Monday, September 28, 2009

Curing Blogorrhea and Other Mysterious Social-Media-Marketing Maladies

Just because you can say anything online, doesn’t mean you should

For me, one of the best things about social media is the ability to learn things from other people.

Because of people’s willingness to share expertise, I have learned a lot from professionals in my field and the industries I cover, as well as from talented amateurs. I hope I return the favor by writing this blog and participating thoughtfully in Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve also learned what NOT to do, by witnessing some mysterious behavior.

Perhaps emboldened by the bits and bandwidth to say as much as they want – and the relative anonymity – some people do say anything. And usually to the detriment of their personal brands and careers.

Here are four examples of mysterious social-marketing maladies, along with my prescriptions for them.

Blogorrhea: An irresistible urge to run off at the mouth on one’s blog without considering the big picture, context or long-term ramifications.

An example: A colleague and talented fellow consultant has a really interesting blog. Recently, she criticized – by name – a prominent public figure from her past, as well as a past employer. She also disclosed what seemed to me like confidential information about the employer. These comments were presented within the context of a thought leadership article that had some valid points. But if I put on my CEO hat, I would have to ask myself: “Would I hire this person as a consultant? What’s to prevent me and my company from ending up as a subject in a future blog post?”

I would also be hesitant to introduce her to any of my clients, for the same reason. Perhaps there was a strategy behind this article, but I remain mystified. I consider client and employer relationships lifelong relationships – even if they end badly. (The bad guys usually will get out-ed, by someone else.) I also take client NDAs very seriously. I don’t blog about the internals of clients’ businesses without their explicit permission.

My Rx: if you must write about clients and employers, anonym-ize what you say. Yes, this is probably not as tantalizing and self-aggrandizing, but it’s safer from a career perspective.

Projectile Preciosity: An assumption that everything about you is interesting to everyone equally.

An example: Babies think everything about them is interesting. Today, many adults apparently do too, and social media sites enable them to share this information ad infinitum. I am appalled by the number of mature professionals (not just college students) who are shooting themselves in the foot by posting inappropriate information on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Most recently, I was shocked to see a former colleague – a great technical marketing professional – use a picture of herself in a bathing suit on her LinkedIn profile. (And she was seeking employment in her field, not in lifeguarding, modeling or adventure travel.)

My Rx: If you are a job-seeking professional, decide on a personal brand strategy that provides the proper context for everything you do and say online. Then stick with it. (There are a lot of great resources about personal branding.) I actually advise a personal-brand strategy for everyone, even my retired mother: your social media footprint is searchable, permanent, and universally available (in spite of social-media sites' policies about privacy and data-sharing). No social media site is an island, and you are what you Tweet and who you Friend even if you protect your updates. (And, yes, my mother took my advice.)

Marketing Misanthropy: Using social media for negative or self-absorbed brand marketing.

An example: On my personal Twitter account, I recently posted a mini-review about a wine from New Zealand that I had tried and liked. Another winemaker (whom I follow) replied to me with a condescending comment about the wine. In about 120 characters, he (1) managed to insult me as a prospective customer (I buy a lot of wine, which should be evident from my Twitter account); and (2) missed an opportunity to introduce me to one of his wines. In fact, looking at his Twitter account, he hardly ever promotes his wines. Clever cool-guy points: 1, Marketing points: -10. Why is his brand on Twitter? If this is a personal Twitter account, why would he link it with his brand?

My Rx: If you are tweeting or blogging on behalf of a brand, remember that you are representing the brand – not yourself. Let your personality shine through, but in an unobtrusive way that strengthens not weakens the brand. Look for “teachable moments,” like the one above. That’s called marketing, and social media gives brands a unique opportunity to create personalized dialogs – with millions of teachable moments. You’re crazy if you don’t take advantage of this opportunity.

An update
: the winemaker has since protected his Tweets. Probably a good idea: if you can't stand the heat, best to stay in the cave.

Terminal Coolness: Using social media for mindless, distracting and irrelevant self-promotion.

An example: Another colleague has a great blog about marketing writing. He has a regular, ardent follower who regularly replies and re-tweets him on Twitter. But the re-tweets generally consist of: “You, @XXXXX. That’s bad, man” and variations on this theme. The follower’s bio suggests that he is a professional, not a professional rapper or a rapper-wannabe. He doesn’t appear to be a spammer. Perhaps there is some scam here that it isn’t evident – and I am just not smart enough to figure it out. At the risk of sounding undemocratic, he’s a waste of bits.

My Rx: Get some therapy.

Most of the problems above could be solved with mega-doses of three virtual vitamins: Vitamin A (awareness), Vitamin C (context), and Vitamin E (empathy).

Do you know anyone with these maladies? What do you think?

Monday, September 14, 2009

How and Why I Tweet

A journey into the dark underbelly of Janice L. Brown’s Twitter life

In my last blog post, I wrote about how I created my own Twitterverse to meet my business and personal goals.

Here are some of the ways that I have created my own private Twitterverse, and what you can expect from me if you are part of it:

I tweet about topics of professional interest to me: technology, healthcare, marketing, advertising, journalism, corporate communications, writing, language, social media, social trends, my clients' businesses, and the downfall of the American empire (a.k.a., secular degradation.)

I don’t tweet about things outside these topics. Why? Because these topics define me and my personal brand. Tweeting about only these topics creates a critical mass of opinion that helps other people – the right people – discover me.

I have started another personal Twitter account to cater to my other interests: food, wine, travel, films, music, books and the evolution of popular culture.

I tweet whenever I do posts on my blogs.

If I have to think too much before tweeting on a particular topic, then I don’t do it. This means it’s outside my span. My “blink” is usually right. (Although politics ever tempts.).

I try to limit my tweets to a few per day. But if I don’t have something valuable to say, I won’t tweet – even if I miss a day.

I un-follow people who tweet too much. Ditto people who use so many clich├ęs and mantras that my teeth hurt: they are typically lazy thinkers and conformists.

I try to SEO my tweets and my profiles so the right people will find and follow me. Sometimes I succeed.

I try to be provocative but always relevant (not sensationalist). I also try to be polite and constructive (that's just my personality).

I re-tweet items of interest from people I follow. I often find interesting new people to follow in what my followers tweet. So my personal Twitterverse grows organically.

I usually don’t follow people who don’t use their real names or who lack robust profiles, including ideally a real photo (clothed). I stopped watching cartoons as a kid. What are they hiding?

I don’t block anyone except people pitching sex (or criminals or apparently crazy people). I have nothing against selling or buying sex. I just think it’s incredibly rude to make me look at your naked picture (or worse) if I didn’t request to do so. Particularly before I have had my second cup of coffee. Blocking seems…un-Twitter-like.

I report spammers. You wrecked email; please don’t wreck Twitter.

I get ticked off if I follow a business thought leader and all he talks about is baseball or trips to the dentist. I often un-follow – it just takes too much work to find the nuggets. (A few personal moments are ok, but I save mine for Facebook.) I know that TMS (too much sharing) is part of the social media game, but I need to protect my time and my sanity.

And I get really ticked off if I follow an organization or business, and the resident Tweep starts tweeting about her boyfriend or going shoe-shopping. Brand, people, brand! (Un-follow.)

I don’t thank everyone who follows me, but I appreciate those who do (except spammers).

I don’t automatically follow people who follow me – even if they are my offline friends or colleagues. They have to post content I am interested in. Otherwise, I will catch up with them the next time I see them in person. Or on Facebook.

I take highly personal comments offline – to Direct Message – but I can’t do this if you don’t follow me back.

I use hash tags sparingly. Great for events and established groups, but otherwise overused in my opinion. Except for #spam.

I never tweet while drinking. (Sorry for those of you who like the entertainment value.)

I value my followers and those I follow, and try to protect the integrity of these groups as much as possible. My followers and those who follow me, in a sense, define me and my brand. I know that I don’t have total control, but that’s just part of the organic discovery process of social media.

How and why do you tweet? Please comment below.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Own Private Twitterverse

As a marketer, what can I learn from my own behavior?

When I began my career in marketing and corporate communications many years ago, I created a regular morning ritual. I would get up very early, skim the major business daily newspapers, clip stories for my files, and forward select articles as a courtesy to my clients. To do my job correctly, I have always found it important to stay on top of trends and look for competitive or commentary opportunities for my clients.

Of course, my ritual has changed over the years, as technology has changed.

Today, I still get up early. But I go online to skim the major business dailies, to bookmark or share important stories, to add my comments to stories, and to read my Google alerts and RSS feeds. And I spend more time reading blogs than I do reading mainstream media sites.

The biggest change has happened in the last year. I now start my morning by checking my Twitter account first.

My personal Twitterverse – the few hundred people I follow – are a trusted group of colleagues and sources. These are chosen relationships, not forced ones (“must read The Boston Globe because I might miss something important”).

My Twitterverse can often point me to news and content – from mainstream-media sources and non-mainstream-media sources – that I care about faster and better than I can find it myself. On Twitter, I can essentially subscribe to opinions from bloggers, as well as headlines from mainstream publications. And I can share things that are important to me, with people who I care about or have come to value. Twitter has dramatically changed the process of discovery for me.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the value of Twitter. Critics point to the low signal-to-noise ratio, the increasing amount of spam, and the number of inactive accounts. But Twitter has become an important and valued part of my professional life. (It’s also become an increasingly valuable marketing tool for my clients, which you can read about elsewhere on this blog.)

Twitter works for me because I have made it my own private Twitterverse. In my case, I have carefully accumulated followers, and I think carefully about everyone I follow. I have gone for quality over quantity.

With millions of people participating in Twitter – many of them inactive or marginally active – it is increasingly important for marketers to be able to find and engage with the most active and thoughtful among us.

So, what engages me, as an active member of Twitter?

I like tweets that are:

Provocative – give me information and ideas that get me thinking

Relevant – appeal to my interests and use SEO so that my standing searches can find good tweets easily

Valuable – provide working links to valuable content or information that I can take action on easily (for example, an ebook I can download)

Obvious – favor descriptive language over cutesy but obscure language

Sharable – leave enough space so I can easily re-tweet (I suggest at least 20 characters)

Consistent – stick to an area of expertise and don’t go off on tangents

Respectful – don’t waste my time

Authentic – come from a real person or brand, with a real profile and a real photo or company logo

In my next blog post, I will provide some insight into how I created my own private Twitterverse: how I tweet.

(The picture above is me on the stage set of my first press conference, in the 80s. And yes, I am communicating with a colleague in Europe using a telephone - not a cell phone, SMS or Twitter.)