While the following post may be drastically overgeneralized, it reflects what I think a person’s Twitter account says about them. It may not always be true; in fact, I’m certain it’s not always true. These are my quick-draw reactions to what I see, however, and I wonder if you agree. Let me know if you don’t!

You have a private account

Duh. You are a private person and likely you use Twitter as a tool to communicate with personal friends only. Also, you may be sharing things that you don’t want future employers to know about. Like those crazy pics from the club.

You have a large following, but follow few people

You must be some sort of rock star! Also, you are likely interested in building your personal brand by broadcasting messages to a large following, rather than hearing what others have to say and carrying on an active dialog.

You follow many people, but only a small percentage follow you back

You probably follow a lot of celebrities, industry leaders and news organizations, who rarely follow you back. You use Twitter as a newsfeed to replace or augment other media outlets. You also may be a little obsessed with celebrities.

Your “following” and “followers” counts are pretty balanced

You are actively engaged or at least interested in having a dialog with people, whether it is a smaller circle of people you actually know and have met or a larger circle of people who share similar interests.

You make it clear in your profile that you #FollowBack

You are interested in developing a large following either for marketing purposes (i.e., creating an audience to spam) or because you equate large followings on Twitter with “fame” (i.e., poor man’s celebrity). NOTE: This also goes for those who follow people only until they follow back, at which point they are unfollowed, causing confusion for the person who was followed when they try to send a direct message, only to discover they cannot because the other party unfollowed shortly after a reciprocal follow was realized.

There are quite a few spam accounts, SEO companies and porn sites following your account

You don’t monitor who follows you or you don’t care enough about who follows you to block them. Or, you like porn.

You post frequently throughout the day

You may be lonely, seeking affirmation and response from others via Twitter. OR, you may be a business that seeks to keep your name in front of prospective customers (who likely are unfollowing at this moment). Or, your mom said she wants to know where you’re at and what you’re doing at all times, and Twitter is the best way to keep her informed.

You haven’t posted since March 2011

OK, this could be a lot of things, and a few of them might not be so great. The best scenario is you tweeted 30 or 40 posts and didn’t get the response you thought you might, so you became disinterested. Or maybe you tweeted too much and then finally forced yourself to quit your Twitter addiction because it was consuming too many of your waking hours. Another scenario is that your Twitter account was tied closely to a job you no longer hold, which may be a positive (if you hated the job) or a negative (if you remain unemployed). It’s probably a best practice for individuals and the companies that hired them to clean up these “loose ends” since they do make a brand statement about both.

Another, more final, explanation might be that you have passed away, leaving behind a legacy of untended social media accounts. I can’t tell you how often I’ve reviewed a Twitter account that had once been tremendously active but suddenly stopped and wondered to myself if something tragic had happened to the person whose face once appeared regularly in my feeds.

Your only tweets are FourSquare updates

You want your friends to meet you in person to converse. Or, you set up the FourSquare feed to Twitter a year ago and forgot about it.

You mostly post pictures of yourself at home, at work, on vacation, and everywhere in-between

You want to show everyone just how awesome your life is. Plus you find it difficult to write using your smart phone.

You mostly post links to industry articles and share experiences from your work

Your use of Twitter is totally professional and you prefer Facebook or an actual face-to-face interaction to share what’s going on in your life.

You mostly post pictures and tweets about your cat(s)

You’re a cat person.

According to a BusinessWeek article, companies are scrambling to hire “social media managers.”  Moreover, they’re doing so with little understanding of what that means, and creating new job titles to describe these new positions.

I’d like to contend, again, that these organizations probably already have social media managers on staff. They’re called “public relations professionals.”  I do understand that social media isn’t just another media channel.  I also understand that you can’t take PR people who have primarily done media relations all their life and magically make them social media savvy.  But I don’t think we need to create a whole new silo within organizations; we need to effectively use the disciplines we have in place!  Marketers can be engaged in the conversation online about their brands. And if they want to create new conversations with key publics (i.e., social media users) about their products or their businesses, they should turn to their PR staff because that’s what they already do!

When I left my last job and started positioning myself for clients, I was told I should market myself as “social media.” To me, that’s like marketing myself as “television” or “talking.” Social media is one way to talk to your key audiences, but not the only way (and not always the right way). That said, I believe it’s vital for PR practitioners to know how to create social media programs to leverage their brands’ assets. PR is about influencing and the game of influence is definitely gaining a social media flavor.

I’ve been involved in creating social media programs for a billion-dollar sales company and for smaller organizations. It requires 1) approval from top execs and legal, with understandings in place about what will and will not be discussed, 2) a commitment to be honest, open and transparent in all communications (HOT comms) with your audiences, and 3) resources equipped, capable, and empowered to communicate on behalf of the organization/brand. 

This is not a time to place the brand conversation in the tweeting hands of an intern. They can help, for sure, but a community isn’t going to magically develop around an anemic effort by the company.  Consumers want to talk to representatives who are truly knowledgeable AND who also have the ability to carry messages back to decision-makers within the organization.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  People won’t sign up just to hear your messages; they also want to be heard

PR is the discipline trained and paid to engage publics in a dialog. Let them do it!  That dialog leads to support for your organization/brand.  Some execs want the social media “managers” to go out and create Burmese tiger pits, where unsuspecting passersby fall into a trap and are then expected to make a purchase.  Creating tweet “teasers” and Facebook contests might generate traffic and maybe a very small percentage will make a purchase, thereby justifying the expense.  There’s room for this kind of activity, but that’s not community. Once the giveaways go away, so do the followers. Community involves creating something better, together.

SO, I hope the “social media managers” being hired turn out to be PR people with a different title rather than Burmese tiger pit diggers. Otherwise companies are just wasting their money (again).

06.25.2010

I’ve had many conversations about PR and its use of social media.  It’s been discussed in various chats on Twitter as well as at conferences.  On a few occasions now I’ve heard people talk about the PR work that they do managing a client’s social media account. I do believe wholeheartedly that managing a social media account for an organization should be under the direction of the public relations discipline. 

The social media engagement, however, should not constitute an organization’s complete PR program.  Perhaps there are a few organizations out there that can get away with that, but to create a mutually beneficial experience for an organization and its target publics, more than tweeting will be necessary. Meanwhile, people who haven’t been trained in public relations and really don’t fully comprehend what PR is shouldn’t claim to fulfill an organization’s PR needs simply because they track friends and fans and followers in Facebook and Twitter.

Some of this was part of what Jenny Luth and I talked about at the Grand Rapids Social Media (GRSM) lunch event yesterday. A good group joined us for the excellent dialog about roles and responsibilities in social media and what constitutes effective PR for an organization.

06.12.2010

People are not made to be alone. They are inherently social beings. That is my belief, anyway.  I know there are loners and hermits. Often, however, they are that way because their earlier attempts at being social went awry or, in the case of religious loners, it is to enhance their relationship with God. The Unabomber was alone, and look how that turned out!  Tom Hanks was alone in Castaway. But it wasn’t right! He made friends with a volleyball and then risked it all just to be reunited with others.

Being cast away, alone, separate from others. It’s not right. God made us with the ability to communicate so that we could, well, communicate! He gave us ears to listen to what others have to say.  He gave us a mouth with vocal chords so that we could share. He gave us tears  to sympathize. He gave us hands to hold.  Wow, I could keep going on forever with that sappiness, couldn’t I?  

Social media has obviously had a huge impact on how people communicate.  People who were otherwise social now are more social or perhaps social in different ways and with more people. I think the bigger change, however, is that some people who were otherwise reclusive, or at least less social, now have the ability to communicate with others in low-risk ways. I think there are some people active in social media who would not have thrived as well in the pre-Web 2.0 world.

I think of the guys at one party I went to in college who were watching Monty Python’s Holy Grail in the living room, reciting each line, singing each song. When the movie was shut off halfway through, they looked up, blinking, not quite sure how to interact with others in the room.  I think in today’s Web 2.0 world they’d be chatting it up with like-minded Holy Grailians, making plans for a tweetup in NYC to watch Spamalot on Broadway.

More importantly, there are people who really have led miserable lives who can now find others who will talk to them and help. People who don’t know where else to go with their problems now find listening ears (provided they search … some on Twitter won’t follow you back unless you have a blue-and-white ‘verified’ mark on your profile pic). People who might find it hard to converse face-t0-face might actually experience what social interaction is all about and, perhaps, find ways of translating that into their real lives.

I think there are fascinating studies to be conducted, if they’ve not already been done, to see what social media’s affect on rates of reclusivity.  There are many human conditions that impact quality of life, and I think that social media can help with one of them: being alone. We were not meant to be alone, and now there are more ways to ensure that we can move out of that condition and into a full life complete with social interaction.

When surveying the social media scene, it’s disheartening to see so many “experts” preaching ways to get more followers (with the end goal, I presume, of increasing the value of each individual’s “brand” and “reach”). Marketers are looking for ways to “use” social media to get their messages out and the easiest way for them to do that is to simply have a lot of followers.

What I don’t see a lot of them doing, however, is providing added value that would make them worth following. Sure, they promise a few lucky winners a free iPod or iTouch or iPad or iTunes gift card (why not a free Blackberry?), but the result of that is a lot of dropped followers once the contest is over. I would love to see a good campaign where people follow a brand because of the value of their content alone.

I know that there are many local examples, such as the famed “cookies are out of the oven” or “here’s our special brew of the day” tweets, but I’m not sure a BIG brand has yet found a way to be a “must-follow” tweeter because of their “must-have” content. Sure, that’s more expensive then a free iPod every month.

But maybe it’s OK to not have 10,000 followers.  Maybe it’s alright to just have a couple hundred key followers who will spread your content far and wide when you do have something sensational to share.  It is social *networking* after all. I appreciate viral campaigns that people spread because they’re just so cool or because the informations is just so vital. There are benefits to the brand marketer when their message spreads through the network rather than having the message arrive on the audiences’ virtual doorstep via their own direct tweets.

People listen to other people they know and trust and respect.  They do not value as much the marketing messages that come directly from the brands themselves. It’s advertising, after all, and Yankelovich studies have shown that 60% of American consumers don’t believe companies tell the truth in advertising. On the other hand, Nielsen reports that 78% of social media users find consumer recommendations credible, and MarketingSherpa says 84% trust user reviews more than “expert” reviews.  

When something arrives in my Twitter stream or Facebook homepage or via another social media platform from someone I know saying “this is cool,” I check it out. When it comes from a brand I am likely to skip over it, knowing that the brand itself is not an unbiased party when talking about its own products.  

When a brand selling coffee, provides lots of useful information about brewing and beans and baristas to coffee aficionados, they are providing a service. When said aficionados ask questions and the coffee brand responds with useful answers, they’re being good social media citizens. This earns them the right with their audience to slip in a marketing message now and again. This strategy might not get them ALL coffee drinkers as a direct audience (i.e., they won’t have a million coffee drinkers as “followers,” although they might have 1,000 aficionados).  However, when the aficionados re-tweet or forward information from the brand to *their* followers, the brand now has earned the benefits that come with third party endorsements, which are much more powerful.

That said, I do enter some of the contests now and again.  I doubt I’ll win an iPad as a result. But maybe. I do know that the brand that made me follow them in order to be eligible to win is unlikely to get a long-term follower out of me as a result. I haven’t seen one of the contest tweeters yet provide enough content to keep me interested.

I’m much more interested in the real people having a real dialog about what they (and I) love (even if that means I have to follow some of their silly foursquare meanderings). So, I follow people who love GR (because I do). I follow people who love PR (because I do). I might even follow some people who love hockey (because I do).  I don’t follow people who cram the same message into my feed day after day, because they’re not honoring the social agreement — this is a two-way dialog, after all!

12.19.2009

I was reading a Miami Herald article about the Ad and PR industries both scrambling to master social media. As budgets shrink, both the ad men and their PR cousins are scrambling to master social media. At Amway I oversaw advertising, sponsorships and public relations.

Advertising has a big role to play in the online space. Indeed, advertising online provides many benefits, including lower costs and  higher measurability than traditional media outlets. Not as broad a reach, but not all campaigns require that.  Meanwhile, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) efforts ensure what you’re saying online will be seen by those interested in what you have to say, whether they know who you are or not.   

But when it comes to the dialog fostered by platforms like Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube, there is no profession equipped to represent clients effectively other than Public Relations. PR always has been the function that handles dialog for a company, whether that be through speeches, media interviews, press materials, or FAQs.  Advertising has mastered the art of telling a story in a way that elicits a response, but has not traditionally been there to answer the follow-up questions.

Social media, meanwhile, is about the entire dialog, not just the 30-second ad or the 10-word tagline. It’s about listening as much as it is about talking.  In fact, it’s about listening far more than you talk.  It’s about sharing the messages from your organization to your key audiences, but it’s also about taking their responses back to the organization and recommending responses.  Not just spoken or written responses … but responses in the form of actions. 

An example? Your product has been tampered with and people are getting sick.  At this point, it’s not just what you say that matters.  It’s what you do.  A recall is a start.  An investigation and sharing the results of that with the public is another.  Providing your customers with some incentive to stick with you even though they may have lost some trust in you is another.  These are not just words.  They’re actions and they might cost the company in the short run (but in the long run it might not only save their business, but earn them even greater support).

Integrated marketing, by the way, is more necessary than ever. What you say in advertising needs to be reflected in the dialog your public relations group is supporting.  It should be reflected in the types of sponsorships in which you engage. All of these marketing services are more effective for the company when they work together.

As long as there are internal battles and squabbles about who does what, however, there is little chance for integrated messages. The silos need to come down inside large organizations.  Strategies need to be shared.  Broader plans need to be fleshed out together and not in separate conference rooms. 

That’s my vision for what integrated marketing should involve.  I don’t think many marketers are well-equipped yet to work across all the media, and as long as they continue to favor one discipline over another, they will not achieve the full benefits of a truly integrated marketing plan that involves advertising, sponsorships, public relations AND the correspondingly appropriate uses of the digital space.

11.20.2009

Yesterday was the 1st Annual aimWest Social Media ConFab, featuring keynote Laura Fitton, aka @Pistachio in Twitter, who co-authored Twitter for Dummies. Like many, Laura thought Twitter was kind of dumb when it first came out.  I know I also blogged about it a few years ago, questioning its value. Laura gave it a chance (as did I, eventually) and immediately saw her leads increase.

There’s a great Grand Rapids Press story about the conference today, and #aimWest was a top-1o trending topic yesterday as conference attendees twitted their thumbs away. Congratulations to aimWest for pulling together such a great event!

I was a panelist for a morning session on social media boosting productivity and collaboration in the workplace.  With me on the panel were Melissa Chiaramonti of Meijer (@mgenta on twitter) and Harrison Withers of Media 1. 

I talked a little about my experience within Amway and use of sharepoint sites and the like.  For teams, sharepoints and wikis can be great, but it requires full participation in order to be truly successful.  Key voices missing from the conversation might result in a flawed collaboration.  My “Beatles Social Media” example was that, if that four-person team had made collaborative decisions via social media, the outcomes resulting from dialog that only involved George and Ringo probably wouldn’t have made the band the success it became.  John and Paul’s inputs were necessary for the true success they eventually achieved, not to mention the voices of others such as their manager and their producer.

My main point, I think, was that organizations need to get intentional about their use of social media internally, just as many already are for external audiences. Within the company, people already are using social media tools but there’s little measurement occurring to determine if it’s effective — largely because most companies don’t even know it’s happening to the extent that it is.  Rather than having social media “just happen,” I think an organization will reap more benefits by planning and supporting the social media tools internally.

Melissa and Harrison — both of whom are true experts on this topic — really brought great ideas of what to do and how to do it to the audience.  While they were talking, I was scanning the #aimWest tweets on my laptop. It was almost like I could see thought bubbles rising above the heads of people in the audience, and it led to some of the questions we addressed as a panel.

I went to the social media “slam” session after that, where attendees shared experiences and questions “open mic” style. I’d been to a Social Media Slam conducted in a similar way this summer, which led to a YouTube video about my experience at Amway and how my 80-year-old dad met his wife online.  This one was much bigger and people did their little talks from where they sat, which gave it a different feel, in my opinion.

There was a great panel on Power Networking, but most of that session really focused on Facebook, since one of the panelists was Tom Chisholm, a Director at Facebook. The most excitement was generated over the question from the audience about when Facebook would add a “dislike” feature to go along with its “like” button. Tom started to say the “hide” feature was sort of the same thing, which aroused a Joe Wilson-like response from the audience (thanks @Maniactive).

Late in the afternoon, I was very proud of the great presentation by Cindy Droog of Amway, who was part of the panel discussing social media measurement.  She did a great job and received a lot of twitter love from the live tweeters. 

Between the Wednesday evening Tweet Up and the all-Thursday conference and the necessary follow up on emails and tweets today, the ConFab really chewed a big hole into this week. BUT, that hole was filled with gooey, chocolaty social media goodness, and area companies that didn’t send their PR/Social Media/Marketing staff to participate and learn really missed out!

10.27.2009

Much has been made within public relations circles about using social media to bypass traditional media to reach their target audiences.  There’s much to be said for this, as the web provides ways to interact with audiences that just aren’t possible through “earned media placements” within newspapers, magazines, TV news media and radio.

Even for PR professionals focusing on traditional media, however, social media cannot be overlooked. Too many of the journalists they work with are now seeking story ideas, interview sources and supporting facts from blogs, news sites and social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube.

According to a new study conducted by Bulldog Reporter and TEKgroup International, Inc., usage of social media by journalists continues to increase. According to the 2009 Journalist Survey on Media Relations Practices, nearly half of all journalists report visiting a corporate website or newsroom more often than once a week. Some 23% of journalists use RSS feeds to monitor five or more blogs on topics relevant to their news coverage.  Also, more than 82% of journalists use social media sites like Facebook and YouTube, up from 75% last year. About 25% of journalists are now using Twitter, using the site once a week or more.

The survey of 2,354 respondents, of which about 46% were editors and 35% were reporters or writers, isn’t entirely surprising. As an active Twitter and Facebook user with ever-broadening circles of “friends” and “followers,” local and national journalists are surfacing with increasing regularity. And some of them are doing a good job being part of a community and using it as a means to obtain story ideas or find sources. Like the rest of America, the numbers will only go up. It’s like years ago, when the question was “should we send that in the mail or should we send it to you via email?”  OR, better yet, “Do you have email?”  Today, those answers are obvious.

Some West Michigan journalists of note who are tweeting are @Kcorner, @GRgonzo and @jbauer5800 (Chris Knape, John Gonzalez and Julia Bauer of GR Press), @emilyrichett (Emily Richett of Fox 17), @PeterRoss13 (Peter Ross of WZZM 13), and numerous others. Some do a good job of blending personal and professional and keeping promos of the stories they’re about to air to a minimum.  I am always amazed at Emily’s online efforts.  That girl is always tweeting, facebooking, youtubing, and twitpic’ing.  I don’t know how she has time to do her job!  OR, is this all part of her job now?  Because, if people just *love* Emily Richett because they’re following her online, maybe that’s part of the new deal for journalists.  Creating a following beyond the confines of their particular media outlet.

A few weeks ago, several independent PR practitioners, myself included, had lunch at the Press Club with Paul Keep, Editor of the Grand Rapids Press. One of the discussions was the future of newspapers with the rise of online news. Finding the perfect blend of the traditional news media approach leveraged by new media’s reach and capabilities appears to be the solution, but creating a business model for that is going to be tricky.  But not impossible.  The Wall Street Journal seems to be doing a good job offering creative ad packages for its off- and online editions.  And, apparently, it’s leading to a potential tussle with USA Today regarding bragging rights for #1 circulation.  WSJ is counting online subscribers in addition to print, while USA Today only declares its print results.  Who will win that battle? Better yet, who will win the longer term battle of profitability.

In any case, social media is a great tool to talk directly to your target audiences. It also is an increasingly important tool to reach your target editors. No matter how you slice it, PR professionals have to master the art of social media.