who has claimed the title of mayor on Foursquare: (Huh? fourwhat? Hang on. We’ll get to that too.)

The How:

Step 1: Go to www.foursquare.com

Step 2: In the search box (top right) enter your business name.

Step 3: When your business information pops up, look to the right of the screen. You will see an icon labeled “mayor”. That’s who the mayor is.

The Now What:

Find out who they are, and you give them the royal treatment next time they come into your store. Let them know you’re paying attention to a) Foursquare, b) whom is taking the time to check in every time they come into your place of business, and c) who is sharing that information (that recommendation) with their friends on Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook.

Think about giving them a discount or a gift while you’re at it. Set up a “mayor parking” spot outside. Treat them like a VIP inside the store. Address them as “Mister Mayor” or “Your Grace,” when they walk in. It’s up to you. Have fun with it. Give them more reasons to like you. It never hurts to reward kindness with kindness, and remember that it is supposed to be fun and rewarding.

The Why:

If you aren’t familiar with Foursquare yet, here it is in a paragraph: It’s a game played on mobile devices. People “check in” to businesses and other locations, and try to accumulate points. In some instances, they win much coveted “badges” (see some examples below).

In other instances, if they are the most frequent visitor of a location (like your store), they are crowned “mayor” of that location. The game is free, works on a variety of mobile platforms, and players have the option to share their check-ins with their network of family and friends on Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook. It’s a silly game, sure, but it is powerful as well. Here’s why:

1. Frequency – Because checking-in is a game, it is fun. That, in and of itself, is reward enough. Mayorships and badges are also rewards for activity on Foursquare. What it means is this: Foursquare gives people an incentive to visit your store more often, just so they can check in. Especially if you are running a promotion aimed at your store’s mayor. As a business, you can thus easily use Foursquare to increase the frequency of visits to your store(s). That equates to more foot traffic, more mindshare, and potentially more sales. (While they’re in your store, they’ll probably buy something.)

2. Reach – In case you missed it earlier, when someone “checks in” to your location, they broadcast that check-in to their various digital networks. Right now, that is mostly Foursquare itself, Twitter and Facebook. This will probably grow over time. But consider that the average american has what… over 200+ “friends” on Facebook? Think about the power of having a single customer broadcast that they are in your restaurant, in your hair salon, in your pub to 200+ of their friends every time they come in. Now multiply that by ten customers. Now multiply that by 100 customers.

Though not technically “active” word of mouth, Foursquare check-ins are still de-facto endorsement of your business. In other words, it isn’t just a question of exposure. A check-in is an affirmation of endorsement. It might as well say “I am here, and I am proud to tell you all that I am doing business here. Come do the same.” That’s the context of a check-in.

Every time one of your customers checks-in and broadcasts that they are doing business with you, they potentially trigger a visit in an average of 200 other potential customers. (Either existing customers or potential customers.)

3. Yield – Of the three, this one is probably the toughest to achieve, but as a measure of loyalty, yield (average purchase amount) can be impacted by foursquare activity. As frequency of visits increases and loyalty follows suit, it is likely that a portion of your customers will escalate their purchase amounts as well. Loyalty can lead to a higher percentage of wallet share, not just through buy rates (frequency) but also higher price-point purchases.

A word on escalation: Take the example of a bike shop. A casual customer may come in once a month and buy some energy bars, a bike jersey and some socks. As this customer is developed into a regular, they start purchasing all of their energy bars from you instead of buying them from several different places. They may also start jonesing for that new pair of cycling shoes and that new helmet they will soon rationalize they need to replace their “old” ones with. If you treat them well and understand their needs, this escalation may lead to a higher dollar purchase like a race wheel upgrade, a carbon-fiber set of handlebars upgrade, a full bike tune-up, or even a brand new bike to start off the new season in style.

Result: In six months to a year, you could potentially turn a casual customer who only bought low-hanging-fruit items in your store to a loyal customer with a habit of dropping large amounts of cash on premium upgrades with you, instead of blowing them on something else.

Note: You cannot escalate yield if you do not have a relationship with your customer. There is no shortcut here. You have to get to know them. You have to become part of their world. This is not something you can do from a corporate office, or from the back of the store. Someone has to interact with them on a human level – both online and offline.

More thoughts on how to leverage Foursquare:

How your business can use Foursquare is up to you. Use your imagination. Try different things. Be clever. Have fun with it. Perhaps you can work with Foursquare to create badges for your business, the way that Bravo, Starbucks, SxSW, Marc Jacobs and several cities (San Francisco, New York, Brooklyn and Chicago) already have. Here is Starbucks’ very own Barista badge. To obtain it, players only need check in at 5 different Starbucks locations:

Imagine the same thing for your business, or banding with retailers in your area to create a badge players could unlock by visiting 5 of your combined locations. You could work with an organization or with a city even, to help promote your business through Foursquare. You don’t have to do it all yourself.

Perhaps you can also create promotions around Foursquare activity, like flashmobs (using your business and a particular sales event to help customers achieve both all-too elusive swarm badges (50 people checking in together and 250 people checking in together.)

Another fun idea: Procure some Foursquare Merit Badges and ceremoniously award them to customers who acquired virtual badges online (see below).

Whatever you choose to do, start at the beginning: Find out who the mayor of your business is, acknowledge that status, and reward it with warmth and gratitude, if not with product.  Next: Create an account and get rolling. It’s your business. Take charge and participate. Welcome to a whole new world of marketing fun. If you’re lucky, you will beat your competitors to it. (Never underestimate first-mover advantage, especially in the age of twitter & facebook real-time word-of-mouth.)

Footnote: I spoke to two retailers yesterday who had never heard of foursquare. One didn’t know that dozens of customers were already checking into their store regularly, and I added the other’s venue because there wasn’t one yet. Guess what: One knows who the mayor of their business is today, and he has a plan now. The other will know as soon as someone becomes the mayor, and is already working on some promotions. We will revisit these two businesses in a few months to see how they fare.

Also check out Gowalla.com while you’re at it. Very much the same thing, and it too is growing.

Additional reading:

Via Mark Van Baale (@markvanbaale on twitter) – “Foursquare sees another big Domino fall

And this great piece via Mashable on Foursquare’s business analytics dashboard.

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olivier alain blanchard

Fact: Even after you’ve talked to them at length about it, most of the decision-makers you are talking to still have no idea how Social Media can help their business.

Heck, they may not even completely understand how developing relationships with customers, building a great brand or taking the time to help communities grow around their products or company philosophy can positively (and pretty significantly) impact their P&L.

Now… don’t get me wrong: I am not a huge fan of spending a whole lot of time attaching every single thing a company does to the almighty P&L. That’s a lot like putting a $$$ value on every hand you shake at a party or every business card you hand out. Pretty self-serving and sort-sighted, right?)

BUT I also understand that when sitting across the room from a decision-maker who gets pitched every day, you have two choices: 1. Sell something they don’t care about, or 2. Solve a problem for them that no one else can.

It doesn’t matter that what you’re selling will absolutely catapult them to the #1 spot in their market or boost their sales by 5,000% in just 12 months. (As if the actual value of an idea had anything to do with management decisions. 😀 I mean really: Look around you.) If they don’t get it, if you aren’t handing them a solution to a problem they are struggling with, you are wasting your time.

Worse yet, the opportunity cost to you and the honcho you just wasted your time speaking with is this:

1. Someone else with a lesser idea but better presentation skills will get that business.

2. The company who went for the lesser solution will suffer from not having signed with you. Market share and profits will continue to erode. Layoffs will ensue. The world as they know it will end. (Do you really want that on your conscience?)

So what’s the answer? Simple: Be prepared to address their specific need. Understand what their hot-button issue is. And more importantly, get good at clearly and smoothly connecting the dots between what you have to offer and the result your interlocutor is looking for. Is it more sales? Is it loyalty? Okay, how does your solution impact either or both?

But wait… define sales. Are we talking about creating new customers? Increasing how much existing customers spend? Shifting customer spending from one product to another?

If trying to impact loyalty, how does loyalty look to that manager? Does it look like increased frequency in purchases? Does it look like an increase in new customers through referral programs? Do they even know? Do you know?

Look, if you don’t know this stuff, if you can’t tie it all together, if you can’t at the very least speak that language, it’s back to the drawing board for you.

Sure, you may get lucky with 5% of the company execs you sit down with, but even then, it’s a matter of time before their boss looks at your program and asks for a slightly better answer to the ROI question than “increased social mention,” “really positive online conversations” and “almost 3,000 followers on Twitter”. Whether you like it or not, whether you care about it or not, this is a piece of the puzzle that you have to address. Period.

If you’re scratching your heads right now, no worries: Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be helping you with that little problem. Stay tuned. I have something special brewing for you guys. 😉

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giant snowball, by olivier blanchard 2009

Today’s bit of Marketing, Customer Experience, Design & Product Development advice comes from Kathy Sierra‘s awesome old blog:

“Your job is to anticipate… To give them what they want and/or what they need just before they have to “ask” for it – to be surprising yet self-evident at the same time. If you are too far behind, or too far ahead of them, you create problems, but if you are right with them, leading them ever so slightly, the flow of events feels natural and exciting at the same time.”

Walter Murch

iPod wasn’t designed by users. It was designed for users. No… wait… it was designed to be loved by users.

This seems really basic and simple, right? Just plain old common sense… Yet how many companies do it? Very few. So until every single company figures this out, it is worth repeating, even if it seems like a no-brainer.

If your job deals with customer experience design, (product, web, retail, customer service, touchpoint ideation, advertising, etc.) print either the sentence that came just before this paragraph or Walter Murch’s bit of wisdom, and pin it to your office wall. Either one can (and probably should) become your new mantra.

Technorati Thingamajingies: , , , .

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engagement by the brandbuilder

Above and below: Some revamped slides from Monday’s presentation. These two companion messages (Engagement and P2P) seem to have resonated with the audience, so I thought I would elaborate on that topic a little.

First: Should companies continue to launch and drive  marketing, advertising, promotional and other types of business development and awareness campaigns?

Yes. Absolutely. No question.

Traditional media “push” strategies and tactics, when developed by the right people and used properly, can be extremely effective. I am a big fan of great campaigns, so keep creating GREAT push campaigns.

But “engagement” – and by that I mean customer engagement (even if those customers are not technically customers yet) – is not a campaign. It isn’t even a strategy. It is a commitment to a being the kind of business that people will want to be a part of and whose products and community people will want to share with friends and family. The kind of business that people  will naturally want to support proactively for years and years.

What we are talking about here has its basis in culture. Call it company culture, corporate culture, management culture… it doesn’t matter. The point is that if your company still refers to itself as a B2B (biz to biz) or a B2C (biz to consumer) company, you are missing the boat. Thin about every great experience you’ve had with a business: Fantastic service at a hotel – where the folks at the desk (and the rest of the staff) makes a point to remember your name. Think of the same kind of service at a restaurant or retail outlet. Think about how you feel about a physician with fantastic bedside vs. a physician who acts like spending any time with you is the chore from hell. Now ask yourself which you would rather be: The business that makes people WANT to come back and recommend you to their friends, or the business that will either fail to be memorable – or worse, give people a reason to find a better option than you next time.

It doesn’t matter if you are a hair salon, car rental company, commercial lender, real estate agent, architectural firm, coffee shop or IT distribution company: Create great experiences based on building relationships with your customers (and your community) and your brand will quickly find itself on the rise.

Fail to do so, and your situation will NEVER improve. No matter how much you lower your prices, no matter how much money you spend on advertising, public relations, call campaigns and promotional incentives, you will still be struggling to get past 5% annual growth (once the economy recovers, that is).

You must learn to become a P2P (people to people) company. Period. There is no other option for you. Not anymore.

Starting with the way you treat your employees – from the way in which you hire, train, mentor and manage them and the words you choose to use around the office (do you refer to your team members as “headcount”?), to the type of relationship you build with the people you do business with.

You are a P2P company, by the brandbuilder

Have a great Weekend, everyone. 😉

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SMC Greenville, Olivier Blanchard

Hey look, it’s me! And a fully stocked bar! (Thanks to Jim O’Donnell for the awesome photo.) More photos from Richard Peck here and here. Awesome.

So… A quick recap: This presentation took place at Greenville, SC’s 2nd monthly Social Media Club meeting early Monday morning.  About 150 people from the Greenville-Anderson-Spartanburg area showed up to enjoy a great breakfast provided by our host (Soby’s Restaurant/Table 301) and hear me talk a little bit about what social media is and isn’t. (Probably more the breakfast, but that’s okay.)

I will be posting the presentation soon, but for now, here are some of the main takeways fom my little show:

It is easy to get bogged down with tools and platforms and technologies when it comes to Social Media. Relax and take a big step back: All we are really talking about here is people talking with people. Remember that.

If we dig a little deeper, we don’t have to go far to see that people are using Social Media to (re)connect with one another, create communities on their own terms, and share what they are passionate about.

Social Media as we define them today may be new, but people have been connecting, creating communities and sharing their interests for thousands of years. We are deeply social creatures. We love to share experiences – food, entertainment, art, stories, etc.

But the complexity of our lives have forced us to disconnect from one another. Greater distances separate us. Our busy schedules make it difficult for us to connect with each other regularly through traditional means.

But we NEED human interactions. We crave them.

Social media help us reconnect in spite of our busy lives.

The relationships people want are meaningful. They are based on affection and trust, from parents at an early age to friends and extended family as we grow into adulthood, and eventually outward still to our community.

Compare these meaningful relationships with the relationship you have with an outsourced cstomer service rep or a disengaged salesperson. Sharp contrast, right? Question: Can meaningful relationships be created through outsourced labor?

Question: If – as a business – you understand the importance/value of creating meaningful relationships with your customers, why shove your customers away to call centers and disengaged employees? How does that work?

What if you could turn angry customers into your greatest advocates? What if you made it your mission?

What if you invited these customers to call you back regularly to let you know how things are going?  (Start a conversation with them. Engage with them. Foster a relationship. Twitter is good for that.)

As a company, ask yourself what role you play in your customers’ lives today:Are you their partner in crime (in a good way) or are you just selling them stuff?

Communities: Knowing where we belong is as important as knowing how we belong.

Individuals are hard to hear. Communities are much louder.

People want their opinions to matter. They want to be heard. When companies refuse to listen, they build walls between themselves and the communities around them.

Not listening (to your customers) is expensive. It makes you ignorant and isolated.

How can you know what people are saying about you outside your walls if you aren’t out there listening?

How are you monitoring you reputation?

Listening makes you relevant.

Listening makes you part of a community. (So listen!)

Not Listening = Disconnected. Listening = feedback, insight and metrics (use tools like Radian6).

As people grow increasingly connected (via social media), companies are losing their ability to influence behaviors via traditional means and media channels.

The era of the monologue is dead.

In the US alone, people are exposed to 500-3000 commercial messages per day. PER DAY!!!

And the ROI of the most obvious advertising channel (TV) is estimated to be 1-4%. (Not exactly stellar.)

Meanwhile, recommendations by family members, loved ones and peers are extremely sticky. People turn to people they trust to help them discover products and make purchasing decisions. In other words:

People are increasingly tuning companies out, and tuning in to each other instead.

Traditional Media alone increasingly expensive and less and less effective. Social media can complement traditional media: Add relevance, authenticity and stickiness.

Q: What is the most important thing a business can do for itself? A: Create happy, loyal customers.

Engagement is not a campaign.

This conversation is not about Social Media adoption. It is about transforming the way you think about your business: You are not a B2B or a B2C company. You are a P2P company (people to people).

You must create ways to enhance or improve your customers’ experience in a way that matters. One way to put this into action is to ask yourself how do I get my customers to want to recommend us to their mother or child or best friend?

Ask yourself: How would you do business if your CEO suddenly decided that you could no longer advertise? What would you do? How would you engage with your customers?

More notes from the presentation tomorrow. 😉

You can also follow some of the Twitter threads at #smcgville and #smcgreenville.

smc-greenville

Thanks again to SMC Greenville for having asked me to speak at their event this month. It was truly an honor.

I want to send out a very special thanks to Richard Peck, Table 301 and the awesome staff of Soby’s restaurant for being such gracious hosts.

Kind thanks also to Business Black Box for covering the event with their video crew.

And most of all, HUGE THANKS to everyone who got up at the crack of way too early on a Monday to come listen to me speak. I was truly overwhelmed by the interest, kindness and enthusiasm you all brought with you. Pretty unreal. I’m glad to have met even more incredible folks this week, as well as seeing so many familiar faces. Orange Coat’s Bear Gautsch was there (did I also see Jimmy C?), Brains on Fire’s Robbin Phillips, Geno Church and Spike Jones were there along with Bounce’s John McDermott… Bobby Rettew, Doug Cone, Jon Evans, Amy Wood, Trey Pennington of course… And I hear that someone even drove all the way from Columbia! (Whomever you are, shoot me a note. I definitely want to meet you next time you’re in Greenville.) The list is waaaaaaaaaaaaay too long for me to go on, so I’ll stop here. Thanks for coming, everyone. 🙂

What a great way to start the week!

Greenville Social Media Club - Olivier Blanchardphoto by Doug Cone (@nullvariable)

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Grand Central terminal, NYC - photo by Olivier Blanchard

Forget Twitter. Twitter is completely irrelevant. What we are really talking about here is a community.

Fact: It would appear that I am completely addicted to Twitter.

Also a fact: I couldn’t care less about Twitter. Twitter is a means to an end. A tool. A platform. Nothing more.

Fact #3: What may appear to be a Twitter addiction is in fact a community addiction. Or rather a love affair with conversations, sprinkled with a penchant for establishing appropriately meaningful connections with people (many of whom I might not otherwise have the pleasure to meet or share ideas with).

So before I go any further, the distinction between the box called Twitter and the magic that goes on inside it needs to be super clear.

Right about now, you are probably asking yourself… why are we talking about Twitter? What is it with this addiction? Can we pleeeeease move on to a topic we care about? And I hear ya. I really do. But I feel compelled to clear this up once and for all if I can, with this little post. (Yeah. As if. You know me: ever the optimist.)

In truth, this post – or rather the idea behind it – came from Spike Jones’ rant this week about Twitter. Normally, Spike’s piece would have prompted a 30,000 character comment, but it occurred to me that the topic deserved its very own post. (That, and I figured that Brains On Fire’s servers would probably appreciate my not taking up 3 gig of space for nothing.)

So anyway… To understand where I am coming from with this post, go read Spike’s piece first, then come back here for further consideration on the topic. Here’s the link. Hurry back.

..

.

Welcome back! I’m glad you took the time to read Spike’s opinions – and if you haven’t done so already, be sure to add BoF’s blog to your RSS reader or blogroll. It’s always a good read.

Now… Spike and I have grown to be good friends throughout the years, and we see eye to eye on most things. I have a lot of respect for him and the folks at BoF – who also  happen to be in the 864, by the way. So a) I don’t intend to bash anyone or trash any of his opinions here, and b) you may be surprised to hear that I actually agree with most of the things Spike brings up in his post. That being said, I have a slightly different opinion of Twitter and feel the need to come to its rescue if just a little.

Let’s go over some of what Spike brings up in his post so everyone is on the same page:

Your Twitter is not my Twitter: Ask 25 people what they use Twitter for and you’ll get 25 different answers. Some use it to keep up with friends. Some use it to find inspiration. Some to find knowledge. Some for mindless thoughts. Some just for fun. And some for none of the above.

Absolutely.

Twitter is not a popularity contest: It’s SO EASY to get caught up in the “number of followers” game. Addictive, even. But who really cares? It’s not about how many people you can get to follow you. Any monkey (or bot) for that matter, can go out and follow 10,000 people and mindlessly they’ll get 4,000 followers back. It’s quality – not quantity.

Again. Right on.

If you’re on Twitter all day long, I really start to wonder how you get your job done. Seriously. If you’re updating 45 times an hour, I’m thinking to myself, “Doesn’t this guy have a job?” Or if you’re constantly Tweeting after hours I’m thinking, “Doesn’t this guy have a family?”

That’s fair. As a Twitter power user, I get those kinds of questions often. Truly being on Twitter all day long is pretty-much impossible unless you are a) jobless, b) hopelessly addicted, c) wealthy enough to hire folks to tweet for you, and/or d) paid to tweet.

The next best thing to being plugged in to the Twitter stream 24/7 is to use a service like TweetDeck (or even Radian6) that notifies you when someone addresses a tweet to you directly or talks about something you are interested in. Kind of like IM or an email. Same thing. Also, categorizing key tweeps in specific groups helps you filter content in a snap. It doesn’t take long to figure out how to integrate Twitter into your multitasking routine. Everyone has a method. It may not seem like it, but I sometimes go a day or two without tweeting if I am busy. Lately, I have settled into a schedule that severely limits my access to Twitter until mid-afternoon. Being self-employed helps. Having a plan and knowing how to manage a schedule/workload well helps even more. Being able to filter Twitter conversations quickly (with the help of TweetDeck) can also mean the difference between a day wasted on Twitter and a healthy balance of work and insightful conversations.

The key is finding a balance that works for you. That balance is different from person to person. Some people watch TV. Others read. Others do crossword puzzles or play World of Warcraft. And some do it all with twitter streaming in the background. As a guy with a crazy schedule, a job that doesn’t stop at 5pm or on Friday, a triathlon training regimen AND a family, I still manage to blend Twitter into the mix without it getting in the way, so it can be done. 😉

Twitter isn’t for everyone or every comany. There are people running around literally badgering companies, politicians and whomever will listen that they should be on Twitter. First of all, companies need a strategy before they are on Twitter and secondly, it just doesn’t make sense for some companies to be on there – because their customers aren’t on there. So whenever someone tells you that they are a Twitter expert you have two options: 1) Laugh your ass off or 2) smile politely, turn and walk away.

True: Twitter isn’t for everyone or every company. But rememberwhat I startedthis post with? The whole twitter is just a box and the real value is in the community thing? Yeah. That. Forget Twitter for a second. Forget the very name, and look at it as a community. Heck, look at it as overlapping microcommunities, even. When I look at Twitter, I see mothers, fathers, bakers, auto mechanics, CEOs, CMO’s, recruiters, teachers, military folks, graphic designers, dog lovers, athletes, foodies, musicians, restaurateurs, web developers, students, doctors, etc. Ergo: I see people.

No wait… I see people talking to other people. I see people making friends. Sharing ideas. Recommending products. Asking questions. Answering them. I see people helping each other. I see people creating value for themselves and for others.

In my very humble but professional opinion, there is TREMENDOUS value in that.  And as Twitter continues to grow in popularity and usage (let’s not forget that Twitter is also a mobile phone app, not just a computer app), that value will grow exponentially.

Now… if you look at Twitter purely as a channel – like YouTube, NBC, a blog or a specific NING community, you’re right. At little more than a million active users, Twitter is a pretty low ROI channel. Most people aren’t on it yet, so Twitter’s reach is still way too small to matter. True.

If you look at it that way, then yes: Anyone preaching Twitter to companies may seem like a lunatic or a fraud.

But remember: Quality over quantity. Meaningful over transitory. Personal connections over automated customer service processes. For a great example, look at what Jet Blue is doing with Twitter (sample tweets from the @jetblue stream):

@foodmomiac head to the North concourse at T5 – it tends to be a bit quieter over there for phone calls.

Travel Tip Tuesday: Slip on shoes make the trip through TSA faster – and it’s good to stretch your feet on a long flight.

Winter weather in the Northeast may cause delays or cancellations. For your flight’s status, go to http://www.jetblue.com/flig…

@shaxxon Sorry but you may still need to set your DVR – We’ve got 36 channels of @DIRECTV but ABC isn’t one of them.

Yes @danwebbage. Daily flights between JFK and Montego Bay, Jamaica begin May 21st. I may need to do a “work trip” for onsite coverage!

@Jonnelle Have no fear, we’ll continue complimentary snacks and beverages. These options are for those who want something more substantial

@gregverdino When were your flights? – we are waiving change fees for customers traveling through NY Metro area tomorrow: http://is.gd/Pjg

Travel Tip Tuesday: Beware of viral WiFi SSIDs. If you see “Jet Blue hot spot” not “JetBlue Hotspot” check further http://is.gd/hocL

@alexsteed what flight number? – follow us and I can get back to you with info.

@sarahbuhr Travel destination packages you ask? Take a gander at our Getaways: http://jetblue.com/getaways

Any Pittsburgh folks thinking about a trip to Tampa? Just for you we’ve got a direct PIT-TPA on Jan 29th and 30th and two back on Feb 2nd

@schvin Unless acting as a documented service animal, pets must be fit in a carrier with combined weight less than 20lbs http://is.gd/fI3x

How cool is that: Jet Blue essentially uses Twitter as a free concierge service. And a friendly one at that. This is an airline, for crying outloud. An airline!!! 😀 If even an airline can figure out how to enhance their customers’ experience with twitter, surely a retailer can. Or a restaurant. Or a car rental company. Or a realtor. Or a politician. Or a hospital system.

We’re only scratching the surface here.

The beauty of Twitter is that it is a) 100% opt-in and opt-out, and b) an all-purpose destination: a) We use it on our terms if and when we want to, from any device – portable or not. b) Twitter is Twitter. I don’t have to look for a website or a blog. I don’t have to hunt down the right url or rss. I dont have to search or click through a menu to find the right page. It’s simple. It does all the work for me. It’s a single destination for every topic or type of connection. Just follow whomever you want, let it do all the work, and engage at will.

And unlike most websites and toll-free numbers, a) the person on the other end responds pretty quickly, and b) they usually aren’t outsourced. There’s something to be said for that on both counts.

Twitter and Politics

Now… to address Spike’s question about whether or not politicians should use Twitter, again, let’s erase Twitter from the thought process: The real question is should politicians engage in live conversations with the people they represent? (Regardless of the medium, platform or tool.) In my opinion, yes. Absolutely. Is Twitter the most appropriate tool for the job? Maybe not. But used in concert with other tools, yes, Twitter can be extremely effective – not only around election time, but every day – or every week – as time permits and the situation demands. Ultimately, the level of involvement a politician has with their constituents is their choice. I can only voice a personal opinion on the matter. I won’t make a judgment call on that one. I certainly won’t fault anyone who supports the creation of new (and direct) avenues of communications between public officials and voters who expect to have their representative’s ear.

Influence, reach and rankings

And last but not least:

The other tangent on this is TwitterGrader and the rest of those “graders” – they’re gimmicks people. If you’re goal is to be in the top 10 in the city, state, nation or world on TwitterGrader, you have my sympathies.

Awwww. Come on Spike. 😀

There are graders for everything. AdAge has its Power 150. Mack Collier’s Viral Garden has its Top 25 list. Technorati ranks blogs by category also. Everywhere you turn is some kind of ranking system. A Top 10 list. A Top 25 or 50 or 100 list. It’s human nature to a) be competitive, and also to gauge everything’s relevance through popularity contests.

Is Britney Spears more relevant than you or I because she has over 13,000 followers on Twitter? I don’t know. I guess to those 13,000+ people, she is. You and I may not like it, but it’s a fact that popularity and relevance are subjective.

In the eye of the beholder, as one might say.

Regardless of the quality of your content, reach does equal influence. If I can reach 3,000 people daily with my advice, then 5,000 is better. Not because of latent ego trips, but because I reallywant to try and help (influence, if you will) as many people in the business world as I can.

Likewise, if growing my crowdsourcing pool to 2,000 people helps me find twenty great sources of information or insight daily, then perhaps increasing that pool to 3,000 people will speed up the process. There is value in that for me, and I have adequate filters in place that allow me to sift through that much info without getting a headache over it.

Whether we like it or not, being ranked in the Top 10, 25, 50 or 100 in any category can be a powerful thing. False humility aside, it does feel good to discover that you are ranked somehow, somewhere. It generally means that a number of people find value in what you are doing, and that always feels good. Beyond the pat on the back thing, it’s also a peer-based validation of your contribution, performance or value. Nothing wrong with that either. From a more pragmatic standpoint, being #1 or in the Top 100 in your city, state, country – or in the world can help validate your position in an industry or authority on a topic. (I said help validate. Popularity or rankings are not an indication of anything on their own.) Still, for businesses and consultants, that sort of thing can make a huge difference.

Just like I don’t see anything wrong with folks training hard to make their way into the top 10 in their age group at a local triathlon, I don’t see anything wrong with people working hard to boost their Twitter rankings. If that’s their trip, why not? I see no harm in it. In a way – depending on why they use Twitter – learning how to increase their relevance and influence there could be a good thing, right? Kind of like boosting website rankings with search engines, driving traffic to a blog or driving attendance to a conference? When you take a step back, it’s really all the same thing. If someone just wants to use Twitter to chat with people, great. If part of their goal is to increase their relevance with a certain portion of the Twittersphere, that’s great too. To each their own.

What’s to ‘get’ of not to ‘get’?

If folks don’t “get” Twitter, that’s okay. Months ago, I tried to get my brother to start using Twitter so I could feel closer to him. I figured that if he tweeted about going to the market or watching a soccer game on TV or working on a website, I wouldn’t feel like he was so far away. (He lives on Reunion island, so we don’t see each other very often.) His response after he took a look at Twitter was “Why would I want the world to know every time I take a crap?”

Clearly, he wasn’t in a frame of mind conducive to a rewarding Twitter experience. (It’s okay, we still have Skype.) The point being that he doesn’t “get” Twitter, and that’s okay. My parents aren’t on Twitter either. Neither are most people I know. No big deal. To me, it’s like people who don’t see the point of ever watching a Star Wars or James Bond movie. They just don’t see the value of it, and I guess I just have to shrug and let them live their lives the way they want to live their lives. Are they missing much? Maybe. Maybe not. Who am I to say?

With some of these folks, it’s a non-issue. With others, it becomes part of who they are: A sort of badge of honor. Not having ever seen a Bond flick is something that becomes more than just… not having seen a Bond flick. It’s a line in the sand. I know people who absolutely refuse to walk into a Starbucks or get behind the wheel of a Ford or leave the United States. My mother refuses to learn how to use email. One of my neighbors thinks that computers and the internet are a complete waste of time. I know a guy who swears that he will never own a cell phone. Okay. Who cares. Your life, your rules, right?

Over time, some of these people’s attitudes eventually shift from being neutral about their opt-out strategy to being negative and critical about the cultural object they refuse to participate in – probably in an attempt to defend or validate their decision. I don’t get it, but it’s okay. The beauty of it is, I don’t have to get it. It’s just the way it is and I am 100% okay with that. Not everyone gets Twitter. Not everyone wants to see a Bond flick. Not everyone wants to own a computer or eat grilled fish or travel to Europe. I shrug and move on. It doesn’t make people any less intelligent, relevant or worth hanging out with. Our differences shouldn’t divide us after all.

Just like some people scratch their heads when they see runners or cyclists glide by on a Saturday morning, some people look at Twitter with an equal measure of curious amusement and annoyance: What’s the point. Where’s the value. Why would you waste time chatting to strangers on Twitter. Don’t you have better things to do. How in the world can something like this help a business. Why would I want the world to know everything I do. I guess if you have to ask, don’t worry about it. If you don’t see the value in it, don’t force it. Nothing says that you have to use Twitter or be on Facebook or LinkedIn. Who cares? If you don’t feel that it’s for you, it’s okay. Really. We won’t hold it against you. It won’t make you uncool or anything. Different strokes for different folks.

Those of us who do get it however, those of us who see the potential, who have been creating conversations and engaging with (and in some cases building) communities will continue to use Twitter to connect people with one another – and to establish these connections for ourselves in the process. We will continue to expand each other’s networks, brain trusts and talent banks. You can frown at us, scoff at us, even shake your fingers at what may seem like bizarre behavior sometimes, but the simple fact is that we of the Twitter world are simply connectors: We create connections between people, businesses, ideas, skills and value sets. It’s part of the way we operate. We were doing it before Twitter (BT) and we will still be doing it (hopefully better) long after Twitter is but a faint memory (AT).

I’ve already rambled way too much, but if you will allow me one last bit of wisdom/advice/commentary/wrap-up, here it is: Don’t get sucked into conversations about tools and platforms and apps. What we are really talking about here is people talking and connecting with people. Twitter in comparison is absolutely, completely, utterly irrelevant to the conversation. Don’t get sucked into Twitter sucks vs. Twitter rocks argument. We might as well be arguing over the color of the microphones used by the United Nations. Totally worthless. Let’s try and move beyond that.

For another take on the subject, check out Doug Cone’s piece on this very topic – also prompted by Spike’s post. Check it out here.

Have a great Thursday, everyone.

PS: Spike, nothing but love, brother. I’m buying the next round. ;D

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pho4me-desert

The story of your relationship with your customers should read like what’s going on in Pho’s photo (above):

You found each other in the wilderness.

You connected in some way.

You liked where things went from there.

You made music together.

You had a great time.

You became part of each other’s worlds.

If you and your customers aren’t dancing, if you aren’t making music together, if you aren’t truly part of each other’s worlds, you should probably be asking yourself why.

Fact: You may be selling to customers, but you are still not connecting with people.

Reinvent the way you do business.

Get back to basics.

Get back to handshakes, smiles and conversations.

Get back to knowing your customers, not just knowing about them.

If your business isn’t touching people’s lives in a meaningful, memorable, deeply human way, your resources are being wasted on ineffective “business processes” – and the only thing you are developing is your own expensive demise.

Banks. Hospitals. Grocery stores. Software companies. Equipment manufacturers. Airlines. Retail spaces. Taxi cabs. Wireless providers. Repair shops. Restaurants. Hotels. PR firms. Universities. Manufacturers. Distributors. It doesn’t matter what industry or type of business you are. This applies to each and every one of you.

Tear down the walls, walk out into the world, and dance.

That is all. 😉

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Geno Church speaks at SMC Greenville

From Lydia Dishman’s piece on FastCompany.com:

Energy. Enthusiasm.  Optimism.

Hardly words that come to mind when describing a 7:30 am meeting on a chilly Monday morning.  But the main dining room of Soby’s on South Main Street in downtown Greenville, SC fairly crackled with the energy of the 100 people packed in for the inaugural meeting of the Greenville chapter of the Social Media Club (SMC).

Live feeds made the meeting available to groups in Shanghai, China and Orlando, Florida. A welcome message by Steven Weathers, an American professor currently residing in Shanghai, kicked off the high-octane feature presentation by Geno Church, “Word of Mouth Inspiration Officer” of Brains on Fire, a local branding agency in Greenville.

Using slides, film clips (including the hilarious “These go to eleven” sequence from This is Spinal Tap), and stories, Church chronicled the success of campaigns such as Fiskars “Fiskateers” and the Park Angels in Charleston to illustrate how social media played a role in the viral building brands. As enthusiasts connected to each other, relationships grew and consequently strengthened the brand’s image. “Community loves company,” explained Church… Read the rest of the article here.

(Then recommend it and come back.)

So what do you think really motivated 100 people to get out of bed a lot earlier than normal on a freezing cold Monday morning to come hang out together? (Aside from Geno, of course.) Do you think it was to talk about FaceBook or Twitter? Do you think it was to exchange tips about apps, widgets and how to get more followers? Do you think what brought these people together – not only in Greenville but all around the world in this case – really had anything to do with Social Media tools or tech talk?

Or do you think that maybe, just maybe there is something a whole lot more relevant and important going on? Something much more human and powerful?

I welcome your thoughts.

To connect with the Greenville Social Media Club, go ahead and say hi to @SMC_Greenville on Twitter. The group will follow you back. 🙂

Event Photo Galleries: @nullvariable, @linkerjpatrick, @thebrandbuilder (If you have more photos of the event, we’d love to share them here.) Also Check out Channel 7’s coverage of the event here.

Social Media Club Greenville

Cheers!

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