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If, like me, you are watching Google+ fever spread across the twitternets with a mixture of bemused fascination and eye-rolling annoyance, read on.

If, however, you have jumped heart and soul onto the Google+ bandwagon, gorged yourself on its koolaid with such gusto that your sweat now tastes Googlicious, and think Google+ would make a fine spouse were you able to marry a digital platform… read on.

Based on some of the questions I have been asked repeatedly these last few weeks, here are 8+ things you probably should know about Google+:

1. Will Google+ change the world or the internet?

No. Google+ will not change the world. Or the internet. But if it scales, it might help Google buy a lot of really big yachts, really fast private jets, small countries whose names end with “-Stan,” and install a few hundred thousand solid gold toilets in its offices and server farms around the world.

2. Will Google+ kill Facebook?

No one really knows. I suppose it could, but the odds are not in Google+ killing anything anytime soon. If it does, it will be to some degree related to Facebook’s inability to compete both as a social network and as viable revenue model and not because Google+ is particularly awesome or groundbreaking.

Pros:

_ Facebook needs to stop antagonizing people (privacy concerns are still a major Achilles’ heel for Facebook, for starters). Love = loyalty. No love = well, you know.

_ Facebook’s functionality is still very limited. It doesn’t really plug into productivity and collaboration tools, and this is a problem as users (consumers) increasingly look for seamless integration of word processors, email, video conferencing, VOIP, calendars, mobility, spreadsheets with their social platforms.  The simplicity of Facebook’s design and the limited amount of customizability that helped it compete against MySpace (and win) may also bring about its own undoing now that digital platforms have matured.

_ Facebook lives in a fairly closed and limited search ecosystem. What this means is that its advertising revenue model is also rather limited compared to what Google is trying to build. Facebook has kind of backed itself in a corner with its model while Google has a lot of breathing room. That gives Google an enormous strategic advantage. (It does not, however, mean it will succeed in doing anything with it.)

_ Speaking of search, it is a lot easier for Google to build and scale a social network than it is for Facebook to build and scale a search engine. And moving forward, you kind of need both to win. (Or at least a model that incorporates rich, real-time consumer data and massive reach.)

_ Facebook is the biggest fish in the pond because it is pretty much the only fish in the pond. It’s the default winner. That isn’t a good long term survival strategy. After all, what is the cost of jumping ship? $0. These platforms are free. Social equity can be both moved and rebuilt pretty easily. Can Facebook stand up to a better, cooler alternative?

So basically, Facebook needs to adapt very quickly in order to stay relevant. Size alone won’t carry its dominance forever.

Cons:

_ Facebook is huge. HUGE. As a social platform, Google+ has an enormous challenge in scaling to size. It has to do it, and it has to do it fast unless it wants to become the Yahoo of social networks. Without scale, Google+ is just a nice little productivity interface, and the only company it will be competing against is Microsoft, not Facebook.

_ Google+ isn’t sexy. Sorry Google+, but you kind of look like crap. Remember that you aren’t just after middle-aged computer nerds, bloggers, social media “gurus” and… well, yeah, what I said: computer nerds. The rest of the world has to want to use you too.

_ Google+ isn’t compelling enough for most people outside of the nerdy middle to want to bother with it yet. Facebook may be annoying, but it’s familiar, everyone is already there, and the effort of having to leave it and start over isn’t being driven by excitement or necessity. (It has to be one or the other in order to enjoy any kind of velocity.) What’s missing in Google+ right now is a compelling reason for people to want to make the effort (and take the risk) of making the switch. For most people around the world, it is missing the compelling “why.” (“It’s new” won’t ever be enough. After 5 months, when the tech bloggers get bored of talking about it and move on to the next Quora or Empire Avenue or Spotify, what will drive an accelerated adoption?)

_ Google Wave and Google Buzz were going to revolutionize the interwebs too. Ooops. Sure, Google does search VERY well, but that doesn’t mean it will do anything else well, even in the pursuit of taking search to the next level.

_ Google and Plus will have to deal with the same privacy concerns Facebook did. Perhaps more so. You don’t have to be the most trustworthy company to win. You just need to be less shady and risky than everyone else. If Google finds itself at the center of enough privacy concern discussions, Facebook might come out the lesser of the two evils. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” is a pretty important element when dealing with an adoption campaign. If Facebook begins to feel threatened, expect this topic to magically surface at regular intervals.

In other words, it could go either way. Facebook and Google+ have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses.

3. Is Google+ really the “Blue Ocean” product some tech writers claim it is?

No. Google+ is simply Google building a better data acquisition mousetrap and advertising delivery pipeline. It is Google’s natural evolution. Let’s quickly look at that in more detail.

Data acquisition: Seeing the majority of search queries isn’t enough. Google also wants to be able to see what Facebook sees, what Twitter sees, what Foursquare sees. Not only that, but it wants to own that data. It wants to be able to understand and profile consumers better based not only on their searches and the content of their emails, but also on the types of conversations they have, on the content they share, who they share it with, where they hang out, etc. This paints a far more granular (see “complete”) model for consumer tastes and behaviors, which allows Google to better target them with ads.

And yes, selling ads is how Google makes a chunk of its money.

Advertising pipeline: In the same light, Google has looked at how much time people spend on Facebook and did the math. If they can build a platform that will attract as many eyeballs as Facebook and for as many minutes (even hours) per day, it will be able to sell a lot more ads.

This isn’t “Blue Ocean.” It’s just the evolution of an existing model.

And yes, if it pulls it off, Google will pretty much own the web.

If.

Everything else you hear about how awesome and cool and functional Google+ is, is basically window dressing. If you want to get to the heart of what Google+ is really about, this is it: Data, eyeballs, behavioral modeling, better targeting, ownership of advertising revenue on the web.

4. What about Microsoft?

Google+ seems to me a bigger threat to Microsoft than to Facebook right now. Think about how Google has gone after Microsoft Office and Outlook. Think about what Chrome is doing to Explorer. Now bring the Google+ interface into the mix and see how Google’s productivity tools offer a compelling, very well integrated alternative to Microsoft’s aging core products. If you have been paying attention these last few years, you have probably watched as Google has been systematically working to erode Microsoft’s market share, one product at a time. Now Google+ promises to give collaboration and productivity a forward boost. What is Microsoft’s answer?

Here’s the irony though: Microsoft’s R&D people are 5-10 years ahead of everyone else in their ideation and prototyping, but the company still refuses to bring its coolest product ideas to market. Google and Apple are where they are today in great part because Microsoft chose to pass on projects it figured it could always get back to someday. Its weakness has never been technical. It also hasn’t been due to a lack of imagination or access to talent. It is purely cultural. If Microsoft is going to be a contender in anything except gaming (XBox) five years from now, the aging giant needs to change its approach to product development, product diversification, and it needs to work faster. And for that, it has to step away from itself and realize that not fully understanding who you are as a brand, as a company – in other words, having a static vision of yourself – kind of gets in the way of being a market leader. I am rooting for Microsoft, but something has to change. Microsoft simply has to start thinking bigger. In a way, Microsoft has to unMicrosoft itself in order to move forward.

5. What about Twitter?

What about Twitter? It is still evolving and growing. Unless Google builds a solid substitute for Twitter that plugs into its little universe and it all scales really well, Twitter will be fine for a little while longer.

6. What about Amazon?

Amazon has a history of partnering with Google (1)(2)(3) and it makes a lot of cash. Amazon is fine with or without Google+, but yeah, if Google+ scales, Amazon won’t be hurting for chewing gum money.

7. What about LinkedIn?

If Facebook didn’t kill LinkedIn, chances are that Google+ won’t either, even if it becomes the Goliath of the interwebs.

8. What else should we know?

For starters, you should know how to get started with Google+. Whether Google+ is the next big thing or the next big flop, these handy videos by Chris Brogan will help you get started with the new platform and find out for yourself what the big deal is about. And if that isn’t enough, check out Mashable’s complete (and very handy) guide. If you love Google+, great. If you don’t like it, great. The world spins on either way.

Beyond that, I caution you against drinking anyone’s koolaid. Shiny object syndrome is a major source of noise on the web these days. Tech bloggers make a good living creating content on their blogs with the purpose of attracting as much traffic as possible in order to make as much advertising revenue as possible (and catch the eye of larger media outlets like Mashable, CNN, etc.) So every tech story they can get their hands on has the potential of earning them stacks of cash. The incentive then isn’t to truly analyze or report (or even wait and see), but to sensationalize every new platform release, from Quora to Google Buzz. There is nothing wrong with it, but just be aware of how the web “thought leadership” and content curation bubbles work. A lot of noise doesn’t mean a whole lot except a feeding frenzy of web traffic and incremental revenue. Right now, Google+ is the big story. A while ago, Google Wave was too. Don’t fall for the link-bait.

No one can predict the success of a digital platform. No one. Google+ could be the coolest thing in the world and yet never go anywhere.

Apps moving the the cloud is nothing new. SaaS (Software as a Service) is nothing new. Digital social networking platforms are nothing new. Integration of productivity and collaboration tools is nothing new. Will Google+ do it better? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll see. maybe all Google+ will manage to do is inspire another company to build something that blows everyone out of the water and truly revolutionizes the web and computing. Google+ may simply be a milestone in a fast and long technical evolution. A footnote. A catalyst. No matter what happens, Google+ will be replaced by something else eventually. Maybe in 6 months, maybe in 6 years, but this is inevitable. So stay adaptable and flexible, and don’t get too attached.

If you want to leave Facebook and put all of your eggs in the Google+ basket, that’s fine. No one says you can’t try out Google+ and stay on Facebook as well. There is no need to take sides. You can own a Mac and a PC too without tearing a hole into the space-time continuum. You can like tea and coffee, paper and plastic, surf and turf, Lady Gaga and Mozart. Don’t make Google+ (or any social or digital platform) into a religion. Do you think the first people who tasted Pizza stopped eating spaghetti? Did headlines in the newspapers read “Pizza: The Spaghetti killer?” Did people wear buttons on their lapels at social events reading “I’ve switched to Pizza?” A little perspective goes a long way.

If you want to wait 3 or 6 or 12 months before jumping into the Google+ universe, nothing says you can’t. There’s no rush. Ease into it at your own pace. In the meantime, people will still be able to reach you by email, through Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, or even by sending you good old hand-written postcards – you know, with stamps.

I hope this helped. Cheers.

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And if you haven’t picked it up yet, “Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Programs in your Organization” (the quintessential social media operational guide for executives and business managers) is now available worldwide in both print and e-format at fine book sellers everywhere. Read some reviews, sample a free chapter at smroi.net, or if you just want to order it from Amazon, click here.

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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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The question came up recently (no, not in regards to me): How does one use social networking tools to find the next great job? Well, there is no simple answer. Truth be told, just being on LinkedIn, Facebook, Myspace and having a blog won’t land you that Creative Director or Marketing VP job. You’re going to have to work at it a little harder than that. BUT, leveraging social networking tools to your advantage can give you a bit of an extra boost in some circles – over time. ZDnet’s Jennifer Leggio points us to a quick primer this week on that very topic. As guest contributor Mike Murray explains:

Social networking sites provide an incredible opportunity to make radical changes in your career. But those changes aren’t necessarily going to be good ones unless you do it right. Ultimately, social networking tools are much like a race car — they help a good driver become a great one, and they help a bad driver become a pile of twisted, smoking metal up against a concrete wall.

The main thing that a social networking site can help you with is the concept of your “personal brand” — that is, the sites can be used as tools to allow you to become known within a target audience of people. Used well, you can turn yourself in to an expert among experts. Used poorly, you can easily turn yourself into that guy with the 55 pictures of himself drunk and passed out on the floor of your college fraternity house. Caveat emptor.

Fortunately, Mike has some experience with this (the topic… not the frat house incident thing), and he has these nuggets of genius to share:

1. Niche-ify

As I mentioned earlier, social networking tools give you the opportunity to brand yourself — to become known. This means that you have to decide what you’re going to be known FOR.

And, lest you think that you can just drift along, it’s like the sage old Rush song lyric says: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

The first rule in marketing (and, truly, this is a form of marketing yourself) is to choose your niche. Choose what your product (in this case, you) will be known for. Are you going to be the girl who is always there when people need help? The social networking expert? The nuclear physicist who dabbles in playing the piano? […] Pick a niche that you can become known for, and anybody who is looking for someone to do a job in that niche will naturally find you.

2. Cool Friends = Cool You

That maxim comes from Tom Peters and it rings more true to me with each person whose career I observe — we get our best career opportunities through the people that we know. If those people are amazingly cool and are doing cool work, cool opportunities come to us. If those people aren’t so cool, or are spending all day sitting around the house… well, you know where you’re going to end up.

Studies repeatedly bear this out. Studies show that our income is likely to be within 10 percent of our five closest friends. That our weight is likely to be near that of the people closest to us.

This is where social networking gives an incredible opportunity. Through tools like Twitter and LinkedIn, you can follow, talk with, and ultimately get to know people who you deem as cool. Interested in getting to know social networking experts (like Jennifer)? Follow them on Twitter. Say something interesting in response to one of her comments. And make a new friend.

This is an opportunity that those 15 years ago simply didn’t have. Sure, you could sit down and write a letter to someone you admired… but it wasn’t quite as easy as sending them a message on Facebook.

3. Stay On Message

This is an area where politicians are far better than the average person — it’s one of the things that allows them to get their messages across so effectively and make their messages part of the common cultural lexicon. (For example, even now if someone says “flip-flop” to me, John Kerry comes to mind). If you’re a fan of the “Daily Show”, you’ve seen the compilations where all of the different politicians use the same words and phrases on every TV show and speaking appearance over the course of a few weeks.

Once you have your niche and network of cool friends, staying on message to reiterate your expertise within your niche is important. Unfortunately, this is where most people don’t use their social networking tools effectively to enhance their careers. Even if you get the first two pieces right, it’s easy to start treating Facebook and Twitter like a personal journal.

I’d start giving my own thoughts here, but the best thinking I’ve seen on this matter comes from Tim Ferriss (author of “The Four-Hour Workweek”):

“Use Twitter as a “micro-blogging” platform, exactly how it’s most often described. Just as I wouldn’t put up a blog post that reads “just ate a burrito. Mmmm… good,” as it consumes readers valuable attention without adding value, I wouldn’t put up such a post on Twitter.”

The point here is that these are tools for enhancing your career: use them that way. Keep your messages tailored to your audience, and make sure that they’re helping you be known for what you want to be known for.

Wise, wise advice. (Note to self: No more burrito-themed micro-blogging posts. Got it.) ;D

Read the entire piece here.

Also check out this post on The Social Media Marketing blog. It takes the concept of personal branding several steps further, with helpful references to Haji Flemings‘ “Brand YU” method of building a personal brand, namely:

  1. Identify your passion
  2. Define your mission
  3. Count the cost
  4. Create your voice
  5. Develop your core
  6. Be authentic
  7. Shift to now

Check out Haji’s website for more info about his method, his book, or his upcoming brand camp.

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Beeline Labs, Deloitte LLC and The Society For New Communications Research recently partnered to conduct a first-of-its-kind study of how more than 140 organizations are employing online communities dubbed “Tribalization Of Business.”

Francois Gossieaux (Marketing 2.0 and Beeline Labs honcho) sent me this pretty killer summary of the report last week, and I am just now getting to it. Fantastic stats and insights for any company, large or small, looking to incorporate community interactions into their business model. (Customer communities, user communities, thought leadership communities, etc.) You really owe it to yourself to click on the links and read up on this. It won’t take a lot of your time, and you will learn some pretty interesting (dare I say actionable ?) stuff in the process.

The report and summary also include some pretty killer best practices, so take note.

The summary: http://www.beelinelabs.com/files/TribalizationStudyrelease.pdf

The Tribalization report’s web page: http://www.beelinelabs.com/tribalization/

Additional reading:

Have a great Tuesday, everyone!

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