Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Schoolyard Rules of Social Media

Ever found yourself wondering why some folks seem to rise to the top of the social media heap? These are the people who have no trouble garnering thousands of high quality Twitter followers, and consistently get invited to speak at the hottest industry conferences. They don't even seem to have look for a job--their stature ensures that offers roll in! But what if such success weren't as far out of reach as it looks?

Looked at in a certain way, the social media world is one big schoolyard. To crack the code, all you really have to do is close your eyes, lean back, and travel back to your elementary school days. Who got noticed? What did they do that no one else did? Below are a few I've identified. Feel free to add more in the comments field.

1. Pick fights. If there is one thing that makes everyone drop their jump ropes and tether balls to come running, it's a fight. At my elementary school, the fighters almost never got beyond a few half-assed punches before some teacher rushed in and broke it up, but by then there was a circle of 50 kids, all yelling "Fight, Fight, Fight!" at the top of their lungs. 

Both of the kids involved with the brawl were treated as heroes for at least a day after that. If they were boys, girls would start leaving candy bracelets and cootie-catchers on their desks. If girls, the boys would stand around in awe, and then make sure to pick them first for dodgeball at PE. 

So it is with social media. The trick here is to choose the right kinds of fights to start. You can try arguing politics or religion if you like. Most likely, you'll be ignored. But those who bait some other high profile social media maven about, say, whether Google Reader is dead and should properly be replaced by Twitter search get plenty of clicks and comments.

2. Be brash and opinionated. It worked for my arch-nemesis David Brooks when I was in the fifth grade, and it's working now too for a whole lot of folks, from TechCrunch titan Michael Arrington to EMC blogger Storagezilla. These are the types who get noticed because they're not afraid to speak their minds, even though it sometimes gets them in deep shit. Just as David Brooks used to tell our teacher things like, "I think all Jane Austen really needed was to find a real man," so too can you say the type of stuff that's sure to piss someone else off--or maybe a whole lot of people.

3. Get everyone under the big tent.
Okay, so by now you might be getting alarmed. I don't have the kind of personality to pick fights or be brash, you're saying to yourself. In fact, the whole idea of controversy makes me break out in a cold sweat. Well, remember that student who was voted Class President every damn year? This was also the same kid who invited each and every classmate to his swim party at the end of the year--even Ivan Ackerman, the guy with the wandering eye that no one would sit next to in the cafeteria at lunch.

Those with a sense of community are some of the best known and successful bloggers/tweeters out there. I'm not talking about mindless retweeting or "helpful" links that are actually just plugs for you or your clients' product or service. That kind of thing is perfectly fine, but it's not the same. 

What I'm talking about is a real and consistent effort to bring people together. These are the folks like Stephen Foskett of Gestalt IT and Peter Shankman of HARO. They're the ones who you know will organize a Tweetup, and who are always on the lookout for a great new blog so they can talk it up online. In short, they're the people you look to for advice and connections--in fact, they fit the term coined by Malcolm Gladwell, "connectors" to a tee.

4. Be the class clown. What is the most talked about social media phenomenon right now? How about "ShitMyDadSays"--the Twitter feed with 616,000 dedicated, enthusiastic followers. This guy's even got a book deal. It's irreverent, hilarious, and very much like that kid at the back of the classroom who made all those fart sounds with his armpit.

5. Be a motor mouth. Remember that freckly-haired girl in the third grade whose hand shot up every time the teacher asked a question? You do? Well, you remember her because she made herself known again and again. Sure, she could be annoying sometimes (especially if she always had the wrong answer). But on the days she was out sick, the classroom seemed eerily quiet.

Again, this is not a recommendation to turn into a link-spewing machine on Twitter. I'm talking about conversations--the real kind, that involve more than one person, and some semblance of listening and interaction. Or be a provider of consistently amusing and useful links that people want to read and retweet. Social media star Guy Kawasaki has raised this to an art form. If you're already a bit of a chatty Cathy, why not use this to your advantage? I have.

So there you have it. All the tools you need to start rising above the babble. See you on the playground!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ten Mistakes You Don't Want to Make on Twitter

I'm writing this post on the top 10 Twitter mistakes because I have made almost all of them at one time or another. Social media is one big learning experience at this point, so if you see yourself in these, it's probably a sign you're out there falling on your face like the rest of the pioneers. Nothing to be ashamed of. However, here's hoping that you can use this list to prevent yourself from having to curl up in a ball and hide under your desk in a state of Twitter-induced shame and agony. Plus, you'll save time on having to hit the "trash" button on those ill-advised tweets.

Mistake 1: Sending canned DMs. Autofollow DMs are getting to be an annoyance. Stop them now before someone blocks you for being a spammer. Use DM to communicate with real friends, or to authentically thank a new follower. Other than that, say it all in public. That's what Twitter is all about anyway.

Mistake 2: Posting Twitpics of others without their explicit consent. You see a cute girl at your local java joint. You snap a pic of her with your iPhone, and post it to the world with a map link and the tweet "Hottie at table next to me." The next thing you know, it turns out that (lo and behold!) she herself is on Twitter and is using your @ to tell everyone she knows what a sleazo you are. Watch your follower count drop like a block of cement in Lake Michigan.

Mistake 3: Talking out of turn on a company Twitter account. If you work at a company, or act as a PR or other consultant for them and have permission to tweet on their behalf, it's only too tempting to forget that this is the voice of the entire company. Would the CEO really have retweeted that link to a Balloon Boy cartoon? If so, great. But if not, don't do it. Keep it light and professional, and think more in terms of offering an inside look into the goings on of your company (in whatever way is appropriate) than a chance to put out your personal style. Also, if you're an outsider and you don't know something about a company, don't try to fake it. Just leave it alone.

Mistake 4: Overtweeting. I don't mean tweeting too often. If you're in the flow and there's plenty of conversation bopping around you, tweet away. You do risk being dubbed Twittus Maximus, but apparently this is a title that can be taken away. No, what I'm talking about is tweeting too much. Link after link with no context. Bragging so badly you're a candidate for "Tweeting Too Hard." In short, acting like you're on a stage and speaking to a captive audience. No they're not. That's what the "block" option is for.

Mistake 5: Thinking that people might be interested in ways to make money from Twitter. Probably there are plenty of people that would like to transform their biggest time waster into some kind of cash machine. But here's the thing--you don't want to tell your Twitter followers about that. Just keep it a secret. If you're really making all that money, why share? Because you're actually pushing some stupid ponzi scheme, perhaps?

Mistake 6: Sending out a public tweet that you meant to be a DM. I'm happy to say that almost everyone I know on Twitter has done this at least once--happy, of course, because this means I'm not the only one. There are all kinds of reasons for this, and I think it happens most often when people are using a Blackberry or iPhone to send out their DMs. Too often, it's hard to tell. It is a most horrific experience for the tweeter. Here's one rule I've found useful: don't say anything in a DM that would be seriously compromising for yourself or your business. It's just too risky.

Mistake 7: Being an unpleasant bore. The truth about Twitter is that it's a chance to be funny in front of large groups of people. Just check out Favrd. But way too often, people think it's just the opposite. In the past, your long-suffering spouse and cowering kids were the only ones who had to listen to you blow smoke about what's wrong with Congress or why no one understands that HAM radio isn't just about old guys chatting to one another but rather is an important network that can be used in emergency situations blah blah blah. Now, with Twitter you can bore the entire world. But guess what? If you keep doing it, pretty soon the only people who will follow you are a bunch of boring old farts like yourself.

Mistake 8: Retweeting something that has already come and gone. Nothing says "out of the conversation" like tweeting to the world that Marge Simpson dropped trou in Playboy or that the Balloon Boy was a hoax. We already know, okay. Check those trending topics before posting a stale update. Just a helpful hint to prevent you from looking like a doof.

Mistake 9: Arguing religion on Twitter. Free speech is all well and good, but we are a community with diverse views, which to me means practicing tolerance wherever and however possible. Not long ago, a brave soul within the tech community admitted that he believes in intelligent design. The pile-on was not fun to watch. It's fine to link to your favorite site on Darwin, but do you need to go on the offense if someone says they're of a different belief system? Kinda cringeworthy IMHO.

Mistake 10: And the tenth mistake on Twitter is... Tweeting from one handle when you meant to tweet from another. Can you say "busted"? 

Mistake 11: Okay, I lied. These go to 11. The final mistake is to use Twitter as a place to offer inspirational quotes. "What?" You say! "I love the inspirational quotes. They pick up my day." Let me ask you this: do you like reading those quotes as they choke up your tweetstream, or do you like tracking them down online and then tweeting them so the whole world will know how deep and literate you are? Yeah, I thought so.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pumpkins and Geeks

I've lived on the coastside of the Bay Area for over three years now, but only recently have I begun to connect with the many Silicon Valley types that have snuck off and started living the good life by the sea. Turns out there are a whole lot of us here. Perhaps our most famous resident--from a geek perspective--is Robert Scoble, who makes Half Moon Bay his home.

It's pumpkin season--a bigger holiday out here than Christmas. In a few weeks, the highway that connects us to our beloved valley, Route 92, will be clogged with SUVs bringing the kiddies to pick out future jack-o-lanterns, get lost in hay mazes, and stuff themselves with too much cider and doughnuts. In advance of the expected deluge, the aforementioned Scobleizer organized a photo walk among the pumpkin farms along Route 92. I took a few snaps with my iPhone, and my husband took a whole lot of much better ones with his Canon EOS 20D.

Here is a small sampling.
See if you can guess which goes with which photographer and camera! (This should NOT be a challenge.)