Stop Celebrating How Many Followers or Fans You Have

One of the things that burns my blood most in social media is the posts that trumpet how many followers or fans an account has or is about to reach. “Only 10 more followers until we reach 1,000!” or “We now have 1,000 fans of our Facebook page!” I find these exceptionally annoying and thoroughly empty of meaning.

“But wait,” you may be asking, “isn’t gaining more followers or fans a good thing?”

Of course it is. The problem that I have with shouting to the heavens about a number is how arbitrary that announcement is. OK, so you now have 1,000 followers. What does that mean? Why is that number important? Why should anyone in your network care about that number? And, most importantly, what are you going to do about it?

The number of followers or fans you have, in and of itself, is meaningless.

This is like telling me your cholesterol number without saying whether that’s a healthy value for you (or at all, for that matter), whether you’re seeing a doctor to help lower your values, whether you have a family history, etc. If you’re truly interested in knowing how well your account is doing, you need to consider the number of followers or fans as a “health indicator” (just like your cholesterol number) that should be studied in tandem with many other metrics.

For example, have you had a rapid or sudden increase or decrease in followers or fans? Can this change be directly correlated to a single event or series of events? Did you post something amazing or controversial to the account? Did someone influential share one of your posts to their audience, giving you a larger number of eyes, if only for that post? Was your post covered, mentioned, or reviewed in a news publication?

Or, conversely, do your posts get a meager number of retweets or likes? Is no one responding to you or commenting on what you say? Do you wonder whether your network is even paying any attention to what you share? Is an uninteresting trend in followers or fans even a problem you have to worry about?

Are you getting the idea? You need to do work. Yes, work! And that work doesn’t include telling everyone, whether it’s your public audience or your senior management, about how well you think you’re doing as though you deserve some kind of medal.

Data is your friend. Figure out the story behind those raw numbers. Cross-check changes in your follower or fan numbers to other statistics, such as social mentions (how many times was your website, network, or article talked about in Google, Twitter, etc.), website analytics (page views, new visitors, search referrals), and the unique metrics each network offers you (Twitter for Business, Facebook Insights, etc.). In most instances, changes in your followers and fans will slowly and steadily increase over time. Even if folks lose interest, you’d have to do something annoying or distasteful (or both) to make them consciously unfollow or unlink you (versus simply skipping over or ignoring your updates). Look at any pattern of decreased numbers with a careful eye.

Qualitative analysis requires more effort than simply reporting a single value, but fortune favors the bold (and the diligent). Think for a moment about how much more successful your efforts could be if you move beyond “hey, we have 1,000 followers now” and think about “how can we use this information to make better decisions and improve the social experience for our followers and fans?”

I realize this level of analytics research is not something that everyone has the time or capabilities to manage, but, if you’re going to make a big deal about how many followers or fans you have, at the very least, do something worthwhile with them rather than making much ado about nothing.

Showing Favoritism for Twitter Favorites

Of all the features embedded within, and added to, Twitter over the past several years, the one I get the most mileage out of is the Favorites. For me, favoriting a tweet is the simplest way to hang on to a bit of wisdom or wit in the endless river of information in my timeline. I routinely save tweets throughout the day and review each of them when I have time. These could range from articles to read, music to sample and enjoy, or conversation points I want to preserve for future consideration. Most times, once I’ve reviewed the tweet and completed whatever task I set out for myself, I unfavorite the tweet and move on. Every month or so, I go through my Favorites list and filter out what I want to keep or discard. I’ve unearthed so many gems that I would’ve forgotten otherwise had I not had this short-term memory available. The lack of a similar feature on Facebook is one primary reason why I’m far more likely to follow accounts on Twitter instead.

One rather recent trend I’ve found fascinating is folks using the Favorite feature to indicate approval. There have been automated Twitter bots (often called some variation of “Favstar”) that send you congratulatory messages whenever your tweets get more than a certain number of favorites (25, 50, 100, etc.). This behavior has also led to an uptick of spam accounts favoriting random tweets of yours, for what reasons I’m not entirely sure (other than to simply spam your e-mail account if you signed up for certain Twitter notifications).

What’s really neat about this is how a rather simple microinteraction can be used in radically different ways. It’s another example of how Twitter’s simplicity has led to innovative ways to interact with one another on that network.

How do you use Favorites on Twitter? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Why Do You Unfollow?

I’ve been fascinated for a long time about how users interact with each other on Twitter, especially how and why folks decide to follow or unfollow. Last month, I asked my followers what would drive them to make that decision. Here are some of their responses:

I realize this is an exceedingly small sample size, but I believe these responses bring up some common themes in why people decide to stop following a person or feed.

What does this mean for professional Twitter accounts?

  • Stay on topic.
  • Keep a consistent tone and voice.
  • Provide value to your audience: avoid too much marketing or promotional fluff.
  • Don’t post too frequently (unless that’s the service you provide, such as news feeds or real-time event reporting) or all at once (posting to Twitter via a third-party application).
  • Mind your hashtags and scheduled tweets as they relate to real-time events.

What does this mean for personal Twitter accounts?

  • Mind your tone and manners. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “let’s keep this sophisticated.”
  • Avoid unnecessary updates from third-party applications (games, Foursquare, paper.li).
  • Avoid excessive retweeting.
  • Watch the self-promoting and preening. It’s OK to market yourself, but tone it down.
  • Move long-form discussions and extensive back-and-forth conversations to another venue.

Remember, a lot of folks, myself included, look at Twitter as an information and entertainment resource, not just a way to talk about things ourselves. As such, we’re free to “change the channel” to shift the threads to topics and personalities we find worth the time we spend here.

That said, people are absolutely free to post whatever they like, especially on personal feeds. But, for those who have an interest in learning why their followers drop off, and want to do something about negative trends, I hope this information will prove helpful.

Corporate Social Media Monitoring, Privacy Settings, and Codes of Conduct

I came across a Forbes article in my Twitter feed yesterday that talks about how users of social media react to corporations monitoring their conversations or responding to comments they make online. It should come as no surprise to anyone that corporations are monitoring what is being said in public social media channels. Social media has become a massive communications tool for sharing experiences, insight, feedback, and criticism of how businesses and other organizations conduct themselves. We’re come to rely on rating systems and peer reviews to make decisions on where to go and what to buy, and this is valuable information for companies. It’s important to them to learn more about their customers (both potential and current), what they want, what’s working well, and what’s going wrong. Many corporations are using an array of sophisticated social media management and sentiment analysis tools to parse through the enormous amount of data shared every day on numerous platforms.

Now, while I agree with the basic premise that it may be unsettling for a corporation to just start talking to you out of the blue on social media, what got my attention most was this except (boldface is my edit):

… a recent survey from J.D. Power points to the risks associated with monitoring: 51% of consumers simply do not want companies to eavesdrop on their conversations and 43% believe that monitoring is an intrusion on their privacy.

Seriously? 43%? That, to me, is absolutely absurd, and it raises some issues about people’s perceptions of how far and wide their digital traffic can range.

First and foremost, there is absolutely no expectation of privacy on any social media channel if you are posting in a publicly available forum. “Public” means “public.” If you don’t have privacy settings enabled on your account, then you’ve opened your stream to anyone who can use a search engine. This includes corporations. There really should be no earth-shattering revelation here. Folks can use the “overhearing a conversation” argument for whether anyone should be paying attention to something that doesn’t involve them, but that’s not really how social media works. The people, or, in this case, corporations, who can “eavesdrop” on you is not just whoever is around you physically, but anyone in the world. Plus, everything you post publicly is likely indexed by Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and their kin for anyone outside your network to find. If you don’t want folks to listen in, and this includes corporations, take the conversation to private messages, lock down your settings, or don’t post certain things to social media at all. Plain and simple.

Second, this mentality is a symptom of what I’ve observed happening with social media and the workplace. Most businesses have what’s called a “code of conduct” that states how employees should present themselves in public. As employees of the company, they represent the company, whether they realize it or not. There is typically a paragraph or clause that refers to “online public forums” as a place where employees should practice restraint and decorum. This was pretty much limited to e-mail and bulletin boards back in the day, but now includes any form of social media. In my professional experiences, I’ve found that employees need an “interpretive statement” to connect those codes of conduct to their personal use of social media channels. Why is this? They don’t think of Facebook, Twitter, and other channels as something they need to be mindful of. They just post away without really giving careful thought as to how their words relate to their role as an employee. There’s been plenty of instances where folks have been fired from their jobs for what they post online, on or off the clock. Obviously, the privacy settings you put into place can affect what your company can learn about you and act upon should they believe it breaks their code of conduct, but you should still learn what those rules are and do your best to abide by them. Ask your boss. Ask your human resources folks. Use common sense. And, for heaven’s sake, never expect any sort of privacy when using work computers on work premises or work time. If you’re using company property for personal use, expect it to be monitored. All the time.

“Use Browser X”? Spare Me This Mockery of Justice!

Spare me this mockery of justice!Today, I experienced something that, as a web developer, really burns my blood. When I inquired about a specific web application’s flaws within a certain web browser, I was informed that I should be using “browser X” instead. As the doomed Transformer proclaimed when condemned to the Quintesson pit in Transformers: the Movie, “Spare me this mockery of justice!”

There are exceedingly few reasons why you should ever tell the users of your web application to use a specific browser over another. If you’re on the public domain, or, if your users can pick from more than one browser to get to your application, account for it. Don’t force the users to bow to your decision; it comes across as exclusionary and elitist. The days of “best viewed in Internet Explorer/Netscape Navigator” are far, far behind us.

Of course, there are plenty of whiz-bang features in HTML 5, CSS3, etc. that have yet to be adopted by all browser variants. Publishing experimental or proof-of-concept websites and web applications that push the envelope and challenge previous assumptions on how we interact with the web is perfectly acceptable. However, if you intend to have a product that will be used by a broad audience, alienating a key portion of your users will do you no good, especially if the “unworthy” browsers introduce glitches or errors that break a key feature. Even minor flaws will make it seem as though your product is buggy, incomplete, unprofessional, and sloppy.

Now, I certainly don’t advocate building something that conforms to every browser variant throughout time; that’s a fool’s errand. Your web analytics program can educate you about which browsers and variants your audience is using. Pay attention to that data and use it to establish your lowest common denominator. My basic rule of thumb is to code for all browsers with greater than one percent of your total market share. You can also choose to “degrade gracefully,” where any fancy features unreadable or unusable for less modern or less compliant browsers can still be operated effectively and correctly. Check your statistics regularly, as market share can change quickly. Usage can often differ dramatically between countries, so, if, for example, your European users prefer Firefox over Internet Explorer, make sure that version of your website is ready for them.

Pay attention to your mobile users as well. Those folks using iPhones and iPads will show up as Safari users in your web analytics, so keep track of your mobile device usage in tandem with your browser statistics. You may wish to consider a mobile-friendly version of your web application, a dedicated app, or a responsive web design that transitions smoothly no matter where your users are browsing. Again, pay attention to your percentages to decide what path to take. It never hurts to ask your users directly, whether through site intercept surveys, focus groups, or simple e-mail questionnaires.

There are plenty of ways to avoid the “browser X” debacle. Spare us all the mockery of your self-imposed justice and build your web application for everyone. You have no excuses!

Image source, Google Images: http://www.anivide.com/gallery.html?view=158846&pid=1318514144.

My “A-ha” Moment About the “Spiral of Envy”

Today’s entry from Mark Schaefer’s {grow} blog, “Facebook, the ‘spiral of envy,’ and our Botox life,” put into succinct words precisely what has nagged and pulled at me about social media for the past two years. The crux of Mark’s essay was that we put so much gleam and shine on our online lives that it drives others into this descent into digital madness, where we constantly feel the need to one-up our friends, or we succumb to the illusion that our world is a grayer, less exciting version of what we see on Facebook, et al. One of the commenters labeled this the “Jones effect” (as in “keeping up with the Joneses”), and that’s the perfect way to describe it. It’s an dramatic arms race: our friends showcase their (so-called) awesome lives, and we feel we need to make ours more awesome as a result. No wonder folks get all bent out of joint in these realms.

This phenomenon affected me in the latter way: feeling what I was doing here was less important and less worthy than what others were saying out there. I’ve written a few times about the so-called “silent partners” in our online relationships: those folks who follow you on Twitter or friend you on Facebook, and yet never seem to either read, acknowledge, or respond to you from that point forward. I couldn’t figure it out, despite my best efforts, and I dropped my usage to the ultimate bare minimum for several months last year as a result. Now I have something I can use to identify this sensation, and it makes that much more sense.

People put so much guilt around our online relationships. You do it, and others around you do it. Don’t dare unfollow someone on Twitter or unfriend someone on Facebook lest they find out! Better to use some curated list or hide posts instead. It’s all so much unnecessary subterfuge. We need to be honest and just realize that we’re all people. We post because we want a reaction. Sometimes they’re trivial things, but we want a reaction all the same. So, it seems natural that people will decide to share things that are the pinnacle of wit, wisdom, weariness, or woe. Mark’s right: we don’t hear about the paint drying or toddler accidents; that’s the unattractive back alley side of life. But, we also need to realize that not everyone wants to hear those shards of our shiny lives, so it shouldn’t faze us if some folks tune out.

Your life is awesome. Perhaps not today, but your life is awesome. Don’t let those shiny “Botox lives” tell you otherwise.

 

What a Difference a Year Makes

What a difference a year makes.

Next month will mark a full year since I succeeded my previous boss as leader of my work’s web team. If you had asked me two years ago whether I’d want to move ahead in my career as a manager/leader or stay in the trenches as a dyed-in-the-wool developer, I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell you I had no desire to administrate. I liked being the specialist, where I could touch the raw code and pixels. I didn’t want to get involved in all the diplomatic back-and-forth that often accompanies a leading role. But, when my boss announced she was moving onward last November, duty called and I accepted the stripe on my sleeve. I’m really glad I did.

Turns out, I actually like management. It’s been gratifying to take the reins on projects and tasks now under my stewardship, building on relationships I had started in my developer years to carry them forward. I’ve also enjoyed taking on career development, making sure the developers on my team have all the tools, resources, and time they need to succeed in their projects and expand their professional expertise. The amount of time I actually touch code these days has decreased to less than 10% (and social media even less, but I’ll get to that in a moment), but that’s OK; my duties are elsewhere now. I’ve learned to rely upon and trust the expert opinions of my staff to carry out the objectives and strategies we craft together. Delegation, something I thought I would have a hard time getting used to, is now working smoothly.

Now comes the hard part. Yes, I’m enjoying management, but the amount of time I have on my hands to handle the “one true love” from my past life, social media, has dwindled dramatically. Whether or not you’ve noticed, this blog has also floundered. I always knew that social media was a time-consuming effort in order to get it done properly, but I’ve come to fully respect the sheer amount of dedication and regimented time management it often requires. I’ve had to peel back my level of involvement to a supervisory and technical support role while others, including some amazingly talented and level-headed junior staffers, have done the heavy lifting.

As with anything else in life, this transition has been a balancing act. Balancing projects, tasks, personnel, time, and making hard choices based on the “situation on the ground.” Have I given up social media altogether? Hardly, but I’m much quieter on Twitter, Facebook, et al. these days. I still have no Pinterest to speak of. I’ve found less to take away from new media these days, but, as an article I read today from Frank Strong aptly indicates, “you get out of social media what you put into it.” It is what it is.

As the saying goes, “change comes from within,” but it also came come from without, your environment shaping your evolution. This past year has been must that for me. An evolution.

Need to Help Others Understand Twitter? Have an “Elevator Pitch”

You’ve heard it all before: “Why should I join Twitter? Who cares what I had for lunch?” or “What am I supposed to talk about?” or, even better, “We don’t have time for our staff to be playing around on Twitter all day.” It’s not like Twitter is the new kid on the block anymore; with over 500 million users and several years of robust growth under its belt, it’s becoming more and more a staple social communications platform.

So what is it about Twitter that makes it so hard to understand?

Its premise is incredibly simple: send a short snippet about what you’re doing for others to read, and read snippets others have written for the same purpose. Sometimes conversations ensue, most times, they don’t. You can be a chatterbox with everyone who’s decided to follow you or an ivory tower who talks to no one. It’s your choice.

Beyond some basic etiquette rules crowdsourced by its users, there’s really no right or wrong way to use Twitter. It can be a real-time news feed, a community of interests, a message board, a chat room, a virtual classroom, a professional development tool; whatever you need.

Twitter is simple, and that’s where the trouble comes in.

In my experiences, many neophytes and first-timers who join Twitter feel lost, despite Twitter’s helpful attempts to ease the sign-in process with suggested topics and accounts to follow. They don’t seem to know what to say or how they should say it.

It’s also a challenge for businesses, who can struggle to understand how to use Twitter to its fullest in listening to their customers and promoting their wares. If clients read about how celebrities use Twitter or who among them are considered “influential,” they can get the false impression that tweeting is frivolous or a plaything not worthy of serious consideration.

I’ve learned that you need to have an “elevator pitch” for Twitter. If you want your friends, family, colleagues, or management to really feel the energy and potential of Twitter, you have to be able to explain it in one or two sentences. Back it up with good examples of people or businesses that really make Twitter shine, and save the arcane jargon (such as retweets) for later.

What’s your “elevator pitch” for Twitter?

Image credit: Unknown