Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Should I be buying Twitter followers?

As a stats freak, I am constantly examining sites that claim to tell me more about my social media efforts. For example, I follow a few sites devoted to analyzing my Twitter network and giving me more info on my network, who is following me, how many followers I am gaining, etc.

Most of these sites have an area where people can buy an 'ad' promoting them so people can follow them, similar to the one on the right. Twice now on different sites I have seen people that I know and am following, that have bought ads for themselves so that others will follow them.

Now personally, I would never do this, and what irks me about this is that in both cases, these are people that are acknowledged as being 'social media experts'. And these people regularly trumpet the value of social media as a way to authentically engage with people. And yes, they are often propped up for their large number of Twitter followers.

Which it appears, at least in part, they have bought.

And I don't want to mention who these people are, because I don't want the discussion to revolve around them, but rather what they are doing. As I said, I could never do this, and it feels inconsistent to me with their message that building networks authentically is what works.

But maybe I am off my rocker. Do I need to just accept that 'biggest number wins', and realize that I need to do whatever is necessary to inflate my number of followers/readers/friends in order to appear more 'credible'?

What do you think? How would you feel if someone that you viewed as a 'social media expert' had 'bought' half of their 50,000 Twitter followers? Would you be outraged, or would you think they were making smart use of the existing business environment? Is this just another sign that Twitter is all just a 'numbers game'?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Does Ad Age simply not get social media?

If you've read The Viral Garden for a while, you know that I was a bit critical of Ad Age when they first started using the Power 150 on their site. Honestly, I don't read the site very often, but today I decided to peruse the site and I found a few articles I liked, and commented on a couple of them.

Although I had registered with Ad Age years ago, I probably hadn't left a comment there in 2-3 years. So after I left a couple of comments, I realized that I should probably update my profile information so that it included a link back to when I left a comment.

And that's when I realized something. Check the below screenshot I took of the comments section of one of the articles I replied to:

Check out the names of the commenters circled in red. More specifically, check out what is MISSING in those red circles. That's right, there's no link given when a person comments on a post. But there IS a link give to the comment itself. If you click on the timestamp to the right of your name, you are then given a unique link to the comment you just wrote.

So Ad Age won't let you link back to your site when you write a comment, but they WILL let you link back to YOUR COMMENT. So they see your commenting as a way for them to gain more links back to their site, with none for you.

How very Web 1.0 of them.

A very basic rule of social media marketing is that you want to encourage and reward the behavior that you are wanting customers/visitors to engage in. Ad Age should want more comments on its articles for several reasons:

  • More comments = More traffic. We want to read posts/articles that have vibrant discussions.
  • More comments = More comments. If I see that a post has a vibrant discussion, I am more likely to read it, and more likely to add my 2 cents.
  • More comments = More links. Articles that have a great discussion makes it more likely that I will promote that article to my networks.
  • More comments = More value. A vibrant discussion in the comments improves the overall value to the reader.
  • More comments = More subscribers. If Ad Age is consistently creating content that has vibrant discussions in the comments, I am more likely to subscribe to that content.
So if getting more comments per article is a GOOD thing, why wouldn't you go out of your way to reward visitors that are engaging in that behavior? Besides that, adding a link back to my site via my name in the comments is a very simple way to say 'Thank You'.

Come on, Ad Age.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Heading to Austin, want to meet up?

Next week I am heading out to Austin to work with Dell on a project (Disc - Dell's a client, here's more info on the project). But while I am in town, we wanted to have a tweetup! So next Weds nite at the North by Northwest restaurant and brewery, we'll all get together for a nite of merriment, laughs, and probably a social media conversation or three. Most if not all of Dell's social media team will be there (Including @LionelatDell and @RichardatDell), along with some of Austin's finest social media leaders such as Connie Reece and Simon Salt. And of course I'll be there. Rumor has it that a few rockstar out-of-towners will be crashing the event, but that remains to be seen ;)

The festivities will start at 5:30, and if you are interested in coming, please RSVP as there are already 16 people confirmed, and a few others have said they will show up. Here's all the info on the event.

BTW, if you're in Austin and would like to meet up, shoot me an email. I am going to be super-busy, but will be in town for most of next week, so maybe we can work out a quick handshake, at least. Sound good?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I won't speak for free

In March of 2008 I had a pair of 'firsts' that were both scary as hell for me at the time. First, I flew on an airplane for the first time in my life, and second, I spoke at SXSW. Actually I moderated a panel, but it was the first time since graduate school 5 years prior, that I spoke in front of an audience.

Now as an introvert, an introvert that had never spoken professionally at the time, my first thought when I was contacted about moderating a panel at SXSW was "There's no way I can do this!"

My second thought was "There's no way I can't do this!"

So although I was literally worried sick about speaking at SXSW, I went ahead with it. It ended up being one of the best decisions I've made in the last 2 years, and now I actually love speaking at social media conferences, something I would have never imagined this time two years ago. And I've gotten to be a pretty good speaker, I get good reviews every time I speak, and at every event I have had at least one attendee tell me afterward that my presentation alone justified the cost of the event for them.

For each event I speak at I spend on average 10 hours creating the slide deck, and about 20 hours rehearsing the presentation, unless it's an existing presentation/deck, then that time is much less. The end result is that I spend anywhere from 15-30 hours preparing/rehearsing the presentation, and lose a minimum of one day due to travel, usually two days.

So there's a pretty big time commitment necessary for me to speak at an event. And yet even with the time investment required, even though I have spoken at most of the biggest social media events and get rave reviews when I speak, I still have conference organizers that contact me expecting me to speak at their event for free.

And when I say 'free', I don't mean that they won't pay a speaking fee. I mean that they won't cover a speaking fee OR any of the speaker's travel costs TO the event.

About a year ago, I adopted a strict policy for speaking at events: I won't speak for free. If you want me to speak at your event, the bare minimum requirement is that you cover my travel. I'll probably require a speaking fee as well, but one certainty is that I won't be paying to come speak at your event so you can sell more tickets. I have turned down a lot of speaking requests in the last year because the event organizers wanted me to speak for free.

I won't. Period.

I'm sorry, but if you are an event organizer, my expertise and time are both worth money, and I'm going to ask for it. I've worked with event organizers before, so I understand that very few social media conferences are cash cows. But a lot more could be compensating their speakers, even if it's only their travel to the event.

Besides that, it's the right thing to do.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Experiencing social media vs monitoring it

Over four years ago, I wrote this post about the importance of companies understanding their customers. I wanted to focus on this section:

What happens when you better understand your customers is that you can better serve them by anticipating their wants and needs. And the best part? As we correctly anticipate the consumers' wants and needs, and fill them, a trust is developed, which leads to the consumer lowering their defenses and letting us interact with them on a deeper level. This leads to a greater understanding of their needs, which means we can more quickly and effectively meet these needs, and thus the cycle is created.

Understanding your customers is general is obviously incredibly important, but you should also understand how your customers are using social media. This is something that often is overlooked when we advise companies on how to get started with social media. We teach them of the value of monitoring social media, of tracking company and industry mentions. Of knowing what's being said and where it is being said.

But that's only half the battle. The 'why' gives meaning to the numbers. What social tools are your customers using? Why are they using them? What information are they looking for, and how do they want it to be delivered to them?

The numbers alone don't tell the whole story. For example, last year a couple of studies came out that challenged Twitter's popularity. The studies claimed that people were flocking to Twitter, but then they stopped using the service after a few months. But the studies were looking at how Twitter users used the Twitter WEBSITE. Many Twitter users move on to a Twitter client such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic after becoming comfortable with the service. So the numbers suggested that people were leaving Twitter, when in fact they may have simply been leaving the Twitter website, for a Twitter desktop client.

You should definitely monitor social media, but ultimately, you should strive to understand the people, not the numbers. If you can reach the point where you understand how and why your customers are using social media, then you can begin to use social media to connect with them on terms that they are comfortable with. And when their comfort level increases, then your customers will more freely connect with you, and this helps you better understand them. And when you better understand them, you can better meet their wants and needs, which in turn will prompt them to more easily understand you. And thus a cycle is created and eventually the understanding on both sides reaches a point where trust enters into the equation.

But it all starts with focusing on the people, not the numbers. Be aware of the numbers, but understand the people behind them.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

How 'social' should companies be?

My policy on who/how many people I follow on Twitter has become much more lax in recent months. These days, I follow back most of the people that follow me. The downside to this is that a lot of these people will immediately unfollow me as soon as I follow them back, I guess in an attempt to 'pad' their follower count.

So every few weeks, I like to go through my Twitter network and 'cleanse' it. I will unfollow a lot of the people I am following that aren't following me, and at the same time I will try to follow back people that followed me that I somehow missed. I was doing this today (using Twellow), and I began to notice a trend as I was going through the people I was following, that weren't following me.

I was following a LOT of people that write for Mashable, that weren't following me back. I finally found SEVEN people that identified themselves as writers for Mashable, that weren't following me back. I'm not talking about people that occasionally write for Mashable, these are seven paid writers for Mashable, not counting Cashmore (he isn't following me either).

I checked the ratio of people they follow to those that follow them. The 'best' ratio I found was one writer that was following back roughly 33% of the people that follow him. The worst was less than 10%.

I got to thinking about this, and honestly I'm not sure of the significance. Will I stop promoting Mashable on Twitter because none of their writers will follow me back? Probably not. Now do I think it's hypocritical for the site to bill itself as 'The Social Media Guide' and only follow back a fraction? Yeah, a little. Is that enough to make me change how I share their content with my network? Probably not.

So at the end of the day, who cares? That's what I'm wondering about. If a company is at all connected to social media, whether it's via content they aggregate, or create, or distribute, or services they offer, are these companies held to a higher 'standard' when it comes to using social media? If an agency brands itself as being 'experts in making companies social', and they aren't using social media to be social themselves, is that a disconnect? Are they expected to be more 'social'? Should they be? At the end of the day does it really matter?

What do you think?

UPDATE: As I continued to go through the people I am following that aren't following me back, I noticed that I also had several from Twitter. Which is really ironic.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is your blog chasing numbers or dollars?

If you think about it, Twitter can get you in trouble sometimes.

You are cranky, it's been a long day, you need to vent. So you write a nice stress-relieving post to your blog. Totally out of character with what you normally write, but you need the release.

And wouldn't you know it, everyone loves the damn post! It gets dozens of RTs on Twitter, and traffic spikes for the day as you are left scratching your head. "So you mean to tell me that every day I am plugging along blogging about my biz, and getting little interaction, but the post where I rant about my day is the one that everyone loves?"

Yep, it happens that way sometimes.

But here is where you have to be VERY careful. While it's great that you got a lot of RTs and a nice bump in traffic from that post, did it make you any money? Or if you are looking for more comments, or more email newsletter signups or whatever metric you track to judge your blog's success. Did that ranty post move that needle?

Because if it didn't, those numbers might be temporarily good for your ego, but long-term it probably won't mean much.

And I see bloggers do this ALL the time. Even 'popular' ones. I have done it myself in the past. This is probably the most popular post I have ever written. It got dozens of comments, hundreds of RTs, and traffic during the day it was published was equal to what I would normally get in two weeks.

But I never had a client tell me they contacted me because of that post. The clients I've gotten have mostly been from writing 'dry' content that didn't get a lot of RTs, but it helped a company solve a social media business problem they were having. It established my expertise, and made them feel comfortable in reaching out to me.

Now that's not to say that the occasional ranty post or one that's completely different from your standard blogging fare isn't a good idea. Because you SHOULD shake things up every once in a while. But in general, if your blog posts aren't reaching your desired audience, how valuable are they?

Chasing numbers is fine, as long as the dollars are following them. Otherwise it's just an ego play.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Want to be a social media expert? Break stuff.

Recently I did something to that I thought I'd never do. For a couple of weeks, I switched the feed for from a full to a partial feed for subscribers. I *hate* reading blogs that publish partial feeds, because it forces me to click over to the blog to read the entire post.

So why would I do this to one of my own sites? Because I didn't *know* what would happen. I didn't know how readers would react. I didn't know if there would be fewer comments, or more. For the record, neither traffic nor comments seemed to be affected, so I switched the feed back to full.

That's the thing about social media, it's still new. For all the '10 Steps to Building a Better Blog/Facebook Fan Page/Twitter Presence' posts, we don't KNOW what all the rules are. And the people that use social media the most efficiently, are often the people that have broken the most stuff. They are the ones that tinker, that experiment. They constantly change their blog's layout, or the content on their Facebook page. One of the reasons why I love Twitter is because the way I use Twitter is constantly evolving. I am always tweaking and changing the way I use the tool to connect with other people.

Want to be a social media expert? Break stuff. Color outside the lines. Write longer posts than you usually do, write shorter ones. Ignore all the rules.

When you think you've mastered one tool, that's probably the best time to mix things up. I remember Kathy Sierra once wrote that experts are often the people that always think 'there must be a better way' to do something, no matter how 'good' they got at it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

How to make a (blogging) name for yourself

When I started blogging in 2005, no one knew who I was. Actually many people still don't, as evidenced by the fact that many people think my name is 'Mark' ;) But over time, a few people did figure out who I was, and I wanted to share with you how I got my name out there, in case it might help you. In short, I did two things:

1 - I was relentless in embracing the people that were commenting on, and linking to my blog. I started reading, linking to, and commenting on any blog that linked here, or if the blogger commented here. I even started a post series called 'Viral Community News' that only focused on posts/articles from people that were commenting here, and linking here. These days I've moved my linking and commenting mostly to Twitter. This created a vibrant community here, and these bloggers helped promote me to their readers and contacts as well.

And as the individual bloggers that I embraced developed their own communities, that meant I was being exposed to an even larger audience. No reason why this can't work for you as well.

2 - I challenged bloggers when I thought they were wrong. More importantly, I challenged the so-called 'A-Lister' bloggers. Now there's a difference between disagreeing, and being disagreeable. I didn't purposely LOOK for name bloggers to disagree with, but if a big name blogger said something I didn't buy, I would leave a comment saying so.

And sometimes I was dead wrong. But in the end, I expressed my opinion, and I think that sometimes stood out if no one else was disagreeing with the points raised by the blogger. This is big because I don't think we see enough of this on blogs today. And when we do see someone challenging a blogger, they often go overboard, usually writing a post that outright attacks the blogger, in an apparent effort to draw attention to themselves.

The ironic part is that most bloggers WANT their readers to voice disagreement with them sometimes. Because if someone here raises an opposing point, that then opens up the door for OTHERS to agree with that blogger, and suddenly the chances of getting more comments and a richer conversation, greatly increases.

So in closing, if you are a newish blogger looking to make a name for yourself, try going out of your way to comment/link to the bloggers that do the same for you, and don't be afraid to voice your opinions. What other tips can you offer for new bloggers looking to make a name for themselves?

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Guide to Leveraging #blogchat For Your Own Personal Gain

As #blogchat has continued to become more popular on Twitter, it means that more people are discovering the chat for the first time, which is awesome. I'm seeing new participants every week.

However, I'm also seeing a few people that are trying to capitalize on the popularity of #blogchat, by trying to bring extra exposure to their own efforts. Since most of these efforts seem to be mostly irritating the #blogchat community instead of exciting them, I decided to create the Guide to Leveraging #Blogchat For Your Own Personal Gain. This guide can easily be applied to any other twitter chat. The end result is that I *want* you to be able to leverage #blogchat as a channel to bring more exposure to your blogging efforts. I really do...but it won't happen unless you follow these guidelines:

1 - Understand that you have to make deposits before you can make withdrawals. What this means is that if you expect the #blogchat community to pay attention to your site, you need to first pay attention to the #blogchat community. You need to 'earn' the right to our attention. How do you do this? One good way is to first PARTICIPATE in a few #blogchats. Give us a chance to get to know you, who you are, and why we should care about what you are doing on your blog.

And an important clarification needs to be made here. By 'participating', I don't mean that you simply start linking to your blog posts DURING #blogchat. No, I mean that you join in the DISCUSSION happening during #blogchat.

2 - Stay on topic. If next week we decide to discuss ways to analyze your blog's stats to optimize content and YOU link to your latest post on choosing a Wordpress template AND you add the #blogchat hashtag to your tweet, then you are spamming the #blogchat channel on Twitter. Period.

3 - Promote other people. Let's say in the above example you clearly haven't written a post associated with that #blogchat topic, but you know that Jake has. Link to his post and add the #blogchat hashtag. By doing this you are creating value for the #blogchat followers and participants. This GREATLY improves the chance that we will click your next link.

4 - Use common sense. This isn't rocket science people, it's just social media. If you never participate in #blogchats and the only time we see you use the #blogchat hashtag is when you are tweeting a link to your newest blog post (that has nothing to do with the current #blogchat topic), then you are spamming us. And you know you are, so stop. It's not providing any value for us, and as a result, it's not helping you either.

So in closing, here is how to leverage #blogchat correctly for your own personal gain:

1 - Participate and join in on #blogchat discussions.
2 - Only promote your links if they are relevant and add to #blogchat discussion.
3 - Promote the work of other #blogchat participants.
4 - Use common sense. If it even smells like spam, it probably is.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The problem with case studies

When I speak at social media events and conferences, my presentations are usually very well received and the audience typically finds great value in them. The main reason why (I think), is because I tell stories. My presentations always include a lot of case studies from companies that are successfully leveraging social media to grow their businesses.

But case studies alone aren't that significant, and many companies misuse them. Because too many companies want to hear successful case studies, then replicate what those companies did.

The key isn't copying another company, the key is to understand what worked, and why. Then take the lesson learned from that case study, and apply it to your own efforts.

Graco launched a blog and saw amazing results. But just because blogging has worked for Graco doesn't mean it will work for your company. The success didn't lie with the blog, it was in how Graco created and executed its blogging strategy.

Is your competitor seeing Twitter drive sales to its store? Awesome. Does that mean that you need to get on Twitter too, or that you need to understand how your competitor is leveraging social media to grow its business?

Social media case studies are incredibly valuable IF you can learn how and why social media worked in that particular instance, and apply that lesson to your own efforts. Otherwise you'll always be chasing the 'next big thing', and never quite catch it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How conversational are Twitter's power users in the social media space?

Stefano alerted me to a Twitter screenshot that suggests that a Twitter homepage redesign is coming. An interesting element of this redesign would include showing what percentage of the user's recent tweets were replies to other users. I've always been interested in how people use Twitter, especially as a conversation platform.

So Stefano's screenshot got me to wondering how some of Twitter's 'power' users are using Twitter, and what percentage of their tweets are replies. So I went to TweetStats, and pulled up the stats for a few dozen of Twitter's power users, and found the following. First you'll see their Twitter name (with link to their TweetStats), and then the percentage of their tweets that include a '@'. Now it should be noted that if a user leaves a tweet like "@bethharte just wrote this great post on SM ROI -", that would still be factored in the percentage, even though it obviously is someone mentioning Beth in a link, not replying to her. Still, the percentages give you a good idea of which power users and 'influentials' in the social media space are using Twitter as a conversational tool, and which aren't:

  1. ComcastCares - 95.34%
  2. AmberCadabra - 83.01%
  3. LizStrauss - 82.21%
  4. BethHarte - 78.04%
  5. JeffPulver - 74.94%
  6. KrisColvin - 72.84%
  7. MackCollier - 72.27%
  8. TheBrandBuilder - 71.96%
  9. JSPepper - 71.07%
  10. ShannonPaul - 69.79%
  11. GeekMommy - 69.32%
  12. MariSmith - 69.26%
  13. ConnieReece - 69.01%
  14. MediaPhyter - 67.87%
  15. MarketingProfs - 67.67%
  16. ConversationAge - 67.52%
  17. Armano - 64.09%
  18. ChrisBrogan - 61.2%
  19. ShelIsrael - 59.96%
  20. BeckyMcCray - 59.18%
  21. GaryVee - 58.28%
  22. MarshaCollier - 55.51%
  23. ServantofChaos - 54.81%
  24. CSPenn - 49.15%
  25. Loic - 48.17%
  26. Scobleizer - 47.67%
  27. JasonFalls - 46.51%
  28. PRSarahEvans - 45.55%
  29. ProBlogger - 44.85%
  30. CopyBlogger - 44.03%
  31. MissRogue - 40.24%
  32. GapingVoid - 39.93%
  33. GuyKawasaki - 29.04%
  34. BrianSolis - 28.48%
  35. Pistachio - 28.16%
  36. JOwyang - 26.09%
  37. SteveRubel - 25.05%
  38. MitchJoel - 17.4%
  39. SkyDiver - 11.99%
  40. Mashable - 3.77%

Now there are obviously a few caveats here. Some users, like Comcastcares and AmberCadabra, are using Twitter to provide customer service support as part of their jobs. So that partly accounts for their high reply percentages. On the flipside, some users like Mashable are using Twitter to mostly promote their own stories, so they have few replies. What I think would be interesting would be to see for each user what percentage of their tweets are promoting themselves, and what percentage are promoting someone else.

Still, I think it's an interesting list, take from it what you will ;)

PS: You can check your own Twitter stats by going here -

Monday, April 05, 2010

Upcoming Social Media Conferences for 2010

Recently I was doing some research putting together a list of upcoming social media conferences, and since so many of you are looking for the same information, I thought I'd share my list with you here. I'll keep this updated as I find/hear about new conferences, and if you know of a social media conference that's coming up, please leave a comment so I can add it to the list!

Arizona -
Oct 17-20 BOLO 2010 - Scottsdale, AZ

California -
April 19+ Emerging Communications (eComm) America - Burlingame, CA

April 20-23 NewComm Forum 2010 San Mateo, CA

April 22–23 Forrester’s Marketing Forum 2010 Los Angeles, CA

April 27 Social Business - Mountain View, CA

April 30+ Wisdom 2.0 Conference Mountain View, CA

May 28+ Lightning in a Bottle Irvine, CA

June 9-11 Social Media Summit @ Cisco Headquarters - San Jose, CA

June 14-15 Agency Side - San Diego, CA:

June 16-18 Social Media Conference - Beverly Hills, CA

Florida -
May 03 2010 Search & Social Spring Summit Tampa, FL

Illinois -
April 28 Social Media Bootcamp - Chicago, IL

April 30-May 2 SOBCon - Chicago, IL

May 12-13 Employee Engagement, Social Media and HR 2010 - Chicago, IL

May 14-17 The 2010 NARM Music Business Convention - Chicago, IL

Kansas -
April 29-30 The Free State Social - Lawrence KS

June 4-6 Small Business Social Media Summit - Hutchinson, KS

Massachusetts -
April 8 Social Media Marketing (SMM) | Central Massachusetts
- Natick, MA

May 3 Social Media & Community 2.0 Strategies - Boston, MA:

May 4-5 MarketingProfs B2B Forum - Boston, MA

Michigan -
April 16-17 FutureMidwest Royal Oak, MI

Missouri -
April 19 Social Fresh - St. Louis, MO

Nevada -
July 16-17 Versus Conference - Las Vegas, NV

October 14-16 Blog World Expo - Las Vegas, NV

New York -
April 17 Seven on Seven - New York, NY

July 26-28 Strategic Social Media for Healthcare - NYC

December 8-10 Sm@rt Social Media - Reno, NV

North Carolina -
May 17-19 Search Exchange - Charlotte, NC

Pennsylvania -
May 25 Social Media Plus - Philadelphia, PA

Tennessee -
August 13 At Big South Social Media Summit - Nashville, TN:

Texas -
Sept. 16-17 Social Media Optimization Summit - Dallas, TX

Washington -
June 8-9 Search Marketing Expo – SMX Advanced Seattle - Seattle, WA:

Wisconsin -
May 13-15 unGeeked Elite - Milwaukee, WI:

Online -
May 4-25 Social Media Success Summit 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Has Twitter jumped the shark?

Twitter is slowing turning us all into broadcasters.

That seems to be the case among the people I am following. Even among my close contacts, I'm noticing that there are few actual conversations happening, it's mostly a stream of personal updates, with the occasional link thrown in.

To prove this, I decided to check the recent tweets from my contacts on Twitter. I am following over 15,000 people now, so Tweetdeck is a godsend, because it allows me to segment those followers into groups so I can be sure to keep up with people more easily.

One of the groups I have created is 'My 100', which are close friends and business contacts who I absolutely want to keep up with.

I decided to go to the tweets from My 100 and see how many tweets from this group would pass before I found a tweet where someone was leaving a reply to someone else. In other words, how many tweets would pass by before I found a tweet from a member of My 100 who was engaged in a conversation with someone else.

73 tweets passed before I found a person replying to someone else (God bless you, @ShannonPaul). SEVENTY THREE!!!! I figured the number would be a dozen, at most. Now granted, there were several RTs in that, but 72 tweets passed before I found one where someone was actually talking to someone else.

BTW just for the hell of it, I decided to conduct the same experiment on my All Friends column. There a mere 17 tweets went by before I found one left directly to another person.

It seems we are shifting from using Twitter as a conversational tool, to using it as a broadcasting tool. We are no longer talking WITH Twitter members, we are talking at them. I'm doing it as well, I checked my TweetStats, and now 72% of my tweets are replies to others. That's good, but at one point I was pushing 80%.

Are you guys seeing the same thing? Or am I just being bitchy because everyone isn't using Twitter the same way I am? Long-time readers of The Viral Garden will remember that in the Summer of 2008 I went on and on about how amazing Plurk was. A big reason why, was because of all the amazing conversations a small group of us had there.

I miss that. And I really haven't seen it on Twitter in several months.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

OptSum: Getting out of the Social Media Bubble

For the last three days I've been in Dallas attending and presenting at the Social Media Optimization Summit. The event was organized by Tami Siewruk and her team, and in many ways, I was an outsider. Which was a good thing.

The event was aimed primarily at the apartment industry and property managers. While Tami put together a very solid lineup of social media speakers, such as Jason Falls, Chris Penn, Geno Church, Charity Hisle, myself and others, many of us had little visibility in Tami's 'space'. This was great, because it meant that the audience, for the most part, had no pre-conceived notions about us, and our ideas and teachings had to stand on their own merits.

What I loved about the audience was that every thought we put forward was refocused through the lense of 'how does this work for my industry?' Normally when I speak at a marketing/social media event, the audience isn't this laser-focused on one particular sector or industry. But the people I met at #optsum were passionate about learning more about social media, and how it can work with and be incorporated into their current marketing efforts.

But I have to admit, as the event unfolded and I sat in on several workshops, I began to get a bit worried about my workshop. My Think Like a Rockstar workshop was focused on how rockstars create fans for their music, and how companies can replicate this via social media to create excitement for their own efforets. It was definitely the black sheep of the agenda, but somewhat to my surprise, there wasn't a chair left when the workshop started. I think that's because these people are passionate about their tenants and WANT to connect with them and were excited about the potential of using social media as a way to create and nurture relationships with their customers. It was very inspiring to see!

And speaking of inspiring, I loved how all the attendees were so passionate about Tami and her events. This is the first time when I have had attendees refer to a series of conferences as being 'life-changing events', but I heard that description more than once. Tami is planning on having a similar event (only bigger) back in Dallas in September, and if you are in the apartment industry (or even if you aren't), I highly recommend you attend!

BTW if you couldn't make it to Dallas, here's the slidedeck from my Think Like a Rockstar workshop:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

This is MY idea...

From 1966 to 1968, Adam West and Burt Ward played Batman and Robin in the very campy, and very popular series 'Batman' for ABC. The series portrayed Batman and Robin as being very cartoonish, and often as inept as the villains they were chasing. DC Comics took its lead from the success of the ABC series, and began publishing stories in its Batman comics that were similar in stance and tone to the very funny and satirical shows being shown in the Batman television series.

About a year or so after the Batman series ended, a writer named Denny O'Neil and an artist named Neal Adams began collaborating on new Batman comics. At this point the Batman comics were still taking their lead from the campiness of the Batman series, and the writers and artists that worked on Batman comics were encouraged to do so as well. O'Neil and Adams not only didn't agree with this stance, they thought it was ridiculous. They wanted to see Batman return to his roots as a brooding force that fought evil from the darkness and shadows, not a campy superhero that fought in tights.

So bit by bit, Adams and O'Neil began to make subtle changes to way Batman was written and drawn. If a script called for Batman to appear in broad daylight, Adams would change it to a night scene. They made Batman more menacing to criminals, more violent, but at the same time, he became more cerebral, going from being bumbling in the TV series, to 'the world's greatest detective'.

Slowly, O'Neil and Adams took the idea of what and who the Batman was, and made it their own. Most fans consider the O'Neil and Adams work on Batman in the early 70s to be one of the greatest collaborations in comics history. In fact, much of the present image you see of Batman, in movies such as The Dark Knight, is heavily influenced by the work of Adams and O'Neil, four decades ago.

So what does this have to do with social media?

One of the complaints you hear often in this space is that there are no new ideas. We are all simply rehashing the same ideas over and over. We've become an echo chamber.

To a large degree, that's correct. But instead of simply looking for new ideas, sometimes it's just as effective to take an old idea, and make it your own.

Twitter launched in the summer of 2006, and from Day One, users of the site were suggesting to their friends who they should be following. We all did this, but Micah Baldwin was the first to take this idea and make it his own, with the creation of #followfriday early last year.

How often do you see someone promoting a post or work they have done in a blog comment? Many people do this, and many more people probably would LIKE to do this, but don't want to seem too self-promotional. Becky McCray created the Brag Basket on her blog, and solved this problem. She took an existing idea, and made it her own.

For as long as there have been blogs, there have been bloggers wanting other bloggers to link to them. We all want more links, and we all want to be found by more readers. This is why I started The Z-List in late 2006. The idea was simple, you highlight any blogs that you think others should be reading, and link to them. I took an existing idea (linking to other blogs, asking for blog links), and made it my own.

The point is, instead of chasing 'new ideas', how can you take an existing idea, or an existing activity, and add more value? How can you take that idea, and make it your own? Sometimes improving the wheel makes more sense than trying to re-invent it.

Pic via Cover Browser

Monday, March 15, 2010

Heading to SXSW-Music? Want to get in on a social media scavenger hunt?

Typically I don't blog about work I'm doing with clients, but if you'll be in Austin later this week for SXSW-Music, I wanted to give you the heads up on pretty cool a project I'm working on.

One of my current clients is Rock Saga, a 5-day alternative rock festival that will be taking place in Jamaica over Memorial Day Weekend (May 27th-31st). The festival itself will be extremely cool, the heart of which is a 2-day Battle of the Bands concert, but there's also a Miss Rock Saga Competition, and more parties on the beach than you can shake a stick at. The Battle of the Bands will be composed of 24 bands selected by the fans at the website, and all together $30,000 in prize money will be awarded. And of course, it's in Jamaica in May, so that alone is reason enough to get excited!

So we wanted to make sure we were in Austin during SXSW-Music to help get the word out about the festival. And the thought was that while we are there, that we should give away some tickets. But instead of just handing out tickets, we decided to make it fun for everyone, and try doing a scavenger hunt!

What we'll be doing is this: On the 17th, 18th and 20th, we'll have a team in and around the Austin Convention Center where the majority of SXSW-Music will be taking place. This team will have several pairs of tickets with them, 2-day weekend passes to the Battle of the Bands that would normally sell for $199. If you want to win a pair of these tickets, you'll have to find them. It could be that one of the team members will have them, or they could be hidden somewhere in the conference center. We'll tell you which, and will post hints to where you can find the tickets (or the person that has the tickets) on Rock Saga's Twitter page, and on their Facebook Fan Page. So if you want to play along, make sure you follow Rock Saga on Twitter and Facebook!

This is a bit of an experiment, so we'll see how it goes. The festival itself will be a blast, so in keeping with that spirit we wanted to have some fun with promoting it during SXSW, and thought it would be cool to let you guys get in on it as well! We'll be building off this in the coming weeks and will be using social media in other ways to promote Rock Saga.

If you'd like to learn more about Rock Saga, check out the site, and if you would like to join us as a sponsor, there's still some room left, just email me and I can put you in touch with the people that can help you out. And if you're a band that would like to join the Rock Saga lineup, go to the site and submit your band, then have your friends vote you up, you could get added to the festival!

Oh and if you think the scavenger hunt idea is cool and want to tell your friends on Twitter, I'd appreciate that as well ;)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Are you ignoring one of the most important rules of blogging?

The most agonizing and frustrating blog post I ever wrote, was my first one.

It took me FOUR days to write that post. Actually it only took about an hour to write, but it took me four days to have the courage to hit 'Publish Post'.

And it wasn't because I was insecure about the post itself, it was because according to what I had read on other blogs, it was a 'bad' post. In preparing for the start of my blog-writing, I read a LOT of blogs in an effort to discover the 'tips' for writing a great blog. And one of the 'rules' for blogging I read over and over again was 'Make sure the post is only a couple of paragraphs long, otherwise it will be too long and readers will lose interest.'

My post was at least two pages long. So I stared intently at the screen trying to figure out a way to shorten the post to 2 paragraphs, and still tell the story I wanted to tell. After 4 days I realized that it couldn't be done, and hit 'Publish Post'.

Just like that, my blogging 'career' began by breaking the blogging rules. And I have to admit, it felt damn good!

I've been thinking about this recently because I'm really struggling to find 'new' blogs that get and maintain my interest. And I wonder if part of the reason why is because so many new bloggers are following the 'rules' of blogging. In 2005 and 2006, we didn't have Copy Blogger and ProBlogger to tell us the what the 'best' way to blog was. We all had to make our own rules, to a great extent.

But now, there's a zillion blogs giving you 'Ten Steps to Creating the Perfect Blog". Hell I've written those posts myself. And on the one hand these do definitely improve your blogging, but at the same time if everyone is following the same format, then it becomes MUCH harder for a blog to stand out.

Another example of purposely not following the blogging rules was the Z-List. This was the thing that first got me on a lot of people's radars. The premise was absurd to some; Take a list of blogs you think are under-appreciated, then invite everyone else to add their own favorite blogs and share the list. With one BIG caveat; You can't add your OWN blog to the list. Even though my blog wasn't on the original Z-List, I ended up gaining a few hundred links from the Z-list, and a few other blogs got several hundred.

So while you are following the 'rules' for better blogging, don't forget that you can always make and ADD your own rules. That might be the most important blogging rule of all.

Pic via Flickr user atibens

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Senior marketing execs see their companies moving to social media in 2010

MENG has just released the results of its third annual Marketing Trends study (which you can view here), and the results showed that senior-level marketers and execs are getting very serious about social media.

First, some background on MENG and the respondents to this study. All MENG members must have attained a level of VP or higher prior to joining, and must have a salary of at least $160K. So these findings are coming from people that are in a position to shape the marketing initiatives in their companies.

BTW complete disclosure, I was recently selected to MENG's Social Media Council of Advisors, along with friends and smarties Drew McClellan, Beth Harte, Amber Naslund, Paul Dunay and Joe Pulizzi.

Now, for the key social media findings, which come from roughly 1,800 MENG members.

  • Over 70% of respondents said their company is planning NEW social media initiatives in 2010
  • 43% of respondents said their company had a Facebook presence, 43% said their company had a LinkedIn presence, and 34% said their company was on Twitter. 28% of respondents said their company had a blog, and this was noted as being significantly higher than last year's findings.
  • As for which social sites MENG members are using themselves, LinkedIn was the big winner here, with 92% of respondents saying they use LI, Facebook was second with 56%.
  • Companies are more likely to maintain a blog than individual executives, and executives are less likely to have a personal blog UNLESS they are at a smaller company (less than 2,000 employees).
  • As for implementing new social media initiatives in 2010, most execs surveyed will do so internally (71%). 28% said they would rely on interactive agencies, 25% on social media consultants, 20% on PR agencies, and 16% on ad agencies.
  • As far as creating social media strategies, both large companies (46%) and small companies (41%) will be going with social media consultants as their top choice if they outsource. Next will be interactive, PR and Ad agencies.
  • Larger companies that outsource social media initiatives will turn to Interactive agencies (33%), Ad agencies (31%), PR agencies (26%) and Social Media Consultants (24%)
  • What criteria do companies have to who they outsource their social media initiatives to? The top 4 answers were Examples of Previous Work (94%), Recommendations (91%), Quality of Response to RFP (82%), and Cost (80%). Interestingly, the 11th most popular determinant was Social Media Certification (32%) and 12th was Number of Twitter Followers (21%).
I think this study also shows that marketers are becoming a bit tired of the buzz around social media. Mark left a comment in the previous post about how we 'pundits' told companies that they had to start using social media. He's right, and they did, and now they realize they aren't sure how to evaluate their efforts. So I think that's where a lot of the frustration is coming from, but as they become more adept at social media and how the tools function, that frustration should decrease.

If you want to see the results (PowerPoint) for yourself, you can view them here.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Small businesses flocking to social media, but still like to self-promote

According to a new University of Maryland study (via eMarketer), social media adoption among small businesses has doubled, and these companies are satisfied with their results. Here's a graph from eMarketer showing the primary way in which these businesses are using social media:

What struck me about this was notice that the most popular ways for using social media all involve self-promotion. Posting status updates, blogging and tweeting about expertise. But notice what the LAST tactic listed is:

"Use Twitter as a customer service channel."

In many ways this suggests that these businesses are still very new to social media. Because when adopting social media use for the first time, most companies will use it as a marketing tool in the way that they are most familiar with. That means they use social media to broadcast and self-promote.

And notice that when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of its social media usage, 73% of respondents placed "Identify and attract new customers" as the top priority. But only 61% said their efforts met their expectations. This suggests to me that the expectations these companies have for their social media usage is being stifled by HOW they are using the tools. They want engagement, but aren't doing a good job of BEING engaging, it seems.

But my guess/hope is that as companies become more familiar with social media tools and their capabilities, that we'll see 'Posting status updates' moving further down that list, and see actual customer engagement becoming a priority for social media usage. THAT is where the true potential of social media for businesses lies.

Monday, March 01, 2010

I'm heading to Dallas, want to come?

Lately I've been so busy that I've had to become a lot pickier about the events I speak at. But there's one coming up in Dallas later this month that was too good for me to pass up. On March the 23rd and 24th I'll be in Dallas at the Social Media Optimization Summit.

I'll be speaking on Wednesday the 24th, and my 2-hour workshop will be entitled "Think Like a Rockstar; How to Build Fans and Community Around Your Social Media Efforts". Here's the official workshop description:

"It wasn’t supposed to be like this. You launched a new blog or maybe you created a Facebook Fan Page, thinking that you’d tap into these amazing social media tools as a way to connect with your customers and create raving fans and passionate evangelists for your business. Now it’s 4 months later and you have 12 fans on your Facebook page, and virtual tumbleweeds taunt you as your blog struggles to reach 10 visitors a day.

What happened?

Many companies find themselves in this exact situation, and this workshop will show you how to think like a rockstar. Rockstars don’t have customers, they have fans. And this doesn’t happen by accident, rockstars have a very special connection with their customers that makes them become raving fans for them and their products. Some companies are finding that they can use social media in many of these same ways to build vibrant online communities that are passionate about them.

In the “Think Like a Rockstar; How to Build Fans and Community Around Your Social Media Efforts” workshop, you will learn:

· The four key things that Rockstars do to create fans for their work and how you can do the same with your social media efforts
· The keys to building a vibrant community around your social media efforts
· The importance of ‘fishing where the fish are’ when you’re trying to build awareness
· How to create content that taps into the ‘Bigger Idea’ that’s more relevant and exciting to your customers

Pretty cool, eh? And the event itself has some of the biggest names in social media and online marketing, guys like John Jantsch, Jason Falls, Geno Church, Eric Brown, Erica Campbell, Jay Ehret, and many more!

As for the price, it's currently $429, BUT if you use code MC when you register, you can save $125 off that price! Not bad, huh? If you'll be attending, please let me know so we can meet up!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Can you learn to be 'social' when using social media?

When I started blogging in 2005, one of the first things I did was study how the so-called 'successful' bloggers blogged. One of the bloggers I began reading was Hugh MacLeod at Gaping Void.

I noticed as soon as I started reading Gaping Void that Hugh wasn't blogging the 'right' way. Specifically, he was constantly linking out to other sites and bloggers. This was obviously 'wrong', because all he was doing was sending traffic AWAY from his blog. And if a blogger with several days experience could see this, I'm sure everyone else could as well. Obviously.

But as I kept reading Hugh (even though I knew how he blogged was 'wrong'), I began to notice that people were commenting saying that they appreciated the link to Seth's recent post, or Tara's post on Pinko Marketing. Then I saw someone comment that they loved reading his blog because of 'all the great links you share'.

Hmmmmm.....could it be that by sharing links to other sites that Hugh wasn't actually driving people AWAY from his blog, but instead giving people a reason to become regular readers?

Then soon after, another blogging epiphany happened for me. As I was doing a crash-course of reading blogs in an effort to uncover the secrets of being a great blogger, I began to find a post here and there that caught my attention enough to leave a comment. Then a day or two later I noticed that traffic to my own blog started suddenly going up. And for the first time, COMMENTS were coming in! Awesome! But the problem was, I still had no idea what had caused the floodgates to open. Why all the traffic and comments suddenly? Then my friend Jordan Behan left a comment and when he did, he THANKED me for commenting on his blog. I went back and checked, and sure enough, almost all of the comments I had suddenly gotten, were coming from bloggers whose blog I had commented on first.

What these two examples did for helping me understand how and WHY people use social media, is immeasurable. Share something of value with others (such as a link to a great blog post), and they will be thankful. Create something of value for them (such as a comment on their blog), and they will not only be thankful, but they will want to return the favor.

But when I started blogging, my thought was that you become a good blogger by creating great content, and giving people a reason to come to your blog, and stay there. I had to LEARN how to be social with social media. I had to figure out how the tools work, and why people are using them. Not to silo content and information, but to SHARE it.

I was thinking about this learning process as I read Robbin's post today. I agree, I think companies have to train their employees on how to use social media as well. And in reality, the only way to do that is by making mistakes. Even if a company hires me to help them learn how to use social media effectively, there's still a time when the training wheels have to come off and the company takes ownership of their own efforts. No one learns how to ride a bicycle without earning a few scraped knees first. Social media is no different.

BTW as an introvert, I really think this applies. When I first started using social media, I didn't want to interact with strangers, because I am hesitant to do so offline. I had to learn how to become more social online, and now I think I'm an online extrovert, and an offline introvert. Have any other introverts noticed the same thing?

Monday, February 22, 2010

#blogchat 2-21 recap: Corp Blogging with Dell's Chief Blogger Lionel Menchaca!

Last nite was our biggest and most active #blogchat ever, with Dell's Chief Blogger Lionel Menchaca joining us to discuss corporate blogging, and more specifically, how Dell uses blogging to connect with its customers.

I do want to do a recap of some of the MANY takeaways from last nite's #blogchat, but first I wanted to touch on a big reason why Dell is using social media so effectively. As Shannon Paul would say, they show up. I asked Lionel to join #blogchat mostly because he's one of the best corporate bloggers on the planet, but also because I knew he would 'show up'. I told Lionel beforehand that if he needed to leave #blogchat after an hour or so to let me know, but he stayed for over 2 hours. And guys he was being absolutely HAMMERED with questions. Seriously when #blogchat first started he was getting 5-10 new questions a minute thrown at him. And there were even a few people taking swipes at Dell and how they use social media, and he handled it all with grace and ease. I'm sure it was a bit overwhelming at times, but he answered as many questions as possible, the funniest thing where people were asking him questions like 'Top 5 examples of...' or 'Your Ten Best reasons to blog', and other questions that were impossible to answer in one tweet, he would just peck out the answer in 3-4 tweets ;)

And this is a big reason why companies like Dell and Radian6 and Marketing Profs are using social media so well. Because they are connecting to us as PEOPLE. A big reason why my future laptop and desktop purchases will be Dells? Because I have connected with several Dell employees via social media. If I have an issue or concern, all I have to do is jump on Twitter and tweet them, and a personalized response is likely coming within 5 minutes. I can't get that from Apple or Compaq or any of Dell's direct or indirect competitors. The same thing goes for companies like Radian6 and Marketing Profs. They both have excellent products and services, but they are also using social media to put human faces to their companies.

That's a big advantage of using social media, and its one that very few companies have tapped into.

But that's another post for another day. Let's get back to my recap of last nite's #blogchat.

First, check out Lionel's tweets from #blogchat.

Here are some of my favorite takeaways:

  • Initially, all comments on Dell's blogs were moderated. Now they go live, and are then screened.
  • Making it easy for customers to comment on your blog is key to driving engagement there
  • Dell got into social media in 2006 because customers were telling them they needed to improve their customer service, plus they realized that all these conversations were happening online that they had no say in.
  • Social media won't help improve perception of a crappy product, it will amplify perceptions, good and bad.
  • 3 bottom line goals for a corp blog: Know your scope and objective, know the audience you want to connect with, and be ready for criticism because it IS coming!
  • Dell monitors blogs with tools such as Radian6 to discover support issues BEFORE customers come to them.
  • It's great to have a strategy driving your social media efforts, but there's no substitute for action.
  • Dell crafts its content to be product-specific, because they have learned from studying traffic to their blogs that this is the content Dell's customers want more of. But they also have content that's focused on the customers as well.
  • Lionel sees Dell's blogs and forums being more integrated in the future
This is just some of the amazing nuggets from Lionel. Seriously I said on Twitter earlier that his #blogchat tweets alone last nite were like a corporate blogging encyclopedia! If you aren't already, make SURE you are following @lionelatdell! Thanks again for joining us Lionel, you are indeed The Man!

BTW remember that our next #blogchat is this Sunday nite the 28th at 8pm Central and is OPEN MIC! That means YOU pick the blogging topic you want to cover, and we all go from there! And you can also join #blogchat's Facebook fan page, which is now over 100 fans! Thanks guys, see you Sunday!

Flickr pic via @DavidAlston

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The best way to connect via social media that you aren't using is....

Twitter chats. I am a huge proponent of Twitter chats, because they make it incredibly easy to find and connect with smart people, and have them discover you. There are now well over 100 regularly-scheduled chats on Twitter (most of them are weekly), and the topics are varied from social media to dog lovers to stay at home moms. So there should be at least 1 or 2 that appeal to almost everyone.

Why are Twitter chats so important? Here's 5 reasons:

1 - They let you connect with people that are on Twitter to interact. One of the biggest complaints about Twitter is that you can follow people, but its sometimes hard to really connect with the people on Twitter. Twitter chats are perfect for this, because if you are participating in a Twitter chat, the odds are that you are wanting Sure there are lurkers to every chat, but there's a much higher chance of actually having a conversation with people, during a chat.

2 - They give you the chance to get noticed. This is one many of us struggle with when we first join Twitter. You have no followers, and no one knows who you are. So your tweets go out one. But if you join a Twitter chat, then your tweets go out to the participants in THAT CHAT, if you add the appropriate hashtag to your tweets. So if you tweet every day about social media and it goes out to your 5 followers, that might not help you get noticed very much. But if you join #blogchat and talk social media with us there, your tweets will be going out to several hundred people. So your exposure level skyrockets. Which means you gain more followers during #blogchat, that you can reach afterwards.

3 - Joining new chats means new connections. I typically gain about 15-20 new followers during each week's #blogchat. But last nite I participated briefly in #IMCchat. I checked afterwards and found I had gained about 30 followers in the 45 mins or so that I participated in #IMCchat. Why? Because the network that follows #IMCchat is different from the one that follows #blogchat. So by joining #IMCchat, I was getting exposure to a new group of people. And likewise, I found some new people to follow!

4 - They give you access to industry experts you might not have otherwise. One of the big reasons why I wanted to join #IMCchat last nite was because @SouthwestAir's @ChristiDay joined the chat to give us some insight into how Southwest internally handled the recent Kevin Smith bruhawhaw. This coming Sunday nite, #blogchat will be co-hosted by Dell's Chief Blogger, Lionel Menchaca. So as certain chats become more popular, they can attract participants and hosts to a very interactive environment.

5 - They give you the chance to start your OWN chat! Simply pick a topic that you are passionate about, or that ties into your business, and create a chat to discuss it! And it doesn't have to be a weekly chat, start off with a monthly format and see if demand warrants bumping it up to bi-weekly or weekly. And doing so is an EXCELLENT way to draw attention to yourself! Let's say one of my hobbies was collecting Victorian antique furniture (it isn't, but bear with me). If you were to start a chat about finding and appraising Victorian antique furniture (or maybe just antique furniture), you better believe I would LOVE to join that chat!

And this is something I have seen for months firsthand from #blogchat. When people join your chat and get value from it, they will go out of their way to promote it to others. Every single day on Twitter now I see people helping others get more information about #blogchat. They are answering questions about what it is, when it is, and how to join. Every single day. When I first started #blogchat I had to promote it almost every day for the first couple of weeks, now I only send out 1 or 2 tweets a week reminding everyone of when/what it is.

So if you are looking to build your network on Twitter, and get noticed, I really think you should investigate Twitter chats. They are a terribly underutilized way to meet smart people, and have these smart people meet YOU. And we'd LOVE to have you join our next #blogchat on Sunday nite at 8pm CT, which will be co-hosted by Dell's Chief Blogger Lionel Menchaca! Here's the Facebook fan page for #blogchat which has some more information!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kevin Smith vs Southwest: Did anyone win?

If you are like me, you missed the latest Twitter soap opera over the weekend, this one between Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines. I've gone back and read blog posts and tweets from both parties, and from what I can tell, Smith was on standby for a SW flight earlier than his scheduled one. SW let him board that plane, then asked him to leave, citing that he was causing discomfort to the passengers around him, or that as he claims, he was 'too fat to fly'.

Now, as usually is the case with a social media firestorm, what actually happened isn't nearly as significant as how the involved parties RESPOND to what actually happened.

First, there was this blog post from Southwest, entitled "Not So Silent Bob Speaks", which is a terrible title. One thing companies need to realize when they are in a situation like this is that many people are going to take swipes at you no matter WHAT you do or HOW you respond. So why give them any ammo by choosing a title that SOME could see as a swipe against Smith? Bad move, Southwest.

Now as for the post itself, it's apparently been edited since it was first published, but after an initial apology to Smith (which is what you want to see), the tone of the rest of the post seems to be explaining why Southwest was not at fault here. Additionally, the post should have closed again apologizing to Smith, and offering readers to leave their feedback (which they were going to do anyway). And Southwest should have stressed that they handled the situation poorly, and were listening to Smith, and their customers.

While Southwest was leaving this post, @ThatKevinSmith was on Twitter leaving a steady stream of f-bombs and other profanity-laced tweets aimed at Southwest. Now somewhat in Smith's defense, he was obviously upset and felt he had been told by Southwest that he was 'too fat to fly'. He was embarrassed, and had been the victim of a very bad customer service experience. So him being upset is understandable, but after 100 or so profanity-laced tweets, I think he crossed the line from being justifiably upset, to making himself look bad. I won't share the tweets, and honestly the one I included in this post was one of the few that didn't have the f-bomb in it.

Southwest then followed the next day with another post on the subject, which led to a post from Smith on his blog (NSFW). BTW after reading these posts I noticed something very significant: Southwest allowed comments on their posts, Smith did not. And yes, many of the (anonymous) comments on the Southwest blog were slamming the company, while many others defended their actions. But again, it rings a bit hollow to me that Smith wants to use social media to complain about the situation, but won't let us give our thoughts.

In the end, I think both Southwest and Smith handled this poorly. Southwest clearly didn't handle Smith's situation very well at all, and probably never should have let him on the plane, and then weren't completely honest about why he had to leave the plane. At least that's what it seems like to me. Then their apologies didn't seem completely sincere, and Smith went from being justifiably outraged to all but whining on Twitter. And constant f-bombs did nothing to help his cause.

But for companies, I think this is a reminder of how to properly handle a 'crisis' situation like this:

1 - Admit you were wrong, and MEAN IT. Even if you really don't THINK you were wrong, admit that you could have been, and probably were. Because many people will automatically believe you ARE wrong. So address those people in your response. Again, firestorms like this are pushed by the people that are the most vocal, and that doesn't necessarily mean they are right or even interested in being right. But it DOES mean that your response needs to go above and beyond in admitting error, and apologizing.

2 - Tell us how you will keep the same thing from happening to me. How will you FIX the problem? What did you learn from this, and what will be changed as a result?

3 - Invite feedback and let customers know that you WANT to hear from them. I never saw this in Southwest's replies. And you might as well ask for feedback because you WILL get it. Say you're wrong, tell us how the problem will be fixed, then invite us to give you feedback on what you are doing.

4 - Apologize, and remind us that you will do everything you can to ensure that this doesn't happen again. Thank your customers for caring enough to voice their concerns about this issue, and invite them to keep responding.

What do you guys think? Did Southwest handle this correctly? If not, what could they have changed? Was Smith justified in his tweets, or did he go too far?

BTW Sonny has a great post on this episode, check it out.