Social media networks are hard to find

[tweetmeme source=”barrydewar” alias=”http://ow.ly/2373c” only_single=false]The hardest thing to do when you are passing yourself off as a social media consultant is to find your networks. Clients will come to you and say they want 5000 followers on Twitter or that they want to share their news with 10,000 Facebook friends. What they haven’t thought about is who those people are or where to find them.

That’s my job right?

Yes, that’s my job but you’re going to have a better idea than me. I need to do a lot of data mining in your head and the collective head of your company to get the information I need to then go and find the people who might be interested in becoming fans of your brand.

It’s bloody hard. Try finding a niche market of disabled kids who don’t actually want to identify themselves as such online due to it being the only place they can compete on a level playing field. Or try finding ethnic or religious groups who, culturally, just don’t get the medium or have their own closed networks which serve them perfectly well.

Sure, finding people who like cheese or sourcing advocates for technology or entertainment is easy. Too easy maybe. But I haven’t ever had a brief like that. When people come to me it’s because they have already thought about it and come up blank.

So, what to do?

I don’t have a magic Twitter nose. I can’t always find these people either but what I’m learning is that the best way to do it is not online. You need to find these people in their own comfort zones. Go to a local meeting in someone’s front room, or get a clipboard and interview people on the street. It’s never easy, and it’s not cheap. But sometimes it’s the only way.

And you thought “doing social media” was easy…

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Social media customer service

[tweetmeme source=”barrydewar” alias=”http://ow.ly/22FE” only_single=false]There’s been a move recently, by some very high profile companies, to begin using Twitter for customer support. They monitor the service for mentions of their brand and, if there’s a problem, they very publicly and visibly step in to elevate the problem and make sure it’s solved.

They do this because they can see the potential for social networks to amplify any negative feeling. It’s a good point. But it doesn’t solve the problem.

The Emperors new clothes

In pretty much all these cases, the customer service from these companies is basically just bad. By tackling visible complaints all they are doing is creating a handful of individual happy customers while simultaneously  making the rest of their customers that little bit more pissed off that they’d not getting the same treatment.

If social media is to teach us anything it’s that we have to change the way we interact with out customers across the board. Online and off we need to treat them with more respect and ensure that they are always satisfied. As social media grows in it’s influence people will become wise to these new tricks. Companies who hand-pick those who shout the loudest to get the best treatment will be viewed with the same derision as cold callers are at present.

So here’s my advice

Sort out your customer service first, then offer the same level of service in your social media channels. This way you will grow a network of happy brand advocates who talk about you just as glowingly in the hairdressers as they do on Twitter.

Things not to lose sight of

[tweetmeme source=”barrydewar” alias=”http://ow.ly/226Zz” only_single=false]

  • None of my clients have iPhones
  • Only half of my clients know what “social media” actually is
  • If you ever say Twittersphere out loud people will laugh at you
  • You can’t explain social bookmarking, they just won’t get it
  • (I don’t get social bookmarking)
  • No-one reads this
  • “Things not to lose sight of” is a crap title

Please add your own below:

Streamlining your LinkedIn strategy

[tweetmeme source=”barrydewar” alias=”http://ow.ly/21AWb” only_single=false]LinkedIn used to be rubbish. Really. It was nothing more than a glorified spreadsheet of contacts that you could show off to other people. It was for salesfolk to get worked up over who had the most leads.

In recent months it’s come on in leaps and bounds. It’s now, arguably, the most focussed social media website out there. Not only is it a cracking way to present your online CV (although pretty much everyone still asks for a paper one!), it’s also grown a number of routes for some genuine business networking.

It stands alone in that it’s targeted at the world of work. You can join groups, share expertise, email contacts, upload news, etc. But let’s be clear, it’s commercially focussed. If you’re creating a voice for yourself, a brand image, then there are better tools. LinkedIn can showcase this brand but it’s not the place to perpetuate it.

Brand building involves a great deal of trial and error

If you’re fully committed to it then you’ll be tweeting a lot, updating your Facebook status a lot and trying to find ways to get your content on just about every social media forum there is. Every update is something of a shot in the dark, a calculated one, but a risk all the same. If you spend all day crafting a single comment on someone else’s blog, it might be a masterpiece. It might be loaded with crafty keywords, it might link to all the right places and it might have all the right bait to drive traffic to your site. But while you were doing that one of your competitors threw up 20 tweets, 5 Flickr pics, 7 Delicious bookmarks,2 blog posts and a YouTube video for good measure. Who do you think generated the most buzz?

Showcase the very best of what you are achieving in the social media space

Don’t link all of your accounts on LinkedIn. Especially not your twitter stream, instead handpick the tweets you want to include (by using the #in hashtag). None of your potentially useful network of business savvy people want to know that you’ve just farted. Instead, craft regular status updates just for LinkedIn, answer some pertinent questions and engage in some good group chat. If your blog is business oriented include that, ditto your Amazon reading list. What you’re trying to avoid is extraneous information overload.

It helps to think about LinkedIn as you would your old skool CV. Get the best stuff on there and make yourself sound awesome. Otherwise it goes in the bin.

Social Media Breakdown

[tweetmeme source=”barrydewar” alias=”http://ow.ly/213pU” only_single=false]The term “social media” is used a lot at the moment. People employ the phrase in a massively generic way to represent anything that involves interactive content. They reckon that if you label it as this, you can somehow talk about it as a single entity.

It’s a dangerous thing to do. Social media represents a number of high-profile and very diverse websites. Most prominently Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Each of these is very powerful and have their own sophisticated networks and culture. But it’s important to remember that they are not the same.

If you’re a business, you can’t approach Twitter in the same way as you approach Facebook for instance. On Facebook you create little hubs of content which remain there for a while. They are static and allow your “friends” to interact with you, and one another, based on conversations which you are, essentially, directing.

On Twitter however, your content is current for a matter of minutes. It floats by on people’s streams and then it’s gone. Each tweet may generate conversation but that too is always moving away from you. It’s transient and Twitter really requires a greater commitment to regularly creating great content. What Twitter does do, however is allow you to jump into other peoples conversations in a way that they walled garden of Facebook doesn’t allow.

YouTube is a hub of conversation but I defy any marketers to make use of that aspect. Sure you can make great videos which generate a buzz but the conversation is completely subjective and not much help from a communications point of view. It is a constant though, in the same way as Facebook is, so you can focus on it for longer term projects.

So, please, fellow social media professionals, can we stop using the term as a catch-all? Give each tool in your arsenal the attention it needs and we’ll get a step closer to gaining some respect for what we do.

*image credit Josep Altarriba

followfriday

[tweetmeme source=”barrydewar” alias=”http://ow.ly/20ap5″ only_single=false]A different approach to #followfriday this week. Instead of filling up my stream with all the people who have got my attention this week. Here you can have them all in one place with handy links to their excellent content.

@JustinKownacki for taking the time out to answer my questions and not holding back. Also for consistently producing food for thought.

@danfrydman for trying to push things forward and make things happen. We need more people like that.

@craigmcgill for a week’s worth of in-your-face blogging which is well worth the read. No frills, just the world as he sees it.

@kevoneil for his enthusiasm which comes across online just as much as it does off. Also for pulling an all-nighter in the name of social media.

@allanbarr for always being in the thick of it when “stuff” happens on Twitter. Always open and making connections.

@mike_mcgrail and @MacFack for great passion and ideas which will be piped into your ears very soon.

An interview with Justin Kownacki

When I started out with this blog I did a great deal of research, I was looking for what people were already doing in the social media space and wanted to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. One of the first blogs posts to really catch my attention was I’m STILL Doing It Wrong: 5 MORE Mistakes I’ve Made in Social Media from Justin Kownacki. It pretty much came to define what I’m trying to do on this blog, namely to be open-minded and forthright about what social media is, what it can do, and the fallibility of it’s users.

From there I discovered his ground-breaking online sitcom Something to Be Desired which, at 6 seasons has demonstrated incredible staying power. This interested the screenwriter in me, another reason why Justin is probably my favourite blogger right now.

Anyway, enough of the gushing praise. The great news is that he agreed to answer a few questions for me. Which I’m sharing with you now. Enjoy:


You made your name with Something To Be Desired before getting involved with Podcamp. Can you explain the leap?

In 2003, we launched Something to Be Desired (STBD) as an experiment. I wanted to learn how to create video for the web, and I wondered who would watch it, how easily they might find it, etc.  (This was pre-YouTube, pre-video-enabled iPods, etc.)  In order to make people aware that the show existed, I dabbled in various promotional tools —
print interviews, cold-contacting bloggers, and even signing up for this (then-)newfangled network called MySpace.

But in the mid-2000s, the idea of a serialized web show was pretty foreign to most people.  They’d ask, “So, what you really want to do is get your show on public access TV, right?”  (Which, here in America, is the equivalent of aspiring to be a hobo.)  So when the first PodCamp happened in 2006, I jumped at the chance to spend a weekend with other podcasters because it was the first time none of us would have to explain what we were doing, or why — we could just focus on *how* and “what next?”

Since then, PodCamp has expanded from discussing “podcasting” to “social media in general.”  We hosted the 2nd-ever PodCamp in Pittsburgh in November 2006, and I helped organize and lead the event for the next 3 years.  And while I’ve been impressed with the ever-growing size of these events, I’m also aware that they’ve lost their original focus.  They’re less about creating media that matters and more about creating messaging that sells.  So I’ve retracted from actively organizing future social media events, and I’m now returning to the content creation side of the equation.  I’d rather be known as “the guy who makes interesting media” than “the guy who can help you sell your widgets.”

You were recently namechecked by Chris Brogan. What’s your opinion on the power of social media celebrities?
Full disclosure: I’ve known Chris Brogan since early 2006, when he was just a guy with a day job who blogged about technology in his spare time.  He wrote a post about web video, and how he thought it was a cool idea that his town’s local theatre group might be interested in. I found his post (via Technorati) and contacted him to say, “Hey, if you think web video is cool, you should see this web sitcom I’ve been producing for 3 years.”  He watched STBD, he liked it, and we hit it off.  We’ve kept in touch ever since.

And then Chris joined his fellow Boston media-makers to launch the first PodCamp that autumn, and the rest is history.

So I have the unusual pleasure of knowing Chris Brogan since before he was “Chris Brogan,” which is why I’m always amused when people take his word as gospel.  To me, Chris is a friend with good ideas that revolve around common sense.  To the rest of the social media world, Chris is a figurehead.  Thus, when Chris says, “Hey, you should read Justin Kownacki’s blog,” my site gets flooded with hundreds of new visitors who think that following Chris’s lead will somehow make them equally rich and famous.  Their visits rarely add demonstrable value to my day, because what they’re interested in is rarely what I’m interested in.  But their traffic boosts are pleasant distractions from the rest of my day.

Speaking broadly, I don’t know many social media celebrities who can move mountains in any meaningful way — and yes, I know my fair share of social media celebrities.  Our localized world is still too small for anyone to say or do anything that has a massive ripple effect in the real world.  The best anyone can do is redirect the fishbowl, but very few people have bridged their way into the mainstream.  (Felicia Day may be the only name that immediately comes to mind, and even she’s still a celebrity primarily within the geek mainstream.)

Influence is great, but it’s what you do with it that counts.  And, in general, I’m not seeing very much influence being applied to work that matters.  (And yes, I include myself in that summary.  But the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem.)

Is 140 characters enough?
Yes.

What is the most important thing that you tell your clients?
Be human.

Customers are people.  Companies are created and run by people.  Yet somewhere along the way, we all tend to forget that we’re people, and we start treating both sides of the divide like numbers.

Social media changes the way people interact because it means you no longer have an excuse for NOT knowing how someone feels.  If you’ve oblivious to your customers’ true feelings, it’s because you’re willfully not paying attention.  And if your customers see your brand as a faceless corporation, it’s because you don’t trust your employees enough to allow them to be themselves in public — which includes the web.

I’d rather do business with a person than a brand, and I suspect most humans feel the same way.  So why not allow your company to be recognized as a group of people working toward a goal, rather than a logo that everyone hides behind?

Social media is all about finding influencers. Who are yours?
As my previous answer may indicate, I don’t put much stock in influencers.  Though, obviously, I’d rather have them on my side, because you never know when a 500-pound gorilla might come in handy.

These days, I find myself mostly influenced by people who push inventive, inspiring or challenging ideas.  Obviously, what inspires or challenges me is not necessarily what inspires or challenges anyone else, which is why some of the “gurus” out there may be legitimately motivational for people who haven’t already heard it all before.

Among the people who usually catch my attention are:

Maria Popova — http://twitter.com/brainpickerhttp://www.brainpickings.org/ — because she finds and shares some of the best-curated art & media experiments on the planet.

Clay Shirky — http://twitter.com/cshirky — author of “Here Comes Everybody” — I’ve read the knocks about Shirky being the kind of unfocused pundit who, like Malcolm Gladwell, throws a dozen loosely-connected ideas into a conversation and leaves you with the impression that he’s said something profound.  Unlike Gladwell, Shirky still manages to keep my attention.

Jay Rosen — http://twitter.com/jayrosen_NYU — He seems to be the lone journalistic voice who’s perversely amused and alarmed by his industry’s deliberate choice to commit suicide rather than seek help. Watching him document the collapse of traditional journalism is morbidly fascinating.

Humanity Critic — http://twitter.com/humanitycritic — Sure, he’s an unabashed liberal, which may color one’s perceptions.  But he summarizes the lunacy of modern politics (and hip-hop) in a starkly compelling, 140 character way.

Where next?
For me?  I’m transitioning out of the social marketing biz and back into the world of content creation.  When I wake up excited every morning because I don’t know what unthinkably cool project or mindblowing collaboration will come my way that day, I’ll know I’m living the life I’ve been meandering my way toward this whole time.

For the social media industry?  As business models expand and contract, I’m sure it will continue its inevitable convergence with the mainstream.  By then, I’d like to think the fishbowl will have produced a few ideas, creations and professionals worth following into the future.  But the cynic in me suspects that the vast majority of the fishbowl will simply jump at the first whiff of an underpriced job offer and swim off into the dark night of obscurity.

For the sake of optimism, I’ll leave room for the fishbowl to pleasantly surprise me.

Thanks very much to Justin for taking the time out for this interview.