Figuring out the best social media platform

Chris Brogan has an interesting blog post where he wonders how to fix his Facebook dilemma: There’s a cap of 5,000 friends on Facebook, and he’s close to it. He’s wondering about the best way to stay in touch with both his friends and his fans, and considers how his Facebook fan page may help. It’s fairly well suited to staying in touch with a large group, but it’s not perfect.

In his post and in the comments, Brogan and others debate several social media platforms: Twitter, Ning, Facebook, more. Several people are frustrated with Facebook and its “limitations,” like the 5,000 friend limit, various “problems” with fan and group pages, the “extraneous” clutter [things like Facebook flair and Little Green Patch come to mind].

And while I agree that while these things are potentially troublesome for marketers, few of them are problematic for people. Not that I think Facebook [or any other social media platform] is perfect. But I think it matters what you use it for. Trying to keep in better touch with high school and college buddies, and keep up with local events? Facebook is what you need. Trying to manage a professional brand? You undoubtedly need Facebook plus several other tools — and Facebook likely isn’t even the first thing you need.

Are you using the best technology for your purposes? [That’s the question I think Brogan is trying to answer.] Many of us spend a lot of time trying to make our preferred technology the be-all and end-all, instead of choosing the right tool at the right time.

Just like I roll my eyes at people who send me tabular content in a Word document instead of in a spreadsheet, I’m dismayed at the clumsy uses I see of many elegant social media platforms. Kudos to Brogan for trying to figure out the right answer.

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It's about your mindset, not your technology*

You know at year-end, everyone loves to compile their best-of lists. Even I sucuumbed with a New-Year’s type post a few days ago, despite my typical aversion to resolutions and best-of lists. As I’ve seen a number of these items in the past couple of weeks, several proclaiming Twitter as the app of the year, I’ve been struck repeatedly by the thought that the technology just doesn’t matter.

[Disclaimer: I love Twitter and think it has a lot of useful business applications, in addition to being fun.]

But it really doesn’t matter if your company is using Twitter, or Facebook, or any other so-called hot social media technology.

Your mindset matters. Kathy Sierra hit on this earlier today when she posted [on Twitter, of course] a short thought on how companies are using social media.

What co’s THINK they do w/[social media]: “We want to know what YOU feel.” What they ACTUALLY do: “We want to know what you feel about US.”

I’ll go further and say a lot of companies are actually saying, “We want you to feel THIS WAY about US.” And in some ways, that’s not all bad. At least they’re out there, trying new technology, new ways to communicate with their markets.

But I suspect many of the organizations leaping to use social media are still missing the forest for the trees. Yes, social media can make connections for you. It can broaden and deepen your exposure in your target market. But unless you’re using social media with the question, “What can I give?” topmost in your mindset, you aren’t likely to get as much in return.

For organizations, social media should be first and foremost another way to listen. Your audience will tell you what you can do for them. But it’s awfully hard to set aside your preconceived notions of what your market ought to want, and instead respond to what they are already telling you they need.

Before you choose your technology, be sure you pick out the right mindset.

* I can say with 100% certainty that there are wrong choices in technology, but I think you’re less likely to make them when you have the right mindset.

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The little things always matter

I’ll just start by saying, it’s nice to have this kind of reminder on a personal project instead of on something for a client.

I screwed something up today. Something really simple. But I only found it after I’d emailed it to a couple hundred friends — and one of them pointed it out to me.

My tale of woe
My husband and I just got married this past summer. So we haven’t done the hard work yet of consolidating address books, for instance. We each came up with 2-300 folks we’d normally include on our holiday card list. We decided the fastest, simplest thing to do would be to put together a web page and email it to our friends.

You already know, I’m sure, that that’s neither fast nor simple.

We put a site together with photos and text we both liked. It took several days, since we spent quite some time considering which photos to use, what to say about them, and on and on. Then we had to compile our addresses.

While I live online to a large degree, I didn’t have email addresses handy for several old or close friends. And even worse, I used to have more than 1 computer address book. I suspect many of you have the same issue. Until the past year or two, it was difficult to make different computers, operating systems, and applications talk to each other. So my contacts used to be all over the map.

In the past year, I’ve consolidated most of them in my Apple address book. But when I first set up Mac’s Sync feature to combine my address books at home and work, and then sync them with my cell phone address book, I ended up with a lot of duplicates. Many entries were slightly different — you know, I’d have the cell phone number on my phone, but not my computer, so the address book kept two entries for the same person. Over time, I’d taken care of many duplicates, but it’s tedious, manual work. I realized today that I had more than half the alphabet to go.

I got my personal addresses straightened out after about 3 hours of work. My husband had sent his in a text file. I wanted to combine them and send them from a joint email account we have, but I quickly realized that it would take several more steps to export the addresses from my address book and import them into the other email program. So, I cried fins and decided to send the message from my regular email account.

The problem
By this point, I was so tired, annoyed with technology and ready to move on that I just typed out a quick email message, added the link and sent it off.

Within 5 minutes, a friend had emailed me to say…the link was broken.

I hadn’t taken the 2 seconds to click the link before sending the email.

The end result
I’ve made such dumb errors before professionally, but not in a long, long time. I’m actually really grateful I did this today — though I’ll apologize again to all my friends and family for having to send them 2 emails when 1 should have done.

If I’ve got to make the error to remind myself not to make it again in the future, best that it happen on something personal.

Prevent this from happening to you
I’ve sent bulk emails professionally since the mid-1990s, and I learned early on that you have to have a process to prevent stupid errors. Because it is easy to send an email — so we all skip steps we know we should complete.

To make sure your emails are perfect, use a checklist. Check off each step every time you send an email. A simple list might include these items:

  • Check subject line.
  • Spell-check and proofread copy.
  • Check all alt tags for images.
  • Click all links to test.
  • Review sent from field.
  • Review recipients list.

Depending on how complex your email is, or who needs to approve it first, you may need more items on your list.

Learn more about how checklists can improve the quality of your work.

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How to use the web better in 2009

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. So many of us tend to put off the things we should be doing anyway — working out, eating better, managing our inboxes [PDF from Good Experience] — and wrap it into a once-a-year extravaganza in January. Which might be fine, except when you pile too much into that system, it’s often over long before Valentine’s Day.

So I’m not advocating you take up these ideas as your New Year’s resolutions. But I will encourage you to think about how you can work and market better online in the coming months. If you start one of these ideas in January, so be it. Just go into your new efforts with a plan, and you won’t be disappointed in February.

Make your Web site all it can be: Take a look at your own site. Is the design fresh? Are you updating it several times a week, if not daily? Does it tell your customers everything they need to know about your products and services? This is one area you shouldn’t expect to ever declare “finished!” As you expand your web presence beyond a basic brochure site [i.e. one that simply replicates what you would find in a printed brochure about your organization], consider carefully how you can support each new addition. An events calendar is a great addition to a brochure site, if you keep it updated. So are sale notices and a blog. But make sure you’re using each part of your site well. If one area looks out of date, people will assume the entire site is.

Once your own site is robust, you can stop relying on the faulty assumption that people will be coming to your site. I know — on the face of it, that doesn’t make sense. But on any given day, it’s more likely your potential customers won’t visit your site than that they will. So, you can find them in other ways. This is where a social media strategy is your friend.

Before you jump in to social media, remember these tips:

  • Start small. You must be able to sustain whatever works.
  • Everyone doesn’t need everything. See below for ideas of the kinds of social media that will help you the most.
  • Be real. Social media — as the term implies — is much more about connecting with people who are interested in the same things you are than it is about marketing. Of course, smart marketers know that they need people more than they need to “market.”

The following list is shorthand. Your web strategy depends on your organization’s unique goals. But painting with a broad brush, these ideas can get you started. When you’re ready for more, let me know, and we’ll figure out the best plan for you!

Who Needs It

Facebook: Nonprofits and others trying to raise awareness. There are actually nonprofits raising a decent chunk of change on Facebook, but I wouldn’t recommend that as your first goal there. Instead, think about the power of networking. You want your supporters to spread the word about you to their friends, right? Facebook makes that simple. With a little effort on your part, your supporters’ friends will also be hearing about your events, fundraisers and causes.

Flickr: Anyone with event, organization and customer images to share. Flickr’s photo-sharing capabilities can serve many purposes. And many organizations don’t realize how many images they actually do have to share — until recently, there hasn’t been a venue for them. Sell a product that requires assembly? Photograph each step in the process and set up a Flickr slideshow [that you can also post on your own site]. Host events? Post the photos to Flickr and let your attendees network with each other, and with you, there.

MySpace: Musicians and selected other organizations appealing to young adults. MySpace remains critical for the marketing efforts of many independent [and affliated] musicians. If you’re in the music business, you need to be on MySpace. Many of its features specifically support songwriters and performers trying to get the word out about their work.

Twitter: Organizations with a large customer-service presence. If you have a consumer product and you’re not on Twitter, you’re already missing conversations about yourself. Whatever you sell, people are talking about it — complaining it and praising it — on Twitter. Rex Hammock has a great post this week with examples of companies using Twitter well.

YouTube: Anyone who can tell their story creatively. YouTube is exactly what you’ve heard — videos of cats playing the piano and the embarrassing exploits of college students. But it’s also full of creative marketing and useful how-to videos. It’s an old example, but I continue to point to www.willitblend.com anytime someone questions the validity of YouTube for business. The key is in the storytelling. No one would watch a video of someone talking about a blender. And the market for a video of someone using a blender to make smoothies or sauces can’t be too much larger. We already know [or think we know] how a blender works. Blendtec is so successful with its online video series because it’s showing us something unexpected — what we didn’t know — in an incredibly entertaining way.

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Business essential: Building time for creativity

I was working on a project the other day with a web application I hadn’t used much. And I spent a couple of hours really learning how it worked before I could actually approach the problem I was facing. In the end, I solved the problem and learned quite a lot. But perhaps even more importantly, today I had an epiphany about how I’d approached the work — about what I’d accidentally done very right.

As I read everything I could about the application, I began to feel overwhelmed by all of the information. I found it difficult to synthesize anything — all the facts started to swim before my eyes. Just when I felt most overwhelmed, I realized I had to go pick up my kids. I left the computer for about an hour, and though I thought about the problem off and on, I wasn’t concentrating on it.

But when I got back home, I sat down and methodically — and pretty quickly — worked right through to the solution. The strategy, and then the solution, just laid themselves out in front of me.

All three of those parts were very necessary, I realized today:

  • Gathering information
  • Working methodically
  • And the accidental part: Stepping away from the problem

Often my work includes multi-day projects. When it does, I’m often naturally taking time in between information gathering and actual problem-solving. However, when you’re trying to work very quickly — on a deadline — it may seem a luxury to stop, rest and possibly re-think your approach. But I’ve found again and again that giving your brain time to accept the information results in a better outcome.

A semi-related thought: I often hear people say, “Oh, I’m not creative.” Just like in our society, it’s acceptable to say, “I’m bad at math.” I recently read an article [I think on Slate, but for the life of me, I can’t find the link now] talking about how ludicrous this is. Educated people would not sit around in business meetings and say, “Oh, I really can’t read.”

Well, same thing with creativity. Math? I’m great at math. I can read like a demon, too. Likewise, I’m creative. My creativity probably expresses itself in a different way than yours does. But there’s a way for all of us to be creative. Find your area and nuture it.

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4 tips for your business blog

Let’s say you’ve decided to jump into the blogging world, on behalf of your business. Maybe you’ve even signed up for WordPress, Blogger or another platform already. What do you really need to know?

Here are four tips for getting off on the right foot with your business blog.

  • Have a plan. Plan what you’re going to say in advance. You don’t have to write your posts days ahead of time and re-edit them over and over — that’s not worth the effort and will probably require more time than you have to spend. (Certainly, do use spell-check on every post, and if you tend toward careless mistakes, have someone lined up to be your proofreader.) But you should spend a few minutes at the beginning of each week brainstorming about topics. Then, you’ll be ready for the rest of the week. If you don’t have something more newsworthy to say each day, choose one of your pre-planned topics, bang it out and move on with your day.
  • Schedule time for blogging. If you don’t set aside time in your schedule every day (or every other day, depending on how often you plan to blog), it will be too easy to let blogging fall by the wayside when you get busy. Related: When you have extra time, write a couple of evergreen posts you can use on a really busy day. After you use one, be sure to replace it in your files with a new evergreen post…because you’ll be busy again soon.
  • Don’t be vanilla. There’s almost nothing worse than a boring blog. Show your customers a peek under the hood — how things work at your place. There’s no need to expose more than you’re comfortable saying in public, but tell the stories that make your organization so interesting, and so worthy of your customers’ devotion. (Check out the Zappos blog for an example of a company sharing behind-the-scenes insight, along with great info for customers on products and sales.)
  • Keep your mouth shut — sometimes. Each organization will have a different threshold for how much is too much. Know where your line is before you (and especially before a member of your staff) starts blogging. Will you blog about personnel changes? Bad news? Only good news? Employee gatherings? Training? New products? New clients? The more focused you make your blog before you start, the easier it will be later to make decisions about tough topics. There are few right answers about what to say and what not to say — except in areas where you’re subject to legal liability or government regulation. (Some tips on thinking through legal issues at SmartBlog.) Just keep in mind, your blog is a very, very publicly accessible marketing tool. That doesn’t mean you can only speak in happy talk. It does mean you should think through what you’re saying, and understand the consequences.
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Find where your audience lives and meet them there

Twitter’s been around since early 2007. It really started breaking out in the tech community after its debut at South by Southwest 2007. In the last several months, it’s grown significantly. I think the many mainstream media outlets sticking their toes in the water are having a big impact here, much as more Web- and tech-focused folks wouldn’t want to admit it.

I’ve used Twitter more and more in recent months, for two reasons:

  • It helps me stay in touch with trends and thought leaders in digital media.
  • I have a number of real-world friends using Twitter regularly.

Companies exploring Twitter usage now can take advantage of both of these areas, but significantly for organizations, when you find your customers are using a service like Twitter, your presence becomes a requirement.

As communications and technology continue to change rapidly, it’s critical that we continue to assess how our target market likes to find and receive information. To do that, we have to always be open to new possibilities ourselves.

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Why I care how Twitter makes money

Today there was yet more talk about Twitter’s business model, this time on the O’Reilly site. Sarah Milstein wonders why I care how Twitter makes money.

Frankly, my reason is simple and selfish. I like Twitter. I’ve found it to be among the most valuable of my personal networking tools. It’s my first-to-ask group when I need something — whether it be advice on Nashville traffic or how to install a content management system. So yes, the Twitter business model matters to me — I want the service to succeed.

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