Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What Twitter isn’t

Or, why the Twittersphere is nothing to be feared

Much has been written about the booming popularity of Twitter. Some writers are even now trying to claim some cool, deep-thought cache by professing to being embarrassed by their involvement with Twitter.

For a shining example of this you need only read Virginia Heffernan’s
Let Them Eat Tweets: Why Twitter Is A Trap in the The New York Times Magazine of April 19.

So, as Twitter applications breed faster than rabbits and Big Media falls all over itself to mention Twitter at least once an hour and even La Diva Oprah has blessed the Twittersphere with her presence you have to wonder why some writers are rushing to distance themselves from Twitter.

Is it fear? (If all these amateurs keep writing what’s a pro to do?) Maybe it’s jealousy? (Not enough people are paying attention to me)

I really can’t begin to understand the visceral forces at work, but in response to Ms. Heffernan’s cry for help (for that is surely what it was) I humbly offer:

What Twitter IS:

A simple means of connecting. Ms. Heffernan lists “connections” such as the Internet, Skype and texting before saying “Only the poor — defined broadly as those without better options — are obsessed with their connections.” She seems mortified with the most basic human desire for connectivity making us seem “poor.” Really? I think our longing for connections is what makes us richly human and Twitter makes this connecting easier than ever.

A way to add value to our lives. This is clearly not understood by Ms. Heffernan who confesses: “I myself mostly post links to this column, hoping that the self-promotion is transparent enough that people can easily ignore a link or click it if they’re curious.” Surely there are other things of value our fearless writer might share. Look, if I start following someone on Twitter who only uses it for self-promotion, it’s very simple: I STOP following them.

A way to share the human experience. If you’re on Twitter you want something … and maybe you can provide or share something. Not as Ms. Heffernan claims are we living “on the Web in these hideous conditions … because … we can’t afford privacy,” but rather we connect on the Web because we want more from life. Twitter and other social networking tools allow us to learn from each other … across the entire planet.

What Twitter IS NOT:

A substitute for human interactions. Ms. Heffernan writes that “a surprising number of people now seem to tweet about how much they want to be free from encumbrances like Twitter.” If life on the Social Web is truly interfering with your life in the real world that is not Twitter’s fault … you surely had issues long before Twittering was part of your life.

A static social networking space Twitter has evolved from posts about “banal stuff, like sandwiches” to people sharing the things they love and they hate, sharing news, links and even recommendations. Ms Heffernan seems perturbed about this turn of events.

A way to get rich or at least out of poverty. You see this is Ms. Heffernan’s real issue. She is poor … or at least not rich. Tucked away in the top third of her piece is the line: “In other words, I’m not sure I’d use Twitter if I were rich.” And the piece concludes with her applauding a tweet that says “I wish I was rich and had personal assistants.” “Right on,” Ms. Heffernan sings.

So, the truth comes out: Our fearless writer really only needs to be rich to be happy and Twitter-free. Now that is a deep sentiment I’m sure all of us can embrace.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Walk your way to creativity

3 ways to take physical steps to a more creative mindset

So how do you get yourself into a creative mindset? Have you considered the simple act of walking?

Here are three (increasingly complex) approaches to walking that might help you get into a strong creative frame of mind:

Just take a walk

You’ve probably experienced the benefits of a simple walk. It clears the mind and can allow your mind to wander. The location is less important than the fact that you are moving and (preferrably) outdoors.

Try this: Set out only with a goal to walk for a minimum amount of time (at least 10 minutes in one direction. Other than the traffic around you (on foot or otherwise) try not to focus too much on what is around you. Focus instead on your breathing (keep it steady) and your steps (try to keep them rhythmic). If this helps your brain solve a problem or become enlivened with creativity upon your return, great. If not ….

Walk at a varying pace

To step things up a notch, take a walk where you are engaging more of your conscious brain to think about your walk. This in turn, frees up your unconscious brain to dwell on that problem that has been waiting for a solution.

Try this: Set out on your walk as above, with a goal of walking for a minimum amount of time in one direction before turning back. Now find some recurring markers (utility poles or mailboxes work well). Between the first two markers take deliberate but measured steps. Between the next two markers consciously double the pace. Between the next two markers return to the more measured pace. Repeat this pattern all the way out and all the way back. You will get more exercise, but you will also find that your subconscious brain has been active and a creative solution to that problem has likely occurred to you. But if not ….

Walk in a defined pattern

This can be the hardest walk to do correctly but can also reap the best results in terms of freeing up the unconscious part of your brain. It is based on the same principle as walking a labyrinth. But since most of us do not have on of those handy this is a good substitute.

Try this: Find a large and preferably flat open field (schools and public parks work well). Give yourself plenty of room. Clear your mind of everything and focus only on your breathing and counting your steps.

1. Now walk for 100 steps straight ahead.

2. Turn left and walk 50 steps.

3. Turn left and walk 50 steps.

4. Walk 100 steps.

5. Turn left and walk 50 steps.

6. Turn left and walk 50 steps.

7. Walk 100 steps.

8. Turn left and walk 50 steps.

9. Turn left and walk 50 steps.

10. Walk 100 steps.

11. Turn left and walk 50 steps.

12. Turn left and walk 50 steps.

13. Walk 100 steps.

14. You should now be back where you started having covered four smaller squares inside a larger square.

You may be surprised that when you are done your mind is alive with ideas. I can’t explain this. I just know it works.

Please feel free to share you other ideas for walking (or exercise) and creativity.

Further reading:
Where do creative ideas come from?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

10 Commandments for Social Media

If I were a preacher, here's what I'd preach ...

1. Thou shalt not be “all about me.” The person who is always talking about themselves will quickly finds themselves alone in the corner.

2. Thou shalt not sell. Would you try to sell to a casual acquaintance at a party? No! Are there exceptions? Sure. You may be comfortable selling to or asking for help from someone you know very well, but you wouldn’t do it publicly, right?

3. Thou shalt not steal. Give credit for others’ content; put your name only on your own content.

4. Thou shall add value. Everyone’s favorite radio station is WII-FM (What’s In It For Me?). Be a useful contributor in SoMedia and add value to others’ lives and you will soon find you have more fans.

5. Thou shall be polite. SoMedia is public. Remember that everything you say reflects on you (and your company/business). Flaming another SoMedia participant is never done.

6. Thou shall help others. When you see a need on SoMedia you can meet you will offer to help. Being helpful is a huge reputation builder.

7. Thou shalt not be all about the numbers. Collecting friends is not a sign of power or influence. Having meaningful (and definitions vary here) relationships with followers and fans is more useful than having thousands of unknown “friends.”

8. Thou shall help others to connect. When you introduce others in SoMedia you have added value to two lives.

9. Thou shall commit to SoMedia relationships. If you set up on a SoMedia platform you will contribute to it regularly (or delete your page).

10. Thou shall be honest. SoMedia is 99.9 percent transparent. Remember that in everything you say and do online.


Further reading:
Social Media disasters
Twetiquette: 10 basics for Twitter politeness

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Social Media disasters

Misspellings, missteps and missed opportunities for businesses on SoMedia

"Disaster" may seem like a strong word. But in Social Media, as in life, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

What happens when something you’ve written strikes the wrong chord, has embarrassing errors or, worse, is just plain wrong?

Here, in no particular order, are things that can quickly take your Social Media efforts from a soaring trajectory to a downward death spiral.

Abusing – or misusing – English

Yes I am as guilty as the next when it comes to making mistakes in spelling, punctuation and grammar. But I do usually catch most of these mistakes.

Correct use of English in Social Media is important because your written ideas are the first place someone encounters you. If they see mistakes their opinion of you, consciously or unconsciously, goes down. In the back of their mind they will assume this is representative of carelessness by your business or brand.

If you want to be seen as an expert or leader in your field you need to put your best foot forward in your communications – especially Social Media where everything you write is sitting in plain view for the world to see.

Hiding your agenda

The Social Media world is 99.9 percent transparent. If you want to survive and thrive in it you also need to be transparent. If you don’t openly state your commercial and other ties to what you are writing about or promoting you will be found out. But in Social Media it gets worse: Your credibility will disappear instantly when a reader discovers for themselves that you are directly connected to the thing you are promoting.

But it’s not just your connections that are problematic. You also need to be open about your agenda. We all have one. It's best to spell out in the "About" area who you are and what your goals are.

All of this matters in Social Media because when “a bad egg” is discovered word spreads very quickly.

Having a thin skin

Many writings on Social Networking sites can seem to be critical. Some, in fact, are critical of you. How you respond to criticism online (as in the real world) can set you apart. If bad behavior by others elicits equally bad behavior from you who wins? No one. Of course.

The best response may be no response. Or you may want to wait an hour or two before crafting a firm and positive or at least neutral response that relies on facts and leaves out all traces of the personal.

At the very least any criticism should be private and between two people and not conducted in group emails, the comment areas of blogs or other public spaces.

Annoying (or outright offending) others

Social Media offers so many ways to be annoying. You can be “too connected” to others. You can ask them too often for stuff (and in this category I would include invitations to play Facebook games from people you barely know). You may keep mentioning your business interests over and over. Then, there are those who post offensive material. All of the above will get you un-followed, un-friended and un-connected.

Lack of focus

Many individuals and companies get into Social Media with no real goals or understanding of why they are there. This leads to Social Media platforms that leave those who join you confused: “I thought I started following this guy because he was interested in music, but now all he posts are annoying ‘feel good’ quotes.”

So work on one platform at a time and decide what you are there for. You do not have to narrowly define your purpose, but having a plan will help you get more out of your time on Social Media and will prevent you from damaging your your company’s image.

Being cliquey

If you’re spending all your time Re-Tweeting the same five people and they are Re_Tweeting you. Or you write back and forth with a dozen people on Facebook walls you’re likely not in Social Media, but rather you are in “Club Media.”

These tight groups in Social Media are terrible for your brand. To outsiders – the vast majority of the rest of your followers, fans and connections – this seems like a club they cannot get into or, worse, would not want to get into.

Practice good Social Media skills by reaching out to the many rather than the few.

Are there other "cardinal sins" I'm missing?

Further reading:
10 Commandments for Social Media
Twetiquette: 10 basics for Twitter politeness

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Where do creative ideas come from?

Creativity and the importance of good sleep

What is the easiest way to boost your creativity? Get some good sleep.

No, really. And science is compiling evidence to support your need for that sleep. Increasingly science is discovering that the old adage of dealing with a problem by “just sleeping on it” has some basis in fact.

The German study
The international weekly journal of science Nature reported back in 2004 that German scientists had demonstrated for the first time that our sleeping brains continue working on problems that baffle us during the day.

Scientists at the University of Luebeck found that volunteers taking a simple math test were three times more likely than sleep-deprived participants to figure out a hidden rule for converting the numbers into the right answer if they had eight hours of sleep.

The German study is considered to be the first hard evidence supporting the common sense notion that creativity and problem solving appear to be directly linked to adequate sleep, scientists say.

Forging connections
Last year the New York Times reported on sleep benefits that included creativity in “We’ll Fill This Space, but First a Nap”(Sept. 27, 2008). A key finding reported in the story: “Sleep assists the brain in flagging unrelated ideas and memories, forging connections among them that increase the odds that a creative idea or insight will surface.”

British study
Now, the findings of a large self-reporting study by the East of England Development Agency in 2008 which polled hundreds of workers only to discover that most creativity, most new ideas, come to workers, not in the workplace, but in a more relaxing environment, usually as they sleep.

Psychology Professor Richard Wiseman of the Perrott-Warrick Research Unit at the University of Hertfordshire, England, says, "In our dreams we produce unusual combinations of ideas that can seem surreal, but every once in a while result in an amazingly creative solution to an important problem." He suggests that businesses start taking a more relaxed approach to creativity if they want to get the most from their employees.

Harvard findings
Writing in Alternative Health Journal last year, Editor Bob Condor says a Harvard researcher, Jeffrey Ellenbogen, discovered that getting enough sleep can lead to brilliant discoveries. In Snooze To Be More Creative he writes that Ellenbogen found that good sleep b y team members during “incubation” phases of work projects leads to 33 percent increase in the likelihood that people will “infer connections among distantly related ideas” that turn out to be nothing short of brilliant or ingenious. Dr. Ellenbogen says this creativity performance enhancement seems to exist “completely beneath the radar screen.”

Researchers believe that the reason for the improved performance of people who get good sleep – in other words sleeping on a problem – is that they give time to their brains to restructure memories.

Still need convincing?
Among famous fans of sleep and the creative ideas it can bring have been composer Richard Wagner, artist Salvador Dali and possibly the 20th Century’s greatest thinker, Albert Einstein. In more contemporary times Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has said the riff in "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" came to him as he slept.

We all spend – or should spend -- about a third of our lives asleep. Rather than viewing that as unproductive time perhaps we should consider it just another state of thinking – a very creative state.

Goodnight all. I’m off to do my most creative thinking!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

5 Reasons Social Media is Like Sailing

Or why sailors may make the best Social Media consultants!

There are many analogies between pastimes and business, but because I’m a sailor I have been struck by the parallels between sailing and Social Media. I also happen to think that business generally is best-served when sailors – or would-be sailors – are at the helm: they have faith in their skill, their vessel and their ability to navigate even the worst of tempests.

Here then are five parallels between sailing and Social Media for business (you may think of more and I welcome feedback):

1. You can’t control the wind
It is always true: You cannot control the wind, only the trim of your sails and heading of your boat. The winds of public opinion and customer satisfaction are unpredictable and constantly swirling. As a business you need to be aware of those winds and their subtle or not-so-subtle shifts. Social Media monitoring allows the business enterprise to react to sudden squalls of bad publicity and to get the most out of any favorable “winds” of opinion that come your way.

2. When bad weather hits
When bad weather hits … as it assuredly will: You, your vessel and your crew had better be prepared. Davey Jones’ Locker is lined with the boats and crews who set out ill-prepared for sudden changes in the weather. The same will happen to businesses ill-prepared to handle a crisis within their community and their customer base. A professional and rigorous Social Media Plan will help a business know what to do when the sudden tempests hit. It will also allow the “captain” to sleep well at night knowing his business and his “crew” are prepared and have a plan for any eventuality.

3. A well-founded sailboat is a sum of its efficient working parts
Just as a sailboat moves forward through a combination of hull shape, sails, masts and rigging, a business in the Social Media space needs to be about the combination of the right elements to keep it moving forward. A professional Social Media Plan will assess existing strengths, competitive threats and business goals to come up with the correct combination of parts to keep your business sailing forward.

4. The quickest route to port is NOT always a straight line
Like sailing, business in the Social Media world must navigate all kinds of challenges to get to its goals. Along the way there are likely to be winds (customer feedback) and currents (the business climate) that challenge a business trying to get to its port (business goals). The best-laid Social Media Plans will include contingencies to deal with these. Although the course may be less than perfectly straight, the business will get to its goals ahead of its competitors.

5. You can, and sometimes WILL, find yourself becalmed
What do you do if forward motion ceases? What can you do with the time on your hands? This is not something to fear. A thorough Social Media Plan includes a list of “To Do” items that are not pressing, but certainly help make the enterprise if not stronger at least better able to make the most of the next opportunity. Remember that the “calm usually comes right before the storm.” Using it to ready your business is just smart sailing!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Social Media vs. Old Media

If the two world views met on the street, here’s what they might say …

First a visual: As much as I think the Mac-PC TV commercials have both upsides and down, for the purposes of this exercise imagine that the actors are representing each side of the argument.

I’m sorry, but Old Media gets the PC actor John Hodgman and Social Media gets the Mac actor Justin Long

On Customers:
Social Media:
“We need our customers.”
“They are our best source of information.”
“They are the best judges of what they want.”
“Our role is to try to provide the information they want, when and where they want it.”

Old Media:
“Our customers need us.”
“They depend on us for information.”
“We are the best judges of what is news.”
“Our role is to provide information on the platforms we have on a schedule we can manage.”

On Communication:
Social Media:
“We believe worthwhile communication happens on any platform, anywhere.”
“And it should be free or nearly free.”
“We will pay for delivery of services only if we see value.”

Old Media:
“We believe no worthwhile communication can happen in 140 characters or less.”
“You get what you pay for … therefore freeloaders won’t ever get any good stuff.”
“We need money from advertisers and subscribers … or we don’t have a business.”

On The Future:
Social Media:
“We believe that vast collective knowledge will help everyone.”
“And those with the best information will gain the most credibility.”
“We see a future that is a bright information-sharing and interconnected age.”

Old Media:
“We believe only our expertise can help you sort through all this information.”
“Who better to judge the best information than the people who have done it for more than 100 years?”
“We see a bleak future without a clear information-sharing structure … a future without us!”

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Twetiquette: 10 basics for Twitter politeness

1. Add value to others’ lives. This is the Golden Rule of Twitter.

2. Don’t ask for anything. Or at least don’t ask 99.9 percent of the time.

3. Use RT (Re Tweet) label. Taking someone else’s tweet and then tweeting it as though it were your information, in a sense, is stealing. Be original. There is no shame in a RT. Without people doing this some content would not get very far.

4. Thank people … often. Thank them for following you. Thank them for RT-ing you. Thank them for including you on a #FollowFriday list. Thank them for a great tweet.

5. If you reply, mention what you are replying to. “Great tweet” is meaningless response if the person you are getting back to has had more than a single tweet in the past week.

6. Use Direct Message for anything that is less than positive.

7. Only use Reply if you think your followers will care about your reply.

8. Do not use an auto responder or an auto follow bot. It sends the message that your fellow Twitterers are just numbers and not that important to you.

9. Play nice. It seems so obvious, but if you anything you say on Twitter can be misconstrued (where a lot of visual clues are missing) – it will be.

10. Be you. Being genuine in all your Twitter dealings will, over time, set you apart from those who are these just to get an audience, just to sell something or just to be annoying.

Further reading:
10 Commandments for Social Media
Social Media disasters

Saturday, April 4, 2009

5 Reasons Social Media Matters to Business

1. Customers are increasingly there … in huge numbers
The phenomenal growth in the numbers of people on Social Networks and consuming Social Media can no longer be ignored. The recent Nielsen report on the five fastest Social Media (Global Faces and Networked Places) portals found that:

Twitter is now the fastest growing Social Media app. It grew 1,382 percent in the past year and has more than 7 million people tweeting away.

Facebook has more than 65 million people friending away and grew 228 percent in the past year.

MySpace and its teen-friendly vibe get roughly 75 million unique visitors a month (putting it ahead of Facebook’s 57 million).

LinkedIn and its business-networking members now number more than 33 million.

Wikipedia and other wiki-like information portals now have nearly 4 million contributors signed up to add to the information pool.

If these Social Media destinations have populations rivaling good-sized countries ... countries whose populations grow several hundred percent each year ... don’t you want to do business with these new “countries”?

2. Employees are there … more than you think
These vast populations include many of the people who work for you (and those who wish they worked for you).

According to survey data from 2007 (the most recent available), more than 75 percent of employees at U.S. companies are online, but not doing company business, for part of their business day. Of these, more than a third check in on social networks.

According to a Kiplinger Report story from July 2008 a growing number of U.S. employers have realized the value of social networks and have begun setting up internal networks where employees share ideas, best practices and future plans.

If your employees (present and future) are there shouldn’t you be there?

3. Competitors are there … and talking to your customers
A quick search on Facebook for the term “IBM” finds more than 500 groups dedicated to talking about and talking for IBM. A search for “New York Times” also finds more than 500 groups.

Check Twitter and you find a similar trend: More than 90 Twitter accounts have IBM as part of their name. The New York Times’ main Twitter account touches nearly 400,000 followers and that number is growing quickly.

Try it now: Search for your competitor on Social Media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook. See what they say about themselves and see what they say about you.

4. Intelligence is there … you will gain important insights
You can simply follow the streams of conversation in Social Media or deploy Social Media monitoring tools such as the one offered by Techrigy to know what people are talking about and whether they have a positive or negative view of your company and its products.

This type of intelligence cannot be had anywhere else. It also allows insight, response and reaction in real time.

5. Money is there … for the making and for the taking
People use Social Media for all kinds of purposes, but in one way, shape or form it’s about sharing information.

This information is a currency that can, and often does, influence spending decisions.

If Social Media is become THE place to share information it is also becoming THE place to learn before buying.

In an age where traditional push media (newspapers, magazines, radio and television) are losing audience at an alarming rate, Social Media and its pull - or sharing - approach is booming as a place for people to connect and get things done. Shouldn’t you and your business be there?