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A few things I’ve learned about Twitter

Twitter can get you discounts/deals/help: All you have to do is ask in some cases. Even yesterday, a person I follow was tweeting about how mad she was that her airline wouldn’t answer the phone and she was stranded at the airport thanks to the blizzard in Boston. But because she tweeted these messages and included @jetblue, the airline responded and helped her reschedule her flight. How do I know? She later tweeted that the airline had helped her and without Twitter, she’d have been stuck.

There are probably thousands of similar stories out there with social-savvy brands, but it was pretty neat to see it in action. Not every brand can respond to individual customers in that manner, but when it does happen it’s refreshing.

Strangers are generally more interesting on Twitter than the actual people I know who use the service: (Note: I’m guessing the feeling is probably mutual anyway…)

It’s a strange phenomenon; maybe it’s a touch of digital voyeurism, but I find myself much more interested in the tweets of people I’ve never actually met, especially when I have something in common with them.

Maybe they’re professionals in the same industry from a different city, or perhaps they’re just randoms I follow because I stumbled upon their feed and found them intriguing. Whatever the reason, Twitter opens a window into the world of others that is unique, and would otherwise be unavailable.

While there’s something creepy about getting Facebooked by people you don’t know (and sometimes, even by those you do know, tangentially or otherwise), Twitter seems to encourage the behavior and it doesn’t feel strange at all have hundreds of people you’ve never met reading your thoughts.

I’m also fascinated by who other people follow, and who people I actually know follow: Part of the power of Twitter is using your contacts to expand your network. I’ll frequently raid the “following” list of people I follow to find new folks to follow. I’ll presume the same has been done to me, and will become more frequent as my following and influence grows.

You need to have (at least) two Twitter accounts: It’s true for several reasons, the most important being that your public Twitter persona is far too valuable, and if you intend to share jokes, gossip or nonsense with friends, family and acquaintances, you’re best served to set up a separate, aliased account that is locked and not easily recognizable.

With Twitter being sourced in search engines for real time information, it’s become a large part of one’s online reputation. And whether you have 10 followers or 10,000, it really only takes one retweet of a slightly ill-conceived tweet to damage your brand. Public figures are still learning this lesson, and the same really applies for (once-private) citizens. But if you want to help control what shows up the next time you’re Googled, own the Twitter handle that most closely approximates your resume name and fill it up with content related to your professional persona.

You can grow your following just by following others: I don’t have any official data to back this up (get used to that…), but it seems like if I follow people who have similar interests, backgrounds or professions to my own, they’ll more than likely follow me back. It takes a while to get the ball rolling, and as you can tell by my Twitter statistics, I’m no power Tweeter yet, but Twitter is unique in that it allows you to build an small audience with little effort. Building a large audience, though, takes some real effort.

140 Characters is more than enough: Almost without exception, every message I’ve felt the urge to tweet fit neatly into 140 characters. Retweeting or responding to the tweets of others in this format can be a challenge, but who doesn’t love a good challenge. There’s definitely an art to shortening the original message (without changing its meaning) and retorting with a pithy, clever reply.

Non-sequiturs are (unfortunately) part of the deal: I make a special effort to make sure that every message I tweet can stand on it’s own, and doesn’t require outside information to make sense. Maybe that makes me an outlier.

I get frustrated with folks who just assume that all of their followers are watching/experiencing/discussing what they’re talking about when they tweet things like, “That was an amazing catch by so-and-so.”

Unfortunately, that tweet makes no sense if I’m not watching the game. Far too many sports reporters suffer from this problem. It makes a little more sense coming from official team feeds (since they can presume followers know exactly what they’re tweeting about), but even then, if I didn’t see the catch, I’m at a loss, and even if I did see it, what value are you actually adding? Why was it amazing? Did he keep both feet inbounds? Was the ball tipped? Did he pull it in with one hand? Was he smothered by a defender and made the grab anyway? Give me more details.

Similarly, when folks string a series of five or six “related” tweets together over the course of several minutes, they can’t always expect that said missives will display in readers’ timelines consecutively without interruption or separation. Too many tweets just feel like non-sequiturs.

Unfortunately, like any nascent technology, it will take a long time for the masses to understand it’s power and effective usage. Obviously, even the self-appointed experts are still learning, too.

Over-sharing is finally on the decline: The good news is, I think people are figuring out that maybe, just maybe, 148 people don’t care what they had for lunch. And I still don’t think they’ll ever care that you’re the mayor of Shake Shack either.

Just so we’re clear, (again) I don’t have any actual data to back this up. Perhaps someone else does? Either way, I’ve noticed a general lack of trite tweets in my timeline of late.

Twitter is a gateway drug for blogging: If you made it this far into my post, I guess that’s a good thing, right? Either way, micro-blogging seems to have spawned a rebirth of long-form blogging. Since it’s so easy for anyone to tweet, those who will really separate themselves in the field of digital marketing and social media will likely be those who can back up their microblogging sizzle with some juicy long-form steak.

I forget all about Twitter when I’m having fun: Despite all the time I spend thinking about Twitter, digital marketing and social media professionally, otherwise, I try to ignore it. (Spoiler alert: It’s getting harder to ignore.)

It’s not that I don’t see the value in Twitter, or enjoy the interaction, insights or information it provides, it’s just that I don’t feel the need to check it when I’m otherwise engaged or having fun. I would presume that’s true for most people.

That said, when a relevant thought comes to mind, my first instinct is usually to tweet it.

Twitter can waste a lot of your time: Speaking of boredom, when I am struck with it, I find myself digging through an endless stream of tweets from people I’ve never met, and this somehow captures my interest for 10-15 minutes at a time.

Couldn’t I be reading a book, writing a book, talking to someone, face-to-face (remember that?) working out, or contemplating the universe?

If you must waste time online, Twitter is infinitely superior to Facebook: At least I learn things on Twitter. In fact, I learn new things daily about technology, marketing and branding on Twitter.

What have I learned on Facebook? Typically, that my fictional friend Mary “really loves her husband” (something I already presumed), that my fictional friend Joey is “struggling with an epic hangover” (something he does every weekend) and that my fictional friend Lucy is “snowed in and loving it”.

That’s not new insight, analysis or criticism, but it’s certainly been reinforced over the last year as Twitter’s relevance has grown. I read a quote this year that said something to the effect of, “Twitter makes me like people I don’t know more, and Facebook makes me like people I do know less.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Ten Predictions for Social Media and Digital Marketing in 2011

Here are my 10 predictions for social media and digital marketing in 2011.

Location-based social networks lose steam: The darlings of 2010, location-based social platforms like Foursquare and Gowalla have gotten plenty of hype (not to mention VC funding) but have they really gained any traction? Foursqure reportedly just passed 5 million registrations, but when I see my digital acquaintances check in at venues with 3 others, I’m underwheled and more importantly, unmoved. And when Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley even admits to check-in fatigue on his own Big Idea, that should be the first sign of a problem, right?

I mean, is Biz Stone sick of Tweeting? Does Mark Zuckerberg take breaks from Facebooking? Who knows? What I do know is that I tried Foursquare for about a week and quickly lost interest. And I’m supposed to be hip to all of this stuff. If a digital dork like me doesn’t care, why would Joe Schmo?

At the end of the day, checking-in is a forced behavior, and it’s not really a communications platform, the basis for the success of Facebook and Twitter. Add in the inherent privacy concerns of declaring your whereabouts, and the near-requirement of owning a smartphone, and there’s a lot of forces conspiring against widespread adoption.

Analytics (and analysts) will rule: As the demand for ROI increases, social media consultants and self-proclaimed “experts” will be under more and more pressure to prove their worth. Along those lines, Facebook, Twitter and the like will be under even greater pressure to provide deeper metrics to help marketers understand who they’re communicating with, how often they should be doing it, and what messages are most effective.

Facebook currently provides a pretty limited set of stats, and Twitter is slowly rolling out their own suite, but the analytics currently available are woefully underwhelming. Here’s hoping for change in 2011.

Bring on the Backlash: Social media got so much hype in 2010, there’s bound to be a backlash (if there hasn’t been one already) in 2011. As marketers don’t see instant ROI, some will question why they’re spending so much time and energy on it, and some may pull the plug, question its value, or at least de-emphasize its role in their strategies.

Meanwhile, end users continue to wise up to privacy concerns, and while the conscientious objector is few and far between, more users are realizing the risks of unfettered access to their social media profiles.

Facebook Charges Brands: Facebook dabbled in this area before by asking marketers to buy $10,000 of ad spend to run promotions on Facebook. God only knows how they policed or enforced this short-lived policy, and as 2010 drew to a close, they quietly dumped the $10,000 requirement altogether.

But as Facebook has evolved into the preeminent marketing tool in the known universe, it stands to reason that the company will continue to seek alternative streams of compensation from marketers. Given their penchant for changing the rules on a moment’s notice, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if such a change came along this year, and came with little or almost zero warning.

That said…: With 550 million+ users, Facebook has become more than a website. It’s a communications platform. And at some point, does the FCC get involved with how Facebook does business? Are they involved already? What impact will Net Neutrality legislation have on the future of Facebook, YouTube, Netflix and other digital services moving forward?

It’s something to keep an eye on.

One Billion Users: With somewhere around 550 million users today, it’s not inconceivable, given its current growth rate, that Facebook could hit 1 billion users before the end of 2011. Are there enough people left to feed such a rate of growth? Why not? The 35-54 year old demographic is Facebook’s fastest growing group.

Think about it this way: Is your Mom on Facebook yet? She will be…

Another bubble bursts: Every day, another start-up vendor cold calls my desk with the latest and greatest third party solution that’s supposed to help my company grow its presence on social media and drive revenue from our followers. Few have compelling stories to tell; fewer strike any confidence in me. There’s plenty of companies that are burning through VC but have little to show for it. And parent companies are said to be looking to unload underperforming social media assets.

Unfortunately, it feels all too familiar…remember the dot.com boom and bust days?

Website Traffic Drops: With more digital platforms that aren’t websites, and everything happening on mobile devices, major web destinations will see their traffic decline as people communicate via apps and spend less time “surfing” the web.

Think about it: Has your web usage declined as your social media engagement increased? Who needs ESPN.com when the headlines and scores are already a tweet away on your iPhone?

APIs Lead To AI (Or, Facebook as Skynet): It’s already been claimed and widely speculated that Facebook has algorithms that can predict, among other things, when you’re about to break up with your significant other. And it may even know things about active users that they’ve yet to discover about themselves.

Extrapolate that a bit, and I would think it stands to reason that Facebook may very well become a basis for artificial intelligence as one investor already predicted. That is, if it hasn’t become sentient already…

“The year is 2029. The machines will convince us that they are conscious, that they have their own agenda worthy of our respect. They’ll embody human qualities, they’ll claim to be human, and we’ll believe them.”

– Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines

Scared yet?

Obvious Predictions Fall Short; Unseen Developments Arise: It’s perhaps the most obvious of my relatively obvious predictions, but it’s still worth consideration. While some of these predictions are likely to come to fruition (if they haven’t already behind the scenes), the future of social media most certainly holds developments that few — if any — could predict.

What are your predictions?

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Talking to students about social media and digital marketing

Just this week, I spoke to a marketing class from a local university about my job with the Celtics and how we attack social media. The class was comprised mostly of seniors who are about to enter the job market, so where I could, I tried to give them advice about resumes, cleaning up their Facebook profiles and privacy settings (“Maybe you should lock down those pictures of you double-fisting Four Loko last weekend…” seemed to resonate) and what types of skills employers will be looking for this summer. I’ve done this several times over the last few years for a few different schools, and each time I not only find it rewarding, but I also tend learn something at the same time.

Midway through my chat, I asked them a few questions to get them talking and make it a little more interactive. “How often do you check Facebook?” (Their answer: 5-10 times a day.) “What platform do you check it from?” (It was split 50/50 between smartphone/desktop.) “How many Facebook friends do you have?” (Anywhere from 70 to 1,000+) “How many of you guys have clicked on a link on Facebook and bought Celtics tickets?” (None.) How many would buy tickets, merchandise or anything else directly off of Facebook if you could?” (None. They said they don’t trust commerce on Facebook yet. Sounds like most people on the Internet 7-8 years ago…). “How many times a day do you want to hear from the Celtics?” (Three-four times seemed appropriate to them).

Given that my chat with them was part of a class assignment, the students had to come prepared with questions, and thankfully, they’d at least done some of their homework. While it didn’t appear that any of them had Googled me — or maybe none were bold enough to admit to it in this setting — they’d at least put some thought into what it is I might actually do for the team. They asked some interesting questions about what we’re trying to accomplish on Facebook, what we think about our players who Tweet, and how much time we spend using these mediums to communicate with fans.

One of the most interesting things I gleaned from our conversation was that very few of them actually thought they could make a career of social media. And while I stressed to them that the candidates who’d be most appealing would be those with backgrounds in web technology and analytics, it was surprising that they were surprised that companies were hiring in the social media space.

One of the points I try to make to students is that my job has changed dramatically in the last six seasons since I started with the Celtics in a webmaster role, and I expect it continue to evolve as the digital and social media landscape shifts. So while social media may be the hot topic today, their jobs may entail technologies and platforms that haven’t been dreamed up. That’s why I spend so much time tweeting and reading and blogging about the industry, because it keeps me in the know, even if there’s literally something new to learn everyday.

As for them? It’s up to them to stay ahead of the curve. If they’re serious about a career in social media or digital marketing, the learning will have to continue well after they’ve left school.