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.

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.)

Be careful not to let your worlds collide

George Costanza

I had an interesting conversation with someone recently about how they used to enjoy my Twitter feed more before I became the spokesman for a politician. It was an eye-opening discussion in a couple of ways.

For a bit of background, my personal Twitter feed is @aribadler, but I also am the primary operator of the Twitter account for my employer, Speaker of the House Jase Bolger. That feed is @SpeakerBolger.

I thought I was doing a good job of keeping the two worlds separate, at least as much as you possibly can when it comes to social media. I have no delusions that what I post to both accounts can and will be used against me personally or in my role as the Speaker’s press secretary. So, I’ve been careful with what I’m posting to @aribadler, to make sure I’m not saying or doing anything that can be twisted on me. Of course, the political ideologues will always find a way to use every utterance out of context, but I’m basing my decisions on what reasonable people would think, not those blinded by political rage.

What I had not really considered was whether what I’m doing at work could impact my personal account. I haven’t done much more political ranting on @aribadler than I had in the past, but I’m sure some stuff has shown up there. I have put links to various news stories that I’ve been in on my Twitter feed and on my Facebook page. They weren’t there so much as a way to spread the message contained within, but rather as a way to show my friends and followers what I’ve been up to as a press secretary.

That’s why the conversation from the other night was so enlightening. I’ve been careful not to let comments from my personal world invade into my professional world, and yet I haven’t been as vigilant in the other direction. As this person said, she’s always enjoyed reading my Twitter stream because it was about a lot of things — some interesting to her and some not, some funny and some not. But, she said, it’s not going to be as enjoyable to follow me if I let too much political messaging seep in.

I’ve scrolled through my feed and haven’t seen too much more political stuff there than I had previously, but it does exist. So, I’m going to put up a better barrier — one that keeps my worlds from colliding not just on the work side, but on the personal side, too. I’m sure George Costanza from Seinfeld would agree that’s really for the best.

The votes are in and readers want engagement

I recently wrote a blog post and hosted a poll about the Lansing State Journal being on Twitter and how it should handle that account. The issue is that the State Journal uses an auto feeder to populate its Twitter stream with headlines from its web site. Unfortunately, this leads to the potential of outdated news ending up on its Twitter account, a place where breaking news generally becomes old within minutes if not seconds.

The folks running the State Journal’s Twitter account have gotten better over time as they’ve become more comfortable with the service. They are engaging with readers who point out errors or have suggestions. And this past week they even posted a Follow Friday shout-out to my wife and me, who are frequently tagged as the LSJ online watchdogs. The problem is that the staffing for the Twitter account is apparently not considered a priority in the State Journal newsroom. Although, like most newspapers today, I’m not sure if news in general is considered a priority these days.

When I had a discussion on Twitter with the State Journal staff about the problem with their feed, they raised the dilemma of using the Twitter stream to post news only when staff is available, noting that tweets may be few and far between if they go that route. When I asked people to weigh in on the concept, allowing them to vote for full automation, tweeting only when staff is available or a combination, they, not surprisingly, voted for the combo. Certainly it wasn’t a scientific poll and the number of respondents wasn’t huge, but nearly 83 percent of those who voted opted for “Usually automate but engage during breaking news.”

What was more interesting than the poll numbers, however, were  the comments from my readers. Some commented on live vs. automated posts:

I don’t mind the automated tweets for promoting their published articles. For example, the business news feeds are great. The breaking news tweets should be in the moment. ~ Lisa

As a whole, news organizations have a huge responsibility. As a society we expect them to cover everything that interests us, do it accurately and without bias, and then make sure we know they have covered it. At the same time newspaper circulation has continued to plummet making it necessary for them to cut staff. I don’t think it’s realistic under these circumstances to have a live person tweeting at all times. I do agree, however, that every attempt should be made to disseminate accurate information at all times. ~ Anne Craft

Others suggested another approach entirely, using Twitter as a back channel to the newsroom:

Twitter is about two-way communication, sharing and networking. While I appreciate headline/breaking news being tweeted, I’d much prefer more interaction with followers, insights or background stories that don’t make the articles, etc. I know that is hard with limited budgets, but making some effort will show they care. Maybe the folks in charge of the budget will see how beneficial it is to the community and toss a few more bucks in that direction to keep it going!  ~ Kate

While still others admitted that they turn to their social networks for news, not the local newspaper:

I don’t follow the LSJNews feed (nearly 17000 tweets in just over 800 days! way too much information!), and rarely visit the LSJ website (due to the quantity and quality of their advertisements). I instead follow locals…and get Nixle alerts from government agencies for major news in the area. The power of the medium makes this possible; if the message is interesting enough, someone in my social graph will relay it.  ~ cchoffme

I will give credit to the Lansing State Journal for wanting to hear more about this issue. The newspaper’s Twitter feed even retweeted my original blog post and poll. There’s no question the State Journal and other news outlets are experiencing growing pains as they fumble around in the social media space. Perhaps they can finally find a niche that allows them to connect with readers again so people will turn there first for news and information that is timely, important, accurate, complete, unbiased and reported fairly. Come to think of it, maybe social media can wait and newspapers should focus on making that happen on their own websites and printed pages first! If you don’t have credibility and the trust of your readers, it doesn’t really matter what medium you use to publish the information, because no one will be paying attention to you.

The Lansing State Journal on Twitter: engage or feed?

As a former full-time journalist and now a university instructor on the subject who still writes freelance articles, I have little patience for the continuing self-mutilation of the news industry. That’s partly why I’m not only critical of what I see and read in the Lansing State Journal but openly share my opinions with them via reader comments and Twitter.

To the paper’s credit, the person handling the @LSJNews Twitter account is starting to engage with people who point out errors or have suggestions for improvement. This led to an interesting exchange the other day after I complained about the paper’s Twitter feed posting outdated information.

The tweet referred to a severe thunderstorm warning being in effect for my area. When I clicked on the link, however, I discovered that the tweet at 12:41 p.m. was referring to a warning that expired 11 minutes earlier. When I told the LSJ that this was a rather useless piece of news, the account operator apologized, noting that the warning had gotten caught in the RSS feed of the newspaper’s headlines. That led to a question from the LSJ:

And, a warning to be careful what you wish for:

I acknowledged the dilemma and suggested a reader poll. I’m not sure if the LSJ will actually do a reader poll on this or if they thought asking the question with one tweet was the way to go. So, I’m going to conduct a poll here. I understand the struggle of not having enough people to cover all the news that’s happening, but taking a social media tool and using it as an automated broadcast mechanism doesn’t seem to be the answer either.

So, what do you think? Should the LSJ use an RSS feed of its headlines to populate its Twitter account, leading to potentially inaccurate information being distributed? Should they shut it down and only update the feed as they have staff available (which would be rarely)? Or could they operate as a hybrid, with automated tweets from their RSS feed supplemented by someone assigned to directly engage via the account during breaking news occurrences?

Cast your vote, offer a comment or two and let me know what you think. I’ll share the results with the Lansing State Journal. After all, that paper knows all too well that I won’t keep anything from them!

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.)

Connections are great; conversations are even better

As my number of friends and followers on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have grown exponentially over the past year, I’ve found myself more connected than ever. On the other hand, I’ve found that I’ve lost touch with some of my original online friends.

When I started on Twitter, for example, I used to have regular conversations with folks from around the United States and even overseas. My wife, Jessi, commented on this in a blog post she recently wrote about this topic, noting how she got started on Twitter, in part, because of me:

“He showed me examples of new friends he had made in places such as Hawaii, England, Florida and more. They’d developed a relationship and were constantly commenting on each other’s tweets and getting “involved” in each other’s lives, even though they lived so far apart and had never met.”

One of these folks was Anna Hill, who lives in the United Kingdom. We’d share stories about what was going on in our lives and wish each other well on projects we were working on. It was nothing deep, but there was some nice banter involved and it was good to feel connected to someone so far away. The problem is, my first few twigs of social networking have turned into a forest. That means Anna and I don’t chat like we used to, other than the occasional, “Hi, hope all is well.” At least we’re doing something to stay in touch though. I’d hate for my Twitter experience to become too much about the forest and not enough about the trees within.

When I read Jessi’s blog post, I told her that she shouldn’t feel like she’s alone, because I’d been thinking lately about how connections are great but conversations are even better.

Friend and fellow blogger Jess Knott recently blogged about social media and connecting with folks because she’s been trying to figure out Google Buzz. She used a quote from me where I talked about using Buzz more intimately than services like Twitter. She says it changed her thoughts about Buzz, noting:

…perhaps I’m so used to the swirling, tumultuous action of Twitter that I’ve forgotten that social media can be effective on a small scale as well.

One of the key things to getting the most out of social media is to figure out what works best for you. My wife says she has ended up talking mostly to the folks in our town even though she started out intending to connect with a much broader network. But that’s OK. The group she’s chatting with is filled with  people whom she probably would not have such a close connection with if not for social networking. They’re from across town instead of across the country, but they’re still a great network of people and we’re proud to call them our “friends” online and our friends in real life as well.

There’s room in social media for all kinds of social networking. That includes long-distance professional collaboration and local conversations with friends to coordinate weekend activities. Just keep in mind that your social circle is no longer limited to your geographic land area, but to the geography of the Internet. That means your social circle isn’t just a circle around you, it’s a circle that encompasses the Earth.

I heard Tara Hunt speak at the Public Relations Society of America Southwest District Conference in Oklahoma City last week. I was pleased to see people being drawn to her message of never forgetting that social media is just a tool and you have to stay people-centric in your thoughts and actions.

So go on, network and make friends. Gather followers like you can never have too many. Moreover, treasure every one of those connections for what they offer, large or small, long-distance or local. Just try to remember that the point of social media and social networking is being social. Don’t forget that even the largest forests are made up  of many individual trees. Trees like Jessi Adler, Jess Knott, Tara Hunt and Anna Hill. Trees that need tending occasionally, even if it’s just a friendly, “Hi, hope all is well.”

(Photo courtesy of Anita363’s Flickr stream.)