Why Aren’t We Experimenting More?

omsi volcano experimentIf you bother to check out my blog regularly (thank you), you’ll notice a couple of odd posts recently. The first was in some ways an accident. Being a smartass, I decided to react to some random subscriptions to both of my Posterous blogs with a post telling people not to subscribe there. There’s no point. Of course, my hope was that some people would subscribe anyway, despite the complete lack of any benefit- in fact, the explicit promise of no benefit at all. Why? Because it would amuse me. What surprised me was that the post all of a sudden showed up in my RSS feed; for this blog. I forgot I had set up automatic cross-posting, but was reminded of my penchant for experimentation.

The more recent post was a Storify experiment that I decided to demonstrate live in front of colleagues as an easy way to post to your blog. By George, it was in fact quite easy!

I feel that someone doing social media for a living should experiment. Often. Most of us who do this (come on, admit it) have blogs and other social media channels that are not meant to be polished business honey pots, but are repositories for our thoughts which are brilliant at best, a strange hash of trails at most times, and only a failure when it lies empty. Too many of us either do very little in social media because we either don’t want to be public (there are ways around that), or feel too much pressure to make our blogs look professional all the time, because, damn it, we are potential book authors or professionals.

Are either of you types of folks kidding? This is the place to experiment, to go out and  figure out the possibilities of tools and of raw content. What types of posts/topics/titles/words/calls to action, for example, get people to respond to your blog over other types? We should be doing more, not less, shouldn’t we? Why are some of us polishing our blogs into tepidity (though I do understand that some folks are in business for themselves and use them to show their polished, professional sides), and others letting their blogs and other channels lie empty?

Empty, you say? In 2011, I published about half as often here (42 posts) as I did in 2010 (85 posts). That disappoints me.

My publishing on this blog has been less frequent for a number of reasons:

  • Work keeps me busy. Though I absolutely hate the “I don’t work on my personal brand because I’m doing billable client work” excuse- it is true from a “note enough hours in the day” standpoint.
  • My most interesting thoughts are too closely attached to current client work, and there’s no way I’m going to reveal the inner workings of things, especially when that would require permission (and might better reside on the Voce Nation blog anyway)
  • I write for other blogs (primarily Voce Nation), but not really that much. That’s pretty weak.
  • I can’t write the same opinions about the same social media topics as everyone else. That’s kind of weak too, but I do get topic fatigue and have no desire to be a “me too” social media marketing blogger any more.
  • I can’t write the abstract “advice” or “state of mind” posts about strategy and how to live your life or think or blog or whatever. At this stage in my life they come off as the blatherings of someone trying be sound smart or inspirational, rather than actually just being smart (and it looks like that in all the other blogs I read- is that mean? Too bad). Also, admit it; the title of this blog post made you throw up in your mouth.
  • I took part more voraciously in private discussion groups rather than publishing longer, more one-sided screeds like this.
Wow. That’s a lot of excuses not to be writing more often.

So, why not more experimentation on this blog rather than feeling a need to be controversial, relevant, brilliant, or topical every time out, or failing to do so because I don’t want to tread water in my writing?

Why not indeed. Far from a promise to do things, it’s a thought I would like to follow up on. I may need a few more kickses in the pantses.

Or should I just pile on and write about whatever, like I used to? Feel free to yell at me in comments. 2012 is a new year.

Photo Credit: Mavis (Flickr)

 

TEST POST I’m the Mayor of Voce’s Winter Haven Office

Social Media: From Status to Stories, We’re Entering a Whole New World of Shiny

I am newly tempted to rename this blog “The Long View” because I find it painful to see people get whiplash as they turn to see the new shiny objects of social media whip by. I wonder if I get tagged as an angry nerd (ok, I have) for not being too quick to embrace the latest and greatest. The truth is, I am aways suspicious of new platforms being declared “The Next XXX ” before it has had a chance to mature a little and give users enough chance to figure out how the platform is going to work for them. Google Plus has been a prime example, making some folks giddy before most people – especially businesses – we’re able to use it, a direct before it was even complete. Not that I don’t think it will make a huge impact, but if the train is leaving the station, say, in eight months, don’t line us up on the platform today.

I have seen several tools vying for “next big thing” status lately, but rather than fitting these for crowns, I see them – and others – fitting into a larger trend, whether they succeed or not.

Pinterest: Wowie-wow-wow has Pinterest gotten a lot of buzz lately. It’s very compelling in that it provides a simple visual way to organize links, visuals, products, or other items. You can see my first Pinboard here (photos of my son playing sports) and there have been several wonderful examples of organizations and companies putting up some nice Pinterest pages; the most recent I caught was the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market in New York City. Many of my friends are caught up in and addicted to various Pinterest pages. Frustratingly, many more can’t interact with Pinboards the way they ought, as Pinterest is an ivite-only beta product. That will pass, but it shows how quickly people will jump on a bandwagon – before it has all its wheels. The question is for brands is, is this something good they can’t already build easily on their existing websites and blogs? It’s worth asking.

Path: this was presented to me as a new way to separate your closer group of friends from the rabble on Facebook. But can’t you tier friends online, Facebook? Certainly you can using Circles on Google Plus. Also, it focuses on “journaling,” to my main point buried below. Yet, Path gains users, so it’s worth watching.

Instagram: As an Android user, this one mystifies me. How can an iPhone/iPad only app be haied as a next big thing? Love Apple all you want, but that app environment hardly constitutes Everyone. Sure, my making fun of Instagram photos as people purposely denigrating their photography to resemble 40-year-old Polaroids is probably missing the point. Also, the Android problem will be solved shortly. I’ll be eager to see what the fuss is about, as that fuss seems to be centered on the interactions among the network of photo sharers.

Storify: This one seems to be more of a slam-dunk. The ability to curate other sources easily and assemble them into a story is attractive. If you can insert that into your own platform, into your own site or blog, all the better. Makes sense, it’s just a matter of how many people or companies catch on.

Overall, what I do see? Storytelling is the new focus of social media apps. We see this in Facebook’s new Timeline. We saw it in Gowalla attempt to differentiate as a location-based service before it got sold. We saw it in the much-hyped Color (is that one still happening?). Social tools are moving beyond status updates, what we are doing, and towards telling stories, filling get in the gaps of what we have done, what we are doing, and what we want to do. My main question is, did social network users ask for this? As for the overall community, I’m not sure. Facebook seems to have forced Timeline on us rather than asking. This change to “stories” rather than “status” is far from complete, but has been openly attempted numerous times. It’s where we’re going right now, like it or not.

Finding Influencers and Collecting Data? Tools Help, But It’s Nothing Without Hard Work

Cross-posted from Voce Nation

Recently, I had a discussion with a local (Boston) technology professional about finding influencers via social media. Additionally, I constantly have discussions with clients, colleagues and peers about measurement. Why mention these two facts together? These two topics have a lot more in common than they might seem to on the surface, at least when it comes to the practical applications in social media programs.

Tractors & Shovel Truck

Photo by Martijn vdS on Flickr

First, both “influence” and measurement come with a variety of tools designed to help us find and analyze. These tools, whether they be KloutPeerIndex or Traackr on the influence side, or Radian6SysomosSpredfast and any number of tools on the monitoring/metrics/analytics side, all have their plusses. They all have their minuses too. Are they too unsophisticated or broad, too complicated to use, missing pieces, too expensive, lacking tech support? There’s always something.

Which tool a given program uses isn’t all that important, it turns out. However, let’s assume that having some tools to help you harvest information is necessary. The reality is that most social media professionals have to have at least some familiarity with a variety of the tools, as different clients, or even departments within a company (probably a separate discussion there), use different tools.

OK- we have established that we need tools, but we are limited. That sounds like a nightmare, no?

Well, yes and no. I believe it’s healthy to believe that the “magic bullet” tool that finds the best influencers for any specific program, or covers all your metrics needs, will never exist. It’s also healthy to believe that just about any tool, despite any public criticism, will help you in some way.

Great; so what?  

Even as these tools become simultaneously more sophisticated and easier to use (good luck with that) the need for what I like to call spade work does not go away. The spade work is divided into two categories:

  • Figuring out what to ignore: Good tools mine everything. That’s almost as bad as having nothing, as a large chunk of the work in analyzing info is figuring out what not to include. How do you sort for the things that only affect your goals? How do you find people who are not merely “influential,” but are specifically relevant to your program? How do you filter monitoring data only for the things you need to see- and how do you determine which metrics are the one you need to see? Great tools filter further. Klout does offer some categories of influence, for example, and most monitoring tools allow you to tweak and adjust search terms. However no matter how good or great the tool manual sorting is necessary; not just due to a lack of complete trust in tools (Klout categories, to keep using that example, can yield some head-scratching results, such as the marketing expert who was, hilariously, deemed to be influential about “sheep”), but because every program, every campaign- and every data source- is unique
  • Goals: Actually that should be first, but I’m being counter-intuitive. I was also tempted to write “Program goals” to distinguish from campaign oriented goals, but it is important to find influencers for and measure campaigns as well as the ongoing program. As hinted at in the previous paragraph, your goals determine which of the endless metrics and influencer types you need to focus on, to the exclusion of all else that lacks relevance, beyond the limited extent of any tools.
  • Analysis: The value any social media professional brings to a program is in the analysis- I don’t mean sifting and sorting data, as anyone can learn to do with the tools, but in figuring out what it all means. At the beginning, it’s applying thought to the types of influencers that matter and what criteria count most. In the end, it’s applying meaning to the program data. For example, what does that decline in Facebook Page comments mean? Why were there fewer clicks to the Website from Twitter vs Facebook? How did a surge in blog publishing frequency this month affect subscriber numbers- or even product sales?

Tools are necessary. But making them worthwhile is hard work. Anyone who thinks differently is not using them (or their social media team’s brainpower) to their full capabilities.