Social Media: Get it or Don’t Get In
Part 1-Twitter

Yep, there is a real need for traditional media and marketers to understand what social media is really all about. The point was proven to me on multiple occasions last week. As I work with and listen to companies that have done the same thing the same way for so many years, many of them touting themselves as forward thinking or even cutting edge, I am amazed at those that just don’t get it!

The “it” is how you build a relationship with people and then turn them into customers. It is not how you can bombard them with messages that they have no desire to take in. It is moving beyond sheer volume of audience to quality of audience. Nope, measuring it is not given to you in a box with a bow as it is with the incredibly imperfect system from Arbitron or Nielsen. It’s measured by success. Did you draw the people, make the sale, and start a relationship that lasts beyond both?

Over the past week I had multiple opportunities to see where the art of marketing via social media is falling down as well as where it is reaching new heights. There is quite a bit of info so, hating long posts, I’ll address this in the next few days…making it  all a bit more digestible.

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We Came, We Saw, We Geeked Out…All in Minneapolis

Every once in awhile you just have to smile and proudly flaunt the things that make the place you live in great. This past weekend showed off one of those things about Minnesota.

The site was the Coffman Memorial union on the campus of the University of Minnesota. The event was Minnebar, a tech “un-conference.” If you thought everything in tech and web was happening in cities and states with coastlines, you’d be missing what’s happening along the thousands of miles of shoreline here in Minnesota.

I was happy to not only attend but proud to present Localtone Radio, part of a start-up I’m involved with, and also to cover it for Minnov8, a blog dedicated to covering the world of tech and web innovation here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

You can read about and see all of the fun in various places around the web including here at Minnov8. I also encourage you to follow Minnov8 for more of what’s happening in the future as we continue to grow. Need a little nudge then be sure and follow along on Twitter at minnov8. (Not hip to Twitter? …more on that soon.)

Congratulations to Luke Francl and Ben Edwards or a stellar event. I’d also be remiss (and probably for buying a round of drinks) if I didn’t thank my colleagues at Minnov8 who made the scene; Steve Borsch, Graeme Thickins, and Tim Elliot.

New Mediarati or New Yorkers?

I enjoyed a great article by New Yorker staff writer Joan Acocella in the latest issue of Smithsonian magazine. Her subject was her experience with New Yorkers and why they many believe they are smarter (and per chance more rude) than other Americans. Though I’m sure she didn’t realize it, I think she may very well have also been describing characteristics of those active in the on-line world.

Here are some of those things that Ms. Acocella points out differentiate New Yorkers from the rest of the population that also apply to New Mediarati (Nice made up word, huh?).

New Yorkers are people who left another place to come to New York, “looking for something, which suggests that the population is preselected for higher energy and ambition. Who on the web is not from somewhere else? Okay, maybe a few that have become far too involved in Second Life think they are from the web, but most who are really into this space are very ambitious and entrepreneurial. Just follow a few sites like Mashable and TechCrunch and you’ll see you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a startup. My experience with these folks in-person has proven to me that they are incredibly high energy.

The article points out that New Yorkers are willing to forgo basic comforts, instead willing to share the the amenities. Again, you can’t be more into sharing than the open source movement. Many New Mediarati will choose to live on Raman noodles as long as they have a smokin’ laptop…so they can share online.

According to Ms. Acocella, it’s possible that New Yorkers just appear smarter because they make less separation between private and public life.  Bingo! Is this true of those online geeks we all know or what? Face it, we’re willing to spill our guts out in blogs, a Facebook page, or the odd tweet on Twitter, something we would have never done as little as 5 years ago. All of this to share knowledge with anyone willing to listen or read. Just like New Yorkers, Mediarati like to be experts. And as, Aocella points out, “all people like to be experts.”

Why do these two groups, who share so much, behave this way? Why, as pointed out in this Smithsonian article, do they go against psychological principles, the ones that say being bombarded by so much stimuli causes most to recede into themselves and ignore others? Well, there are some of “those” people in both camps, most however share a sense of common cause. For New Yorkers it manifests it self on the street, for Mediarati it happens online.

To me, the similarities are striking and really emphasizes how the online world really is a community…a big ol’ mother of a community…but one that brings so many different types together in one world.

Futuretainment or…Presentainment?

I caught a great post by O’Reilly’s Robert Kaye the other day. Robert’s coverage of ETech in San Francisco included a rundown of Mike Walsh’s Futuretainment: The Asian Media Revolution presentation. Here are some highlights on the topic of how the young people in Asia consume media compared to the good ol’ US of A…

Because many of the kids were born in the post Mao era, they have no idea what media was like as it evolved in the US and Western Europe. (CD’s? Never heard of ‘em.) Mike points out that most Asian’s use the internet for their main source of entertainment and they get most of that on their cell phones, not at the desktop. They have no problem creating multiple identities online, are more “group” focused yet seek to find a higher status for themselves in those groups on line.

Here’s something that we all have seen in movies but probably never really grasped…”Asian cultures blend low tech solutions with hi tech solutions seamlessly. For instance, while nearly everyone has a mobile phone in their pocket, bamboo is still used to build scaffolding for buildings.” Wow!

What all this increased “density of information” has lead to is Asians being able to grasp many more pieces of information at once and the culture actually cranking out so much more content. This is fascinating stuff.

As I consider all of this I’m struck by the word “futuretainment.” It’s quite easy to point to all of this and say this is the future of media in the US. To some degree, I believe that to be true. But, I’m not sure our culture will evolve the same way. Consider the circumstances for this “revolution” in Asia, specifically China. Here are a people who for years were cutoff from the advances (a very subjective term) that we experienced. It’s like the lid being lifted off a barrel in the rain. Suddenly all of this history, these advances, and this growth just start pouring in on a people that were familiar with something so simplistic. Of course there is a need to quickly decide what to adopt and what to scoop out of the barrel. If they didn’t they would surely drown. So what you see are a people hurdling over some of the stuff that has become part of our culture, in effect being unburdened by history. They don’t need to or even can stop at the CD era if it’s already passé. Why spend money on or time sitting in front of a computer when they can take it all with them on a phone.

In the US, for better or worse, we as a people are naturally going to be a bit slower to adopt. In many cases we are content with where media is and see no reason to change. For the purposes of example, we’ve spent our money on the CD and player or the computer. We’ll get to the mp3 player and smart phone; just give us a bit more time. Damn, this history of innovation can be a real burden, can’t it?

So while the “media revolution” is raging on in Asia, it may not necessarily be the future but the present without all the encumbrances of a past. Who knows, the Asian youth may decide that creating new IM accounts, assuming different identities for different purposes and precipitating virtual characters landing sponsorship deals is a waste of time and return to more simplistic “bamboo-centric” pursuits. That sure would allow all of us to stop paddling so hard in our barrel.

When Should You Be Social?

I want to share something that happened at a recent board meeting for an organization I have participated in for years. We’re a “working board” meaning the organization doesn’t have much dough to pay a huge staff. The two we do pay are exceptional but we still need to put on a conference every year and there is a lot to be done.

During the course of our rather long meeting we started talking about our plans for a new website. One of our members suggested we start a social network in conjunction with our new site roll out. Well, the little voice inside my head started screaming…I hate when that happens. You know I’m a big fan of everything online and Web 2.0 but we were getting close to jumping into something for the sake of it doing the “cool thing”.

There are many social network resources out there from Ning to Onesite. You could also set up a profile on Facebook or Myspace for your group or organization. Needless to say it’s fairly easy to set up, the question is; will it work and will it be worth your time? Will it be social or will it be just one more thing someone might sign up for…a glorified database?

With some help from Brett Bonfield at Idealware and this post at Techsoup along with some common sense here are some signs that social networks aren’t for you.

  1. You’re still trying to get a handle on your basic software infrastructure. There are plenty of “new media” tools to use to make your organization better and your communication with your audience easier. Social networking should not be the first to use.
  2. Your target audiences aren’t using social networking tools. This relates to knowing your audience. Social networks tend to work best for younger users. There is a new definition of what privacy is among the younger demographic and they are more prone to actually use these tools. So to simplify…hunt where the ducks are.
  3. You don’t have time to experiment with something that might not work. No matter what you think or have heard, social networks don’t run themselves. You’ll need someone to oversee and maintain the site.
  4. You’re not ready to invest in gaining a real understanding of the medium. Making social networks effective means you need to understand the culture and communities you’re joining or serving.
  5. You want clear editorial control over your brand and message. Social networks are not all about your message. You may find yourself trying to understand why the users don’t look at your brand the way you want it to be looked at. You can’t set up rules regarding that message and expect users to follow them. You’ll need to be able to let the users have their own voice…positive or negative.
  6. Mission and Purpose. Whether it’s organizational or personal, does using a social network further your mission?

In our case, we decided to put the idea on hold until we overcome some other technical and organizational items. I’m confident that when we do enter into the world of social networking we’ll do it right and take advantage of the opportunities it offers.

More on those opportunities next week.