How To Use Twitter Effectively

I notice that the Guardian has a conference on “How to use Twitter effectively”. For much less money, let me offer my version.

1) Think of something.
2) Type it.
3) Realise it’s way more than 140 characters, and edit it down until it fits.
4) Review to see if you’re likely to be sued.
5) Review to see if you’re likely to be ridiculed.
6) Review to see if anyone’s likely to be interested.
7) Review to see if lots of other people have already said it. (Although that’s ok if you really want to express your support for something. But bad if you thought you were being funny or original).
8) All ok? Re-read it to see if it still looks like you’re at least semi-literate.
9) Press ‘Tweet’.
10) Wait for the deafening silence as no-one cares.

5 Things To Do, and 5 Not To, on Social Media

If you’re a business venturing into the world of social media, it can be confusing. Should you be formal or friendly? Update frequently or cautiously? Talk about yourself or your business? Advertise or not? Can you joke?

Here are a few quick pointers for those starting to use social media for their business.

5 Things To Do

  1. Listen
  2. The first thing to know about social media is that it’s 2-way. You can’t treat it like an advert or a press release if you want to see results. Your customers and potential customers are on social media – chatting. Treat social media sites like a conversation at a party – join in, but listen before you speak. Get to know what the topic is, and what people’s opinions are. There’s much less chance of making a gaffe.

  3. Respond
  4. Don’t be the wallflower at the party. At some point you have to join the conversation. If someone reaches out to you (other than the inevitable few spammers), then reply. It’s only polite. If there’s an interesting topic going on, join in. Feel free to make a joke (but see #5 in the Things Not To Do). No-one will hear what you have to say unless you say it.

  5. Update frequently
  6. The right frequency depends on a complex mix – the site (Twitter is frequent, Facebook less so), what you have to say, your audience, your feedback, and what you want to achieve. But while it’s hard to give an exact formula for how often to update, it’s generally fairly easy to get right if you’ve followed steps #1 and #2. Who is popular on the site (businesses not celebrities, different rules apply for celebs). How often do they update? And watch for feedback – are you gaining or losing followers when you change your update frequency?

  7. Be human
  8. Social media is – again – a conversation. Don’t issue press releases and expect anyone to be interested. Be a person, someone that people want to talk to. Speak engagingly, offer opinions, join in conversations and memes (popular topics). Have fun and help others to.

  9. Make new connections
  10. You never know who might be useful. You never know who might be interesting. Avoid being too targetted in your connections – this isn’t like direct mail where you’re trying to narrow down your list as tightly as possible. Be prepared to talk to people who are interested whoever they may be (except a few strange spammers), and follow people who interest you as well as people who might be useful. Think of it as a party not a networking event, and relax a bit.

5 Things Not To Do

  1. DON’T Sell
  2. If you’re a business using social media, of course you want sales. But the people on social media aren’t shopping, they’re chatting, and if you start out trying to sell straight away you’ll be as popular as a double glazing salesman breaking into a cheerful gossip session. Sure, you’re looking for sales – but social media gives you a chance at a much bigger prize – to get your customers to like you and want to give you business. So concentrate on being likeable and/or interesting first.

  3. DON’T Broadcast without receiving
  4. There are many, many people on Twitter who are sending out frequent, interesting tidbits on Twitter, and getting no followers. Why? Because they’re on broadcast only. Without a two-way interaction, you won’t get anyone really engaged with you and wanting to know more about you. You know what they say – the most interesting person at the party is the one who wants to talk about you. Also, you can pick up some great info about what people actually want, without paying a fortune for market research and customer satisfaction surveys.

  5. DON’T Speak in corporate-speak
  6. I’ve said this a lot already, but let’s say it again. People are on social media to relax, talk to friends, find out about things they’re interested in, chat, catch up on news/gossip. They’re not reading a business journal, doing academic research (or if they are, they’re not potential customers anyway). They will be interested in you if you’re someone they can relate to. You might be cool, interesting, exciting, likeable – but don’t be corporate, cliched or stilted. You won’t win any friends.

  7. DON’T Spam
  8. There are spammers on social media sites. Don’t be one of them. Don’t send unsolicited sales messages to people who aren’t following you.
    There are also legitimate businesses who don’t realise they’re annoying their customers, but who update far too frequently. Get the frequency right, and watch for feedback. If you’re losing followers or getting complaints, cut your updates. Better to have occasional updates which are being read than frequent updates which are turned off.

  9. DON’T Say something really stupid or rude
  10. We’ve all heard the horror stories about people who’ve made stupid gaffes. Don’t forget that you’re using Twitter to promote your business, and anything you say reflects on your business. Be human, but don’t be an ass. Act like the host at a party, and avoid saying anything that might alienate your guests. And be wary of jokes – social media lacks context, and I guarantee that if you make an ironic comment, at least 10% of the readers will think you meant it. Flag jokes clearly, and avoid joking about controversial topics – save those jokes for your friends.

If you follow these rules, you should be well on the way to a great experience using social media for your business. And having some fun along the way.

Facebook and Bing “Social Search” – Young Love?

You know what it’s like when you’re young and you fall in love. There might be a million reasons why it’s a really bad idea, there might be a million friends telling you not to do it, but you know better. And you know it will turn out just perfect. Everyone’s under-estimating you, but you can make this work.

I’m not implying that Facebook and Bing are young – that’s why they ought to know better. Because no matter how nifty this social search idea sounds in theory, surely the recent privacy rows have shown that people in the social media world DO still care about their privacy, and how much gets shared. Vociferously. And on that basis, this looks like a whole can of worms that Facebook and Bing are opening up together.

Bing and Facebook say that there is no privacy issue – “Bing can see no more about you than anyone who goes to your Facebook page”. In the sense that it depends on public “likes”, that’s true. But, although I am a fascinating person, I have my suspicions that my friends haven’t read all of my Facebook details. Or have only read the bits they’re interested in. Or read them once, then forgot. Now they’re going to have this stuff shoved in their face every time they search on Bing. With my name next to it. Think they’ll get sick of me? Or become sheep and like what I like? Or just try to turn the option off so that they can get on with their search? Yeah, I reckon the third one too.

There’s a “people search” option too. The results will be ordered based on whether you have friends in common. Again, this just seems a bit off. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not usually searching for friends on the internet. I meet new friends through other friends. If I’m searching, it’s probably for professional reasons. And I don’t necessarily want their Facebook page – nor do I necessarily want people who Google me to find my Facebook page first. I’d rather choose what I want to publicize, and what is more invitation-based.

The rows about Google Buzz, Google StreetView and ongoing Facebook concerns suggest that I’m not alone in this. It’s not that I don’t want to share information – I do – but I want to decide what I share. I want control enough to decide what’s public, friends-only or private. I want to decide which opinions I’m actively promoting, and which are simply available if someone is looking. In short, I want to be able to craft my image, not have a tick-box list of “me” that is published to the world.

Of course, there have been Facebook privacy rows many times over, and Facebook has still crossed the half-a-billion user mark. So will this make any difference? Hard to say at this stage, but I don’t think the prospects are good. A few options.

  1. Bing still doesn’t take off as a search engine. Partnership gets dissolved, experiment failed.
  2. Bing takes off, and a few embarrassing privacy incidents mean that it gets canned. Experiment failed.
  3. Bing does well, and makes it into public awareness. People, knowing that all their “likes” on Facebook are public, start to manage their information more carefully. They no longer share, or “like” as readily. Which leaves the market wide open for a new site with better privacy to replace Facebook as the place where people can be themselves. Can’t happen? Yes it can, and quickly, if the annoyance overcomes the effort of moving. It hasn’t – yet.
  4. Bing does well, and people have no problem sharing exactly what they like and dislike, and our accept the reduction in privacy for the sake of using Facebook and Bing together, because of the convenience it adds. If it does.

Hard to predict which of these will happen, but getting a few answers from Facebook users will help. Are you one? Here are the questions for you. First question – are you going to try it? Second question – does this give you any added benefit? Third question – are you happy for your likes to be shared this way, or would you opt-out?

It’ll be an interesting space to watch over the next few months. One thing’s for certain – in the fast-moving world of social networks, it won’t be long before we find out.

Mobile users spend more time on social media than email

Stats published on Mashable today show that mobile users are spending 1.4 times longer on social media sites than email. Why?

Well, the study quoted says that “the increased need for instant gratification” is a factor. But let’s put this in context – on a mobile device, when you’re probably on the move and might lose reception, that makes sense. And “the ability to offer multiple messaging formats” apparently was high up the list. That factor, unlike the first, does translate directly onto home- or office-based computers too. The email is the letter – answer, response, long pauses in between. Social media offers the possibility of a phone conversation – real-time interaction, chatter. And much, much more.

So, will email decline? Not drastically or immediately, I would say. There’s still plenty of need for longer, more reflective documents, and email is the de-facto medium for these. But like the letter, it could become more the province of business users for more formal or lengthy documents, and less what people use for chat.

What does that say about where businesses want to be? Well, it depends what they’re trying to achieve. Direct mail is still alive and well, alongside direct email. Telemarketing is a thriving business, but charities, for instance (who really NEED an instant ‘buy’ from consumers) still have street campaigns too. Businesses need to leverage the best of the new technologies with the best of the old.

In the end, you need to be where your customer is, both speaking and listening. And increasing, on the move, that is on social media sites.

Backgrounds for New Twitter

Have you got New Twitter? Do you love it? (I do).

The only drawback is that if you had a custom Twitter background, the changed sizes mean that it probably just doesn’t look right with the new layout. What to do?

Whether your old background is broken, or you never had one but would like to, you have an excellent, instant option to make Twitter look good – Themeleon. In Twitter, go to the ‘Settings’ menu item (dropdown menu under your Twitter ID, at the top right of the screen). Then, from the settings page, choose the ‘Design’ tab. This gives you the standard handful of backgrounds to choose from, and….

At the bottom right of the sidebar, is a section saying “Get more creative. Check out Themeleon”. Click on it – go on, I dare you! Suddenly, you’re in a whole different world. You’ll need to give Themeleon permission to access your Twitter account, so that it can set the new colours and background, but you don’t have to do that straight away.

You have choices. At the top is a range of themes, which you can scroll to the left or right to see more. There are some fabulous and fantastic choices – literally fantastic. Or, if none appeal, you can choose a background and colour palette separately.

It’s very quick to change your Twitter page completely, or you can take hours browsing through all the options to find the perfect choice. I went for something colourful and high-energy. What will your choice be?

Don’t forget to click the ‘Login to Twitter’ button when you’ve made your choice, so that Themeleon can actually set your Twitter page with your choices. If you come up with a great colour combo, tweet me so that I can come and have a look!

FourSquare Mayor to be Mayor of Chicago?

It’s a fairly blatant publicity stunt, but so far it seems to be an effective one. Proximity, a digital marketing firm, has offered to get one lucky person onto the ballot for Mayor of Chicago. The place will go to whoever checks in most often to a location they’ve set up in FourSquare. (The person most frequently checking in to one location in FourSquare is known as the “mayor” for that location).

The location Proximity have set up is called “City of Chicago – Mayoral HQ”, and they have promised to provide a team and marketing to get the FourSquare “mayor” onto the real-life ballot.

This isn’t so much a demonstration of the power of social media in politics – because the candidate will be backed by a real-world campaign to get on the ballot. But it’s a very effective use of social media to garner publicity for a cause. Hard to see it as much more than a gimmick. It’s newsworthy because – well, someone’s offered a big prize for a new competition. The headlines would have been just as big if they’d offered the prize in a raffle.

There is an interesting question of how this affects democracy, though. Is it publicising politics in a way that will engage the young to vote? Is it trivialising politics? Is it a worrying sign that power is up for sale to large companies with big budgets?

Or is it just an old, old game played on a new board?

LinkedIn Mines Profiles for Grad Career Advice

LinkedIn has come up with a new way to make use of the huge amount of information we’re putting into social media sites, demonstrating the kind of application that wouldn’t be possible before social media sites made it so easy to capture information. It’s a tool aimed at college students which provides them with insights to help them plan their careers, by mining data from the profiles of people who work in their chosen field. It uses this data to provide an insight into how people have built careers in that field.

The data-driven approach allows insights that you couldn’t get without a large repository of career histories. In the world before LinkedIn, it wouldn’t have been feasible to mine the data from CV documents in widely varying formats. It will almost certainly throw up some unexpected ways to get to where you want. It will also suggest people in a students’ network who may be able to help them, apparently.

I can think of some obvious limitations. In emergent fields, for instance, how people got a job in the past might not be a good guide to how to get a job today. And I can see a danger that people in small but desirable fields (media, film, tv?) might get enough requests for help to get seriously annoyed. Although it’s likely that’s already true. I also don’t see it changing access to the best jobs – when you’re still a student, it’s likely that a lot of the contacts who can help you will be your parents’ friends, so the well-connected will still have an advantage.

It’s always intriguing to see this kind of application, though, as firms start to make use of the huge amount of data available in social networks that simply was not available before social media sites started. Balancing the usual privacy concerns, this shows an example of how that data can be mined for huge benefit.

More here.

Twitter launches “Promoted Accounts”

In one of the biggest announcements in some time for businesses using social media, Twitter has announced the launch of “promoted accounts”. To you and me, that’s advertising.

It’s only in a testing phase, so it’s not clear how all the details will work, but it seems that Twitter will leverage the existing mechanism that recommends people to follow, and will use this to recommend relevant “promoted accounts”. Twitter gives the example of recommending @xbox to people who are following gaming-related accounts. Ads are also going to be fed via the APIs to third-party software.

This is a huge addition to the existing Twitter site, and it’s not clear how users will react. In the past, attempts to introduce advertising into social sites have attracted negative feedback from users, and it’s well-known that the Twitterati are vocal with their opinions (I speak as one!).

However, there’s so much advertising revenue at stake here that it’s unlikely ads will be taken out of Twitter, no matter what the outcry. The exact way it works is probably still open for negotiation based on feedback and effectiveness.

Watch this space!

LinkedIn Mines Profiles for Grad Career Advice

LinkedIn has come up with a new way to make use of the huge amount of information we’re putting into social media sites, demonstrating the kind of application that wouldn’t be possible before social media sites made it so easy to capture information. It’s a tool aimed at college students which provides them with insights to help them plan their careers, by mining data from the profiles of people who work in their chosen field. It uses this data to provide an insight into how people have built careers in that field.

The data-driven approach allows insights that you couldn’t get without a large repository of career histories. In the world before LinkedIn, it wouldn’t have been feasible to mine the data from CV documents in widely varying formats. It will almost certainly throw up some unexpected ways to get to where you want. It will also suggest people in a students’ network who may be able to help them, apparently.

I can think of some obvious limitations. In emergent fields, for instance, how people got a job in the past might not be a good guide to how to get a job today. And I can see a danger that people in small but desirable fields (media, film, tv?) might get enough requests for help to get seriously annoyed. Although it’s likely that’s already true. I also don’t see it changing access to the best jobs – when you’re still a student, it’s likely that a lot of the contacts who can help you will be your parents’ friends, so the well-connected will still have an advantage.

It’s always intriguing to see this kind of application, though, as firms start to make use of the huge amount of data available in social networks that simply was not available before social media sites started. Balancing the usual privacy concerns, this shows an example of how that data can be mined for huge benefit.

More here.

Twitter launches “Promoted Accounts”

In one of the biggest announcements in some time for businesses using social media, Twitter has announced the launch of “promoted accounts”. To you and me, that’s advertising.

It’s only in a testing phase, so it’s not clear how all the details will work, but it seems that Twitter will leverage the existing mechanism that recommends people to follow, and will use this to recommend relevant “promoted accounts”. Twitter gives the example of recommending @xbox to people who are following gaming-related accounts. Ads are also going to be fed via the APIs to third-party software.

This is a huge addition to the existing Twitter site, and it’s not clear how users will react. In the past, attempts to introduce advertising into social sites have attracted negative feedback from users, and it’s well-known that the Twitterati are vocal with their opinions (I speak as one!).

However, there’s so much advertising revenue at stake here that it’s unlikely ads will be taken out of Twitter, no matter what the outcry. The exact way it works is probably still open for negotiation based on feedback and effectiveness.

Watch this space!