Social Media – Nine Years In

Nine years ago this evening I sent my first Tweet. I believe this was after I joined Facebook, but it’s all a blur. For years I was energized by the small pipe platform of Twitter. I saw it as a way to connect with people all over the globe. A platform to learn, gain knowledge and better understand the world. I viewed Facebook as a convenient way to share and connect. I didn’t think Facebook was as pure as Twitter, and I still don’t. Facebook has always been burdened with; should I friend them? Why are they friending me? What about my boss or direct report? So much cognitive weight.

How did that work out? Social media, led by Twitter and the largest thing in the world, Facebook, have become the opposite of connectedness. Facebook and Twitter separate, segment and quarantine people.

Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.

Houston, we have a problem.

  • Power – Opinions are frequently weaponized.
  • Open and Connected – Anyone can say or post anything, including their suicide.
  • Connect with Friends and Family – I’d love to see the real stats on this. For the most part, Facebooks tries to connect you to complete strangers or companies because they can profit from it.
  • Discover What’s Going on in the World – Facebook is it’s own reality. A planet Twilo. Keep your oxygen tank filled.
  • Share and Express – Totally nailed it. Bring it on.

I’m listening to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s soundtrack to The Social Network (so brilliant) as I write this. All the while realizing the genesis of social media (losing the caps) is nothing new. I grew up in the ’60’s and I know what a revolution looks like. We stated, “The revolution will be televised.” Today the revolution is fractured. Hamilton has resonated precisely because it repurposed a timeless message. The brilliance of Hamilton shows us nothing has changed.

Silicon Valley thinks only of the future. Of what the next world could / should be. To that I say hooray. But don’t leave behind the foundation that gave you this privilege. Being able to express an opinion is a privilege, not a DIGITAL RIGHT. Rights are fought for, they can’t be coded. Silicon Valley is fighting mostly for profits.

Time is the ultimate teacher. The final arbiter. How much time do you have or are willing to spend in the world of bits? How much time will you spend in the world of atoms with your family and friends without a wall of code between you? Social media is a force multiplier. The question is, of what?

Amazon Prime makes my life easier because it delivers atoms to my doorstep. Things I use, need, and yes, indulge in. That’s worth my time.

Notation: I embrace technology on all levels. I am pre tech-innate. I am suspicious when opinion coupled with technology is peddled for absolute truth.

Six Years on Twitter. How Many More?

imagesI was contemplating whether or not to blog about why I’m on Twitter and how I use it. My first Tweet was February 23, 2008. For some unremebered reason I put it on my iCalendar that day with a perpetual repeat. The internal food fight of whether I should give it life here went on in my brain for days. Guess which side won? Just couldn’t help myself.

Twitter is now a public company that requires it to adopt a solid business mindset. Quarterly earnings calls, more scrutiny and less tolerance for missteps. The platform continues to evolve as do the people who use it regularly. I’ve been pretty strict about who I follow and I am unfollowing more than ever.

Some still miss the basics after all these years and numerous resources to help do it well. Some of the duh’s are; no profile description, no photo, no location, and on and on. I have begun to use a new measure for who to follow. Their photos and videos. These are the visuals of their feed. I find the selection of what images people share reveals perhaps even more of who they are. If the images are lame, I think twice. If I’m on the following fence after reading a sampling of their Tweets, a compelling image footprint can nudge me to click the follow button. Is it varied? Humorous? Interesting? Numerous? The eye matters as much as the hand.

Today I see less spam on the service and have grown new friends. I’m noticing a cycling of connections. There’s a group of people one engages with for a period of time, then they fall out of the river of characters. You check back and find they’ve unfollowed you. I don’t’ take it personal. Chalk it up to the natural flow of life.

The parody accounts are becoming more interesting. There’s a whole cast of Mad Men accounts that are hilarious to engage with. They take it seriously. I haven’t gotten into following celebrity or sports figures. Most of the people I’m interested in wouldn’t follow back or engage. Many may have their PR teams reply.

I have engaged in dialog with Tom Peters, the business genius who wrote “In Search of Excellence” and invented the term MBWA, Managing by Wandering Around. I’ve heard him speak and have learned so much from him about many things. He followed me back years ago and we connected from time to time. In one exchange he gave me real mentoring advice and challenged me to get better. That would have never occurred without Twitter. Mr. Peters continues to follow me.

I’m keen on film. Have you noticed? I became hooked in the 1970’s and ’80’s, which were the best decades for movies during my lifetime. One of the producers I admired was Robert Evans. He was the real Hollywood in my book. He ran Paramount Pictures and turned it into a profit machine for the then parent company Gulf+Western. During his tenure the studio turned out an impressive list of pictures including; Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Rosemary’s Baby, The Italian Job, True Grit, Love Story, Harold and Maude, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Serpico, Save the Tiger, The Conversation and The Great Gatsby.

I responded to a random Tweet from someone that had attached a photo of Mr. Evans in his prime, sitting by the pool reading a stack of scripts. My response to that Tweet was followed up a few days later by a follow from Mr. Evans. He followed me! Another Twitter moment. Having that brush with history was a thrill. As of the writing of this post Mr. Evans continues to follow me.

Robert EvansThe longer one is on Twitter and maintains connections, the more of a view one gets into life’s passages. People get fired, start businesses, become ill, get married, grow older. You name it they express it on Twitter in 140 characters. I love the spontaneity. One’s true self comes front and center when they commit to Twitter.

I don’t spend much time thinking about how long I’ll stay engaged on Twitter. I’ll know when it’s time to fade away.

The Department of if You Care: Previous blog posts on my Twitter adventure: 2013, 2011, 2008.

Photo Credit: The New York Times

Five Years on Twitter, or How I Spent 18.1 Days of my Life

Updated April 5, 2013. Some content previously published.

I’ve been using Twitter for five years. It’s amazing to see how much Twitter has changed over that time. Actually it’s only over the last 24 months or so that they have made significant leaps, with the first years serving as setting the foundation. Twitter is about interests and has content from individuals (mostly), but brands are beginning to use it effectively as well. There are about 450 million Tweets per day with over half of the members active on mobile devices. It’s worldwide and has played an important part in furthering the Arab spring. Can you imagine how the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. would have benefited if we had Twitter back in the ’60’s?

Twitter.com has undergone a redesign and is better, but it still falls short for me. I mostly use Osfoora on my iPad. It’s fast, easy to use and enjoyable. I’m not a Tweet Deck fan. On the iPhone I use the official Twitter app.

Here’s my Twitter take

(note some of this content has been repurposed from earlier posts about Twitter)

  1. Serves as a window into what’s going on in someone’s mind. These can run the emotional gambit from joy, disappointment and challenge, to triumph or simply stating a pet peeve. You are there with them as they experience it.
  2. Allows you to visualize what someone is doing at that moment, and one step further, what’s most meaningful to them about that moment. For instance, when someone Tweets that they are in a familiar restaurant enjoying a fine red wine and chatting with their spouse. It’s a rich picture that comes alive, especially when you know the couple and the restaurant.
  3. Can become the catalyst for later conversations. What were you guys talking about over dinner? What did you have? The wine? Etc.
  4. Provides the cadence of someone’s daily life. If they Tweet with regularity it’s a GPS of their thoughts as they navigate their day. They are turning left… right… now on a long straight track. You can sometimes watch them go off road.
  5. Is a rich digital network. In my unscientific study I have observed that Tweeple are generally early technology adopters, tend to be influencers, have fascinating jobs at leading companies and brands and generally love what they do. Of course some are just bored, which is to be expected with a media service with over 3 million channels. Surf past the noise.
  6. Keeps you in the know. Twitterers are constantly scanning the Internet for interesting and insightful ideas; including breaking news. Their Tweets are littered with tiny urls that lead you to a treasure trove of information and value hidden in the cloud. Great for impressing your friends and neighbors.
  7. Accelerates your knowledge. Tweets flow freely from user to user within the ever-growing social graph. Re-Tweeting, forwarding someone else’s Tweet, acts as an afterburner, further propelling that knowledge. A convergence of channels.
  8. Gets right to the point. After all you have to with only 140 characters. Short, sharp observations. Haven’t seen much Haiku though.
  9. Is entertaining. Some people broadcast on comedy central.

This is how I use Twitter

  1. Share my knowledge and experience I’ve collected over the years. I love solving problems and helping people solve problems. If I can give them a nugget or spark that advances their lives I’m thrilled. No great thought exists in a vacuum. If it’s a good idea then several people have it as well. If it’s a revolutionary idea then hundreds probably have it. It’s the universe’s way of improving the odds that great things reach the real world. Doing the work is much harder than having the idea, so share freely. when you share you get it back in large degrees.
  2. Learn from others much smarter than me. Of course not all smart people are on Twitter, and Twitter does not have only smart people. But it’s full of ideas and insights.
  3. Expand my network. All successful people are well connected. Who you know is critical. The smarter your connections the more power you have.

On May 1, 2011, it was announced that Osama bin Laden was killed by a team of Navy Seals in a compound inside Pakistan. The conversation on Twitter exploded.

I took a look at my Twitter bookmarks folder saved on my Safari browser today. Early on, when I earned of a new tool that leveraged Twitter feeds and users, I would check them out and if I found it useful I’d bookmark it. I have 56 bookmarks in that folder today. These days I hardly ever go back to this folder and pull one of them up. They might have been amusing at the time, but it’s only all about the content in the stream.

Time Investment

During those five years I have Tweeted 20,996 times. It takes me about 13 seconds to craft a Tweet, so here’s how it stacks up.

13 seconds x 20,996 Tweets = 272,948 seconds = 4,549 minutes = 75.8 hours = 3.1 days

Doesn’t seem too bad spread over 5 years. That’s the publishing part. Now for the incoming. I spend roughly 25 minutes per day reading (more like scanning) the river of Tweets. I do it on an array of devices; desktop computer, iPhone, iPad, and occasionally my TV screen, but that’s pretty much a pain in the butt, so I don’t do it often. My scan time is spread throughout the day at breakfast to mid-day, and late afternoon, with a break in the early evening so I can spend time with my son. Then comes my favorite time. Twitter After Dark. The night owls are out and many of them are under the influence. I make no judgements. It’s more fun and interesting, but not as professionally insightful. Out of 365 days a year, I’ll say that I check it 95% of the time, so that’s 347 days.

347 days x 5 years = 1,536 days x 25 minutes per day = 43,375 minutes = 722 hours = 30 days

Now to be fair, I’m scanning Twitter while doing something else, like surfing the web, participating in a webinar, attending a boring meeting, waiting in various lines and of course the all time favorite, driving (just kidding on that last one). So it’s not like I’m setting aside dedicated time for Twitter When I adjust for multi-tasking it comes out to.

30 days absorbing Tweets – 50% multi-task benefit = 15 days

Total days on Twitter over the past 5 years = 18.1

Eighteen point one days of my life over the past 1,825, is .9% of my time. Sleeping has taken up 365 days of my life over the same span of time, which works out to 33% of my life! Note to self. Next killer app wil enable me to Tweet while sleeping. Warren Zevon was definitely on to something.

I’ve made some good friends thanks to Twitter and it’s fascinating to observe how those relationships have progressed. Some of them move from Twitter to the off line world. Conferences, business meetings, even just passing through Chicago to pause for a drink or dinner. Others become Facebook friends and we have never met in person. I’m happy to say  that I’ve blocked only one person in the four years. Not a bad record.

Improving the Customer Experience with Social Media

I have been thinking lately about how customers form their perceptions of brands and what we can do about influencing those memories. Brands and products can easily become look alike commodities, which makes gaining mind and wallet share more difficult. Brands want to be distinctive, stand out among the crowd and be noticed by consumers. The rise of social media has, in my opinion, provided more insight into consumer’s perceptions as well as opportunities to use listening tools and pay attention to one’s own social networks for a rich data set of clues. If done correctly, a brand can address issues and show gratitude to customers and create connective memories to that experience and ultimately the brand.

In my direct experience customers either start their conversation with a company using social media or turn to it as a last resort. Regardless, brands need to be watching these spaces closely and jumping in as soon as possible. It goes without saying that when I say jumping in I mean with trained professionals.

There’s a fascinating behavior economics principle called the peak-end rule. It was first suggested by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner for Economic Sciences in 2002.

According to the peek-end rule we judge our experiences almost entirely on how they were at their peak (pleasant or unpleasant) and how they ended. Other information is not lost, but it is not used.

It could be fair to say that consumers who post on social media streams are at a peak with a brand. Skilled companies who engage these customers quickly, acknowledge their emotions and work to solve the problem will deliver an end that can leave the customer with a better perception. Ending on a high note means you have won half the battle.

Social media is potentially a new customer experience tool that can be employed to improve interactions on both sides and perhaps nudge the perceptions customers have of a brand. If your customer truly is at a peak, then we should do everything we can to end the event on a high note – if it has been unpleasant – or propel a good experience even further up the scale. Social, has the power to leverage immediacy, intimacy and interaction into a powerful generator of memories.

Image re-drawn from Greg Ness’s graphic

Four Years of Blogging – So What

This month marks my fourth year of writing on this blog. I have posted 265 times, created 147 categories and made 725 tags for all this content. This pales by comparison to tens of thousands of others, and I’m not even talking about the pros. For me this has been and continues to be an enjoyable and helpful activity. I looked back at my notes from four years ago where I scribbled what I wanted to accomplish. There were essentially two buckets. One for personal expression/growth and the other for amplification/readership. I would give myself a sold B for the first one but am at a C- on the second count.

Is it just me or does the term blog sound old now? Certainly this platform has been workmanlike for some time and Word Press has done a spectacular job of adding features and functionality along the way. But I wonder how long it will be before we see blogging and visits to blogs wane. Maybe I’m hoping this will happen so I don’t have to commit all this time. Twitter, Tumbler, Facebook, Google+ have absorbed a lot of content that might have been earmarked for a blog post. Blogs are singular in nature. You sit and write. That’s really hard. Blogs are also a lonely place no matter how many people drop by to read or comment. Blogs are not networks even though links to posts are shared out by the millions everyday. It becomes harder and harder to leave the real time stream of social consciousness experienced in Twitter, etc. and engage with a blog. It’s kind of like zooming down an expressway, grooving on some tunes, then suddenly you find yourself maneuvering city blocks. Photos, videos and even status updates that can be recorded real time and instantly posted with a small caption are more meaningful because they often contain essential context like location and time of day. You go to a blog but the social streams come to you. Yes I know they are different and serve different purposes, but I am thinking more about this these days and am confident a structural shift is in the making.

Sound is going to be bigger than video… ‘Record’ is the new QWERTY.

— Alexander Ljung, Founder and CEO, SoundCloud

I really like this quote, but I would swap out the word sound for voice. It’s the voice that becomes the new keyboard in the evolving digital age. Apple’s Siri, available on the iPhone 4S, has made us aware how powerful the voice is. It’s speak and you hear back from another voice, but it’s paired with visual content and links. Their TV spots frame out most of the actor’s eyes, leaving the lips as the focal point.

Siri is a modern day Sherpa. Let’s hope we keep her safely tucked inside her box and away from the atmosphere, and not repeat the mistakes we made with HAL.

Remember podcasts? In 2005 there were dozens of predictions about how podcasts and podcast listeners would experience explosive growth. The 200 to 2009 Pew Internet Study on daily internet activities has the podcast third from the bottom on usage, barely moving up a percentage point in 8 years. So it’s not sound or voice, it’s interaction that makes things much more interesting. I digress a bit.

Blogging is still enjoyable for me and I’ll probably keep going for quite a while. But some day, it will cease to exist, like so many other content transmitters of the past. My thoughts and ideas will simply find new ways to be expressed. Until then, I’ve still got this blog.

Say Goodbye to the Call Center

Earlier this week I attended the Customer Response Summit in Hollywood, Florida. It’s an In The Know event, a company that stays on the forefront of how corporations are dealing with customer care and customer experience in this rapidly evolving digital landscape. We used to call it Web 2.0, but that doesn’t capture what’s happening today. Now it’s mobile, social, video and audio. Consumers adopt new technologies quickly. Certainly not everyone is on the cutting edge, but the numbers  of people grow with each new cycle. They are the ones that demand firms adopt these new channels and they can no longer be ignored.

I was a speaker at the event and my topic was How to Turn Social Chaos into Valuable Brand Engagement. I shared my experiences, successes, and challenges of using Social Media to reach, engage and service customers. We operate using a very simple framework for social. Don’t over complicate it. Align it to your current business objectives, translate the tribal language into something more familiar, and prove it’s value.

I was impressed with the speaker lineup that included executives from FedEx, Time Warner Cable, General Motors, Disney, GoDaddy, ConAgra and others. I gleaned a number of takeaways:

  • Corporations are all working hard on how to improve the customer experience
  • Social Media and Mobile are moving much faster than corporate America
  • New customer care technologies will need to be considered and installed if firms wish to keep up with customers
  • There is no silver bullet; time to focus on weapons not ammunition
  • Everything you know is transferrable, but it will need to be re-interpreted
  • Data is still overwhelming insights
  • New silos have emerged (Great, more silos)
  • People are beginning to get it, proving value and taking steps
  • The call center of tomorrow will look very, very different (Think internal targeting, fewer phones, more direct contact with consumers on the web)
  • Consumers are gaining more and more power (That’s fine, just be gentle guys)
  • Embrace change, or risk being irrelevant some time soon
  • Call center managers are starting to shift their thinking from controlling cost to creating value
  • It’s very, very difficult to move away from “average handle time” (AHT) for hard core call center types
  • One of the most frequently asked questions for Disney is, “When time does the 3:00 parade start?”

What i’m seeing is the way we service customers is rapidly changing. Consumers operate in real time while firms operate in batch. There is a serious need for a centralized customer database that’s agile and can be easily shared by any of the marketing and service channels/departments that exist inside as well as outside a company.

Partnering is becoming even more important. If your company has an “It’s built better here” mentality, you are already falling dangerously behind. No one firm can keep up with what’s going on out there. Truth be told, they never could, but the pace of change was slow enough in the past to not be too damaging. Today that pace can cause fatalities.

The call center will evolve into a contact command center. More consumers will self-service through progressively easier to use interfaces and devices. Agents that answer the phone today will be transformed into agents that use their web browser to connect with consumers. Information will be pushed to their desktops by sophisticated listening devices constantly spidering the ether for immediate response. Proactive not reactive. Pre-service, like pre-crime from Minority Report. The agents of tomorrow will be more aligned with the business and more empowered than ever. This in turn will empower consumers and leave us all more time to focus on what’s really important.

The networking was the most valuable aspect of the event for me. I met some outstanding professionals and had some great conversations that I hope will continue. View some of the event videos here.

Three Years on Twitter, or How I Spent 10.2 Days of my Life in the Stream

Today, February 23, 2011 marks the third anniversary of my first Tweet. Honestly, I don’t remember what I Tweeted. It would be great to say it was something memorable like, “Watson (the IBM Watson), come here I need you.” But alas it probably wasn’t that profound. During those three years I have Tweeted 7,665 times. It takes me about 13 seconds to craft a Tweet, so here’s how it stacks up.

13 seconds x 7,665 Tweets = 99,645 seconds = 1,660 minutes = 27.7 hours = 1.2 days

Doesn’t seem too bad spread over 3 years. That’s the publishing part. Now for the incoming. I spend roughly 25 minutes per day reading (more like scanning) the river of Tweets. I do it on an array of devices; desktop computer, iPhone, iPad, and occasionally my TV screen, but that’s pretty much a pain in the butt, so I don’t do it often. My scan time is spread throughout the day at breakfast to mid-day, and late afternoon, with a break in the early evening so I can spend time with my son. Then comes my favorite time. Twitter After Dark. The night owls are out and many of them are under the influence. I make no judgements. It’s more fun and interesting, but not as professionally insightful. Out of 365 days a year, I’ll say that I check it 95% of the time, so that’s 347 days.

347 days x 3 years = 1,041 days x 25 minutes per day = 26,025 minutes = 433.75 hours = 18 days

Now to be fair, I’m scanning Twitter while doing something else, like surfing the web, participating in a webinar, attending a boring meeting, waiting in various lines and of course the all time favorite, driving (just kidding on that last one). So it’s not like I’m setting aside dedicated time for Twitter When I adjust for multi-tasking it comes out to.

18 days absorbing Tweets – 50% multi-task benefit = 9 days

Total days on Twitter over the past 3 years = 10.2

Ten point two days of my life over the past 1,095, is .9% of my time. Sleeping has taken up 365 days of my life over the same span of time, which works out to 33% of my life! Note to self. Next killer app wil enable me to Tweet while sleeping. Warren Zevon was definitely on to something.

What do I have to show for this? Well there’s my Twitter Grade, 98 out of 100. So I got that going for me, and that’s nice.

And of course my Twitter mosaic. Couldn’t have one of these unless I was on Twitter. Do you see yourself in this snippet?

But I digress.

Am I smarter for being on Twitter? I wouldn’t say smarter. But I am better informed and learn about things sooner than people who are not engaged with Twitter. How much is that worth? Impossible to calculate. But here are some things I’ve done on Twitter over the last 3 years. The point is not to call out what I’ve done, but to point out that without Twitter I would not have known about these opportunities, facts or stories. Twitter is a distribution medium. Here is a sample of activities.

  • Assisted at least 9 people in their commitment to walk to cure cancer
  • Donated 4 times to help families who have lost their homes due to disaster
  • Connected people who are looking for jobs with people who have jobs available
  • Celebrated the personal accomplishments of my friends
  • Recognized co-workers for their tireless efforts
  • Forwarded over 100 articles or stories to co-workers
  • Met interesting people who have helped me solve problems

What’s next for Twitter?

The search world is giving way to the app and networked world. Twitter is a lubricant. It helps remove some of the friction and complexity that exists with connecting people wherever they are. They focus on distribution and their 140 characters is snack-sized and a huge advantage, allowing them to worm their way through even the smallest of pipes. They seem to be angling to deliver more than just random thoughts. They could deliver alerts, photos, videos and more. One of their challenges will be to deliver the stream in other forms. Sort by relevance vs. time is potentially a huge opportunity. Trends are their first step towards this. Lastly, there might be a commerce play on the roadmap. As I referenced above, Twitter is sometimes a catalyst for transactions. Why not bake it into the service?

On November 19, 2008 I published a blog post entitled Why I’m on Twitter and How I use it. I provided my perspective and insight into Twitter and how I put it to use.  Here is that content, unedited. It’s surprising to me how well it holds up.

Here’s my perspective. Twitter…

  1. Serves as a window into what’s going on in someone’s mind. These can run the emotional gambit from joy, disappointment and challenge, to triumph or simply stating a pet peeve. You are there with them as they experience it.
  2. Allows you to visualize what someone is doing at that moment, and one step further, what’s most meaningful to them about that moment. For instance, when someone Tweets that they are in a familiar restaurant enjoying a fine red wine and chatting with their spouse. It’s a rich picture that comes alive, especially when you know the couple and the restaurant.
  3. Can become the catalyst for later conversations. What were you guys talking about over dinner? What did you have? The wine? Etc.
  4. Provides the cadence of someone’s daily life. If they Tweet with regularity it’s a GPS of their thoughts as they navigate their day. They are turning left… right… now on a long straight track. You can sometimes watch them go off road.
  5. Is a rich digital network. In my unscientific study I have observed that Tweeple are generally early technology adopters, tend to be influencers, have fascinating jobs at leading companies and brands and generally love what they do. Of course some are just bored, which is to be expected with a media service with over 3 million channels. Surf past the noise.
  6. Keeps you in the know. Twitterers are constantly scanning the Internet for interesting and insightful ideas; including breaking news. Their Tweets are littered with tiny urls that lead you to a treasure trove of information and value hidden in the cloud. Great for impressing your friends and neighbors.
  7. Accelerates your knowledge. Tweets flow freely from user to user within the ever-growing social graph. Re-Tweeting, forwarding someone else’s Tweet, acts as an afterburner, further propelling that knowledge. A convergence of channels.
  8. Gets right to the point. After all you have to with only 140 characters. Short, sharp observations. Haven’t seen much Haiku though.
  9. Is entertaining. Some people broadcast on comedy central.

This is how I use Twitter

  1. Share my knowledge and experience I’ve collected over the years. I love solving problems and helping people solve problems. If I can give them a nugget or spark that advances their lives I’m thrilled. No great thought exists in a vacuum. If it’s a good idea then several people have it as well. If it’s a revolutionary idea then hundreds probably have it. It’s the universe’s way of improving the odds that great things reach the real world. Doing the work is much harder than having the idea, so share freely. when you share you get it back in large degrees.
  2. Learn from others much smarter than me. Of course not all smart people are on Twitter, and Twitter does not have only smart people. But it’s full of ideas and insights.
  3. Expand my network. All successful people are well connected. Who you know is critical. The smarter your connections the more power you have.

No Regrets

Do I wish for that 10.2 days back? Since it’s not possible right now to recapture time, it’s a non-question. I will say that I have found a place for Twitter in my life. Could I live with out it. Well of course. Bottom line, it keeps me pointed forward and that’s just fine, because for me it’s usually about what’s next.

Think + Action = Results

Today we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a man who obviously thought long and hard about important things and how to change them so more people could have equal opportunity to pursue their dreams. Dr. King knew his actions were putting him in danger, but he calculated that risk and determined pursuit of this particular cause warranted such action. Thought alone is never enough. Action without thought will not reliably yield desirable results. Pairing thought and action is what moves mountains.

Many firms have set aside Dr. King’s birthday as an official company holiday. I’m proud to say my company falls in that category. As I awoke this morning I casually checked my Twitter stream; nothing unusual about that. But today it seemed to be positively on fire. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed the volume was higher than normal and the quality and deepness of the created and linked-to content was on an elevated level.

I began to wonder about that. Perhaps it was the day itself. MLK day sneaks up on you. Just two weeks after the long holiday break, we get a surprise day off. We have fewer professional responsibilities. And it’s a Monday at that! Much better than a Friday. There is no family gathering expectation, so no spending time prepping, cooking, entertaining or refereeing family conversations. Instead we can relax and reflect. It’s truly a bonus day. Thank you Dr. King for giving us this gift. Perhaps it was the significance of this day that triggered more in depth speculation over what I would have normally seen everyday.

Which brings me back to my theme today. Think; absolutely. Take Action; required. Things will then begin to move.

I purposely left out speech. It could just as easily have been think, speak, then act. The voice is definitely powerful, but one can speak without much thought. Yes, Dr. King moved us to tears many times with his oratory gifts. But as he once said,

A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.

Here’s one of my favorite Tweets of the day and it has nothing to do with business or social media or frameworks, roadmaps, predictions about the next iPad or anything else that is of marginal value when measured against the backdrop of Dr. King’s accomplishments. Instead, someone thought, took action, then Tweeted. Something is going to happen.

Adaptive Marketing: Coping with Real Time Customers

The theme of the recent Forrester Marketing Forum held in Los Angeles this past April was Adaptive Marketing: How to Design a Flexible Organization to Thrive on Change. As usual there were Forrester speakers and presentations by big brands who have been working to either adapt their own marketing efforts to the fast-changing consumer, or providing solutions for marketers to better adapt. This post summarizes the ideas, notes and quotes that struck a meaningful chord with me and epitomized in my mind the concept of adaptive marketing.

What is adaptive marketing? Forrester defines it this way.

A flexible approach in which marketers respond quickly to their environment to align customer and brand goals and maximize return on brand equity.

Ok, fine. But what does that mean and where do we begin? Well, it begins with data, and lots of it. More data than we as marketers have dealt with in the past. And we need it faster than we have received it before and must be willing to improve our agility and act on the data much closer to real time than ever before. It’s tricky because we have all been handcuffed in the past by analysis paralysis. By not knowing when we have enough data to make the decision. Being an adaptive marketer means giving up a little on the temptation to ask for one more cut of the data to make a perfect decision, and act now on making a good decision, then, well, adapt.

Why is adaptive marketing something we should be talking about today? I believe that it has a lot to do with the fact that consumers are enjoying their new found power of being at the helm, and becoming more comfortable with bypassing traditional channels to research and learn from others who have had real experiences with brands, products and services. It’s a new world for consumers and brands, and the consumers are moving ahead. But then again it’s much easier to be agile as a single person than it is an inertia-laden bureaucratic corporate dinosaur (oh, that felt good). The traditional marketing funnel is breaking down as consumers bounce out and check blogs, forums, networks and friends before making a buying decision. This activity is accelerating an an alarming pace. Power is shifting. Thus, marketers need to adapt or risk becoming irrelevant.

Let me be clear. I am not sounding an alarm or posting my version of the Mayan calendar. Today’s marketing machine is pretty darn good. But change happens faster with each passing year, and the consumer is like Benjamin Button, he’s getting younger all the time. Good firms tend to devote a lot of thought to the future. And a funny thing happens when you raise your head up and peer over the walled garden. You see what’s out there. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll see.

Adaptive Marketing: Rethinking Marketing Methods in the Digital Age

Among a number of interesting things presented by David Cooperstein, VP of Forrester, was a brief history of media. He took us through radio, TV, and early as well as modern digital media. It was a clever parallel of media and marketing, and in fact he states Media = Marketing

  • Viewers – customers
  • Distribution = media fragmentation
  • Journalists = marketers

The history lesson was backed up by data that shows new media has mass appeal and is being adopted very quickly. People consume different kinds of media simultaneously, but the content they consume is oftentimes different.

This has significant implications on marketing messages, especially advertising. The user’s attention is fragmented. Wireless networks combined with the powerful capabilities of smartphones means consumers multitask to the hilt. Not good news if you want to breakthrough with your new product release. This is an important point. If a marketer can stack their message cross various media and reach the consumer during this multi-tasking moment, it will improve consideration and conversion. An article in today’s New York Times states:

For the first time the amount of data in text, e-mail messages, streaming video, music and other services on mobile devices in 2009 surpassed the amount of voice data in cellphone calls.

Mr. Cooperstein lists three tenets of adaptability one should consider to deal with this new reality.

  • Think and move differently
  • Listen more, react intelligently
  • Target people, not statistics

Probably to no one’s surprise, social plays a large part in adaptive marketing. And of course no Forrester forum would be complete without some new illustrative framework. The Social Intelligence Life Cycle was posited several times during the day and a half. It warns marketers that they must begin to manage the analysis of customer data from social sources, and use this data to activate and recalibrate marketing programs.

Forrester Research

Now you may not be sold on the value and importance of social just yet. That’s fine. I would be the first to admit that it’s not mature and can’t compete head-to-head with traditional marketing practices. But there’s one fact no one can deny. It’s a treasure trove of data that marketers don’t usually work with. That’s a critical aspect of adaptive marketing. And yes, it’s 1,000 miles wide and one inch deep. Here are some guiding principles from Forrester.

  • Adapt your process
  • Plan iteratively and frequently
  • Partner for creativity, not durability
  • Use predictive metrics in addition to descriptive ones

Integrated Customer Marketing™: Technology And Services That Enable Adaptive Marketing

The Merkle Chairman and CEO, David Williams spouted some great ideas from the big stage. Merkle helps companies collect, manage and interpret all types of customer data. Here are some of his wise quotes.

  • Adaption is how marketers can create competitive advantage.
  • The digital revolution is enabling and accelerating the customer revolution.
  • Competitive advantage in the future will live in how effectively an organization can understand, track, engage, measure and influence consumer behavior at the individual level

He showed a graphic depicting how one might leverage data to attain a competitive advantage. As marketers move from mass to conversation the data gets more granular. The more one can collect, understand and act on granular data, the greater the advantage they will have in the marketplace. Makes sense.

He offered the following advice to marketers:

  • Push more money/spend into trigger marketing
  • The next decade is about media, not channels.
  • Real time data needs real time interactions
  • Create strategies that optimize the value of consumers over time
  • Move from a campaign mentality to a customer mentality

Mr. Williams had his twist on adaptive marketing termed Integrated Customer Marketing™. Defined as an optimization framework that maximizes customer portfolio value through targeted management of customer interactions across marketing sales and service throughout the customer lifecycle (there’s that word again). He spoke about managing a campaign inside a conversation (social). Interesting. If we could do that we would unlock tremendous value.

Know Me And Be Relevant: How Disney Creates Guest Relationships

I think we would all agree that Disney is a great marketing company. If you have ever been to their parks it gets hammered even further home. Tom Boyles, Senior Vice President Global Customer Managed Relationships for the Disney parks and resorts spoke about how they leverage customer data in a real time world. Here are some of his thoughts.

What is relevance and marketing? Knowing your customer well enough at any point in time or place that you would know exactly what to do next.

He shared real examples of how they are constantly adapting their data collection and marketing practices to improve the customer experience and impact business results.

  • It’s not so much about did we get someone to the park. It’s more about did we get them back to the park.
  • A customer never met a channel they didn’t like, so closely manage them all.
  • Connect with your customers across all the channels and media on their terms.
  • No one owns the customer, but everyone owns the moment.
  • Our view is that it’s not just customer relationship management, but CCRM, continuous customer relationship management.

Transforming to a Real-Time Marketing Organization

Steve Sickel, Senior Vice President, Distribution and Relationship Marketing for Intercontinental Hotel Groups (IHG) took the stage. He was an outstanding speaker and had lots of information to share. As the largest hotel group in the world they have lots of experience with customers and data. For Mr. Sickel, it was all about moving his marketing team quickly into the digital world. He echoed what we constantly hear. That customers are more informed, they control the purchase process and demand greater relevance. Traditional media is the wrong tool for the job today because it’s too slow and generic. Customers behave in real time and IHG was behaving in batch. His formula for success: investment, technology and organization.

  • Investment – Move traditional media to digital media. IHG has now shifted 85% of their media spend to non-traditional channels. This includes search marketing, online advertising, web retargeting, mobile and social.
  • Technology – Automate marketing systems and transform them from slow, reactive and limited to “Right-Time” marketing where they can do thousands of personalized campaigns at a time.
  • Organization – Break the silos of customer data and experience trapped in each individual channel and  make accessible across the enterprise, as depicted below.

Old IHG Organization

New IHG Organization

Very clear, focused strategy to ensure IHG is poised to market to their future guests. Of all the presentations, this one laid out the best framework for how a company might go about adapting their marketing practices, systems and personnel.

Know Thy Customer: How Customer Intelligence Becomes a Strategic Weapon

The last keynote I’m going to mention came from Dave Frankland, Principal Analyst at Forrester. It was a perfect place for his talk. Much of what was said up until this moment was about data; specifically collecting, managing and acting on it. Mr. Frankland took it up a notch by challenging us to translate that data into customer intelligence for better decision making. He defines customer intelligence this way

The management and analysis of customer data from all sources, used to drive marketing performance and business strategy.

He parses the concept into three buckets.

  • Functional intelligence
  • Marketing intelligence
  • Strategic intelligence

The way to do this, according to Dave, is to begin to look at your customers as assets and liabilities. Not all customers are alike. Overlay your business balance sheet on your existing customer segments and you will see who makes you money and who causes you to lose money. Here’s a great focusing fact from Larry Selden, Professor emeritus at Columbia University.

The bottom 20% of customers can drain profits by at least 80%… while the top 20% can generate 150% of a company’s profit.

He cited some case studies from Fresh Direct, Farmers Insurance, Best Buy and ESPN. All great examples of how going through this exercise transforms data into intelligence.

What I Didn’t Hear Enough About

Which brings me to something I didn’t hear enough about at the forum, but alluded to earlier in this post. Mr. Frankland’s presentation got at it extremely well. That is marketers must refine the art of knowing when enough data is enough. We don’t need reams of it. We need the right data fast and then we must be able to recognize that we’ve got enough, then act. It also goes beyond enough, into, is it the right data? Marketers need to also look for new sources of data, vs. looking at the same old reports. It’s implied in many of the keynotes and track sessions, but knowing when to stop asking for data and having an eye for knowing what data to collect (it’s not all data) is something we probably could all learn more about. Forrester people, I know you’re out there. Perhaps you can assist here.

In Summary

I’m a veteran of Forrester Forums, and no matter how many I attend, I’m always rewarded with some great nuggets and outstanding networking opportunities. They excel at monitoring the vital signs of the marketplace and at delivering content right when it’s most useful. Keynotes here were very strong and consistent. Track sessions as always are more uneven.

Here’s my vote for best quote from the forum. I apologize that I am unable to attribute it.

Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.

Endnotes

All slides are property of the firms that presented them. Content in this post originates from my notes taken during the forum combined with my personal perspective. All photos are mine.


Art, Journalism and Dialogue in the Internet Age

As a technology optimist I am almost always in favor of pushing the art  and science of the web further. As we know the current period is hyper-focused on Social Media. We hear a lot of discussion about the new era of personal journalism. The news is now frequently reported by regular citizens who are witness to something and broadcast it through Social Media. But having a Twitter account and practicing serious journalism are worlds apart. Wired Magazine published the following list of untruths that were spawned by this new army of journalists on Twitter in 2009.

Bill O’Reilly is gay (Jan.) // Rick Sanchez is high on crack and might not be coming into work today (Jan.)// Britney Spears is dead (March) // Pork gives you swine flu (April) // Google is buying Twitter (April) //Apple is buying Twitter (May) // Prop 8 was overturned (May) // Steve Jobs is dead (June) // Sarah Palin is getting divorced (Aug.) // Kanye West is bisexual (Aug.) // Jeff Goldblum is dead (June) // Zach Braff is dead (Oct.) // Microsoft is buying Twitter (Oct.).

Real journalism is on the decline and Social Media loose cannons are everywhere. Which brings me to the actual topic of this post; art journalism. Yes you read that right. art and journalism. Writing has never been lucrative, at least not for 99.9% of writers. And writing about art is probably at the bottom end of the writer’s financial food chain. So when you find someone who does it well you can be sure it’s a labor of love. That’s the case with Liz Goldner and her Contemporary Art Dialogue site. She loves art and people, and is a splendid writer. She listens and tries to write about what people are interested in. She lives in southern California and moves fluidly through that active art community. Much of her research is carried out in interviews. Her work effectively teases out the interesting details. She describes it as follows.

Working in art journalism, I am privileged to know a world infused with color, light, form, texture and the often-intense emotions of artists as translated onto canvas, photo paper, wood, clay or any material. I converse with those who draw inspiration from genres as diverse as the dada movement to abstract expressionism. They pay homage to these influences in their own works, filtering them through the prisms of their inner muses.

Her writings are a journey. She explores, connects and celebrates art. I’ve known Liz over 10 years and the best word I can find to describe her is “rare.” Have a look at her site. Take a moment to read about abstract art, assemblage art, photography, graffiti art and of course people. Add your experiences and impressions. If you find yourself in the Laguna Beach area, look her up and buy her dinner. It will lead to great conversation.

Full disclosure. Liz has dubbed me a Postmodernist (guilty as charged) and has included me on her site.

Multichannel Mania at the 2009 Forrester Consumer Forum

BeanJust back from the Forrester Consumer Forum. I say just back, but actually it took place in my hometown, Chicago. There was a great turn out and some very engaging keynotes. One of the major benefits of attending a Forrester event is the quality of presenters and attendees. I had lunch with Brad Brooks, VP of Consumer Windows Marketing at Microsoft and got to question him on their new retail store strategy. He was very engaging and open, and if this is a harbinger of things to come from Microsoft, it will be interesting to watch them. The forum theme was The Three Dimensional Consumer: Creating Breakthrough Multichannel relationships. Forrester defines the three dimensions through the lens of the consumer; their needs, interests and questions. Not a groundbreaking thought by itself, but the way in which Forrester shaped the content with context and examples was very effective and useful.

Consumers are becoming more digital, more mobile and more social. These stats were presented in an opening day Keynote by Henry Harteveldt, a VP and Principal Analyst with Forrester.

  • 79% of US consumers are online and 75% of that number have high speed Internet access
  • 18 – 43 year olds spent 20% more time online in 2009 than they did in 2007
  • 62% of US online consumers who purchased a financial product in 2009 researched it on the web first
  • 46% more people belong to social networking sites compared to a year ago
  • Twitter grew 1,382% year over year, registering 7 million new users in February of 2009 alone
  • 97% of phones are data devices
  • 36% of smart phone users and 63% of iPhone users access the web every day from their device

At Forrester everything comes in threes, so Mr. Harteveldt laid out a framework depicting the three things digital consumers expect from brands; information, transactions and help. Information = engagement, transaction = interaction and help = deliver great service.

Multi Model
Information, Transactions, Help

He offered some great advice on how to excel in satisfying the needs of the digital consumer across all channels.

  • Offer channel appropriate communications
  • Match the task with the channel/device
  • Use social media (if relevant to your customers)
  • Replicate off line processes online
  • Extend digital channels into the off line world
  • Provide relevant tools, forms, payment options, etc.
  • Excel at service (make it easy, channel-agnostic and utilize social media for immediacy)

Harvey was humorous, bright and on target. Right out of the textbook for Forrester; a balanced mix of facts and vision.

One of the most entertaining and genuine presenters of the forum was Virginia Suliman, VP of Digital Design and Development for Hilton Worldwide with Hospitality is All Around You: How Hilton Delivers Consistently Good Multichannel Guest Experiences. I’m a Hilton Honors member and have been for a while. It’s a brand on my personal watch list. She began with a nod to a world gone by, a nostalgic look at Conrad Hilton’s original vision for the hotel chain. Mr. Hilton wanted there to be a Hilton on the moon. Connie, have you taken leave of your senses? it’s location, location, location. The moon is not on the way to any place.

Hilton Nostalga
A look back

Ms. Suliman observed that the hotel experience and the home experience have begun to converge. Hotel furniture, bedding, beds and flat screens are easily attainable and affordable for millions of consumers. The cocooning of the early 2000’s and the current economic downturn have caused personal and business travel to slow. She spoke of how her biggest challenge is getting staff to be genuine to customers across all their brands, even the limited service properties. She said, “Hilton is not a technology company, it’s a hotel company.” I really respected her approach to solving the multichannel, multidimensional problem. She attacked the customer experience with a framework that is essentially a usability model.

Hilton Usability Framework
Hilton's framework for delivering a great customer experience

But the real solution was in fact technology, despite her downplaying this aspect of the firm. Hilton built an integrated infrastructure platform connecting consumers to all properties so employees at any of the hotels would have access to the same master database. It’s called OnQ and provides a 360 degree view of the customer, including preferences, but is optimized for profitability. This is a reminder that if you are a big brand (like mine) with lots of customers, outlets and channels, you can be as genuine as pie, but you won’t fully excel without strong technology skills.

Hilton has realized positive business impact as a result of the OnQ effort. They track revenue per available room as a key metric and grew it by 6.2% after OnQ was installed. They have also extended this platform into Hilton University for training.

Virginia
Virginia Suliman, VP Web Design, Hilton Hotels

CMO of Best Buy, Barry Judge gave a talk a talk called Blurring the Lines Between Customer Service and Marketing. Barry and Best Buy really get the social media concept. I had the privilege of sitting on a panel with another Best Buy executive, Tracy Benson, Senior Director of Digital, also of Best Buy. She told me they set up a monitor in Barry’s office years ago that was tuned to the social media channel. A rolling screen of direct customer conversations; irresistible. Soon he was asking for it to be available on his mobile device and then began responding to customers directly. He also started a blog barryjudge.com.

Key messages in Mr. Judge’s presentation were:

  • Talk with customers, not at them
  • It’s about customer 2.0 – not just keeping the doors and phone lines open, but proactively going out to look for customers to serve
  • The best marketing is when the consumer doesn’t even know it’s marketing (candidate for best forum quote)
  • Their mission – Buyer be Happy

Their Twelpforce (Twitterers) are licensed to help customers. Best Buy employees who want to Tweet for customer support have to take a test and receive a badge, official deputies of Twelpforce. Best Buy’s experience and learnings in this arena have led them to create a Social Shopping Facebook page with over 1 million fans. It will be followed up with a new web site premiering on Christmas day that has the objective of helping consumers get the most out of their electronics purchase. Tips, tricks, user-generated content and experiences.

Their mobile iPhone application allows consumers to see products, reviews and prices; full transparency. This shows that Best Buy has moved beyond the fears of Social Media that paralyze most firms, and into a brave new frontier. This kind of courage will pay handsome dividends. One more note on their mobile efforts. You can text a short code related to products and immediately be sent all the reviews.

No consumer forum would be complete without Harley Manning making a plea, a begging plea in fact on one knee for marketers to embrace the multichannel customer with his presentation Designing a Multichannel Customer Experience in the Real World. His presentation was a mash-up of personal experiences, stories, Forrester frameworks and very sharp new ideas. Hard to keep up with him sometimes, but therein lies the fun. Here are some of his insights.

  • Design with channel pairs in mind. Most projects are single design projects, but channel transition is likely in almost any interaction, so plan for it
  • Pay attention to the most connected channel. Where will the consumer learn about the message first?
  • Solve the small problems first and build allies in the organization. This will enable you to bridge the the channels in bigger projects later on
  • Use research, especially ethnographic research
  • Create multichannel customer experience maps and multichannel management platforms

Getting executive buy-in is compulsory, so Mr. Manning provided a test sheet you can self-administer that will help you determine which category your executives fall in related to digital and multichannel design. You will find out if they are passive, willing or engaged. Once you type the executive you can tailor your discussions and presentations to that style with the objective of moving them along the path to engaged.

If you attended the forum, I’d love to hear your reaction to this post and get your own observations.

Is Yahoo Stalking Twitter?

Many of us have been wondering if, or really when, someone would try to compete head to head with Twitter. We all know of Twitter’s explosive growth and we love it and hate it, but use it. To date there has yet to be a worthy competitor. Perhaps that’s changing.

The blog world has been buzzing lately over a potential Yahoo micro-blogging service called meme. Meme (rhymes with cream) is defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary as follows.

An element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation. It’s origin is Greek: mimèma “that which is imitated.”

A fitting reference if indeed Yahoo is copying Twitter. I went to meme.yahoo.com and found this whimsical page with funny cartoon dogs.

Yahoo meme

The site invited me to provide my e-mail, which I of course did, making me think I would be invited to participate some time in the [near] future. When you navigate to the popular link you see the screen below. It appears that it will allow all manner of content to be posed. Short blogs, images, video embeds,etc. Fewer limits than Twitter which means it’s kind of a hybrid of Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. Wonder if we need that now? Or maybe it’s a stroke of genius.

Yahoo meme3

The only other screen I could find was off the find link. I assume this is where the memers will be housed.

Yahoo meme2

Should be interesting to watch. Was hoping Twitter’s success would spark someone or some company to have a go at it. I’ll look forward to getting my invite an checking it out.

Is Twitter Losing its Value Exchange Power for the Individual?

twitter

It’s only 3 years old, but Twitter seems to be transforming faster than it’s adding users. Two years under the radar, one year in steady growth; the fourth year (over 14 million members) is shaping up to possibly be  “thee” year it will flirt with the mainstream. And that’s when I will have to completely re-evaluate the time I invest in it. I just don’t know if it will be up or down.

I’ve been carefully observing usage patterns to Twitter over time. There are the  “I don’t get it” people but they Tweet anyway (annoying).  There are those who join, become infatuated and after a while the shine wears off so they slow down or stop. Some are so generous with their thinking and ideas. For others it’s about collecting mass quantities of followers, no matter what (you know who you are).

If you have 50,000 followers and 50,000 people that you follow you we know you can’t keep up, so what do you do? Well, you start missing lots of Tweets and quite possibly retreat to a smaller group for regular communication. Some of my fellow Tweeters I connected with regularly a year ago have grown their base so much that I can barely break into the stream anymore. It’s like we’ve dropped off each others radar screen.  Sure there is the direct message, but that gets lost like a Nigerian Prince financial plea buried in between two Viagra offers.

I am beginning to think that the more Twitter grows the less worth it will have for the individual. Value transfer is one of the big benefits of Social Media and nothing was more simple,  pure or immediate than the Tweet. I once described it in an earlier post, Why I’m on Twitter and How I Use it, as being a spectrum of individual radio stations. That spectrum has now grown so fast that the value for the individual is at risk of being left behind.

It seems we are in a”star” phase. Celebrities are getting on board more and more and using it as twitter3another weapon in their PR arsenal. I have heard some celebs talk about how they are making more connections with fans, and use it as a way to do an end around the media. I like that. Direct, to the point, personal. Social Media at it’s best. But it will only have value as long as it’s sincere, which will of course vary.

Big brands continue to get on board and some are finding it to be an effective channel to communicate with prospects and customers on a personal level. The cost for a brand to be on Twitter is very low and worth the effort right now. The more followers a brand has the better, But it’s an inverse relationship for individuals. The more they have, the harder it is to extract value.

It’s good for Twitter that high profile people and brands jump in, but I wonder just how good it will be for everyone else. We don’t need Twitter to communicate with our friends, e-mail, text and oh yeah, the phone work great. So if you can’t break through to the interesting people for value exchange, then it just may end up not being as useful.

Still evolving, but you may want to set up an informal value-tracking mechanism of your own.

Kosmix.com – Table of Contents for the Web

koxmix3
From kosmix.com video

My roots are in books. I ran a chain of retail bookstores in the ’80’s, became a buyer at a wholesaler responsible for making fiction and non-fiction merchandising decisions for dozens of national chains, and eventually evolved to publishing. As the web emerged one of the obvious shortcomings I observed was when you landed on a home page you had no idea what was behind it. How much content was on that site? How valuable would it be? With a book you can hold it, touch it, and thumb its pages to gauge the quality of information or entertainment value. It has a table of contents and an index. Sites simply try to lure you in.

Web sites have their navigation and labeling and even the blurb about what the site is trying to do, but this frontier was very new and frequently in the hands of almost anyone with a computer and internet connection. In that rests the web’s strength and weakness. Fast forward to today. The web has come so far. 2.0 is here and although I won’t say it is reaching maturity, it is growing up pretty darn fast. Remember, I’m used to the printed word which stretches back to the 1400’s.

But search changed everything. Correction, Google changed everything with search and some may have thought the rest was history. Think again. I have been spending some time with kosmix.com over the past few days and I’ve got to say that it has serious potential.

The kosmix.com official promise is “The web organized for you.” It’s a big promise, and maybe not too far off, which in a way makes me cringe because the web is so full of gossip and mainstream; media soft-brained vox populi… (sorry, I’ll get back on topic). After pressing return you are greeted with a simple statement, “What’s happening on the web: March 16, 2009” along with a very nicely designed page stuffed full of information, but not overwhelming to scan. They have a search field at the top like Google, however you are immediately drawn into the page. The section headings down the power aisle are:

  • Top News
  • Popular Entertainment
  • Just for laughs
  • Images of the Day
  • Daily Deals

Each one of these sections has a tab structure that allows the user to quickly scan the top sites in each category. Here is the Popular Entertainment tab line, covering network television in Hulu, the user generated content of YouTube and Vimeo and music from Rhapsody.

kosmix1
Conent navigation example

On the right hand stack they port in these modules.

  • Hot in the Kosmos
  • Trending Topics – Taken from twitter.com
  • Top Links on Twitter – Published by twitturly.com
  • Hot Search Trends – From google.com
  • Lucky Dip – Celebrity watch from people.com
  • An untitled accordion navigation section
  • Feeling Browsy? – Kosmos created categories

This is where kosmix.com becomes a giant collection of social media, and distinguishes itself from Google. Without a doubt, “Hot in the Kosmos” is the most interesting section. When you click on any of the topics listed there you are whisked to a wonderfully structured page that is at once highly relevant, broad reaching and unexpected. Here is how they describe the content behind this section.

The Kosmos brings you hot topics by looking at the latest stories on the web. To put it another way, these topics are machine created and not editorially selected. Explore and enjoy!

When you submit a query they tell you they are “building your guide” vs. “returning results” (1-10 of about 366,000,000). They organize the information in the following manner.

  • At a Glance
  • Topic Highlight
  • Web Search
  • News and Blogs
  • Videos
  • Audio
  • Conversations
  • Reference

Very thorough approach and it allows the user to select how they want to consume the information. This is a partial screen shot from the “Hot in the Kosmos” page created after clicking on the link Ben Bernanke. If you don’t see anything in this container of the home page you are interested in, you can always enter your own search from that section. Depending on what you enter, you could get back additional information, such as maps.

kosmix2
Sample guide page from Hot in the Kosmos

By the way, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a site say they were “beta-ish” and in “alpha” at the same time. Clearly they are working on all sections at once and labeling it appropriately. Love the transparency and the understanding the need to set expectations for the user.

So this is a long way to arrive at support for the title of this post. Kosmix.com is indeed a table of contents for the web. It is the best attempt so far at showing me what’s on the web without having to navigate through it. You can drag components within the two columns up an down to personalize it, but for some reason, not across the stacks. You can’t shrink the size of the modules either, which is annoying at times. I don’t need to see the deal of the day from woot.com that big in the browser window. The “Feeling Browsy” section didn’t seem to work at all, which was a disappointment. But I love where they’re going, and I’ll be watching with interest and hope as they evolve this ambitious and potentially important concept. From a book guy turned web enthusiast, I say well done.

Tweetie is now Twitter on my iPhone

I’ve tried several Twitter iPhone applications, Twitterific, Twitfire, Twittelator and most recently Tweetie. Here’s my take.

  • Twitteriffic has a richly designed screen with a nice collection of settings that mirror the iPhone interface. It’s pretty fast, but unless you upgrade you get ads.
  • Twitfire is essentially a quick way to get your Tweet out there. It’s very basic in design.
  • Twittelator Pro allows you to choose from 5 designs, which is a nice touch. It’s quick and allows you to zoom in on any Twitterer.
  • Tweetie is my new favorite. The initial screen is a little slow to load, but once it does things move along quickly. The navigation lines up closely with the actual Twitter you see on your browser making it easy to learn and memorable. Supports multiple Twitter accounts, which is a time saver. Also has a nice trends tracking feature and the ability to adjust font size. Most other features on Tweetie are found with other applications.
tweetie-iphone-icon
Tweetie iPhone Icon

Tweetie is the one for now and only costs $2.99. I’m sure there will be another Twitter iPhone application very soon, and no doubt I’ll probably give it a try.

Mumbai Tragedy will be Game-Changer for Social Media

Arun Shanbhag
Photo: Arun Shanbhag

I was up very late last night tracking the terrorist attacks in India on Twitter using TweetDeck and Tweet Grid. My mind flashed back to September 11th and the parallel was immediately made by dozens of people and news agencies. My wife was upstairs watching the events unfold as Breaking News on CNN. I was in the study with two very active computer screens. The two experiences couldn’t have been further apart.

One was a polished, worldwide news organization keeping to standards and practices, while trying to report it as it happens. Their viewpoints are limited to one or two, and those reporters may not have the ideal vantage point. It’s all about timing. The other experience is powered by ordinary citizens who are in the moment, positioned in precisely the right location. They aren’t being paid to report. They don’t have formal journalism training. They simply type, most on their cell phones. It’s raw, emotional and astounding.

If the London bombings signaled the emergence of Social Media as a citizen news platform, last night’s event has solidified its place. Hundreds of people on the ground in Mumbai, some inside the Taj Hotel were Tweeting their thoughts. It was mind numbing to experience.

There were reports that Indian the authorities were requesting the public to stop Tweeting, as they feared the terrorists would be monitoring and get intelligence on what the police or army were planning. This has not been officially documented. You can read a great post by Amy Gahram here, who has done some sleuthing on this issue.

From Tweet Grid
From Tweet Grid

Regardless of whether officials asked for Twitterers to stop, when the dust settles there will be a lot of study and debate over Social Media and specifically Twitter, and the role it should play in reporting news or events. I believe there will be an attempt by some to change the landscape and place limits on this medium to prevent terrorists or organized crime from leveraging it to forward their political agendas or commit crimes. It’s a debate we should welcome, as it could have serious consequences.

Last night the Tweets were coming in so fast the updates were like flashes, staying on the screen for mere seconds before being pushed down by another, then another, then another.

Is this a convergence of society, media and technology? I think it’s probably more like a collision.

Why I’m on Twitter and How I Use It

twitter-chat
"I Tweet, therefore I am"

When I welcome my latest Twitter followers I link them (you?) to this post. If you have arrived here from that Tweet, thank you for following me. If you simply found your way to my blog, and you’re on Twitter, please feel free to follow me at twitter.com/stevefurman. If you’re not on Twitter I’m NOT trying to convince you to use it. The purpose of this post is to explain why I’m on Twitter and what I use it for.

Initially I was skeptical and wondered why people bothered. But when it comes to Social Media I’m open to experimentation, so I gave it a try. It’s a small investment of time and no monetary risk at all. Twitter is a snap to set-up and then you start typing in 140 characters or less what you are doing/thinking. I quickly found the more I used it, the more I used it. There are downsides to giving into to the call of Twitter. It can be a time suck, distracting and you can sometimes end up frustrated and wondering why you even tried. That frustration comes if you are expecting to use it like facebook or e-mail. The key to enjoying being part of Twitter Nation is to set expectations and objectives.

Twitter is not a web site, although you get there from a URL. Tweets are what someone is either thinking, doing, saying, watching or listenting. They are radio waves that can only be received if you are on the same station as the broadcaster. People who follow you, or you are following, are human content channels. The size of your antenna (lots of followers/followings) is completely controlled by you. Should one channel not meet your objective for using Twitter, simply remove it. If you find a very helpful one, you can see who they follow and probably get more channels you will like.

Here’s my perspective. Twitter…

  1. Serves as a window into what’s going on in someone’s mind. These can run the emotional gambit from joy, disappointment and challenge, to triumph or simply stating a pet peeve. You are there with them as they experience it.
  2. Allows you to visualize what someone is doing at that moment, and one step further, what’s most meaningful to them about that moment. For instance, when someone Tweets that they are in a familiar restaurant enjoying a fine red wine and chatting with their spouse. It’s a rich picture that comes alive, especially when you know the couple and the restaurant.
  3. Can become the catalyst for later conversations. What were you guys talking about over dinner? What did you have? The wine? Etc.
  4. Provides the cadence of someone’s daily life. If they Tweet with regularity it’s a GPS of their thoughts as they navigate their day. They are turning left… right… now on a long straight track. You can sometimes watch them go off road.
  5. Is a rich digital network. In my unscientific study I have observed that Tweeple are generally early technology adopters, tend to be influencers, have fascinating jobs at leading companies and brands and generally love what they do. Of course some are just bored, which is to be expected with a media service with over 3 million channels. Surf past the noise.
  6. Keeps you in the know. Twitterers are constantly scanning the Internet for interesting and insightful ideas; including breaking news. Their Tweets are littered with tiny urls that lead you to a treasure trove of information and value hidden in the cloud. Great for impressing your friends and neighbors.
  7. Accelerates your knowledge. Tweets flow freely from user to user within the ever-growing social graph. Re-Tweeting, forwarding someone else’s Tweet, acts as an afterburner, further propelling that knowledge. A convergence of channels.
  8. Gets right to the point. After all you have to with only 140 characters. Short, sharp observations. Haven’t seen much Haiku though.
  9. Is entertaining. Some people broadcast on comedy central.

This is how I use Twitter

  1. Share my knowledge and experience I’ve collected over the years. I love solving problems and helping people solve problems. If I can give them a nugget or spark that advances their lives I’m thrilled. No great thought exists in a vacuum. If it’s a good idea then several people have it as well. If it’s a revolutionary idea then hundreds probably have it. It’s the universe’s way of improving the odds that great things reach the real world. Doing the work is much harder than having the idea, so share freely. when you share you get it back in large degrees.
  2. Learn from others much smarter than me. Of course not all smart people are on Twitter, and Twitter does not have only smart people. But it’s full of ideas and insights.
  3. Expand my network. All successful people are well connected. Who you know is critical. The smarter your connections the more power you have.

My perspective on Twitter evolves regularly, so I will probably come back and revise this post. Hope to see you out there on Twitter. What channel will you create?

Twitter is constantly changing. Read a more recent post on Twitter here.

UDATED September 30, 2009

Twitter is now a huge target of spammers who like to wreak havoc and others looking to make a quick buck. My criteria for following somebody who has followed me is as follows.

  1. They must have a physical location. An IP address or iPhone or “everywhere” isn’t a location.
  2. There must be a name.
  3. The avatar cannot be inappropriate.
  4. There must be a biography present that explains why that Twitter stream exists.
  5. There must be a link to a site with real content (not “Here’s a video of how I make millions everyday”).
  6. There should be a reasonable balance between followers and following.
  7. There must be a reasonable number of Tweets that have useful or interesting information or links in them.

Image Credit: Hongkiat.com

Twitter: Marketing Platform or Online Pen Pal Service?

twitter_fail_whale
Twitter's Fail Whale

I started using Twitter on August 7th of this year. Like so many of us time is a premium and even though I am quick to try something, I will drop it like first period French if I don’t see any value for me or a path to providing value back to a community. Twitter intrigued me as a way to experience what people were thinking and feeling at a particular moment. A kind of a freeze frame into someone’s life. If they Tweet a lot, then that freeze frame becomes a stop-motion window. If they are always Tweeting, then you begin to understand their persona.

What’s really interesting is when you connect with someone on Twitter, then several months later meet them in person. This was an experience I recently had. She was one of the first ones I followed and followed me in return. That’s the contract on Twitter. Follow then be followed. It’s tricky, but when it works, it’s very cool. I then met this person a couple of weeks ago after seeing her Tweets for months. I knew so much about her. What she looked like, where she lived, the make up of her family, what she did for a living, even some of her hopes and fears. When I met her we very naturally continued a conversation as if we had known each other for years. Fascinating.

Twitter is way of expressing yourself that’s more personal and immediate than a blog. Sometimes you write a post (like this one) and it goes into a black hole. But once you establish some followings/followers you get immediate responses. As an amateur photographer I take a lot of pictures and most of them are uploaded on flickr. I can Tweet something related to a photo and include a link. Within 15 minutes I will have 20 people viewing that photo, and probably one or two reply Tweets about it.

As an E-Business marketer for a very big brand this gets me very interested. If I can do that on my own, think what a mass market company can accomplish.

twittergrade97
My Twitter Grade on 11.8.2008

There’s a site that scores your Twitter grade. Oddly enough it’s twittergrader.com (love it when people call it what it is, thank you). Not so sure how valid it is, or what the methodology is behind it, but it’s the only game in town right now to gage Twitter self against others. In mid August my grade was 25. Today it’s 97, on a scale of 100. That’s satisfying, but not nearly as much as being able to contribute back to a community and meet new people. Twitter is still an experiment, but things are getting somewhat serious now. If you’ve not experienced it, you should at twitter.com.

Fall Semester is in Session – What’s Your Twitter Grade?

If you Twitter and you’re serious about it you will want to know your grade. Mine is 25 out of a possible 100, so I’ve got some work to do. The Twitter king right now is Barack Obama. I rank way down on the list, but aspire to move up. My grade this morning was 24, so I’ve gained one point in one day.

Visit Twitter Grader here, enter your nickname and go. You will be graded on the number of followers, the power of those follower’s as a network, the pace of your upgrades, the completeness of your profile, and a few others… Whatever that means.

No I’m not obsessed with this, at least no more than my normal obsessions. It’s partly for fun and mostly for experimentation. We need people with the vision to put out alpha versions regardless of the worts and learn. Hat’s off to them.

Twitter Grade Results
Twitter Grade Results

What I’m always looking for is how this can become a source of value for my company. Social connectedness is more powerful than any advertising or marketing campaign, but it’s so early days. Efforts like Twitter and Twitter grade accelerates the learning curve.

Twitter Friends Network Browser – For Those That Tweet

Neuro Productions, the company that created this application seems to be one person, Hris Timmerman. He lives in Antwerp (Belgium) and is a self-proclaimed Adobe flash addict, and apparently a good one. He created the Twitter network browser application. It allows you to enter a Twitter name and see their network blossom in your browser window right before your eyes. The results show the avatar of the Twitterite, their last update and all their connections with their avatars and last updates.

You can then click on other Twitterers as well and drag the images around on the page to get a better look at who’s in the various networks. It keeps expanding each time you click. There’s also a full screen mode. So what is it good for? Well it’s hard to say. More than anything it’s just a fun way to see the Twitter networks come alive, and maybe find someone you’d like to follow. Does everything really need a reason?

Give it a spin here.