Who I follow on Twitter (and why) for June 2010

Happy Mother's Day
Creative Commons License photo credit: emma.kate

It’s #FF (follow Friday) again, which means it’s time to point you at a few folks that I find interesting on Twitter.

If you love bacon, or unique gift soaps and the like, give @SweetSoaps a follow. Their #1 product was spawned from a Twitter conversation. Yes, people *really do* use Twitter to make a living.

Simply by joining the conversation and prodding me a bit, @StoryBlox helped me past a bit of a mental block I was having, trying to find an allegory (or some such) for a community economic development project I’m working on.

@julien just makes you think. If you aren’t interested in thinking, don’t follow him.

Finally, for a little adventure, check out Ryan Jordan at @bigskyry. Ryan’s the publisher of Backpacking Light magazine and routinely runs around the Bob Marshall Wilderness with (or without Scouts) with a pack lighter than 20 lbs (usually *much* lighter).

Who I follow on Twitter and Why for May 2010

Tu eres mi ejemplo a seguir.. / You are my example to follow..
Creative Commons License photo credit: foxspain

Follow Friday (yes, I realize it’s Sunday) time is here again, so let’s get at it.

I follow @hildygottlieb for a number reasons. I’ve known her for a long time (even though we’ve never met) and we talk (via twitter or email) several times a week. We have a habit of asking each other tough questions that make the other one think – and perhaps provoke the other one (or both of us) to think a little differently. She introduces me to people from her world (community benefit organizations) that I should follow but don’t otherwise have a way of meeting.

@brainpicker is Maria Popova. I don’t know her, but she’s a great curator of info of every possible topic. Prolific, but not craplific. The stuff she chooses to post is almost always retweetable.

@scottmckain is probably the most like me, business-wise at least, and always manages to tweak a nerve that needs to be tweaked  – either in his blog or via the things he tweets or retweets.

@beckymccray is one of my newer follows. She runs a small business in a rural town not unlike Columbia Falls (except that her town is in Oklahoma) which provides me with a view of a similar world from someone else’s perspective. Plus she has some great small business insight, and we can all learn from someone else.

So that’s it for this edition. Again, props to @chrisbrogan for the idea of doing this here instead of trying to fit all that info into 140 characters on Twitter.

Who I follow on Twitter – and Why

I‘ll likely start updating this list with a new post every week or 3, but you have to start somewhere.

I follow…

@ElijahManor because he always has amazing jQuery (and related webdev) links.

@MatthewRayScott for a couple of reasons. He not only makes my marketing head twitch, but he has a sense of humor that resonates with mine.

@WriterAM because she’s a Rotarian who talks about dog sledding and airplanes. What else do you need to know?

@outsideHilary because she’s a local, but also because I enjoy the combination of craziness at the Outside Media office and watching her work her PR magic on Twitter.

And of course, props to @ChrisBrogan for suggesting this was a far better way of talking about folks on Twitter whether they challenge your thoughts, engage you in thought/conversation or simply because you enjoy listening to their wisdom. All the reasons are right on target. And of course, for prompting better thoughts on ways to engage clients, prospects and folks you want have a convo with.

More next time. Enjoy.

The Social Media Scoreboard

dirt
Creative Commons License photo credit: shoothead

You’ve probably seen people on Twitter or Facebook yammering about “Wow, I only need 17 more followers or fans to hit 2000” (or  10000 or whatever).

If you’ve used Twitter, you know that there’s a curve there and when you round it, it’s like drinking from a firehose.

Stowe Boyd talks a little about the social media scoreboard in today’s guest post, stating that quality rather than quantity is the important factor.

Remember that each of those fans or followers are people. They have needs, wants and presumably they followed/fan’d you because they thought you had something to say. “I’m having a waffle” just isn’t it.

@BillGates doesn’t have 400-500k people following him on Twitter after just a few weeks because they want to hear him talk about Windows or MS Office. Bill is engaging to follow nowadays because he talks about poverty, disease and education – and then puts his money where his mouth is. Lots of it. Almost $300 million for polio, for example.

Engage. Have a *meaningful* conversation.

Think about the folks on Twitter or Facebook whose posts you look forward to. How are they different from yours?

Overheard in the frozen food section: What’s all that crap you post on Facebook?

Last night in the grocery store, 2 moms stopped me in the frozen food section. I thought I was safe since their kids swim with mine on the Columbia Falls Swim Team.

As I stood embarrassingly close to the frozen sausage and egg biscuits and pre-fab hamburger patties, they did it…

They asked me a question about Facebook.

If I remember accurately, it went something like this:

“Mark, What’s with the gibberish-filled crap you post on Facebook?”

Specifically, they asked about posts like “RT @idealfool Lakecam now!!!: http://bit.ly/pfsn0“, specifically wondering if I was speaking Klingon or some other language that few people speak here in Northwest Montana.

They asked because most of the stuff I post on Twitter (anything that isn’t a reply or a direct message) is automatically reposted to Facebook. And then they called me a geek. Ouch.

There’s a business lesson here, so keep up, will ya?

Twitter lingo

Twitter has its own lingo that you pick up pretty quickly if you use it. For example, RT means “retweet”.

When you “Retweet” someone else’s post, you are saying “Someone else posted this and I think its important / funny / stupid /sad / amazingly cool / etc enough to repeat to the folks who read what I post”.

The @ sign is also Twitter-speak (mostly). @WSJ, for example means “The Twitter user named “WSJ”, whose posts you can find at http://www.twitter.com/WSJ

I don’t think I need to explain HTTP://, but the rest of the URL looks weird and it’s easy to either think it is a typo or a link that no one in their right mind would click on.

Normally you’d expect a .com, but a lot of these URLs coming from Twitter posts end in .ly, .me, .gd and other really short abbreviations rather than .com.

No way am I clicking on those“, you’re thinking.

These sites are URL shorteners – though it does pay to be careful…

URL shorteners take a really long URL like this: http://ittybiz.com/customers-cant-afford-it/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Ittybiz+%28IttyBiz%29&utm_content=Google+Reader and turn it onto something rather compact like this: http://is.gd/4WLix

The reason URL shorteners are used so much is that Twitter only allows 140 characters in posts placed there. That URL above is longer than Twitter’s message size limit, so my Twitter program automatically shortens it using free services like http://bit.ly, http://is.gd or http://tinyurl.com.

Yeah, but what did you REALLY say?

We’re getting there.

The bit.ly URL in that “RT @idealfool Lakecam now!!!: http://bit.ly/pfsn0” post goes to http://www.nps.gov/ns/featurecontent/glac/webcams/popup-lakemcdonald.html, which is a glorious view of the mountains of Glacier Park as viewed from the south shore of Lake McDonald (cloud cover and darkness notwithstanding) – which is obviously what the original poster means by “Lakecam now!!!“.

@idealfool is the alter ego of Barry Conger, the volunteer Executive Director of the First Best Place Task Force, a seriously cool community organization here in Columbia Falls. Yes folks, Barry is one of those community organizer folks – and he’s read Hildy’s book, so now he’s really becoming dangerous.

Anytime you see an @ followed by a reasonably short name, it’s usually someone’s Twitter name. If you were around during the heyday of CB (citizens’ band) radio, the @idealfool part is pretty much the same as a person’s “handle” on the CB.

And the lesson?

Don’t assume that your wicked cool lingo from one context, group, environment, industry, peer group, media (or whatever) will be crystal clear to and perfectly understood by people in another.

Communication is critical. Don’t assume.

No, I’m not sure how to resolve that in this case without turning off the automatic repost of Twitter messages to Facebook. Yes, I’m thinking about doing exactly that.

Update: Today’s Freakonomics post in the NY Times is another fine example of a message that means one thing in one group and something vastly different to another – the term “Shovel ready”.

Wonder: The Value of Twitter

Wonder Bread
Creative Commons License photo credit: brew127

You may look at social media as a toy, a giant time sink, or something marginally valuable.

Or something else entirely.

Me? I find it an amazing tool, particularly Twitter.

As @GaryVee noted yesterday in the video conversation between he and Robert Scoble, Twitter lets you do something essential for free that businesses would have paid MILLIONS for a decade ago.

The ability to listen to what people are saying, in *real conversations*, about their products and services.

The ability to engage their customers.

My new “friend” Al

As I noted a few weeks ago, I’m making some business changes in order to position myself to be more flexible as my role as an Alzheimer’s patient caregiver becomes more demanding somewhere down the road.

Fast forward to earlier this week. I’m glancing over at Tweetdeck (a program that “watches” Twitter for you) and I see Guy Kawasaki talking about Alltop.com, one of his startup companies.

Alltop gathers the best of the best on a particular topic and shows you a pile of RSS feeds in a really efficient format on one page (for example, Business is Personal‘s RSS feed is available on marketing.alltop.com).

For some odd reason, it made me wonder if Guy has an Alzheimer’s section on Alltop.

I mosey over to Alltop.com and find out that there isn’t an Alzheimer’s section. I’m a little surprised, so I tap Guy on the shoulder via Twitter.

He replies back a few minutes later, says he thinks its a good idea and asks for some RSS feeds that I like regarding Alzheimer’s. It happens that I only have a few because I’m kinda of new in AlzheimersTown, but I send them anyway and tell him I’ll send more as I find feeds that I like.

An hour or so later, he tweets back at me and says Alzheimers.alltop.com is up and ready to use. In the course of the conversation, he tells me his mom had it as well.

Guy didn’t have to share that with me, but he did. It’s what Twitter does. It creates a personal connection between people with like interests. Now, besides being geeks, we have something else in common. A family experience with Alzheimer’s.

B.T.

Tell me…  Before Twitter (B.T.), how would I manage to not only get Guy’s attention long enough to ask him to add a new feature to his product, much less to make a personal connection via something we share regarding a family member?

Remember, Guy’s a celebrity. A former Apple exec. A venture capitalist. A bunch of other stuff.

The walls that fame, fortune and celebrity put up between people (much less the mileage between Montana and Palo Alto) would make normally him completely inaccessible to me.

Twitter breaks down the wall, just like it did when I “caught” him reading my blog last year.

It lets people be people again – even over the net. It lets you get involved in the conversations about issues, products, services and “stuff”.

Stop wondering

Ever wonder who might be talking about your product or service?

On Twitter, you don’t have to wonder.

Instead, you can actually join that conversation, just like Gary said yesterday and like Robert Collier said decades ago. When you do that, you can learn more about what really drives your customers to do what they do.

Have a conversation.

What do you think that is worth to you? I wonder.

What do a Nebraska farmer and Paypal Australia have in common?

For one, both are using various forms of social media to expand their business, find new customers and communicate with existing ones.

In some cases, they might never have communicated directly with the customer who way down the commerce chain actually consumes their product. Now, they can and do – even while settled into a tractor seat in their Nebraska croplands.

Meanwhile, a programmer acquaintance in Australia recently talked about how social media connected him and a global corporation, making him feel like more than just a number and engaging him to develop software using their payment systems.

What would reaching out would do for your business?

Is real-time fast enough for you?

I thought I’d provide a few Twitter stories for you today – call it Twitter Thursday if you like.

First, a baker who uses Twitter to notify people what’s baking, what’s ready, etc. Customizable via the BakerTweet website, it takes a twist of a knob and a push of a button and you’re done.

Obviously you could use this to talk about your daily special, what beans you’re roasting and so on. Whatever the fanatic wants – tell them about it.

Only 3 million dollars

Dell has stated publicly that their @DellOutlet Twitter account has earned them about $2 million since they started issuing Twitter-only promo codes and other deals. Dell Outlet uses Twitter as a way to message out coupons, clearance events and new arrival information to those looking for Dell technology at a discounted price

But then, one of the folks responsible for the tweeting did a little more math, researching where those Twitter followers go after chasing a promo code for a refurb machine.

Some of them go to the regular “Buy a New Dell” part of the store. Another million in sales from “some of them”.

609,000+ people following the @DellOutlet account.

Wouldn’t you like to be able to send a special offer to 609,000+ people who might be in the market for whatever you sell?

That’s what @DellOutlet gets to do all day long.

Another story offers some ideas about using Twitter for business.

On a more serious note

While the mainstream news was largely useless (if not ignoring) the stories breaking during the early hours of the Iran election demonstrations and violence, Twitter was one of the few tools that people in Iran could use to tell their story.

Cell phone networks were being blocked, internet access was cutoff or filtered, all in an attempt to cut off Iranians from the outside world and vice versa.

But the internet finds a way. Soon after, people found a way to access the net, often through hidden proxy servers and dial up connections.

If you were on Twitter a few nights ago, you were able to witness what was going on through the eyes of those experiencing it.

Not a reporter, but students hiding in dorms and others trying to avoid being beaten or killed.

Via Twitter.

Over the next day, the mainstream media struggled to catch up. Photos eventually showed up on the Boston Globe site 24-36 hours later, but those watching for posts containing “iran” in them had been hearing the story in real-time from people experiencing the violence and uproar – for more than a day.

Real life in real time.

Twitter has turned out to be such an important communications tool for Iranians that Twitter moved a major network upgrade from the middle of the night U.S. time (when most upgrades like this are done to avoid impacting U.S. users). They shifted it to 1:30am Iran time, solely to try and mitigate the downtime’s impact on those who are using it to try and survive, much less report what’s going on there.

The same kind of thing happen during the Mumbai bombings.

If you still don’t get it, try this

Think of something that is really, really important to you.

Maybe it’s your market, industry or some such. Maybe you’re into Forex trading, Tiger Woods, the NFL or fantasy baseball. Maybe it’s your faith or your favorite breed of dog or one of a million other things. Might be serious as cancer, might be something silly like Britney.

Google it, but add site:twitter.com to the search. Or just go to twitter.com and do a search.

See anything there that interests you. I’ll warn you, not all of it will be high-quality stuff.

Here’s the secret: See if there are people there who do or know things that provoke you to join their conversation because they know the topic that interests you. You might find experts who you would never be able to reach otherwise.

Think back to my story about swapping messages with Robert Scoble as he toured Ansel Adams’ studio at Yosemite with Ansel’s son, answering my questions in real time.

Real time is prime-time

What’s real-time about your business? What do the fanatics in your market do when they need more info about what you sell – or just more of what you sell – RIGHT NOW?

They might just be on Twitter.

Dude, I caught your wife cheating last night at…

Are You There?
Creative Commons License photo credit: Renneville

Imagine you’re talking with a prospect or client on the phone and right before the critical word or phrase that almost always closes the deal, you suddenly hang up.

You’d never do that, right? Would make it kinda hard to close the sale, don’t you think?

Thing is, your email, social media and website might be hanging up on prospects, albeit in a slightly different way.

Let’s talk about paying attention to some details you might not be watching. They’re details that might completely change the message you’re trying to get across to a client or prospect.

I’m talking about the repercussions of being just a tad too wordy.

Isn’t that funny? Yeah, I know I have zero room to talk on that. It’s an effort I have to stay focused on, so today I’ll show you why it’s important.

Twitter Cutoff

In Twitter,  your message can be 140 characters long.

BUT…if the message is more than 120 characters long and someone retweets it (sends it to their followers, which is very desirable for you), the characters past 120 are cut off as shown below.

See the … after “Jonathan Bu”? You’ve been snipped. Cut off.

Twitter text clipped off

If there’s part of a URL or some other important info at the end of your message, bummer.

If there’s anything there that’s critical to your message, you’re not a happy camper.

Outlook Cutoff

Outlook’s notification window shows approximately 30 characters of the title of your email. The number varies slightly because a proportional font is used in that window, meaning that some letters and numbers are wider than others.

I had my friend, mountain photographer and graphic artist Leroy Schulz send me 2 emails with totally different subjects. As you can see below, they look the same in the notification box.

Outlook subject cutoff

Identical notifications, yet their messages are totally different: One says “Mark, Are you voting for Obama? You’d be crazy not to”, while the other says “Mark, Are you voting for Obama? I wouldn’t dream of it”.

How’d you like to make that mistake?

Sure, some people do it on purpose to provoke you to open the email, but are those the folks who gain your trust? I doubt it.

Likewise, at the default width, Outlook’s inbox shows you only a part of the email’s subject (see below).

Outlook cutoff

As you can see above, having the subject cut off might cause a big problem, especially if someone doesn’t bother to read the email (like that ever happened).

The actual subject of the email above is “Dude, I caught your wife cheating last night at our weekly poker game.”

In fact, the cut off subject might just keep your email from getting read – and that’s what this is really about.

If your prospects and clients use some other email program, it’s bound to have similar limitations.

Google Cutoff

In Google results, page titles longer than 70 characters get cut off with a “…”.

This is the place where I get bit, because my blog post titles are occasionally too long.

Here’s an example:
Google Search result

In the example above, the title tag is too long (thus the … after “smart business moves”).

If the word after “moves” is important to finding your site, your prospect will never see it. For example, it might say “moves wisely to accept competitors’ cards” (which is what they did).

Sure, if the word is important, it should occur before that point if at all possible, but sometimes it isn’t.

Eliminating the … is the goal because you want the words in your title to be optimized for a) Google and b) those humans you want to see the title and be motivated to click on the link.

In each of these 3 cases, you typically want the truncated info to help answer the question that’s on their mind at that moment or provoke them to take an action.

Needless to say, “…” doesn’t even begin to do that.

Where are you getting cut off?

15 percent of sales from a zero cost Twitter promo? Tweet-za, Tweet-za!

A New Orleans-based pizza chain using Twitter-only specials to attract new customers in real-time?

You might guess that it’d never work.

Twitter’s just a toy that people use to share what they had for lunch.

More accurately, Twitter offers a way for a pizza restaurant to give people a reason to visit their place to eat lunch.

Result: 15% of sales resulted from the Twitter-only campaign.

FIFTEEN percent of daily sales from a zero-cost promotion.

How creative can you be?