Sometimes You Just Need A Moment Of Silence

Where were you when Steve Jobs died?

I’m sure that if you’re into social media, it’s a question that you’ll be able to answer in twenty years. Facebook and Twitter grew pretty quiet about every other subject. At one point, 17.3% of all posts on Twitter were about Steve Jobs.

Personally, I was standing outside of Potomac Mills Mall in Woodbridge, Virginia, waiting for a bus home when the news broke on Twitter. And I had just made the following tweet:

Suddenly, as my timeline began to become a testimonial about the greatness of Steve Jobs, that tweet seemed more inane than it would have ordinarily. In fact, I considered deleting it. Now, conduct a thought experiment, and imagine that I posted that *after* the news of Steve Jobs’ death had started to circulate. It might even seem to border on rude.

Yet, somehow, there were certain people that I highly respect posted similarly off the topic posts at that moment. By accident. The reason? They use auto-posting on Twitter.

If I were to come up with a Ten Commandments of Twitter (as others have), the second would be: THOU SHALL NOT AUTO-POST!

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Now I understand why there is a desire to auto-post. It allows a social media manager to be able to front load content that will post in different time zones at the sweet spot. I know that I, for one, don’t like waking up at 3:30 a.m. to make sure a message gets posted to my Japanese friends at the heart of their day. And as a business, the ability to target a message at the correct time impacts their bottom line.

But the downside of ceding control of the time you post on Twitter (and Facebook) in the name of convenience is that you cede control of your timing. At your own peril.

In the end, I feel that if you auto-post, you will be doing more harm than good for three reasons:

  1. You might step on a story that makes your release seem irrelevant regardless. Or make you seem out of touch. If you were a technology company posting anything other than a story about Steve Jobs when he died, you risked irrelevancy. Silence would have been better!
  2. You miss the chance to connect your brand and its related content to the event. While I personally find this marketing method off-putting, auto-posting takes away the opportunity to use this proven technique.
  3. You miss the opportunity to harness any viral action that might happen due to your content. If a message begins to catch on while there’s “no one at the switch,” you’ve lost an opportunity to connect with those spreading it. Also, if people being to ask questions on your post, you risk alienating them by not answering them within a good time frame.
Of course, it’s up to each individual business or organization to choose if the costs of auto-posting outweigh the benefit. But I think the aftermath of Steve Jobs’ death on Twitter (other social media platforms) proves that there are significant risks to letting technology replace human contact. Auto-posting programs don’t have a conscience. And that’s something that’s crucial to have in marketing in the Web 2.0 world.

You’ve Got A New Follower On Twitter. Game On!

Remember Super Mario Brothers?  Particularly how far out of the way players would go, busting blocks and wasting precious time, to get that stash of unlimited coins?

Squeezing every last coin out of that block!
It's only human. Or Mario.

This was especially after they had already beaten the game. The only desire left for some to play the  game at all was to beat a previous high score. To correct any imperfection that  occurred in previous attempts at levels.

Now there are those out there who will play a game even after beating it just for pure enjoyment. But they’re not the majority. Most people need a reason to still play even though they revealed everything.

On Twitter, there’s a game happening every day for many people. It’s called amassing followers. For some people, if not the majority, their follower counter going up is like squeezing another coin out of a block.

And if you give people the ultimate “win” by friending them back instantly you’re taking away a lot of the desire they would have to keep in contact with you in order to,  for lack of a better term, “curry favor” from you.

Sure it’s Machiavellian, but it’s the truth.

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If you’re a company or association, you shouldn’t follow back everyone. It’s a simple extension of the game theory that states: “the more people who are involved in something, the more people will think others will take care of keeping it up.” If you have thousands of “friends,” people will just assume that others will jump to your aid to answer a question. Keeping a smaller group of “devoted” friends (mutual followers) will encourage this group to become brand ambassadors.

And, if the “outsiders” see this select group interacting directly with your brand, it will encourage many people to try to get into this select group.

Once people are in this cohort, just like you’d reward your real world regulars, reward your Twitter regulars with “level ups.”  You can do this in a number of ways, including:

  1. Giving them @ responses to their non-business related posts.
  2. Retweeting especially funny things they say (being careful to not offend the sensibilities of your other followers).
  3. #ff’ing them if they mentioned your business in a given week.

Some users will take offense to preferential treatment. If you see negative reactions about your brand in your mentions, let people  know there’s a game on to become closer to your establishment.

  • Of course, there are some users that you never want to follow back. The best example is spammers. Often they will take being followed back as an invitation to send out friend requests to all of your other followers. And this will alienate all of your true followers.
  • And there are some users that you always want to follow back instantly (if possible). These include celebrities who choose to follow your brand and opinion leaders in your field. Also follow back your competitors without question. Reward these people just for following you. They’re going to be a great source of content and social media wisdom and should be thanked as such in advance.

There is no established best practice to who you should follow back but these guidelines should help any entity, including individuals, get more engaged followers. It’s human nature.


The Multiple Personality Dilemma

From the beginning, almost every business owner or blogger who uses Twitter finds themselves with a simple dilemma.  A simple dilemma with far reaching implications…

ONE TWITTER ACCOUNT OR TWO?

Do you want to have a separate account for your personal “persona” and another for your business “persona?”

The fact that you most likely reached this blog from @MGoldman2_0 on Twitter and not @greenmind0428 (despite the latter having nearly ten times the followers than the prior) should tell you my answer to this question. Yes. By all means. Yes!

One tweet that a friend of mine recently sent sums up my reasoning possibly more concisely than the rest of this blog entry will:

Now my quoted friend is a very outspoken person. But the thing about outspoken people is that they often say out loud what a good plurality of people are thinking internally. And with a lot of people, you don’t get a verbal complaint before they unfollow you on Twitter.

The simple reason to have two account is that specialization annoys some of your generalist followers and generalization annoys some of your specialist followers.

To put it more positively, a specialized (business or otherwise) account allows you to generate deeper connections with your followers than you would with putting specialized information on a generalist account. For example, if you’re a marketing blogger, you can concentrate on posting links and participating in discussions about marketing on a specialized account. On a “main” account, this sort of in-depth marketing talk at regular intervals could alienate a lot of your followers.

In fact, they might even consider you a spam account who is posting nothing but links to topics that they don’t care about.

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Not that having a separate personal account lets you off the hook for what you say on it vis-a-vis your business persona. If people know you are the “voice” of a corporate or organizational account, you must still maintain professionalism on all accounts you manage. There are no walls between accounts as far as reputation is concerned. Some people even use making sure professionalism is maintained as a justification for only having one account.

However, if someone wants to learn more about me personally (like my politics and my love of soccer) after reading my @MGoldman2_0 account, I encourage it! I recommend even, occasionally, posting a link to your other accounts to encourage users who might be interested to follow both.

Another reason the proponents of single accounts cite is that without “personal touches,” business or blog accounts seem almost robotic. And one thing that alienates potential customers or members a lot is the lack of an authentic voice. Therefore, don’t abandon your personality at the door of your business account!

A blog or business account should mirror the activities of a personal account. Participate in Twitter rituals like Follow Friday and, if you have a business specific Foursquare account, you should – sparingly – broadcast your check-ins. And, yes, feel free to post minutae of your day. Especially if these have to do with your “work” persona.

Any sociologist (or maybe even a Women’s Studies major) will tell you that a person puts on many different “faces” throughout their day in their offline life. Why should it be any different online?


What Not To Do When Your Brand Goes To Pot

According to Netflix, I have been a member since June 2003.  And, by and large, it’s been a good ride.  I’m pretty much their typical customer.  I let the little red envelopes sit at home for months at a time and, for some reason, still dutifully pay my membership fees.  I’ve never had a problem with providing this company my money until recently. It’s not their splitting into two companies that’s bothering me. It’s that they’ve shown they have a Web 1.0 mentality of telling instead of collaborating when it comes to their social media presence.

Since I’m here to extol the virtues of a Web 2.0 mentality, I don’t know if I can support Netflix (or Qwikster) anymore.

There will be plenty of post-mortems of the @Qwikster episode by far more academic sources than me. But we’re far enough into the episode, I think, to come to some conclusions about Netflix social media strategy and where they’ve gone wrong in damage controlling a stick social media situation.

BACKGROUND:On September 18, 2011, Netflix announcing they were splitting their mailing service from their streaming service. The traditional red envelopes would be re-branded Qwikster. TechCrunch quickly broke the story on the morning of September 19, 2011, that the capitalized @Qwikster Twitter account was claimed by a “Weed-Smoking Elmo.”  Jason Castillo, the human behind the account, quickly realized he was sitting on a valuable cyber-property and began negotiating to sell the name to unnamed sources. Netflix claimed they never negotiated with Castillo and have since either set up or not set up an official accout for Qwikster at @QwiksterTweet.

Of course the obvious takeaway is that a company, even if they don’t plan on using them immediately, should check to make sure any new product has an available, easy to remember, Twitter handle available. But there are three further lessons here, I think, on brand management in general:

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1. Never miss a viral marketing opportunity. All of the targeted marketing a business in the world can’t generate the kind of buzz that a simple message that people spread barely knowing they’re spreading a message generates. In this case, there was a great deal of buzz around the @Qwikster account in the tech community. Unfortunately, instead of this buzz being harnessed by Netflix and the @Qwikster account spreading their message to an established community (and the hundreds of users who began to follow the account after the article), most of the word-of-mouth about the situation was negative. It didn’t have to be if the company had struck a deal with Castillo ahead of time.

For those who doubt that there was power in harnessing @Qwikster for Netflix, observe the following two tweets:

The first is purely anecdotal, but proves there is a perception out there that Neflix has lost its message control. The second is actually factual. As of the writing of this blog, the official @QwiksterTweet account has 83 followers and @Qwikster has 11,743 followers. If Netflix had a message on @Qwikster, it would be getting a lot more eyeballs (and, therefore, message amplication due to its humor value) than anything they put on the official account.

It must be said that Netflix is unintentionally getting amplification from people talking about @Qwikster, but not the message they’re looking to get out for any other purpose but name recognition.

A great example of a cause using an already existing account (with its existing follower count) to their advantage is @Greenpeace’s Barbie, It’s Over campaign. The organization set up a @ken_talks account for Ken. But, instead of creating its own artificial Barbie account, they enlisted an already popular @Barbie account with its built in followers at the time (rather than having to build an audience from scratch). From the case study overview that I heard at a recent seminar, they got the cooperation of the @Barbie identity to sign up for free because he or she supported the cause. But, regardless of what is used to sweeten the pot, the interaction between a “real” Twitter account and a corporate one looked better and spread throughout the news media. Earned media is always a nice, cheap way to get a message out.

Netflix, seemingly not understanding the power of Web 2.0 missed this boat completely.

2. Don’t be afraid to be the butt of the joke. Another lesson of Web 2.0 image control that Netflix seems to have missed is that the best way to diffuse a public relations disaster in new media is to laugh about it. Instead, all they have done on their @QwiksterTweet account is tweet the following:

Besides the “:-)” at the end, this post comes off as tone deaf. The verbiage is rude and off-putting. Instead of showing themselves as in on the joke, they have invited negative feedback. That is, if anyone ever bothers to look at their account. If they do, they are rewarded with a “stay classy America” tagline.  As if that’s not offensive.

3. Negative internet buzz does not always hurt you brand, but it can’t help it. Luckily for the Qwikster brand, the @Qwikster story hasn’t spread that far outside of the internet community. Then again, it still might. I have very astute social media friends who are just covering the original story now. The mainstream backlash against Qwikster”s Twitter strategy might be days away. There is still time to turn around their marketing on this one, but they’ve already lost a lot of the early adopter, tech leaders who frequent Twitter that they could have had by cooperation with the @Qwikster account. Instead these amplifiers are making fun of Qwikster online instead of spreading their message.

With all of the offline blunders that Netflix has made in this situation, their online strategy is not helping their image or their brand.


Claiming Your Piece of the Internet – Facebook and Twitter

A business wouldn’t even think about not claiming their physical space. Yet, almost as important in today’s economy, many small businesses are not claiming their virtual spaces to their own detriments. Much like intruders come into a real world space and destroy an image through graffiti, your virtual space brand may be getting destroyed without your business even knowing it.

Whether you’re on the top two players in social media – Facebook and Twitter – or not, people are talking about your association or business there. If you don’t believe me, go to twitter.com and in the search box at the top of the page, type in your businesses’ name.

At the very least if you’re a business you should see Foursquare check-ins. But you’ll probably also see both negative and (hopefully) positive feedback about your business.

Since the first businesses started in antiquity, people have been talking in the marketplace about them. But, for the first time, with new technology, these conversations are taking place out in the open and you can participate in the discussion.

Starting on Facebook and Twitter is easier than you might think. And you don’t need a professional social media person to do it.

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Facebook guides you step-by-step at Facebook Pages. They offer business support and advice that is second-to-none.

Twitter has no special pages. A business page looks just like any other. However, this equal footing is not a bad thing. People on Twitter begin to interact with businesses as “friends” rather than service providers. And, not surprisingly, this companionship leads to increased loyalty. Starting a Twitter account is as easy as typing twitter.com into your favorite web browser, and filling in the name of your business, an e-mail address, and choosing a password.

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At first, both Facebook and Twitter can seem overwhelming. Especially if you haven’t used it with a personal account. But there are a few simple starting rules that you can keep in mind that will have your Twitter account buzzing in no time.

1. Be personal. Twitter especially is a very conversational site. While you can get away with posting press releases, people are looking for interaction. Be sure that a human voice shines through in all of your posts. Professionalism still needs to be maintained (i.e. watch your use of curse words), but you don’t need to take on airs. No one will want to interact with a robot! Also, make sure to upload a photograph of either your business or your logo on Twitter. The default avatar, an egg, is looked down upon by most users.

2. Be friendly. It’s important to always post on both sites in a friendly, welcoming voice. When a negative comment comes up, it’s important to follow basic rules of customer service. Put yourself in the commenter’s shoes and try to understand the situation in full, asking as many questions as possible. If necessary, send the person a message behind the scenes and attempt to resolve the conflict. The last thing people want is to witness a business owner losing their cool online.

3. Be available. A good rule of customer service on social media is to always respond within 24 hours. If you can do it sooner, all the better.  Facebook comments all show up on your page. Twitter comments about your business (that are addressed to your account) will show up if you click on the key on twitter.com on your page. Use your best judgement as to which comments you need to respond to.

As far as content goes, this will be discussed in-depth in another blog entry in the future. For now, just make sure that you’re participating in the space. You will be surprised how much of a difference it makes. As the old saying goes, 90% of success is just showing up.