It's real people and real communications

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This past week I spoke at the Sydney session of the International Customer Service Professionals (ICSP) on the topic of How can Social Media benefit our business? along with several other well known professionals (@carolskyring, @jasonealey , @CatrionaPollard).

It is always interesting to see how business people – whose real jobs are something completely unrelated to technology and social computing – are grappling with the digital revolution.

There is a dawning realisation by these business people that something different is happening. That old ways of marketing are shifting. That new modes of communication and conversation are evolving. And they are questioning.

The questions are to be expected. What is it? How do I do it? What needs to change in my organisation to make this happen?

Answers to these questions are both deceptively simple and fiendishly complex.

The real challenge lies with the simple fact that now there is no avoiding interaction with real people. It also means that all of the assumptions that we’ve made about our customers for so many decades might just be wrong (or they might be right – who knows?).

The one sure thing with this digital revolution is that our businesses are now marketing to audience of one. And that this audience has the ability to talk back to us in no uncertain terms.

A new challenge for business in the age of digital revolution is dealing with real people and undertaking real communication with them. No more set and forget above and below the line marketing campaigns. Now we might just have to think about it a bit more than we’ve been used to.

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Digital citizens need real world knowledge too

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It was fascinating to be at the inaugural Digital Citizens event in Sydney last week – the topic was: Private Parts: Personality and Disclosure – Finding a Balance in the Digital Space.

There was a great line up on the panel with visiting US lawyer and social media specialist Adrian Dayton (Social Media for Lawyers), Sam North (Ogilvy PR), Damian Damjanovski (BMF), and Renai LeMay (Delimiter), all wrangled expertly by the moderator Bronwen Clune (Strategeist).

It was a very thought provoking session with the panel and audience discussion. And the big takeway for me is that social media and its practitioners need to accept that we live within a particular social and legal context.

No matter how much we ‘social media’ types decry how poorly the law is setup to deal with what we do everyday, that is the situation we must deal with. The law moves much more slowly than changes in technology, and, upon consideration, maybe that’s not such a bad thing?

For example, Damian Damjanovski argued: “A lot of people out there use it as a personal communications method. There are lots of people with no more than 70 followers . When did we get to the point that this is suddenly publishing and should be treated as such?”

The fact is ordinary people are doing something that was once privileged – publishing. We are publishing content in many places now in the same ways that publishers (who have lawyers vetting much of their content) have for years.

Now that everywoman and everyman is a publisher we need to understand the rights and obligations that come with publication. We are no longer having a chat about something over dinner or at the pub with a bunch of mates. We are posting content (pretty much) for perpetuity and complaining when there are legal ramifications associated with that act.

It all made me think that perhaps a good topic for another Digital Citizens session would be about the legal issues associated with the act of publication on the web? Since, while Adrian Dayton was great, it would have been handy to have Australian lawyer on the panel.

A brief write-up of the event is also available on mUmBRELLA

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Not just Twitter, most conversation is meaningless babble

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It’s not really meaningless babble anyway! And this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Most conversation is not important for the words we speak. Instead it is the act of being present to the other person and giving attention that gives most conversations their true value. Some experts term this social grooming.

It also enables the growth of social bonds by means of the time spent in relatively trivial communications.  These seemingly unimportant communications are what makes dealing with bigger issues between individuals and groups easier.

How much easier is it to ask for help from someone you’ve known socially for a while than a stranger? How much easier is it to know the best way to phrase a suggestion or request to someone if you’ve chatted with them before?

The important thing that social networking tools like Twitter or Facebook  (or newer tools like Google’s Buzz) enable is non-localised proximity. No longer do you need to run into a person in the office kitchen each day to build up informal social ties.  Now we can do it from half a world away in real-time.

It’s also worth checking out Dunbar on this kind of thing.

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Twitter 2009 retrospective

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For me 2009 goes down as the year other people discovered Twitter. It went from a small and fairly intimate place to hangout to a busy bustling intersection of information, commerce and conversations.

It felt almost like moving from a small town to a big and somewhat impersonal city.

Some of the events of 2009 in which Twitter played a big part for me included:

#media140
#futuresummit
#cccsyd
#poltech
#toto
#usnowsydney
and the various BarCamps in Sydney & Canberra.

The growth of community in real life that was enabled by Twitter continues to amaze me – STUB, Silicon Beach, the various Sydney Coffee Mornings (e.g. NSCM), & SHTBOX in Sydney and countless informal meetups.  A big thank-you to all the kind and lovely people that I met on Twitter and at the various meetups – wishing you all a wonderful 2010.

Twitter also played a different part in reporting the news.  No longer did I rely upon news agencies for breaking news. Instead people on Twitter broke the news and it was left to the traditional news agencies to verify and follow up on the stories.

It was also interesting to look back on my Twitter year by means of a Wordle:
@kcarruthers 2009 twitter wordle

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Interesting people to follow #followfriday

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Here’s a few more interesting people I follow on Twitter, & some more evidence that Twitter helps to build real relationships too 😉


@mpesce
– Mark is a good friend in real life these days (we met originally via Twitter) he’s a thinker, inventor, rabble rouser and all round nice guy

@socialalchemy – Matt is a social entrepreneur (we also met originally via Twitter), with an active curiousity, he’s also a former army officer with some interesting stories (recently coordinated Global Entrepreneurship Week Australia)

@piawaugh – Pia is another of my geek heroines, fearless open source advocate, adviser to Senator Kate Lundy, champion of open government, and a good buddy

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some Aussie entrepreneurs for #followfriday

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Last night I attended the 2009 NSW Pearcey Awards & a few people I know were honoured for their work. These are all dynamic intelligent people who are passionate about technology but who also have put in a lot of effort into building community among the tech and startup folks in Sydney.

@rabieburns – Ian Gardiner, winner of the 2009 Pearcey Award, he’s done amazing stuff in business with Viocorp & still always finds time to help build up and connect Aussie startups

@eliasbiz – Elias Bizannes received a special recognition award & is well known for his activities in building up the tech/startup community in Australia especially via his baby Silicon Beach Australia and on the Data Portability project

@tjoosdude & @tjoosgirl – Bart Jellema & Kim Chen received a special recognition award; in their spare time they are founders of a successful startup called TJoos.com and have also been active in building up the Sydney tech community via Silicon Beach Australia.

@Wickedboy – Scott-Bradley Pearce also scored a special recognition award and in his spare time is Digital Video and Media Consultant at One In Ten Productions

#pearcey

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3 tips for networking online and offline

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In this day of LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook and Twitter it might seem that networking the old fashioned way is dying. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Many real life social interactions arise from these online networks. The old fashioned networking skills actually assist in both the effective use of these online networking platforms as well as during real life meetups.

Lots of people over the years have said how much they hate walking into an event or function where they don’t know anyone. That feeling of fear is a familiar one for most of us.

Often they are offered some well meaning advice like: ‘just treat people the way you would like to be treated’.

The obvious riposte to this is that it’s not about how you want to be treated so much as about how the other person wants to be treated. The trick is that most of us are not psychic & thus have little clue how other people want to be treated.

But the good thing about this is that it gives us a topic of conversation with everyone we meet, finding out how they want to be treated.  Here’s some tips based on my own experience of online and offline networking:

1) Be yourself

It takes a huge amount of energy and a really good memory to be someone or something you’re not – this makes being yourself a sensible option.  Also people will eventually realise what you are really like if they have any kind of repeated exposure to you. Thus it’s just as well to start as you mean to go on.

2) Listen

Being interested in other people is very attractive.  Most people like to feel as if they matter and the easiest way to demonstrate this is to listen to them rather than talking yourself.  Even chatterboxes like me need to give this one a whirl.  Listening includes non-verbal signals too, such as body language for real life meetings.

3) Respond

Responding to the other person is important and this can take various forms.  Sometimes it is about following the other person’s lead on a topic of conversation or mode of communication.  Other times it is about taking the lead yourself and starting a new topic, or even backing off and leaving the person alone.

Responding is very closely bound to listening, since listening provides the feedback to enable creation of an appropriate response.

A good tip

One of the best tips I ever had on networking in real life came from networking guru Robyn Henderson – she advised when you are off to a function “arrive early and act like the host”. Her rationale for this was that most people are terrified of meeting new people and having someone act as the host and break the ice was helpful to them.

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Are social networks breeding social isolation?

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I recently had a thought provoking note from a buddy, Sheetal Patel, who’s not really a fan of social networking apart from LinkedIn.

He commented that “perhaps this increasing human need to relate is being perpetuated by Web 2.0 enablement technologies standing on (and encouraging even greater dependencies) the shoulders of the mobile phone and the internet”. And he cited some modern examples of how important being or feeling connected is becoming, for example:

  • “Schoolchildren checking mobiles for missed calls & SMS texts every few minutes.”
  • Old style “Internet content writers wanting to be the top search result in internet search engines (disconnected follower-ship)”  versus “the new notion of creating passive ‘as it happens’ Twitter follower-ship.”
  • “Psychologically for people to want to be constantly visible amongst their peers, and as Maslow’s hierarchy might dictate, ultimately perceived as the metaphoric rock/movie star that everyone must follow in every great detail, any way they can, as soon as they can.”

This interests me because of the growing phenomenon of what I refer to as the hive mind experience that many Twitter users have had.twitter

That is where one becomes so used to being loosely connected to a large number of people that disconnection from the group induces feelings of mild anxiety or “feeling weird”.  I often joke about it with friends but their laugh sometimes tells me it’s not really a joke – we do feel a bit strange when disconnected from the collective.

We do not know yet what kind of impact this level of connectedness will have on social interaction.  But there is already evidence that this connectedness enables mob-like activity – such as mobilizing people for a cause (e.g. Cotton On Kids or Motrin Moms ). My friend Mark Pesce contemplates some of these themes on his blog and in particular in his Nexus post.

But Sheetal also raised another issue, that we might be developing a “population of individuals who are extremely connected and incredibly well-followed (predominantly in the Twitter third-person context) but suffer from fundamental inabilities to create and maintain physical relationships and oblivious (or in self-denial?) of the daily need to maintain and develop first/second person interactions as part of everyone’s physical daily existence”.

That is an interesting question.  It is also the complete opposite of my own experience with Twitter. Instead, through meeting people on Twitter and over time getting to know them in real life, I now have a much richer set of personal relationships.

At dinner the other night I was discussing just this issue with a bunch of people who had all met initially via Twitter but were now good friends in real life. We maintain those relationships – both on and offline – using time honoured techniques such as having conversations, sharing ideas and opinions, and getting together to share meals or attend events.

What I suspect is happening is that people without social skills in real life find it just as difficult to build and maintain relationships in other places too, including online.

Further, the network amplification effects of social network relationship matrices serve to amplify the knowledge of any social failures.  Thus, where once a social failure was constrained in time and place, it might now be recorded digitally forever. Also that social failure has the potential to go viral and become known more widely than ever before – such is the power of YouTube and its ilk.

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3 essential elements of a business social media arsenal

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Joel Postman argues that A Blog is a Better Social Media Hub Than Twitter. I tend to agree, especially from a business perspective. His post got me thinking about the critical elements for a business social media toolkit.

1) A Blog or a Website (it’s the same thing really)

A business or personal brand needs to have a home base – it’s the virtual equivalent of an office or post office box.

However, the reason that a website (powered by a blogging tool or by handcrafted HTML or whatever) is a necessary part of your social media arsenal is that you control it and all of the content therein. This assumes that you to host your own site & have access to all the data. If it is hosted or managed by someone else then your data is at risk if the relationship breaks down or their business has a failure.

Many businesses put their websites/blogs into the hands of third parties & often don’t even know the passwords to access their own information. This is a huge risk!

One thing that is rapidly becoming apparent to me is a convergence between blogs and websites. Someone asked me the other day: what is the difference between the two? It really made me think. And the answer was they are the same thing. This is because the platform – blog as content management system – does not matter any longer.

What is important is the content delivered on the site. We can also see this convergence in the number of websites that now use a blogging platform as their content management system.


2) Social media & social network presence

Social networks and social media are the elements that bring website or blog content alive.  These are tools that enable sharing of messages with communities of people who are interested.  They also provide an opportunity to move from a monologue publishing style to a conversational dialogue style of interaction.

Even if your business does not want or need to use social networks it makes sense to own your corporate identity. What happens if someone who hates your business registers “YourBusinessName” on Twitter and starts sending out messages?

Also it is worth setting up a social networking presence as a low cost distribution channel for your website content. Think of the website as a publication platform while social networks are the distribution channel.

A big challenge for websites until now has been letting people know that they exist and have useful or relevant content.  Social media helps to solve this problem for businesses and personal brands.

The other important thing is to store the content of your social networking interactions for later analysis and reference. For example, on Twitter it is possible to create an RSS feed of a particular user’s or hashtag’s Twitter stream. Just go to search.twitter.com, enter your search term & there is an option to create an RSS feed of that search.

Also a number of plugins are available that enable posting of social network activity to a website/blog. And if all this information goes back to your website it can be backed up and remain available even if the original source network is ephemeral.

3) Social media reputation tracking
Once you take a brand out to play in this socially connected world monitoring what is going on becomes important. I’ve written about this before, giving a few examples where social media has both helped and harmed brands.

An implicit social contract is created by brands when they participate in social networks. Your brand becomes more accessible and people will interact (even if you would prefer that they did not).

There are some great paid services that can monitor your online reputation. However, here are a few free tools that are available:

  1. Google Alerts
  2. TweetBeep
  3. Social mention
  4. Google search

This kind of monitoring should be setup and reviewed regularly.

Regular participation, care and feeding of social media is necessary as it is now part of the marketing mix. Social media and social networking are part of both the place and the promotion of a brand or product.

Online should be monitored similar to the way we used to monitor customer feedback, newspapers and magazines in the past.

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