Got a pregnant friend? There could be an app for that.

If you have never been more than 39 weeks pregnant, you may be under the impression that the human gestation period lasts 40 weeks. Hah!  40 weeks, it turns out, is kind of a rough overage. Some babies need to cook for a bit longer. Some babies need to cook a bit less.

But when you have been pregnant for 40 weeks plus 1 day, you discover that nobody pays much attention to the idea that your mileage may vary. The phone begins to ring: Have you got a baby yet? Is everything ok? Don’t you need to run out and get a C-section?

At least, that was my experience with Little Sweetie, who finally materialized 17 days after her supposed due date, without any of the telltale signs of a post-term baby. She just needed a little extra time in the oven, and it was only with some fairly intensive medical intervention (Pitocin, anyone?) that she was persuaded to join us out here in the land of the post-natal.

I remember a very tense two weeks before her birth, during which I finally set our outgoing voicemail to say “No baby yet, and we’re not picking up messages, so you’ll hear when you hear.” These days, expectant parents have a  more efficient option: the Facebook or Twitter update that proclaims, with clarity, that baby has not yet arrived.

But why should the expectant parents be tasked with the job of letting us know the latest about their (non)event? As I’ve waited for news from a couple of dear friends who are expecting their first, I have found myself using their Facebook and Twitter feeds as rough indicators of whether baby might be imminent. If there’s been a tweet within the past few hours, I assume they are not yet in labour. Yes, they are geeky enough that they usually update some social network every hour or two. No, they aren’t so geeky that I would expect them to tweet during the labour itself.

For once, despite what Steve Jobs promised, there is no app for that. Oh sure, there are tons of apps for the pregnant or soon-to-be-parents themselves. But what of the rest of us, the eager fans, friends and family?

Sensing a niche to be filled, and recognizing that nothing says I love you (and your future baby) like the gift of wireframes, here is the app I wish I had right now: hatchr.

Hatchr asks you to choose which expectant friends to watch

 

Hatchr analyses user profileAdmittedly, this part feels a little intrusive, but hey, there is nothing polite about relentlessly scouring your friends’ social media profiles to figure out if they’re in labour — and it’s more or less the same info you get by looking up a user handle on TweetStats.Status shows "not hatching" based on subject's usual tweeting pattern
And because wireframes aren’t much of a gift if they don’t come with a business model:

Hatching message offers a suggested baby present

To my expectant friends: enjoy these days of anticipation! And to the rest of you: every time you feel the urge to check on an expectant friend, try cooking and freezing a meal for them instead. They’ll appreciate it much more, and soon enough.

4 easy steps to creating a Twitter list from your conference backchannel

You know you’re at a conference with a great backchannel when you want to stay in touch with all the folks who’ve been tweeting away under the designated hashtags. That’s how I felt about the Association of Internet Researchers (AOIR) conference last week: from the moment that I saw the conference hashtag (#ir12) bust out with initial tweets about how to troubleshoot the hotel wifi, I couldn’t wait to get down to Seattle and join them.

Now that the conference is over I wanted to stay in touch with all the great folks I met. I could individually follow each person who tweeted at the conference, but that is a lot of work, and then everybody else has to do the same thing. So I figured: if you really want to nourish post-conference community, the best way to do that is by creating a Twitter list that everyone else can follow, too.

And today I discovered a great, free Twitter tool that lets you do just that: TweetBe.at. TweetBeat has all kinds of handy tools for managing Twitter lists, including just what I needed: the ability to search for everyone who’d used a given hashtag, and add them all to my new Twitter list in one go. Here’s how I did it.

1. Create your list

Set up the list you want using Twitter’s web-based interface. Make sure the list is public, and consider giving it a clarifying description (e.g. “This list is made from everyone who tweeted at AOIR 2011. Tweet me if you were at the conference and would like to be added.”)

Twitter "create list" link appears under "lists" on Twitter web interface

 

2. Login to TweetBe.at

You’ll need to authenticate with your Twitter account, but it’s self-explanatory.

 

3. Search for conference Tweeters

Use TweetBe.at to search the conference hashtag. You’ll get a list of everyone who has used the hashtag recently. Note that TweetBea.at loads fewer than 100, initially, so you have to click “older” off to the right if you are searching on a heavily-used hashtag that has been used by hundreds of people.

 

4. Add the found users to your list

Once you have the list of everyone you’ve found, you need to click “all” (see image below) to select them all. You’ll see checkboxes get checked. Then you just use the “add or remove from lists” dropdown menu to add all the checked names to the list you created on Twitter.

Add people to list from Tweetbeat by selecting "all" then choosing list

And that’s it! You’re done. You now have a great list of all the amazing people you met at AOIR 2011.

You can imagine lots of other great uses for this tool:

  • The fans list: Quickly create a Twitter list for everyone who has ever tweeted @You or @YourOrganization
  • The bigwigs list: Create a Twitter list of everyone who follows you and has more than 10,000 followers
  • The research list: Create a list that automatically adds anyone who tweets a keyword of interest (yes, TweetBeat can automatically add people to your lists on an ongoing basis).

Are you thinking of using TweetBeat to build a list of your backchannel participants? Are you already using TweetBeat in ways I haven’t yet imagined? Do let me know in comments below, or on Twitter.

How to add yourself to your own Twitter list using HootSuite

Today I noticed an irony on the SIM Centre website: our Twitter sidebar widget, which does a lovely job of displaying tweets from all those who are connected to the SIM Centre, wasn’t showing tweets from the SIM Centre itself. I realized that was because our sidebar was fed by a Twitter list called @Simcentre/sim-people, which didn’t include @SimCentre. Easy enough to fix — right?

Arrow points to icon on Twitter profile that lets you add someone to list

When viewing someone else's Twitter profile you can click an icon to get the "add to list" option.

Actually, it’s not so obvious how you go about adding yourself to your own Twitter list, even though there are lots of reasons to do so. (If you’re creating a list of influencers in your field, for instance, don’t you want to include yourself?) If you look at your own profile page, you won’t be able to access the drop-down menu that gives the “add to list” option when you’re looking at someone else’s profile. And the alternatives that Google turned up were either too hardcore (do I really need to learn Ruby in order to solve this problem?) or too dated (this methodology relies on switching to “old Twitter”, which is no longer an option).

Happily, I came up with a quick and easy workaround myself. Using HootSuite, it’s easy to add yourself to your own Twitter list. All you have to do is open your own profile within HootSuite (just click on your username in a tweet that mentions you, as per #1 in the screenshot below), click “add to list” (#2) and then select the list you want to include yourself on (#3).

User profile pop-up in HootSuite shows "Add to list" button that launches window with list selector

If you aren’t already using a Twitter client, this is yet another reason to start (here’s how). And if you aren’t yet using Twitter lists — well, that is going to rock your world too.

The pajama test: An open letter to my Facebook “friends”

A year ago today, this blog post was the turning point in my relationship with Facebook. In my life affair for Twitter I’d pretty much lost sight of how Facebook could possibly be relevant to me. Then I made the decision that Facebook would be my personal space — the space where I connected with true friends, instead of just focusing on building connections — and settled back into a groove that has made Facebook part of my near-daily life again. I’m not on it constantly the way I am with Twitter, but it’s where I go to share news about my kids, post something that is too quirky and unprofessional to tweet, or to see the latest from my pals.

Recently my approach has gone through yet another metamorphosis after a conversation I had with Rochelle Grayson. Like me, Rochelle posts on Facebook as if it were her personal space, but unlike me she doesn’t limit her friends to only people she knows really well. She’s just made the decision that if someone is going to be her Facebook friend, they’re going to see the personal as well as professional Rochelle, and if that’s not of interest they should ignore her updates.

I like this philosophy because I think it puts the onus on the reader rather than the poster to decide how much information is TMI. The challenge is to post as authentically in that broader space as you would if you were posting to your 4 closest friends. But thanks to multiple friends lists you can choose the circle with whom you want to share any given update or image.

In fact, I think it’s time for me to create a new friend list. I’m going to call it “Pajama Test”.

Dear Facebook “friend”,

You may have noticed that you’re hearing from me less, and when you do, it’s mostly about my husband or my shoes or how I feel when someone eats the last brownie. Maybe you’re happy that your news feed isn’t full of my Twitter updates anymore (I got rid of my Twitter-to-Facebook hookup) or maybe you’re unhappy that I never write on your wall. Maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t accept your friend request, or maybe you’re wondering why you’re not in my friend list when you used to be.

Here’s the truth: we’re not actually friends. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you, or think you’re smart, or want to work with you. I’ve turned down friend requests from some of my favourite colleagues, and from people I respect a lot. In fact I would love to hear from you on Twitter (I’m @awsamuel), and if you’re missing all those great social media links and tidbits, you’ll still find them on my Twitter feed.

But Facebook isn’t Twitter. And for most of the past two years — the time in which I’ve been really active on Twitter — that’s felt like a bad thing. Twitter is more open, more flexible, and more useful as a source of professional learning and conversation. I can tweet something and store it to delicious at the same time, I can use Skitch to capture a screenshot and share it instantly on Twitter; I can even use Twitter to log my hours in Harvest, our time tracking system.

In fact, I use Twitter so much that it now feels like the most awesome, raging party you’ve ever been to: a packed room full of fascinating colleagues and friends where conversation is flying along a mile a minute. I love parties like that, and I’m not above saying they can also be very useful professionally: I’ve begun more than one great collaboration over a few beers.

And yet a giant rager is not my favorite place to spend time with friends. At the end of the day (or night) I want to go somewhere quiet and unwind, take off my party shoes and have a postgame chat with one of my closest pals. Hell, I want get into my jammies and settle in for a good long juicy talk.

I’m now focusing my Facebook time on the friends who pass the pajama test: is this someone I know well enough to chat with once I’m in my jammies? These are the people who actually do care about what I’m eating for breakfast (something I hate reading about on Twitter); these are the people I love so much that yes, I do want to hear about the funny thing their cat just did.

This is the point where you pop over to my Facebook page and wonder how the hell I could feel comfortable enough to wear my PJs in front of 718 people (my current number of friends). The truth is, I don’t. And that’s exactly why I’ve changed the way I use Facebook by:

  1. Creating a WTF list on Facebook for the people who friend me, but who I can’t place…but know I know somehow
  2. Ignoring friend requests from anyone who is totally new and unfamiliar, especially after I discovered that my habit of accepting random friend requests was filling my news feed with updates from some pretty undesirable “friends”
  3. Getting disciplined about clicking “hide” whenever I see news in my feed from someone I don’t really really really care about, and hiding that person from my news feed
  4. Refusing all group invitations on Facebook
  5. Killing the Twitter-to-Facebook import that used to cross-post all my status updates
  6. Setting my Facebook privacy settings so my posts are only visible to people on my Friends list, and not to my networks or friends-of-friends
  7. Setting up a “Kid Sharing Friends” list on Facebook for the even smaller number of people who I feel comfortable sharing kid photos with, and limiting the visibility of my Facebook photos to that list
  8. Gradually paring back my Facebook list to the people who pass my pajama test.

All of these practices make me a lot less visible on Facebook. And I’ll admit, that’s a little scary for a social media junkie like me: it feels like so much of social media is about waving your arms as wildly as possible and shouting “look at me! look at me!!”

But I’ve decided that Facebook is the one part of the social media empire where I’m going to stop waving. Because as much as Facebook’s “walled garden” approach (which makes Facebook relatively invisible outside the garden walls) is what drove me towards focusing on Twitter, the walled garden has its charms, too.

There are times when it’s nice to settle into a shady corner and talk about stuff that has nothing to do with work (bearing in mind that someone can still peek over the walls and tell the world exactly what you’re saying).  There are times when I want to pay attention to the people I know from school, instead of the people I know from work. There are times when it’s I just want to catch up with my BFF — even if there are lots of other people, like you, who I also really enjoy!

And yes, there are times when I just want to put on my PJs.

Originally published June 9, 2010.

10 ways academics can use Twitter

M.H. Beals has a terrific overview of Social Media for Researchers and Academics, based on a one-way workshop held at the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services in Edinburgh. Her post provides a great roadmap of the different ways academics can use social media, ranging from delicious to Wikipedia, along with pointers to resources that can help them get started.

Her post includes a delightful list of ideas for how academics can use Twitter:

  1. asking for reading suggestions or reviews “Any recent articles on….”
  2. advertising a speaking engagement “In London? Come hear my paper on…..”
  3. searching for specialists “Looking for assistance with….”
  4. finding a peer reviewers “Almost ready to submit. Anyone fancy a read of…”
  5. locating the right room at a conference “#AHA2011 Where is Foner’s panel being held?”
  6. advertising an event, call for papers, or publication
  7. facilitating an online discussion group in large lectures

…but let me add three more to bring us to a round 10:

8. organizing a backchannel conversation during a paper or panel presentation at an academic conference by using a hashtag for that session

9. finding colleagues who tweet about a certain topic by using Listorious or a Twitter keyword search (rather than posting a general request for help)

10. identifying potential research subjects by noticing who tweets about a specific topic (for example, finding people with diabetes, single moms, finance managers, etc.)

For more great ideas about how to use social media as a research tool, read the full post.

The Lonely Princess: A Social Media Fairy Tale

Once upon a time* there lived a princess who had everything a princess could want. She had an air conditioned castle furnished with tasteful furniture from Design Out Of Reach, and a solar-powered car that could run at up to 100 MPH, and a large-screen TV that received over a hundred channels. More importantly, she could do anything a princess might want to do: she was an excellent surfer, a renowned aerialist, a prolific painter and a skilled welder.

Despite all these possessions and talents, however, the princess was unhappy. She had no shortage of ladies-in-waiting, royal cousins, minions and exotic pets. And yet the princess was terribly, terribly lonely.

When she drove her solar-powered car sharply around a bend in the local mountain road, she wanted to share her triumph with someone who understood the difficulty of maintaining control at high speeds. When she finished watching the latest episode of Real Princesses of Forest County, she wanted to compare notes with someone else who cared about Forest County’s shocking disregard for landscaping standards. When she managed to weld an exceptionally complex set of spires onto her balcony, she wanted to show it off to someone who appreciated the quality of her craftsmanship.

The king and queen could see that their daughter was unhappy, so they did what any normal set of royal parents do when faced with a lonely princess: they looked for a lonely prince. After all, the princess wasn’t getting any younger, and while all that surfing and trapeze work certainly helped her keep a lovely figure, the welding ensured that her once-delicate hands now showed their age. Find her a prince now, they figured, while she’s still got her looks, and that will provide her with all the companionship she could want.

The royal parents didn’t know a lot about prince-finding, but luckily the princess had a fairy godmother who was quite worldly and kept up with things. This fairy godmother gave the king and queen all the latest advice on how to look for a prince, and helped them formulated their proclamation:

Every prince needs his princess!
Carriage rides are meant for two. Find your happily ever after with a princess who has it all: looks, talent and a fast, environmentally sensitive car. If you’re sensitive, clever, well-mannered, considerate, passionate, charming, as kind as you’re handsome, and heir to a throne then this could be the princess for you. Send an intro and recent portrait to @lonelyprincess15.

The castle was soon deluged by the emissaries of distant princes who were hoping for an introduction, and nearby princes who’d ridden over to see this princess for themselves. The princess consented to spend an afternoon with a prince who shared her passion for circus arts, but was disappointed to discover he enjoyed clowning rather than trapeze. She agreed to let another prince watch the big game on her large-screen TV, but found that high def merely intensified the boredom of watching cricket. She had some hope for a prince who professed his passion for both welding and surfing, but found herself questioning his intellect when he turned up with a handmade iron surfboard.

All these princes left the princess lonelier than ever. To meet so many potential mates who shared one or two of her interests, and then to realize that she would never find someone who shared all of them: well, the princess couldn’t bring herself to choose. She withdrew into her hobbies, and told her parents that if she couldn’t share all of her passions, she’d rather rely on her inner resources and come to terms with a lifetime of isolation.

The king and queen had heard of princesses who took that kind of self-reliant attitude, and they knew it could lead to poetry writing or even Buddhism. Why, there hadn’t been a Buddhist in their family in fourteen generations! They weren’t going to let it happen on their watch.

Just when the entire court was near despair, the tower watch reported that two royal parties had been spotted in the distant hills. But this time, the suitors were not mere princes: they were full-fledged kings!

When the two kings arrived at the castle, the king and queen hastened to look them over. One king was dark and handsome; his crest featured a blue bird. The other king was fair and shy; his crest showed a simple silhouette of a man’s face.

The Bird King kept his introduction brief. “I am the king of a new kingdom. I promise the princess a lifetime of conversation.”

The Face King cleared his throat, and launched into a monologue. “My kingdom is already established. I am simply new to these lands. I promise the princess a lifetime of friendship. Also private messaging,
photos, groups, blogging and a wall where her friends can leave her public messages.”

The king and queen were impressed by the eloquent simplicity of the Bird King, and awed by the riches promised by the Face King. Surely both kings were at least worthy of an introduction to the princess herself! The princess was brought into the throne room, where she posed her own questions to the would-be matches.

“Can you keep up with me on a mountain drive?” she asked.

“Just say the word NASCAR and you’ll have trouble keeping up with ME,” the Bird King said.

“Spend your life in my kingdom, and a world of drivers can become your friends,” countered the Face King.

“And will you be able to appreciate my accomplishments as a surfer, aerialist and welder?” the princess next demanded.

“When you give word of your latest feat, it will echo across the land,” promised the Bird King.

“The news of each and every achievement will be shared not only with me but all of your friends, so that they may tell you how they like it,” said the Face King.

“And will you even keep me company when I watch the Real Princesses of Forest County?” the princess asked.

The Bird King smiled. “In my kingdom, you will hear from the Real Princesses themselves.”

The Face King matched him. “With me, you will be able to discuss every aspect of the Real Princesses in excruciating detail, and know that you will always find a response that is just as passionate.”

For the first time in many moons, the princess felt the faintest glimmer of hope that her loneliness might yet be cured. But her fairy godmother knew that such a cure did not come easily; it fell to her to pose the questions that the princess and her parents had not thought to ask.

“Why is there no princess who yet graces your kingdom?” she asked the two nobles.

“Our kingdom is still in beta,” said the Bird King.

“It’s complicated,” said the Face King.

“Are your subjects wise or foolish?” the godmother asked.

“As in your land, we have both,” the Bird King replied. “The princess may choose who she will heed.”

“We too have all manner of subject,” said the Face King. “The princess may find groups as wise and talented as she is. She may even choose to become friends with only those she holds in highest esteem. Of course, that’s not how most people do it.”

“And I must ask: are either of you currently under any curses, cease and desist orders, or other functional limitations?”

Both Kings paled.

“Those in our land must speak briefly,” answered the Bird King. “When the princess shares her joys or sorrows, her words will vanish near as quick as they are uttered.”

“The princess will be free to speak her mind, to wander the kingdom, to befriend those who amuse her: in short, to enjoy all the liberties she has here,” the Face King said.  “But she must know that everything she does will be reported to me, and that her stories will become my stories for all eternity.”

The king and queen sighed. How could they ask the princess to accept either king, knowing that each suffered from so dire a curse? Surely, the princess was destined to remain lonely forever. Her parents steeled themselves for an onslaught of tears, moping and Alannis Morisette.

But to their amazement, the princess wore a shining smile.

“Dear kings, I am honored and humbled by the riches you promise,” she said, holding out her hands to the two men. They each clasped one of her rough hands in theirs. “But I can not become your queen.”

“Bird King, the eloquence of your people and the abundance of your conversation warms my heart. I would know the pleasure of sharing each of life’s joys with those who share that passion!”

“Face King, I can only imagine the love and kindness of a kingdom in which each subject has so many friends. I would know the joy of friendship myself, and feel my friends beside me at every moment!”

The princess paused, and gently withdrew her hands from the kings’ grasp.

“But I can not give my whole life to either of your kingdoms. To speak in so few words, when my heart is bursting with volumes…Bird King, that is no fate for me. And Face King, my stories can not be your stories; some must be guarded for me alone, or shared with all the world instead.”

The two kings now looked as forlorn and worried as the king and queen.

“If I can not be your queen,” the princess continued, “I would yet be your subject. Bird King, permit me to live in your kingdom by day: to share my news with the world, and to find in your kingdom a voice and companion for every one of my own passions. Face King, permit me to live in your kingdom by night: to review my day with those few friends I choose from among your good subjects, and with whom I shall share only the stories I would permit you to keep.”

Most kings balk when a potential queen rejects them. But both of these kings were busy building their kingdoms, and disinclined to turn away any potential subject, especially one as influential as a princess. They gave their assent, and each provided the princess with a lengthy contractual agreement that she asked her fairy godmother to read for her. (Unbeknownst to the princess, her fairy godmother nodded off while reading, so the royal family never did know exactly what they agreed to.) With the documents signed, the princess embarked on her new life, and promised her parents that she would make regular visits to her home kingdom.

As she had hoped, the princess was no longer lonely. In the land of the Bird King she had conversations about welding with her fellow ironworkers, compared watercolor techniques with her fellow painters, and was regularly mentioned by one of the Real Princesses of Forest County. In the land of the Face King her wall was constantly festooned with well wishes, and as the King himself had predicted, she acquired a large circle of friends, not all of whom she actually knew. In fact she had so many conversations and so many friends that she ceased to be known as the Lonely Princess, and was universally recognized by her new title: the Social Princess.

The princess never broke a promise, so she continued to visit her parents in the kingdom of her birth even as she spent more and more time in the kingdoms of the Face King and the Bird King. Her parents thought the arrangement slightly peculiar, and like many parents wished the princess would spend more time with them, but on the whole they were relieved that the princess was happy and hadn’t turned out to be a poet or a Buddhist.

But the princess herself sometimes wondered what it would have been like to meditate.

*Circa 2006.

Twitter makes jet lag even more painful

It was 3 in the afternoon, but it could have been 3 in the morning to judge from the exhausted faces of a roomful of entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs constitute the up-and-coming generation of businesses in Cluj, Romania, and I had just spent the day talking them through their best approach to social media as part of a full-year entrepreneurship program, the School for Startups.

Since we only had 6 hours together I’d raced through the basics of web 1.0 vs web 2.0, social media marketing, online customer relations, social media crisis management, case studies in business social media, a methodology for developing their own social media approach, plus the essentials of their social media toolkit: RSS, Google Reader, iGoogle, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, HootSuite, Delicious, Evernote, LinkedIn, Basecamp, Mashable, Google blogsearch, Google news, and advanced search operators. 

It might have been just a tiny bit too much for 6 hours. Or at least, that’s what their exhausted faces seemed to suggest. “I feel overwhelmed,” someone in the room volunteered. “I feel overwhelmed, too,” said S4S creator Doug Richard — which is a bit like a freight train complaining about a collision with a unicycle. 
 
Yes! Once again I’d delivered on my personal brand promise: I will overwhelm you with social media.

But I did have a way to make it a little easier to bear: FOMO. I explained that when you’re working with social media, overwhelmed is your natural and perpetual state of being. That’s because social media ensures you will be constantly exposed to everything everyone eslse is doing, tweeting, and beta testing. There will always be a conference you’re not attending, a party you weren’t invited to, and a software tool you have yet to try. You will always feel overwhelmed. You will always suffer from FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.

Even as I was telling this room that they’d have to get used to living with FOMO — I certainly do — I had a fresh attack myself. I’m no stranger to European travel, but this was only my second trip in the 8 years since our daughter was born, and that first trip (to Paris last summer) was a family vacation, when I stayed offline (ok, offline by my definition — you know, only using my computer, iPad and iPhone to find restaurant suggestions on Yelp, organize travel tips in Evernote, check travel logistics in TripIt, share family photos on Facebook, check in on FourSquare, handle emergency e-mail and post the very occasional tweet).

So this was my first experience working overseas in the social media era. More precisely, in the Twitter era. While in Romania, I’ve had HootSuite open on my computer just as much as I would at home: in other words, 24/7.

And I suppose the HootSuite interface functions the same over here as it does at home. I’ve got my tabs, my columns, my stream of tweets. The structure is familiar, but the experience is completely different.

That’s because a 9-hour time difference — the difference between Vancouver and Romania — is enough to sever me from real-time communication with my tweeps. My tweeting hours over here (let’s call it 9 am to 9 pm, roughly) fall mostly during sleeping hours for my west coast tweeps. And while I usually feel like I’m racing to catch up with a tidal wave of east coast American and central Canadian tweets by the time I wake up in Vancouver, being 6 hours ahead of the US east coast has made me realize how slow they are to wake up and tweet in the morning. Getting up and actually having to wait for hours before Eric Andersen posts his first real-time tweet of the day is a new and discomfiting experience. 

Of course, it’s not like Twitter is empty at any time of the day. I follow enough people outside North America that I can count on a steady stream of updates around the clock. What’s different is who is tweeting, and how: my core tweeps may have updates that pop up at noon in Cluj, but if those tweets weren’t pre-scheduled, I should send them all some free samples of Ambien.

It’s enough to make me think that Twitter is about something more than tracking the real-time news cycle and ensuring I read the latest hot social marketing diatribe. Those “this just in” and “must-read link” tweets are as plentiful and visible from GMT +2 as they are from GMT -7.  Separated from my personal TMT (Twitter Mean Time) I can satisfy my need for information; I just can’t satisfy my need for connection.

The fact that a weeklong time zone shift is enough to make me actively miss my tweeps is a testament to how quickly and effectively Twitter has become not just a useful information stream, but a vital community. For once, my Twitter-induced Fear of Missing Out isn’t based on hearing all the cool things my online pals are doing without me, but rather, stems from not hearing about what I’m missing. Call it FOMOOFOMO: Fear of Missing Out On Fear of Missing Out.

Jet lag has given me a fresh appreciation for my friends, conversations and life on Twitter. I’ve really missed my real-time conversational circle — the first-thing-in-the-morning tweets from Boyd Neil, the mid-day DM consultations with Lauren Bacon, the back-and-forth with Raul Pacheco that has been an invariable part of any night I spend in a Eastern Standard Time hotel room. Not to mention the dozen or so tweets and DMs that I exchange with Rob over the course of any day, covering everything from client projects to kid pick-ups to actual exchanges of affection.

Missing these interactions has a real emotional impact. Jet lag may make me queasy and tired, but only Twitter lag accounts for the twinge of loneliness I get from a HootSuite tab with no fresh DMs or replies.

Twitter lag has reminded me that my constant tweeting isn’t driven by FOMO alone. My Twitter conversations — far more than my Twitter-based news-gathering — weave the texture of my day, fortify me with affection and humor, and increasingly, ground me in a sense of relationship and relatedness.

Switching time zones pulls the emotional rug of Twitter out from under me. But it has its advantages, too. That 6-hour presentation, followed by a flight back to Bucharest, left me no time to write my March 24 blog post. I’ve become almost neurotically invested in my 5-day-a-week blogging practice, so it really bugs me when I miss a day.

Now I’m on a Bucharest-Frankfurt flight, looking forward to a 5-hour layover before I get on my plane to Vancouver.  When we get to Frankfurt, it will be 7:25 am on Friday March 25 — also known as 11:25 pm on March 24 in Vancouver. If I can get to wifi quick enough, I will JUST make my end-of-day deadline.

And when I do, I’ll tweet it out…hoping that on the other side of the world, my West Coast tweeps are still wide awake, ready to resume our conversation.

How to sustain a social media presence in 3 hours a week

When it rains on a weekend, I don’t bemoan my decision to live in the Pacific Northwest: I just know it’s time to queue up my blog posts and tweets for the week. That’s what I try to do in about two hours every weekend, and since folks often ask me how they can keep their social media presence alive in an efficient and sustainable way, I figure I’m long overdue to blog my system.

First, let me come clean. I don’t maintain my social media presence in just 3 hours a week; for me, it’s more like 40. But that is because social media is what I do, and I do a lot of it: I write for five different sites, contribute to seven different Twitter feeds, and aim to write at least 3 (typically 4 or 5) in-depth posts per week. All that social mediafying is the heart of my work, and more importantly, I love it. I would write that much even if it weren’t my work, so I’m just incredibly lucky that it is.

For most people, however, 40 hours a week would be overkill. And the same approach I use to maintain all my different social media activities can support a much more streamlined — but still very effective — presence. Three hours a week is enough to:

  1. Tweet original content 2-3x day, 5 days/week
  2. Publish 3 blog posts per week
  3. Reply to comments on your blog posts
  4. Reply, retweet and engage in conversation on Twitter

Let’s start with items #1 and #2 — which is what I spend about two hours tackling each weekend. If you’ve got your setup in place, that two hours is all you need to keep your social media presence alive and useful. By “useful”, I mean useful to the people you are trying to reach…which in turn makes it useful to you. The point isn’t to queue up a bunch of junk that keeps your blog and Twitter presence notionally alive: the point is to spend two hours teeing up some content that will provide real value to your target audience by speaking to the topic on which you are (or wish to be) an expert.

Here’s how:

    1. Open up Google Reader and look at the latest blog posts and news stories that are coming in through the custom searches you’ve set up and subscribed to. I’ve put my searches into a separate folder so it’s easy for me to see all latest results in one place:
IRL searches viewed in Feedly

Does my Google Reader look prettier than your Google reader? That's because I view my Google Reader feeds in Feedly.

Quickly scan through the teasers for all the stories that look interesting, Command-clicking (that’s ctrl-clicking for you Windows users) on anything that looks interesting so it opens in a new tab. I do that until I have ten or fifteen tabs open:

Many tabs open in Chrome

    1. Flip through the tabs and skim (or where warranted, read) each post or story in turn. It’s a sudden death system: as soon as I read something that makes me think that what I’m reading is too stale, too weird, too off-topic or too poorly written to share or respond to, I stop reading and close the tab.
    2. If you find something useful, queue it up as a tweet in HootSuite. If you’ve got the “hoot this” bookmarklet installed, it will likely pre-populate your tweet with the title of what you’re sharing:

Hootsuite bookmarklet prepopulated with story title

At this point your fastest option is to just hit the calendar icon and pick a date and time when you want your tweet to go out, but I like to customize at least half of my scheduled tweets so that they reflect my voice and are more intriguing:

Hootsuite bookmarklet with tweet rewritten as "Disable chat (please!!!) plus 4 more tips on how to use Facebook without letting it take over your life!"

  1. Continue flipping through your tabs, skimming and tweeting, but watch out for scrapers. A lot of content you find online will be scraped (i.e.republished or stolen) from other sites. I can’t give you a hard-and-fast rule for spotting scraped content, but you’ll get a feel for it. For example, this page on Youth Service America just didn’t look like it matched the voice of a blog post about online dating. I selected a string of text, dropped it into Google search, and sure enough, it turned up as a blog post that originally appeared on the Social Citizens blog. (It looks like YSA republishes the Social Citizens blog in a totally legit way, but I’d like to share the original post, not the reprint.)
  2. Look for the most thought-provoking stories and posts. When you hit something that’s especially interesting, insightful or simply annoying — something that makes you want to share your own perspective — then don’t tweet it. Instead, use it as the jumping-off point for a short blog post. Your post can share an excerpt or two from the source of your inspiration, but should do more than link to the post. You need to add your own perspective on it, or simply share the questions it raises for you. A blog post like this, which might be 2-4 paragraphs long, can take 5-15 minutes to write. That means you can queue up 3 blog posts in under an hour. (Don’t believe me? My next post in this series will offer proof.)
  3. Schedule your blog posts to go out on 3 different days of the week by setting the publication date and time in WordPress:
    Publish immediately with "edit" link you can click to schedule Date and time fields to edit publication time in WordPress
    Click “edit” next to “Publish immediately”…. …and you can choose when to post.

    That might be Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or perhaps Monday, Tuesday, Thursday; I often front-load my prewritten blog posts because I usually get inspired to write something here or there over the course of the week. I drop those longer, original posts into my schedule on the days I don’t have a post lined up, or I adjust my schedule to make room for them. I usually schedule my posts to go live between 9-10 am, when people in my time zone (Pacific) are at work and people on the east coast are ready for something to read over lunch.

  4. Queue up tweets about each of your blog posts on the day it’s scheduled to be published. Make sure you don’t link to the “preview post” URL you get while editing (where it says “post draft updated” when you save a draft) — that’s not the URL that will let people access your blog post once it’s published. Once you’ve got your post written and scheduled, WordPress will give you a new “preview post” link with the real URL for your post. You’ll know you’ve go the real URL if it doesn’t include the word “preview” in the address.

    Link to "preview post" next to "Post Scheduled"

    This links to the actual URL of your soon-to-be-published post.

  5. Review your “pending tweets” column in HootSuite (you may have to add it if it’s not already part of one of your HootSuite tabs) to see if your tweets are scheduled out evenly. You can click on any pending tweet to edit its text or scheduled time. Ideally you’ll have two or three tweets about other people’s content scheduled each day, and you will have the tweets about your own blog posts spaced out with tweets about other people’s content so that you’re never tweeting your own stuff twice in a row.

And that’s it! Well, almost. Remember items #3 and #4 at the top of this page — where I point out that you need to reply to your blog comments, Twitter mentions, and just generally participate in the Twitter conversation? That’s what your third social media hour is for.

I’m confident that you can queue up 3 blog posts and 10-15 tweets in just two hours each weekend. But that investment won’t do much for you unless you spend that additional hour — ideally as 10 or 15 minutes, 4-5 days a week — engaging with your community.

And yes, you will have a community. Because once you commit two hours a week to delivering real value to the audience you care about, you’re going to have people reading, tweeting and talking to you. So please, don’t forget to talk back.

5 steps to create your social media toolkit

Building a social media presence around a specific area of expertise is your best way to connect with a network and audience that cares about your work, and gets real value from your online contributions. To do that, you need to begin by defining your turf: the area of expertise in which you will offer content and expertise. Ideally, that’s a space that isn’t currently well-served by dozens of other bloggers and tweeters.

If you’re passionate about a topic that already generates a huge amount of online content, try finding a distinctive angle on that topic. Maybe you’re not going to write the definitive sewing blog, but you can write the definitive blog about sewing with vintage patterns and equipment. Maybe you’re not going to be the top Ruby on Rails tweeter, but you can be the top tweeter on Ruby on Rails for beginners. Your site might not be the web’s foremost destination for South American travel, but it could be the web’s foremost destination for choosing mobile apps for South American destinations.

Once you’ve got a hunch about how to define your turf, do some searches on Google News and Google Blogsearch to see how much is written in your space. Ideally you’ll find a topic for which there are lots of news stories, blog posts and tweets, but no one-stop shop. Your job will be to round up all the news in your turf from all these different sources, add your own distinctive spin, and present it in a single spot.

I recently walked a bunch of Emily Carr’s MAA students through the tools and steps I recommend for creating a simple social media presence that showcases your expertise, and for feeding that presence with a lightweight social media monitoring system that makes it easy to find content to blog or tweet about.

I won’t write about each step in great detail because every tool I recommend is widely documented. Use Google to find specific resources to help you get up and running with any tool that is unfamiliar (for example, by searching on wordpress.com “custom domain” “how to”).

Here’s an overview of the 5 steps:

  1. Get a blog. Set up a blog with a custom URL (i.e. http://yourfirstnameyourlastname.com or http://yourtopic.com). I recommend setting this up on WordPress.com because you can get up and running for almost free (you’ll pay $20/yr to register your custom URL through WordPress.com, which is a little more than you might pay to register your URL elsewhere but saves you the trouble of configuring your domain settings to point to your WordPress blog.) If your blog takes off or you want to customize and extend it in ways you can’t do on WordPress.com, it’s very easy to export your entire blog and move it to another hosting service where you can run your own WordPress blog.
  2. Start monitoring. Set up Google Reader as your social media monitoring dashboard. You’ll use this Google Reader account to subscribe to a wide range of sources in your field or area of (current or planned) expertise so that you always have something to write about. You can begin by subscribing to the RSS feeds of any blogs you read regularly; if you haven’t been reading a lot of blogs, find a handful to follow (seeing which blogs people tweet a lot is a good way to find some) and read the regularly for a few weeks so you can think about what kind of content to put on your own blog.
  3. Search for news. Set up searches to bring you blog posts and news in your field. I recommend creating advanced searches that really pinpoint the kind of content you want to read; it really helps to learn the ins and outs of Google’s advanced search operators. Err on the side of pulling in too much rather than too little. My post on RSS for nonprofits may help you think about what kinds of searches you should monitor. In general I recommend setting up searches on Google News, Google blog search, Twitter search and delicious. For example my Google reader account includes multiple searches on strings like “information overload” OR “inbox overload” or (“social media” AND overwhelmed)”.
  4. Follow smart tweeters. Follow people who tweet in your field and follow them. Listorious is a good way to find entire lists of people you want to follow, whether your field is B2B marketing or psychology or classical music. Follow even one list in your field and you’ll get the latest from a range of people instantly (but still have the ability to get rid of all of them just as quick). NB that if you really like the Twitter feeds of people you follow through a list, you may want to follow them individually so that you can exchange DMs. (My Twitter glossary is here if you need help decoding this step.)
  5. Track Twitter news. Sign up for CoTweet, HootSuite or another tool that lets you track and schedule tweets. (Disclosure: I’m working on a project with Invoke, HootSuite’s sister company). Use this client app to keep an eye on the news from the people and lists youa re following. If you’re new to Twitter, check the news on Twitter for 5-10 minutes at least twice a day for at least a couple of weeks, to get a feel for the conversation and for the kinds of tweets you might like to write yourself.

This set up will take a little bit of time to set up — figure on spending 1-2 hours on the set up for each of your three main tools (WordPress, Google Reader and HootSuite). But once you have this set up in place you’ll be able to maintain a very respectable social media presence in just 3 hours per week.

Really. My next post will tell you how.