3 Years on Twitter

This week saw me click over three years as a user on the Twitter platform,  how time flies.  It’s become part of my everyday business life and an essential part of my personal growth and network development.

This blogpost is not going to be one of those “reasons to be on Twitter” blogs, hopefully the world is over that one.  I do however want to share some outcomes, experiences and learnings that have come to bear over the last three years to encourage others: -

 

Early Days (Followers 0).

  • A bit random  Not really knowing how best to use the platform.
  • Not having a genre.  Tweeting all sorts, business and personal.
  • Following anyone that would follow me back.  No particular selection process.
  • Bit too focused on numbers of followers and how to acquire more.  A zero sum game.
  • Used the basic web interface.  Found it frustrating and missed so much good content.
  • Exchanged messages with a lot of people that I knew who had early adopted it – it meant I got to know a few people better.
  • Sent too many Tweets.  Didn’t realise that if you “machine gun” tweets out, it adds nothing.

Mid Term (Followers around 1,500)

  • Switched to Tweetdeck –  it all made a lot more sense.
  • Set up search columns.  Realised the tool is much more powerful than just following people/follow backs and could be used as a live “google search” on the terms I wanted.
  • Saw the potential for personal learning (following great people and their insights), following journalists (trends) to see what is new in technology.
  • Realised that it’s better to create a genre for my account.  Business, Leadership, Innovation, Environment, Sales, Marketing, Trends,  Social Media.  Keep it focused on those elements, less about me, more about them.
  • Accepted that followers is about engagement and influence.  People will come and go as there tastes/jobs/lives change.  Follower numbers are fluid, as I follow/unfollow, people will follow/unfollow me.
  • Realised it could be used to effectively drive traffic to websites and blogs –  providing the content has been filtered, is of good quality and enriches your audience.  My blogposts are my own unique thoughts, not content from others.  The more people see it and agree with it, the more likely it is they’ll stick with you.
  • Started unfollowing people.  Realised that there is no benefit to having Twitter followers if you have nothing in common with them or  never interact with them.  Otherwise, they are just meaningless numbers.  Actively began to disengage with some followers, happy that my follower numbers may reduce – they didn’t, they’ve continued to grow.

Now (Followers around 3,600)

  • No focus on followers – just on good content to share.  Review everyone that follows me to see if I can learn anything from them.  I don’t target followers, have a number in my head or see it as any kind of popularity KPI.
  • Still a big focus on personal learning -  Seeing what’s hot, new, changing.  Using that to develop insight for personal development or company direction.
  • Supporting Corporate and Personal Reputation.  Being accessible as a business leader within a large multi-national brings opportunities to our door first.  Great outcome as you can have first refusal on exciting initiatives.
  • Filtering.  Using search columns and interesting people to see great stuff and share it.  I don’t send anything out unless I have personally read it and see it of value.
  • Network Development.  Twitter is my trawler net of contacts to meet in person, then add to my Linkedin network.  My ratio of Twitter followers to Linkedin network is around 6:1 and continues to grow.  That’s where I can distinguish who is an “associate” relationship, rather than someone I consider to be of longer-term value.
  • To develop insight around individuals or businesses.  To start/develop conversations with people to assist in the development of intelligence for business development purposes or opportunity engineering.
  • To stay in contact with people in my wider network and underpin relationships.  A chance meeting becomes much more meaningful when you can refer to something that has recently happended to the third party.  I use filter columns in Tweetdeck to track important people, like a “live” electronic little black book.
  • Housekeeping.  It’s important to regularly review who has gone inactive, what your last 10 Tweets say about you if someone looks at your feed (delete stuff if you think it stepped outside your genre), thank people for RT’s and mentions, review the profiles of people that follow you to ensure that they fit your desired  intention for your Twitter feed and – more importantly – keep the feed going with some regularity and frequency.
It’s very satisfying when someone says to you “I really like your Tweets, you always share interesting stuff.”  There’s the point, if it’s interesting, of value, filtered, original and adds value to your network – your followers will grow.
Remember the film “field of dreams” with that famous line “if you build it, they will come.”  Twitter is no different, see it as a long term investment in your personal learning, network growth and reputation.  If you build a feed which is of value to others, they will magnetise towards you.
The world has shifted and it’s amazing to have been there when life changed.  When people’s  lives became transparent, when an individuals right to reply shifted large brands thinking, when disasters and major events unfolded with the people, rather than the news channels.
Status updates are an amazing thing, they are powerful, insightful and give you an ability to zoom in on the world, on personal conversations, on opportunity and ultimately – people.  Here’s to the next three years.

Top 3 Box

Ever heard of the concept of Top 3 box? This describes your prospective customers shortlist which they will be walking around with in their head, when making a key purchase.

In times gone by (not that long ago), a multi-million pound branding campaign would be needed in order to be one of those top 3 on the consideration list.  Today, if you work at proximity (using social media), you can ease yourself onto that list by being around at the very moment when the customer may be close to purchase, by listening.

This gives smaller businesses a crack at the title, particularly niche and boutique brands.  Outside of work, I’m a passionate road cyclist.  I worked with a bike brand to launch them on social media and we increased consideration of their brand from 25% to 90% through regular engagement.  Doing a consideration survey, there were a staggering 25 brands on the unprompted consideration list, so this was quite an achievement.  A stack of the other brands weren’t even using social media platforms - pretty poor when the audience is so engaged with the sport.  Some of the larger brands were simply broadcasting, with little real interaction. #fail

By always being around, you’ll be front of mind.  By being front of mind, you will be part of the conversation and ultimately the consideration.  Don’t be too pushy, be helpful and chatty buyers will resonate towards you.  You can then ride off into the sunset with more customers.

Network Transparency

If you work in a large business, the e-mail daddy is still outlook.  Now it has been said that Microsoft arrived very late to the party when it comes to all things social media and I think that’s borne out by the number of developers now working on plug-ins.

Two that I’ve recently been evaluating for Outlook are Twinbox and Xobni.  Twinbox is a plugin which forwards Twitter messages into your Outlook client.  It’s pretty handy as you can set it up to forward your replies and direct messages straight into an Outlook folder, with an appropriate alarm to let you know they’re there.  I’ve found this to be worthwhile as you are pro-actively alerted to messages which are specifically for you, rather than have to check into another Twitter client. 

Xobni (who I was recommended to by the uber digital brain David Edmunson-Bird at MMU who you can follow on Twitter here)  is a great plug-in.   It indexes your contacts and then sucks in their latest status updates from Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook into a small frame which sits in your Outlook desktop.  It’s pretty handy, as you can quickly see what’s going on with someone, without having to jump in and out of multiple cloud platforms.  It also drags together all of your recent activity, e-mails, attachments and common contacts.  Everything is a click away.

The view of your network is becoming 360 degree.  Small plug-ins like this continue to allow you to be front of mind, to be more efficient, to respond quickly and be relevant.  I’m sure they’ll be the first of many and I’m also sure Microsoft will be pretty happy that someone has got their back.

11 Predictions for 2011

I’ve got the Mr. Sheen out on my crystal ball, given it a good clean, stared deeply into it and seen the future.  Saturdays lottery numbers are 7, 9, 22, 28, 35, 42 – buy a ticket now!

Seriously, thought I’d have a go at laying down some thoughts about where I think the world is moving for 2011.  In no particular order (and they may change as this is my first bash after thinking about this on the way home from work last night).

  1. Crowd-forcing. Inspired by Crowd-sourcing.  The crowd pulling together to pressurise/threaten brands through negative on-line chatter and peer pressure.
  2. Digi-paranoia. Fuelled by the Wikileaks scandal, people will become more paranoid about their on-line breadcrumb trail.  They’ll protect more of their digital assets, through pre-approving and using trusted platforms.
  3. Talent thaw. 2010 has been a tough year for finding good people, the hatches were well and truly buttoned down and movements frozen.  As confidence returns, we’ll start to see the talent market thaw.
  4. Life caching. As micro-moments continue to be recorded in the cloud by mobile devices, we’ll record/upload more data electronically than at any other time in mankind (despite paranoia trend, sheer qty of GB/TB on the web will make 2011 a record year).
  5. Friend Filtering. 2011 will be the year of quality over quantity.  New social media start-up Path hits this trend, limiting your network to just 50 key people.  Competitiveness for this new inner-circle will drive new behaviour and take us back to “Face Friends” who matter, rather than Facebook Friends by the thousand.”
  6. Centre-fall. De-volving from the middle, whether that be government or big business.  Applications in the cloud will allow businesses to challenge their conventions and methodologies of working.  The drive to competitiveness and the desire to see people take responsibility, will mean the hub will become less important than the spokes and rim.
  7. De-cluttering. Removing things that crowd out our thoughts/consume our time (see next point).  Prioritising those things that truly add value.  Marketeers need to take note as traditional methods of interruptive marketing are becoming less and less effective, particularly in B2B.
  8. Time poor war. Time continues to be the worlds most scarce commodity for the masses.  Time improvement tools just mean we are working more, not reducing work-time spent pursuing happiness or joy.  Generation X are kicking back against this as the last generation which may rescue the lost generation of “Y”‘s, before the values of deep friendship, downtime, family time are confined to words in wikipedia.  Hyper-tasking will be the new multi-tasking.
  9. Relevancy. Staying relevant in peoples lives.  Having just the right amount of interaction.  Choosing moments.  Keeping an acceptable proximity.
  10. Social Media Revolution. Wider business will take more notice of social media channels for conversations and relationship generation now all the glittery buzz is dying down.  It was never designed to be a transactional channel but a way of generating proximity, feedback and conversations with individuals.  As new business becomes harder (less public sector expenditure to cushion your overhead), new conversations and contacts will be key and more businesses will get moving with new conversation channels.
  11. Trust and Transparency. A continuing theme for me.  People are more willing to trust a strangers view than a big brand ad when it comes to products and services.  User generated content will continue to grow exponentially, more people will blog, leave content on sites like Tripadvisor and Reevoo, use electronic platforms to distribute buzz (+ or -).  2010 was the year we’ll all remember for Wikileaks.  Wikileak yourself or your business, compare that with the messages you send on your marketing materials and ask yourself are the two things consistent.

What are your thoughts? What would you add?

Go Social

Yesterday, I did a short talk at the Go Social Bootcamp in Manchester.  I called my talk “Social Media Sucks (or Bucks?)” to highlight that many leaders of large businesses don’t get social media as they can’t see what return on investment it gives. 

You can view the presentation here, it should show the main reasons why leaders should get involved.  Clearly, it’s missing a load of narrative, if you want to hear that, come hear me speak!

Are your contacts a network?

Obsession with the number of followers that you have on Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin seems to be where a lot of people are at right now. As if, there is some sort of hard measurement technique as to how good you are at that particular activity or how popular you are as an individual.  It’s completely understandable, as normally, that’s how things are measured.  The more people you reach, the higher the chance of influence or response of say a mailshot or e-shot.

However, any marketeer will tell you that a mailshot mailed to a million homes with poor content or bad design, will have a low response rate.  A personalised mailshot sent to 1,000 homes will have far greater impact.  This is quite a good metaphor for the way social media works.   Car brands  do it all the time.  Low end brands put brochures in Sunday newspapers, Premium brands send personalised letters to target postcodes.

If you are obsessed with followers, hanging on to every new one and de-railing everytime someone unfollows you, you might be taking it all a bit too seriously.  I’ve learned over the last couple of years, that followers on Twitter come and go.  If you follow back everyone that follows you, you begin to manufacture your own junk news channel, it all becomes noise again.  So, choose who you follow carefully to ensure your content is of a high quality.

Additionally, having all these contacts can be a diminishing return. A network, is not a collection of thousands of contacts if you don’t actually know anyone (that’s a thousand contacts).  For me, my business network is people that I know and have met, I call this social2facial.   When you have met someone, you get to know them and build up trust (a key driver in today’s expectation economy).  You understand their objectives and goals better and you can work to assist them in achieving them by making introductions or recommendations to others. Interactions become personalised and more relevant.

Of all the people I know on Twitter, around 15% make it to my Linkedin network (where I store contacts that I have met).  They are the people whom I’m most likely to turn to for opportunities.  Conceptually then, I am using Twitter to identify people I’d like to meet after a period of engagement, then to take that relationship off-line to see where business might go.

Finally, I have limited time to be able to spend on social networks.  I run a big business and have lots of interests away from the office, so it’s all about a balance of how many quality relationships you can actually maintain on and off-line relative to the time you can invest.  If you have a huge pool, you might not be able to engage with them and end up being an information broadcaster, rather than a conversationalist.  Twitter expert Mark Shaw writes lots of great blogs around this topic, check him out.

What do you think?

The New Black(berry) Book

What is the modern day equivalent of The Little Black Book? Which is the one place, which – aside from all others – all your key contacts are kept?  Is it the address book in Microsoft Outlook (e-mail addresses)?  Your phone address book (text numbers)?  Twitter?  Linkedin? Facebook?

Most people no longer have one single place, probably multiple places.  Varying degrees of social media platforms with differing types of contacts on.  Thinking of my own situation, I use a combination of Outlook, Linkedin, Twitter and Gist.  Outlook primarily as there are a lot of people I know who are not into social media, I still need to keep a kind of e-mail directory of those.  I recently discovered Gist to suck together Twitter and Linkedin contacts so that activity can be tied together, it’s quite a clever little app, albeit a bit slow to respond sometimes (my woeful 0.5mb home broadband doesn’t help).

Even so, you should always keep a closer eye on your top contacts.  Gist allows you to prioritise your contacts, which is a decent feature.  That way, you get to see what’s really going on with your Top 10% of contacts and ensuring you stay relevant in their world. What is evident is that there is a large amount of online intelligence about your key contacts nowadays, digital breadcrumbs are scattered everywhere and applications which draw information together, filter and prioritise, will really help you to understand the challenges, movements and new connections that people you know are making.

By keeping tabs on who is doing what, you can add value to your network, help solve problems, make new connections and grow the number of people you know.  The more people you do know, the more opportunities seem to come and – ultimately – the more business you’ll win.

Social Media for Executives

Dont worry, this isn’t another 101 reasons for a business to be on Twitter, hopefully we’re getting over that one now, although I am still staggered at the number of small businesses that I meet who could benefit massively from micro-blogging.

Tonight’s article I want to focus on executives in business.  Why?   As usual, nothing gets real buy-in unless it comes from the top, is agreed by the top or understood by the top.  In many large businesses, the board is still dominated by Generation X Executive Directors.  As a result, there is a real danger of the business not staying relevant in the changing landscape of customer expectations.

To them, marketing means mailshots, sales means door-knocking and relationship managment means regular lunches or dinners with top customers.  That certainly did the business a decade ago, how things have changed.  Those things still matter, don’t get me wrong, but their priority has changed.

Social Media is something that all executives – in my view – should be practicing.  To keep an eye on their own organisation, their competitors and their customers.  A few examples: -

1)  I blogged recently about using the Linkedin company search tool to identify staffing movement in key competitors, this allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening in your industry.

2) A blog in itself is a fantastic way to communicate to staff, customers and potential customers about your views.  A great to underpin your key messages, strategy or positioning.  it’s ideal if you run a larger business where it’s hard to get round the floor.

3)  Twitter is a fantastic tool for reputation management and connecting your message directly to the people who may use your products or services.  There’s no quicker way to establish what people think about your business reputation than to read it in real time.

The key question is always, how much time is this all going to take? The answer all depends on the importance of managing your network and personal reputation.  For me, around fifteen minutes a day.  5 mins at the start of the day to catch up on any major network changes or messages sent directly to me aswell as preparing any Twitter links to send out, 5 mins over lunch doing the same and 5  minutes at the back end of the day to catch up.   In my time at home, I probably invest about another hour a week in total keeping up to date with my overall network and writing blogs.

And what is the financial reward? Return on Engagement is the new Return on Investment.  Like networking of any type, if you think that an immediate financial gain is the only thing that justifies your time, then you’re probably one of those executives I described in paragraph 2.  Looking back on a couple of years worth of time invested in business social networking at a personal level, I would say: -

  1. I’ve recruited key staff into the business at no cost.
  2. I’ve never been asked to speak at so many conferences ahead of my competitors.
  3. I’ve never been asked to sit on so many judging panels, increasing regional and national profile for Brother.
  4. I’ve been able to position the business as one of the leading voices on B2B social media in the UK.
  5. My network of peer to peer contacts has never been so solid.  I was described recently by the Manchester Evening News as “one of the most connected people in the North West,” and feel I have a great list of C level people I know that I can call on for advice or help.
  6. I’ve learned a tonne of stuff.  Twitter particularly is a like a free news channel that you can personalise to your specific taste/requirement.
  7. Lot’s of people that I know on social media networks end up buying our products, simply because they know me.
  8. The brand reputation has never been stronger.
  9. People bring opportunities to you first because you’re accessible (they might not normally make it to you due to your Corporate layers of gatekeepers/filters).
  10. You meet some really interesting people and all sorts of outside work opportunities/collaborations/friendships come your way.

Don’t be scared. As you can see, I can clearly demonstrate sound business benefits.  To get the same, you have to get started, throw yourself open to your audience and get engaging.  Don’t have someone pretend to be you, be authentic and Do It Yourself.

Judgmental

Judging industry awards.   We’ve all entered them or attended them at some stage.  For many industries and sectors, awards are a great mechanism to celebrate best practice and give the marketeers something to talk about (aswell as a good excuse for an industry late night).

Having recently returned from the judging session of the some comms awards, there is no doubt that being invited to be a judge is a great use of time.  Arguably, when you are burning the midnight oil, reading through entry after entry and trying to collect your thoughts or prioritise the entries, it’s easy to disagree with that last statement, as it is a big personal time commitment.  However, the return on investment is good.

Why?  For me, three reasons. 

  1. You get to read example of what people consider to be/and are best practice so you can benchmark your own performance (or panic). 
  2. You get to meet lots of different people from different industries and go social to facial .  Yesterday I met three people in person that I only knew via social media.  It was very interesting to hear the views of others in non-competing industry sectors and to also hear their commentary, always plenty to learn.
  3. You get your name associated as an industry leader with the awards.  Always good for reputation and profile. 

You do need to think twice before you accept to be a judge though.  Have you got the time?  The skills?  Is the sector relevant? .  If you have, I’d encourage you to do it.  You might well learn something or be able to bring back an idea from a non-competing industry to implement in your own business, you will meet some new people or contacts on the panel which might be useful in the future and your business reputation can only go one way.

When social becomes facial

Will you be my facebook friend, Facebook friend, Facebook friend? You know the type, the digital equivalent of someone that whistles around networking events collecting cards with a ruthless intensity, discarding people like sweet wrappers as they surge towards their KPI of how many they can collect in an evening.  I know they exist, I’ve met enough of them.  That’s why I don’t connect with everyone on Linkedin, I prefer to connect with people that I’ve met in person to keep touch of someone where I have a common interest or business opportunity.

What is nice however is when you do get to meet people as a result of social media.  When something comes off.  When an on-line interaction goes off-line, then gains further traction.  Social media then turbo boosts that relationship, making it more relevant and allowing you to develop your relationship further.  It isn’t the silver bullet as everyone would have you believe, it’s just another tool in the box, albeit a bit like a Swiss Army knife, multi-purpose in its action.

I’ve lost count of the people that I’ve now met on social media that have turned into really solid contacts and friendships.  Without social media we would have never met.  It brings together communities and common interests, like a laser beam on the world, picking people out that might have a propensity to collaborate with you, help you or do business with you.  This is the bit that many businesses still don’t get. They still think it’s about Facebook friends, endless hours of wasted time posting irrelevant status updates and non-profit generating activity.  Deployed badly, it can be.   Deployed correctly, it’s quite the opposite.  If your business thinks that a physical networking event is a good idea, then you need to also look on-line too.  Networking events can be hard work sometimes, you don’t always get quality, you might get quantity.  Take it online and you might increase your propensity to speak to your target audience.