On The Turning Away Of The Face(book)

Hi Ashish,
We’re trying out a new feature to reduce the amount of email you receive from Facebook. Starting today, we are turning off most individual email notifications and instead, we’ll send you a summary only if there are popular stories you may have missed.
You can turn individual emails back on and restore all your original settings at any time.
Thanks,
The Facebook Team

But with Facebook, is anything ever as easy as it seems?

Think about the implications of this for a moment. If you’re a normal facebooker, you will check in fairly regularly, and what prompts the check-in (usually) is something that gives you a feeling that something’s happened. An alert mail. Somebody commented on your post. Somebody tagged you in a photo, mentioned you in a note. Friended you. etc.

This is usually in your mail. Which can come on your mobile, your POP account…

Also look at that little sidebar that came up a few days back – there are all your alerts! It’s a very… twitter-esque interface, also in the sense of it’s impermanency… an update that gets pushed down is gone.

Psychologically? You feel cut off. You feel you don’t know what’s going on in your social world when you’re off FB, and are flooded with information, real-time, when you’re on it. Interactivity and presence is encouraged. Absenteeism is literally punished with silence – FB’s shunning you.

Result? FB is always-on, increased timespends, interactions, pageviews…

Good call, Zuck!

And, Google+.

Google Plus

I’ve had this around 24 hours now, and the critical question is – can Google+ replace a Facebook?

It’s definitely miles ahead of Orkut, but that’s a given. As far as FB comparisons go, there’s one critical feature they got bang on – the issue of privacy. My biggest grouse with FB has been that there are people on it who shouldn’t necessarily know who else is on it, and what they’re doing. G+ lets you split up everyone you know into insulated groups – and everything you mention from here onwards is specifically meant for exactly who you wanted to see it. It’s like having multiple social networks on the same profile, meant for different people.

The best privacy tool is your fingers – don’t post what you don’t want people to know. But this (circles) is the next best thing – now that you’re gonna post anyway, at least keep it withing the circle that won’t blow up in your face. Advantage G+.

The other advantage that G+ has is Gmail – almost everyone I know has an account. So a readymade, ready-to-go list of people already exists on G+. You don’t need to pull them in. Even.

Same with Picasa – there’s a readymade set of images to be shared. Even.

Share links for content shares – easier for FB since they got so massively integrated. Advantage FB.

FB still has the advantage in terms of apps, games, and content – what they need to do now, really, really fast, is differentiate the one mass of friends into distinct, separate, and insulated social circles. That’s easy, and will put them back in front. Right now… it’s iffy.

Watching S M

Google Reader Logo

Sorry, guys – please note the complete absence of the ‘&’ between the letters. Better luck next time! 🙂

Experimenting around over the last week about what’s the best way to track social media, as an individual. Had an epiphany a little while back when I had 10+ tabs open, on 4 browsers, different sessions for different IDs on assorted social networks… and realized I’m going to need more. That’s just ridiculous.

Most of my activity on social networks and platforms consists of watching – so I started exploring what are the ways in which I can do this more efficiently, and finally, settled on a combination of Feedburner and Google Reader. Almost any dynamic content on the web can be converted to a feed, and Reader, while taking a little getting used to, is pretty good at organizing these. I initially thought it’ll just be a tool to collate updates, but it’s turning out to be more – by a simple process of narrowing down to specific sections in a site and creating feeds of those, you’re eliminating the need for the browsing through each one separately. Some of the good sites have been very intuitive with this, enabling feeds at just the right places (LinkedIn Q&A is a case in point.) The end result is actually redefining my browsing behavior.

Even my own content is easier to manage – I have 5 blogs, not to mention assorted other output in terms of photo uploads, tweets, video, etc. There were multiple blogrolls, subscriptions, follows, lists and favorites scattered through each of these. Now I can at least get it all in one place. It also leaves me free to block a lot of unnecessary updates on FB & Twitter, restoring some sanity to my timeline.

Make sure you go through your sharing settings on Reader once and understand them – a lot of what you watch you may not want to broadcast.

I realize this probably sounds very old hat – a lot of you will have been using Reader for years now – but in terms of the current issues over privacy, time lost in social media, information overload and drowning in a deluge of infojunk, if you haven’t used Reader till now, give it a shot. I really don’t see myself discarding this anytime soon.

I’m sorry, but what the eff?

Social Media Madness
.
When I started writing this, it was supposed to be a very professional, neutral perspective. But this evening, I had a – not exactly a conversation, but more of a highly surreal experience – that’s left my brain vibrating in my skull like a tuning fork.
Cut a long story short, I posted a social media / online marketing query, addressed to the SMO agencies that are cropping up all over the place. It was meant to do a brief check of capabilities and costs. It instead opened a vision into insanity. Some brief excerpts follow –
Me: I have a website and a Facebook page, and I want to build traffic for both.
He: I don’t understand. Why are you confusing online and social media?
Me: Wha-

He: Don’t do facebook advertising. You pay money for a lead, he joins your page, he unjoins, your money is lost. Go with our ‘Organic Fanbase Building’.
Me: How does that work?
He: We have (large number) fans across all the other pages we’ve built for (frighteningly high-profile list of clients). We blast them all a message them asking them to join your page.
Me: But, but… I want to target a specific audience… say, only men. (At least that, if not age groups, locations, and preferences / interests! For God’s sake!)
He: Don’t restrict audiences in social media. Go for everyone. Everywhere. Get as many as you can.
Me: Er. Ah. Um –  my service is only available in India.
He: No problem. Just restrict page settings to be visible only in India.
Me: But haven’t you already blasted an untargeted message to everyone (literally everyone) about this page?
He: Yes.
(and nothing further. No explanation, justification, or acknowledgement that this was a bloody stupid thing to do.)

Me: Do you set up and run Google Adwords campaigns?
He: No, but it’s a ten-minute job. You can easily run it yourself.
(point of interest – I’m reading up SEM material, and even to get half of the basics for the Individual Certification for Adwords Fundamentals has taken over a dozen hours of reading. Or, in this twilight zone I’m in tonight, ten minutes.)

Me: What do you do with Twitter?
He: Tweets work only with celebs. Do you have a brand ambassador who can tweet about your product? Write something entertaining, some gossip?
Me: Er… no. I don’t have celebrity brand ambassadors.
He: Oh. Bad luck, then.

Me: Can you set up a branded twitter page / account, and manage it?
He: Of course! We create custom Twitter pages and manage it for you. Only Rs. (steep figure) per month. We take care of everything. The only thing we don’t do, is respond to followers.

Me: You do lead gen forms and processes?
He: Yes. Rs. X (koffff) for simple, Rs. 2X for email verified – but we want a guarantee from you that all your mails go 100% into user inboxes, and not into any promo folders, spam, or junk. Give us this guarantee.

Me: What about mobile verification of leads?
He: Yes.
He: Meaning, we will help you set up the mobile system.
He: Introduce you to the mobile people… operators… there’s a lot of technical stuff… we hand-hold you to let you set it up yourself.
Me: Custom facebook pages?
He: Yes, for Rs. (dear God) we do facebook ‘page beautification’.
(turns out he meant an FBML box on the wall. This, after I mentioned in my first mail to him, ‘an FBML box on the wall.’)

And the last comment – please note, after he has advised against facebook advertising (where you can target precisely by location, time, gender, age, and behaviour, at an optimized, pre-set CPC) – that yes, he does charge for every fan added via his ‘organic growth’ – untargeted, generic, spammed – Rs. (worth at least a few cigs and coffee) per user.
Let me just state – I’m not writing this to poke fun at ignorance, or assume that this is a valid representation of all agencies. (In fact, at the time of writing, I’ve also received a very sane and coherent response from a second one within minutes of asking)
This post is to highlight the unfortunately true maxim – ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’ Social Media is a hot buzzword in the marketing field these days, and while a willingness to embrace new media and developments, and capitalize on new opportunities is a very laudable and praiseworthy initiative – I just have 2 pieces of advice, before you jump in.
For the marketing managers who pay for this – please understand what social media is, how it works, what tools and applications exist, and why and which ones make sense for your objectives.
For the SMO agencies who execute this – please understand what social media is, how it works, what tools and applications exist, and why and which ones make sense for your client’s objectives.
There’s a huge wealth of information out there on the web – presentations, case studies, discussions, views, reviews, and overviews, how-to’s, guides, tutorials, free trials, the works. Please read before you start to bleed. It’s not a rocket science. But it isn’t some mysterious magic either, understood and practised by a rare, select few.
Like anything else in marketing and media management, it needs a little study, a little experimentation, and a lot of thought to work. And unlike a lot marketing, if you don’t do it right, it doesn’t die with a fizzle and a whimper. The ensuing backlash can cost your organization reputation, money, time, and people. Because if you screw up and make your employer – or client – look stupid, heads will roll, and the first one will be yours.
SMO is a tremendously powerful engine, and if you don’t use it, you get left behind. But if you use it badly, without knowing it, it can rip you to pieces. And this is a race that you’re already running. Can you crack it?
Can you become a case study for success – or failure?
=========================================
Watch this space. There’s some more who haven’t written in yet.

On The Edge

Imagine a camp in the dark wilderness, fire burning brightly in the center, the surrounding wilds shrouded in shadow. Management clusters around the heart, in the brightness and the warmth; they’re the camp directors, the leaders, and they keep the journey going.

Social media is, from a corporate standpoint, always on the fringes of the empire.

It’s not mainstream – probably never will be, unlike traditional Marketing, CorpComm, PR, and the lobbying machinery. Those are themselves insulated, and further insulate the core from any unpleasant voices from without. Social media, by the very nature of it’s existence, is right there on the edge, more outside the circle of firelight than in, listening to the dark, and sending back reports that are sometimes interesting, sometimes disquieting, and usually incomprehensible. The rest of the camp doesn’t really know what ‘those guys’ are doing out there, but don’t want to risk pulling them back inside – not anymore.

The world is a strange, mysterious, and dangerous place these days. The voices in the dark have grown very powerful indeed, and command more resources than anyone inside the circle of wagons had ever dreamed possible. Today, more than ever, it’s critical to post lookouts, and be ready to leap into action at the first sign of danger. Ignore the warnings too long, and you could be overrun before you even realized what was happening, a cloud of fast, nimble detractors sweeping the camp, stealing precious brand equity, and disappearing again before you could react. All you can do then is handle the aftermath of the failure.

And out there, there are others who can sense the failure, too. It draws them like vultures, to the smell of spilled blood.

Don’t mind the rather colorful imagery – that’s what happens if you spend enough time in RPGs – but I’m dead serious on the parallels. Social media is a watchdog, and it’s the one that sees the first sign of trouble. There are sometimes arguments made that companies shouldn’t be on social media (usually after a PR disaster) to remove the outlet for negative commentary, but this is the business equivalent of hiding under the blankets hoping that the monster will go away. It won’t.

Instead, what corporations need to do – and very quickly – is to put into place a social-media-recovery process that’s more fire drill than marketing process. You need marshals, you need decentralized authority and you need people who can react, with company resources, quickly and effectively.

Nestle learnt this the heard way. When negative comments started surfacing on their Facebook page, they chose to first ignore, and then suppress / ridicule. Bad idea.
On a Facebook page, every comment is equal. And if you knock them out of the field because you’re an admin, the next thing you know, there’s another field where you aren’t.

Social media is not about control. It’s an early-warning system. Long-range radar doesn’t shoot down incoming missiles, it enables the other defences to react fast enough, to. When tweets, blogs, hashtags, comments, fan pages, and videos start going against you, it’s already too late. When they’re occasional, random, disquieting statements, that’s pretty much the only time you can react, and try to steer the conversation – but more importantly, put the machinery in place internally, to handle the storm that could well be on it’s way… and ride out the worst of the damage.

What’s the worst that could happen? That you cried wolf? Think back on how that story ended.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s own personal ones, and do not reflect those of his employer in an official or unofficial capacity.

Image courtesy www.forestcamping.com

The Dummies Guide to Tweeting


or, Everything You Wanted To Know About Twitter But Were Too Embarrassed To Ask

What is Twitter?
Start by reading this.

If you update your status message – on anything – with any regularity, you’re already a basic twitterer. Twitter is a place where all communication is a nice, super-short update on what you’re up to. You add friends (followers) who get your updates (tweets) and you get theirs, if you follow them.

At least, that what it used to be.

Status messages evolved – letting you post links, pictures, videos… and so did Twitter. You can post all this, too, in addition to the messages.

And then it evolved some more.

Unlike a social network, the only thing any follower knows about you is what you post as a tweet, and maybe some other basic info. This means you can have thousands, millions of followers, ALL of whom you can send a message with a single click. And because you don’t necessarily have to follow them, unlike a Facebook or a Gtalk where it’s a 2-way street, lots of people started adding followers.

People follow twitterers who put up interesting comments. Jokes. Useful links. News updates.
And suddenly, Twitter took on a whole new character. It became a place where you could get useful information fastest. You’re following people who post interesting (at least, to you) stuff; so, naturally, you already have something in common. When one of those people comes across something interesting, posting is easy. And you receive it immediately. It’s direct, one-to-one. It’s a personalized broadcast.
People tweet. Companies tweet. News channels tweet. Celebs tweet.
It’s completely open. You can become the broadcaster, too, instead of the reader. You can be a tweeter that many more will follow, if you’re interesting enough to them.

Getting started with Twitter
Go to www.twitter.com
Register.
That’s it. Start tweeting.

At first, you’re just a lonely voice. Find friends. Follow them, get them to follow you back. Stay updated on what’s happening with their lives.
Bo-ring.
So next step. Start following famous people. People that you otherwise read about. Hear about.
Information overload. Too many tweets coming in too fast.
Clean up. Sort. Follow only the interesting people. Useful people.

Here’s where it gets interesting.
Retweets.
A retweet is simply a cut-copy-paste of something interesting you heard, which you’re resending out again. You might be the only guy in your group following that source you got the info from; and by retweeting, everyone in your group gets to hear the news. Some of them find it interesting, so they start following that guy.
(etiquette: when retweeting, just add ‘RT @username’ of the guy you got the link / info from.)
That guy now has followers he otherwise wouldn’t have reached. And if you’re an interesting twitterer, the same applies to you. Be interesting. An audience will come.

How do you get people to retweet you?
Be interesting. Be useful. Talk about stuff that at least somebody will like. And be short. You still need to be less that 140 characters, including the retweet credit.
And read this.
Plus, there’s replies, direct messages… you can have a full-scale conversation.

But there’s other, faster ways to get intereting info. Hashtags.
#tags are little bits of what looks like code that you see sometimes in tweets – eg, #iranelection. What is it?
It’s just that – a tag. An identifier. A label attached to a particular activity. #iranelection is a tag people apply to whatever news / info / links they’re tweeting about, if it’s about the Iran election.
Some #tags are super-popular in their group. And if you want to know about what’s happening in the Iran election, just search for that #tag – and get to see all the tweets made with it. Some of them might come from people you want to start following. A lot of active, popular twitter conversations have #tags; it just takes some searching and general awareness to find out what they are.

So, what are the popular #tags?
Or, to put it another way, what is the twitterati twittering about?
Try retweetradar.
It’s a brilliant snapshot of trends – not just twitter trends, but literally breaking trends. Live, as they happen.
Also try Retweetist, and Tweetmeme.
And finally, read this. And keep exploring!

If you’ve done all this, you’re well on your way to being an advanced user. But you have got to break free of that clumsy web interface, having to type the codes / identifiers / tags… get yourself a dedicated twitter app. There’s hundreds out there, available for free, but some of the better ones –
Tweetdeck and Seesmic

Did you know about some of the other cool stuff?

Share pics with Twitpic.
See how your followers are spread out with Foller.me
Track your popularity with Twittercounter, and compare yourself to others.
Check your influence and say in the twittersphere with Twitalyzer.

And finally… you are one of the twitterati. You’re in the club.

But, for those times when you still need to do a quick lookup… Time for the final bookmark. (and I mean it, you need to bookmark this)

The Twitter Guidebook

And if you found this interesting, there’s more coming… just –
follow me

Time to twit-clean?

Thanks to Ravi.

When is it time to clean up your following / follower list?

I haven’t been tweeting that long, but I’m still surprised at the random follows I’m acquiring. Is it a problem? No. The more the merrier, say I!

Follows are a bigger issue. Too many, and there is info overload, anxiety, and a constant, pervasive feeling of being left behind. The tweet alert tone evokes the same responses that your boss’s call ringtone on your cell does.

Formula to clean up –
IF (frequency of meaningful* tweets) > (average time taken to action a meaningful tweet + read non-meaningful tweets + live the rest of your life) THEN (Info overload, time to clean up) ELSE (you’re seriously disconnected, dude.)

*meaningful tweets being defined as tweets that inspire you to some action – follow a link, read an article, retweet, reply, anything else.

Hope this helps! 🙂
And I was serious about the more the merrier. For this and similar, follow me.

%d bloggers like this: