Social Media is not a Strategy

If some famous fashion label VP came up to me and said, “We need a social media strategy – can you help us do it?” – I’d promptly answer, “No, I can’t.”

Why?

  1. Social media is not a strategy.
  2. Though I am heavily involved in social networking, I couldn’t bring business value in this sector.

The point is: you’re looking for business strategy, and business value. Not some stand-alone approach to the latest fad called social media. If you want to win, you don’t just employ a “knight strategy” in chess, do you?

Here is where the discussion should take place:

- We need to launch a Facebook page for our customers! We need a strategy for real-time communications and better engagement with (this and/or that) set of stakeholders. Let’s assume that there is a concrete business answer to the question “Why?” (is there?). Now we can begin to talk about various media and approaches that may be appropriate. “We need a Facebook page!” is not a strategy.

- We need a blog! We have a real problem with public perception and need to humanize to face of the company over the long-term. OK, we can begin to develop a strategy that may involve social media – but will probably also involve serious culture change. Presenting the company story via social media is powerful and potentially has great value, but – a Twitter page or a blog will not rescue an insular and sullen corporate culture. A social media strategy won’t make you nice to work with, or work for. As Olivier Blanchard stated in a recent tweet, “social media amplifies whatever you bring to the table: Knowledge or ignorance, generosity or greed, honesty or dishonesty.”

- We should launch a YouTube channel! We need to provide new avenues of value to our customers in order to make them advocates and evangelists. Excellent starting place. Now, what role will communications and person-to-person engagement play in this? Is information curation and dissemination a major value-add? Making videos on YouTube might get page views, but will it provide value? Ask: what is my audience looking for? – not just what are they looking at.

- We need to show up on Twitter searches! We need to be more “find-able” on-line. This is a no-brainer, but the question is; How? Will social media provide that exposure, and do you have the personnel resources to feed the beast over the long-haul? Is it a simpler SEO issue? Would a beefed-up LinkedIn presence be more effective than a blog? Best methods for raising an on-line profile will vary from industry to industry, and from need to need. Copying someone else’s social media approach isn’t a strategy.

- We need to be out there on all the social networks! We need to build a broad opportunity network. Social networking technologies are great for this. But they are not the strategy, they are a component of a business approach to networking. Just putting a profile on every social site known to man or beast is not the same as creating and cultivating a business network.

Here in pharma world, where I do a good bit of my business, we finally crossed the Rubicon this year – companies have by and large moved out of the “what is social media and should we even touch it??” phase, into the “how do we do this?” phase. And for those of us involved in the industry evangelistic work over the past years, that’s rewarding – but also dangerous. Because now, social media is often treated as a bolt-on, a check-the-box component of the marketing mix. The awareness level has grown – three cheers! – but the strategic understanding aspect is still immature in most cases.

Yes, people and companies have to start somewhere, and specific tactics using social platforms are often the first toes in the water. An iPhone app can (and should) be part of a big-picture, longer-term strategy with business goals beyond just checking off the “my brand did social in 2010″ box.

Because in the long run, you don’t need a social media strategy, or a stand-alone social media expert. You need a holistic business strategy. Which should incorporate an intelligent approach to the opportunities, challenges, and trench work of digital networked communications. People who know social media can help you learn the landscape, but don’t carve something off into a “social media strategy.” Increasingly, that notion will seem as odd as proposing an e-mail strategy, or an operating system strategy.

Great people and strong companies will flourish under the spotlight; mediocre companies and poseurs will simply be exposed for what they are. If you’re in the latter category, as Jay Baer recently put it, maybe you’re just not ready for social media. You may have some cultural infrastructure to build, and some broader strategies to put in place first. If you don’t understand the forces at work, then social media may not be a shovel-ready project – yet.

If you can articulate a sound business strategy that involves tactical usage of digital networked communications, go for it. Otherwise, you’re grabbing onto a solution without defining the problem.

(now if you do come to me about social media in fashion or some other field, I may not be your guy, but I’ll try to help you find the right resource you’re looking for. Because matchmaking clients with providers is a business need I can meet!)

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Can We Re-Make Business via Social Networking?

I think so. You?

Our goal should not be so small as to get corporations to adopt a social media strategy. That’s fine – but, frankly, I want to transform how business gets done. Who’s with me?

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Social Media: Start Here

You are considering how “social media” fits into your current or future business strategy.

Or, you are already on board with social networking but have to convince colleagues or clients who are skeptical.

Here’s my advice: Don’t start with social media. Start with the much bigger trends, which are making social media inevitable.

It’s all outlined here: The New Normal: Networked Communications. This Slideshare explains that technology-fueled Trend Currents (not current trends!) are shaping society in such a way that the use of social media/networked communications is inexorable – and inevitable.

If you’re looking for help educating professional colleagues and clients about how networked communications are (inevitably) re-shaping business, let me know. That’s my consulting/speaking sweet spot.

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[This post is the summary of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and this final post - Social Media: Start Here]

Test-Driving Paper.li

As you may already be aware, I’ve recently transitioned this blog from the name StickyFigure to my updated identity, Connection Agent.

The major reason is that I’m intent on exploring new ways to connect people and networks, and build new business structures based on Networked Communications.

As part of that effort, The Connection Agent blog and Twitter account (@ConnectionAgent) will be places where we experiment with stuff. New technologies and approaches to tie people together.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been test-driving paper.li, which automagically curates a daily newspaper based on the items shared by a Twitter list you create. Ross Dawson just wrote a helpful overview, and an explanation of how curated news apps work (and why they’re becoming so popular). Louis Gray also put up a helpful post on the broader topic of information curation.

I’ve created multiple papers for two types of audience: thematic interest (pharma/healthcare), and local interest (social media folks in a given geographical area), to see if this is a helpful tool in promoting people and exposing them to their peers:

http://bit.ly/PharmaNewsDaily (pharma news drawn from links shared on Twitter)

http://bit.ly/PharmaNetworkersDaily (drawn from top links shared by pharma’s influential social media types on Twitter)

http://bit.ly/HealthcareDaily (healthcare news drawn from Twitter, with a bit of focus on digital/eHealthcare)

http://bit.ly/ePatientsDaily (links and news shared by influential ePatients and advocates on Twitter)

http://bit.ly/BostonDaily (links and news shared by influential Boston-area folks on Twitter)

http://bit.ly/ConnecticutDaily (links and news shared by influential CT folks on Twitter)

http://bit.ly/NJDaily (links and news shared by influential NJ folks on Twitter)

http://bit.ly/Chicago_Daily (links and news shared by influential Chicago-area folks on Twitter)

Paper.li is cool in that it auto-tweets when a new daily edition is out, AND features in that tweet a few of the Twitter handles that are included – thereby increasing exposure. And yes, it does provide regular exposure for the creator of the paper – a nice benefit if you’re a network-builder. If you subscribe to a Daily (using Alert Me button), it sends an e-mail to you with a link each day when the edition is ready – very handy.

Two major upsides:

- Automated curation in a build-once leave-alone format. You set it up once, and it just runs.

- It brings together a group of resources/links into one place at one time, in easy to read format. Many of these are links you might have missed in your standard tweetstream.

Here are two downsides I see thus far:

- The paper roughly comes out each day at about the time of day you originally created it. The creator should be able to specify a delivery time.

- If you create multiple papers, as I have (and I’m probably an exception), and people subscribe to your Twitter feed, they may feel that they are getting “spammed” by paper.li links on a daily basis ->

My experience with the tool and approach has been mostly positive so far. But that’s me – what matters is you, the readers.

So, now I want to hand the microphone over to you. What do you think of paper.li? Are you getting any papers from others, or have you created your own? Does it help in network-building? Do you see downsides? Let’s discuss this – the whole approach is not going away, so let’s start brainstorming together how it can be refined and improved.

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Networked Communications (part 6): The New Digital Neighborhoods

Your community used to be your extended family, your neighbors, your schoolmates and members of various community groups.

The ties were physical and, by and large, local.

They still are – but now we take part in whole new neighborhoods. Communities built around shared interests and common causes, all brought together with digital tools.

The new neighborhoods are found on digital networks. They’re local, global, temporary, permanent, rooted in the past or purpose-built for the present and the future.

And businesses that don’t recognize this sea change – people who remain rooted in legacy thinking about communities – will lose a wealth of opportunities. People are fed up with being bombarded with one-way, manipulative marketing messages. They want to hear from people like themselves. People in the communities they choose (or even create themselves).

And just as neighbors always have, they have a powerful influence on each others’ buying decisions. Not in the game? Not part of the discussion? You lose.

Involvement in social media is not a difficult decision, when this larger context is understood. We want to be where customers are. We want to influence communities, generate neighborhood referrals, and build tribes. The fastest growing businesses will be where the most efficient networked communications occur. Social media is crucial to any strategy of reaching people “where they are” now. Because where many of them are gathering, and talking, and influencing, is on-line.

If your co-workers or clients have cold feet about social media, simply ask if they have a smart phone. If they use the Internet. If they are on Facebook. If they use these tools and more to…connect with people. If they’re influenced by ratings on Amazon, if they’ve used Yelp to find a good restaurant, if they’ve used LinkedIn Answers – all of that is taking a dip into the pool of on-line neighborhoods.

Customers are swimming in those pools, some in the shallow end, but increasingly, many in the deep end. Seems counter-productive to sit on the sidelines when buyers and influencers are already in the game…

[This post is part of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and the summary post - Social Media: Start Here]

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Networked Communications (part 5): Someone Took Down the Fences

Brief technical lesson:

If computers are linked via a central computer, that’s a client-server setup.

If they are linked directly, that’s peer-to-peer.

OK, lesson over.

The Internet runs on thousands of servers, lashed together to provide information. Businesses have run on client-server architecture for a long time. And throughout many years, there were many walls and fences between free access to people and information.

No more.

Social media is all about peer-to-peer communications – that is, people directly having access to one another. Unmediated.

LinkedIn lets you reach into a company and contact connections at every level. In 140 characters on Twitter, we can interact directly with a famous author. Facebook lets us share a picture with anyone we want, anytime we want. Smartphones increasingly tie us directly together with text, voice, video…you name it. Here’s the big picture trend: immediate, personal access.

It’s a networked world, and a peer-to-peer world. When a business person resists the idea that networked communications/social media is re-shaping how we do business, we need to explain this much larger trend. People nowadays are far less interested in monolithic, top-down pronouncements – the old one-way messaging, and reach/frequency approaches are become passe. Now, in this peer-to-peer world, we’re liberated from that, and free to engage more directly.

Resist social media? That’s spitting into the wind. It’s a peer-to-peer world now.

And really – what’s not to like about that?

[This post is part of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and the summary post - Social Media: Start Here]

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Someone Please Make This

Backstory: A lot of what we do in social networking really ends up NOT being conversation.

So…here’s the real-time, conversational social networking platform I want:

- I can be inside a wide open area (the Lounge), or grab a Room with a few friends for a more private chat.

- I can lurk quietly and observe, or make my presence known and interact.

- In the Rooms, I can engage using text/chat, audio, or video. With 1-10 people.

- I can classify my contacts by level of intimacy, so that I can more quickly and easily connect to closer friends (knowing when they are present)

- I can set up my own fixed “Room” for scheduled meetings

- I can use geolocation (mobile) or zip code entry to go to “local” sections of the Lounge and see who is actually close-by in the real world

- I can archive threaded chat, audio, and/or video conversations (this would become the killer interview platform!)

A lot of this has been done in bits and pieces – Second Life, FourSquare, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, TinyChat, Stickam, etc. etc. But no-one has pulled all the pieces together to make a flexible, intuitive, real-time conversational social platform.

Google, are you listening? You’ve just announced Gmail phone calling, with a tie-in to Google Voice. You’ve got so many of the pieces and this is your chance to finally launch a social platform that rocks the house…

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Networked Communications (part 4): The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman

Disintermediation (Wikipedia link).

That’s what we’re talking about. When the people and processes and barriers between point A and point B shrink or disappear. Making things faster, cheaper, more direct.

This week, Seth Godin announced that he was “done” with publishing traditional books. This was actually a logical progression – the book industry has been undergoing disintermediation for years, and the fact is, we can now reach audiences without all the overhead (and cost) of the traditional publishing and distribution process.

Digital technology, including social media/networked communications, shrinks the middleman.

Just this past week, Chris Brogan wrote about how he purchased a new car, sight unseen, via the Internet. Traditional local dealers weren’t cutting the mustard.

So, with the cultural and technological advances making various walls crumble, and causing middlemen to disappear, how do we talk to clients and colleagues about social media?

We tie the use of networked communications to this inexorable trend of disintermediation. Digital networked communications are removing (or radically changing) all the traditional methods of distributing information and reaching people. Social media is not a blip on the radar screen. It’s a component of something that is re-shaping culture globally – disintermediation.

The distribution of multi-media messages; the ability to touch customers directly; the bypassing of newspapers and magazines and billboards and TV in order to interact in a non-mediated fashion – this is both the present and the future.

I mean, you don’t write too many letters on paper anymore, putting them in an envelope, using a stamp, and entrusting them to the Post Office for several days in order to communicate – right? Disintermediation is written all over our increasingly digital and networked communications. It’s not a fad. It’s a fact.

[This post is part of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and the summary post - Social Media: Start Here]

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Networked Communications (part 3): The Microphone is Mine Now

(This brief series is an effort to help us make the reasons for using social networking for business clearer to the skeptic, by rooting usage in overall cultural/technical trends that are…well, inevitable! See also part 1, the introductory post; and part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal)

Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote a couple of years ago for the book Age of Conversation 2:

We are hardwired to communicate. We think, we share, we listen, we pass along information. We are storytellers and story-listeners.

However, as we’ve moved to a more modern society, with means of mass communication, a funny thing began to happen. Designated storytellers began to take over the place. And the rest of us were supposed to just listen.

The microphone was given to newscasters. Journalists. Professors. Authors. Experts. Marketers. The vast majority of people became listeners. Recipients. Consumers.

The tide has now turned. With social media tools, we have the microphone now. All we have to do is turn it on, and begin speaking. And we’re not giving it back!

The barriers to the average person having a “public” voice used to be pretty high. Influencers became such through a long (and usually expensive) process. No more. Ideas can flow, through social media tools, into the public marketplace within minutes. At virtually no cost.

This cultural and technical trend utterly upends the communications apple cart. A digital camera and a blog can expose wrongdoing at lightning speed. A musical talent can be uncovered overnight. Shoddy journalists and crummy businesses can be upstaged by mere citizens with an array of digital “microphones.”

Which is why we don’t want to talk about social media in isolation. The issue is digitally empowered expression. That train has left the station, and is hurtling comfortably down the track. Even if the details about Facebook and Twitter and “social media” aren’t well understood, any business that wants to remain relevant can understand this one Trend Current:

The customer has the microphone now. And s/he is not giving it back.

[This post is part of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and the summary post - Social Media: Start Here]

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Networked Communications (part 2): The New Normal is The Old Normal

(see part 1, the introductory post, here)

When two people catch up on neighborhood news across the backyard fence, what is it called? Networked Communications (some might call it gossip, but we’ll leave that out for the moment…!)

It’s just people communicating with other people in some form of connected network. Like – what we’ve always done. And do now.

Water cooler talk? Networked Communications.

Telegraph? Hard-wired phones? Cell phones? Networked Communications.

E-mail? IM? Social gatherings? All of it is Networked Communications.

So what is Social Media? What about blogs, Twitter, Facebook, on-line video, and the next new shiny thing that pops up? You guessed it. Networked Communications. People are sharing, connecting, communicating (as we have always done), with the enhancement of a digital web.

Each technological advance over the centuries has simply made communicating/networking faster and easier. Today’s social media is not to be thought of as some radically new thing. It’s Networked Communications, turbocharged. Nothing more, nothing less.

So here’s the point – when we talk about these approaches with our clients and colleagues, we need to de-mystify the whole thing by discussing the broader context. What we’re doing with digital social networking tools is simply accelerating something we’ve always done – build and participate in networks, and communicate within them.

All this newfangled social media stuff can be discussed as facilitation tools for communicating. Like a cell phone once was (now, of course, it’s an assumed appendage). In very short order, what we now call “social media” will be like the combustion engine or a cell phone. A given.

Whether it’s marketing, or PR, or internal silo-busting communications, or whatever, it’s all Networked Communications. It’s an inevitable progression, not some exotic new fad. When we talk to clients and colleagues, we should talk about inexorable trends. It’s the New Normal.

And the New Normal is the Old Normal. On steroids.

[This post is part of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and the summary post - Social Media: Start Here]

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Networked Communications (part 1): The New Normal

When trying to make the case for using social networking approaches in business, advocates often make a fundamental mistake.

We talk about social media.

Social media/social networking is often presented in isolation. In fact, to properly evaluate these approaches, it all needs to be seen in a much broader context:

You can debate the utility of using this or that social media approach for a given objective or audience. But you cannot debate the inexorable nature of a tidal wave. And when having these discussions, we need to move away from “social media” or “Twitter” or “Facebook” and put a spotlight on much bigger issues. Tidal wave issues.

Remember when people debated about whether or not we’d use personal computers (let alone the distant dream of “smartphones”)? We don’t have that discussion anymore, do we? The INEXORABLE movement of computing power into smaller and cheaper packages made it inevitable that the argument would eventually end with one, and only one, outcome.

Social media – social networking – networked communications – is like that. Except, any debate will end faster!

So, it’s time to look at the bigger trends shaping society, where the real case is made for using these new tools and approaches.

What are these bigger trends?

Social media is actually part of a larger category (Networked Communications), which is itself  being shaped by large scale cultural and technical trends. Let’s call it the Trend Current – whereas “current trends” has the connotation of temporary shallowness, the Trend Current is deep, broad, and inexorable.

Trend Currents make the case for us that this “social media” thing is not some fad, and is definitely not some add-on to a marketing plan. In fact, there are at least 5 Trend Currents that demonstrate how social networking already does, and increasingly will, pervade the landscape of business and life.

We will look at each of these trends in separate posts this week. Here’s the bullet point overview:

  1. Networked Communications: The New Normal is the Old Normal
  2. Self-Expression: The Microphone is Mine Now
  3. Disintermediation: The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman
  4. Peer-to-Peer Engagement: Someone Took Down the Fences
  5. Communities: The New Digital Neighborhoods

That’s a lot of words, but here’s the point: when business stakeholders realize that the river is flowing downhill and will only get wider and faster, that makes the argument for using a boat much easier. If you think that social media is a fad, or may dry up, or isn’t woven into the fabric of unstoppable Trend Currents, then the battle to get engaged is an uphill one. Which is why we have to focus more on the river than on the boat.

Make sense? Tune in this week as we open up each of these trends. Perhaps by Friday it’ll be easier to make the case for networked communications!

[This post is part of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and the summary post - Social Media: Start Here]

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Going Beyond

I’m not even going to add any commentary. If you’re active in social networking, but feel that there must be a deeper level, then simply read these 4 posts – especially the last one. You’ll be glad you did…

Put Down that Mouse and Go Meet Someone (part 1 | part 2) by Tom Martin

6 Tips for Building an Off-line Network by Deb Ng

Random Acts of Kindness – Social Media Style by Robyn Flach

Now, let’s get off our chairs, and go and do likewise…!

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Doubt the Power of Twitter?

Just scroll down and read up. See, in real-time (this is only a few minutes ago), what Twitter and a caring network can do…

The accident happened in central Connecticut – comfort and coordination began arriving in moments from Oman, Canada, and the United States.

Thanks, everyone, for pitching in (literally, from around the world!) to help Leigh – esp. Dr Jonathan, who took the lead coordinating local rescue and giving Leigh advice. It doesn’t get any more wonderful than this.

UPDATE: Here is Leigh Fazzina’s post describing the entire event.

UPDATE 2: A local TV report, and the story on MSNBC website.

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A New Venture – Impactiviti Talent Network

This week marks the official launch of something I’ve been working on for months – an On-line Job Board tied to Social Networking.

Maybe you can help us get it off the ground? Please read on.

My main money-making business has been in the pharma field – specifically, “matchmaking” pharma/biotech/med device client needs with optimal vendor/suppliers. It’s a wonderful business, being built on trust and networking – yet one of the (welcome) side effects is a constant behind the scenes effort to help people find new jobs, and clients find new talent. I’ve wanted for quite some time to find a way to meet this “matchmaking” need in a way that will build the business and help the most people.

Impactiviti Talent Network

I launched a Job Board (giving credit here to Twitter pal Jeremiah Owyang, who blazed this trail before me – thanks, Jeremiah!), but it was clear that the need was too large for me to take on without diluting the rest of my business.

So – I have brought on a business partner to run the Talent Network. On-line job posting will appear in a large searchable database (and in LinkedIn), AND be promoted throughout my extensive Impactiviti pharma social network. My partner Jan is making calls into the vast pool of organizations who could benefit from this broad and targeted approach to getting industry job listings noticed.

It’s a win-win-win business model, my favorite kind. Here’s the link to the overview and the Job Board.

How can you help? Well, by tweeting the link to this post, for one thing – I want to gain maximum exposure for this initiative. And especially, if you have any contacts in pharma/biotech/med devices HR organizations – staffing professionals who are looking for a recruiting edge – would you please send them the link (http://impactiviti.wordpress.com/impactiviti-job-board/)? There’s a downloadable .pdf file there that gives the basic info needed.

If you know people we should talk to who would benefit, please feel free to send me an e-mail (stevew at impactiviti dot com)

Also, any companies that service the pharma industry (agencies, vendors, etc.), and want to list jobs, can do so as well. And, of course, job seekers can go right to the Impactiviti Job Board and search for new positions.

Thank you in advance for being part of this new venture. It’s social networking being put to work!

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Three Reasons to use “Timed” Tweets

For a long time, I’ve used Twitter in two modes – “live” mode, where I’m uploading an interacting in real time, and “delayed” mode, where I make use of time-delayed tweeting.

I use the Hootsuite client and the “Hootlet” toolbar for the latter – Hootsuite has an excellent capacity for scheduling tweets.

“Timed” tweets have sometimes gotten a bad rap because of the fear of spamming behavior. However, scheduling tweets can, in fact, be a very helpful way to communicate with your network. Here are three reasons why (and how) I use them.

1. The audience on Twitter at any given time is always changing. If you put out a tweet at 8:45 am, and someone logs in at 9:30 who really would have benefited from that information, guess what? It’s probably lost. Since the audience is changing throughout the day, it is wise to spread out your informational tweets (sharing of interesting links, etc.) throughout the day to reach a larger and more diverse audience. Most people that know me know I’m an early-morning guy, and I do most of my information curation/writing between 6-9 am. But many of those tweets are then timed to show up all throughout the day and into the evening. Because only a small percentage of us (a very predictable group, by the way – you know who you are!) are on the early morning Twitter train.

2. Not only do you touch a greater number of people by timing your tweets, you can also help your network pals by timing re-tweets of their stuff. Most RTs happen within 5-45 minutes of the original tweet. Which means that the tweet is spread to a broader audience, but still one limited by that time slot. Simply time-delaying a RT to reach a different group 2 or 5 hours later is doing a wonderful favor to the author of the tweet, and the recipients who see the information.

3. Timing tweets allows you to avoid avatar overload. Some folks have a whole bunch of informational tweets lined up, and they hit the tweetstream all at once. Hate to break it to you, but that’s not a good way to get people to read your stuff. It’s like someone coming up to you at a party and overwhelming you with train-of-thought babbling. Space them out and people will be less inclined to tune you out. It’s just…more polite that way.

Now, I have to emphasize that you can’t time-delay live interaction. When I’m actively discussing or bantering or pretending to be a Tweet-up Comic, that’s all “live.” But I also feel that an important part of social networking is sharing information and resources. That’s where timed tweeting is a wonderful tool. And, if I might put in a plug here (disclosure: no fiduciary relationship; I just like them!), the folks at Hootsuite have developed a great tool to enable it. The “Hootlet” allows you to be on a page, click the toolbar button, and it presents you with a compact URL and (usually) the page title – making it very easy to compose a tweet on the fly, AND schedule it for later (or publish immediately).

So, “timed” tweets are not evil. In fact, they’re a great way to help everyone. Take advantage of them!

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Adding Voices

This morning, I saw the following two messages, summing up the “meet people in real life after interacting on-line” experience:

Liz Strauss: “I love how, after I talk to people I know online, if I listen I can hear their voices behind their tweets.”

Nancy Swanson (to Jon Swanson): “Now I read his posts and can hear his voice.” Jon’s summary: That is the delight of starting online and then meeting face-to-face: it puts flesh on words.

Adding voices to messages. Putting flesh on words. No better summary than that for the true purpose of networking…!

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“I Went to SOBCon and All I Got Was…”

…a wonderful time with a lot of really fine people. Didn’t want nor need another t-shirt.

I’m going to depart from “Best Practices” and NOT follow the Official Post-Conference Re-Cap Blog Post Template ™. I’m a bit hypocritical that way. Instead, since my purpose for attending was primarily to deepen relationships, I’ll spend the bulk of this post talking about…people.

It’s my intent in 2010 to build deep, not wide; to get beyond 140 characters and really get to know fellow travelers on this network we’re building. SOBCon is a great venue for that – small (150 people), focused, and plenty of time for interaction. Having known Liz Strauss and Terry Starbucker (the SOBCon king and queen) for quite some time, it was easy to conclude that the time would be well-spent at an event they were orchestrating.

So…the people.

Drew McLellan was one of the first bloggers I stumbled across years ago, when we both started blogging about the same time. Every interaction with him since has been high-quality and encouraging. There’s a relatively small handful of people I both like and deeply respect, and thoroughly trust as well. Drew is one of those.

It was through Drew that I first heard of Steve Farber, who spoke at SOBCon – first time I had the chance to meet him. And I cannot wait to spend more time with Steve. Not only is he a gifted speaker and author, he’s a nice guy. And funny. And transparent. You’ll want to consider buying his books on leadership – he talks about love and business in the same breath, and I deeply appreciate that perspective.

Lisa Petrilli. Only started interacting with her on-line a short time before the conference, and I’m profoundly thankful for the time we spent talking once we met in Chicago. Not only does she possess a tremendous business background, she has a very moving story to tell – this 100% Italian gal has a little imported Irish in her, due to a donated kidney. Lisa moved from relative stranger into my “inner circle” of confidants and collaborators in one weekend.

For a long time, I’ve interacted with Jon Swanson on-line, and simply could not wait to meet him. Turns out, not surprisingly, that he’s exactly what you see on-line. We have deep shared interest in how the spiritual intersects with real life, and what it means to communicate to a wide range of people. Jon may not suspect that he has been a “distant” mentor to me for many months, but he has. It was a joy to sit at the same table with him and exchange thoughts freely.

Speaking of the table, we managed to find ourselves at what became known as the “Trouble Table,” so dubbed mainly because of the presence of the delightful and free-spirited Becky McCray and Sheila Scarborough (with assists from Anthony Iannarino and Britt Raybould). We were – loud. Full of wisecracks. Loved every minute of it. Becky took this shot of Jon Swanson and me during a calmer moment…

Getting to Chicago the day before meant I could relax, take a walk, work out, and meet Joe Ruiz in the gym. We had a delightful 45-minute talk that could have gone on much longer. Looking forward to lots of future collaboration with that quality fellow from Richmond. Plus, he’s older than me. That feels good, being surrounded as we are by all these younger folks!

I fully expect to have a lot more interaction with Jonathan Fields, who led the panel I was on. Very smart guy. Ground-breaker and entrepreneur. And it was good to once again hang out the always-delightful Shannon Paul, whose 100-watt smile brightens any room, even a darkened speak-easy (that social event was very well-done, by the way).

There were several ladies that I hoped to finally meet face-to-face during the event (after a long on-line history of exchanging messages), and it was a true delight to have time with Jeannie Walters, Julie Roads, Lucretia Pruitt, and Wendy Piersall (aka eMom). All high-quality, real, thoughtful people – each of them creative and driven in their own ways.

The SOBCon event was preceded the evening beforehand by a Social Media Club Chicago tweetup, where, immediately upon walking in, I was introduced to the 300-volt Carol Roth. She had me in stitches every time we talked. Speaking of high-energy, finally meeting Phil Gerbyshak was enough to jolt anyone into full wakefulness. Ambulance companies ought to hire him to reverse cardiac arrest in patients! Fun guy.

The lovely Alli Worthington demonstrated that you can have 5 boys, and, like my wife, look absolutely fabulous in the process.

Time was WAY too short with Bill Rice, David Armano, Amber Naslund, Chris Garrett, Chris Brogan, Geoff Livingston, Scott Stratten, Shashi Bellamkonda, Shelly Kramer, and others – would have liked to spend a couple hours each with these folks and many others, but there simply weren’t enough hours in the day.

Memorable moments: A riotous meal spent scheming a self-esteem-building GPS device; daily photo-taking Riverwalks to the shore of Lake Michigan; ad-hoc branding brainstorming for  Justin McCullough with Drew M, Steve F, and Phil G; unexpectedly seeing Eileen and Frieda from Siren Interactive at the SMC event (and, expectedly and finally, Sonny Gill!); and hanging out late one rainy evening at Hotel 71 “lounge” with a whole gang of lively attendees.

Chicago is a lovely city for a springtime event. Even if you cannot find a cup of coffee at 6:30 am on a Saturday morning, you can wander along the beautiful Riverwalk and people-watch, take pictures, gawk at tall buildings, and watch the wind whip up Lake Michigan. I need moments of peace interspersed with “people-time”, and this venue was perfect – everything close by, including the ability to escape and think. I’ll be back…

P.S. I mentioned in the panel discussion my recovery from a nearly life-long struggle with depression. Here’s the backstory, written a few years back: Clearing Clouds.

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Surround Yourself with Smart People

You’re probably quite smart in a number of ways.

That number, however, is limited. Which is why you want to surround yourself with people who are savvy in lots of other ways.

It’s not a bad thing to build a large network of people (on-line and off-line). Just be sure that, in the process, you’re also building a smart network.

There are tons of very bright people out in the social sphere, and it’s really not that hard to find them, connect with them, start getting to know them. But the real value isn’t having their name on a list. It’s having their ear and brain and experience and connections when you need them (and them having access to yours).

Behind the scenes, I’m often brainstorming, and refining ideas, with all sorts of people (many of whom I met via social networking). They have whole realms of experience and perspective that I can’t possibly draw up from my own limited well. They have riches of insight and depths of knowledge that I’ll never attain in this little noggin.

A smart network is not a whole lot different than applying the Golden Rule. Being a good neighbor. Sharing resources. If you offer me a glass of Cabernet when I need it, should I go out and plant a vineyard – especially when I was quite happy to give you some bacon when you ran out last week? What’s the alternative – you go out and buy a pig?

So how do you go about building a smart network? Here are 3 astoundingly simple steps – we’re talking duh-level – that you already know. Just do them.

    1. Reach out. Say hi on Twitter. Reply to something they’ve written. Believe it or not, other smart people will enjoy your initiative and interaction, just as you do.
    2. Share your own expertise. Generously. Consistently. Without any baked-in quid pro quo.
    3. Ask. The 4 words, “Can you help me?” are very hard to resist when you have gained even a baseline amount of familiarity and credibility.

When you provide value, well-mixed with kindness and sincerity, you will be well on your way to a smart network. No PhD required. Now, about that Cabernet…

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Social Media, Business, and Life

Here’s how I view the intersection of social media/networked communications, business, and life:

Make sense? That’s why we need to evolve past talking about “social media” as an isolated entity. It’s not. It is, and will (increasingly) be, a woven-in digital communications pathway encompassing just about every aspect of how we live and work.

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100 Proof

Almost every alcoholic beverage has its place. I say almost, because there is still lite beer, and wine coolers. But you get the point.

Sometimes a glass of wine is right. Sometimes a summer ale, or a hearty porter. A nice bourbon on ice with a friend out on the deck is delightful.

The analogy can only be carried so far, but various forms of social networks are of varying strengths, and for various purposes. As much as I enjoy and use the general platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), much of the frustration is that overall, they end up being somewhere between 3-8 proof. Weak and watered down by sheer numbers, and wildly varying quality.

Yes, there are 100 proof people scattered throughout, but what if you had a whole bunch of them together in a closer, more organic network? Pay-it-forward professionals. Proven performers. Ethical, authentic people who want to work together to do business in new and creative ways.

Distilled, 100 proof trust agents.

Think of the possibilities. It’s an intoxicating vision. And if we get together this year, let’s sit down over coffee (or wine, or….well, not lite beer) and blue-sky this together… (and if you’re going to be at SOBCon 2010 in a couple weeks, well, let’s brainstorm in Chicago!)

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Why I Can’t Wait for SOBCon 2010

I’ve cut back this year on the number of conferences I’m attending. But I have added one new one (for me) – SOBCon 2010. Why?

    1. It’s small. I prefer the intimacy of small, focused conferences to huge, rush-around mega-events. Relaxed face time and collective thought are more valuable to me than drive-by hellos and party-hopping. Building deep, not broad, is one of my themes for 2010.
    2. Liz (Strauss) and Terry (Starbucker) have been nagging me to take part, and simply wouldn’t let me say “no” this year. Since I enjoy Liz and Terry time, it’s not really a big sacrifice!
    3. I’ll get to meet some very cool people that I’ve only interacted with on-line – Jon Swanson, Chris Garrett, Lucretia Pruitt, and others – plus renew friendships with a bunch of folks previously met. The time will be too short, in fact.
    4. I’m very excited about the theme and can’t wait to brainstorm with a diverse bunch of smart people.
    5. Events like this one are creative incubators. I fully expect to walk out with renewed energy, fresh ideas, and a mind buzzing with possibilities.
    6. I like Chicago.

That’s my top 5 + 1 – if you’re going, what are yours? And if you haven’t signed up yet – there’s still time! I hope to see you there!

Oh – and special thanks to Social Media Club Chicago for organizing a tweetup the Thursday night before things kick off. Great idea!

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Out of the Bud, into the Flower

Just out my window, red maple leaves are beginning to emerge. What were buds in my yard just a short time ago, now are becoming full-blown flowers and leaves and canopies of beautiful shade.

As it should be. The bud phase is meant to only last a brief moment, to be a quick transition to the real goal.

Musing this morning on Geoff Livingston‘s post explaining the end of his blogging tenure at the Buzz Bin, I saw the process at work. As Geoff put it so pointedly, “I have run out of things to say…I feel like I am repeating myself.” In other words, social media as a topic in and of itself has pretty much run its course. The bud phase is over. Time to move on.

While it is tempting to mourn the passing of anything that has been new and shiny and exciting, in reality, we’re on the threshold of the really good stuff. In the nascent days of computers, or of Web 1.0, the early adopters were (rightly) excited about the technology itself. But it was never about the microprocessor or HTML code, not really. It’s about what we can do with it.

Passion for new technology skyrockets, then wanes, in order to make room for the real passions that matter – how we can transform people and society and business using new tools and approaches. I have been (and still am) quite passionate about social networking. But I no longer much care about re-tweets, Ad Age rankings, or follower numbers. My genuine passion has emerged – building deeper, more purposeful Opportunity Networks that will help change how we do business for the long haul. The “corporation” as we now know it is an aging model. I’m gathering a core of like-minded folks who want to explore how to create the new “co-operation.”

Social networking and technology tools are a big part of this vision. But there’s enough information out there now about how to be part of the conversation, how to go viral, how to write blog headlines, how to build a wide audience. That’s the bud. What’s your flower? How are you going to use all these good tools and connect with smart people to make whole new movements and organizations and impacts?

It’s springtime, friends. Buds are great – but only because of what they promise. We’ve talked social media and made lots of connections and sought to introduce it to the rest of the world…all good and necessary. But now let’s transition from early adopters to long-term architects. Summer’s coming!

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Each and Recently

The old marketing model emphasized “reach and frequency.”

Try to expose your message to as many as possible, as often as possible. A certain percentage will respond.

It’s a numbers game. And, it de-personalizes your audience. They’re a target. A demographic. Occupiers of a business funnel.

Been there. Done that.

Instead, let’s think in terms of “each and recently.” There is a growing pool of people who rely on you for information, connections, and services. They become customers, friends, collaborators, and, in a wonderful way, the most effective sales force you could possibly have.

Touch each of them. Make sure, as their names come to mind, that you’ve somehow touched them recently. And don’t worry a whole lot about the reach and frequency numbers game.

They’ll do that for you.

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The Value of Social Media (for me)

Some folks purport to give us statistics on how much of what happens in social networking platforms is “valuable.”

There’s a problem with that. We all have different measures of value. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Let’s face it, however. There’s an awful lot of noise…how much signal is there? And before you can even define that – what is “signal” to you?

I have something like 4,500 Twitter “followers,” while I follow about 1,300. How many of those truly add value to me on a regular basis? Probably 2-3%. Surprised? It’s not the 80-20 rule – it’s the 97-3 rule!

Those of you who add value know who you are (mostly), because we interact. Here’s what matters to me:

- Professional and personal camaraderie

- Unique and creative perspectives

- Proactive, pay-it-forward connecting

- Information source in domains that interest me

For instance, Guy Kawasaki is noisy, but I really enjoy some of the interesting links he provides. I like seeing fellow New Jerseyan Deirdre Breakenridge show up with her “Good Morning” in my tweetstream. Ben Kunz challenges me and makes me think. Kevin McNulty talks to me. Brandon Cox is always uploading great links to resources. Ann Handley is a dear friend, colleague, and explorer of life. Tom Martin is a lively thinker and loads of fun. Gavin Heaton, even from across the world, makes connections. Christina Stallings and I sometimes have dueling breakfast pictures on the weekend. Dennis VanStaalduinen makes me laugh. Cheryl Smith is a great sounding board and friend in the journey, as is Becky Carroll. Jay Baer is very smart and “gets” business. And then there are those who probably don’t even know that they add value to me, like Mitch Joel and Christopher Penn and Jim Long and Susannah Fox…and I could go on and on….

The bottom line is, you can find the people who are value-adds – AND the people you can help along the way also (be a mentor!) – by figuring out what it is you’re really after and focusing your efforts. So -what and who is valuable to you? Add your thoughts in the comments.

You see all those names up there? Never would have found a single one without blogging, Twitter, and other social platforms. And many are now friends in real life, not just avatars.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the signal/noise ratio. Just find that 2%, your “inner circle.” And build from there.

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Circling your Social Network

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while; a Twitter exchange this morning with John Jantsch (@ducttape) finally motivated me to stop stalling and just jot it down.

It’s about concentric circles.

Specifically, I don’t like how social platforms tend to force you into binary choices about people in your network. In Facebook, everyone you choose to connect to is a “friend”. With Twitter, you have followers, and/or you follow. It’s all too simplistic and, in fact, quite inaccurate.

My network (on-line and off-line) can be more accurately divided into four levels:

1. Audience - people to whom I am connected (or who are connected to me) and therefore within reach, though there is little or no personal interaction yet.

2. Acquaintances - people with whom I’ve had at least some passing contact, professional or personal or virtual.

3. Friends - people with whom I have more extensive and regular contact (professional or personal or virtual), generally finding areas of common interest and shared experience.

4. Intimates - my “inner circle” (professional / personal / virtual). These are folks with whom there is a deeper trust relationship and more transparent level of sharing.

Social networking technology actually enables growth at every level, and can provide interesting opportunities for and with people from intimates to audience. It also helps move people along into closer orbit – many of those who I now consider friends and “inner circle” folks were met via social media.

I actually wish social platforms would enable us to categorize and “filter” people more readily by making such distinctions. Because we might want to provide levels of transparency to different groups in an intuitive manner (yes, I know you can monkey with Facebook settings to do some of this, but I’d like one dashboard that aggregates the entire social graph…)

As John and I were discussing, the public nature of social media means we have to be careful not to make people feel excluded. Yet my sense is that if we relate openly and transparently with people, realistically understanding how relationships progress, then we can accomplish quite the opposite – slow and steady inclusion into deeper layers of intimacy (I’m sure John agrees).

That’s my take, anyway. Make sense to you?

P.S. it is my intention, in 2010, to spend far more time cultivating my inner circles, as that is where I am now convinced the greatest impact and good can occur.

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