Still Don't Get Twitter? Maybe This Will Help

twitter-logoIt’s okay to admit it.  You’re among friends.  You’ve been on Twitter for a couple of months now and you still can’t figure out what the heck all the fuss is about.  It took me a while to “get” Twitter, too, but now I find it an indispensable part of my toolkit for gathering information and promoting my work.  Here are some things to think about.

The 140-character limit is liberating.  Writing blog entries is a time-consuming task.  I’m not the type who fires off one-sentence posts, so I like to put some thought into what I say on a blog.  In contrast, Twitter’s 140-character limit lends itself well to quick thoughts that I believe are worth sharing with others but that don’t justify a full-blown blog entry.  Very little of what I tweet makes it into my blog and vice versa.

The 140-character limit can also be frustrating. If you have ever engaged in an e-mail exchange using Twitter direct messaging, you know it can be disjointed.  At some point, you need to jump to e-mail.  That said, 140 characters does force you to focus your thoughts and to write succinctly,

Public conversations.  Twitter gives everyone the option of making discussions public.  You can’t do this with e-mail, and it’s difficult to accomplish on a blog.  If you believe that your exchange with others would benefit from public input, or if you just want to expose the discussion to others, you have that option.  You can always take things private via direct messaging if you wish.

Immediacy.  When you just can’t wait for information, Twitter can’t be beat for getting your question to a large group.  It’s impractical to do this with e-mail. People’s inboxes are already cluttered with spam and you have no way of getting your message to people you don’t know.  Also, through “retweeting,” a message can reach a large number of people who aren’t on your follower list.  This brings new perspectives to the conversation and gives you the opportunity to discover people you wouldn’t have otherwise met.

Retweeting. While we’re on the subject, don’t underestimate the power of the retweet.  When someone picks up your message and forwards it to their followers, it magnifies your reach and often recruits new followers in the process.  Sending provocative messages that others retweet is a great way to build your following and your contact list for information-gathering and promotion.

Discovery.  Twitter is the most efficient mechanism I’ve ever seen for discovering interesting information.  I could literally do nothing all day but monitor the “All Friends” feed in TweetDeck and read interesting articles that others recommend. If it weren’t for Twitter, for example, I wouldn’t have known that Travelocity has hotels in Las Vegas for $22 a night.  This discovery process is not unlike scanning the pages of a newspaper, but it’s much faster and more encompassing.  Also, you know that comments and recommendations from certain people will be of particular interest to you, so you have the option of drilling down on individual profiles to see what they’ve been saying recently.  Chaotic?  Sure, but that’s part of the discovery process.

Searchable. If you want to find out what people are saying about you right now, services like Twitscoop and Monitter enable you to instantly track mentions of your company, product, industry or whatever and to save them as RSS feeds for later browsing.  You can do the same with Twitter Search. Google Alerts currently doesn’t index Twitter feeds, but Filtrbox does.

Twitter is a deceptively simple idea with remarkably powerful applications.  People are only beginning to tap into its potential, and I hope visitors to this blog will contribute their own thoughts on what they find most compelling.

Influencer Marketing: Not Your Typical PR

With mainstream media rapidly declining in scope, influence is increasingly being exerted from below by individuals using the power of self-publishing to reach out to their peers.

In recent influencer engagements, we’ve learned a few things about how to work with these new media.  An important point to remember is that they do not behave like reporters.  Journalists are skilled in the “game” that goes on with public relations professionals.   You know: It’s the one in which PR is paid to keep pushing and the journalists is paid to be skeptical.  The two parties engage in this back-and-forth with a wink and a nod, knowing that each has a job to do.

Influencers often don’t work this way.  To them, their online outpost is a display of their passion for the topic that they cover.  They care deeply about the subject matter and they usually know at least as much as the PR person who contacts them.  Often they know quite a bit more.  In some ways, engaging with influencers is like pitching product reviewers.

Know Your Stuff

You’d better come prepared to this engagement, because some influencers will take lack of knowledge on your part as an insult.  This can capsize junior agency people who aren’t prepared for the depth of questions they will get or the scorn they may endure if they can’t answer.  Again, journalists know how the game is played, but influencers are more likely to expect the person on the phone to share their enthusiasm.  I recommend you put experienced people on this job.

Influencers are also likely to have an opinion.  While journalists are expected not to share any biases, bloggers often do what they do precisely because they have opinions to share.  Fortunately, a little advance reading can often clue you in to someone’s agenda and even help you decide if they’re worth contacting all.  You don’t want to come in with a strong Windows pitch, for example, to a blogger who’s passionate about the Mac.  You also don’t want to be blindsided by someone who has made his or her opinions clear and who is offended by the fact that you don’t know them.  Again, 15 to 20 minutes of reading can save you a lot of aggravation.

Finally, influencers are more likely to want to get their hands on the product or to talk in depth with the people who develop it.  Unlike journalists, they’re probably not interested in analyst quotes or customer case studies.  It’s more likely they’ll want to talk to the VP of engineering or the CEO than to the head of marketing.  Before you start an influencers program, be sure that you have these people on board.

Their time will be well spent.  The right influencers have as much credibility in their community as product reviewers or analysts.  They usually have extensive networks of online and real-world contacts and they’re likely to have experience with not only the your products but those of your competitors.  Engage in a conversation.  You might learn something from them.

Recommended Reading 3/30/09

At its essence, Twitter is nothing more than an RSS feed. The tools are what make it so valuable. Online Best Colleges has come up with this great list of 100 Twitter tools that do everything from identify people you haven’t tweeted in a long time to figure out how much time you waste on Twitter. And you can waste a LOT of time on Twitter!

Nielsen: Social Networking Overtakes E-mail in Popularity

Active reach in what Nielsen defines as “member communities” now exceeds e-mail participation by 67 percent to 65 percent. What’s more, the reach of social networking and blogging venues is growing at twice the rate of other large drivers of Internet use such as portals, e-mail and search.

A statistical analysis of social network users that is totally made up but bitingly accurate, at least in the satirical sense 🙂

Six ways to make Web 2.0 work – The McKinsey Quarterly

McKinsey looks at the characteristics of organizations that have successfully leveraged Web 2.0 technologies. Quoting:

  • To date, as many survey respondents are dissatisfied with their use of Web 2.0 technologies as are satisfied. Participatory technologies should include auditing functions, similar to those for e-mail, that track all contributions and their authors. Ultimately, however, companies must recognize that successful participation means engaging in authentic conversations with participants.
  • We have found that, unless a number of success factors are present, Web 2.0 efforts often fail to launch or to reach expected heights of usage. Executives who are suspicious or uncomfortable with perceived changes or risks often call off these efforts.
  • What distinguishes them from previous technologies is the high degree of participation they require to be effective.
  • While they are inherently disruptive and often challenge an organization and its culture, they are not technically complex to implement. Rather, they are a relatively lightweight overlay to the existing infrastructure and do not necessarily require complex technology integration.
  • Since we first polled global executives two years ago, the adoption of these tools has continued. Spending on them is now a relatively modest $1 billion, but the level of investment is expected to grow by more than 15 percent annually over the next five years, despite the current recession.
  • The transformation to a bottom-up culture needs help from the top.
  • Successful participation, however, requires not only grassroots activity but also a different leadership approach: senior executives often become role models and lead through informal channels.
  • Efforts go awry when organizations try to dictate their preferred uses of the technologies—a strategy that fits applications designed specifically to improve the performance of known processes—rather than observing what works and then scaling it up
  • [Success requires] a more effective play to the Web’s ethos and the participants’ desire for recognition: bolstering the reputation of participants in relevant communities, rewarding enthusiasm, or acknowledging the quality and usefulness of contributions.
  • Numerous executives we interviewed said that participatory initiatives had been stalled by legal and HR concerns. These risks differ markedly from those of previous technology adoptions, where the chief downside was high costs and poor execution

Self-publishing today is inexpensive and relatively easy. For authors who don’t want to put up with the run-around of finding increasingly skittish professional publishers, it can be a fast way to build a personal brand and actually make decent money.

Social Networks Drive Video Views

The most common way that viewers find videos is direct navigation to a video site. About 45% of all video views were from by consumers who started at YouTube. A survey by TubeMogul found that social networks have a bigger influence on video usage than search engines, accounting for about 80% of all visitors.

Twitter User Base Continues To Grow

According to Pew Research, 27% of bloggers use Twitter and 11% of Web-equipped US adults have used a microblog service. That second figure has nearly doubled in the past year. There is a high correlation between Twitter use and use of other Internet technologies. The median age of a Twitter user is 31. By comparison, the median age of a MySpace user is 27, while Facebook users median at 26 and LinkedIn users at 40.

The Case For Influencer Marketing

I’ve recently worked with several clients on influencer marketing campaigns. These are proving to be popular new complements to traditional PR programs that approach media relations from a completely different perspective. Influencer relations is gaining popularity as the media landscape shifts and domain experts gain prominence.

The media industry is slashing and burning its way through a wrenching transition. There have been more than 5,300 layoffs in the US newspaper industry just this year, and three major dailies with a combined total of more than 400 years of continuous publishing, have closed in just last month.

The situation is just as bad in b-to-b publishing, where more than 275 business magazines have closed since the beginning of 2007, according to BtoB magazine.

Shifting Influence

With mainstream media dwindling at the same time the number citizen publishers is rising, it’s not surprising that individual influencers are becoming a promising target. Even professional editors and reporters are increasingly turning their attention to the blogosphere and Twittersphere as a source of expertise and even news. The first place a reporter goes when looking for sources these days is Google. As a result, popular bloggers are suddenly inundated with media inquiries. This is an opportunity for marketers. Some publications are going even recruiting bloggers to contribute to their branded sites. These financially driven actions are having the effect of amplifying the volume of individual voices.

An influencer relations program seeks to strike up conversations with these domain experts on the assumption that their opinions are reaching increasingly large audiences, both through their own websites and the amplifiers I just described.. This is quite different from a conventional PR campaign, which starts with analysts and journalists on the theory that they are the influencers. We are beginning to rethink this dynamic. Conventional PR will be harder to do in the future as the ranks of staff journalists shrink and the shrinking number who are left struggle with an overwhelming volume of PR pitches.

In contrast, most bloggers get very few inquiries from marketers, and are more likely to spend time listening to what they have to say. This is a pretty appealing option for marketers who are frustrated with being one of the 300 or 400 daily inquiries an already seriously overworked reporter gets.

The Human Touch

So how do you find influencers? There are a number of commercial services that attempt to perform the task programmatically, but my experience has been that they only get you halfway there. It’s not difficult to find someone who writes, podcasts, or tweets about a topic, but assessing that person’s biases and style is an entirely different issue.

For example, in a recent project for a company with a novel approach to weight loss therapy, we discovered that the topic was more controversial than we thought. Some people have very strong opinions about the subject, and pitching the client’s novel approach to them would have been the equivalent of sticking your hand into a beehive.

You also can’t assume that domain experts necessarily want to talk about their domain of expertise. In a recent engagement that looked for pharmaceutical researchers, we found that people with Ph.D.s in that area blog about everything from cooking to environmentalism. In fact, only a minority paid much attention to pharmaceuticals at all.

At this point, there’s no way to ascertain the agenda, biases or voice of influencers without digging in and reading what they have to say. If you don’t do that critical homework, you risk alienating the very people you’re trying to reach. Bloggers expect you to know something about them. Unlike the mainstream media, they don’t understand how the pitch game is played. They know a lot about their subjects and they tend to regard clueless come-ons with disdain.

For now, there’s no substitute for the human touch when it comes to influencer relations campaigns.

Recommended Reading, 3/12/09

As The Economy Sours, LinkedIn’s Popularity Grows

Larry Weber’s coming out with a new edition of his book Marketing to the Social Web. The first edition was one of the most intelligent and practical guides to new-media marketing I have read. I have no doubts “The Provocateur” will continue to provoke in this new book.

If the seamy underside is your thing, then this list of Internet misdeeds is an interesting read. Not everything here is actually a crime, but the list of scams, identity thefts and stalkings will make you think twice about how much information you reveal on your profile.

Tamar Weinberg has her annual round-up of the best of 2008 and it’s just as impressive in quality and scope as her epic list from 2007. You can spend hours reading the resources referenced here. Fortunately, Tamar has already done that for you. Her advice will point you to the information that’s most relevant to your needs.

And be careful what you tweet! An employee of the Ketchum PR agency got into trouble with a VERY big client over an offhanded tweet that criticized the client’s home city. Here’s why you need to think carefully about what you say online, for once it’s on the Internet, it lives forever. Also, your personal and professional personas may be linked for some time to come.

“A new study finds blogging to be the most important lead-generation source among social media options, followed by StumbleUpon, YouTube, Facebook, De.lic.ious and Digg.” This HubSpot survey of 167 executives and business owners found that the relatively prosaic blog is in fact a key element in company communications, in part because blogs perform so well on search engines. The findings differ with recent Forrester Research data that indicates that blogs have low credibility. HubSpot attributed the disparity to its survey’s large representation of small businesses, which tend to have more credible blogs.

name_tagHoly crap. This guy has made a career out of wearing a name tag. What does this say about our culture?

The New York Times‘ David Pogue catches Carbonite in the act of “astroturfing,” or posting phony reviews of its own products. The CEO apologized and said he was unaware of the campaign. But Pogue tracks down blog entries to the contrary. Astroturfing is something you should never do. It’s too easy for someone to spot a trend and create a public embarrassment.

Mars Deserves Praise for Innovative Skittles Initiative

SkittlesEarly this week, candy maker Skittles rocked the media by giving over its entire home page to a list of Twitter postings labeled with the #skittles hash tag. The experiment initially provoked excitement, then doubt and finally alarm as pranksters used the opportunity to post all manner of negative and even obscene comments that had very little to do with the fruit candy.

As the volume of trash talk swelled, Mars Snackfood US pulled down the Twitter search page and replaced it with a Facebook profile. Today the site features a Wikipedia entry. Skittles’ branding consists of an overlay window that links to various references to the product in social media outposts. Basically, Mars reconfigured the brand’s website as a package of consumer-generated content.

A lot of people are trashing Mars for this bold experiment. “Disastrous” says Apryl Duncan on “Gimmicky” says VentureBeat. “Humiliating disaster” says SmartCompany. While some people are praising Mars for originality, the early consensus is that this campaign is not a good idea for the Skittles brand.

Bold Move


More skittles

I beg to differ. While Mars certainly could have better anticipated the frat-boy efforts to undermine the program, the Skittles experiment is a bold statement about where the company is taking its marketing tactics. Full disclosure: I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the Mars marketers on a paid basis over the past year. Unlike many other corporations I’ve encountered, these people get it. Sure, they’re still feeling their way through the process of working with uncensored customer conversations, but they’re on the right track and they’re taking the right risks.


In January, Mars held a day-long offsite meeting with more than 100 of its global marketers to talk about word-of-mouth marketing. I was there, along with many of the company’s agency and branding partners. I was impressed with the commitment the company is making to understanding and working with social media. While many of their peers still regard online forums with a mixture of suspicion and disgust, the Mars marketers see it as an opportunity. They’re also fully aware of the risks. One breakout session at the meeting was devoted almost entirely to an analysis of Johnson & Johnson’s Motrin Moms fiasco.

Still more SkittlesThere’s no question Mars could have thought through this experiment somewhat better. Twitter was a bad place to start and under the circumstances, some filtering would have been appropriate. However, the whole concept of giving over the Skittles Web presence to customer conversations is daring and innovative. It’s unfortunate that some of the same people who trash brands for not being more hip to social media are now trashing Mars for almost being too hip.

Proof in the Pudding

Also, look at the coverage this story has generated: The Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Fast Company, CNET and the list goes on and on. If you believe Oscar Wilde’s theory that “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” then this campaign is a hit. If Skittles sales don’t jump 15% in the next month, I’ll eat a bag of the candy, including the bag.

Chevy TahoeExperimentation is central to new media marketing and negative reactions to bold ideas are nothing to be feared. Nearly three years ago, General Motors invited visitors to stitch together their own video ads for the Chevrolet Tahoe SUV. About 15% of the videos people created were negative, prompting critics to call the campaign a disaster. But inside General Motors the project was considered an unqualified success. The Tahoe hit 30% market share shortly after the Web promotion began, outpacing its closest competitor two to one.

The Skittles campaign is outside-the-box thinking. Despite its shortcomings, it deserves praise.

Come Immerse Yourself in the New Marketing

ims-badge_speakerSearch engine optimization firm Hubspot came up with the best term I’ve heard for the new style of marketing that emphasizes conversation, linking and social media awareness: “inbound marketing.”

The concept is to break from the old style of interruption marketing that is so inefficient that companies consider a 3% response rate to be a triumph.  Inbound marketing is about enticing customers to come to you by offering them something of value. We’re talking 100% response rates.

Hubspot staged a successful conference last fall just a few weeks before our own successful New Marketing Summit (NMS) in the Boston area

Several of my NMS colleagues and I have close relationships with the people at Hubspot, so over the last few months we got together and decided to merge our two conferences into one. And we adopted the great term they created.

SF in the Spring

David Meerman Scott

So on April 28, the new, improved Inbound Marketing Summit (IMS) will debut in San Francisco, the first of three conferences this year (Dallas is in May and Boston in September).  This event isn’t for marketers who are figuring out how to tiptoe into conversation marketing.  It’s for people who are convinced that the world of marketing is changing forever and who want to get out in front of that wave, drive a new form of high-quality engagement and turbo-charge their careers..

IMS will have web 2.0 visionaries like Tim O’Reilly, Chris Brogan, David Meerman Scott (left), Jason Falls and Brian Solis on the program. More importantly, we’ll have practitioners from companies like Cirque du Soleil, Harley Davidson, French Maid TV and Microsoft talking about how they’re putting new media to work right now, achieving results and measuring those results.

Immersion Therapy


You can drown in social media marketing in San Francisco that last week in April.  We’ve collocated the conference with the New Communications Forum, now in its fifth year, presented by the Society for New Communications Research.  That event also has a great lineup of speakers, some of whom will be presenting at both conferences.

I’ve got a few discount codes available to people who are really serious about attending, so if you want to meet me in San Francisco, connect with a bunch of thought leaders in this area and trade business cards with successful practitioners, drop me a line and I’ll arrange to shave a couple of hundred dollars off the fee.

I hope to see you there!

My Interview With Mike Moran

I’ve probably recommended Mike Moran and Bill Hunt’s Search Engine Marketing, Inc. to colleagues and groups a couple of hundred times, so it was a kick to have an opportunity to be interviewed by Mike for his popular Biznology blog. He asked a couple of questions I had honestly never heard before. Not surprisingly, all his questions were perceptive and focused. 

I offer some comments about what corporations do wrong in social media space, as well as what they do right. Mike also challenged me to come up with the most surprising social media success stories, which required some thought! Let me know what you think.

How to Make Money From Your Blog, Part 2

From my weekly newsletter. To subscribe, just fill out the short form to the right.

Early this month, I spoke to a group of travel media professionals who assembled in the lovely city of Vancouver, BC..  Their industry is going through some big changes: Traditional publishers are cutting back on freelance expenses or going out of business.  Lucrative writing assignments are harder to come by.  The travel journalists in the audience were looking for new ways to make a living with their blogs while still pursuing the work they love.

In last week’s issue, I talked about the opportunities available in advertising sponsorships, but few bloggers make a living from ads.  The bigger opportunity is to build service and licensing revenues around expertise.  The blog is really a showcase for other skills. Here are some ideas to share with the group for making money from their blogs:

Ancillary Products — Packaging is everything.  Travel bloggers who have exhaustive knowledge of Montréal restaurants, for example, may be able to create e-books or audio guides that can be sponsored by professional associations or tourism bureaus.  Multiple blog entries could be consolidated into a guide to Vancouver travel, then packaged as an e-book and sold to a local tourism office.  Bloggers with lots of business savvy could actually sell the ads themselves.  Producers of advertising-based city guides already pay for content, so why not approach them with a product that’s already packaged? Likewise, a video travelogue of ski resorts in central Québec could be sponsored by a regional association of ski areas. If presentation is entirely online, look into the option of generating a commission for each click-through from the video to an order page.

Books – Nearly 1 in 200 Americans has now published a book.  A new crop of Internet self-publishers is making this easy and relatively cheap.  Sites like Lulu, iUniverse, Blurb, AuthorHouse, CafePress  and  UBuildABook  can publish books for single-copy prices starting at less than five dollars. Books don’t need to be 70,000-word tomes, either.  They can be pocket guides.  What’s more, the self-publishing process at some of these sites is almost totally automated.  The author doesn’t even need to speak to a person.  Many self-publishers now have their own bookstores and agreements with online booksellers.

The margins on self-publishing are much better than those of traditional publishing. However, there are significant trade-offs.  T author is usually responsible for all marketing and publicity, some publishers require a minimum order volume and Amazon doesn’t carry many self-published titles.  Still, an entire industry of motivational speakers thrives on this model, so it can’t be all bad.

Custom publishing — If you’ve taken beautiful photographs of ski areas in Banff,  offer to sell them to a local tourist bureau or resort hotel to use in a promotional calendar.  Or offer to create a video travelogue of that same hotel that can be posted on a website or delivered via CD.  Even if your skill is strictly in prose, lots of businesses would gladly buy copy written from an expert with demonstrated ability than risk their hand in at the freelance market.  Travel companies aren’t publishers, so use your publishing skill to make their work easier.

Consulting — Blogs are a great way to strut your stuff.  If you’ve been to 25 Swiss ski resorts, why not promote yourself as the expert on creating a European hospitality experience?  Or maybe your experience visiting hundreds of great wine cellars can make you an expert consultant in that area for startup restaurants.  By search optimizing your site for these very specific skills, you can make the short list when businesses begin their search

The future of publishing will be less about institutional brands and more about personal brands.  Blogs are a great way to create and promote personal expertise.  It takes some work, and not everyone is comfortable with the idea of self-promotion.  But if you look at a blog as a window on bigger business opportunities, there really are lots of choices.

Egg on Its Facebook

egg_on_faceGive Facebook credit for quickly reversing itself on the insane changes it recently made to its terms of service policy. Hopefully the company has finally learned its lesson about not arbitrarily making policy changes in a vacuum.

I’ll admit I wasn’t following the story closely until I got a call from journalist David Needle yesterday asking for comment.  I wasn’t online at the time, and when David described the new terms of service I said they were crazy.  No online community would impose a policy that effectively gave it the right to steal intellectual property from its members.

So I was stunned when I returned to my office and actually looked at the terms.  I’m not a lawyer, but it was pretty easy to figure out what Facebook was doing.  In essence, anything a member posted on Facebook became the property of Facebook, which could use that content in any way it wanted, including changing it, combining with other content and even selling it.

This had personal relevance to me, because many authors and artists now develop their work in public forums, post it online and ask for input from their audience.  Under the revised Facebook policy, someone doing this would give up ownership of that intellectual property the minute it appeared on the site.

I don’t think for a moment that Facebook intended to abuse the terms of service or to steal anything from anyone.  This was a boneheaded decision by someone who thought that since the terms were being changed anyway, Facebook might as well ask for the sun, moon and stars.

Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt to explain the policy made no sense.  While his blog entry did a good job of clarifying Facebook’s intent, it didn’t explain why such heavy-handed language was needed, nor did it express any second thoughts about the changes.

This is the second time Facebook has had to withdraw a feature change amid heavy criticism.  Last year it was the ill-considered Beacon social shopping service. The company has created a bill of rights and responsibilities group and asked people to contribute their thoughts..  Let’s hope it listens this time.