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May 21, 2009

Twitter is the new black

Filed under: General,Perspective — Tags: , , — Bryan @ 1:13 am

Before we get into what Twitter is though, let’s start by reminding everyone what a blog is.

At its most basic a blog is an online diary/journal authored by someone who wants to share their thoughts and opinions with others in a public location. It is not generally a real-time format (people aren’t reading your post the moment you post). A blog is generally long-form and a writer is best served when they put some thought into what they are writing before they post it. For instance you do not normally write “going to get some coffee” as a blog post. In fact if someone comes to your blog and sees that as your only post, they probably aren’t coming back.

Fundamentally, a micro-blog is a blog where the author just wants to fire off a thought without having to compose it into a full sentence/paragraph. It is a very informal and casual medium by design. It’s also very transient in that people don’t generally go back and reference old micro-blog posts like they would a standard blog.

Twitter is a specific micro-blog platform (like WordPress or Blogger are for blogs) where everyone’s micro-blogs are published exclusively on one web site. By design it makes micro-blogging real-time (people are reading it as you post) because your friends can monitor your updates without much effort by just leaving their Twitter home page up on their desktop someplace or by using an RSS client (among many options).

What makes Twitter more interesting is that it is effectively a giant chat room where a million people are all talking at the same time but you can decide exactly who you want to listen to, and since everyone is on Twitter you have lots to pick from. Common courtesy has also been that if you are going to take the effort to listen to me and you think that what I have to say is important (followers) then I’ll listen to you in return (following)… quid pro quo.

Additionally, Twitter has the ability to allow you to send a direct private message to any other user (of course you can only do this with people that follow-you thus establishing a trust relationship which in theory reduces the risk of spam). Plus it allows for a shorthand quick-sort/search capability vis-à-vis hashtags (placing a “#” before a keyword).

But, let’s not forget the thing that makes this all work. As I mentioned above, everyone else is on Twitter… even Oprah. Sadly though, she is not following you. She’s pretty busy.

Of course Twitter use has evolved since it’s launch and people now use it in many ways to connect with one another here are four possible use-cases:

  1. You write corporate tweets that are one-way communications of news to followers who want to know about your company.
  2. You write corporate tweets about the company but also engage with customers both publicly and privately. Generally this two-way usage will need you to conform to an agreed to corporate voice and protocol since you are acting as an official voice of the company when you engage with the world.
  3. You write personal tweets about your company where you follow others and engage them in conversations about your business either privately or publicly. This method really calls for you to talk in your own voice, but still retain a certain level of professionalism. Since you have identified yourself as an employee of your company, you are now a public representative and poor behavior can reflect back on your employer.
  4. You write personal tweets where you say nothing about your employer and just go on about every time you get a cup of coffee and scratch your nose.

That’s just four use-case scenarios from off the top of my head but I hope you can see that there are lots of ways to use this tool that are only limited to your imagination. Just remember that any given usage approach you take has it’s own certain social expectations and acceptable uses.

For instance, if you’re writing in case #1 you are probably going to be posting links to press releases and news stories about your company and executives. Posting in a corporate or personal voice is purely optional and either way is acceptable. Just be consistent! This is the best case for when you are planning to automate your tweets via some kind of robot program or reprogramming your press release publishing system to also push out a Tweet for the release when it goes live.

In case #2 you’re more than likely going to post tweets in a personal voice but you should never become casual in your language. Again, consistency counts here.

In case #3 a strict corporate voice is going to get you looked at funny… unless that’s the kind of person you are in day-to-day communications. You still don’t want to get to casual here but people expect you to be yourself.

In case #4, how you handle your personal life is your business 🙂

You’ll find that from a business perspective most corporate Twitter users fall between case 2 & 3. You’ll find personal users will be a mix of 3 & 4 if they talk about their employer at all but hopefully they will learn to separate the two before they do something that costs them their job (see my series about personas).

Bottom line… Twitter is a Pull technology (more on this later). Because of this it makes it easier for marketing teams to engage users without negative repercussions since the only people listening to you are people who want to listen to you. Generally the only ways you’re going to get a negative hit by corporate engagement with customers via a Pull technology is if you misrepresent yourself or your activities to your readers (ie, be transparent!), you make some culture transgression that causes a backlash (eg, you get a million people to follow you on Twitter and then you start spamming them with direct messages to buy your product), or you trick people to lure them to your content (back to the transparent thing).

Twitter is a great tool to communicate to people, no magic… just a tool.

May 6, 2009

Doing your homework

Filed under: General,Perspective,Sage Advice — Tags: , , , — Bryan @ 12:53 am

I can’t emphasize enough for people who want to jump on the social media bandwagon. DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST.

If you get invited to a party hosted by someone you don’t know, you might ask some questions “what kind of party is it?”, “what should I wear?”, “am I expected to bring a bottle of something to drink?”, “should I be on time or fashionably late?”, etc… You get the idea.

Think of social media in many ways as a world party. First a little secret though. I can tell you right now that by the time you hear about the next big thing you’re already fashionably late, so we can settle that question right away. If you by some happenstance find yourself as an early adopter though, you’ll know because you’ll be one of the people annoyed (oddly enough) that your world was just swamped with a million people who don’t know what they’re doing.

So anyways, you’re going to the big party now and you want to fit in with the cool kids right? Well that’s where you do your homework. First things first, go ask your friends and family if they’re already using the new thing. If anyone is already there, ask them for their perception of the social etiquette for the environment. Initially 95% of them will probably be wrong but listen anyways because right now you’re developing a consensus.

In the neutral scenario, you ask 100 people who all give you the same bad answer, at the least you’re following social norm so that’s a win of sorts. At best you find someone from the 10% crowd who’s totally up on everything and will give you the straight scoop. In the worst case you hook up someone from the opposite 10% who has less of a clue than you but are so emphatic with their bad advice that it all seems reasonable.

Next go to your favorite search engine and enter “_____ for noobs” where blank is the new thing (eg, Twitter). Now, just so you understand what you’ve just searched. Noobs is derogatory slang for the word Newbies which is itself effectively derogatory slang for the term New Users. Many people ignore the derogatory nature of these terms anyways and I wouldn’t let yourself get to upset over it either. It’s the fastest way to find the information and it’s the common term used within the community where many of these things start. The important thing here is to read through some of the pages that come up in your search, and take it all with a grain of salt. The people writing these pages are frequently early adopters who are complaining about the missteps of new users or they are existing users making a genuine effort to reach out and educate new users so the new users can integrate with the activity faster without annoying everyone else in the process and/or embarrassing themselves at the same time. For instance check out this slide show presentation on Twitter that came up as my first search result at the time of writing this. There are certainly some gems out there.

Beyond that, you’ll do yourself a big favor by going out and trying to learn what problem this new tool was invented to solve. For instance Blogs were originally created by people who wanted to keep a public journal of their lives for their friends to read. Maybe that’s not what it’s being used for by everyone now but it can clue you into a greater understanding of what may or may not be a successful tactic to take in using the new thing. I would suggest doing some research on Wikipedia but if you do remember that Wikipedia editors are like the guy at the big box store you paid to pre-assemble your kid’s new bicycle (secret, he’s just reading the instruction book and probably never assembled a bike before… just like you).

On a tangent note let’s through out an example, if your mom always roasts chicken upside down, are you going to do the same thing when you roast a chicken or are you going to ask her “why are you doing that?”. Maybe there’s a better way to roast a chicken and maybe your mom is doing this because that’s what her mother told her to do and she never asked. Seriously! Go get a cook-book and see how other people roast chicken. Maybe doing it mom’s way ends up being the best way but you’ll never know until you do your research (for the record my mom does not roast chicken up-side-down).

So what’s the bottom line? Soak it all in.

In general, if you take a day and study up on any given social media platform you’ll be able to glean enough information to know if it’s something you personally want to deal with. Remember just because the cool kids are using something doesn’t always mean its right for you and just because everyone else is jumping in head first doesn’t mean you have to as well. That, also doesn’t mean you should ignore it though. Step in and get you feet wet for a moment. Post a comment on someone’s blog. Be sensible. Think of it like the social event party where everyone is offering you a drink. You can skip the party, you can drink a soda pop, you can carry around the same bottle of warm beer for the next four hours, you can drink sensibly, or you can wake up the next day without a clue about what happened the night before. If you’re a grown adult, it’s your call. Just think about how you want to be perceived before you participate in the community.

April 29, 2009

Other opinions on companies using social media services in researching new hires

Filed under: General — Tags: , , , — Bryan @ 1:17 am

As I’ve covered in previous articles, there has been a growing trend within businesses to dig into a person’s Social Media based existence as part of the process in evaluating someone for employment. Two recent stories indicate that opinion may be coming down on the side of caution with companies shying away from this practice to avoid possible legal risks from potential fair labor violations.

In an editorial blog post from CIO Magazine website in March, Meridith Levinson sets the tone for this new thinking and notes that not only is this violation of a persons private space by a prospective employer possibly “off-putting”. She also goes on to say:

By basing professional hiring decisions on candidates’ personal lives and beliefs, employers are effectively legislating people’s behavior. They’re subtly dictating what we can and can’t do, post or say on the Web. Consequently, they’re creating an environment online where people can’t express their true beliefs, state their unvarnished opinions, be themselves, and that runs contrary to the free, communal ethos of the Web. Employers need to stop judging candidates’ personal lives and beliefs and focus on professional criteria.

In a more direct article. Law.com’s In-House Counsel publication ran article on April 13th this year about one bank’s thinking on using Social Network sites in their hiring practices and their legal reason for opting out of the activity.

Here is an excerpt from that article:

Could these seemingly harmless social networking Web sites create potential liability for a company in a hiring context? Solomon’s short answer: Yes.

The problem lies in the type of information posted there, Solomon explains. Certainly the sites can be a treasure trove of information, including things an employer might not be able to find out anywhere else that could influence the decision of whether to hire a job applicant, she says. For example, someone might use a Web site posting to brag about how he or she took a previous employer’s confidential client list and is now earning a million dollars, she explains, or an applicant might post sexually suggestive photos and comments on his or her site.

In both cases, Solomon says, an employer legally can use the information as the basis for a decision not to hire the applicant. “We live in an age where everyone wants information, and the employers really like it because they can get information that they wouldn’t think about asking in an interview or the candidate would lie about,” she says.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to filter the type of information that’s visible on an individual’s social networking Web site, she says, which means employers can also get information from those Web sites that they’re not legally entitled to ask about or to know, “and you could be called to task to prove that you did not use the information in the hiring decision.”

Here’s how that can play out in real life, using a mock scenario suggested by Solomon: Jane applies for a teller position at a bank. A company representative punches Jane’s name into a popular social networking Web site and easily brings up her personal page, where Jane and her friends have posted a discussion about her upcoming baby shower. Based on this information, the representative makes the illegal decision not to hire Jane — illegal in that refusing to hire on the basis of pregnancy is prohibited by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which is part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It is certainly a good topic for discussion. Although, in the long run it’s still really hard to say how this may resolve itself in common business practice.

All in all though I still think the rule applies. Mind your manors when you’re in public and remember that the Internet is public.