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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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nuclear-explosion

Let’s go over a few things:

1. Social Media is good for you, you know it, and you know why.

2. Social Media alone can’t save your business, but you know that your business can no longer be a market leader without an effective presence in Social Media.

3. Without resources to put behind a social media program or practice, you’re nowhere. It’s kind of like trying to drive  a car without gasoline. Sorry. It isn’t going to happen.

4. Without capital, you can’t put resources behind your Social Media program. So… you have to be able to justify that expenditure. That investment.

5. In order to be able to justify an investment in a Social Media program (from your boss, your client, your peers) you need to understand how to show the value of such a program to their organization.

6. Hits on your website, banner ad clickthroughs, impressions, KPI and whatever other types of measurement your marketing people love to throw at you are nice, they’re important, but they don’t justify a whole lot. They’re a lot like hugs: Everyone knows hugs are nice, but they don’t pay anyone’s salaries and bonuses. You have to take that game a little further.

7. The P&L is not an arcane accounting document. It is where business decisions are put to the test. Every business manager on the planet watches it daily. If you have never been responsible for one, at least get familiar with its mechanics and importance.

8. If you want to justify a budget, a program, a salary, a raise, a bonus, show your boss and your client how your idea will generate more revenue, more dividends or more cost savings. Or how it already has. That will ALWAYS get more priority than schemes to get attention or earn hugs. Money is not an abstract notion. You could get lucky and never be asked to tie your activities to financial impact, but that’s no excuse not to learn how to do it.

9. If you are not able to do this, if you cannot justify the value of a Social Media program, practice, presence or endeavor, the budget you needed to make it happen will go to something else. Like email blasts, efficiency consultants, or that new executive bathroom your boss has really been jonesing for.

10. If you cannot convince your boss or client to invest resources, time and faith in Social Media, they (and you) will get left behind by those of us who can and do. (And I assume you don’t want that.)

11. There are solid measurement and R.O.I. Best Practices and case studies being developed right now. They will pave the way for very, very VERY good things. If #10 (above) resonated with you, you probably want to learn from them so you can apply them to your business. Hence my proposal to SxSW ’10.

12. The nonsense and B.S. need to stop. They really do. For everyone’s sake.

You have a choice: You can continue to ignore the topic of Social Media measurement and R.O.I. Best Practices and pretend that talking about web conversions and the influencer index and brand lift will keep things going (which they won’t), or you can get serious about this stuff, learn how to do it right, and be a hero with every company you work for for the next ten years.

Your choice.

If you want to learn this stuff, if you want to bring this discussion to the table, please vote for my session at SxSW asap. The voting ends on Friday at midnight, so I really need you guys to act now.  Spread the word, show people my latest  R.O.I. presentation if you have to… whatever works. It’s up to you. Know that if the session doesn’t get enough votes and isn’t accepted, I am 100% fine with that… But it would be a shame: The sooner we put the R.O.I. “discussion” to rest, the sooner we establish these best practices once and for all, the sooner we can get back to doing more important work.

If you haven’t voted yet, click here now, and thanks in advance. Pass it on. 😉

(You guys rock, by the way!)

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keepmum

First, let me open this post by telling you that I am not going to bash the Marine Corps (USMC) or ESPN for their unfortunate and ill-advised decisions regarding social networks this week. But I will say this: Their respective decisions to temporarily (or permanently) impose restrictions and/or bans on their personnel with respect to social network access do not address the problems they hoped to correct.

We’ll get to that in a bit, but first, let’s flashback to what actually happened this week:

Exhibit A: On August 3, 2009, the United States Marine Corps released a document entitled IMMEDIATE BAN OF INTERNET SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES (SNS) ON MARINE CORPS ENTERPRISE NETWORK (MCEN) NIPRNE. The fully capitalized document essentially banned Marines from accessing social networks like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter from their network. (An issue for potentially tens of thousands of USMC families who currently use these platforms to stay in touch with their loved ones – deployed in active theaters or not.)

A few key elements of this ban:

1. PURPOSE. THIS MESSAGE ANNOUNCES AN IMMEDIATE BAN ON INTERNET SNS WITHIN THE MCEN UNCLASSIFIED NETWORK (NIPRNET).
2.  BACKGROUND. INTERNET SNS ARE DEFINED AS WEB-BASED SERVICES THAT ALLOW COMMUNITIES OF PEOPLE TO SHARE COMMON INTERESTS AND/OR EXPERIENCES (EXISTING OUTSIDE OF DOD NETWORKS) OR FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO EXPLORE INTERESTS AND BACKGROUND DIFFERENT FROM THEIR OWN.  THESE INTERNET SITES IN GENERAL ARE A PROVEN HAVEN FOR MALICIOUS ACTORS AND CONTENT AND ARE PARTICULARLY HIGH RISK DUE TO INFORMATION EXPOSURE, USER GENERATED CONTENT AND TARGETING BY ADVERSARIES.  THE VERY NATURE OF SNS CREATES A LARGER ATTACK AND EXPLOITATION WINDOW, EXPOSES UNNECESSARY INFORMATION TO ADVERSARIES AND PROVIDES AN EASY CONDUIT FOR INFORMATION LEAKAGE THAT PUTS OPSEC, COMSEC, PERSONNEL AND THE MCEN AT AN ELEVATED RISK OF COMPROMISE.  EXAMPLES OF INTERNET SNS SITES INCLUDE FACEBOOK, MYSPACE, AND TWITTER.

View the full document here.

Exhibit B: On August 4, 2009, US sports broadcaster ESPN also announced new Social Media guidelines regarding employee/talent usage of Twitter.

Some key elements of ESPN’s new guidelines (bold text for editorial purposes only):

“We expect to hold all talent who participate in social networking to the same standards we hold for interaction with our audiences across TV, radio and our digital platforms. This applies to all ESPN Talent, anchors, play by play, hosts, analysts, commentators, reporters and writers who participate in any form of personal social networking that contain sports related content.”

Specific Guidelines:

* Personal websites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted

* Prior to engaging in any form of social networking dealing with sports, you must receive permission from the supervisor as appointed by your department head

* ESPN.COM may choose to post sports related social media content

* If ESPN.com opts not to post sports related social media content created by ESPN talent, you are not permitted to report, speculate, discuss or give any opinions on sports related topics or personalities on your personal platforms

* The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content

* Assume at all times you are representing ESPN

* If you wouldn’t say it on the air or write it in your column, don’t tweet it

* Exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for your colleagues, business associates and our fans

* Avoid discussing internal policies or detailing how a story or feature was reported, written, edited or produced and discussing stories or features in progress, those that haven’t been posted or produced, interviews you’ve conducted, or any future coverage plans.

* Steer clear of engaging in dialogue that defends your work against those who challenge it and do not engage in media criticism or disparage colleagues or competitors

* Be mindful that all posted content is subject to review in accordance with ESPN’s employee policies and editorial guidelines

* Confidential or proprietary company information or similar information of third parties who have shared such information with ESPN, should not be shared

Any violation of these guidelines could result in a range of consequences, including but not limited to suspension or dismissal.

View the guidelines here (via Mashable).

Not everyone will agree with me on what I have to say about this and that’s okay. Just hear me out and feel free to tell me why I am right and/or why I am wrong.

First things first: The USMC’s ban.

wanted

Remember these posters from WWII? Seaborne convoys to Europe were under constant attack from German U-boats and it was believed (rightly so) that Nazi spies were listening in on conversations to help plan attacks on ships. The US government created an awareness campaign to remind people (military and not) to keep sensitive information (schedules, troop movements, ship departures, etc.) to themselves.

Smart move: Creating that awareness saved lives. People were introduced to a threat they had not considered, understood the stakes, and were asked to take responsibility for their actions. This was essentially a combination of awareness and training.

award

What the government didn’t do was ban military personnel and their families from using telephones, the US postal service or classified ads (the technologies of the time) out of fear that sensitive information might be leaked out via these mass communication devices.

Do you see where I am going with this?

Awareness, education and responsibility vs. outright bans. That’s the discussion we are really having today. What best practices can be put in place within an organization when it comes to social media usage?

In the case of the USMC, is an outright ban of SNS access on the NIPRNET truly the solution? Or is it possible that perhaps clear guidelines about what content is and isn’t acceptable (along with adequate monitoring) for Marines might yield better results without interrupting benign types of communications? Perhaps even create further layers of guidelines based on the role and location of these Marines. (Recon Marines in Iraq vs. a drill instructor on Parris Island, for example: Different threat. Different access to mission-sensitive info, etc.) This might sound complicated, but it isn’t.

closed

Look at it in a different way. Is it possible that Marines chatting about a mission within hearing range of an Iraqi vendor or contractor might be as damaging (if not more) as a Facebook update? An overheard phone call? An intercepted postcard while on leave? Isn’t it more likely that sensitive information would find its way into the hands of the enemy through conventional means than through a tweet or Facebook update?

The risk here is not the medium, it is the behavior. Ban access to the medium and you solve nothing: The behavior is still there, only now, you are blind to it. Double-fail.

Identify the threat, then address the specific threat. That’s how it works. If you identify the wrong threat and engage it instead of the real threat, you’re screwed. I fear that this is what has happened with the Marine Corps. In other words, not only will the move not save lives, but it will instead help further isolate soldiers from their families at a time when technology makes deployments a lot more manageable than they have ever been.

I kidded on Twitter earlier this week was that to avoid being outdone by the Marine Corps, the Army was planning to ban the use of telephones and the Air Force would look into banning the use of snail mail. Don’t take it too literally (I understand the different threat posed by the openness of social networks), but don’t dismiss the notion too quickly either. Twitter… telephones… not a huge difference when you step back and look at the full picture.

There is a reason why telephones and mail were not banned in WWII: Training and awareness worked. A ban of technology usage would not have worked at all. The lesson: Give people some credit. Give them the opportunity to do the right thing. Don’t treat them like stupid little children. Chances are, they’ll make you proud. (That’s what IBM did… but hang on. We’re not quite there yet.)

enemyears

In regards to ESPN’s Twitter guidelines:

Many of these guidelines are solid. Especially “Confidential or proprietary company information or similar information of third parties who have shared such information with ESPN, should not be shared”, “Assume at all times you are representing ESPN” and “Exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for your colleagues, business associates and our fans.” No problem there. These should actually be #1 #2 and #3 on that list.

When it comes to being professional, representing your employer 24/7 and not sharing confidential information, thumbs-up. Good stuff. I’m right there with you, ESPN.

But wait… then things get a little out of hand.

Case in point: “Personal websites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted.” Seriously? So let me get this straight… if I am a triathlete working for ESPN and want to write a post on my own personal blog about the half Ironman I just competed in last weekend, I am not allowed to do so? Am I also prohibited from posting pictures of my son playing basketball on my Facebook page? Openly supporting a charity like Livestrong or Susan G. Komen is out of the question then? Let alone sharing with anyone that I am a fan of a particular team or athlete?

Another problematic policy here is this one: “The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content.” Not to get Clintonesque here, but can ESPN define “the”? Whose priority are we talking about, and in what context? Is ESPN implying that their employees use of social media platforms (FaceBook, Twitter, blogs, Skype, Friendfeed, IM) is exclusively limited to ESPN-sanctioned communications? So… Any use of social media outside of a ESPN-sanctioned context is in violation of company policy? Outside of work, ESPN employees are no longer allowed to connect with old high school friends on Facebook? They shouldn’t engage with friends, neighbors, golf buddies and family members on Twitter? They should immediately end their involvement with the dozens of hobby-related communities they belong to online, from sports clubs and antique car collector communities to foodie and health-minded forums?

Help me out here. I don’t see how this makes any sense from an HR or PR perspective (let alone a legal one). Though some elements of this policy are sound, others fall completely outside the realm of realistic, enforceable and effective guidelines for company-wide social media usage. Perhaps ESPN might want to consider other options (and probably better sources of advice) when it comes to framing policies for its social media program? Perhaps (again) incorporating training for employees as well might be a better solution?

Counterpoint: IBM’s fantastic internal social media policy – A template for all companies? (Maybe.)

Rosie_the_RiveterSm_4864

You might not expect a corporate juggernaut like IBM to lead the way when it comes to creating effective social media guidelines for its employees, yet here we are: IBM was one of the first enterprise-size companies to not only recognize the need for such a document, but also to deliver an adequate set of guidelines within it that made sense and allowed its culture to spread. IBM recognized that treating its employees like responsible adults rather than dangerous little children might yield pretty good results.

And they were right.

Check out IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines here.

I want to highlight a few specific elements of the document here so you can enjoy the radical contrast between ESPN’s less than savvy approach vs. IBM’s:

As outlined in the Business Conduct Guidelines, IBM fully respects the legal rights of our employees in all countries in which we operate. In general, what you do on your own time is your affair. However, activities in or outside of work that affect your IBM job performance, the performance of others, or IBM’s business interests are a proper focus for company policy.

IBM supports open dialogue and the exchange of ideas.
IBM regards blogs and other forms of online discourse as primarily a form of communication and relationship among individuals. When the company wishes to communicate publicly as a company—whether to the marketplace or to the general public—it has well established means to do so. Only those officially designated by IBM have the authorization to speak on behalf of the company.

However, IBM believes in dialogue among IBMers and with our partners, clients, members of the many communities in which we participate and the general public. Such dialogue is inherent in our business model of innovation, and in our commitment to the development of open standards. We believe that IBMers can both derive and provide important benefits from exchanges of perspective.

One of IBMers’ core values is “trust and personal responsibility in all relationships.” As a company, IBM trusts—and expects—IBMers to exercise personal responsibility whenever they participate in social media. This includes not violating the trust of those with whom they are engaging. IBMers should not use these media for covert marketing or public relations. If and when members of IBM’s Communications, Marketing, Sales or other functions engaged in advocacy for the company have the authorization to participate in social media, they should identify themselves as such.

Read the rest here.

Beautiful, isn’t it? IBM actually treats its employees like responsible adults. How about that.

By the way, check out when IBM started working on this: 2005!  Most companies today still don’t have adequate (or even specific guidelines when it comes to social media usage) and we’re just a few months away from 2010. Anyone feeling a little unprepared right now? Yeah. Some of you probably should be.

That is how it’s done, boys and girls: With calm, insightful knowledge and understanding. With respect for the medium, the process, your employees and your customers.

Okay, now come close. I have a secret to tell you: The best antidote to fear is knowledge.

That’s right: Companies whose staffers understand social media, community dynamics, organic brand management and new technologies will figure out how to do this right. (Like IBM.)

Conversely, companies with a lack of knowledge, understanding and practical experience in these areas are bound to let fear overcome logic and common sense. Fear, ignorance and paranoia aren’t exactly good foundations upon which to base a social media program – or anything else, for that matter. This is how companies can suddenly invalidate the entire potential of their social media efforts AND turn a knee-jerk reaction into a PR disaster all in one fell swoop. (And man, is it painful to watch.)

Incidentally, if you are a corporate executive who actually fears his own people… why are they your people? (Either hire better or train better. What are you doing? Hiring mean-spirited unprofessional idiots with no common sense? In this economy? When you could have your pick of the best talent out there?) If you have to impose bans and draconian restrictions on your staff to keep them in line, if the stick needs to be bigger than the carrot, your problem isn’t Twitter or Facebook. Your problem is you. (Something to think about.)

keepcalmred

One last bit of wisdom from IBM’s Social Web Guidelines to send you off on a good note:

Be who you are. Some bloggers work anonymously, using pseudonyms or false screen names. IBM discourages that in blogs, wikis or other forms of online participation that relate to IBM, our business or issues with which the company is engaged. We believe in transparency and honesty. If you are blogging about your work for IBM, we encourage you to use your real name, be clear who you are, and identify that you work for IBM. Nothing gains you more notice in the online social media environment than honesty—or dishonesty. If you have a vested interest in something you are discussing, be the first to point it out. But also be smart about protecting yourself and your privacy. What you publish will be around for a long time, so consider the content carefully and also be judicious in disclosing personal details.

This is so evolved that it almost brings a tear of joy to my eye.

No need to panic. If IBM can pull it off, our company can too. (Yes, even you, ESPN.) To start with, all you really have to do is take this social media program building process seriously and maybe ask for a little bit of expert help to help you avoid these types of snafus.

Incidentally, if your company doesn’t currently have either a solid set of social media guidelines or employee awareness training in place, give me a call (or have your HR manager give me a call). I can help you with that. 😉

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networkbash-vid

Thanks to Bobby Rettew and View (these guys do an awesome job with anything that touches video or event coverage) for organizing the event, mediating the panel and also covering the event. Talk about multitasking! (All we had to do is just sit there and answer questions.)

On the panel (left to right): Me, Steve Gonzalez, John Warner, Phil Yanov and Trey Pennington. Lots of Community Management gravitas and Social Media savvy on that panel.

Click on the image (above) to go check out the videos. You’ll notice that there are three: The first is the intro, the second is the panel discussion, and the third is the Q&A session.  Enjoy.

Follow-up to this post.

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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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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.

..

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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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social-media-stats-and-demos-2008

The questions came up again and again last week on Twitter: Does anyone know how many people use Twitter? Which cities have the highest Twitter usage? Who exactly uses Social Media and where? What do we know about the demographics of Twitter users? (Etc.)

I spent all of five minutes researching the internets to find the answers to all of these questions and bring you what is probably THE most comprehensive aggregation of Social Media stats, demos and other factoids in existence today. (Yes, my right index finger even broke a sweat.)

If anyone ever asks you anything about Social Media statistics for 2008, you can just point them to this post. (You’re very welcome.)

Okay, so to start us off, here is the breakdown of the leading social media platform usage by country as of Nov. 2008. It’s a great snapshot of where social media is today: Not at all the one-size-fits-all model many of us might think. This map doesn’t show why platforms are growing the fastest – just which ones have the most users for each country. If you want to see the map in its full glory or see how it’s changed over time, go straight to its source: oxyweb.co.uk. The site gives you a great month-by month snapshot. (As you can see, Twitter still has a looong way to go – which may not be a bad thing. Quality over quantity and all…)

socialnetworks-global-nov081

Now that we’ve had a glimpse of each country’s SocMed platform prference, let’s have a look at specific demographics for each of these platforms, from Badoo to the inevitable YouTube. Courtesy of the brilliant and enterprising folks at Ignite Social Media, here is the definitive 2008 report on all things Social Media, from geographic and search traffic data to basic demographic info (age, gender, education and household income). This is a KILLER quick reference guide for all you marketing/agency folks out there trying to get under the hood of certain SocMed platforms. Below, the Twitter data. If the font is too small to read, download the report. The skinny: The most common Twitter user is male, aged somewhere between 35 and 45, is college educated and makes a decent living. (Mid-career professionals.) Specific demos aside, Twitter seems to have a pretty even appeal across gender lines and income brackets, which is a good sign.

twitter-visual-stats-2008twitter-numbers-2008

You can download the full report here. I’ve already printed my copies and covered my office walls with the pretty graphics. Thanks again to Ignite for having taken the time to put this document together. Impressive work.

Another report you might want to look at is TechCrunch/Hubspot’s State of the Twittersphere, which also provides us with some interesting factoids about everyone’s favorite social media platform:

twitter_user_growth_q4-2008_hubspot

For example, did you know that 70% of Twitter users joined in 2008? That 20% of Twitter users have joined in the past 60 days? That the average user has only been on Twitter 275 days?

Or how about this: The most popular days of the week to Tweet are Wednesday and Thursday. An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 new accounts are registered each day. Only 5 percent of all Twitter users have more than 250 followers.

Great stuff. Check it all out for yourselves here.

If you are looking for microstatistics like fluctuations in Twitter usage in the last seven days – or peak Twitter usage times, look no further than TweetRush‘s little dashboard:

twitter-rush-hourEvidently, people are busier at work in the morning than they are in the afternoon. Hmmm…

Now for bragging rights: Since Twitter seems to be exploding all of a sudden, many cities around the world are vying for the #1 Twitcity spot. Well, don’t just wonder where your homestead ranks, find out! Twitterlocal serves you the Top 30 Twitting cities (arranged by sheer volume of tweets) and also allows you to search for tweets in specific areas. As I write this post, the top Twitter cities around the world are Tokyo (JP), NYC, San Francisco, Los Angeles and London (UK). Here’s the list:

twitter-cities-top-15

Bear in mind that this list is generated by twitter update volume during a 24 hour period and NOT by net Twitter user per city. The two are quite different. (Don’t go thinking that Tokyo has 37,212 Twitter users.)

If you do want to see a Twitter user count by city or state (and actually find Tweeps there) look no further than Twellowhood. Great map-based tool, so you can zoom in and out, pan in every direction, etc. The tool is still in beta and only includes North America (US and Canada) but look for it to extend to every country very soon. Great way to visualize/search Twitter usage geographically, and even dig deeper into who the users are. (If only phone books could be this well designed.)

Twellowhood - Zoomed-in on South Carolina

Twellowhood - Zoomed-in on South Carolina

For a metrics-obsessed guy like me, this is far from enough, but it will at least help you guys get started next time a friend or client asks you to give them some idea of who does what where in the Social Media space.

As always, please feel free to add more info, data and sources to this post via the “comments” section of this post. And if this inspires you to dig up even more data and publish your own Social Media reports, that will be a very good thing.

Have a great day!

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guy-kawasaki-package-1

A week ago, Guy Kawasaki issued a quick little challenge on Twitter: The first person who could guess what UFM means (as in “I’ve been UFMed”) would win a free copy of his book, Reality Check. Luckily, I happened to see his tweet come up as it posted and immediately replied. Having just read his latest blog post moments before, I was pretty much in sync with his frame of mind, so the mysterious acronym made perfect sense to me.

There may have been a tie – Guy, after all, has about 25 gazillion followers, most of whom can type faster than my two pecking fingers ever could – but Guy, true to his word, rewarded my speed with a free copy of his book. It finally arrived yesterday and I couldn’t be more psyched about it.

1. It’s already turning out to be a GREAT book.

2. It came from Guy, not Amazon or wherever.

3. Guy took the time to autograph it, which was a very cool gesture.

Old school pundits may scoff at the idea that social media aren’t actually “social,” that webbies are shunning human contact in favor of superficial, sterile behind-the-veil internet connections, that we are in a sense antisocial geeks settling for faceless keyboard-and-screen dialog, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth: We are among the most social people on the planet Social media connects us in a way that no other tool ever has. For those of us who are natural connectors, social media eliminates geographic and other barriers that once prevented us from meeting like-minded people outside of our typical reach. Social networks allow us to take our social nature and very simply scale it. Many of my friends and clients today first connected with me via social media – this blog, flickr, Buzznet, Flickr, etc. This medium is a catalyst for true engagement between people. For real world connections. (Not that Guy sending me a book qualifies, but it does in its own way.)

Today’s social media users are curious about the world and everything in it. We want to spread our enthusiasm for all of the things that make us passionate about life, work and play. Products we love, ideas that flipped a switch, news we want to share, etc. The mere fact that Guy, business A-lister that he is, would a) bother to spend as much time on Twitter chatting people up, and b) take the time to send someone he has never met an autographed copy of his book just to be nice are testaments to the open and wonderfully inviting nature of social media’s core adopters.

We are social. The image of the recalcitrant, vitriolic blogger hiding behind a dimly-lit screen in some dark home office somewhere needs to go the way of Enron-style accounting, and for the very same reasons: Those standing on the outside peering in need to understand that the few unfortunate bad apples in the cart don’t represent the rest of our community. Guy’s Twitter conversations may be in cyberspace, but the autographed book came in the real world mail. He signed it with a real world pen held by real world hands. The real world ink from his pen dried on real world paper that I can touch with my real world fingertips. The veil is vanishing before our very eyes.

When I meet Twitter friends in the real world, as I seem to be doing a lot these days, I introduce myself as “Olivier Blanchard. You probably know me as @thebrandbuilder, the guy with the silly chihuahua for an avatar?” They reply in kind. We laugh about it and marvel at how equally silly and beautiful it all is. How fascinating and exciting it is that the internet and the real world are finally really coming together in a productive and almost seamless motion.

We’re coming full circle now, technology and real palm-to-palm handshakes blending into a complete social experience both in business and not. How can we not be excited about that? How can companies looking for ways to connect with their audience not be excited about that as well? The potential here – on both counts – is astounding, and the many ways such unprecedented connective channels can yield returns should be enough to make anyone’s head spin.

Have a great day, everyone.

Incidentally, “UFM” stands for “Un-Follow Me” (as in, “you silly fool, why did you unfollow me on Twitter?”)

guy-kawasaki-package-2

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twitter-reality

It hadn’t occurred to me until late last week, but most major brands still haven’t figured out that Twitter is the fastest social media network (dare I say channel) in existence today. Not LinkedIn, not Facebook, not their own website or corporate blog, not anything else: Twitter is it. The conversations may start or end on blogs (corporate or not), but the conversations themselves, the dialogues, the real connections happen in real time on Twitter – which is to say that more and more of the discovery, recommendations and value-building that drive incremental transactions (basis points of growth for you MBAs out there) are taking place on Twitter.

Why are these conversations important? Why should brand managers care? Because the folks currently using twitter – the folks currently recruiting the next 100 million users – are the connectors, influencers and mavens of the social media world. They don’t have to be Social media superstars like Scoble, Brogan, Kawasaki or Lemeur. They don’t have to be high profile brand spokespersons like Ford’s Scott Monty. This is the long tail, we’re talking about. This is grassroots. The same grassroots web of networks that Barack Obama’s campaign leveraged to win the 2008 US Presidential election. And that is precisely the importance of the long tail: It’s about networks and relationships. It’s about dialog and trust. The long tail is simply the digital vehicle for word-of-mouth, the stickiest limb of the marketing world, where transactions are really born. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Twitter is quickly becoming the most effective long tail platform in history. More so than Facebook. More so than any other single digital Social Media tool.

To put the importance and effectiveness of Twitter in perspective for you, take a step back and stop thinking about it as an internet tool. In other words, stop thinking of Twitter as something people interface with on their laptops and PCs. Twitter is on people’s mobile devices as well. That’s right: The conversations and interactions continue outside of the office. They take place at the mall, in the car, at the coffee shop, on the sidewalk and at parties. Twitter isn’t just on a desk, it’s literally in people’s hands. 24/7/365.

The billboard, folks, is now in people’s pockets, on their belt, in their purse, and it gets to ask them questions and make suggestions all day long.

Yet, there still seems to be some discussion as to whether or not “brands” should start using Twitter at all.

Fascinating.

I find the question as elementary as “should soldiers be taught how to fire a rifle?” or “should lifeguards be required to be good swimmers?”

Read Mark Drapeau’s Do Brands belong on Twitter? and Jeremiah Owyang’s Why Brands Are Unsuccessful on Twitter.

The answer to Mark’s question is “of course.” The answer to Jeremiah’s rhetorical question is “because most brands aren’t even there yet,” although he seems to cover that quite well in his own post.

The thing is, some brand have embraced the Twitter “experiment” and are doing quite well. Several of them are listed below, and by clicking on their name, you will get a chance to see exactly how they are leveraging the tool. Will some make mistakes? Maybe. Probably. But that’s okay. Live and learn. At least, they are engaging us, their public, which has a dual effect: Broadening their reach, and deepening their connection with us – the consumers. As a Twitter user, just knowing that The North Face has a genuine Twitter presence makes the brand more appealing to me. Somehow, it seems to fit in with my lifestyle a little better than before, when I saw it simply as another drop in the brand name ocean. Same with Jet Blue. Same with Whole Foods. Same with Starbucks.

Locally, Liquid Highway has managed to market itself so well to Twitter users that they in turn used their influence to give their business a hefty boost outside of the twittersphere. The cost of recruiting the same amount of net new customers and then retaining them somehow through traditional media marketing and promotions would have been hefty and probably short in returns. Their Twitter strategy achieved in weeks and for almost no cost at all what a traditional media strategy would have taken months and tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps with less success.

Fact: Brands that tweet – large or small – have an advantage over brands that don’t. Period.

Even without the Twitter kinship element I just mentioned (The whole North Face thing), the very act of using Twitter as a channel to inform the public as to press releases, events, news stories and promotions would be better than not being there at all. Social media purists may shake their fists at CNN and WSJ for broadcasting rather than engaging, but in the end, Twitter can be used in a variety of ways. Not every brand needs to generate buzz of “engage”. I wish it were so, and in an ideal world, yes, all brands should strive to seek a deeper connection with their audience, but that isn’t always the priority.

In light of this basic realization, simply standing on the sidelines of a channel of Twitter’s potential magnitude without at least testing its waters seems completely absurd, especially when all data points to the fact that traditional advertising channels are losing their effectiveness.

And especially as marketing budgets are getting serious buzz cuts. (No pun intended.)

Twitter, along with other key social media platforms and channels, thus makes sense. Yet here we are, with only a small fraction of major brands actually getting involved. Curious. To illustrate the state of things, I have put together a quick list of some of the most obvious brands I could think of and went on Twitter to see if they were there. The results may surprise you. This is what I found:

Major Brands which have picked up on the importance of a) Twitter and/or b) customer engagement as a whole:

A sampling of major brands with a presence on Twitter:

Whole Foods

Starbucks

The North Face

IKEA (Not actually an IKEA-managed account. Evidently, this little project is 100% fan-created. Even more impressive on so many levels!)

Jet Blue

The Wall Street Journal

Trader Joe’s

Ford (Ironically, Ford is also in the highjacked category. Look for the “*”)

Correction: Ford’s Scott Monty explains how Ford is getting into the Twittersphere a little more formally in the comment section.

Triathlete Magazine

Fast Company

CNN

Dunkin Donuts

Zappos

The Home Depot

Kodak (Just added. @Kodak looks like it is occupied by a squatter but @kodakCB is live and rocking it. Also browse the comments section for more Kodak execs’ Twitter info. Thanks, Jenny!)

Southwest Airlines (Just added.)

WOMMA (also just added.)

Hertz (also just added.) This is not Hertz’ main brand connector though, but its new ‘Connect’ service. Pretty cool concept.

Microsoft’s Windows Mobile team in the US and in Australia, for starters.

Baskin Robbins (late add as well.)

GM Trucks (Brand new. Still has that new truck smell.)

Molson (the beer) has a whole team of Tweets: @Moffat, @MolsonFerg, @toniahammer, @molsonbryan.

These are the companies that get it. They tend to fall into two categories: The first (Whole Foods, IKEA, Jet Blue) actually engage with their followers/customers/fans on a personal level. These companies use Twitter as a true social platform. They talk, their audience listens. The audience talks, they listen. It’s nice and it works.. The second category (CNN and WSJ) use Twitter purely as a broadcast channel. While purists will frown at broadcast strategies being used in social media, it works for these types of outlets. (One more channel is one more channel.) What might get missed via overflowing RSS readers might not via an active channel like Twitter.)

Take some time to monitor the flow of conversations happening at The North Face, Ikea and Jet Blue. This is the model most companies should hope to adopt.

A very small sampling of major brands with a footprint on Twitter but not much activity:

Harley Davidson

Apple’s iPhone

GU

Air Canada (just added)

West Jet (just added)

Zellers (just added)

At least, some brands appear to see the value of claiming their Twitter footprint, even if they haven’t quite figured out what to do with Twitter yet. Not great, but still way ahead of the curve. You have to start somewhere.

Major Brands which, strangely, have yet to hop on the Twitter Train:

And now, the really scary part of this post. Below is a sampling of major brands with no active presence on twitter (or at least none that I could find as of Dec 14, 2008):

Coca Cola

Pepsi

NBC

Colgate

Chevrolet

Gatorade

Visa

Mastercard

Sears

3M

Kodak (See the ‘good’ list above for Kodak’s real Twitter info.)

Home Depot
Update: My bad – The Home Depot actually has a presence on Twitter. Look for them in the “good section of this post (above). 😉

Mitsubishi

Toyota

Audi

Microsoft (though some teams dohave twitter accounts – see “good” group above)

Lysol

Windex (Come on!!! No Windex? Didn’t you guys see “My Big Fat Greek Wedding?”)

Verizon

Jeep

Kenneth Cole

Adidas

Budweiser

Jiffy Lube

Crocs

Land-Rover

How many millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on marketing and advertising, on pull and push strategies, on websites and microsites and blogs, on promotions and coupons and direct marketing, on sports sponsorships, on the brightest and the best marketing minds money can buy, only to completely ignore Twitter? Really? What happened to customer engagement? What happened to connecting with your audience? What happened to Word of Mouth? What happened to common sense? You mean to tell me that no one at any of these companies thought it would be wise to at least take a look at Twitter? To – perhaps at the very least – claim their brand footprint and establish an official presence, if only to make sure that no one else will usurp their brand?

Speaking of which, below is a sampling of major brands whose Twitter footprints have already been hijacked (voluntarily or not) by individuals or companies which have nothing to do with them. This is a total and utter brand management FAIL. Disney, instead hiring an online community manager tasked with creating a Twitter presence for fans of its parks, cruises and other properties allowed an enterprising young lady by the name of Cheri Thomas to use the Twitter handle @disney to promote her website: cheridreams.com. (Great for Cheri, but not so great for the entertainment giant.) How things like this happen is beyond me. Some of the examples on this list are more entertaining than others:

Disney

Nike

Snickers

Sharpie

Levi’s

Crayola

Tropicana

Nivea

Hummer

Ford* (http://www.twitter.com/ford is obviously not Ford. Curious since @ScottMonty, head of Ford Social Media is one of the most followed accounts on Twitter. Oversight?) As mentioned above, check out the comment section for an update from Ford’s Scott Monty. Good stuff.

McDonald’s

Burger King

Evian

Casio

Wal-Mart

Kmart

Staples

American Express/Amex

Mattel

Nikon

Yamaha

Reebok

sony

DKNY

Nokia

Doritos

Vicks

Ironman (Triathlon)

All of these brands have had their name taken over by a person or other company on Twitter. Most probably don’t even realize it. Those that do probably have their lawyers scratching their heads trying to figure out how to deal with the problem, which probably won’t be cheap to resolve – and in turn won’t give these companies much incentive to enter the Twittersphere. Well played.

The damage being done to brands on Twitter via these “hijackings” may not ever overshadow the breadth of missed opportunities, but either way, being an absentee brand landlord on a wildly popular and exploding community platform like Twitter doesn’t look very good. “Asleep at the wheel” is the image that comes to mind, and that, my friends, is not the type of reputation I would like to build for myself as a brand manager.

Is it truly so difficult for major brands afford to pay at least one person to manage their digital presence? A community manager? An “online” community manager, even? A head of social media of some sort? If my realtor thought to do it, why not Pepsi? If the church down the street thought to do it, why not Nike? If my local news channel thought to do it, why not Nikon, Nokia or Canon?

The questions that I leave for all of you to ponder – and hopefully answer here today – are where do we go from here? How do we help major brands get into social media properly, meaning in a way that benefits us all (them and us alike)? And ultimately, should we even try? Many of us tend to focus on smaller, savvier, hungrier emerging brands because they move faster and truly embrace the potential of social media. If major brands can’t figure out for themselves that they should get into the game, is our time really best spent trying to talk them into it?

What do you think?

Have a great Monday, everyone. 🙂

Update: Check out this fantastic post by Erik Heels which outlines the problem of cybersquatting as it relates to Twitter, and also provides a further list of which of the world’s Top 100 brands are on Twitter as of 8 January 2009 (or rather which 93 haven’t yet caught on). Click here for the post.

Update: Check out this post outlining the same problem in Australia: Click here.

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