Recommended Reading, 2/12/09

How Not to be a Key Online Influencer

David Henderson tells a jaw-dropping story of how a PR executive shot himself in the foot with a Twitter message that insulted a big client. This is a public forum, people.

Sephora Helps Selection Process With Mobile User Reviews

The beauty products retailer has had success with user reviews on its website, so now it’s going mobile. In-store promotions encourage shoppers to access the website for customer ratings of products on the shelves in front of them. Amazon is also testing a service that enables shoppers to snap photos of merchandise in retail stores and quickly order them on Amazon. The lines between physical and virtual shopping continue to blur.

This Contest Blows

Smule has the winners of a video contest it calls “This Contest Blows.” Entrants were asked to demonstrate their facility with the first software application that turns the iPhone into a musical instrument. There were many creative submissions and some true virtuosity. Winners got a $1,000 prize.

A Toolset for Learning 2009

Here’s a nice list of the latest and most popular software tools that can be applied to education. Some are well known (PowerPoint), but the author also offers alternatives that offer specialized features or are free.

The Ultimate Social Media Etiquette Handbook: The Most Egregious Sins on Social Media Sites, Exposed

Tamar Weinberg has a terrific list of sins to avoid on social networks, blogs, YouTube, Twitter and other services. Bottom line: be genuine, not promotional. Deliver useful information and never steal, conceal, spam or flame. More than 200 comments and pingbacks.

How to Embed Almost Anything in your Website

Cool and comprehensive list of tools and techniques for adding all kinds of gadgets, widgets, players and feeds to a website.

How to Get Started With Social Media

The Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council held an informative seminar at Communispace this morning entitled “Getting Started with Social Media — Lessons from the Front Lines.” I took notes of the comments by the four speakers and pulled out a few highlights to share:

perry_allisonPerry Allison (left), Vice President of Social Marketing Innovation at talked about the value of gathering detailed feedback from a small number of people. Referring to a project that Eons conducted with Quaker Oats, she said she was initially concerned that only 80 members of the baby clothes site offered comments. “I thought Quaker wouldn’t be excited about 80 members, because this is a company that advertises on baby items on television to millions. But the brand manager was ecstatic because of the feedback and insight they were getting.” The main thing they advertise is this brand of baby clothes.

It’s the engagement that gets clients energized, she said. “Advertising currently drives more revenue, but what gets brands most excited is engagement marketing.”

Allison offered a list of common mistakes that companies make in creating online communities:  “Overloading people with information, not having a clear concept of the goals, not defining a clear value proposition, using marketing speak, and viewing the destination as a thing rather than a process.”  That last point is particularly important.  Markers have been taught to treat campaigns as projects with defined beginnings and ends.  But customer communities, if well managed, can last for years.  The value is in the process, not the deliverable.

A couple of the panelists commented on the dilemma facing mainstream media organizations today as their power is eroded by the influence of new sources.

pam_johnstonPam Johnston (left), Vice President of Member Experience at, brought an interesting background to the discussion.  She spent more than 15 years in television news before joining Gather, which means she understands the mainstream media mindset.  The most disruptive force in social media is its ability to define new trusted sources, she said. “People are looking for a trusted source and it may not be the Boston Globe. It may be your neighbor.

“I can tell you from experience that traditional media don’t want to be a hub,” she said. “They have a top-down mentality: ‘If you want it, you have to come to my site to get it.'”

Dan Kennedy, Assistant Professor at the Northeastern School Of Journalism and author of the Media Nation blog, was even more blunt about the challenges facing mainstream media. “The question of how news organizations are going to monetize anything they’re doing is the question facing the industry right now. The Boston Globe may have the largest audience its’ ever had and it’s losing $1 million a week,” he said.

Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot, offered a five-step approach to getting started with social media:

1. Start a blog. It’s a living breathing thing.

2. Create interesting content. If you do that, people will link to you.

3. Publish everywhere: Use Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and any other channel you have available.

4. Optimize for search engines. If you’ve got a good pithy title (Top 10 Tips, anyone?), then publicize it. Make it easy for people to post your content right to Twitter, Digg, Facebook and other destinations.

5. Measure it. Look at your traffic, page views, unique visitors, time spent on site. That’s how you know whether your hard work is paying off.

Sound easy? Creating remarkable content isn’t instinctive for everyone. That’s why Gather’s Johnston was dismayed when Burger King backed down last week on its audacious “Whopper Sacrifice” campaign on Facebook. The program got lots of attention for originality, even if its premise – members “unfriended” others in exchange for free hamburgers – was controversial. Burger King yanked the campaign last week over complaints that it was encouraging antisocial behavior.

“It was probably the most successful campaign Facebook has ever done,” she said. “I thought it was funny and memorable. It got people talking and those are important qualities for a memorable campaign.”

On the always popular issue of return on investment, Halligan had this to say: “Most of our customers create a LinkedIn group or Facebook page and see, on average, a 13% month-over-month growth in leads. I’d advise jumping into this. You don’t need venture backing to start a Twitter account. If you’ve got time and energy and something to say, then do it.”

Finally, Halligan got my vote for best quote with this one: “”Marketers are lions looking for elephants in the jungle. But the elephants have all left the jungle and they’re at watering holes out on the savannah. Those watering holes are called Google and Facebook and Twitter and Gather and Eons.”

So get your tail out of the jungle.

The Best of '08

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

At this time of year, many publishers and bloggers do one of two things: look ahead at the future or back at the year just ending. Since Joe Pulizzi, Fast Company and iMedia Connection did a great job at social media predictions, I thought I’d rummage through my digital archives and offer my completely unscientific list of what made this year special for me.

Best Social Media Tool – That’s easy. It’s Twitter, the super-simple, deceptively powerful micro-blogging service that has people sharing their lives in 140-character increments. If you still don’t get Twitter, I feel your pain, but anyone who wants to practice marketing in the new media world needs to get with the program. If you need help, I’ll get on the phone with your people and tell them why it’s so important.

Best Social Media Disaster Story — Johnson & Johnson’s well-intentioned Motrin video turned into a PR nightmare thanks to — you guessed it — Twitter. To its credit, J&J earnestly listened, but the marketers’ failure to anticipate negativity and their eagerness to respond too hastily made this a bigger problem than it had to be.

Best New FaceChris Brogan blew out of the pack to become one of the world’s top bloggers thanks to his prodigious output and shrewd self-promotion. He’ll soon hit 30,000 followers on Twitter and the 14,600 subscribers to his blog are a thing of wonder. I don’t know when the guy finds time to sleep. I’m fortunate to work with him on the New Marketing Summit conference and have a chance to learn from his success.

Best BookGroundswell by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li broke new ground by attempting to apply research and metrics to social media marketing. The book also told some great stories. Conflict of interest prevents me from choosing my own Secrets of Social Media Marketing, but that shouldn’t stop you from buying it!

Best New Software Application — In the ranks of software that tries to bring order to the barely contained chaos that is Twitter, TweetDeck does the best job I’ve seen.

Best Fall to Earth – Forrester reported that corporate enthusiasm for blogging was beginning to wane. That’s not surprising; most big companies do a lousy job of it. Expect retooling and new growth in the new year.

Best Viral Marketing Success – Cindy Gordon told just seven people about Universal Orlando’s plans to launch a Harry Potter theme park. Word of mouth spread the story to 350 million others in a matter of a couple of days. David Meerman Scott has the story.

Best New Product – The Apple iPhone 3G became the first true mobile Internet device and sold 3 million units in its first month. Expect plenty of new competition in 2009, which is only going to be good for consumers.Nokia has yet to play its cards.

Best Podcast – In the archives of the MediaBlather program that I do with David Strom, there were too many good interviews to choose just one. Among my favorites of 2008 were Mommycast, Brains on Fire/Fiskars, IDG’s Pat McGovern, Eric Schwartzman, Shel Israel and Brian Halligan of HubSpot. I think the most interesting podcast I listened to all year was Schwartzman’s interview with search-engine optimization expert Russell Wright.

Most Useful Blog Entry – Interactive Insights Group created a superlist of organizations using social media. You can find practically any case study on the Web by starting there. We have yet to hear what Tamar Weinberg has up her sleeve, though! Her 2007 superlist was a thing of beauty.

Best Article on the Media – The International Herald Tribune’s “Web Ushers in Age of Ambient Intimacy” explained the visceral appeal of Twitter and Facebook with admirable clarity. Eric Alterman’s epic examination of the collapse of the newspaper industry in The New Yorker was magnificent in its detail and insight.

Best Just For Fun – The most popular item in my newsletter is the squib about some crazy new Web resource we’ve found. Here are two of my favorites of 2008:

People always celebrate success, but they don’t give enough credit to really creative failure. Thank goodness, then, for The Fail Blog, a photographic tribute to failures big and small. Don’t look at this site in the office. Your colleagues will wonder why you’re laughing so hard. And don’t, under any circumstances, view it while you’re drinking milk, if you know what I mean…

Buddy Greene is the Yo-Yo Ma of the harmonica, and in this amazing clip from a Carnegie Hall concert, he will change forever your impressions of the capability and range of this tiny instrument.

'Tis the Season For Predictions

Here are summaries of a couple of social media-related forecast stories that have come across my screen recently.

Eight Experts Predict How Web 2.0 Will Evolve In 2009

You won’t find a lot of big surprises here, but there’s good solid consensus on some driving trends.

  • One is that there will be a strong move toward federated identity that gives control of the user’s data back to the user. It’s ridiculous that people have to create 20 different profiles for 20 different social networks. We should be in charge of our own data and decide how to share it with others.
  • Another theme is that mobile devices will become more location-aware, meaning that applications will deliver targeted results based upon where the user is standing. There’s also general agreement that the Web 2.0 industry is ripe for consolidation. That’s true, but what I believe will be surprising is how minor that consolidation will be, particularly compared to the great dot-com collapse of 2001-2002. Many of today’s successful networks run on a shoestring and will be able to weather the economic storm because their operating costs are so low.
  • One seer from Google’s mapping operations also sees the rise of “collaborative mapping,” in which people working together with friends and colleagues build shared maps of places they care about.

Experts’ predictions for 2009

iMedia Connection asks six marketing and advertising executives about their predictions for 2009. While there aren’t many surprises, some of the panelists’ views are notably well stated. Highlights:

  • Investment and commercial banks left standing will turn to the internet to engage consumers in conversations about trust.
  • Marketers will start to look at the social networking opportunity as a way to extend utility and functionality with their brand attached to it…This means giving people tools to use rather than just throwing a message in their faces.
  • “Traditional” media companies have been actively incorporating social media into their online offerings for years and finding that it leads to greater levels of consumer involvement with content. The result is that, on places such as,, the HealthCentral Network or iVillage, marketers can reap the benefits of the dynamic social media experience, while doing so in a safe, high-quality environment.
  • In 2009, expect to see closed caption technology being used to understand the content of the video clip and that content being matched with relevant advertising on a keyword basis.

Tonight’s Full Moon is Brightest Possible

Tonight the world will witness the brightest full moon ever: about 30 percent brighter and 14 percent larger than the other full moons this year. This is because the moon is much closer to the earth than usual. The moon comes closest to the earth during its perigee, but this year the actual distance from the planet will be shorter than usual.


I’ve recently conducted a couple of online seminars about social media topics. The Q&A sessions at these events are almost always too short to get to the issues that are on people’s minds. So over the next few issues of this newsletter, I’ll run down a few of the best questions I didn’t get to. For a good, free webcast on this topic, check out the recent event sponsored by Listrak.

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

Q: What is the best way to find blogs that are applicable to your business?

A: I have half-day seminars that address this question, but I’ll try to be succinct! First of all, remember that a blog is simply a way to display information.  There is no industry standard definition of a blog, so the only way to identify one is by looking at it.  Even the search engines that specialize in blog search don’t always get it right.

That said, you should start with search.  The blog search tools I use are Google Blog Search, Technorati, IceRocket, Bloglines and Blogpulse. There are others, but I’m less familiar with them. Tip: Use advanced search; it will save you time and better refine your results.

When you find bloggers who look important to you, look in their blogrolls, which are lists of other bloggers that they pay attention to. Blogrolls can usually be found on the home page.  This can save you a lot of time because the bloggers have already done the searching for you.

I also recommend searching social bookmarking sites like Delicious and Reddit. People share and comment upon favorite bookmarked pages there. Very often you’ll find sites on social bookmarking services that don’t show up prominently in search engines.

Q: Can you review the different social media for different communication goals?

A: Chapter 2 of my latest book, Secrets of Social Media Marketing, goes into quite a bit of detail about this, but here’s a synopsis:

Blogs: Easy, fast and flexible. Think of them as a podium. You’re the speaker and you can say your peace and invite commentary. Blogs are good for telling a story, but not very good for interaction or conversation.

Podcasts: These are basically audio blogs. They’re very good for communicating a message but have almost zero interactivity. Podcasts are very popular with busy executives who like the efficiency of being able to learn when they can’t read. They’re basically a one-way medium, however.

Video podcasts: Good for telling a story visually, but people tire of them quickly if the content isn’t compelling. Video podcasts are excellent vehicles for humor or offbeat content. They have almost no interactivity. Think of them as TV commercials that viewers can easily share with each other.

Social networks: These are great places to listen to ongoing conversations and to gain insight on customers and markets. You can also use them to pose general questions about you market. Don’t be too specific, though; social networks are public forums. Popular topics can yield insight into new product possibilities.

Private Communities (for example, Communispace and Passenger): These are next-generation focus groups. Usually run by firms that specialize in community management, the members are hand-selected, carefully nurtured and often bound by confidentiality agreements. Private communities are a great way to get advice from a lot of perspectives in a hurry. The downside: high cost

Microblogs (for example, Twitter and a host of others): Very fast, targeted and responsive, they’re a great way to ask questions and get quick answers or to promote a timely idea or service. Interactivity is excellent, but content is limited to short messages and it’s difficult to integrate multimedia.

Virtual worlds (for example, Second Life and others): These venues may be good for real-time events, but the software is still too clunky for most people to use. Virtual worlds fare best with techie audiences. They’re unique in that you can observe group dynamics, such as facial expressions and body language. They’re also good for events with a strong visual component.

Q: We run a lodging resort and saw negative comments someone had posted about their experience here on their blog. How do you turn a negative blogger into a positive blogger?

A: The tactics that work in the physical world also work online: invite feedback, listen, confirm what you heard and offer some kind of relief or explanation.  In 80% to 90% of these situations, the naysayers can be neutralized or even turned into advocates with these tactics.  Since bloggers can’t see their audience, they tend to write in strong terms, sort of like shouting into the wilderness.  Once you personalize the interaction, they usually back down.  Start by commenting on the blog and also by sending a private e-mail.  It may even be worth picking up the phone.  The more you humanize the interaction, the quicker you’ll bring them around.

What J&J Could Have Done

It wasn’t exactly a repeat of the 1982 poisoned Tylenol disaster, but Johnson & Johnson was struggling with a minor crisis this week after some vocal critics derided an edgy ad that implied that new moms could suffer back pain from carrying their infants. What can we learn from this episode and was J&J’s rapid apology really the best response?

The video had actually been online for more than six weeks before a few vocal moms on Twitter began trashing it this past weekend. The ad suggests, with tongue in cheek, that new moms who bond with their babies by carrying them in slings and chest packs may be inadvertently giving themselves back pain. The message wasn’t that moms shouldn’t bond with their children but that they should be ready for the consequences.

Seems innocuous enough, but a few vocal mommy bloggers didn’t see it that way. They thought the ad was insulting to mothers and they Twittered their criticism, calling for a boycott of Motrin. Bloggers picked up on the controversy and posted more than 100 opinions about the ad, J&J’s reaction and the media frenzy that surrounded it. There were even parody ads making fun of the whole affair. Forrester’s Josh Bernoff has a good account of the controversy with links to background material.

A chastened J&J pulled the ad off its website and issued an apology on its corporate blog. The promotion “was meant to engender sympathy and appreciation for all that parents do for their kids, but did so through an attempt at humor that missed the mark and many moms found offensive,” wrote Kathy Widmer, Vice President of Marketing at McNeil Consumer Healthcare.

J&J probably had no choice but to withdraw the ad, since the criticism was threatening to swamp any benefit the company had hoped to receive. But you also have to wonder if the company hurt itself by buckling to political correctness due to pressure from a minority of critics. After all, the ad hadn’t seemed to offend anyone in particular during the first six weeks it was posted. It was only after a few outraged mommy bloggers began drawing attention to it that the criticism spiraled out of control. At that point, it was too late for J&J to explain its motives. Its critics had taken control of the conversation and anything the company did would look defensive and stubborn.

The incident quickly created a lot of soul-searching on both sides. A backlash against #motrinmoms developed, with some people criticizing the critics for practicing mob rule. Even one of the most vocal motrinmoms, Jessica Gottlieb, suggested that J&J overreacted in pulling down the ad. In fact most of the recent blogger activity has focused more on untangling what happened than debating whether J&J was right or wrong.

Here’s my take. J&J’s choice of language in the ad was arrogant and dismissive. The ad talked down to mothers and was begging for a backlash. However, that wasn’t necessarily a reason not to run it. J&J could have mitigated the criticism, or even turned it to its advantage, by using social media channels more effectively:

  • The company could have invited a select group of mommy bloggers to preview the campaign privately and offer feedback. Even if the company had elected to go ahead without making changes, it would have been able to argue that it had sought guidance from its target group. And if the moms had blessed the video, it would have been the ultimate defense for J&J.
  • The ad could have been presented in a humorous context on the Motrin site. A message like, “We know your babies aren’t a fashion accessory, but since this is International Baby-Wearing Week, we thought you’d appreciate this good-natured parody,” would have gone a long way toward heading off criticism.
  • J&J could have listened. When a blogger tracked down the head of corporate communications for J&J’s ad agency for a comment on the firestorm on Sunday afternoon, the woman professed to know nothing about the controversy. This is despite the fact that more than 2,000 Twitter messages had already been posted. Take note: the blogosphere doesn’t take weekends off.
  • The company could have jumped into the Twitterstream and engaged. It didn’t, preferring to post a rather brief statement on the blog and issue a press release. Kathy Widmer should have responded on the critics’ own turf. Her message was constructive, but a little too disconnected.
  • J&J could have been more profuse in its apologies. A big donation to Babywearing International would have been a start. Or it could have taken Jessica Gottlieb’s advice and distributed baby slings in maternity awards around the country. I’m not sure I agree that branding them with the Motrin logo would have been such a good idea.

In today’s networked world, there is no excuse for a corporation to be surprised by negative response to a controversial message. Social networks and the blogosphere offer a cheap and speedy way to anticipate criticism. Ironically, J&J is one of only two pharmaceutical companies to host a corporate blog (Glaxo’s alliConnect is the only other one I’m familiar with). This company gets new media more than most of its peers, which makes this online ambush particularly ironic.

Recommended Reading 11/11/08

@dunkindonuts joins @starbucks in the Twittersphere

Looks like a battle to the death (with two shots of amaretto, no froth in the milk).

Wall Street Grows Bearish On Online Ad Market

J.P.Morgan slashes its outlook for the second time in two months. While it still sees growth in online spending, display advertising is flat and all other categories will be down from 2008.

Interactive Ad Spending Will Top Out in 2009: Report

Looks like a rough year ahead for ad spending of all kinds. Print and broadcast will take the biggest hit, but even most categories of online ad spending will stay flat or fall, according to Borrell Associates.

People Search Engines Gain Sophistication

Emerging services act as a nexis point for information about individuals. New services scrape content from around the Web and increasingly mine public databases to enhance profiles. Quoting:

  • People search engine Spock is working on a service that will give users access to public records stored in public databases across the Web. The service, scheduled to launch mid-January, will have a $1.99 monthly service fee. Subscribers will gain access to links and data mined from government and municipally databases such as mortgage brokers and courthouses, as well as social network pages at MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn.

BusinessWeek Rounds Up Twitter Wannabes

Yammer is a microblogging service for enterprises that lets companies create private discussion groups. attaches music clips to short messages. Zannel attaches photos. Seesmic adds video-sharing. “Twitter co-founder Biz Stone expects the site’s user base to grow 10 times its current size in the next 12 months.”

Capturing social media success in a bottle

Gary Vaynerchuk grabbed national visibility with a video series about wine. Now he’s dispensing social media advice. Quoting from the piece: “Companies go into social media half pregnant,” he says. “They want to be involved, but don’t want to put in the time to be authentic and real and execute properly.” What else is on his technology-loving radar? “I am very high on Twitter and Ustream, and I think Seesmic has a dark horse chance to be extremely important,” he says.

Is YouTube the right pipeline for you?

Examples of recent social media campaigns. Quotes from the article:

  • Amazon MP3 is a simple concept — Twitter users simply sign up to Amazon MP3, which sends alerts about special MP3 download deals and includes a link where they can take immediate action. The model appears almost too simple, but since its launch, more than 5,700 people have signed up for this quick and easy direct connection with a global brand.

  • Fiserv launched a Facebook application called MyMoney that lets users search, join and manage funds from their credit union account from their profile pages. To leverage Facebook’s viral capabilities, every person who adds the MyMoney widget then alerts their friends, which creates a powerful, self-propelled ripple effect.

  • Coca-Cola recently released a Facebook application for its brand Burn. The application allows users to create a customizable virtual avatar and then “go out,” either with existing friends or new ones. The next day, users can check their avatar’s blog to see what went down the night before.The application recently crossed 150,000 installs with more than 85,000 users active on a monthly basis.

  • Liberty Mutual transformed a one-way conversation broadcast on TV into a site that features a blog and video, all designed to get people to take a more active role in their community — all while interacting with the Liberty Mutual brand.

Great (Media) Depression Looms

Diane Mermigas paints a gloomy picture for ad spending, saying no one really knows how deep the recession will be or how long it will last. Using Disney’s recent dour earnings report, she predicts continuing broad declines in mainstream advertising spending and a dramatic slowdown in online ad growth. Quoting Mary Meeker: “The best way to counter the unknown depth and breadth of the recession is to persevere; master the mobile Internet, learn how to monetize social networks, create a cogent business model, get a foothold in emerging markets and provide digital consumers with value.”

LinkedIn and Reid Hoffman: Recession Ready – BusinessWeek

BusinessWeek profiles Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn and one of the most successful investors in Silicon Valley. His advice to startups: it’s all about financing. Get your hands on the money first and then worry about developing the product. Many Web 2.0 startups won’t make it through the coming downturn, he says. Assume that those who do have a long-term value proposition.

Quoting from the article:

  • Recent casualties: Music site Social.FM, travel site TripHub, and news site Thoof have closed their doors.Seesmic, a Web video company, laid off 7 of its 21 employees in October.

  • Hoffman’s advice to entrepreneurs is hard-boiled pragmatism. Hoffman urges them to focus first on financing—and only later to hone a product or service. He describes the launch of a company as a sea crossing. The financing rounds are islands, where each venture can replenish its provisions. The goal of the product strategy is to carry them to the islands. In short, it’s the financing, not the products, that keeps them alive

Cell phones part of traffic monitoring network

Your cell phone can now be turned into a transciever that tracks the speed of traffic. When merged with data from thousands of other cell phones, municipalities can create real-time maps of traffic conditions and alert drivers of routes to avoid. This is experimental at this point. Developers say the whole thing is anonymous and that no one will be able to track your route or speed. The software can be downloaded for free.

Twitter Coverage of Thought Leadership Seminar

A couple of active Twitterers covered yesterday’s Mass. Technology Leadership Council seminar on How to Use Social Media to Become a Thought Leader. Here’s the stream

Panelists David Vellante, Jeremy Selwyn and John McArthur were enlightening and forthcoming about their experiences and advice. The room was full and the audience asked great questions. Thanks to the panelists, everyone who came and the two Twitterers who provided such thorough coverage!

While I Talked, People Twittered

Have you ever had an audience comment loudly on what you were speaking about while you were actually speaking? I did this week, and I found the experience to be weird, invigorating and a little bit 
The scene was the New Marketing Boot Camp, a seminar I conducted with Chris Brogan and CrossTech Media. The group was the most tech-savvy I have addressed in some time. About a half-dozen of the members were using Twitter, the short-message microblogging service that inspires a fanatical following.

Sitting down after my presentation, I was able to call up and read what people had been saying while I talked. Most of them simply summarized points I made, but a few added their opinions, and not all of those opinions were complimentary.

I can tell you that the act of presenting to a group that is actively talking about you requires new skills. Simply knowing that thoughts are being exchanged can be flustering; the tendency is to speak to the people in the room who you know are documenting your talk, hoping to get an inkling of what they’ll say. There’s also a certain ego-drive voyeurism that comes from this kind of instant feedback. I found myself wanting to hustle back to my computer to get the online evaluations of what I had just said!

There was a famous story at the South by Southwest Conference last March in which a keynote session was disrupted by negative Twitter messages from some members of the audience. In that case, the speakers were in the difficult position of having those comments actually scroll across a public screen while they were on stage. That was an extreme case, but an increasing number of events are incorporating Twitter conversations into the experience by encouraging attendees to share messages with each other using specific tags or keywords.

Like most new technology developments, there are both good and bad sides to this new form of instant feedback. On the positive side, speakers and conference organizers need as much audience reaction as they can get, and the sooner the better. Having recently waited six months to get audience evaluations from one presentation, I can tell you that the immediacy of the tweeted feedback was wonderful. I was able to use it to get a read quickly on the tech-saviness of the audience and adjust accordingly for the rest of the day. Hopefully, that was a good thing for everyone.

The major downside of this trend that I see is that real-time feedback from a small number of people can force a speaker to unintentionally focus on trying to please that vocal few. This is dangerous if the small but loud group isn’t representative of the majority of listeners. It’s human nature to fixate on criticism, and focusing on the comments of a few audience members can throw a presenter off track. The feedback is great, but keep it in perspective.

I’m telling you this because many of you work in the technology industry. You will soon find (if you haven’t already) that attendees to your meetings and events will use tools like Twitter to share their observations. Encourage this. Ask attendees to use Twitter’s hash function (#) to label their messages for your event. Use to filter their comments and save the search query as an RSS feed so you can collect all this feedback in one stream or even display it on a public screen.

However, Twitter feeds aren’t a replacement for the tried-and-true tactics of feedback forms and post-conference surveys. Real-time impressions can be incomplete and misleading, so take them with a grain of salt. But seek all the feedback you can. Your presentation or event will only be better for it.

Update: on Twitter told me about, a “service that allows conference attendees to provide immediate feedback on a conference via Twitter or through our web site.” I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s a very timely idea.