On the Trail of Twitter’s Tipping Point

Elmer Fudd would say, “Be vewwy-vewwy quiet…I’m hunting Twitter’s tipping point.”   and as 2009 dawns I’m thinking the same thing. What is…was…Twitter’s tipping point?

In this case the “tipping point” I’m speaking of is that made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his book of the same name. Gladwell defines a tipping point as a sociological term: “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

Tipping points are tricky things to identify. Twitter has been all the buzz in the social media and geek circles since it’s debut, becoming so popular in such circles that it couldn’t keep up with itself. This perpetuated the continuous shouts from the online crow’s nest of “Avast you lubbers, fail whale dead ahead!” and the growth of alternative services like Plurk, identi.ca and the recently shuttered Pownce. The mere fact that the service was able to overcome, or at the very least minimize, these technical issues and continue to grow could be labeled as the tipping point.

There’s the tipping point highlighted by it’s increase in users in April of 08 noted by Nick O’Neill on his Social Times blog….though this is most likely just a result of a pyramid effect caused by the continued adoption by social media and the related industries.

In October of 08 Claudine Beaumont discussed the “celebrity” tipping point of Twitter. That discussion centered around the concept that celebrities were now establishing Twitter accounts. As she points out, when Britney Spears, William Shatner and John Cleese (Claudine writes for the Telegraph in the UK) start tweeting then their legion of fans can’t be far behind. This is likely more the publicists of celebrities posting for them but still…

Barrack Obama brought attention to the service, along with many social media platforms, with his aggressive use of the medium in his campaign. This was also fueled by the related coverage of that campaign on every news outlet and led to the adoption of Twitter by some of those news outlets. Was this the tipping point?

Or did the point come as recently as this week as a rash of “phishing” scams hit Twitter like a ton of bricks. Clearly, though some signal this as the end of the service, when a service is worthy of being targeted and hacked by the “black hats” of marketing, it means you have a very big audience and you’re doing something right. (Besides, this might be the only way I ever get an iPhone…What?)

Perhaps we can say that Twitter will have reached it’s tipping point when they roll out the monetization plans. Or will it be when they make money? I have no doubt we will see soon because Twitter must make money.

As I mentioned earlier, some have doubts about the long-term future of Twitter. I don’t. Many have heralded the imminent demise of the service, on many occasions. The fact is that they have continued to grow even in light of the problems and the highlighting of those problems by the influencers of the social media space. (Strangely, those same people that were early adopters of the service.) They were the first in and have already outlived some competitors that they spawned. Plus, according to Hubspot’s State of the Twittersphere, they have 4-5 million users and 5-10 thousand accounts are opened per day. That’s a 600% increase in traffic over the past 12 months. Numbers like that don’t just evaporate.

Yet, they still aren’t Facebook…so I continue to hunt.

Has Twitter’s “tipping point” already been reached? Is there only one? Is this the year that we’ll see it? I invite you to join me in this hunting expedition. Have you found it? Where should we look? What do we do with it once we find it? Let me know your thoughts. I look forward to your comments.

Brands vs. Fans

 Much has been made about “brand marketing” in the social media space. “Your brand has to be online!”, “My brand has a Facebook page!”, “Is your brand on Twitter?”. More and more I’m convinced this is short sighted.

Remember, the “media” part of social media is the channel by which communication occurs. The “social” is the people part, those that participate in the conversation. Neither of those parts say anything about a product or service. Why would someone want to follow Tide, Best Buy, Pepsi, etc on Facebook, Youtube or Twitter? Now, CEO Bob at Tide, Stephanie at Pepsi, or Barry at Best Buy? That’s another story! Those are people I can have a conversation with.

A recent quote in the this article really says it all, “Members of social networks want to spend time with friends, not brands.” Excuse me whilst I utter the proverbial “Duh!”

This again reinforces the overwhelming necessity of understanding the medium in which you are participating or working. Social media marketing follows a whole different set of rules than mass marketing. One of those rules is “It’s all about the relationship.” Brands in and of themselves can’t form relationships. Those people that are fans of the brand can and those that represent the brand can.

So, let’s amend the statements above: “A representative of your brand has to be online!”, “My brand’s community manager has a Facebook page!”, “Who evangelizes your brand on Twitter?”.

Bottom line: Brands in social media…no. People representing brands in social media…yes. (Of course, you need the right people or rather, fans!) As Ted McConnell, manager of interactive marketing and innovation at P.& G notes: “I don’t want to be best friends with a brand,” he said. “It’s just stuff.”

Watching Social Media for the Crashes?

I caught the recent story in the New York Times about Twitter feed, The Media is Dying. This is a feed that is dedicated to charting the employment status of PR industry professionals. According to the story the site was started to monitor “hirings and firings”. Be honest, like watching racing for the crashes, it’s about the firings…and there are plenty of them right now.

I can’t help but think this sort of use of social media is a bad idea. You might say “Phil, lighten up.”, noting that it’s no worse than the many gallows sites out there right now. Sites like stiffs.com, youbettheirlife.com and a host of others. And believe me, as the creator of ComicTwit, I have shared more than a few bits if humor that qualify in this camp.

This is different. To me it’s a bit more disconcerting. Aside from our morbid habit of seeking a bit of entertainment out of the suffering of others, no matter how unemployed, old, or dead, this one highlights and consciously or unconsciously, celebrates the struggle of an entire industry.

The media landscape is certainly changing, but I question if it is wise to act as vultures circling the victims of that change? As a radio broadcaster (The talk or radio dying began over half a century ago.) I can tell you that has a lasting impact on the medium and its players.

As one who is grateful to be part of Social Media, an incredibly young industry, I don’t want to be seen as dancing on any industry’s grave. I’d rather look for the opportunity to show what this new media can do to help traditional media and the people that are dealing with its rapidly changing landscape every day.

Change Is Inevitable

I recently presented a webinar to a group of radio broadcasters. Entitled The Social Hour: Joining the Online Conversation, it was designed as a general overview of social media and it’s ability to allow radio, a medium that has mastered the art of talking, to start listening to and participating with it’s audience.

I’m happy to say that those that joined the webinar stayed for the duration and asked some good questions at the end, one of the best of which came from a public broadcaster in Wisconsin. He asked if I thought radio would have to change the content of their programming to better serve a population that has increasingly more choice and control of what they hear.

Though I hope I diplomatically answered the question during the session (After all, this was a webinar about social media not radio programming), the answer would have to be a resounding yes. To think that any business model can continue to function as it always has in light of growing user control and competition would be folly. And, though the question was raised by a group of radio folks, it could just as easily be raised by retailers, service providers, or any number of businesses. If we were to simply look at the history of electronic media we’d see that this is not a new phenomenon.

Lives were changed when the radio was first invented. Here was a medium that could reach many with the human voice, not just with words on a page.The medium was all about long form programming. From news, to live music, to serial programming, there was suddenly another outlet other than newspaper to get information. When television joined the fray, radio and movie theaters for that matter, adjusted what they were providing. Serials gave way to short form programming and focused music formats.

In addition, the rise of localized content became paramount. The large networks that provided programming for the individual stations was slowly replaced with locally focused content. You could still count on national information, but depending on where you were, you were provided information that catered to your local area. Being a midwesterner, the example that leaps to mind is the proliferation of agricultural information. (I still don’t know what the hell a pork belly is?)

Only recently (the last 12 years) has radio moved back to a national model. Not because of the need of the listener but because of the requirements of the business plan to consolidate costs.

Therein lies the trap. In a time where user control is reaching new heights, the need to provide a more tailored, focused, and unique product continues to grow. In a time where the generic can be easily avoided some businesses, radio included, look to provide the opposite of what is being sought. Even on the web, which is after all “world-wide”, content producers are finding that localization and specialization are where it’s at.

Just like community relations and customer service has been impacted by the rise of the online generation, the way we provide goods and services, as well as the business models that drive them, will need to adapt. Traditional media will be with us for years to come, the business of that traditional media will continue to change…and we all have ideas of what the change should look like. But that’s another discussion…or discussions.

One More Lesson: Commitment

Yesterday, my good friend Steve Borsch wrote, as he always does, a very insightful piece on Connecting the Dots. Lessons From Our First “Social Media” President highlighted many aspects of the Barack Obama campaign for President and it’s obvious social media strategy.

One lesson learned that went without much notice was that of the need to commit to social media fully. Make no mistake, the Obama campaign was a well oiled machine in it’s use of social media. However, I noted a few lapses in the execution of that well thought out plan.

The biggest lapse, that of inviting people to sign up to receive a text message when Obama chose his running mate, implying being “the first to know”. I still feel a sense of betrayal when that text was received…around three in the morning. We may have been some of the first to know, but 3am? Sounds like executing an obligation rather than telling a friend.

Steve also shared the email that ‘Barack’ sent just prior to his Grant Park acceptance speech. It was a wonderful note that should be shared by all involved…yet it hasn’t been posted on the Facebook page. In fact, as of this writing, the last note on Facebook says, “There are still a few hours to make a big difference in this election.” while the MySpace page is current. As Steve pointed out, “you can’t let a friendship wane and then call on that friend in your time of need and expect them to be there for you.”

Admittedly, these are some incredibly minor issues. Ones easily overlooked and overcome. What I’m trying to point out is that any kind of organized social media involvement requires a huge committment. To do it right, and I think the Obama campaign did it pretty damn right (they could have shortened their list of target applications), a committment of time, money and human resources must be made.

The social web never sleeps. People are always coming and going. The conversation continues and that means you have to participate…often.

Steve also notes, “Don’t stop the conversation.” The battle may be won but the war continues. Is this truly the beginings of an ongoing conversation or the end of a marketing campaign? The coming days, weeks, months, and years will determine if Barack Obama truly is the first “social media” President or just the first “social media” Presidential candidate.

One last thing. I would be remiss if I didn’t applaud Steve for noting how much the election of the best candidate to the highest post in our country was not about race. Like Steve, I paid little attention to the color of now President-elect Obama’s skin, thankfully, much as the rest of the country did the same. We continue to make incredible strides against racism in this country. It’s ultimate conquering will be signalled by our ability to talk about accomplishments by anyone without making a reference to their skin tone.

Social Media Reality Check

I’ve become more and more enamored with the concept of “social” media and the natural extension of it…social marketing. As I speak to groups, approach the subject with potential clients, or discuss it with colleagues in the social media world, I have to keep reminding myself to be aware of who actually uses this relatively new medium. Please note that the “media” of social media is the new part. The “social” has been around a whole lot longer!

To give myself a social media reality check, and to give me some fuel for a presentation and discussion at a recent UnSummit, I decided to ask my community about their use, or even awareness of social media. In this case, “my community” is made up of the people in my neighborhood, my social circles, and those I see regularly through my kid’s activities; the soccer and baseball parents I see…often.

Being the research geek that I can be at times I decided to put together an online survey of 10 questions, which I then sent out to about 50 people. I received some 30 odd responses to serve as the basis for my reality check. Okay, this is far from scientific. It’s a brief overview with very little screening involved. Anybody who got the e-mail could respond regardless of age, social standing, or tech savvy. You can download a one sheet of the results here if you’d like but remember, these tables are a basis for discussion. Let’s take a look…

First and foremost, the group is predominantly 35 years old and over…ahhh, my peeps, but also a good representation of your average Joe Six-pack.

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A Social Media Coming of Age

Now. I know allot of social media types. They include participants, fanatics, junkies, evangelists and, of course, consultants. Today I spent time with a true social media parent.

Greg is a social media pro and PR guru working with one of the big PR firms here in the Twin Cities. I love sipping a cup of joe with Greg whenever possible, and today we talked about our kids. Mine are older than his and it’s clear they will grow up with social media and an online involvement in completely different way that will Greg’s. While my kids have shown a mild interest in being online, my son’s biggest use of a “high tech” communication tool is his growing need to text every little thing to his friends, Greg’s two-year-old son already has his own Gmail account, Facebook page, and uploads his on videos on YouTube!

Okay, to be honest, his parents do it for him. In fact, before he was born, his parents had already reserved the Gmail accounts in a boy’s and girl’s name just to be safe. According to Greg, “We were staking out our offspring’s digital property before birth.” In reality, the establishment of these accounts is more about sharing with family than actually building a social presence in the cloud. Greg goes on to explain, “Social media tools allow my parents in Florida to see my son’s first
tooth. Facebook allows his aunts and uncles to “friend” him and instantly be notified of his status updates in a social medium they prefer over e-mail for information. Web cams allow us to video chat
with anyone with an Internet connection. And when I travel for work, I’m able to check in and see his smile firsthand. And yes, we’ve had a discussion about the line between private and public. We don’t include last names, locations or personal information.”

The most intriguing facet of this “online at birth” adventure is the plan to hand over the “keys” to these accounts to the lad when he’s ready to take over the task of being social. Says Greg, “We assume that by age 8 or so we’ll turn over the username and password to his e-mail and social network accounts, just like my parents gave me my very own house key at that age.” What we have here is a social media coming of age or, what could be termed,  a “social mitzvah”.

The term Mitzvah is used to describe the coming of age of a Jewish boy or girl where, according to Jewish law, they become responsible for their actions, and “become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Of course, it is not my intention to offend anyone and clearly this passing of these social media trappings has zero to do with the customs of one’s faith and religion, in this case I find it fascinating the young person is being given and is assuming responsibility for their actions as they pertain to social media. Not to mention how he might feel about the job he thinks his parents have done establishing his online life.

No matter what it’s called, it is a result of new technology and what it means to where, what and with whom we choose to share parts of our lives. It’s also a clear generational distinction. Heck, my neighbors get freaked about Google photographing their house for Street View. This would clearly not sit well with them. But they are another generation. Online and social media is not woven into the fabric of their lives as it is with kids being born and raised today.

I’m curious to see how widespread this is. Who knows, this could be the beginning of a whole new Hallmark card occasion.


Drowning In Information

Help! Between my endless stream of traditional media info and my new “I can find you anywhere.” media information hydrant I feel like I’m treading water just trying to keep up.

(Cue the dun-ta-dah ‘to the rescue’ music.) I’m here to help ma’am (said in my most Dudley Do-right voice). It’s so easy to get carried away in trying to suck up all the info you really want. But c’mon, you have a life, or at least you should. Since Tivo, and podcasting have helped you tame the radio and TV info management issue, allowing you to watch and listen on your terms, I though it might be helpful to share some tips from some interactive friends for taming your online world.

Greg Swan points out that there are “Information Hoarders”, the junkies that can’t seem to get enough info. If that’s you this should be of some real help.

We’ll get to the web in a bit. Let’s start with your own little slice of info heaven, your computer. After years of e-mails, documents, downloaded photos, applications, widgets and what not, you have a treasure trove of info that caters to your interests both personal and professional. Now, if you could only find it…

First, from the makers of online search (and possible owners of the free world), try Google Desktop search. This bad boy brings the Big G’s search capability to your entire hard drive and your MS Outlook sent and received. To bad it can’t do the same for your kitchen junk drawer. Swan shares his ‘word of the day’; taxonomy to point out that it’s a good idea, if you haven’t already, to start tagging your files with the words that will make you remember them. Put that word in the file name or on the document itself.

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What ya been doin’?…The Debut of ComicTwit

So, I’ve been somewhat remiss in posting. Here’s what happened. (This is the part where the screen gets wavy indicating a flashback.)…This Twitter thing is cool…interesting thoughts, some cool links, some witty stuff… Wait a minute… Comedy+wit+Twitter. How about ComicTwit.”

There it is…in a nutshell, I decided to create and launch a new Twitter application called ComicTwit. Though more of a music/radio/media guy, being focused here on RemainComm and Localtone Systems, I really thought this would be fun to release into the ether.

Twitter is a fast growing service and I think, with it’s current focus
on addressing issues of scale, will emerge as the leader in the
micro-blogging world. and though there are plenty of joke sites out there…believe me I get to see allot of them now that I’m facing the need to “seed” ComicTwit, I’d like it to be a bit more than that. What my real goal is to encourage the Twitterverse, a group that is already adept at condensing their thoughts into 140 characters, to create or interpret jokes, anecdotes, and one-liners to help amuse those that follow along. It’s really that simple. Why not have a little levity pop up on your Twitter stream about every one to two hours. Hopefully, that will always leave followers wanting more…one of the cardinal rules of comedy, ya know.

check it out. I challenge you to come up comedy in just 140 characters. Sure, One-liners are easy but jokes are another story, one that has to be told in very few words. Though it doesn’t have to be original, fresh comedy is great so why not try out your new stuff before your next appearance on Conan…or at lunch with your peeps or staff meeting. If not, just make us laugh. It couldn’t hurt and frankly it may be more fun than some of the other ‘Tweets’ or another link to being ‘Rickrolled‘.

In the meantime, I’ll be back at posting here more often. Next, some tools for organizing your online world.

It’s Time For Radio to Get Social…Again.

The time I spent at the Conclave Learning Conference this past week was filled with many highlights. The most obvious was the fact that radio needs to get social. By “get” I mean broadcast has to understand the social media space and it needs to become active in it. And I contend “being” social is nothing new to radio.

First and foremost, it became quite apparent to me during a few sessions that the talk of social media applications and marketing tools (Twitter, blogging, streaming, podcasting) was foreign to many in attendance. Congratulations to those that made the trip to Minneapolis and the Learning Conference. It is no longer foreign to you. To my radio brethren that haven’t made the commitment to learn I say, “I know you’re busy, but you need to find time to understand and be part of social media.” Not being hip to this will kick you in the butt.

Second, I want to encourage radio as a whole to remember that you are part of what could be the original social medium. Remember when we reached out to the community? Remember when we asked for callers to give us input and requests? Remember when we asked listeners to join us at “remotes”…back when we made them events. Yes, we were doing “social” long before Facebook. Then we got safe. Then we started to be so inwardly focused the social aspect of radio became something we just did and not something we were involved in.

Here’s a quick side note and a way to get social instantly. Don’t ask for a request unless you intend to play it within minutes of receiving it. Be honest 95% of radio stations don’t really play requests.  If you are part of that majority, don’t lead your listeners to think you will play one. Figure out some other way to get the phone to ring. Your audience will appreciate your honesty.

Finally, what I want to emphasize more than anything to everyone in all forms of social media is this; don’t over emphasize the “media” in the term social media. Media is just the conduit to get the act of being social to your audience. Being social requires involvement. It’s about building a relationship. If you don’t get that you must really be involved with your audience or customer or you don’t want to take the time to do it, the medium by which you reach them is of no consequence.

I dig the crap out of everything from Twitter to Friendfeed to Facebook to Ning but they are really only as good as the message and my level of involvement.

More from the Conclave Learning Conference tomorrow…

Social Media: Get it or Don’t Get In
Part 3-Sweet Success

I want to wrap up this series of posts on social media with a word about successes found in the social media space…and there are many. It’s important to note that though success might imply completion, in social media there is no completion. Like any relationship, this process is ongoing and while it may have struck a chord with part of the intended audience, there is plenty of audience still getting settled in…still waiting to let these marketers into their confidence. I guess it would be better to say I want to highlight some that are successfully on their way.

I made mention of Zappos and what they are doing with Twitter in my first post. There has been much written about the success they are having with social media. I’m guessing if you were to ask CEO Tony Hsieh if he felt that he was happy with the progress, especially internally with his employees, he’d give you a resounding yes! He is successfully mobilizing his employees as Zappos own army of fans and probably gleaning plenty of ideas and insight that will help him grow his company in the future.

I’d also like to point to Threadless. Highlighted in Inc magazine, this company was doing social before anybody really knew what it was. In short, artists and designers become members of the Threadless network and submit designs to be voted on by fellow members. The winners receive a cash award, now around $2500 plus reprint fees, and the top picks are printed on a limited number of t-shirts and then sold, usually selling out rather quickly.

Launched in 2000, t-shirt sales surpassed $100,000 by 2002. The user base has grown from around 70,000 in 2004 to well over 700,000 today. In 2006 sales clocked in at $18 million with profits of $6 million. 2007 show growth of 200 percent with similar margins. Only one word describes that kind of success, niiiiiiiice!

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Social Media: Get it or Don’t Get In
Part 2-Running(?) With the Big Dogs

Here it is…the second post on the topic of Social Media and where it fits with what you are doing.  As I mentioned in my previous post a busy week of Social Media centered gatherings really highlighted the level of understanding and involvement by individuals and companies in using it for a marketing tool.

A panel discussion facilitated by the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association and moderated by Gage Marke
brought together representatives from General Mills, Target, Fingerhut, and Best Buy to talk about what their companies are doing in Social Media. The short answer? Not much. Beyond providing a system for “Ratings and Reviews” most were taking a fairly wait and see approach.

That’s not to say that these guys aren’t incredibly knowledgeable, they are. They are in that frustrating positon of trying to turn the battleship that is a big company to be able to react to a rapidly developing conduit to their customers.

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