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

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Dear Facebook, it’s not you, it’s me — well, maybe it’s you

mischief managedI finally made a leap that I’ve contemplated for a long time — I no longer use Facebook as part of my daily routine. I haven’t abandoned it and I’m not out talking trash about Facebook on Google Plus. I’m still on Facebook for work as I need to be. But something in my over-saturated social media existence had to give.

The three key outlets I’m active on personally and professionally are Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook. One thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that never in history have so many people had so many opportunities to express their opinions to so many others who don’t care to hear them.

I was really sick for about a week recently and my interaction on social media was quite limited, but I also found it liberating. I found that I was on Twitter periodically, Facebook next to never and Google Plus regularly, observing if not really feeling up to engaging.

I posted a “Gone for a Coke” profile picture at Facebook and probably won’t be there much at all anymore. Twitter has its usefulness, albeit limited due to its very nature. Twitter has always been more about shouting to be overheard at a party than having in-depth conversations.

I don’t have enough hours in the day to do it all, and if I need to focus my energy on some form of social media, it will be on Google Plus. I find that my Google Plus stream helps enrich my online experience and learning with more thoughtful posts and interesting links. Being fully integrated into the Google universe helps, too. I can do so much with Google, Google Docs, Google Drive, Gmail and Google Plus from within one environment while I’m online or on my Android mobile phone that it’s a very streamlined and comfortable experience.trek g+

Facebook has just become too filled with drama, religious rants and political stabs. I also found it becoming too routine to wish someone happy birthday because Facebook told me to. I didn’t really reach out as a friend, I just tagged them as “a friend.” Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter are what we make of it, I understand that. If I’m not happy with my news stream on Facebook, I suppose I could change it. But Facebook’s algorithms control what I see a lot more than I do anyway, and maybe Facebook has just been getting it more wrong than usual lately.

I hate epiphany posts. I’m not declaring Facebook dead and I’m not saying only people on Google Plus are worth following. I’m just saying I’m going to be a lot more discerning with what I do and where I do it. For me, that’s Google Plus. I still use Facebook to message people who are primarily there in terms of their social media presence. And I’m notified when something on Facebook involves me, whether it’s a mention, a picture or whatever. So I am periodically on Facebook for personal use, but more like a few times a week rather than continually.

I don’t think I’ve really been missed on Facebook. Maybe that’s a function of my connections on there. It would be interesting to have an analysis done of my connections on Facebook vs. Google Plus vs. Twitter.

Recently, a company called Demographics Pro sent me a link to a free analysis of my Twitter account. They did it so I would blog about it or talk about their company on social media and get them some free publicity. (You’re welcome DP, I hope this helps.) According to their analysis:

@aribadler’s followers are comparatively mature (in their mid thirties), typically white/caucasians married with children and with very high income. The account has a notable audience concentration in Lansing, MI.

  • Professionally, @aribadler’s followers are employed as senior managers, journalists, authors/writers, consultants and teachers. The account ranks within the top 10% of all Twitter accounts in terms of density of sales/marketing managers.
  • In their spare time they particularly enjoy keeping pets, technology news, going to the theatre, comedy/humor and reading. @aribadler followers are charitably generous and particularly health conscious. Sports that stand out for this audience include hockey, baseball and cycling.
  • As consumers they are affluent and fashion conscious, with spending focused most strongly on home/family, hobbies and technology. 
  • On Twitter they tweet infrequently yet are relatively influential. 

I guess it’s interesting to see those stats, although I don’t really know what I can or should do about them, if anything.

What about you? Do you ever wonder about your connections? Do you care which ones might come or go? Do you think they would care if you left?

The Seven Ages of Man by William Mulready, 1838, illustrating the speech (via Wikipedia).

What’s the point of all of this anyway? Is social media just a modern-day version of a famous Shakespeare poem?

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 his time plays many parts.

If you figure it out, send me a note — preferably on Google Plus.

GM gets SM because it’s Social Media and SalesMen

Owly Images

Mary Henige, presenting to CMPRSA in East Lansing, Michigan

I heard a great presentation last week by Mary Henige, Director of Social Media & Digital Communications for General Motors, about what the car company is doing to use social media to its advantage, and to its customers’ advantage.

It’s natural for presentations like Mary’s to be uplifting and inspiring, because she only talked about the successes of various programs. I’m sure there are plenty of “Oh, if only we’d known,” or “Wow, that didn’t work!” types of stories to tell, too. It’s also understandable if companies aren’t eager to share their mishaps. Nevertheless, I’m certain that seeing practical applications brought to life was a great way to get the creative juices flowing for a lot of people at the Central Michigan Public Relations Society of America meeting.

In addition to learning about some of the logistics of how GM handles social media, I also walked away with a few key points that we all need to remember:

  • The social media team at GM’s number one job is not to be on social media, or engage with customers or humanize the brand. Of course, all of those things are vitally important, but they also are all leading to one thing: making each employee a salesperson. After all, as Mary pointed out, a primary goal as an employee of General Motors should be to sell cars. No matter what your role within a company or an organization, you should have a single-minded purpose: impact sales or support your issue in a positive way. If what you’re doing isn’t accomplishing that, it’s time to rethink how you’re spending your time.
  • GM is expanding its “social assistance staff” numbers as well as the days and hours they are available to help customers. If I recall correctly, she said they’d be up to 17 employees soon and will be online from early morning to late at night Monday through Saturday, and from noon to the early nighttime hours of Sunday. As Mary said, “If that’s where people are, that’s where we need to be.” They’ve also figured out something else at GM that many other companies haven’t yet. It’s not just about where the people are, it’s when the people are. Engaging with your customers or fans in the social media sphere is a nice touch. Since many people use social media more at home than at work, though, that means being available to engage on nights and weekends.
  • The number of active users on your Facebook page is a better measure than how many “likes” you have. Mary commented that engaged users aren’t people who just showed up to get a coupon. Think about how many company pages you like on Facebook or how many brands you’re following on Twitter. Evaluate that list honestly and I bet you’ll find that you were initially drawn to those pages because there was something used to entice you. The bigger question is, when was the last time you actually looked at that brand’s Facebook page or interacted with it on Twitter? My bet is that it has been awhile. That means that neither you nor the brand are getting anything out of the relationship. And relationships that are allowed to wither soon die and fall off the vine.
  • In addition to being the front line of humanizing the brand, Mary said the social web employees act as the proverbial canary in the coal mine when a crisis occurs, “because we hear about it first.” Humanizing the brand, engaging with customers, improving relationships — these common buzz phrases are all important to a brand’s presence on social media. But one of the most valuable tools you can provide your bosses is being a listening post. By spotting a crisis as it starts to unfold, you just might prevent it from being more than a minor problem that could have been a crisis if not caught early on. People are talking about your brand, your company, your organization and your product. Just because you aren’t listening to them doesn’t mean they don’t want you to hear them. As Mary pointed out, even those people who are complaining about you publicly can still be saved because you can engage with them and maybe turn them around. “It’s the people who don’t talk about you at all that are indifferent,” she said.
General Motors certainly seems like a brand that “gets it” when it comes to dealing with customers and potential customers on the social web. So go search them out — there is a social presence for GM, its brands and its individual vehicles all over the social media spectrum. And if you have any trouble finding what you’re looking for, just start talking about it publicly and they’ll find you. After all, they are eager to humanize the brand, engage with you — and sell you a car.

Betting on social media

Here’s a story I wrote for Ragan.com about the use of social media by a casino in Battle Creek, Michigan —

How a Michigan casino bet big on social media—and won

Firekeepers wooed its early detractors in greater Battle Creek, and it has built an online following, especially on Facebook.
By Ari B. Adler | Posted: September 14, 2011

Before the first patron could ever try to hit a jackpot on a slot machine at the Firekeepers Casino in Battle Creek, Mich., Jeff LaFrance and his team were betting on social media for the win.

“We saw a growing trend in social media, and in January 2009 we started a Facebook page. Before the doors were opened, we had 75,000 Red Hot Rewards club members registered,” says LaFrance, marketing manager for Firekeepers.

LaFrance says the casino built up its club membership before it opened in August 2009 through online registration, driven through its website and social media.

“That built integrity for us and a solid online presence,” LaFrance says. “They know what to expect from us, they know they can trust us online—which can be difficult.”

LaFrance, one of the first 10 people hired at Firekeepers, holds a computer science degree from the University of Michigan and started as a graphic designer at Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. He says getting pulled into the online interaction provided through corporate websites and social media is an ideal situation for him.

LaFrance says that although the website is the casino’s main online presence, it also uses Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“They’re all linked off our home page, and every other page on our website,” LaFrance says. “Overall, social media is a fantastic success story for us. It’s given us another opportunity to reach our guests and have a pulse on what is going on with our customers.”

When Firekeepers was proposed, there was a bit of an uproar in the city of 52,000 in southwest Michigan, with people worried about what its presence would mean for the community. In the two years since it opened, however, the mood seems to have changed, and the casino has become more widely accepted. Could online outreach have played a role?

Social media “can almost be used as an online focus group in some ways,” LaFrance says. “We can post questions to see what people like and what they don’t like.”

Firekeepers sometimes asks the community at large for input about an upcoming promotion or sale; other times people offer unsolicited feedback.

“People love expressing their opinions. Keeping your finger on the pulse of your audience allows you to react more quickly than ever before.”

With more than 57,500 fans on Facebook—and the total has grown every week—Firekeepers has plenty of feedback available.

“We had a big burst in the beginning once we opened, and then it trailed off for a bit. But then we invested more time, energy and content into the Facebook page, and our fan base has been steadily growing over the past six months at almost 4,000 to 5,000 per month,” LaFrance says.

Despite having a much smaller footprint in real life, Firekeepers has more Facebook fans than much larger casinos, including Hard Rock, Circus Circus and Excalibur in Las Vegas.

“For a casino in Battle Creek, Mich., to be ahead of casinos in Vegas is pretty amazing,” LaFrance says. “The key is to not use social media as a platform for you to sell everything about you. It’s meant to be social; it’s not meant to be just about you and your products.

“People will start to tune out, and you lose value in your posts. Find something interesting about your business, and engage with people.”

LaFrance says he often gets a lot more comments on the casino’s Facebook page when it posts questions completely unrelated to the casino or gaming. For example, last season it asked about the big football game between intrastate archrivals Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.

“We had a few hundred comments on it. You have to give visitors a fresh way to look at you,” he says. “That gives you an identity and gives your business a stronger social presence.”

Having an open page where everyone can participate means Firekeepers hears from folks who didn’t walk away big winners. That’s to be expected, but it’s the customer service concerns that really get the team’s attention.

“Part of social media is that everybody has a voice,” LaFrance says. “We’re in the casino industry, and, unfortunately, people do lose money. With complaints about service, we reach out and address the situation and get those customers back.”

LaFrance says that positive or negative, most comments remain on the wall for all to see and for the casino to address. Vulgar language and any mentions of violence are deleted.

The communications and marketing team of six at Firekeepers also maintains Twitter and YouTube accounts, but neither has seen the success of the Facebook page. LaFrance says that’s more likely because the general casino customer demographic skews older, and older folks favor Facebook over the other social networks.

The biggest reason to be involved in social media, after all, is to connect to your customers. So, you need to be where they are.

“If you’re not spending time there, you’re missing opportunities to touch your audience,” LaFrance says. “Social media is one of biggest growth areas online and should be a tool in your toolbox. In terms of dollars spent, the monetary value isn’t there, but the importance is. We treat everything equally.”

So it’s not about spending money, but what about the time involved? LaFrance takes care of most of the social media interaction for the casino himself, and it doesn’t have to be a huge time drain, he says.

“There’s not an army of people here, but you don’t need that if you can plan things out efficiently,” LaFrance says. “Invest in creating content, and then reuse what you’re creating.”

For example, video ads for promotions and events that run on in-casino TVs will then get new life on the casino’s YouTube account and are linked on its Facebook page.

“It exposes more people to the work you’ve already done,” LaFrance says. “The reality is that social media doesn’t take that much time. You don’t have to spend 24 hours working. For me, I monitor social media all the time—after meetings at work or when I’m at home. Often, I can just check in on my phone. One of the great things is how mobile social media is. That helps you get an opportunity to address any situation and to react quickly.”

So far, Firekeepers has found a way to win with social media, and the casino doesn’t plan to stop betting on the technology anytime soon.

“We’re always researching things, keeping an eye on what’s developing in the market,” LaFrance says. “Facebook is consistently coming out with new features. The joy of social media is it never really ends. There’s always an opportunity for growth and to continue engaging.”

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.)

Facebook has never violated my privacy as much as Phonebook

The world is awash in the hysterical gnashing of teeth this morning as the BBC reports that a man apparently wasted time compiling a database of the “private information” of 100 million Facebook users and then posted it online. The news media is all over this in the “We don’t really know what happened but it sounds scary so let’s make it the lead” method of modern journalism.

But all this guy really did was gather data that was already available publicly to anyone looking for it! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again and again: if you don’t want something about your life published online, then do not publish it there! The guy says he deliberately did not mine for data that contained home addresses or phone numbers. Like that’s a big deal anyway. Has anyone ever heard of a little thing called the phonebook?

How come we’ve never seen this story:

Millions of Home Addresses and Phone Numbers Published for the World to See

By Ima Reporter

A high-ranking source at AT&T has confirmed that millions of home addresses and phone numbers have been published and distributed across the country. There are reportedly thousands of versions of something being referred to as “Phonebook.” The information contained within each Phonebook is apparently limited to a geographic region. It appears customers of AT&T were required to provide this information when they signed up for service. Customers were then told their data would be published unless they paid AT&T a fee to keep it private.

Congressional hearings are expected to be be called within the next few days and executives from AT&T are expected to answer some tough questions about invasion of privacy for their customers.

“Many of these folks needed a phone only for emergencies but now they have had to deal with calls from people they don’t even know trying to sell them products and services. It’s a travesty and we cannot let this continue,” said Congressman Eineed Votes.

###

(Photo courtesy of Let Ideas Compete’s Flickr photostream.)

Try some clown tips to excel at social media

Clowns freak people out. I don’t know why, although when I asked that question publicly a few people mentioned Stephen King’s IT and I can totally understand the issues that book would raise for you.

As I started looking into this phenomenon, I stumbled across an even better one. Apparently, learning to be good at social media and learning to be a clown have a lot of things in common.

According to eHow, here are five tips for becoming a clown:

  1. Do some research.
  2. Develop your character.
  3. Get some skills.
  4. Learn how to be clumsy and graceful at the same time.
  5. Have an easily recognizable trait that makes your clown unique.

The same five tips can easily apply to excelling at social media, with the advantage of not having to wear layers of makeup, dying your hair orange or scaring the hell out of people who are ordinarily considered “tough.” Of course, you can do all those things if you want to, but why scare people away from your Twitter feed or your Facebook page unnecessarily?

So, try some clown tips to excel at social media:

1. Do some research. Where is the audience you are trying to reach and what is the best way to reach them? What kind of commitment are you willing to make? Being successful on Twitter requires a lot more time than being successful on Facebook. How much privacy are you willing to give up? Being open and transparent helps you make a connection with followers and friends, but that means the concept of “worlds colliding” takes on a whole new level. How are you going to connect with your social media outlets — by desktop, laptop, or phone; can you do it at home and at work and while you’re on the road?

2. Develop your character. First, plan on being yourself if you want to succeed at social media, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have some character. If you aren’t interesting to listen to when you tell stories, you find that out pretty quickly by the number of people who avoid being subjected to them. If you’re boring online, it’s even worse. There is a level of disconnected anonymity that makes it much easier for people to unfollow or unfriend you in cyberspace than they can in real life. However, be interesting without being over-the-top crazy. Maybe start with floppy shoes and hold off on the orange hair and red nose until people get to know you better.

3. Get some skills. Don’t know how to set up a Facebook page or break into the Twitter stream? There are plenty of people willing to help you out for free and there are self-help articles all over the Internet. If you are so inclined, there are conferences and seminars you can pay for to hear from folks who not only understand social media but have some skills to teach what they know to others. There really is no reason for anyone to honestly say, “I don’t understand social media,” or “I don’t know how to get involved in social networking” anymore.

4. Learn how to be clumsy and graceful at the same time. There is no right way to tweet. There is no tried and true formula for Facebook success. We are all learning as we go along here and anyone who says they’ve “mastered” social media is wrong. Some days, I broadcast tweets I’m really proud of because of the value they provide. Sometimes I put a great quote on Facebook that others really like. Then there are the clunkers — the things that sounded a lot funnier or more witty in my head than they do after I press the SEND button. And you won’t be on Twitter long before you send a private direct message to the world because you forgot the stupid “D” at the beginning. Or you might inadvertently post something to Facebook with a typo. It’s tough to take things back from cyberspace, but you can simply accept them and live to tweet another day.

5. Have an easily recognizable trait that makes you unique. There are millions of people on Twitter. There are 400 million Facebook users. There are billions of status updates being sent out in a continual stream of shared consciousness the likes of which we never thought possible. Why should anyone listen to you? Why should anyone follow a link you’ve tweeted instead of the thousands of others available to them at that moment? There are 10 to 13 hours of video being uploaded every minute to YouTube — so why should someone give you the honor of grabbing their miniscule attention span for the next few minutes? So find a way to stand out — either by the clever things you say, the links you offer, the expertise you provide, the fun you add, or, ideally, a combination of all of those — and you can excel at social media.

Of course, I suppose you could always just take a picture of yourself dressed up as a clown and post it as your avatar. If nothing else, you might get a good debate raging about why clowns are either innocent fun for children’s parties or Beelzebub dressed in baggy pants.

(Photo courtesy of Matthew Stewart via Flickr.)

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?”

Time management more challenging as new networks grow

Here’s an article I wrote for Ragan Communications about time management and the risk of social networking interrupting our ability to enjoy where we’re at and finish what we’re trying to do. I think social media is awesome, but even I admit there are times we need to evaluate how much we’re doing these days.

Published: 2/16/2010

Time management more challenging as new networks grow
By Ari B. Adler

By the time you’ve tweeted and checked in and updated your status, have you missed out on a slice of real life?

Remember “Where’s Waldo?” That lost-again-found-again character that rocketed to fame in the United States in the 1990s probably wouldn’t have found nearly as much success if he were introduced today. That’s because the answer would be too simple—finding Waldo would just require following him via myriad social networking services such as Twitter,FacebookFoursquare or the new Google Buzz.

If you want to know where people are, just start watching their online posts. They tweet about what they’re doing. They provide a Facebook status update about their plans for the day. They “check in” with Foursquare, alerting the world where they are at any given moment. And, with the new Buzz, they have the ability to drop all of it into your Gmail inbox.

The explosion of online tracking has many users wondering whether they could juggle all the social media tools, and many others wondering why they’d want to.

“For better and worse, we’ve raised our tolerance for how much we can multitask and fit into our days, so we’re better at being able to fit it all in with only some falling to the wayside,” says Andrew Schreck, a director at John Bailey & Associates Public Relations, in Troy, Mich. “There will be a breaking point where we can not, or do not want to, add any more technology and maybe slide back to a bit simpler lifestyle. I’ve seen this with Facebook, where friends are dropping out or paring back on followers because it is occupying too much of their time.”

The concept of time management has never been more in flux than it is lately with all of the different ways people can spend their time, both online and off. Despite fears to the contrary, online social networking has not made society less social. In some instances, the number of social activities people are invited to in real life are increasing.

“I can’t imagine the Foursquare-style check-ins continuing into the future, but I see solutions like Google Latitude taking hold, where your friends and any other applications you authorize could know where you are, without a specific application,” says Charles Hoffmeyer, operations analyst for the Michigan State Police. “Twitter, Facebook and Buzz fall into a different category. The social applications that support conversations with friends and strangers will thrive and will help us interact more effectively in the physical world.”

Automating the process would help the concept grow more rapidly, says Shannon Paul, social media manager for PEAK6 Online, in Seattle, Wash.

“While it’s still novel, location-based technology has far to go. Check-ins at exact locations still need to be performed manually, but I think many will eventually opt into having their location status update automatically during stretches of time,” Paul said.

Knowing when to say when

Automating the processes might raise some eyebrows over privacy, but the folks who are checking in manually have already given up a fair amount.

As more and more services start to crop up, those services heighten the burden of trying to find time for them all.

“Because of all the latest and greatest platforms that pop up on a pretty regular basis, those that try to use all will spend a pretty hefty chunk of time talking about doing rather than doing, and connecting rather than interacting,” says Kasey Anderson, a creative services specialist with Citizens Bank in Flint, Mich. “While this will impact enjoyment, I don’t think it’s a mainstream issue. Most of us know when to say when.”

Perhaps the bigger question is this: Are we all going to be so busy checking in with one another about where we are and what we’re doing that we won’t actually have any time to enjoy where we are or finish what we’re doing?

“I think that’s certainly going to be a concern for some people, but I see distraction as a human problem rather than a technology problem,” Paul says. “Some people have trouble staying in the moment and focusing on a task whether or not there’s technology involved.”

Daniel J. Hogan, an author, podcaster, and media production specialist in Lansing, Mich., agrees with that statement—and so, apparently, would his parents.

“I’ve caught myself checking Twitter updates on my phone when I should be enjoying what I’m actually doing,” Hogan says. “It comes back to self-control, and I’m more aware of it—especially when I’m around my parents, as my mom will point out that I’m ‘being rude.’ ”

The rudeness concept isn’t reserved for the older generations who just don’t understand some people’s need for constant connectivity.

Angela Minicuci, a recent graduate from Michigan State University, says that although she’s been guilty of being distracted by technology, she is trying to get better about it.

“One thing I try to do—and something everyone should remember—is to live in the moment and enjoy the company we have,” Minicuci said. “I think social interactions are less enjoyable when we’re distracted, and while a check-in or update can be fun, we should make our friendsour priorities, not our followers.”

So, is the flashy technology creating some new threat for society, or is this just an old story being retold with new characters?

According to Ryan Knott, manager of communications at the Michigan Osteopathic Association, in Okemos, Mich., society has been here before.

Since the invention of the telegraph and telephone, Knott says, our lives have become less about where we are and more about what has our attention.

“When I’m checking Twitter while at a restaurant or party, it’s not that I’m not taking the time to enjoy where I am and who I’m with,” he says. “But where I am now means more than just where my physical body currently resides. I’m no longer simply engaged in conversations in the space 3 feet around me, but all around the world. Whether you think that’s good or bad will depend largely on what you value.”

Pepsi makes ONE cola; doesn’t believe in one society

07_Pepsi_ONE_Family_v2Pepsi has announced a new online community targeting African-American moms as a way to help that demographic inspire each other with their stories. It’s interesting to me that a company that makes a product called ONE is now trying to continue the troubling history in this country of separating people by race.

I had high hopes that social media, finally, would be one vehicle that would help us smash through the barriers erected by differences in the color of our skin and help us realize that we are all part of one race: the human race.

But now, marketers at Pepsi have decided that African-American moms are underrepresented and need a place to have their voices heard. Too bad their voices won’t be heard by anyone other than people exactly like them.

I’m a white dad, so obviously I can’t speak for black moms everywhere. I just wish marketing people at companies like Pepsi would realize they can’t either. First of all, who  asked them to? Who says black women can’t get on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and all the other outlets to have their voices heard? Who says they need a special place just to call their own — and that they can’t create one via Ning? Who says that black women aren’t smart enough to see right through this marketing trap? Who says we need to turn the Internet into a microcosm of real life, with its inherent racism and the segregation that results from it?

Just last month, we saw the passing of the 46th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I can’t help but wonder how inspirational and amazing he would find the technology of today and how it has transformed our abilities to see past race and look only at a person for what they are contributing to the conversation.

Martin_Luther_King_-_March_on_WashingtonHis infamous exclamations certainly ring true when you look at a social media outlet like Twitter, which helps meld us into a community that is not based on race, religion or nationality.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

“Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

I recently had a colleague who is just getting into social media make the following comment, and it punctuates what I’m trying to say in this post:

I find it fascinating that social media is generating social activity that did not exist before and bringing together people that otherwise would not have connected. Way fun.

It’s too bad major American brands like Pepsi can’t see the potential for social media to bring us together instead of another avenue to keep us apart.