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Leveraging Social Media in Your Business February 22, 2010

Posted by farshidk in Business, Marketing, Social media.
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In my last post I explained that before you embark on using social media for your business, you need to first determine your objectives and define your strategy. And this strategic planning does not and probably should not involve any specific social media channel at the outset.

A good article that outlines the steps for the planning and strategic upfront work is “10 steps to a practical social media business strategy” by Allen Bonde, where he describes the fundamental and basic steps that must be done upfront, such as creating a mission statement and a marketing plan, assigning ownership and defining policies, all before getting to specific social media channels.

Now assuming that you have done your strategy homework, let’s take a look at how we can leverage various social media channels in an integrated and orchestrated fashion (in terms of specific tactics) to market a business (or a cause), a brand, or products and services.

In the previous post I referenced a number of blog posts and articles from others on this topic that provide good information. Another good article is “30 Tips for Using Social Media in Your Business” published in Inc. It also includes examples for each tip of how specific businesses use social media. It also points out the caveats and pitfalls of misusing social media and how it can harm the reputation of a business or even get it in legal trouble. What I have here is somewhat different and in a way complementary to what is covered in those articles.

Website

Needless to say that it is critical to have a good up-to-date dynamic website as most other elements (including social media) plug into it. To be able to easily change and expand the website, it may be best to invest in a web content management system. There are numerous providers for such software from small business to enterprise. Such systems may also include blogging module as well that can be used to host the company blogs.

In a large organization with multiple product lines and several content providers it may be necessary to implement processes and workflows for review and approval of the content before it is published on the public site. Such software may provide the means for implementing customized edit/review/approve/publish workflows.

This website becomes the primary container for various other social media elements that I will discuss below, such as blogs and Twitter feed. These may get plugged into the home page, product pages, or the news page of the corporate website.

Blogs

Having active blogs with one or more subject matter expert (SME) writer is of utmost importance. Blogs should not be commercials for the offerings, but they can provide thought leadership and news about the relevant markets and industries. There may be dedicated blogs to each product line and industry in the target market. Again, it may be necessary to implement marcom and legal review and approval workflows to ensure that what is written is in line with corporate and legal guidelines, before they get published.

Twitter

Having presence on Twitter is a must for any business. You may in fact want to have multiple accounts for various products and services or even various departments (e.g. customer support) depending on the size and the nature of your business and offerings. Cisco Systems has over 30 Twitter accounts dedicated to various product lines as well as departments such as support. For effective tweeting it is also important to create the right hashtags associated with the brand names, product lines and other topics. For example if your company has its own conference or public event, you should create a hashtag dedicated to that event. Those tags then should be used with the appropriate tweets consistently.

The tweet streams (feeds) should be pushed onto the appropriate pages of the website.  For example if you have a dedicated Twitter account for a particular product line, then tweets from that account may show up on the corresponding product page. While tweets from an overall corporate Twitter account should go to the news page.

Facebook

I am a big fan of Facebook and am actively on it with well over 1,000 friends. But I primarily use it for personal and community social networking and not for business use. My primary social media channels for business and professional use are LinkedIn and Twitter.

However nowadays even serious large high-tech companies like Cisco,Oracle, and Intel have fan pages on Facebook. Some host multiple pages that may be dedicated to particular organizations or specific products and services. I think this make sense for companies with consumer products. For B2B companies it is questionable how effective it is, but it doesn’t take much to set up a fan page so why not do it?

Cisco main fan page has over 38,000 members and provides continuous updates and news about its products and services. Oracle main fan page has over 27,000 members and it includes the latest news from Oracle. I just viewed Larry Ellison’s video talking about the closing of Sun’s acquisition on that page.

Facebook presence may help with establishing and promoting the company brand name and recruiting good top young talent. I venture to say that more people know about Cisco and Oracle because of their Facebook fan pages than they would otherwise.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the premier business networking site. There are two primary ways that a business can use LinkedIn services. One is creating and managing the appropriate Linked groups as well as having presence and participating in the relevant industry and technology groups. LinkedIn groups have many features such as subgroups, news and discussions that may be utilized. LinkedIn has also emerged as a serious job site. If you want top talent for your business you probably should use LinkedIn job services.

Youtube

It is a good idea to set up a Youtube channel under the company or product brand name and populate it with videos that can cover various product and industry related topics. For example the videos may be product demos, talks, or interviews. The Youtube channel should then be linked to the website.

Enable syndication & social bookmarking

It is also useful to enable your customers and visitors to easily share and receive content from your website. For example you can facilitate setting up a feed for your press releases so that one can receive them in their Google Reader. You may also want to use page sharing and bookmarking services such as AddThis so that a visitor to your site can easily bookmark and share a particular page of interest using social bookmarking services such as Delicious.

Let your customers participate and listen

So far all I have covered are various methods for broadcasting, publishing, and sharing information with your audience. But social media is not just about you telling others about yourself and your business. It is conversation.

The important and differentiating factor in social media is the notion of community where participants (you, your customers and partners, and your employees) are enabled, empowered and encouraged to participate, collaborate, share information, and help each other. And Web 2.0 technology has readily enabled this notion of community. Concepts such as rating and comments are available for most of such social content.

You can for example comment on blog posts and Youtube videos. On Facebook you can flag any content with Like/unlike and comment on it. Your support/help content should include means for the reader to rate the usefulness of such content. You should monitor what people are saying about you and your offerings on the internet at large beyond your website. For example you should monitor sites such as Twitter and Yelp about your business and products.

Putting it all together

As you can see there are many elements and channels to social media. Needless to say that it is important to have an orchestrated and coordinated effort on using them. You want to have a consistent and timely messaging across all these channels. The frequency of tweets, updates to the relevant LinkedIn groups, Facebook fan page, blog posts, etc. all must be appropriately timed and coordinated. For large companies like Cisco with major social media initiative, it is necessary to have full-time people dedicated to social media to successfully implement and execute their social media plan.

Social media guidelines & policies

It is also a good idea to define, publish and socialize a social media policy and guidelines to ensure proper usage, avoid misuse and ensure consistent messaging. Many companies have already defined their own and some are in fact public so you can view them and base yours based on their best practices. For example here is IBM’s “Social Computing Guidelines”. And here is Intel’s “Social Media Guidelines”. There are numerous other examples of such guidelines and policies online. In “10 Must-Haves for Your Social Media Policy“, Sharlyn Lauby discusses general elements of such a policy.

Using Social Media in Your Business: Strategic or Tactical? February 8, 2010

Posted by farshidk in Business, Marketing, Social media.
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A while ago I read a blog post from a marketing executive who wrote that he had prohibited the use of certain words in his strategy and planning meetings. Among those words there where many popular social networking and media words such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Though that might seem odd at first, it makes a lot of sense. The point is that while social media may serve as an effective method of promoting your business, it is only a set of tools and channels that you may use to execute against your business plan and strategy. It is part of the tactical stuff that you do after you have figured out your strategy.

This may seem in contrast to all the talk on “social media strategies”. Well, one can certainly strategize on how to use social media for a business. But it remains a fact that social media is a vehicle to carry out business or marketing strategies. Here are a few relevant articles and blog posts on this topic.

In “The 10 Stages of Social Media Business Integration” Brian Solis refers to social media as “transformative”. That certainly is true. He outlines insightful stages of adoption and guidelines for social media in business. Some are strategic such as “finding a voice and a sense of purpose” where he highlights the importance of “strategic communication and engagement” as opposed to “chatter” or “aimless broadcast”. He also points out under “social Darwinism” that social media is only one part of an “overall integrated strategy”.

Sharlyn Lauby in “HOW TO: Implement a Social Media Business Strategy” discusses some strategic work that must be done before implementing specific social media methods. She outlines five steps (such as “determine your objective” and “find an internal evangelist”) that are in fact general and equally apply to any large project across a sizable organization. For example implementing a business application or some infrastructure software such as BPM or SOA in an enterprise also requires the same disciplined rigor.

In “5 Advanced Social Media Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses” Samir Balwani discusses several social media based marketing strategies. These are essentially techniques and approaches on how to use social media to execute against the marketing strategies.

Edward Boches in “10 Ways a Start-Up Can Use Social Media to Market Itself” outlines useful advice for small and start-up businesses (who may have limited resources) on using social media. They range from fundamental and general marketing advice such as “craft a brand position rooted in a customer benefits” (which is independent of social media) to basic tactical stuff such as “get on Twitter and use it actively” to an interesting concept that he calls “crowdsourcing”.

And in “13 Tactics to Make Social Media Work Harder” Heidi Cohen provides sound advice on using social media, such as providing content that meets your customers’ needs and allowing them and your employees to share content and take part in social media. I like her explicit use of the word “tactics” as opposed to strategies, even though her advice is mostly general and not specific to any particular social media channel.

So before you start tweeting away on your business, loading up videos to Youtube, creating groups on LinkedIn and fan pages on Facebook, etc. it is advisable that you do some strategic thinking and come up with an overall plan that may (and should) include social media as channels but it does not (and should not) include specific mentions of any of the above.

In a follow-up article, I will discuss how you can leverage various social media channels in an integrated and orchestrated fashion (in terms of specific tactics) to market a business (or a cause), a brand, or products and services.

How do I tweet? Let me count the ways … January 16, 2010

Posted by farshidk in Social media.
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One of the great and unique things about Twitter is that it is a fairly simple and easy service to use. From an end-user perspective, setting up an account at twitter.com and starting to tweet, is a couple of minutes of work. I can describe the concept of Twitter and its features to any internet-savvy person in 5 minutes. The basic functions on twitter.com can be summarized as follows:

  • Create an account/profile
  • Search or look up users
  • Follow/un-follow a user
  • Tweet — post an update
  • Send a direct message to a follower
  • Reply to a user or mention users

I suppose Twitter will evolve and may become more sophisticated as more features are added. For example, Twitter recently added a couple of new features. One is Lists where you can define a global list (accessible by twitter.com/<user-id>/<list-name>) and add to it anyone that you follow. For example, I have lists such as “enterprise”, “socialmedia” and “friends”. And twitter.com/farshidk/socialmedia is a public link that shows tweets from the people I have in my “socialmedia” list. You can easily configure a list to be private.

The other new feature is Retweet where Twitter provides you with a single click retweet of a tweet that you are viewing. I don’t particularly like this feature because it is a single click operation that doesn’t allow you to edit the tweet or add anything to it. When I reteweet I often like to edit the tweet and use “via” to acknowledge the source.

Compare this with setting up a complete account on Facebook or LinkedIn, where to have a complete profile one must provide a great deal of input data. Even in terms of feature set of Facebook once the account and profile is set up, there is a lot to learn.

Furthermore, to properly and thoroughly be able to use Facebook, you need to use facebook.com. Though there are mobile clients for Facebook, they mostly provide limited functionality. On the web, when you want to use Facebook, you pretty much have to go to Facebook.com.

On the other hand, Twitter is an open system in the sense that it provides well-documented APIs in just about any programming and web scripting language that you can imagine. See http://apiwiki.twitter.com/. You can see (http://apiwiki.twitter.com/Libraries) that Twitter provides API libraries in languages from C++/C# and Java to JavaScript, to Perl, Python, Ruby, to VB.NET.

What this means is that there is a proliferation of Twitter clients from providers other than Twitter itself that you can use to interface with Twitter. From thick clients such as TweetDeck to thin web-based clients such as HootSuite to mobile and smart phone clients such as Tweetie for iPhone and UberTwitter for BlackBerry, there are many options. You can also tweet via basic text/SMS to 40404; that is, post updates to the cell phone you have registered with a Twitter account.

And if you don’t like any of these options and can program, you can always write your own Twitter client using the Twitter APIs. Any active Twitter user most likely has his or her own favorite ways of tweeting. In fact if you look at any tweet, it shows how it was sent, such as TweetDeck, web, and txt. Below I cover the two Twitter clients that I like and use often when I am online.

TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com)
TweetDeck is a thick Twitter client for tweeting with link shortening, viewing tweets from the people you follow (i.e. your timeline) as well as mentions and direct messages, defining and managing groups, and more. It provides support for multiple accounts so that you can manage several accounts from a single tool with a single login so you do not have to log in and out for different Twitter accounts. This is very important for people like me who have multiple Twitter accounts for various purposes. I have three accounts and without a tool such as TweetDeck that supports multiple accounts, it is not practical at all to tweet actively. Keep in mind that from twitter.com you can only work only with one twitter account at any time.

TweetDeck recently broadened its scope and reach by adding support for Facebook and LinkedIn, so you can configure columns for Facebook and LinkedIn, receive updates from your friends and connections and post updates to those channels. Figure 1 below shows a typical TweetDeck configuration with simultaneous access to two Twitter accounts.

Figure 1: TweetDeck with access to two twitter accounts

The window scrolls horizontally so you can add columns for various purposes. For example I have columns showing tweets from people I follow, direct messages, and mentions, for each account. There are also columns for my groups. Or you may define a column for a particular search term. One can easily add and remove columns.

One potential problem with TweetDeck is that it is not web based. What that means is that you cannot use it on a public computer. Also if you have multiple machines (e.g. a home laptop and a work computer) and have configured your TweetDeck clients with multiple accounts and columns) then you will have to do the same on every machine you use. Otherwise they will have different configurations.

At the same time TweetDeck has interesting features that I like. For example, it runs on the background and pushes tweets with an optional chirping sound to a corner of your monitor with in a temporary pop-up. Some may find it annoying, but whether I am in front of my laptops or not, I usually have it running and almost take comfort in hearing the sound of tweets coming in.

HootSuite (www.hootsuite.com)

HootSuite is a very flexible and extensible web-based social networking client in the sense that in addition to using it for Twitter, you can also connect to your Facebook and LinkedIn accounts via HootSuite. It has similarities to TweetDeck in terms of user interface and it provides many of the same features such as multiple account management and groups, and more.

HootSuite provides Tabs that consists of columns. A tab represents a Twitter account, as well as Facebook or LinkedIn accounts. For example I have a tab for each of my three Twitter accounts as well as my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. A tab may also be used for Groups, or as a Tracker. A tracker takes keywords including hashtags and monitors tweets with those terms. For example I have a Tracker with the search criteria “BPM or e-discovery”.

If you configure Facebook on HootSuite, then you can view the posts from your friends, and you can post updates to your wall and status. The same holds true for LinkedIn. That is, if you configure LinkedIn on HootSuite then you will get status updates from the people you are linked with, and you can push updates to LinkedIn right from HootSuite. Figure 2 below shows a particular HootSuite configuration with two accounts, and four tabs.

Figure 2: HootSuite configured for two Twitter accounts

HootSuite also provides stats and reports for how often your tweets are viewed and clicked on. Another interesting and unique feature of HootSuite is that it allows you to schedule a tweet or post for a particular time in the future.

If you know of other interesting Twitter clients, let me know. Thanks.

Enabling social bookmarking and link sharing for your web content October 14, 2009

Posted by farshidk in Social media, Web 2.0.
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In a previous post “Shall we bookmark?” I discussed social bookmarking and covered several of the social bookmarking sites such as Delicious, Reddit, Digg and StumbleUpon. In this post I briefly describe how you can easily add social bookmarking buttons to your web pages or blog posts so that a reader or visitor to your blog can use any of such sites to bookmark your blog post or page.

There are several services that have made this very easy by packaging up access to numerous social bookmarking sites into a dialog or pop-up window configured as a single button that can easily be added to your pages without any programming. I cover three such services here — AddThis, AddToAny and ShareThis — here.

AddThis (www.addthis.com)

This service provides pre-configured buttons and simple procedures for adding them to the services that they support out of the box (WordPress, Blogger, and MySpace) as well to a general website. For WordPress.com you simply add a widget to your template for this purpose. I have in fact used this service to add a social bookmarking button to this very blog on WordPress.com that you are reading. The pop-up box is shown in Figure 1 below.

AddThis Social bookmarking button popup

Figure 1: AddThis bookmarking & sharing button pop-up

Note however that applying the button takes you to a new page away from the blog  to a new page with the box below, instead of showing you the box in the same page, which is the intended and desired behavior of the button. The reason for this is that WordPress for security reasons does not allow any JavaScript which this button and its pop-up require to work properly. Even if you paste the button code with the JavaScript to the blog widget, WordPress.com automatically strips out its JavaScript.

AddThis also provides a toolbar so that you can add its bookmarking button to your browser toolbars.

AddToAny (www.addtoany.com)

The other service is AddToAny which provides you with a configurable button with access to a long list of sites for bookmarking and sharing. Figure 2 below the AddToAny pop-up box with this service. Note that this is an expandable box and once expanded it provides links to numerous other bookmarking and sharing services.

AddToAny bookmarking & sharing expnadable box

Figure 2: AddToAny bookmarking & sharing expandable button pop-up

This service however is different from AddThis in that you insert the widget into an individual post and not the blog container. So you need to add the button to every individual blog post. It does provide you with a button that can be added to your browser toolbar so that you can easily insert the button on any page you are working on.

As mentioned before AddToAny also provides a subscription service. This service allows you to enable your viewers to subscribe to your blog as a feed using one of the listed services as a host. See Figure 3 below.

AddToAny subscription box

Figure 3: AddToAny subscription button pop-up

ShareThis (www.sharethis.com)

This is yet another service that provides a similar service in addition to other services such as address book consolidation. The bookmarking and sharing service is available for publishers (such as bloggers) packaged for WordPress (your own installed instance of WordPress), Blogger, and TypePad, as well as a scripted button for any other web site. It is also available for developers through an API. Figure 4 below shows the default ShareThis pop-up box which can also be customized.

sharethis

Figure 4. Sharing pop-up box from ShareThis

ShareThis also offers a toolbar for the browser so that you can easily bookmark any site you visit through their service. Another interesting feature that ShareThis offers is the reporting and analytics service which enables you to view reports on page view and frequency of shares on your content pages.

Leveraging LinkedIn for business networking and career development September 28, 2009

Posted by farshidk in Social media.
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The economy is supposedly improving but people still continue to lose jobs. The unemployment rate being a lagging economic indicator is predicted to increase through the rest of the year and beyond even though it is decelerating. California with one of the highest unemployment rates (12.1%) as of the end of July 2009 among the US states, and higher than the average national unemployment rate, will probably continue to bleed more, longer. In certain counties in California the unemployment rate is even higher than the state average. For example, as of the end of July 2009, LA County is at 12.5% and there are counties where the rate is as high as 30%!

A friend after over five years at a chip company in Orange County lost her job last week. An acquaintance (electrical engineer) recently got laid off from his high-tech job in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are still hundreds being laid off from various companies. What is even worse is the thousands of state employees who have recently lost their jobs, especially in the education sector. And we thought that government jobs were safe! For a frequently updated statewide layoff statistics in California see http://www.sfgate.com/webdb/jobcuts/ by San Francisco Chronicle. For updates on job cuts in general on Twitter follow or see @jobcuts.

I remember my own surprise lay off back in February 2009 and the five months of tough unemployment that followed. During that time, while I was actively on a number of job sites and used the services of Right Management (www.right.com) which was useful, I spent most of my useful job search time on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). And eventually I found my current job through LinkedIn; or rather my current employer found me on LinkedIn as they contacted me first through LinkedIn.

In the hope that my experience may help someone else out there land a job, here are a few suggestions on how to better leverage LinkedIn for business networking, job search, and professional development:

  1. Complete Profile — Make sure that your profile is as complete as it can be; preferably 100%. This includes many things such as education, experience, recommendations, groups and more. There is a status bar that shows you the percentage complete so you have a sense of how far along you are. Include any relevant websites such blogs or your Twitter account. Click throughs on those links will improve your Google rank. Consider signing up for LinkedIn premium services which provides you with extras such as send InMails to people you are not directly linked with.
  2. Customize Public Profile — Create a public link to your profile with your name. You have a public link by default with a unique account number, but no one will remember that. Customize it with your name. Mine is www.linkedin.com/in/farshidk. And expose as much as you can on your public profile page. Not everything is on by default. Include your public profile link in your resume and possibly in business-oriented emails as part of your signature. This customized link will also improve your search engine ranking. It should also come up when you google yourself.
  3. Write Summary & Specialties — Write good thorough “Summary” with “Specialties”. These two are important and you should spend some time polishing it, with focus on what you have experience in as well as where you want to go. These two may not always be the same. In my Summary I have focused on job titles such as product marketing and business development, while in specialties I have listed the technologies I have worked with such as BPM, SOA and eDiscovery.
  4. Expand your network — In addition to looking up individuals you know, search for people in your past employers (people search with a company name as the search term) and invite those you know to join your network. Explore beyond your first degree network by browsing looking at those who are 2nd degrees (linked with someone in your network but not with you). If you are indirectly linked with anyone (2nd degree or higher), LinkedIn will show you how you are connected to her so you can ask the people in between to be introduced.
  5. Give and get Recommendations — Request recommendations from people you have good professional experience with and trust. You should also recommend those who did good work when working together. Most employers don’t trust really these recommendations much. When you get close to getting a job offer you will still have to provide live references. But not having LinkedIn Recommendations in your profile is definitely a negative.
  6. Join Groups & Associations — Just about any career and industry you are in, there are lots of relevant groups on LinkedIn that you should join and actively participate in. These groups may be specific to a technology (e.g. SOA), profession (e.g. marketing), region, association (e.g. AIIM), alumni groups for universities or ex employers, and so on. Some are moderated and to join the group administrator must approve you. You can customize your membership in a group as what type of communication you prefer; e.g. receive individual emails or daily digest. You can choose to show individual groups in your Public Profile. But don’t just wear the label. Browse the discussions and news in the groups you are in once in a while, start a discussion, answer or comment on someone’s question to increase your exposure. I am a member of over 35 (too many) LinkedIn groups relating to BPM, SOA, ECM, eDiscovery, product marketing and management, social media and Twitter.
  7. Update your Status — If you are out of your last job, I suggest you update your employment history accordingly. But just like Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn also provides you with a status field which many do not utilize. Even if you keep your last employment current, use the status field to say that you are looking and update it regularly to show activities. The more updates and changes you make, the more exposure you will get. I update mine with my new blog posts, attendance in a conference or working on a big not so secret project. Nothing personal. That is for Facebook, not LinkedIn.
  8. Add Applications — Similar to Facebook and iPhone, LinkedIn provides you with a few useful pluggable applications that you can add to your profile. For example, if you have a good sample work such as a presentation you can add one of the presentation applications and then upload your presentation to it. If you have a professional blog on WordPress, there is an application for it that once added will show a summary of your blog as a widget in your profile page. In fact I use this application so if you go to my LinkedIn page you will see a window to this blog there. There are other useful applications such as ReadingList by Amazon where you can list the relevant books that you are reading, recommend, etc.
  9. Search and apply for Jobs— Actively search the job bank and apply for positions directly from LinkedIn. Certain jobs get posted only to LinkedIn and are not available elsewhere. If so they are marked as such. Experiment with search terms. You can search by title, company name, location and more. You may get a very long list in multiple pages, in which case you may want to narrow your search terms. Else, don’t give up before you get to the end of the list.
  10. Network while employed — I consider this the golden rule of networking. We’ve all heard it, but it is important enough to reiterate. You should be doing all these (except possibly #8) while you are employed and working. Networking should be done over time on an ongoing basis. Not after you have lost your job and are desperate for work. Networking is a give and take process — in that order. Before you ask people for help, reference, job, etc. you should be helping those you can so you build reputation and trusting relationships. People need to see value in networking and associating with you. It’s an age old wisdom: help people, and hopefully on a rainy day in the future those whom you’ve helped, will return the favor.

LinkedIn itself also provides tips for building a strong profile, that you may want to review. My guidelines above are inline and complementary to this list. Are there other items that you think belong to this list? Feel free to comment. Thanks.

On Etiquette and Math of “Follow” in Twitter September 5, 2009

Posted by farshidk in Social media.
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TwitterWatchdog.com in a post recently had some advice on who to follow and not to follow on Twitter. See this. However among them there were the following:

  • “I follow everyone who follows me because I think that’s the cordial way to use Twitter.
  • If I’m following someone and they won’t follow me, then I’ll give them a few days but then I’ve got to unfollow them.”

There have been other posts on this topic claiming that if you don’t follow the people who follow you, you are a “Twitter snob”.

I disagree. I don’t have to follow everyone who follows me. And I certainly don’t expect everyone whom I follow, to follow me. Here is why.

Non-Twitter Social Networks

On social (or business) networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, there is a single simple relationship between two people: you are either “friends” (or linked), or you are not. LinkedIn also formalizes the notion of “degrees of separation”, but that is another topic for another day. For the sake of this discussion we are only concerned with first-degree relations, those whom you are directly linked with. The way this works is that typically you add a person to your network (e.g. send a friend request) and if that person accepts it then the two of you are linked or “friends”.

If you are mathematically inclined, in terms of graph theory, Facebook and LinkedIn networks result in undirected graphs, where each edge or link connecting two nodes is an unordered pair or set such as links {A, B} and {B, C} in the graph in Figure 1 below. In this graph A and B are linked (friends) and B and C are linked.

Figure 1: An undirected graph showing a Facebook network segment

Figure 1: Undirected graphs represent Facebook or LinkedIn networks

Twitter Social Networks

Unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, a relationship in Twitter is 2-way where each direction is independent of the other. You can follow someone, and by default you do not need her approval to follow her. Independently she may or may not decide to follow you. Twitter networks are directed graphs, where edges or links are ordered pairs and directed such as (A, B) and (B, A) in the graph in Figure 2 below. Here A follows B and B follows A. B follows C, but C does not follow B. Note that some refer to people who you are following as friends. So C is a friend of B in this example. But I prefer not to use “friends” in the context of Twitter and stick with Twitter’s own terminology “followers” and “following”.

Figure 2: Directed graphs show Twitter netoworks

Figure 2: Directed graphs represent Twitter networks

Of course you can make your Twitter profile protected so that you must approve anyone who wants to follow you. Or you can block a follower at any time. You may choose to follow that person or you may not. You do not have to reciprocate. And that is a very important concept in Twitter.

Who do I follow?

I follow many news and media channels from BBC, CNN, NPR, and NY Times among others such as (@bbcworld, @CNN_top@nprnews, and @nytimesarts). I also follow @TED_TALKS for updates on fascinating TED talks which I think are among the best things on the internet). But for obvious reasons I don’t expect them to follow me. In fact many of these accounts don’t follow anyone even though they have thousands (in some cases millions) of followers.

Among notable individuals, I follow Evan Williams, Twitter CEO (@EV), serial entrepreneur and billionaire Richard Branson (@richardbranson), well-known internet guru and evangelist Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki), the famed MIT linguist and political dissent Naom Chomsky (@noamchomskymit), and President Barack Obama (@BarackObama). Guy (and his team) is one of the most active accounts on Twitter with a lot of worthy and interesting tweets on regular basis. I don’t expect any of these people to follow me (though Guy is kind enough to follow me).

On the other hand, there are certain friends and strangers who follow me whom I don’t follow for various reasons. Maybe they are primarily readers and not contributors, or maybe I am just not interested in their tweets. And that should be just fine. This is not an ego trip, nor it is a popularity contest. Though a friend of mine thinks that it actually is for a lot of people!

How do I decide whom to follow?

The pool of potential candidates to be followed for me comes from those whom you run into browsing the net and reading blogs and news, those who are already following me, and recommendations  from various sources such as (Twitter suggested users, TweetDeck suggestions and directory, #FollowFriday tweets from those whom I am following already and Mashable lists (http://mashable.com/category/twitter-lists/) which has very interesting lists, such as authors, comics, and foodies on Twitter. But I still have my own criteria to apply as follows:

  • I look at her or his bio on the profile page. For me it is important that they say something interesting, informative (or funny) about themselves. Blank bios do not interest me, unless of course the subject is a well-known person who doesn’t need an intro.
  • I check the vital statistics — number of followers, number of people s/he follows and the number of tweets s/he has had. Generally the bigger the numbers it is, the better. But there are exceptions. I know famous tweeples (a Twitter user) with million+ followers and thousands of tweets, whom I’m not following. For me they have nothing interesting or relevant to say.
  • More important than the number of tweets, is the quality of tweets. Syntactically I generally value tweets that include hashtags and links. Unless I am particularly fond of someone (e.g. a real friend) I don’t care for tweets about one’s daily chores, or personal replies to others that probably should be direct messages. To get around this problem Guy Kawasaki has a separate reply account @GuysReplies that he uses to reply to followers. Semantically I like tweets that provide useful information or insight, that I can learn something from.
  • I do not follow spammers, but I don’t see any harm in them following me.
  • I don’t just blindly follow people in the hope that they will follow me. I am not in it to build a large following to sell them some goods or services. I go for quality over quantity.

Shall We Bookmark? July 11, 2009

Posted by farshidk in Social media.
Tags: , , , , ,
2 comments

So I am reading an article on ZDNet.com and on top of the article I come across a set of icons. See the image below. A couple of them are obvious. I can print the article or email it to someone. A more interesting one is the little rectangle with up/down thumbs along with a few numbers. This enables me to rate the article by giving it a thumbs up or down, which provides a metric on its worthiness. As you can see, this particular article has 71 votes with an overall score of +45.

soc-bkmrk3

The curious item in the set is the “share” icon which expands to many other items as shown above. A few are familiar household names such as Google, Yahoo! and Facebook. While others such as Digg (www.digg.com), Delicious (www.delicious.com), StumbleUpon (www.stumbleupon.com), Reddit (www.reddit.com) and Technorati (www.technorati.com) are lesser known.

Most news and media sites nowadays provide a few of these next to any article or news item. For example, The Wall Street Journal (www.wsj.com) lists Mixx (www.mixx.com) and NewsVine (www.newsvine.com) among others. While AIIM (www.aiim.org) includes Xanga (www.xanga.com), FriendFeed (www.friendfeed.com) and Propeller (www.propeller.com) in addition to the more common ones. So what exactly are these? What are they good for? And how do we use them?

A Bit of History and Lessons Learned

Back in 2005 a friend one day said that she had an idea for a new business: a web site for storing bookmarks on the internet. I smiled and said that it would be useful but I didn’t think that it was enough to sustain a business. I argued that a company like Yahoo! could easily add that feature. Secondly, it was technically very easy, so anyone could do it. It would be hard to build sustainable competitive advantage around it. More importantly I didn’t see how anyone could make money with it. Well, I had certain valid points. For one, Yahoo! did its own bookmarking site called Yahoo! Buzz. But I was wrong overall.

After the painful lessons of 2000-2001 in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was of the belief that a simple idea with no revenue potential cannot be a successful business, regardless of the hype and a catchy domain name. But the reality is that the web doesn’t follow the traditional business model. And the advent of the social web in the early to mid 2000s has once again redefined the norm, scale and the possibilities of what an internet-based business can be.

The power and success of a social networking site is not measured based on its revenue, which may be zero! It’s rather based on the size of its network. For an idea to become a successful internet-based business, you don’t need to build a space rocket. And you don’t necessarily need to make money with it. Youtube, Facebook and Twitter are good examples that support my point.

Social Bookmarking Sites

Today social bookmarking is a major topic in the Web 2.0 world, and there are over 20 social bookmarking sites with millions of users and 100s of millions of bookmarks. You can see the list of top 20 of them at: http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/social-bookmarking. These sites allow a registered user to bookmark a page; that is store a URL along with some additional information on the internet. But there is actually more to them than just that. So let’s look at this topic in more detail.

Problem with Browser-based Bookmarks

So why is this any better than just bookmarking a page on your browser; e.g. “favorites” in Internet Explorer (IE) or “bookmarks” in Firefox? The primary problem with this is that a browser based bookmark resides on the laptop or computer that you are using, where the browser is installed. So your stored bookmarks are in a physical file sitting on your computer file system. Now if I want to access my bookmarks from another computer, you are out of luck. The other drawback to browser based bookmarks is managing them and finding what you are looking for. In IE we can create bookmark folders and categorize them into these static folders. But then there may be links that we want to put in multiple folders, which cannot be done well. So as the number of bookmarks increase, their management becomes a serious problem. Firefox provides the means for tagging a bookmark which is a better approach than IE’s. This is also the approach used by some of the social networking sites.

Tagging in Social Bookmarking

Social bookmarking sites solve the bookmark management problem via tagging. When you bookmark a URL you define a set of tags along with it. You can define as many tags as you like. These tags can be anything that you want but many of these sites will actually make suggestions when tagging. You can define as many tags as you like. These tags define virtual folders that can be navigated later on. But since tagging is just a word association, a bookmark may belong to several of these virtual folders (each being a tag). When looking for a particular bookmark you can simply navigate your tags to quickly what you are looking for. Obviously good tagging practices becomes important here. If a bookmark is not properly tagged then it may be difficult to find it among a large number of bookmarks. These sites may also provide a tag cloud to help you navigate your bookmarks easily. In addition to tags, these sites may also allow you to define additional attributes such as description and comments for the bookmark.

On the Social in Social Bookmarking

More important than tagging in social bookmarking sites, is the social aspect to these sites. Just like other Web 2.0 wiki like sites, these are social, collaborative and networking sites where you can share information (profile, tags and bookmarks) with other users on the site. You can rate someone else’s bookmarks and comment on them.

Many of these sites such as Delicious and Digg  enable you to have a network by linking with other users and exchange messages with them. For example on Delicious every user has an inbox so that one can send a bookmark to another user or receive bookmarks. On Delicious I can also subscribe to tags so that if a bookmark with that tag is added I will be notified about it. Of course not all bookmarks need to be public. On Delicious I have the choice of making a bookmark private, a useful feature that is not offered by all other sites.

One of the interesting benefits of the social aspect of these sites is that at any given time you can see the hottest and most popular items because of the number of times it has been bookmarked, buzzed, digged, the ratings (like/dislike or thumbs up/down) and number of comments that a URL receives, are different metrics for how popular or important an item may be. So usually the home pages of these sites that are accessible by all without registering, make interesting sites to visit on a regular bases for the latest most popular and most interesting stories and news on the internet.

URL Sharing vs. Social Bookmarking

Though all of these so-called social bookmarking sites deal with storing and sharing URLs, there are key differences. Among the names that I have mentioned here there are at least two distinct types:

  • Post and Share a URL: Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are not really bookmarking sites. You simply post a link to them so that the people in your network can see it. For example in Facebook you send a link to specific people via a message or you share it by posting it to your “wall”. The same is true with Twitter. Many people use Twitter to share news (in the form of shortened URLs) with their followers. But note that these sites do not maintain a categorized URL repository. Depending on how active you are, before long the link that you post on Facebook or Twitter will be burried under more recent updates. It is not really practical to refer to that link later on (though you can do it as all past updates are maintained by these sites).
     
  • Bookmark, share, categorize and rank a URL: These are the actual social bookmarking sites where you post a URL and possibly classify and categorize it by defining your own tags (such as Delicious, Digg, and Google), or putting it in a pre-defined categoy (such as Reddit and StumbleUpon). These sites rank the URLs based on how many times a URL is bookmarked, favored, and commented on. When you go to these sites you can see the top bookmarks in various categories. Within these sites, there are some that are for link sharing with your network (e.g. Reddit, Yahoo! Buzz) while others such as Delicious and Google Bookmarks (www.google.com/bookmarks) are for saving your own bookmarks (which may be private) so you can refer to them later on.

Which Ones to Use?

The two sites that I personally use most often are Delicious and Digg. I specially like Delicious since it has flexible personalized tagging mechanism. I can define whatever tags I want in addition to the ones that Delicious suggests when bookmarking. It is more of a bookmarking site since it also allows private bookmarks. It also  provides convenient plug-ins for various browsers that make it easy to bookmark a page along with tags, and then easily access your bookmarks from its Sidebar, just as if they are the browser bookmarks.

StumbleUpon is another very popular social bookmarking site with close to 8 million users as of this writing. Like Delicious it also provides its own browser toolbar. It has pre-defined categories (e.g. photos, videos, business) that you can specify as the topics of interest.  You may either save a URL as a favorite or you can write a review for it. You can also blog right within this site. Similar to other sites you have a network of friends or subscribers.

Reddit is another popular social bookmarking site. It provides a way for ranking and sharing URLs. It has a set of pre-defined categories called “reddits” such as pics, politics, funny, and technology, which are essentially general tags. You can also define your own public or private reddit. On any bookmark on the site you can rate it (like or dislike) save it as your own, or comment on it.

If you don’t have a favorite one yet, you might want to try out a few. I believe different ones may appeal to different people. However I must say that I find some of them confusing and not as useful, intuitive and practical as others.

Hashtags in Twitter World June 29, 2009

Posted by farshidk in Social media.
Tags: , , ,
3 comments

I briefly mentioned hashtags in my previous post as a special application of tagging in Twitter (www.twitter.com) and numerous other Twitter-related sites. In this write-up I cover hashtags in more detail.

Hashtags are special tags defined as #<tag> that one can use as part of a 140 character string to define a topic for a tweet. Content-oriented people may think of a hashtag as a virtual “folder”, while journalists may think of it as a “channel” that one can tune to or listen in on. So I may tag a tweet with #BPM (for a business process management related tweet) or #job for a tweet on a job opening, or both for a job opening in BPM. Note that hashtags are not case-sensitive and can appear anywhere in the tweet. As a specific example, I used the following tweet to announce my previous blog post on metadata and tagging. Note the use of numerous tags (5 of them) along with a shortened link to the post in the tweet:

“my blog post on #metadata and #tagging http://bit.ly/xxQby #web20 #internet #technology

You seldom will see a tweet with so many hashtags. In fact most people do not regularly utilize hashtags. For one thing it takes time to look up the right hashtags. But for your tweets to have context and reach the right audience it is best that you tag them with the appropriate hashtags.

Special Hashtags

There are some unusual but popular hashtags that any Twitter user should know about. Here are a few of these:

  • #FollowFriday or #ff: Used on Fridays to suggest people to follow to your followers and to whoever is tuned in to #followfriday. For example, the tweet “#followfriday @BarackObama” suggests following President Obama, who happens to be very popular with about 1.6 million followers as of the time of this writing.
  • #MusicMonday: Monday is music day on Twitter. Used on Mondays to suggest music to your audience.
  • #fb: This one is a special tag in the sense that if used at the end of a tweet, it performs a programmatic update to your Facebook account status, if you have installed Selective Twitter Update application on your Facebook account.

Hashtag Directories and Dictionaries

So how do I know what to tag my tweets with, if any? Where can I look them up? How does one define new hashtags? Let’s answer these questions. There are several hashtag sites that provide you with hashtag directories and dictionaries, where you can look up tags and find the relevant ones you need, add a definition to an existing tag, or even define a new tag, look at trends and see the recent tweets on a hashtag.

Below are a few useful hashtag related sites:

  • www.hashtags.org includes a hashtag directory. It also tracks the hottest and newest hashtags, usage report on any hashtag and more. For example as I am writing this, #IranElection that people use to share information about the uprising and unrest in Iran following the election fraud, is one of the top tags being used. This site however does not provide definitions of hashtags.
     
  • www.tagalus.org or www.tagal.us is a wiki-based hashtag dictionary. You can look up the definition of a hashtag, and if a definition for a tag is not provided you can actually add a definition for it. You can also define a brand new hashtag and add it to the dictionary. Sometimes people make up a hashtag as they tweet even though it may not be defined. For example while many tweet with #BPM, it didn’t exist in Tagalus till today. I just created it.
     
  • www.tagdef.com is another wiki similar to Tagalus that provides hashtag definitions. However since these are wikis and evolve collaboratively without the control of a central authority, they tend to be incomplete. #BPM happened to be defined in this dictionary, while there are many other tags that are not defined here.

While many hashtags have obvious meaning as they are spelled out, many others are acronyms and shorts for stuff that is not easy to understand and decipher. For example I just noticed that #mw2 is one of the hot trends right now. I had no idea what that was but according to tagalus.com it stands for Modern Warfare 2, a popular video game. Another hot hashtag these days is #gr88 that often appears alongside #IranElection though its meaning is far less obvious. It turns out that it stands for Green Revolution 1388, the current year in the Persian calendar.

Note that you can make up your hashtags as you tweet. The system does not check for spelling, nor does it verify it against a directory. But if you want a bigger audience for your tweets, you should use well-defined hashtags. If you want to use a seemingly new hashtag, it is best to first check the directories for it and its related hashtags. If it is not there, then it is a good idea to define and add it to Tagalus (and tagdef.com) first before using it.

I will be covering more topics on and about Twitter in future posts.