It’s time to redefine the redefining of friends

golden retriever puppiesNearly four years ago, in February of 2011, I wrote a blog post about social networking and redefining the word “friend.” Since then, that post has consistently been near the top of my stats page for number of views. I just read it again and while the basic premise is still sound, some of what I talk about doing there has changed for me. The staying power of that post seems to show how much people are still struggling with social networking vs. interacting with people in real life. So I thought it was time to update the post with how I handle accounts now.

As I said back then, you don’t have to follow my lead. I don’t believe in social media rules but rather best practices. There are some people who are better at it than others, not because they are gurus or follow a strict code, but more because they have found a way to exist online that works for them and the people with whom they interact.

In 2011, my four main social networks were Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. In four years, how I handle my interactions on those accounts has changed a bit, and I no longer use Foursquare after their disastrous break up into Foursquare and Swarm. That move by the developers led me and many others to abandon them as quickly as they had abandoned the core function and attraction of their original app.

Instead, I find myself spending more time on a network that didn’t even exist in early 2011: Google Plus. I’m still on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but some things have changed, and I’ll go into those after I talk about G+.

Google HQGoogle Plus (+AriAdler)

Anyone who interacts with me regularly knows I’m a big fan of Google products. I like they way they are integrated in an effort to make my life simpler through interconnected apps. Some folks like to malign Google Plus as “the Facebook killer that failed.” But here’s the problem with that statement: G+ was never intended to kill Facebook. It is a very different network. I’m on there multiple times every day, either sharing information in my own posts, sharing what others have posted, or visiting one of the many communities I have joined that bring together aficionados of just about anything you can be interested in talking about. I use G+ as the main repository for photos that I shoot, which is now done entirely via my Android phone or my Google Glass (and backed up automatically). And I will follow anyone who seems interesting and doesn’t seem to be a spammer. Their system of Circles that allows me to categorize people and decide who receives all or just some of the posts I share is easier for me to use than Facebook’s system, but that may be a personal preference. Circles also are integrated with Google Contacts and the network is integrated with Gmail, Google Calendar and other Google apps. It’s a way to keep my finger on the pulse of the universe while traveling aboard the Starship Google.

I find I interact with people who have shared interests more than anyone else. Most of my family and friends aren’t using G+ because many of them didn’t see the need to check it out once they settled in on Facebook. I don’t think many of them know what they’re missing, but I’m not one to judge. You should find the network you like, you understand and can work within well. Then enjoy yourself and don’t worry about what others are doing or telling you to do.

— Followers in 2011: 0 —

— Followers today: 1,330 (plus 1.1 million views of my profile pages) — Following today: 3,513

facebook hqFacebook

Back in 2011, I was much more open about becoming “friends” with people. I used to accept invitations from just about everyone and then kept them sorted by lists. I don’t do any of that anymore. Instead, I’m more cautious about who I allow to become a “friend.” I purged a lot of people from my account. I still have “friends” who aren’t friends and so I’m always aware of what I’m saying and sharing, as everyone should be on every Internet-connected system.

I find that I spend more time interacting with family on Facebook than any other social network, with coworkers and people I went to high school with a close second and third. As I mentioned earlier, many of them were on Facebook first and haven’t found a compelling reason to keep up two different types of accounts.

I do find Facebook’s systems frustrating and have honestly spent most of my time on there only because of work needs, then while I’m there I take up shared conversations with friends and family. I visit it, generally, only twice a day but could easily abandon Facebook faster than any other network I use. For some reason, I find Facebook to be a bigger useless time-suck than Google Plus. That’s not to say G+ won’t have you spending a lot of time online that you should be spending doing other things, but when I’m done that time spent just feels more useful on Google+ than on Facebook. Tip: If you haven’t figured out how to turn off auto-play videos on Facebook, go do it now. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to get back. It will change your life.

— Friends in 2011: 800 —

— Friends today: 904, but different people make up that list now. — 

twitter hqTwitter (@aribadler)

Things haven’t changed a lot in terms of how I use Twitter. I have a lot more followers than I did in 2011 and am following a lot more accounts. Back then I noted it was a free-for-all, a “hodgepodge,” even. That remains true today. It’s an eclectic group that I interact with on Twitter, and I tend to interact with brands and companies more there than anywhere else online. I am on there multiple times per day and it has become the number one place that I schedule posts with news or interesting links via my Hootsuite account. (Google Plus’ API doesn’t allow scheduling things through Hootsuite for personal pages yet, but there are times when I’ll share things on Twitter and won’t share them anywhere else even when I can. I’m not sure the API change will alter that pattern.)

One thing that has changed significantly is how much Twitter has affected my professional life. Many journalists use Twitter now to break news or report on events. I have interacted with more journalists about and for news stories on Twitter in the past year than I probably did in the previous three. That type of interaction is expanding exponentially and I suspect it will continue to for a while.

— Followers in 2011: 4,339 — Following in 2011: 3,876 —

— Followers today: 7,502 — Following today: 8,220 — 

linkedin hqLinkedIn (Ari B. Adler)

I used to think of LinkedIn as “the Rolodex of social networking,” and I think it still is to some extent. I have more business-related and professional interactions on LinkedIn than anywhere else, and what I share there via posts reflects that. I’m on it a few times each week as notifications come in from people who want to connect with me. I don’t use it to its full potential, I’m sure, but it’s just not something I find compelling enough to spend time on. I find its interface clunky and counter-intuitive. Still, the connections you might have on LinkedIn could prove invaluable for a career some day, so I still recommend you check it out if you haven’t. Just remember that sometimes people want to connect with you not because of who you are but because of whom you know. Be careful not to be used as nothing more than a connection to someone else. Even heeding my warning, of course, I still tend to be pretty loose with my requirements for connecting. If I can find a shred of a reason to accept your connection request, I’ll do it.

— Connections in 2011: 500 — Connections today: 1,825 —

I’d be interested in hearing how your use of social media has changed over the years. It wasn’t that long ago that I was jumping on Twitter to figure out what the heck it was all about, because a younger professional in my office was making waves with it and I wasn’t about to get swamped and left behind. Now, it has become so much more routine to be on social media. And yet, years later, it’s still one of the most misunderstood, misused and undervalued opportunities for spreading a message than anything I’ve seen in my many years as a communications professional. I’m still learning and plan to do so for years to come. I would urge you to do the same, “friend.”

 kitten best friends

You’re more than a business card or a Twitter handle

Angela Minicuci

The ability to network online is more prevalent now than ever and we should all be taking advantage of the many opportunities provided by the countless free services available. Your chances for connecting with colleagues online — past, present and future — are growing and expanding.

In my “spare” time, I’m an adjunct instructor at Michigan State University. Last semester, I had a former intern come in to talk to my class. She’s a great example of what a go-getter can accomplish at a young age. Angela Minicuci talked to my students about her college and professional career path. She delivered a fantastic message to the students about the importance of networking. It’s a message we all need to learn and then relearn from time to time.

Here are Angela’s tips, with some added thoughts from me:

  • Internships can give you experience that you can put in your portfolio and on your resume. (I would add that this goes both ways, because professionals who are supervising interns can learn a lot, too.)
  • Networking isn’t just shaking hands and exchanging business cards. Go to events, put yourself in uncomfortable situations and show people you can handle it. Establish a personal and professional relationship with them. (“It’s not personal, it’s just business” can be true, but being a person is important.)
  • You’re a real person, not just an email address. (I would urge all of you to forget that LinkedIn provides an auto-populated message when you try to connect with someone. Please personalize those notes!)
  • You’re always going to be a student. You always have to allow yourself to grow. (That’s part of why I made this blog post. If you stop learning, you stop growing and just become stagnant, both personally and professionally.)
  • Work hard, give to the community, network and be humble. (We all know people who work hard at their day jobs and then spend countless hours giving back to their profession and communities through volunteer work or donation of professional services. When you see these people going above and beyond the call of duty, give them a shout-out on a social network or take the time to stop and thank them personally. Volunteers don’t do their volunteering for recognition, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like receiving it!)

All of Angela’s tips are great ones, whether you’re a student, a young professional or a seasoned pro. Learn, grow, share, rinse, repeat…you get the idea. Online or offline, with a personal notecard, a friendly e-mail or a shout-out on a social media site – get busy networking. The rewards are well worth the effort.

Sincerity, Transparency, Relevancy & Accuracy are key for social media success

Reprinted from Dome Magazine

Social Media S.T.A.R
August 16, 2011

There have been plenty of discussions over the past two years about social networking and how the online outlets are the new grassroots movement. I’ve often said it myself and encouraged politicians and business leaders to get involved and engage if they want to be successful at interacting with their constituents and customers.

I’m often asked about tips and tricks for how to do that in a way that is beneficial for everyone, so I thought I’d share a few hints here. Of course, there is no perfect way to do anything, especially with the fast-growing and even faster-changing world of social media.

One of the most important lessons I often share comes from comedian Bill Cosby, who is credited with saying, “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone.” That statement is great anyway, but in the context of social media, it is vital to remember.

Not only will you not please everyone with what you are doing online, the medium allows “everyone” to give you instant feedback on what’s working and what’s not. That can lead you down a tumultuous path of constantly changing your style and content, to the point where no one really knows what to expect. The downside is they could see that as a reason to stop following you and, therefore, stop listening to you.

So it might help if you remembered some basic rules that I have turned into the acronym S.T.A.R. It stands for Sincerity, Transparency, Accuracy and Relevancy.

Sincerity is about being true to yourself and those who follow you. One of the greatest compliments I can receive is to meet someone in real life who has only known me through social networking, and to have that someone realize I’m the same person in both places. I have the same beliefs, the same sense of humor and the same demeanor in person as I do online.

I don’t use any online tools to make myself seem different or better in some way. If people don’t get enough out of what they see when following you online, they can easily stop following you. But if you show them that you are different in each of your online accounts and in real life, they will soon wonder who the real you really is and doubt what you’re saying in all venues.

Transparency is vital for building trust and for establishing relationships with people. Generally, consumers don’t want to follow a brand, they want to interact with people who happen to work for a brand. It helps us get the feeling of being connected behind the scenes somehow.

Politicians are brands, too, now more than ever. That’s why you must clearly state who is operating the Facebook or Twitter accounts you’ve established for your business or your political office.

If more than one person is adding to the account updates, they can be clearly identified by using the ^ symbol and the writer’s initials. There’s nothing wrong with having staff tweet for an elected official or business owner. But you need to be transparent about it to make sure the brand doesn’t lose the trust of those following it.

Accuracy is important in every aspect of our lives, and that is magnified when you’re online. People are used to getting instant information now and acting upon it very quickly.

Another topic for debate some day will be the desire for all of us lately to know everything right away and take immediate action for or against it, rather than waiting until we have all the facts and developing a well thought out plan. But, in the meantime, if you operate a social networking account, you have to make sure that what you are posting is accurate.

If you find you have made an error, declare so as soon as possible and correct it. Simply deleting your inaccurate post and moving on won’t cut it, because you can never truly delete a post from any account. It often will still exist in someone’s Twitter stream or Facebook news feed, or someone may have made a screen capture that can easily be broadcast to the world to show everyone your error.

People are quite willing to overlook human frailties, and they understand that we all make mistakes sometimes. They do not take kindly to being misled, however, which is what happens when you try to cover up a mistake.

Relevancy means keeping track of who is in your audience and sending them updates that are appropriate. One key to good communication is remembering that communicating is about the recipient more than the sender.

That means you need to post updates that matter to the people who are following you on that particular network. I post regularly to Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Empire Avenue and Foursquare. I rarely cross-post the exact same message to multiple services.

When I do want to share the same information, I often tweak it so that it is written in a way that would be more appealing to that audience. Sure, it means spending a little more time and effort, but if you aren’t willing to spend those on every form of communication, then why bother communicating at all?

There are several third-party programs available that let you send the same message to multiple outlets with a single click. This, however, is not communication, it is robotic shouting.

It’s important to note that doing all the things in STAR requires some time, effort and patience. None of this is easy or free (although, technically, the pure dollar investment is quite minimal). But, as the old saying goes, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. These days, we should add “multiple times.”

Successful networking means redefining “friend”

When you look at my online presence via social media, you might think I have a staggering number of friends. The truth is that while I’m blessed to be able to call a lot of people friends, there’s no way that I can call thousands of people friends. Oh, sure, according to Facebook I have more than 800 “friends” and on Twitter I have more than 4,000 “followers” and on LinkedIn I have more than 500 “connections.” But how many are friends, how many people would really follow me anywhere and how many feel truly connected to me? I’d be lucky if I could say 1 percent.

The point is that we often get caught up in thinking that people we are linked to online are the same as those we have interacted with regularly in real life. News flash: they’re not. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t connect as much as possible, but you should consider how you do that and what’s in it for both of you. And it’s why you might consider different criteria for connecting on various social sites as well as how you interact with folks on those sites.

I’m not going to suggest there is any right way to do that, but I often am asked how I handle requests for friendship, etc. online, so I thought I’d share my thoughts in this post and maybe people would find that useful.

I’m primarily active on four main social networking outlets: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. Here’s how I handle my connections and what they are likely to see if they follow me or become a “friend.”

 

Facebook: I have a rather open criteria for becoming friends with people on Facebook. If a request comes in, I will generally accept it, but I categorize the people on there so it’s easier for me to keep track of my truly close companions and to protect my privacy from those whom I consider just a networking connection. My friend list is broken into four sublists: A list, B list, Networking and Organizations. The A-listers are those people whom I have met in person, share some private connection with and am truly interested in keeping up with regularly. The B-listers are folks who might be friends of friends; the folks I’ve met at an event or through work and believe I should try to develop a relationship with. The Networking list is for people I’ve never met or whom I’ve met but our connection is purely work related and, therefore, with whom I’m more comfortable at arm’s length. Organizations is the list for companies and organizations that have reached out to me. My Networking and Organizations “friends” do not have full access to all of my Facebook information because I’ve not only learned how to use Facebook’s privacy settings, I actually use them.

My Facebook status updates are everything from quotes that I like from famous people to my own statements and observations on life. They are often personal and reflect my sense of humor more than my updates on other sites. I update at least once per day, and sometimes two or three depending on what’s happening that day.

Twitter: Twitter is a bit of a free-for-all, and my connections prove that. As of right now, I have 4,339 followers and I am following 3,876 people, companies and organizations. I obviously don’t follow spammers who start tracking my tweets, and there are times when someone’s Twitter feed just doesn’t contain anything I’m interested in. This includes people who aren’t necessarily spammers but whose feed consists of a constant stream of ideas on how I can make money or be more successful if I follow a link to their website. I also don’t follow or will unfollow people who do nothing but post quotes or annoy me in some way. (There are two quick ways to get unfollowed by me. First, you can abuse the direct message feature by trying to sell me something. Second, you can get on Twitter once per day and push out 20 tweets in 15 minutes as you play catch up on a service that calls for live interaction, not procrastinated responses best reserved for e-mail.)

My Twitter feed really is a hodgepodge of news and blog links, personal commentary, interactions with friends and colleagues, political debates, jokes, puns and snarky reactions to life’s many challenges. And don’t forget, if you are reading my tweets, that means you chose to follow me and be subjected to my sense of humor and my stubborn quest for an honest and nonpolitically correct debate on the issues of the day. If you don’t like what you’re reading, stop reading it. I promise I won’t be offended. Honestly, there’s really no way for me to even notice you’re not there anymore, so I’ll just bid you adieu now. I update a lot on Twitter, every day. Sometimes it’s only a handful of tweets, some days you’ll see a dozen from me. It all depends on the ebb and flow of life that day.

LinkedIn: Because of many training sessions with people who know more about LinkedIn than I do as well as my own trial runs, I have locked down LinkedIn more than the previous two services. It really is the business Rolodex of social media and I think it’s best if we keep it that way. I will connect with you on LinkedIn if we’ve met or if we have some reason to be connected — a shared cause, a common goal, perhaps a mutual friend or colleague who thinks we should know each other. If you try to connect with me on LinkedIn, please don’t use the boilerplate language about wanting to become connected. If you want to connect with me, tell me why. Show me why you belong in my Rolodex. And please make sure your profile is complete so I can learn as much about you as you’ll learn about me. An incomplete profile is an easy way to get ignored, not just by me, but by hundreds of others who otherwise might be interested in getting to know you better.

Because I consider LinkedIn to be the more professional or business world service than other social outlets, my status updates tend to reflect that. I usually reserve the updates for news links, blog links or interesting observations that I believe business connections would enjoy or from which they would benefit. I try to keep my snarkiness as nonexistent as I can, which is not easy for me. I also tend to leave updates on my page for longer than Facebook or Twitter. Because of this, I also tend to post updates that are a bit more timeless or at least have a shelf life of several days before they become too stale to matter.

Foursquare: To me, Foursquare is the most like electronic stalking and so I’m most protective of my presence on this service. My friend list is very small compared to the rest of my social networking outlets. You have to be someone I’ve actually met and whom I feel comfortable sharing most of my whereabouts with.

I don’t check in everywhere I go, reserving these mostly for places where I know I’ll be for a while. I don’t check in during errands that are a quick run in and out, unless it’s a coffee shop, since I figure they’ll all catch on eventually and start offering deals for frequent check-ins. If it’s a business I’m frequenting for an errand, I won’t always check in, but I try to do so if it’s a local business that I’m trying to promote because I believe they are a worthwhile place for my friends to give their business to. Any place where I’ll be for a while and think there’s a chance friends might be nearby at some point always gets a check-in. After all, Foursquare isn’t just about broadcasting your whereabouts, it’s about increasing the chances of bumping into people in real life so you can continue building your friendship in the best way possible: face to face.

 

As I said earlier, these are my methods and you don’t have to agree with them. The best social media counseling I can ever give is to tell people to find what they are comfortable with and make it work for them — whether that’s which social networking sites to be on or how best to conduct themselves there. If you can justify what you’re doing and where you’re doing it, I’ll support you. After all, what are “friends” for?  🙂

(Photo courtesy of Funny Animal Pictures.)

24: It only works on TV

This post was written between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.

For those familiar with the popular TV show “24,” my opening line will make sense. For the rest of you, it probably just raises the question of WTF I’m doing awake and writing a blog post this long before sunrise. The truth is I’ve been up since 4 a.m. anyway thanks to blizzard warnings issued via my National Weather Service radio and an inability to get back to sleep once my brain’s On switch has been flipped.

I figured I  might as well use this time to finally write the post that’s been rolling around in that over-active and over-taxed brain. The post is about how 24 hours in a day just aren’t enough. How it’s difficult to keep up with a very busy day job, a night job, blogging gigs, consulting gigs, freelance writing gigs, self-improvement, professional associations, community projects, local networking events, continuing education, reading blogs, following news alerts, staying informed on local, state, national and international news, not to mention housework, home maintenance, car maintenance, being a great dad, being a loving husband, exercising and enjoying reading a book or magazine for pure enjoyment. Oh, and I suppose eating, sleeping and personal hygiene need to be on that list, too.

I’ve kept up with most of everything on the list above. When things have slipped, it’s been in what I believe to be the correct order. My wife and kids come before housework, for example. And my day job that is the thing truly paying the bills takes precedent over projects for professional associations or freelance writing. I’ve sometimes passed up eating and sleeping, but I’m proud to say I’ve not let personal hygiene slip!

I’m a big user of social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. I used to use LinkedIn a lot more than I do now. I still use it for maintaining a network and, let’s face it, it’s primarily  a rolling resume for most of us now. But I don’t post status updates there as much as I used to or answer questions like I did from time to time. And while I’m published once per week at the Digital Pivot blog, I haven’t published an original post here for quite a while. I just don’t have the time and something has to give.

I’ve prided myself on being able to get by on 6 hours of sleep per night with a few doses of caffeine thrown in. But lately I’ve realized that I’m not as young as I used to be and recovering from all-day and all-night binges of work and being a family man can’t be recovered from as easily anymore, no matter how many Red Bulls I have at my disposal.

So, within that context, it was interesting to read a blog post from Arik Hanson asking “Where the heck did David Mullen go?” It’s a great post asking about a guy whom we used to see all the time on social media outlets and who was regarded as a leader in that realm. The post and the comments that followed are worth taking the time to read — after all, even I found the time to at least skim most of it. I won’t repeat here what the pro and con arguments are regarding coming and going from social media as your life circumstances dictate. But I will point out that David is not the only one who has come and gone from social media and not come off the worse for wear. If you’ll recall, Shannon Paul disappeared for quite some time, but has now come back with a flourish and holds a great job heading up social media at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, not to mention her Very Official Blog. The break she took from riding the crazy train of social media doesn’t seem to have hurt her career.

We all have talents that can be put to good use on social media as well as in other areas of our lives. The problem arises when we think that one of those talents is creating more hours in a day. It can’t be done. As Scotty, the venerable engineer on Star Trek, used to say, “Ya canna’ change the laws of physics.”

No matter how much we think we are capable of doing, we are restricted to 24 hours per day in which to do it. On TV, the concept behind “24” works. Each episode was based on what occurred during a single hour in a single day. But the day was stretched out over an entire season of television and each hour seemed to be self-contained without the pressures of what didn’t get done last hour and the to-do list looming in the hour ahead.

But in real life, it’s not like that. At some point, something has to give. I suppose it’s our way of playing the director of our lives and yelling, “Cut!” So I’ve made some decisions to scale back. I’ll take baby steps at first — not posting to this blog as often was one of them. I’ve also pulled back from Digital Pivot, reducing my commitment to two posts per month instead of once per week. I’d say self-improvement time has been scaled back, but perhaps making some changes to my commitment level is a form of self-improvement, so I’ll let that one slide.

I’m not sure what else to give up yet. If you have some suggestions based on things that have worked or not worked for you, I’d be interested in hearing them. Just remember to give me some time to ease into them. After all, this concept of saying “no” is kind of new to me.

Having an audience is nice; having a community is worth talking about

A friend of mine recently joined Twitter and what makes that newsworthy is how adamant Laura has been about not jumping on the bandwagon. She tweeted this morning:

Has enjoyed all the comments about hell freezing over because I joined Twitter. Still need someone to help me use it properly 🙂

I’ve offered to help her learn the ins and outs of Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and other tools that can help her manage the new information firehose she just pointed at her life. But what I really need to get across to her is that we’re all just making this up as we go along anyway, so as long as she engages, that’s all the “proper” she needs to know.

This past weekend, I was listening to a For Immediate Release podcast that featured Benjamin Ellis, a “social technologist and serial entrepreneur.”

Ellis’ presentation at the Dell B2B Social Media Huddle had a lot of great content. But one of the things that got me thinking was when Ellis pointed out that “audience” and “community” are not the same thing.

Here’s where my thoughts led me: When it comes to social media, so many people are talking about gaining followers and fans and getting people to “like” their brands or organizations. But what are they really gaining from those efforts?

If people see the information you post and learn from it, that’s helpful. If people share that information with others, then more people are seeing it, which is even more helpful. Nevertheless, both are examples of having an audience of followers and not a community. The people receiving the information are passively absorbing what is being talked about and not necessarily taking action because of it.

If you have a community of followers, however, you’ll soon see those people engaging with you because of your information. Perhaps it’s as simple as not just sharing information, but commenting on it as part of that share. Perhaps it’s being compelled to take some action because of the information they now have. Or maybe it’s someone posting a comment to agree or disagree with your position or offering constructive criticism on a product or an idea.

The difference between an audience and a community is the level of engagement. Social media and social networking are about being social, using a new medium and networking. But the true power in all three of those activities is the ability to engage.

The power of social media comes from the ability to affect change due to simple and fast communication. But the only way to affect that change is to engage to the point at which people are driven to act in some way. It doesn’t have to be some life-changing epiphany. It can be simple feedback, a discussion that helps you open your mind to something new, or even inspiring people to try a restaurant in town that they’ve never visited but could use some new business.

I’ve taught at the university level for more than 10 years now. I can tell you firsthand that having an audience of students doesn’t mean they are learning anything from me. Having an audience of engaged students, however, means there’s a good chance they are learning – and so am I.

So the next time you think about how many followers you have or how many people like your product or brand on Facebook, also think about the last time you actually engaged with one, one dozen or 100 of them.

Having an audience is nice, but having a community is something worth talking about.

(Photo courtesy of Shirlaine’s photostream on Flickr.)

Can we be better strangers?

What are you doing with your social media network? That’s not a rhetorical question. I want you to think about what you are actually accomplishing by being connected to friends, followers and colleagues.

William Shakespeare wrote:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in time plays many parts.

We live in such an amazing era of connectivity. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if it's all just a theater performance with most of us trying to figure out what cue to enter on and, more importantly, how to deliver our lines when we hit our mark.

But then there are times when I am in awe of the sheer power of the era in which we live. Not too long ago, I was sitting in an airport waiting for an airplane to take me the 1,000 miles back to my home. It’s the type of trip we take for granted now because it is so easy and quick, no matter how much we complain about airlines and airports. While waiting, I decided to catch up on some messages in my G-Mail account. I forgot that when I logged in, my G-Chat would be turned on — that was until someone from Boston reached out to me via that service.

They were having a difficult time because of getting caught up in a rumor about a local business and, despite having reasonably good sources, were now in trouble with the business owner because they’d helped spread the rumor via a blog post. There are so many ways in which this story truly lays out the stage upon which we are all playing these days. The rumor was spreading faster because of my colleague’s blog post — faster than it ever could have in years past. The business owner was facing problems because of the rumor spreading so fast that he was unsure how to recover. There’s a quote attributed to Winston Churchill that goes, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.” And that was in Churchill’s time!

So this colleague of mine was reeling from what had happened and, seeing I was online and knowing my background, decided to reach out for help. He reached out in his instant of need, via a free service provided by a company that has made billions of dollars by upending the standard business model. He could reach me because I was on a computer small enough to fit on my lap and connected to the Internet via a wireless technology that allows communication at speeds unheard of just a few years ago.

Perhaps the most startling of all, however, was that this colleague reached out to me with a sincere cry for help even though we have never met. We know each other via Twitter, we have seen pictures of each other, we are connected on LinkedIn, and we have arranged one phone call just to get to know each other a little better. But we are basically nothing more than connections in a vast network of people tuned in to each other via technology.

I’m not suggesting that the plea for help should not have been made, and I’m happy that I was able to offer some counsel and comfort to my colleague in his moment of need. I haven’t heard how the situation he was dealing with ended, but that’s irrelevant to this post. My point is that I was there when someone needed me. I was there for a person I’ve never met in real life and I was able to help.

So, I ask you again: What are you doing with your social media network? Are you using it to its full potential? Are you seeking counsel and finding solace? Are you paying it forward in some way by helping others? Are you tweeting, chatting and updating your way to greatness either by providing or being provided help when it is needed most? The Shakespeare quote above was from As You Like It — and perhaps that 16th century bard was just ahead of his time. After all, As You Like It also includes the line: “I do desire we may be better strangers.”

Oh, William, so do I.

(Shakespeare photo courtesy of Wikipedia; cables photo courtesy of Phrenologist’s Flickr strea.)

Should you cross-post updates to Facebook and Twitter?

Here’s an article I wrote that was published on Ragan.com:

Published: 3/5/2010

Should you cross-post updates to Facebook and Twitter?
By Ari B. Adler

Consider your audience before posting the same update to multiple social media channels

The root strategy for any public relations initiative includes creating your message, determining your audience, and finding the best way of delivering your message to that audience. But now, with social media, technology has given people the ability to blast identical messages to different audiences.

LinkedIn allows you to post your status update simultaneously to Twitter. You can automatically feed your tweets to Google Buzz. You can connect tweets with your Facebook status updates or your Posterous feed. And with third-party software like Tweetdeck, you can post the same message to multiple Twitter accounts, Facebook and LinkedIn with the touch of one Send button. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on whom you ask.

“I don’t cross-post, because I use each tool for a slightly different purpose. Therefore, I target messages for each audience,” says Angela Dockett, marketing and communications manager for the American Cancer Society in East Lansing, Mich.

“I’ve done it, but am starting to back off,” admits Jason Dobson, a professional gaming blogger in Broken Arrow, Okla. “Audiences can be quite different between social media sites, and the messaging needs to reflect that.”

Although there is some mingling of followers and friends from one platform to the other, the style of how people communicate on those platforms differs, especially from a language standpoint.

While Twitter often is filled with abbreviations and symbols, those same messages appearing on a Facebook page could be confusing. Still, that hasn’t stopped some people from connecting their accounts.

“I post Twitter to Facebook, because I have friends and family finally on Facebook that don’t get Twitter. It’s too much of a hassle for me to keep up with both,” says Colleen Lin, senior rich media producer for the Dallas County Community College District in Texas. When asked if the audiences were ever confused, Lin said they were at first.

“I had some complaints, but I find that most people ‘hide’ me (on Facebook) if they’re irritated,” she says.

For some entities, particularly government agencies and universities, cross-posting may make sense.

“We cross-post, using Facebook for students and future students; Twitter for corporations, media and parents,” says Laurie Creasy, a new media specialist at Penn State.

Creasy said they aren’t using quite the same message everywhere, but Penn State hopes all the separate networks see similar messages. She noted the messages on Twitter are “more professional.”

In Rhode Island, the state Department of Transportation uses the exact same message on multiple networks, according to Dana Alexander Nolfe, RIDOT’s chief public affairs officer.

“I have a very broad target audience, and I think my goal is to get my message to as many people as possible. With so many venues, and to ensure consistency, I cross-post my message,” Nolfe says. “Some social media have a good-size audience, and some are very small, but my feeling is if MySpace, for example, is the only place someone is going to go to get RIDOT’s message, then I am going to continue to ensure that the message gets out that way.”

Some argue that business accounts should be given some leeway when cross-posting.

“The audiences are completely different if you are coming from a personal perspective,” says A.J. Teachout, owner of Ulu Marketing in Detroit. “My Twitter followers are likely not my Facebook friends, or friends at all for that matter, so they will not care to hear about what my kid did the other day. My Facebook friends actually know me and care to hear more personal details.

“That being said, from a business perspective, I think it’s a wise move. Your audience is in it for the same reason—to learn more about the business and, likely, your messages will be similar.”

In the end, it’s up to the individual whether to cross-post. With social media being such a new conduit, there’s no proven right or wrong way to do things—yet.

“The bottom line is: Know your audience and how they might be different across multiple networks and social sites,” Teachout says. “How would that affect your message?”

Has the Web explosion created a new Lost Generation?

The first Lost Generation is widely considered to be those who were wandering through a post-WWI world trying to come to terms with a new global reality unlike any seen before. It was the generation that includes infamous authors like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In more modern times, Lost Generation has been used to describe groups of younger people heavily impacted by an economic shock — the lost ones are those folks unable to jump right back into the ranks of the gainfully employed when the economy starts to turn around.

I’ve been thinking of another type of lost generation lately though — the students who graduated college in the early 2000s, a time period when the Internet was seen as the future but no one had a clue about how large a role it would play. I was having a discussion about this last night with my wife, Jessi, and two colleagues from work: Becky Johns and Angela Minicuci. Jessi could be considered part of this new lost generation to which I’m referring. A graduate of Ferris State University in 2003, she had classes on Web design and was certainly interested in the promise of a future that would involve the Internet in some way. Since then, she took her degree and her college experiences and built a solid career in public and media relations. Now, because of term limits in Michigan, she’s looking for the next step in her career as the senator she works for will be unceremoniously booted from office at the end of the year.

One of the frustrations she’s commented to me about is having to compete with students coming out of college who seem to have so many Web skills and who have probably had 10 times the opportunities she had in regard to Web design and interaction with the Internet.

Becky and Angela are good examples of this next generation of recent graduates. Just check out Angela’s online profile. She has six different ways for people to connect with her — six ways that didn’t exist when Jessi graduated from Ferris just a handful of years ago. Becky has a large personal and professional network for someone her age, and I’d attribute a lot of that to online activities via Twitter and LinkedIn.

Certainly things change over time and what we learn in college is never going to stay static. And to Jessi’s credit, she hasn’t been one to just sit and whine about the changes that have occurred. She’s involved in many of the same online services that Angela is. She has her face buried in a computer screen because of social media almost as much as I do. But as the Web-based world has grown exponentially, she’s been working to pay the bills and using her free time to try to keep up. In the meantime, young professionals like Angela and Becky have been growing up alongside the Internet. Now, it seems many potential employers see them as Internet natives whereas Jessi has to prove that, while not a native, she’s certainly a full citizen of the online nation.

What do you think? There’s no question I’m biased about this because of my relationship with Jessi. But has there ever been a time when a technology has affected a generation of relatively recent grads the way the Internet and social media are impacting the university classes of 2003?

(Jessi’s photo courtesy of Capital Gains.)

Move over, content; consumers will be kings this year

Here’s a piece I was commissioned to write by Ragan Communications. Thanks to the great folks quoted in this article who were willing to spend time helping me with it.

Published: 1/4/2010

Move over, content; consumers will be kings this year
By Ari B. Adler

A customizable Web and mobile apps and augment users’ already formidable clout

From banks and Big Three automakers that needed rescuing, to the governors and golf pros who couldn’t master monogamy, 2009 may well go down in history as the year of the bailouts.

Public relations professionals have spent a tremendous amount of effort trying to fix things for their clients while the news broke faster than birds can tweet.

So, what’s in store for 2010 in the communications industry? That depends on whom you ask, but a common theme is the idea that consumers will have even more control, whether they are consumers of a product or of information about that product. In short, communications professionals will have to fight even harder for their client’s reputations.

“As social networking adoption continues, frontline communications and PR will become the responsibility of everyone inside a company,” said Charlie Wollborg of Curve Detroit. “Social media will stop being ‘some newfangled doohickey the kids play with’ and simply become the de facto way business is done.”

If Wollborg is right and social media use continues to grow, which is likely, will consumers eventually reach a saturation point?

“As more companies build an online presence, the ability or desire for consumers to keep up with all the content generated will max out,” said Amy Mengel, a communications professional from the capital region of New York.

Mengel believes we’ll see increased filtering in 2010, particularly in the field of tools that allow people to sort, rank and prioritize content.

The sorting of information is going to be especially important to keep tabs on if you have a client targeting the younger population, says Becky Johns, communications coordinator for Delta Dental of Michigan and a member of the Millennial Generation.

“We don’t find the news anymore; the news finds us,” Johns said. “As PR pros, we need to package our messages in a way that they will actually reach young people who aren’t out trolling for what’s going on.”

She said that for the younger generations, the source is still important because the information needs to be credible, but they care more about how relevant the information is than where it comes from.

“The Internet has made everything so customizable that there is no need or room for anything not relevant to what someone is looking for,” Johns said.

“We grew up typing a set of words into a box and being fed information about whatever we want, whenever we want it. We have choices beyond the mainstream media and dealing with that reality has to be a priority for PR pros in 2010.”

A year of transition

For Jason Kintzler, founder of PitchEngine, 2010 will be the year social media is tested as a resource, perhaps because people like Johns aren’t as concerned about sources anymore.

“We’ll see some ethical questions raised,” Kintzler said. “False reports, investor mishaps and other fails will likely spark some mainstream dilemmas. People flocked to Twitter and Facebook in 2009. They began to consume news in ways never imagined. Many of them even shut off their televisions and closed the newspaper. In 2010, questions of trust will run rampant.”

Johns and Kintzler do agree that metrics will be tested this year.

“We need to take ownership of the way communication has changed,” Johns said. “Social media is still widely considered broadcast media, and the focus is all on ‘What can we put out there?’ when it really should be on ‘What can we learn from it in order to do business better?’ ”

Kintzler said success in PR and advertising will need to be measured on more than impressions alone. “With marketers getting savvy to the ways of the social web, they’ll adopt more organic ways of reaching consumers and new forms of reporting,” he said.

Get familiar with mobile apps

The use of video and mobile applications also will see an uptick in 2010, according to Kintzler and Wollborg.

“Company YouTube channels and video blogs will replace company text blogs and news feeds,” Wollborg said. “Company iPhone and Droid apps will become as ubiquitous as company Web sites, and you’ll see PR and communications firms rebrand as ‘community relations firms.’ ”

Kintzler said startup companies will see a boom as retailers find ways to connect fans and followers to their brick-and-mortar stores. “Consumers will use their smart phones on a transactional level, and retailers will salivate,” he said.

With all the buzz about social media, mobile devices and online interaction, will there be any room left for old-fashioned PR basics? Absolutely, says Sam Sims, APR, account director at Jones Public Relations in Oklahoma City.

“With the outburst of new communications tools, mediums and vehicles, successful PR practitioners will root themselves in the foundations and be successful regardless of hype,” Sims said. “What’s new to PR in 2010 is really not new. It’s the four-step process centered on communications theories. Call it retro, antique, rustic—it’s good old-fashioned PR foundation.”

Ari B. Adler is a media relations professional with experience as a newspaper reporter and editor as well as a government and corporate spokesperson. You can follow him on Twitter at @aribadler.