6 ways to speed up your social media response times

Speed is essential to developing the right social media campaign, response or update. In my last post, I looked at how the right kind of market research program can support faster and more responsive social media management, inspired by The Quick and the Dead, a new ebook by my Vision Critical colleague Ray Poynter. Ray’s argument about the role of speed in business today, and the need for real-time market research, gave me a new perspective on the relationship between social media and community panels.

Social media managers need many tools in their speed-it-up arsenal, however. Here are 6 more ways you can speed up your social media response times:

  1. Pre-shorten your top pages and posts: You can tweet or share a beloved blog post or key web page much faster if you remember its URL. But nobody can remember http://yourcompany.com/really-long-name-of-web-page-truncated or even http://bit.ly/vFACLf. So pre-shorten the links to pages you share frequently, and give them memorable short links like http://bit.ly/customURLS. If you really want to nerd out you can even set up a vanity URL shortener like my own “alexlov.es”.
  2. Anticipate your best and worst case scenarios: You don’t want to be Mitt Romney with no concession speech. There’s a reason that newspapers pre-write obituaries, and Oscar nominees draft their acceptance speeches: it’s best to be prepared for every scenario. So stay in the loop on your company’s pending risks and wins (the gloomy quarter, or the award for which your CEO is already shortlisted) and make sure you’ve got at least the outline of the blog posts and tweets you’ll send out if and when the moment arises.
  3. iGoogle it: Even if you check Google Reader twice a day, you want to monitor your key feeds even more frequently. My favorite technique is to subscribe to my ego feeds (i.e. blog, news and Twitter searches on my name) from within iGoogle, and to set iGoogle as my browser’s default homepage. That way, every time I open a new browser window (which is about every three minutes, all day) I immediately see anything someone has written about me. Yes, it’s narcissistic, but the same technique can be applied to monitoring your organization or brand. And yes, iGoogle is going to go away in a year, so it would be smarter to use one of these alternatives, but I’m in denial.
  4. Master the tether: Nothing is going to slow you down in a social media crisis like your iPhone’s on screen keyboard. Make sure you are a master of the art of tethering: the trick of connecting your computer to your phone so you can use its 3G or LTE connection to hook up to the Internet, even if you’re in a location with no wifi. An iPad or other tablet is another good line of defense against disconnection, as long as you pay for 3G or LTE service and (ideally) carry a hard keyboard that lets you type at full speed.
  5. Keep an evergreen file: Make sure you always have at least 3 timeless blog posts and 10 tweets or social media updates ready to go. That way you’re well-armed if you suddenly need to blog or tweet out an awkward mea culpa — and want to push it off the top of your blog’s home page or Twitter feed as quickly as possible.
  6. Set up phone alerts: This one is a recipe for madness, so use it sparingly. If there is a journalist or blogger whose online comments about your brand must be addressed in real time, set up a Google news search that will email you anytime that journalist mentions you; then use this approach to push those emails directly to your phone as a text message. If you’re as religious as I am about checking your text messages, you’ll know about those key posts virtually as soon as they go live.

A great many social media tactics come down to doing social media faster — which often translates into better, since this is a medium where quick responses are widely expected. What are your favorite tricks for speeding up social media? Share them here, or tweet me as @awsamuel.

5 questions about your personal brand and your day job

My latest for the Wall Street Journal addresses the challenges that companies face in managing “co-branded” employees: employees who have built a significant reputation and following through social media. The story covers a range of issues managers need to consider, from the implications for promotion paths to the ownership of employee-created intellectual property.

But what if you’re the employee, rather than the manager? From all the advice online, you’d think that the only question around building your “personal brand” is how to grow it as big as possible, as fast as possible.

A significant online reputation is not all good news, however. For the employee, just as much as the employer, it can pose real challenges. If your social media efforts are expanding your professional reputation, here are the implications you need to consider in your day job:

  1. What’s bloggable? If you see blog or tweet fodder in every snippet of insight or intel that falls from your colleagues’ lips, you may inhibit the trust and openness that are necessary to effective working relations. Treat your workplace conversations as off-the-record, and if a colleague says something you’d love to share in some form, ask for their permission and their preference for anonymity or attribution.
  2. When are you posting? You may be a clever HootSuite or Buffer user, and use each evening to queue up the next day’s tweets and Facebook posts. But the odds are good that many of your colleagues and clients won’t know that posts can be set up in advance, so if you’re posting all through the workday, you may be perceived as someone who’s posting instead of working. (Or worse yet, mistaken for someone who has tweeted all the way through your meetings.) Find ways to let your colleagues know that your 24/7 news cycle is the product of careful planning, and consider suspending even your pre-loaded tweets if you’re going to be at a meeting where you want people to know they have your full attention.
  3. What’s in a name? If you use Twitter to build your professional profile, choose a username that is linked to you alone, and not your company. Your employer is less likely to expect to “own” your Twitter following if you are tweeting as @YourName rather than @YourNameCompanyName.
  4. Who owns your blog? Depending on your employment contract, your employer may legally own any work you create while in their employment. Review your contract, and if you have concerns over the ownership of your after-hours blogging, consider raising the issue with your manager or HR department.
  5. What’s in it for them? Most people who succeed in building a professional reputation through social media succeed because they love their online lives. If you want the leeway to pursue your after-hours social media activities — and maybe build some of that work into your day job — your employer and team need to know what’s in it for them. So make a point of telling your company’s stories, linking back to your organization’s web site, and singing the (sincere) praises of your colleagues and clients. The more they see your social media presence as an asset to the work you are doing together, the less they will curtail it, and the more they will cheer you on.

When to Stop and When to Keep Going with Your Social Media Strategy

This post originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review.

Push through the discomfort: It’s tempting to stop (or never start) using social media when you realize that you are opening yourself up to the world in a new way: “you mean people can write whatever they want on our wall?” But, often rewards await those who push through the discomfort of the unknown. You can always change your settings if you encounter a problem, but in the mean time you may be surprised at the trust that is built with your customer base if you are open and willing to talk about the good and bad sides of your businesses. Where else are you able to hear what people are really thinking? Use it to your advantage to build better products and better service.

This gem comes from Mike Knutson in Lessons Learned: Using Social Media to Support Entrepreneurship in Rural Communities on the Canadian Rural Research Network site. And it describes probably the most important success factor in any social media effort.

Mike’s post reminded me of a physical therapy session I was in the other day. I exercising for my shoulders when a muscle in my head started to hurt. “If it’s just uncomfortable, let’s keep going,” the physio said. “But if it’s painful, you should stop.”

A physiotherapist would call what I felt in my head “referred pain” — the parts of your body that hurt are the weak parts that can’t cope with knots, tension or dysfunction elsewhere (e.g. the pain in your neck caused by the tension in your mousing shoulder).

Your social media “pain” is similar: it’s caused by knots in your customer service, operations, HR or other area. Social media is just the place you feel it. If you’re getting smacked down publicly for your missteps, taken to task on YouTube for your poor products or lousy customer service, suffering organizational implosion from the overtime hours that are going into your Twitter presence, then maybe it’s time to stop what you’re doing.

Any of those pain points signal that you are not just going too hard too fast, but that you may be using the wrong muscles. Your social media relations team can’t overcome an outdated brand or tone-deaf advertising; your clever blog posts can’t disguise a fundamentally flawed value offering; your tweeting won’t be sustainable unless you’re prepared to expand or reallocate your staff resources. Most of the actual pain that organizations suffer from entering social media isn’t from social media: it’s from all the other organizational problems that social media simply begins to reveal.

But all that just speaks to pain. Mike talks about a different creature: social media discomfort. You will feel discomfort when you talk in a personal voice on your company blog, rather than The Official Voice found in press releases, and when you let your customer publicly declare their dissatisfaction with you. The Facebook wall, as Mike points out, is an invitation to discomfort.

For most of us, this discomfort often boils down to one question: “What if people say mean things about me?” Forget “what if.” People will say mean things about you, and it will be annoying and uncomfortable. But you should do what my physical therapist said I should do: Keep going. Respond to the substance of those comments (if they’re offered with anything other than violent or profane hostility); ask a colleague or two to read your response before you post, to make sure your discomfort isn’t leaking in and making you sound hostile. Then step back and see what happens: I’ll bet that after three or four cycles of responding to negative comments, you’ll discover that the discomfort doesn’t cause pain. You’ll probably even find that living with it, and responding to it, makes you more accessible to — and more liked by — your key audiences.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between discomfort and pain. In my physio session this morning, I decided to keep going; the discomfort was tolerable, and working through it helped my muscles get a little stronger. Tomorrow I’ll know that I can handle the uncomfortable sensation, and I’ll stand just a little bit taller. Work through your social media discomfort, and your organization can stand taller, too.

11 social media tools that put entrepreneurs on the right strategic path

My latest post for the Harvard Business Review was inspired by a trip I made to Romania earlier this spring. I visited Bucharest and Cluj as part of the School for Startups, a highly successful UK-based entrepreneurship program created by Doug Richard. S4S is running in two different Romanian cities this year, with about a hundred entrepreneurs in each, thanks to the support of the Post-Privatization Foundation. Doug invited me to Romania to lead day-long social media workshops in each of the cities where S4S is now underway.

“Are you hoping they can catch up to North American entrepreneurs in their use of social media?” I asked, when we first discussed what a workshop might cover.

“No!” Doug responded definitively. “I want them to leapfrog.”

That ambitious mandate was a function of one of Doug’s core insights about how S4S can help catalyze both individual businesses and a broader entrepreneurial culture in post-Communist Romania. Romanian entrepreneurs don’t have to be stuck playing catch-up: they can leap ahead in certain fields and in specific business practices, precisely because they aren’t encumbered with legacy approaches, expectations and institutions.

Social media is one frontier where that strategy seems especially promising. I’ve seen company after company, non-profit after non-profit and agency after agency struggle with social media because it doesn’t map onto existing org charts or ways of doing business. But that struggle translates into opportunities for new companies who can invent themselves, their business processes and their internal culture so that they’re engineered for a world of always-on, real-time customer engagement.

Fundamentally, that means transcending the message-push paradigm that has defined decades of business marketing, and instead embracing a conversational model of marketing that is mirrored by an internal culture of collaboration. In more specific terms, that involves:

  • listening to your customers’ and would-be customers’ priorities and evolving your products, services and marketing in response to their priorities, needs and input
  • asking how your online presence can create tangible valuable for customers and influencers
  • convening a customer community rather than pushing single customer message out to your customers
  • seeing your brand and products as something you co-create with your customers and employees rather than as something you own

If there is one thing I know from my own life as an entrepreneur, however, it’s that high-level principles like these are not where your head is at when you are getting a business off the ground. You’re thinking about how to find the next customer, expand your market, make the next critical hire or solve your cashflow crunch. With concerns like these, how can you think about the changing business paradigm enabled by social media?

The genius of social media is that you don’t have to. These principles are so deeply embedded in social media tools that if you focus on simply getting the tools in place that you need to do business — and if, unlike a big established company, you bake them into your business model as you build it from the ground up — your business will naturally evolve in a way that reflects this emergent social and interactive paradigm. Grow your company in a social media-flavored petri dish and you will end up with a company that thrives in a social media environment.

So while the S4S workshops touched on the big picture significance of social media, our conversations focused primarily on how to put specific tools to work in small companies in order to accomplish key marketing and business goals. Joy of joys, many of these tools happen to be free (which sure helps on the cashflow front). And since adopting these tools gets companies used to working in a real-time, responsive and conversational way, they do double duty: they solve immediate business problems while shaping a sustainable long-terms strategy. Here are the tools I recommended to put companies on that path:

Monitoring tools
Immediate impact: Track your customers and the competition so you know where to focus your growth potential…and where to protect yourself from potential thread.
Strategic impact: Create a culture of listening in which customer and influencer feedback is treated as a core form of business intelligence.

  1. Google Reader: For tracking a wide range of news sources, blogs and online searches.
  2. iGoogle: For monitoring the most crucial, can’t-afford-to-miss-this news (like blog posts and news stories about your company).
  3. Google blog search & news search: For tracking content specific to your industry, both as a source of business intelligence and as the basis for your own blogging or tweeting.

Storytelling tools
Immediate impact: Get your core message and brand to a larger audience without spending a fortune on advertising and PR.
Strategic impact: Build a committed customer community through your habit of communicating in a personal voice and through real-time conversation.

  1. WordPress: An easy and inexpensive way to set up a robust website or blog that can scale along with your company.
  2. Twitter: Maintain a Twitter presence that tells your story to a larger audience and engages them in conversation.

Networking tools
Immediate impact: Find potential customers, influencers and employees.
Strategic impact: Create a company in which your team sees itself not as an island but as one part of a larger business, economic and social ecosystem.

  1. Facebook: Bring your stories, offers and conversation to your customers by finding them in the online context they visit most.
  2. LinkedIn: Pinpoint your sales targets by searching for business people in the industries and locations you are focused on serving.

Collaboration tools
Immediate impact: Save time and money on internal communications and software by working together online.
Strategic impact: Develop a business culture in which your employees are used to working transparently, trusting one another, and supporting one another’s work.

  1. Evernote: A note-taking tool that helps each individual employee keep better track of all their meeting notes, document drafts and files…while making it easy for project teams to share files.
  2. Delicious: A social bookmarking tool that replaces your browser’s favorites and instead makes all your employees’ online discoveries available to the broader team.
  3. Basecamp: A project management tool that makes it easy to track tasks, deadlines and dependencies.
  4. Google Docs: Online spreadsheets, documents and slide decks that let your team collaborate on a single draft rather than circulating files by email and coping with version control

The list above links to references on this site but you can find great guides and tips for using all of these tools (and more!) on sites like Mashable and LifeHacker. You can find more resources for learning about these social media tools by reading this summary of my presentation at a Harvard Business School conference earlier this spring.

And remember, if the job of social media seems daunting: you’re not investing in software. You’re investing in creating a company with the processes, team and culture to become another one of School for Startups’ marvellous success stories.

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.

Twitter and the Temblor: Managing a social media emergency

I wrote this post last year for the Harvard Business Review. Today’s sad news from Japan is a reminder of why we all need an emergency plan — for our families, our offices and our online communications.

Yesterday morning I gave a talk on social media to a group of Canadian government employees. The talk was organized by my sister-in-law, Jennifer Jager, who is part of the marketing team at Public Safety Canada that is responsible for promoting emergency preparedness across the country. The fifty civil servants in the room represented a good portion of the Canadian government’s social media diehards, but Jen was one of a small handful who’d been authorized to tweet on behalf of their respective departments.

After my talk, Jen and I went back to her office, where she showed me some of her team’s efforts to harness social media for emergency preparedness. Their key message: every family should be ready to survive an emergency for at least 72 hours. The star of the show is a great video by Common Craft, the creators of RSS In Plain English, on Making a Family Emergency Plan. Jen and I got into a conversation about the relative preparedness of our own households, and I struggled to understand why she’d need to have emergency kits in multiple locations.

“What’s really going to happen in Ottawa that could prevent you from getting home?”

“We could have an earthquake.”

Living in earthquake-prone Vancouver, I couldn’t suppress a skeptical “C’mon, really.”

Right then, the floor started shaking. We were feeling an earthquake. You can’t make this kind of thing up.

Five minutes later we had made it down the ten flights of stairs and into the parking lot, where civil servants were pouring out of the building. If you want to see an orderly evacuation, I highly recommend spending your next emergency in an office dedicated to emergency preparedness.

As soon as we were clear of the building, we pulled out our phones. My Twitter pals were reporting quakes in Toronto and Montreal, an area that includes about half the population of Canada. Reports of feeling the quake came in from as far as Boston. Jen’s Blackberry had an e-mail from her boss, asking her to update Twitter with Public Safety’s information on emergency preparedness.

Makes sense: when nature gives half your target audience a major reminder of why emergency preparedness matters, you want them to know you’re ready to help.

Easier said than done. When an emergency happens, even if it’s just a scare, everyone reaches for their cell phones. With 3G overloaded, Jen’s iPhone couldn’t connect to the Internet, so she couldn’t get the link to her department’s page of earthquake information. But even with the local network maxed out, long distance still worked, so we called my husband in Vancouver and walked him through the Get Prepared website until he found the right page. Jen then asked him to save a shortened version of the link in bit.ly, as http://bit.ly/72earth, easy for Jen to remember and enter on Twitter.

But before Jen could post the link, she hit her next snag: every Government of Canada tweet has to be posted in both English and French. Reaching a translator was out of the question, so we walked through the crowd of bureaucrats gathered in the building parking lot until we overheard a few words of French. We commandeered a francophone from the Department of Corrections, who translated Jen’s draft tweet into French.

Jen was now ready to log into Twitter as Get_Prepared, but 3G was still on the fritz. As a fallback, we walked the two blocks to a nearby Starbucks, where WiFi Internet access was running smoothly. She logged onto the department’s Twitter accounts Get_Prepared and Preparez_Vous and sent two tweets:

What you need to know about #earthquake risks, from Public Safety Canada http://bit.ly/72earth
Ce que vous devez savoir sur les risques d’un tremblement de terre, de la Sécurité publique Canada http://bit.ly/72terre

It took one hour for Jen’s tweet to go live online: not instant, but fast enough to land in the thick of a lively Twitter conversation about the earthquake, ensuring that lots of Canadians would find out about Public Safety’s emergency preparedness info. Mission accomplished? In this context, yes, but what if the earthquake had been a more severe an emergency with injuries and fatalities?

Jen’s experience was a dress rehearsal for her department’s use of Twitter in future emergencies. But emergencies aren’t limited to natural disasters: they can happen through product recalls, information leaks, industrial accidents (paging BP) and many other channels. Here’s how to ensure your social media team is ready for your next emergency:

Develop a separate social media policy for emergencies. On a day-to-day basis your organization may prefer a social media strategy that requires messages to pass through a couple of layers of approval or go out for translation. That can be challenging at the best of times, but during an emergency it can be the difference between getting your message out and missing a news cycle, or even a matter of life-and-death. Develop a social media policy that empowers a small number of people to quickly communicate via blog, tweet, Facebook or other channel in the event of an emergency, and agree on a clear definition of emergency so they know the circumstances in which it’s appropriate for them to communicate without prior approval.

Factor in internal communications. In an emergency, your own teams need be updated, if only as a way of helping get your message out. Let your team know the social media channels they can count on for the latest scoop on your company’s activities.

Incorporate hash tags. Jen included #earthquake in her tweet so it would get seen by people who were following the breaking news of the quake by tracking the #earthquake hashtag. Working #earthquake directly into the text of her tweet gave her room for a longer message.

Build up a message bank. Jen and her team were able to respond quickly after the quake because they had a bank of pre-approved content. Develop a set of messages you are ready to deploy via tweet, Facebook or YouTube (great for messages straight from leadership!) and keep them on standby.

Shorten your key URLs. Jen had to use a long distance workaround to get the bit.ly link she needed. You can avoid that challenge by identifying the 20 or 30 pages on your web site you point people to most often (like your press page, your CEO’s bio, or key instructional information) and creating easy-to-remember short links using bit.ly, tinyU.rl or a similar service. Then you won’t have to hunt for a URL before sending out your emergency e-mails, tweets or Facebook updates.

Plan for multiple trigger points. If your communications point person can’t get online, you need a plan B for deploying your message bank during an emergency. Ensure that your emergency communications team can access your message bank remotely, and have a few different options for getting online (for example, both smartphones and Starbucks user accounts).

Practice, practice, practice. Yesterday’s earthquake offered Public Safety Canada a natural opportunity to try out their emergency tweeting and to iron out the wrinkles. Your organization could find itself in an emergency at any time, perhaps hampered by Internet access issues, a management team that is out of communications range, or a web site that slows under duress. Any of these circumstances are a chance to rehearse your emergency social media plan, so the next time management goes on retreat, try posting an uncontroversial YouTube video, and figure out the way to navigate approvals when the C-level execs are all out-of-town.

As you put these plans in place, hold yourself to the same standard Public Safety Canada has set for Canadian families: the ability to last 72 hours in an emergency. If your social media communications can survive 72 hours of disruption to your Internet connectivity, senior management team or workplace access, you’ll know you’re ready for most eventualities.

15 resources to accelerate your social media learning

I just got back from a fantastic day at the 20th annual Dynamic Women in Business Conference at Harvard Business School. What an incredible event! If the students who organized it weren’t going to be busy running the world’s next generation of startups, non-profits and multinational companies, you would definitely ask them to plan your next conference.

On a day that featured inspiring and thought-provoking speakers like  Nancy Barry and Susan Smith Ellis, I was incredibly honoured to be part of a social media pane. In the course of our conversation about social media, we covered a wide range of issues, strategic consideration and tools. In this blog post, I round up a bunch of posts (mostly mine, a few from other folks) that can help you get started with social media, deepen your practice or discover new social media tools.

Essential platforms

Evernote: Once again I made an impassioned case for this indispensable note-taking tool, which will not only whip your laptop or desktop notes into shape, but keep them synced with your smartphone, your ipad and the web; it can even recognize photos of type or handwritten text, so it’s great for making that pile of business cards or notes into a searchable resource.

Twitter: Twitter is now a must-join social network for anyone who is building a professional network or brand. Here are a couple of posts to help you make the most of this:

  • Twitter 101: learn the basics, including how to choose a username, how to find people to follow a Twitter glossary. This piece originally appeared on Oprah.com.
  • Twitter 201: find out how to use private Twitter lists to focus your online attention on your most crucial relationships and priorities

Delicious: This social bookmarking tool does a lot more than keep track of your favorite websites: you can use it to stay on top of the news in your field, find experts and search the unsearchable. If you’re still storing your bookmarks in Explorer or Firefox, it’s time to find out what social bookmarking can do for you:

Facebook: The question is not whether but how to incorporate Facebook into your social media strategy.

More tools

  • Foursquare: There was a lot of curiosity about FourSquare and other location-based services like it. 6 tips for getting the most out of Foursquare is a useful guide from Mashable (a great resource for learning about all sorts of social media tools).Facebook Places is a similar service; if you’re uneasy about FourSquare, you may want to read my post on how to keep your location private on Facebook.
  • iGoogle: If you’re using social media, you need a way to keep track of what people are saying about you and what you might want to write or comment on. iGoogle is a great way to create a social media dashboard for tracking all your latest news and social media coverage. My list of 9 feeds for your iGoogle dashboard can help you set up your dashboard.
  • Pinterest: Use Pinterest to collect pictures of web sites or clothes or furniture you love, or cool gadgets or beautiful logos or whatever you like. Organize your images into pinboards, and discover new sources of visual inspiration from other people. Here’s my overview of Pinterest.

Strategy questions

Three posts to address three strategic issues that came up in conversation:

More about the social media panel

The social media panel was organized by Alexandra Bochicchio, Abigail Chambers & Valerie Galinskaya, and chaired by publishing dynamo Andrea Chambers. The other panelists were:

  • Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project,
  • Cammie Croft, Senior Advisor and Director of New Media and Citizen Engagement, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Julia Roy, Vice President of Marketing, Manilla
  • Katherine Tasheff, Executive Director, Digital Media & Marketing, Hyperion & Voice Books
  • Thanks to all these women — and to the very lively audience — for a terrific conversation.

    Social media for journalists: 10 ways to use Evernote

    If social media is rewriting the rules of field after field, then publishing may be the field where its impact has been most immediate..and often, most painful. Yesterday, Chris Kenneally of the Copyright Clearance Centre posted an interview with me about this very subject in CCC’s Beyond the Book podcast. Our conversation gave me a chance to share some of my thinking about social media and the future of content, particularly in light of the SIM Centre‘s research with partners like Paperny Films and BookRiff.

    While our conversation touched on some of the challenges that content creators face in grappling with social media, I’m more often struck by the opportunities. When I speak with journalists about social media, the conversation inevitably detours into tech support, since I can’t resist evangelizing the social media tools that can make journalists’ work easier and more effective.

    As a writer, blogger and occasional broadcast contributor, I’ve developed lots of tricks for using social media to research, write and share content. The Beyond the Book podcast seems like a good moment to write up these tricks in a short series on social media for journalists.

    I’m kicking off this series with a love letter to Evernote. This note-taking program is a journalist’s (or blogger’s) best friend — not to mention a tremendous asset to anybody else working in a field that involves taking lots of notes or keeping track of lots of resources. Best of all, it’s free, unless you want the collaborative features that come with the premium version. Here are some ways to use it:

    1. Note-taking: Evernote lets you put all your notes in a single program. No more hunting around your hard drive for that draft you saved in Word, or flipping through your notebook. You just create each note as a new note in Evernote, and you organize your notes into notebooks (like folders) and/or by using tags. You can sort your notes by date and search either within notebooks or within your entire Evernote database, so it’s very very easy to find anything you need simply by typing a couple of words you remember writing in that notebook.
    2. Interviews: I keep notes on every call and interview within Evernote. Keep your interviews in Evernote and they’ll be at your fingertips when you need them.
    3. Drafts: My hard drive used to fill up with separate word files for each draft. Now I save each draft as a note within Evernote, and use tags or notebooks to collect multiple drafts of a single article. Note that since Evernote doesn’t offer a word count, you’ll still need to copy & paste into Word or another text editor to check your story length.
    4. Backup: Did I mention that Evernote can sync any of your notebooks to the web? I set virtually all of my notebooks to sync with Evernote’s web version so that I can access all my notes from any Internet-connected computer, and so that I don’t need to be afraid of losing my notes to theft or a hard drive crash.
    5. Mobile access: Evernote is available for the iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Palm and Windows Mobile. That means you can access any of your notes from your smartphone, which is handy when you have to check a fact or a phone number when you’re on the go. Just as handy, you can jot down a quick note, snap a picture or record a voice memo, and sync it to the Evernote database you maintain on the web and on your primary computer.
    6. Idea file: I maintain separate notebooks in Evernote for my alexandrasamuel.com blog, my Oprah.com blog, and my Harvard Business Review blog. When I have an idea for a story, I create a new note in the appropriate notebook, using my idea as the title for the note; then I can quickly scan the titles of all the notes in my Oprah.com folder, for example, to see my latest story ideas. If I have a few ideas or sentences to go with my idea, I jot down whatever I’ve got; when I return to the story to start writing, I’m already underway.
    7. Clippings file: Install Evernote’s web clipper in your browser, and you’ll be one click away from saving a complete copy of any web page, including images. Whenever you have a story published, use Evernote’s web clipper to add the online copy to your Evernote clippings file, and it will stay accessible even if the original story goes offline.
    8. Research file: Evernote’s web clipper is useful for stories in progress, too. Use the web clipper to compile all the background information for a story you’re working on, and keep it synced to your mobile device so you can access it when you need it.
    9. Searchable notes: If you like taking notes by hand, Evernote can make those notes more useful. Snap a picture of each page in your notebook using a camera or mobile phone; then import those photos into Evernote (if you’re using your mobile phone, you can do that by creating a snapshot note). When Evernote syncs the photo to an online notebook, it uses OCR (optical character recognition) to parse your notes. They won’t be converted to editable text, but they will be searchable: suddenly, searching Evernote for “Jim Smith” will find your scrawled “John Smith” on the scan of the page you used to take handwritten notes. You can use the same trick to capture whiteboards, signs, business cards or just about any other written word.
    10. Share your notes: Publish any of your compiled resources by making an Evernote notebook publicly viewable; this can be a way of making your work process more transparent to readers. Or use the premium version of Evernote to share your work-in-process with selected collaborators you invite into an otherwise private notebook

    My interview with Evernote CEO Phil Libin gave me a chance to add even more uses to my Evernote repertoire. But the ultimate success metric for my use of Evernote is measured in pages. Before I started using Evernote (in August 2008), I went through one standard Moleskine graph-ruled notebook every 3 months.  At the moment, I’m half-way through my latest notebook….which I started using 18 months ago. And that’s pretty much the only paper I use. So figure that Evernote has cut my paper note-taking by more than 90%, while making my electronic notes more valuable than ever.

    Even if you’re not ready to give up pen and paper, Evernote can be a crucial asset to the work you do on your computer. From clippings files to draft management, Evernote may be a journalist’s very best friend.

    Come back for more tips on social media for journalists over the course of this week. Up next: a journalist’s guide to LinkedIn.

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    How to use social media to recruit your dream hire

    This week in Harvard Business Online: my post about how to Hire Smarter with Social Media. That post shares some lessons on how social media can help employers find the best people for their team, inspired by the process we used to find our latest, fantastic hire, Channing Rodman. To show these lessons in action, I’m sharing the story of social media helped us find Channing.

    Channing joined us in April as a Social Media Strategist, and she has rocked our world with her terrific online instincts, brilliant writing and client diplomacy. You can use social media to hire team members who wow you just as much as Channing’s wowed us, whether you’re hiring for a social media gig or something entirely analog.

    My top tips and tools for finding, screening and validating applicants are in the Harvard post. This is the story of how we applied these techniques to hiring Channing, with links to some of the key documents we used in the process.

    Planning a hire

    As with a lot of small organizations, each member of our team needs to wear several hats. In our early days, we took a laundry list approach to creating job postings, compiling a daunting collection of every kind of skill or experience we’d want a new hire to bring to our business. Over time, we’ve become more realistic about what kinds of talents are likely (or unlikely) to be found in the same person, and with each hire, we prioritize the core competencies we must have in our hire, and then keep an additional list of nice-to-haves.

    To consult with Rob and the rest of our team on the competencies we wanted to look for — and the role we wanted to create — I set up a Google spreadsheet with the following columns:

    • Offering: The service this new hire would help us to deliver.
    • Activity: The phase or element of this service offering that the new hire would be expected to own or help deliver.
    • Role: The notional job title this activity might correspond to — we considered “social media strategist”, “project manager”, and “client services”.
    • Competency: The specific skills needed to fulfill this activity/role: e.g. “writing”, “strategic thinking”, “powerpoint”.

    By grouping the activities and competencies by role, we were able to identify “social media strategist” as the role for which we had the greatest need.

    Reaching potential applicants

    We put a long version of our posting on our own web site, and a shorter version on Craigslist. When we posted our gig to the Social Signal blog (along with a similar posting from one of our clients) and twittered the link, we got a huge volume of retweets, link love and site visits. One of the people who saw — and forwarded — our job posting was Channing’s brother, Sean; Sean and Channing co-author the Social Ch@nge blog, so he knew exactly how much our position would interest her.

    Channing wasn’t the only terrific social media geek we met through our online recruitment process. There were several other bloggers, strategists and project managers who we are looking forward to working with on future projects as contractors or even as clients: our own job postings serve as a great source of referrals for clients who are looking for online community managers or project leads.

    Screening applicants

    Channing sent us a very compelling cover letter that — combined with her Wufoo application — demonstrated both her qualifications and passion for the social media role. There was just one wrinkle: she was living in Poland. That meant we had to think very carefully about whether and how to interview someone who’d be moving half-way across the world for this position. I started with a brief phone call that confirmed that yes, she sounded like a serious candidate; as with all my screening calls, I put my notes in an Evernote notebook so they’d be accessible from any computer.

    For our first interview, I relied on a series of questions we’d developed as a team using a Google spreadsheet. The questions covered each of the skills, experiences or traits we were looking for and included a mix of open-ended questions (“Tell us about a success you’ve had in engaging or managing an online community”) and specific scenarios (“How would you advise a small non-profit with a narrow audience to spend $50k on social media?”) We kept the spreadsheet open during the interview so that Rob and I could collaboratively take notes.

    The interview itself took place via Skype video: while this was the first time we’d interviewed a candidate via Skype, we’ve done enough video meetings with clients to have a good sense of how someone’s on-screen presence corresponds to their real-life personality. Channing was warm, polished, and very effective in answering our questions; she even had the guts to challenge us on one scenario we’d throw in to gauge candidate’s comfort levels working with questionable clients.

    Validating your choice

    After our, full-length Skype interview with Channing we were quite confident she was a fit, but the fact that we hadn’t met in-person made us concerned to double- and triple-check our instincts. We set up additional Skype meetings for her with two other members of our team, and with our long-time business coach, Jeff Balin; we asked each of them to treat the content of the meetings as confidential but to provide general feedback on whether they thought it was a fit. (They did.)

    Next, we gave Channing a test assignment: to recommend an interim Facebook strategy for a client who had engaged us for a major Facebook campaign. She delivered a polished, well-written document that not only delivered immediate answers but also highlighted a couple of bigger-picture strategic issues. To ensure she’d have adequate time to complete the assignment, and that her work was subject to appropriate confidentiality provisions, we set up a formal short-term contract to pay her for her work.

    When that assignment was completed, we decided to assess her technical learning curve by asking her to set up a page on our Drupal web site; since Channing hadn’t worked on Drupal before we figured this would be a good chance to see how quickly she could get comfortable on a new platform. At our request, she created the first version of our presentations and workshops page — which included compiling a Google Doc full of all the nice things people had said about our past presentations. Not only did we see how quickly she took to new software: all those third-party testimonials intensified her interest in working for us.

    We did a final round of due diligence by talking to several of her (glowing) references by phone, and having a couple more Skype video calls along the way. We recognized the long distance wasn’t just a challenge for us; the time it took for us to double- and triple-check our instincts made for a long (and anxiety-producing) hiring process for Channing. Regular video check-ins kept her engaged in the process and helped us build a relationship.

    On Channing’s seventh Skype call with our team — her fourth with me — I formally offered her the position. Even on a teeny tiny Skype window, her delight was evident; we were equally delighted that she accepted right away.


    Channing RodmanHow has Channing worked out? Our clients love working with her; so do our development partners and staff. Her social media instincts, creativity and solid project management skills have all exceeded our admittedly high expectations.

    But I personally knew just what a smart hire we’d made on the day that Channing sent me an e-mail she’d drafted for me to send to a client. “Can you copy me on the changes so I can learn from your writing style?” she wrote in her covering message to me. “I think you nailed it,” I responded. “Did you deliberately try to write like me, or do we just have the same voice? Fantastic news either way.”

    When I recounted this good news to Rob, he was surprised I didn’t know the answer: “She’s been reading through our blog archives for weeks,” he told me. “She’s been figuring out how to capture our voice.”

    That moment crystallized exactly what Channing brings to Social Signal: the ability to identify what’s needed for social media success, the willingness to go the extra mile, and of course, extraordinary writing skills.

    Have you used social media to find your Channing — the great hire who takes your organization to the next level? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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    How Twitter groups can make your twittering more a meaningful, conversational and connected

    Friend and SoSi advisor Leda Dederich asked for my thoughts on Virginia Heffernan’s New York Times Magazine article last week, Let them eat Tweets. Heffernan riffs on Bruce Sterling’s recent SXSW keynote, and writes:

    I have only lately begun to wonder whether I’d use Twitter if I were fully at liberty to do what I liked. In other words, I’m not sure I’d use Twitter if I were rich. Swampy, boggy, inescapable connectivity: it seems my middle-class existence has stuck me here.

    Heffernan is just about my favourite writer on tech culture, and while I can’t concur with her subjective experience — my fantasies of wealth involve having more time to spend online, not less — her article prompted me to think about how much of my Twitter use is compulsive, rather than fulfilling. The truth is that a lot of my Twitter reading is driven by FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), and that posting to Twitter all-too-often feels like OMFT (One More Fucking Thing).

    But Twitter has also been wonderful for me. Reading Tweets is a source of connection to people I know and care about, and a source of inspiration from many others. And posting Tweets helps me nourish relationships I care about, and lets me process and express ideas I want to share. At its best, Twitter — and other networks like it — makes me more present in my life, not less.

    Twitter can only support that kind of meaningful presence if I use it thoughtfully and intentionally, however, and much of my Twittering falls far short on that front. I follow people because I feel like I should, and the tweets of all the most frequent posters drown out many of the voices I care most about. When I dip into Twitter over the course of the day, I see whatever happens to be most recent — rather than what would be most meaningful or productive for me to read.

    Heffernan’s article inspired me to take my Twittering in hand, and harness it more consciously to the kinds of relationships and activities I care most about. To that end, I spend this weekend doing Twitter triage (twiage?), and developing a system that will put the most important tweets front-and-centre. And by “important” I don’t mean authoritative or influential: I mean important in the sense of connecting me more closely to the people and ideas that matter most in my own life.


    My method used Twitter groups, which let me organize the people I follow into different categories. Grouping is a feature offered by many Twitter tools; I’m using Nambu, which lets me view different groups of tweets in different columns. That’s complemented by Nambu’s style of presenting mentions (a.k.a. “replies”), which emphasizes the conversational side of twittering.

    UPDATE: I now use Twitter lists to accomplish the same thing, and Tweetdeck or HootSuite to monitor the lists in different columns.

    I’ve experimented with Twitter groups before, using descriptive categories like “Vancouver” (for locals), “social media” (for colleagues), “family”, “team”, etc. This time, I used categories that cue my intention: instead of descriptive terms, I used verbs that capture how I want to relate to this person or information.

    1. Love: People I love and want to have more of in my life; or feel I could love, if we had more connection. It even includes a handful of loveable people I know entirely online. This group would make sense to nobody except me: it’s pure, gut-level filing. There’s no “it would be useful to follow this person closely”, or “I shouldn’t file a client here”. If I get a happy warm glow from thinking about this person, they’re in. If I get an anxiety twinge, they’re out.
    2. Inspire: Feeds that feed me. Some of these are people who say things that inspire me, and some are “official” feeds that inspire me (like Title of Show).
    3. Connect: People I actually know. I had a simple criterion for this group: looking at a name or handle, I had to immediately know who it was. Feeling like “oh yeah I think I know this person” didn’t cut it. This process reminded me of the advantage of having a Twitter username that has some resemblance to your real life name; I’m sure I missed people because I didn’t connect person to user name.
    4. Collaborate: People I work with directly — essentially, Social Signal staff.
    5. Meet: People in Vancouver. Following locals is a good way of using Twitter to drive me to see people and participate in events in real life. For now, I’m putting every Vancouver-based feed in here, but over time I may triage so that it only has feeds from people who Twitter events and meetups. However part of what I like about having everyone is that it will prompt me to set up my own dates, too — or to notice if someone is hanging out near where I am at the moment. The key is to let the group name — “meet” — remind me of my intention with these folks.
    6. Learn: People I don’t know personally, but learn from watching.
    7. Apply: This is a group for feeds from software applications I use regularly in my work. These are feeds that contain tips I can apply in my work.
    8. Help: This is for feeds that belong to my clients — people and organizations I’m trying to help.
    9. Present: For feeds from conferences I want to present at, or conference organizers.
    10. Inform: This is for other kinds of info feeds like events and weather.
    11. Enjoy: For feeds that exist to make me smile.
    12. Parent: Feeds from other parents who — like me — tweet about kids and parenting.
    13. Observe: This is for feeds that I am interested in as examples of how other companies or organizations are using twitter.
    14. Obsess: This is place to store feeds from people or organizations who make me neurotic. I’ll admit it: there are certain feeds I follow that often make me feel competitive or frustrated or annoyed. This is a way for me to stick them somewhere that will let me look at them less often. I may ultimately unfollow them, but I’m not there yet.

    Twitter groups in Nambu

    A few notes:

    • While you can set up your Nambu colums in a particular order, the columns will appear in alphabetical order once you relaunch the application. So I’ve started each group name with a number (e.g. “1. Love”) to ensure they always appear in my preferred order. After #9, I switched to letters (“a. Inform”) because item #10 would otherwise appear between items 1 and 2.
    • I’ve placed some follows in more than one category.
    • I’m sure I’ll add more people to groups over time as their tweets come in and remind me of how I want to relate to them.
    • Of course, some feeds didn’t make it into any of the groups above. That will be a good prompt: if a feed isn’t in a group (once I remember who that username belongs to) then why am I following it? If I don’t have a clear intention on how I want to relate or learn from that feed, I won’t.

    This new approach to Twitter makes for an experience that is both leaner (in the volume of tweets consumed) and richer (in their impact, and in my ability to engage). Far from weaning me off Twitter, I expect that focusing my attention will make twittering more central, effective and meaningful to me.