Social media? I wouldn’t bother.

In the 18 months since I went freelance, I’ve spoken to a lot of people and worked with quite a few different companies, including a fair number of PR agencies.

And what have I learned? That the state of social media is pretty much exactly as it was when I first became a social media type, over three years ago. Except it’s worse. So, I’m going to make it all better, right here and now.

When I started there was a vague notion that something called a blog might be quite a useful communications tool. This was before Facebook and Twitter had started to loom quite so large. I told people how useful I thought blogs could be, but no one listened. I made it my job to find out about these developments and eventually moved on to pastures new, where there were tactics a-plenty but no concept of strategy, measurement, value.

Eventually I decided to go freelance so I could do things more how I felt they should be done. I’ve since developed what I would call fairly nifty ways of monitoring, measuring results, developing strategies. But time and time again I come up against the old problems:

  • You develop a strategy that considers all the angles – the people, the message, the brand, ownerships – maps it onto what a business does, sets targets. You’re sure it will work. It’s beautiful. There is a lot of excited waving of hands. And that’s it. Six months down the line, it’s dead in the water. Why? Because, I think, people are too busy to be bothered with it. They got along fine before it, they’ll get along fine after it. They don’t really need it.
  • Clients make unreasonable demands of social media because they’ve heard of it. They want you to do things with it, right here, right now. You want to explain to them that it’s not a tap you just turn on. But they’re too busy to care. So you get unsatisfactory results because you’ve been using the wrong solution for the wrong problem.
  • You find yourself siloed because people don’t want to know. Part of your social media strategy is that people all look after different parts of it. But they don’t because they’re too busy. You just cannot sustain this position because social media is content-driven and you cannot be the expert on everyone else’s content.

Can you see the thread here? People are too busy. They’ve got their heads down working and social media is something they’re prepared to pay lip service to, but no more. It’s nothing malicious. They’re just too busy.

I have a very clever friend who once looked after the marketing for a prominent occupational psychology firm. When I met him recently I asked how things were going. He replied sadly “No one listens to me.” Of course they don’t. They’re too busy for marketing. So it goes, they’re too busy for social media too, it would seem.

But get this: things are worse now because a lot of people have sorta kinda heard about social media. So now they feel extremely smug when they say they’re not sure about it because they don’t know how it generates ROI.

ROI? Gimme a break! How many companies know the ROI of anything they do, let alone comms?

For example:

  • What’s the ROI of your website? How much did it cost you to put together, and how much have you made from it? If you don’t know, then why did you put one together in the first place? What would be the effect of taking it down?
  • What’s the ROI of your PR or advertising? How many leads did you make out of it? What was the value of those leads? If you just increased brand awareness/value/sentiment, how do you quantify this?
  • What’s the ROI of your intranet? Has it reduced development time? Has it reduced time to market? Has it helped retain knowledge? If so, how much do you think you’ve saved on the cost of recruiting and training new staff?

Etc

The real problem here is that people have no idea of how their online efforts are doing because a) they don’t measure them and/or b) they never measured them so they have no benchmark. And c) they’re too busy to worry about this anyway.

So, my advice?

I once saw a programme about some men who spent time in a monastery. After several weeks one of them had what he classed as a spiritual experience. He went a bit ‘funny’ and couldn’t quite explain what was going on. The monk he told this to just said, in a very calm, soothing voice: “I wouldn’t bother.”

It felt nice. Nice and reassuring. Calming, some might say. Absolving, even.

So, if you’re worrying about social media, I wouldn’t bother. You’re too busy. It sounds cooooool but really, if I put a strategy together for you, you won’t follow it because you’re too busy.  So I wouldn’t bother. If you want it to do something for you, here, now, then that won’t work because that’s not how it works, so I wouldn’t bother. And if you’re suddenly overly concerned about ROI – which you never were in the past – then, again I wouldn’t bother because if you didn’t measure anything before, you won’t do it now.

There now. Doesn’t that feel better?

Turn an Email Address into a Social Profile. / Flowtown

I just came across this. At first I was cynical – I usually am when presented with ‘the new thing’ because most new things are derivatives of old things – but this is a genuinely good idea. It takes your email contacts list (think marketing lists, outreach lists, sales leads etc) and tells you where the people live online. This is good for several reasons. It makes the most of your email lists; it helps you simply find people online; but, for me, most importantly of all it tells you where those people hang out. I just did a test-drive and it seems most of my email contacts are on Facebook and LinkedIn. Now, I could have guessed that, but this at least confirms what I thought. Surprisingly a fair few are on MySpace, and another fair few are on StumbleUpon. But not Delicious? Perhaps this is a limited demo. But an interesting one nonetheless. Highly recommended for people with years’ worth of email contacts and don’t know where to start with social media. Hint: start here.

Kurrently searches Facebook news feed

This is pretty cool – a search engine that looks through the Facebook news feed. That’s about as real-time as it gets. Plus, it qualifies on two other counts: it has a parse-friendly URL (that is, you can pass keywords to it in the address); and it creates an RSS feed of the results. Nice. Only problem is it seems difficult to tell it to search just Facebook or Twitter via the URL. I’m sure there’s a way. I also worry about how long this will be around, given that it’s been knocked together by a high-school graduate (apparently), and that it’s syndicating Facebook’s news feed out to the wider world. I expect Facebook will have a thing or two to say about that. Still, let’s enjoy it while we can.

To craunch a marmoset, frothy vomit, and other curiosities

A marmoset, being craunched, yesterday. Click image for source.

A marmoset, being craunched, yesterday. Click image for source.

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

So I was going through Epoch PR‘s numbers (I’m their digital associate and am helping them with their online strategy), and this came up: http://seadna.net/301-redirect-the-seo-way-to-rename-or-move-files-or-folders/

To quote the bit that my Epoch PR search must have picked up: “it takes a straws of in good time always and hard hopped to build a skilful epoch PR.”

Do what?

The piece is so weird, it’s inspired. Here are some more examples:

  • “If someone types ‘excise usb drives’ in a search engine punch, your foot-boy shows up on the sooner search results screen”
  • “Google developed a proprietary algorithm that assigns a Page Stinking (PR) to every summon forth”
  • “why can’t you upright matching the page and disenchant type suffer its course”

I think it must be a machine translation of another article or just random text pasted together to get web traffic. The funny thing is that it sort of makes sense, but really doesn’t.

It goes to show – monitoring and measurement is never as easy as it first seems. And there’s never a foot-boy around when you need one.

Further down the search list is a post I can more readily vouch for: http://oldamqvnl.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!D7176E885C76F591!109.entry is a machine translation of my own Epoch PR post from a few months back, so given that I write in English, and that it is also in English, I can only assume it’s via a second language somewhere. Good Lord, is the web really just an eternally self-translating churn of random copy?

Again, there are wonderful mistakes in it: the company name changes from ‘Epoch’ to ‘Era'; they change from a lovely bunch of people to ‘a lovely clustering of people'; and I simply cannot tell you why “I’m no visionary but I do remember my sneaking suspicion that blogging would be important for PR about three years ago” becomes “I ‘m no windy but I make recall my mousing intuition that blogging would be important for Pr about three geezerhood ago.”

This all reminds me of a case once quoted in the ‘The Book of Heroic Failures’, in which someone had written an English/Portuguese dictionary via  English/Spanish and Spanish/Portuguese dictionaries (he knew no English), and came up with immortal phrases such as ‘to craunch a marmoset’. And yes, here it is: the glorious ‘English As She Is Spoke’.

Or, indeed, the catalogue currently describing the latest Saatchi exhibition. To wit: “A nation demarcated where vomit meets surf, geographically encircled by froth”. I would characterise the UK as many things, but vomity, surfy and frothy it ain’t.

Proof that you don’t need machine translation on the interweb to come up with gobbledegook.

The UK Election Social Media Dashboard: What I learned

Estimated reading time: 1.5 minutes

So the dust is still settling – hasn’t actually settled yet because we have a hung parliament so all the politicians will be running around with their knees bent, flapping their arms and clucking and pecking at each other relentlessly until one of them, with a gigantic squawk, lays a huge golden egg and all the others look on in amazement then fall over, stunned, with their legs in the air – and I’m shortly going to retire the UK Election Social Media Dashboard. Yes, it’s going to be released into a fresh pasture where it can gambol about in the sunshine, eat grass and, with a shudder of its loins, remember fillies of days gone by. Or maybe led into a dirty shed, shot through the forehead with a metal bolt and turned into 10,000 tins of dogmeat.

Either way, it’s going to disappear soon because it won’t be needed much longer. But I thought it might be worth sharing – with my three readers – what I found out along the way:

  • Google Insights doesn’t allow more than two queries when going through Netvibes, otherwise you get an error result saying URL too long.
  • There is only one dynamic blog charting solution in town, and it’s not Technorati Charts any more.
  • The Tweetclouds widget doesn’t work when you click the ‘Get widget’ link.
  • You can’t have analytics in Netvibes.
  • You can only have certain pre-set widths for charts.
  • You can’t obtain sentiment by RSS.

So, you might ask, how is it that I have Google Insights, dynamic blog charts, tweetcloud widgets, analytics (believe me, I have analytics), varying chart sizes and sentiment on the dashboard? Ah, well, that would be giving you my secret sauce.

Everything does something, but nothing does everything

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to monitor, capture, measure and report. The good news is that there are ways of doing all of these. The bad news? None of them do it all.

Here’s the current state of play:

  • Google Reader is really good for monitoring and going back through old posts, but not for displaying (eg charts and so on),  and not for pulling out reports.
  • Netvibes is great for display but useless for pulling out individual items to analyse, share or report on.
  • Google Docs is great for display and analysis, and good at pulling in RSS feeds – BUT (and I only found this out after doing a lot of work) it only stores up to 20 RSS entries at a time. So, in other words, if you start monitoring pretty much anything on for example Twitter, that total is filled up within minutes and you have no way of knowing what else is going on.
  • Excel is great for offline display and analysis, but it’s very clunky when bringing in RSS feeds and often crashes. Plus, it just appends without figuring out whether it’s duplicating content so your spreadsheets quickly become massive and unworkable.

See what I mean? Everything does something, but nothing does everything – unless you actually create your own databases and reporting and all that stuff, which I want to avoid.

So, what we need is:

  • Google Reader – a decent front end and some sort of report producing facility – even output to CSV file would be good, for example.
  • Netvibes – some way in which to readily share or mark items privately, as well as pull out reports from that.
  • Google Docs – a vast increase in the number of RSS entries.
  • Excel – a better way to interface with the web, ideally one that recognises items already pulled in. And some way of pushing content back online would be nice too.

Or: we need a package that displays as well as Netvibes; that enables sharing, tagging and general RSS manipulation like Google Reader; and that pulls in data as readily as Google Docs but with the capacity of Excel. One day someone will produce that. Until then, we just have to keep banging the rocks together.

Unless I’m missing something? Given that I seem to have about three readers nowadays, if just one of them could suggest an alternative, that would be great.

Five cool ways to find people on Twitter

This post is probably going to get lost in the Twitter noise – and, judging by my declining stats, hardly anyone reads this blog anyway – but I still find it useful to share knowledge occasionally, not least because every day I don’t post I suffer guilt.

I’ve recently been looking around Twitter a lot, trying to find influencers. Now, there are many, many, many, many, many definitions of what influence is, and having been through most of them I’ve come to the conclusion that you can throw away your twitter rankings and your twinfluences and your twitter indices and just count the number of followers someone has. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it tells you straight away how many people you’ll reach. And, as a rule of thumb, someone with 10,000 followers is going to be more influential than someone with 1,000.

So, with that out of the way – and no, I’m not going to enter into yet another debate about it – how do you actually find these people? Well, being someone who likes to package everything he does so that other people can do them too, I’ve come across five nice ways to do this. Go through each of these and you’ll more than likely end up with a good list.

Let’s assume we’re searching for, oh I don’t know, data quality (that really is a random choice btw). So:

1. WeFollow

Go to wefollow.com and type in your search term, without spaces. In this case we’d go to http://wefollow.com/twitter/dataquality. Look, robot, a nice list of people that talk about data quality, complete with follower numbers. Nice. But not exhaustive because WeFollow doesn’t have everyone, although it is a very good first port of call to get a quick list together.

2. Replies or retweets (especially for people)

Search on Twitter for replies or retweets, especially if you’re searching for influencers associated with a person who, in turn, is associated with a issue or topic. So, from our WeFollow data quality search, we found that ocdqblog is pretty well thought of, so do a search on Twitter for replies and retweets involving ocdqblog – in this case, search for http://search.twitter.com/search?q=@ocdqblog. This shows you people who have replied to or endorsed what that person has to say in some way – and, by implication, people who have been influenced by, or talk to, that person. So it’s a fair bet that they’re in some way associated with that person. So, add ‘em to your list.

3. Hashtags (especially for issues)

A hashtag is small identifier that people use to make it easier to bring tweets together for a specific topic that they’re pretty keen on. So, if someone has used #dataquality as a hashtag, it’s a fair bet that they’re involved enough in data quality as a subject to use it as a hashtag. In this case, you’d search on Twitter for http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23dataquality (you have to use the URL code %23 instead of typing in a hash symbol for a direct link – don’t ask why, you just do). This method actually works really well, I’m finding. You do land some big fish this way.

4. #FollowFriday or #FF Hashtag

Search, again on Twitter, but with the #followfriday or #ff hashtag. FollowFriday is a neat little meme that people use to say “Hey, this person is worth following for this issue” – on a Friday. So if someone is doing some good work in the data quality field, it’s likely someone else somewhere has said at some point “Person X is good at data quality #ff” or suchlike.  So by searching for http://search.twitter.com/search?q=”data quality” %23ff OR %23followfriday, you can find people who have been endorsed by other people as being authorities on, in this case, data quality.

5. Topic search

Finally, just search for people who have mentioned your search term – that is, http://search.twitter.com/search?q=”data quality”. This is probably what you first thought of doing and while it works, it doesn’t have any of the nice nuances of whether they’ve been endorsed on WeFollow, or replied/retweeted, or used a hashtag, especially the FollowFriday hashtag. So you might get a lot of hits this way, but not as many quality hits, that is, people who are really involved, or recognised or endorsed by people involved in this area.

So there you go. If you’re canny you’ll figure out ways of creating all these URLs on the fly, generated from just specifying your search term, so you can just copy and paste them into a browser and off you go (or just click them in Google Docs, which has a lovely new auto-click URL feature now). And you save enough time to blog about it afterwards.  Not that anyone will read about it.

Who are: @frosty_snow, @geoff_bronson, @gavin_henderson, @peter_bently?

The UK Election Social Media Dashboard. What are people saying? What are YOU saying? Click to find out.

This morning I took a quick look at what people were saying on the UK Election Social Media Dashboard.

I noticed a few spikes on Twitter for George Osborne. This was strange. Osborne hasn’t figured particularly highly so far, and when he has, it’s been associated with spikes for his contemporaries Darling and Cable.

So I took a look. And, even though I’m fairly apolitical – believe me, I’m more interested in the geekery than the politics here – I’m quite dismayed by what I think I’ve found.

I noticed that there were quite a few tweets referencing old news about Osborne – his inheritance, his expenses, and so on. So I looked at who was tweeting this. And there are four Twitter accounts that have been very recently set up, that have no weblinks, that all seem to be essentially spreading muck about him online.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories but this looks pretty dodgy to me. If I didn’t know better I’d say that someone, somewhere, is coordinating an attempt to discredit Osborne by setting up Twitter accounts to try and spread negative messaging.

Of course, I could be wrong. In which case maybe we should give @frosty_snow, @geoff_bronson, @gavin_henderson and @peter_bently the benefit of the doubt. Here’s an idea: why don’t you go and check them out and see what you think?

It’s never been easier to engage, so if people don’t…

A hand cart, yesterday. Click image for source.

A hand cart, yesterday. Click image for source.

… then we’re all going to hell in a hand cart. Probably. A bit.

Sounds a bit alarmist I know, but here’s my take on this.

In the past, I’ve been fairly lackadaisical about politics. I thought I had left-wing leanings when I was younger but then who doesn’t/didn’t? At least I wasn’t a hippy like my father and I don’t think I’ll end up a neo-Nazi like my late Nan. Praise the Lord for small mercies.

However, this year, things are different. I can feel it. I’m not saying I’m running down the high street with a sandwich board haranguing passers-by and stuffing bits of paper into their pockets. Not yet anyhow. But I am thinking that there’s a lot at stake this year and that we have the first opportunity to track all of this. I should probably be more excited about the former but being a fairly shallow and narrow-minded chap, I’m actually more interested in the latter.

Fortunately for me – and the good people of Buckinghamshire who probably don’t want to be attacked by sandwich-board-clad fanatics – I can address both of these issues by setting up a dashboard.

So that’s what I’ve done. It started as a genuine attempt to find out what was going on for myself. It was just one tab and threw everything together in something that put the ‘mash’ into ‘mash-up’. Then I realised it might be of interest to other people too, so it’s expanded, been knocked through, had some new carpeting put in, been given a lick of paint and some safety rails and now it’s the UK Election Social Media Dashboard, covering what people are saying about Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and everything in between.

It’s worked. For me, at any rate. I actually found myself watching Nick Clegg be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman. I actually had a sort of background in what Nick Clegg was representing. And I actually read the election coverage in the papers. Imagine!

But one thing I keep finding: apathy. Today I heard on the radio the traditional moaning from the traditional moan-mongers: “Politicians all say one thing and then do the something else”; “I don’t know one from the other”; “I don’t see the point in voting”.

I don’t blame them. I’ve been thinking much the same thing for the past ten years or so – however long it’s been in fact since I found out the crowds welcoming Tony Blair to Number Ten weren’t just spontaneously enraptured constituents, but carefully chosen, arranged, and strikingly telegenic activists.

But that’s because all I’ve been able to see of politicians has been on TV (“In that case it’ll be Enigma Variations, minister”), or hear on the radio, or read about in the papers. Today politics is EVERYWHERE. It’s on YouTube and Facebook. It’s being tweeted on Twitter and downloaded from websites. It’s EVERYWHERE, being expressed in each, any and every channel in every possible way.

So, if people really do still feel apathetic – if they have access to this information in easily digested chunks of 140 characters, fed to them by their family, friends and colleagues, or as a great big ScrumdiddlyUmptious Wonka-bar of a manifesto download to secret themselves in a corner and inwardly digest, or as magic lantern images projected to the back of their retinas as they sit drooling in front of YouTube at 3am each morning, or on their smartphones as they absent-mindedly forget to Mind the Gap and step onto the live rails – then we’re probably in trouble.

OK, so this is our first ‘social media election’, and maybe it’ll be better next time around. But politics is happening, here, now, and it’s everywhere. So if people still don’t see it – or watch it, or hear it, or discuss it, or share it, or bookmark it or tag it – then it’s because they don’t want to. And that means we’ll probably have to think of something better to replace politics. Benign dictatorship, anyone?