Location, location, location

Today, the darling of socia media, Twitter, announced it would be adding a geo-location feature to tweets.  Currently, all the early adopters are fawning over Foursquare, before that it was BrightKite but Google Lattitude never really got on the map (no pun intended). There are also lots of other location based social networks and apps.

Geo-location based social networks are on the rise. Is this the next wave in social networking? Venture capitalist, Fred Wilson, sees a lot of value in location based social networking. Personally, I love using location based social networking apps for three reasons:

1. I like discovering new places in whichever city I’m in.

2. Location based social networks  let me see which places my friends are going. I could meet up with them if I’m in the neighborhood or going back to #1, discover new places I probably wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

3. Location based social networks help me meet like minded people, say at a web conference or tech event.

However, everyone I know who isn’t an early adopter is not so in love with this idea. The mainstream think it’s scary, creepy, mundane or don’t see the value in it. Case in point: when I was in Austin for SXSW Interactive in 2008, I used Brightkite.  My phone had never gone off so many times in my entire life. Brightkite was sending me notifications of other people in the tech industry were checking in to all the bars, hotels, cafes etc. I haven’t received a Brightkite notification since then.

It’s not to say that the mainstream won’t embrace location based social networks one day. I’m sure they will. Remember the days when it was unheard of to put your picture on the internet? And now it’s shifted to where it’s normal (almost expected) to use a real picture of yourself as an avatar, as well as post pictures of yourself and your friends. As social networking sites have lifespans, attitudes towards the web and web activity shift. From a marketing perspective, because the mainstream hasn’t embraced location based social networking means businesses should quickly jump at the opportunity to be on these networks. Why? It’s these early adopters who already on these networks that are more likely to talk about you, share tips about your business and pass the word along to their friends.

Lifestreaming vs. Blogging: Round 1

I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter lately around lifestreaming and blogging. Some say lifestreams are “killing” (ugh, I hate that word in this context) blogs, while others couldn’t care less about lifestreams. My opinion? Blogs are alive and well with the help of their friend, the lifestream.

water fightA lifestream is an aggregation (or collection) of all your social networking activities. My lifestream is here. That’s where you can see in one place, what I’m tweeting, bookmarking, favoriting, yelping, stumbling, flickr’ing and reading, among other things. This particular lifestream is powered by Sweetcron, a self-hosted lifestream software. In order to use this software, you must have your own hosting service and be familiar with CSS as well as a little PHP. My lifestream is where you can see what I’m all about beyond my blog. It’s also a place where you can get a holistic view of who I am through the pictures I take, the videos I watch, the resources and sites I bookmark etc. All of the social networking sites I am active on are on this lifestream, except for Facebook. Only because I haven’t got around to writing the code. My lifestream is a one stop shop for all your Violet Mae needs.

On the other hand, this blog is where you can read in-depth about me, what I’m doing professionally, my thoughts on the marketing, new media, tech, web 2.0, social media industry. My blog is updated less frequently but the entries are thought out (sort of) and much longer than 140 characters. My blog is also a place where I can reflect, muse and ramble– it’s active and requires maintenance. Oppositely, my lifestream is passive and sits in the background but they both support each other in terms of shaping who I am online, what I do and what I’m all about.

Most people I know don’t have lifestreams. In fact, those I know who are not involved in tech or new media find it absolutely horrifying. “WHY would I want everyone to know what I do all over the internet? That’s like, stalker status!” Their very reaction tells me that lifestreaming is going to become very popular within the next one or two years– especially with the shift into real-time web.

In other words, blogging and lifestreaming are so different and each have their advantages and disadvantages. However, they work very well together and I don’t see how one is “killing” the other. As far as I’m concerned, they are both playing happily in the sandbox together.

Twitter Teaches Us About Customer Service

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Twitter continues to be a hot topic and the social media darling. More mainstream users are joining Twitter and people are proving to be very passionate about the micro-blogging, real-time, communication platform. You know how the old saying goes: with great power comes great responsibility. 2 days ago, Twitter caused frustration, anger and even disappointment in many users.

Twitter decided to make a “small settings update”. This update meant a Twitter user would no longer see the conversations their friends are having with people whom they are not following. People went nuts. The following morning, Twitter was overwhelmed by all the feedback they got. Later that day, Twitter explained their reasoning behind the changes and assured users they were coming up with something bigger and better. They continued to get push back from Twitter users (tweeple? tweeps? twitterati? twits?) and published yet another blog post further explaining the changes and technical difficulties behind the original setting.

Whew! What a story! Now what can your business or brand learn from this?

Ask for Feedback BEFORE implementing change:
You know you’re brand is adding value, doing good and changing the world (I would hope so, anyway)… that’s why you have such a strong community around you (once again… I hope so). Asking for feedback not only will help you figure out who your most passionate users are and what they are saying but also give you a chance to actually listen to what they think about your service and see what they value about you. A reality check, if you will. These passionate users are your brand evangelists. They are the ones spreading the word about you, wearing your t-shirts and bringing you up in their everyday conversations. Listen to them.

After the round(s) of feedback, either thank your loyal users and let them know you appreciate them OR let them know you’ll be making some changes. Explain why you’re making the changes. Explain clearly and frequently. In Twitter’s case, they could have easily sent out public tweets, put a notice out like they do when they are planning a scheduled maintenance in addition to blogging about it. This would have eased the minds of many users.

Stick to Your Decision:
People in general, do not like change. They want what they are most used to and will probably kick and scream all the way home. There is also a mob mentality that can take place (especially with Twitter and the ease of visually seeing the top trending topics). Let’s face it. Some people just like complaining for the sake of complaining. Assuming you’ve done your research and you have a competent team behind you, you know ultimately know what works and what doesn’t work behind the scenes or on the back-end of your service.

Twitter promises something bigger and better. Those guys are smart; I trust they will implement a social discovery system that will not only reduce noise but be smoother and more efficient. Nonetheless, opening up the lines of communication would have eased the minds of many and simply put, a better experience for users. Really. The last thing you want to do is piss off your community.

The Life Span of a Social Network

Social networks come and go. Think: Friendster, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and all the ones that have come in between or are struggling to keep up (Plurk, Pownce, Jaiku etc). As someone who uses social networks both professional and personally, it’s important to identify and understand these trends. As a brand, understanding these trends will keep you above your competition and relevant in your industry.

Social Networking Life Span:
1. Launch
2. Growth
3. Peak
4. Plateau
5. End
*Some social networks won’t ever get pass #1.

Once a social network peaks, you’ll hear about it everywhere from the mainstream media and all throughout the blogosphere. Everyone and their grandmothers will be on the site. The site will eventually become over saturated with users, companies, brands and ultimately, spam. Additionally, there will be other social networking sites that are able to fill the
needs/wants/desires of users and grow with the user base (I hope to revisit this topic at another time).

As a marketer, It’s during #2 (growth) and #3 (peak) where it is most beneficial to join the site. Build your reputation, “social capital” and community while the social networking site is growing. Thrive during stage #3 as more users join the social network. All the while, keeping your ears and eyes open for the next, up-and-coming social network. As the first social network starts to plateau, utilize the second social network. As previously mentioned, when a social network plateaus, it is infiltrated with spam, glittery icons and too much music (think: MySpace). You (of course) are not spamming your community, but they are getting spam from elsewhere in the social network–perhaps your competitor who hasn’t a clue how to effectively or strategically use it.

What’s important to remember: if your messages and interactions are in the company of spam and junk, you are no longer relevant. Your community gets bored and your messages are drowned out. Marketing is an arms race. You have to understand how your communities want to receive, see, “hear” and consume your message and use the appropriate technologies to implement your strategies. At the same time, marketers also need to be aware of the life spans or social networks while keeping an eye and ear open for the next up and coming sites. Doing so keeps you relevant as a brand and ensures your engagement and interaction with your customers, consumers and communities are maximized.

Facebook Requires a Digital Signature for Pages

Today, allfacebook.com announced Facebook’s new “digital signature” for Facebook pages. In order to create a public profile page, the user must be “an official representative”. A user proves this by checking a box stating so and submitting an “electronic signature.” Facebook may be doing this to help protect brands from brand “hijacking” (a situation where someone poses as a representative from the brand leading to either misrepresentation of the brand or even giving false information). A perfect example: Exxon Mobile.

On one hand, this makes perfect sense. As a brand you may not want to have someone who is unauthorized using your name. Who knows what these dopplegangers could do! Slander! Libel! False information! Words that tarnish your brand reputation! Surely, these are a brand’s worst nightmare. On the other hand, Facebook’s move may also limit brands. This move limits a brand’s fans and/or community evangelists. Though as brand you may be able to start your own Facebook Page, you may not know where and how to find your audience and be left with a fan page populated by the internal members of your marketing team.

Sometimes, a consumer may love, admire, adore, enjoy or like your brand so much, they take it upon themselves to create a web presence (in this case a fan page) for you. Most of the time people do this because they want to meet other fans or spread all the good things they have to say about your brand. These people are a brand’s dream come true– they say good things about your brand, tell other people about your brand and find others who are apt to the same. Your very own brand evangelists! The smart thing to do is embrace these people and the communities they’ve started around your brand. Join the community, listen to what they are saying about you, learn about your brand through the eyes of the consumer, have a presence and be active. Because really, that’s all you can do.

Social media: Small Slice of a Big Pie

Pie chart

There’s so much buzz around the term “social media” lately. People seem to be obsessed with social media, Facebook fans, Twitter followers and the “killing” of traditional media. People and brands have become obsessed with adopting social media as their sole marketing strategy. Unfortunately, people presume social media = solely the newest social network (ie: Twitter). What they sometimes don’t always know is that there is so much more to social media.

Social media is an essential part of marketing, but social media has many parts. Social networks are a small part of social media. As a brand, you ought to be learning and adopting social media into your marketing/communications/community outreach plan. Keep up with all the evolving web strategies but weave them into your traditional marketing/PR strategies when appropriate. Know how you can tie your social web presence together to effectively communicate with your online community. Make you sure you understand how social media also ties into customer service, SEM, SEO, content creation and even basic web development (amongst many other things). Simply starting a blog on WordPress.com will not be effective if the bigger picture isn’t considered. Starting a Twitter account and following everyone you think might be interested in your new product and calling that your “new media campaign” won’t cut it either.

Having an understanding of social media really is will enable you to set your goals and achieve results. Social media is a multi-faceted approach to B2C communications. If you know this and understand how your customers prefer to communicate with you, you’ll do great on the social web. Lastly, if you don’t have someone who is knowledgeable in social media or digital strategy, please hire someone. And by someone, I don’t mean a summer intern to tweet on your behalf or upload videos to your YouTube account.

Twitter and the everyday user

There are two kinds of people on Twitter: those who use it as a platform for status updates and those who see the “hidden culture” behind Twitter. Those who use it as a channel for status updates will Twitter about their morning coffee or going to the mall. Those who understand the culture of Twitter do much more- engage, share, network and solidify their online relationships with offline meetings. It should be noted that at this point, surveys have shown that most people on Twitter are early-adopters or tech-savvy. Though we keep hearing about Twitter in mainstream publications, it is not nearly as popular as other social networking sites like Facebook or even Myspace.

Most of the people I know are very intelligent and educated but they are not early-adopters of technology or social networks by any means. Whenever Twitter enters a conversation, the most common question I hear is, “wait… so Twitter is just status updates like Facebook and that’s it right?”

Based on all these conversations and observing the intersection of the mainstream users and the early adopters on Twitter, I am starting to wonder whether or not Twitter will bring enough value or content to the everyday user. Status updates (a la Facebook) and news feeds from mainstream channels like CNN can be interesting but are they enough to sustain an entire social network? Are these basic uses enough to monetize? Will mainstream users adopt the Twitter culture? My gut reaction says the everyday, average user will answer Twitter’s prompt “what are you doing”, very literally. And that the only thing that will keep Twitter running is the sheer fact that Facebook will eventually jump the shark and people will want a new social network to play on.

However, I’ve been wrong before, though that has never stopped me from musing.

Social networking and career networking are not mutually exclusive

According to an Emarketer.com article, 78.1% of US internet users use social networking sites to keep in touch with friends, 50.5% for reconnecting with old friends, 29.9% to meet new people and 10.9% for career networking.

When I read these stats, I was astonished. These results have me wondering how the survey was worded and also whether or not people understand the power of social networking. Keeping in touch with friends, reconnecting, meeting new people and career networking are NOT mutually exclusive. Granted, the survey was published in November 2008 so they might have changed as we sink deeper into a recession and more people are being laid off from their jobs.

While you’re on any social network or open forum, be it Myspace, Facebook, meetup.org, Linked-In or Twitter, you are networking whether your know it or not. If you actively brand yourself as an expert in your field or as someone who is eager to learn a new subject or field or work, people take notice of this. It should also be noted that you can’t run from a Google search, so you might as well actively take charge of it. If you are actively seeking work, let people in your social network know. They are the key to your next job, career or side project. You may be surprised at how many people WANT to help; especially in rough economic times.

Hey, can someone Digg this press release for me?

Social media can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, social media allows us and everyone to share what we like, what we don’t like and consume content easily and at a faster rate within our communities. On the other hand, just because you have content doesn’t mean you should share it everywhere you see a social bookmarklet. One of the keys in social media is the community which consumes your content. Without this community, your content is forgotten and lost. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, “if content is never consumed, does it exist?” (That’s the best “if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it..” analogy that I could come up with… har har).

Let me give you an example. If you have a social media release that you think is pretty rad or an interesting blog post you whipped up, I’m sure you want to let everyone know about it. As you should! However, does a social media release about the newest Baby Einstein series belong on Digg? No. Does your very cool, very informative blog post on how to wallpaper your home belong on Reddit? No.

My point is, you have to know where your community is on the social web. You also have to know where they are and how they prefer to consume their content. Furthermore, you ought to have an understanding of how each popular social discovery, social bookmarking and social networking sites work. What’s the digital culture of each site? Their norms? Accepted practices? This takes a fair amount of observing, listening and participating on the social web. Don’t put your content up on social discovery sites for the sake of having it up there. You are better off sharing your content with a few targeted individuals (or small community) than blindly posting your content or sharing for the sake of sharing.

Learn about your community before you start sharing, posting and getting buck on the wild, wild web. Use social media to your advantage. Oh and please don’t let me see your press release under the “Upcoming Stories” section of Digg. Your one digg isn’t doing you any favors. You’re better off not submitting it.

5 Easy Ways to be a Jerk on Twitter

Twitter is growing in popularity among brands, marketers, social media experts, celebrities and everyday, average Joes alike. I’ve had my fair share of interaction among the aforementioned “tweeple”. Some people are a pleasure to meet and others are not so pleasant (surprise! like real life!). Based on my different interactions and observations, I’ve come up with 5 easy ways to be a jerk on Twitter. Follow these easy steps and watch your “follower” count drop like a fly in the winter time.

1. Send one-way DMs

When you get a new follower, acknowledge them by sending a one-way direct message but do not follow them back. Not only are these completely useless (because the person cannot direct message you back) but borderline insulting. One way DMs are the equivalent of someone striking up a conversation with you and you handing your business card to them, turning around and walking off.

2. Retweet links but don’t give credit to the person you got it from

When someone tweets a link to something you found interesting or worth sharing, take the link and tweet it without giving proper credit to the person you got it from. Most people use some variation of “RT: @___name here___ ____link here____”. Don’t do this. In fact, you should avoid giving credit where credit is due at all times.

3.  Spam people through DMs

When someone follows you, follow them back and quickly send them a direct message containing a link to your newest get-rich-quick scheme, ebook or blog post. Don’t engage in a conversation with them first, don’t even bother waiting to see if they are interested. Get them when they least expect it!

4. Follow then unfollow to gain more followers

Once people check out your profile and decide to follow you, your follower count will increase, while your “following” count will remain the same. Doing this enough times will improve what is known as your Twitter “ratio.”

5. Never, ever under any circumstances respond to replies

When people reply to your tweets, don’t ever respond. No matter how many times the person tries to start a conversation with you, answer your questions or ask you questions, don’t bother talking to them or replying to their tweets. Doing so positions you as someone who is uninterested in what others have to say and your Twitter stream as a one-way communication channel.

Twitter isn’t a place for meeting new friends, building relationships, sharing information or learning. It’s another communication channel you can use to solely syndicate your blog posts and spam others with your self-promotional links.  Carefully follow these 5 steps and everyone will think you’re a jerk in no time!