Bright Matrices

Writings & musings of Mike Zavarello (a.k.a. brightmatrix), a "red mage" web developer.

Tag: twitter (page 1 of 3)

Why I Think Lists Are More Harmful to Twitter than Moments or Epic-length Tweets

Folks have been abuzz over recent and planned features they feel will sound the death knell for Twitter. When Moments came out, it was derided as forcing the conversation and overemphasizing trends. Next, we have this planned increase of tweet length from SMS-style messages to epic-length, 10,000-character novellas.

Every new addition to a network is going to have its detractors, but there’s one feature that’s been around a lot longer than I think is having a stronger and more negative effect on Twitter: Lists.

The original intent of lists was to focus a user’s assumed “multifaceted” tweet stream into more meaningful “buckets” of topic-based content. I can have all my synthwave folks in one bucket, my gaming folks in a second bucket, and political commentary in a third. A simple and noble concept, right?

As with other Twitter features, actual use has shifted from its intention. Rather than being something to curate or organize messages, lists are becoming a safe haven for folks with Twitter’s growing population and its heightened noise-to-signal ratio.

Unfortunately, there are no reliable trends or metrics for use of lists (not that I’ve found). I personally feel users are turning to lists for two key reasons:

  • It reduces the “feel-bads” that come from unfollowing someone. Whether you believe so or not, “following” someone on Twitter always feels like a commitment or affirmation, whereas lists are a heck of a lot more arbitrary. Grooming your lists instead of purging who you follow involves significantly less reputational risk (yes, that’s a thing), since you’re still, in effect, connected. Facebook did something similar in 2014 by adding a “following” feature alongside the “friendship” network it was founded on.
  • Lists can be private. Everyone and their mother can see who you follow. Lists, on the other hand, can be completely private, which allows you to curate with no fear of outside curiosity or commentary.

The big problem I personally have with these reasons is they make the Twitter ecosystem far more disingenuous. You have this group of followers who have made a voluntary decision to join your public conversations, but due to their use of lists, are pretty much turning a deaf ear to you. This is no longer real life. The bonds are weaker.

In hindsight, I think Google was on to something with their whole “Circles” ecosystem for Google Plus, but, as with other products like Buzz and Wave, it was a few years ahead of its need.

To sum up, I really, truly don’t like Twitter Lists, and it I don’t think the current use of the feature bodes well for Twitter. We already have this growing plague of folks “talking past one another” instead of talking to each other. Add greater reliability on lists and now it becomes just “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I really wonder whether this will affect adoption of new users, since they’ll be pretty much tweeting to empty air if they continue to assume that followers equals visibility.

Followers With Benefits?

The folks over at ReadWriteWeb posted an essay today that outlined the changes Foursquare, a location-based social network, was making to its model. Rather than asking members to become friends with others in order to fully experience all that Foursquare has to offer, they’ve moved the personal interaction piece into a separate app (Swarm) and moved to the “follow model” pioneered by Twitter. As the essay points out, Facebook did much the same not so long ago by allowing you to “subscribe” to accounts instead of asking to be their friends.

What’s fascinating to me about this trend is that we’re seeing digital evolution at its finest.

Twitter’s superiority and pervasiveness as a social network has always been its simplicity. In its early days, this was a source of great confusion among new users. They were dumped into the network without understanding how it worked or what they were supposed to do. Now, however, I see Twitter being used increasingly as a personal news and entertainment network: you “tune into” whatever suits your fancy and, quite literally, follow along. It’s the ease of following, without the baggage of asking to be someone’s friend, that makes this so effortless and so successful.

Asking to be someone’s “friend” is awkward and often charged with emotion and implied meaning, whether it’s old high school friends on Facebook or the unsolicited network invitations on LinkedIn. You’re asking to be granted permission into the walled gardens of someone’s domain, and everyone reacts to that in different ways. The “follow model” is cleaner and less cumbersome. You make yourself available to the world, as with Twitter, and let folks “tune in” and “tune out” as they see fit. There’s no agony over accepting or declining these personal invites. Plus, it makes whatever social network follows this model, such as Foursquare, feel less invasive and more welcoming.

All of this sounds like a “win-win,” right? You get to be “followers with benefits,” in a way; more of the good “newsy” stuff and less of the emotional baggage, right?

True, but the damage I see here is the signal vs. noise ratio. Twitter, for example, has already evolved over the past few years into a network where folks are “talking past each other,” posting whatever catches their eye, but not really engaging with one another unless the topic is narrow or the community a tightly-knit one. Folks want to be known. They want to be the next network superstar. They want to promote themselves and their ideas, be they whimsical, clever, thoughtful, or profane. Some days, it’s quite a lot of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I’m curious to see how further adoption of the “follow model,” should that trend continue, contributes to the evolution of conversations and interactions on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and other networks. This is still a very fluid medium, and it may surprise us to discover how we’ve adapted in the next social epoch.

A Confusing User Experience Betwixt Social Sharing Buttons in Twitter and SoundCloud

I recently joined SoundCloud, a social network for music and audio files (or, audiophiles, if you prefer). Overall, their user experience is simple, yet solid. As with other social networks, you can “like” a song, share it with your network (the user the term “repost”), add it to a list, or perform other tasks (download, share, buy). There are prominent buttons with clean, recognizable icons: a heart icon for “like,” a recycling arrow for “repost,” and a box with an arrow leading outwards for “share.” These are notably similar to Twitter’s “favorite” and “retweet” options, and, this is where I’ve noticed some problems.

When you view a single track in SoundCloud, the like, repost, and other icons are to the bottom left. On the right, there is a second set of similar icons with numbers next to them. These are “status” icons that show how many times this track has been played, liked, and reposted. If you click on any of these, you’ll see a page of the SoundCloud users who played, liked, or reposted the track.

A single track in SoundCloud. Note the sharing buttons at bottom left and status icons at bottom right.

A single track in SoundCloud. Note the sharing buttons at bottom left and status icons at bottom right.

Simple enough, right? Now, if you view your stream, which shows a series of tracks in the left-hand side of the page, related tracks will appear to the right in a sidebar. These have the same features as the single track page, except they are condensed in a smaller space.

Here's how the interface changes when you see SoundCloud tracks as related items. The icons are smaller and much closer together.

Here’s how the interface changes when you see SoundCloud tracks as related items. The icons are smaller and much closer together.

The play button is now mixed in with the like, repost, and share buttons, and these only appear when you hover over the track. They are now much closer to the status icons. What I’ve found is that I keep wanting to click on the status icons to perform a task, but, as with the single track page, this shows you who played, liked, or reposted the track. It doesn’t perform the action I expected.

This is a confusing action to me. Why? Because it is so similar to how Twitter handles these actions, and yet, the results are not the same.

On Twitter’s web interface, the main actions, reply, retweet, favorite, and more, are presented with their respective icons. The status icons, however, are shown as numbers (see the retweets and favorites titles below the tweet preview). Clicking on those numbers gives you the same result as SoundCloud (a list of who retweeted or favorited that tweet), but, because Twitter does not repeat the icons, there is a clearer distinction between these pieces of information and the actual actions you can take on this post.

A basic tweet. Notice how the actions are kept separate from the status icons, which are only numbers here.

A basic tweet. Notice how the actions are kept separate from the status icons, which are only numbers here.

The social media management tool Hootsuite does something similar in their interface. In Hootsuite, you view tweets as a series of vertical columns called a “stream.” The number of times a tweet has been retweeted is easily visible below the tweet itself. As with Twitter, clicking on this status icon shows you who did the retweeting. The actions you can take on that tweet appear when you move your mouse over the post. They are kept separate from the status icon, and, since they appear when you hover over the tweet, it’s clear that these are actions you can take right now.

Hootsuite's interface shows very simply the actions you need to take and who's sharing each tweet.

Hootsuite’s interface shows very simply the actions you need to take and who’s sharing each tweet.

I think it’s great that disparate social networks like Twitter and SoundCloud are using similar actions and iconography. It’s forming a universal language that reduces the burden on users, who now need to learn one less set of terms or icons when moving from network to network. The problem, though, is that if you as a user learn to expect one set of behavior on one network, it’s confusing when the expected behavior on the other network doesn’t match up to what you’ve experienced elsewhere.

I think SoundCloud would do itself and its users a great benefit by mimicking how its older cousin, Twitter, manages its action and status icons and limit the number of misclicks.

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.

 

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

The Social Media Neophyte Who Flew Too Close to the Sun

20120220-213807.jpg

Image credit: Unknown; source: http://englishihonorsmythology.wikispaces.com/Icarus

I love social media. Ever since my first tweet in June 2009, I’ve learned an immense amount about the mechanics, arcana, and vagaries of these networks and their inhabitants. I’ve become an “expert neophyte” of sorts, and my experiences have become beneficial for both my career and my colleagues. Along with my first love, Twitter, I hold digital citizenships in Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Tumblr, WordPress, and Google+. My time spent in social media been equal parts amazing and enriching, but I’ve also found how overwhelming it can be if you’re not careful.

Around July of last year, shortly after I joined the hordes charging into the virgin wilderness of Google+, I had enough. I’d spent too many hours stressing over whether I was as knowledgable, “authentic,” and influential as I should be. I flipped back and forth between networks constantly, checking what I missed since my last visit and who had interacted with me in the interim. I was also in the midst of a years-long, strenuous redesign project where I was a key technical lead, and I simply had fewer and fewer cycles to spare for my alter egos. One day, I simply dropped off the grid. I posted nothing to Twitter for weeks, kept a lazy, glazed eye on Facebook, and put all my other presences, including this blog, in stasis.

I had burned myself out. I had flown too close to the sun.

It took me eight months to understand that my personal limit for fully-engaged social networks is two. I can maintain a presence in a few ancillary networks as well, but if I spend more than a cursory amount of time there, I feel the psychic strain from spreading myself too thin. I realized how easy it can be to get mired in keeping up with the digital Joneses: crafting the next clever blog post or witty comment, absorbing all the latest articles on Pinterest, getting the next Foursquare badge, or sustaining a Klout score. One simply can’t read, write, like, comment on, or share everything. It seems stupefyingly obvious, but I found that you really do start seeing trees instead of a forest if you’re not careful.

So, I’ve narrowed my focus back down to the essentials: Twitter for news, trends, professional connections, and real-time conversations, and Facebook to share life’s little snippets with family and friends. LinkedIn is delegated to my digital Rolodex; Foursquare an idle curiosity best suited for waiting at airport terminals; Tumblr a rare time waster; Google+ purely for research on how it works. Don’t even get me started about my feelings on Pinterest, Instagram, or the other new kids on the social media block.

I’ve invested a lot of time in Twitter and Facebook. To me, they’re now among the “established” social networks. As much as the landscape has changed over the past several years (AOL to LiveJournal to Friendster to MySpace and so on), I can’t shake the sensation that they’re here for the long run. As such, it will take a great deal of convincing for me to pull up stakes and move to another digital country. Because that is the choice I’m making from here on out: rather than collect more and more social profiles, I’ll replace them, swap them out. But it has to be worth it.

No more double-ended candles for me. I love social media too much to burn out again.

Behind the Juggernauts’ Curtain: Highlights from BlogWell’s Social Media Case Studies Event

On November 9, 2010, I attended BlogWell: How Big Brands Use Social Media at SAP Headquarters in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Hosted by the Social Media Business Council and GasPedal, BlogWell brought together case studies from eight major firms such as Hershey, Scholastic, Pfizer, and Discovery Communications in a fast-paced, half-day event.

Major themes discussed at BlogWell were the structure of social media initiatives within large, often heavily regulated industries, ways these firms are using innovative social campaigns to engage with their audiences, and the legal and ethical challenges they’re facing. Overall, it was refreshing to get a peek behind the curtains to see these corporate juggernauts taking well thought out, pragmatic, and innovative paths to successful social solutions. I’ve compiled notes from several of the sessions I attended.

Pfizer’s Social Media Playbook

Kate Bird, Digital Communications Professional for Pfizer, presented her company’s social media playbook, which she billed as “practical guidance for colleagues”.

The playbook boils down aspects of Pfizer’s official social media policy into a 20-30 page “umbrella” document that covers each of the major channels and provides guidance on how employees should engage in these channels, both professionally and personally.

It contains a resource repository that links to existing policies and training materials, official Pfizer social media channels, best practice documents, and illustrates how employees can get started. The playbook is evolving into an interactive digital tool encompassing wikis, videos, and collaborative spaces.

Kate also shared how Pfizer offers corporate-wide webinars and training on social media to all interested employees across different parts of the organization. All training is managed and conducted by employees.

Within the broader scope of social media, Pfizer expects to create a rich catalog of social properties, communities, and initiatives, with the goal of connecting the people who need to be connected to each other. They also hope to reduce agency costs by eliminating duplicate and redundant social media outlets with the organization. In addition, they want to offer their employees a deeper understanding of core social media principles. Finally, Pfizer seeks to have a more relevant and connected social footprint.

Keeping Bloggers Honest with Disclosures

Andy Sernovitz led the middle-of-the-afternoon main session on ethics and disclosure. His points were succinct and direct: it’s OK to have a commercially-minded social media program, so long as it’s clear. Disclosure increases the authenticity of your message, making you more credible and powerful.

The Federal Trade Commission requires disclosure and truthfulness in all social media outreach. It’s your responsibility to monitor the conversation around your brand or business and correct misstatements. Andy stated that it’s essential to have social media policies and training programs. He also cautioned that while bloggers are not your employees, you need to make a good faith effort to make certain they disclose. If the blogger or agency you hire is found to be unethical, the FTC will find you responsible.

Andy’s advice for handling bloggers is simple: never pay bloggers and insist on real disclosure. Paying bloggers changes the game from word-of-mouth to advertising, and readers will learn to distrust you. As for disclosure, make sure the bloggers are up front and clear with their statements, not burying them on their “About Me” page.

The “10 magic words” in disclosure are: “I work for X, and this is my personal opinion.” Disclosure statements need to clearly show who the blogger is, whether they were paid, and whether they’re offering an honest opinion based on a real experience. It’s then up to the reader to decide what the disclosure means to them.

The Social Media Business Council has a Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit that’s available for anyone download and use as a basis for their own social media efforts.

Coordinated Social Communications at Johnson & Johnson

Marc Monseau, of Corporate Communications at Johnson & Johnson, talked about how his corporation is taking advantage of the opportunities in social media, creating relationships, and learning more about their audience and how to best support them.

Starting first with a blog describing the history the company, Johnson & Johnson’s social media footprint has expanded over the past four years to include a corporate blog, YouTube channel, Facebook page, and four Twitter accounts. Each channel allows them to connect with key online stakeholders talking about health care and offer their own thoughts on health care topics.

Both their corporate blog and YouTube channel have healthy discussions. Marc described how they’ve become pathways into Johnson & Johnson for users to provide feedback on the topics presented and as a way to generate community discussions.

Marc explained how each of their channels operates in concert with each other. His staff has regular editorial meetings to discuss how to best engage their audiences. They then select the appropriate channel based on the nature of the message and where their audience is located, and decide which bloggers and influencers to interact with. By being open, responsive, and timely, Johnson & Johnson has been able to turn the tide in online conversations.

Johnson & Johnson has separate social media policies for their employees, based on whether the activities are external or integral to the organization. These policies give departments pathways to create their own initiatives.

Marc advised that, before you begin any foray into social media, you need to understand where conversations about you are taking place, who is saying them, and why. You must understand the dynamics of these discussions and your role in them. He recommended a consistent approach and behavior across all touch points, both in official publications and third-party websites; this is especially critical for heavily regulated industries.

Experimenting with Social Solutions for Internal Collaboration

The last session at BlogWell was led by Jonathon Haley, Director at BlackRock, an asset management firm. Jonathon elaborated on the social solutions for internal collaboration currently under way at BlackRock. His group is experimenting with ways social media can offer solutions with true business value. While the process isn’t expected to be finalized until early 2011, Jonathon shared what they’ve done to date and what they’ve learned along the way.

The key problem being addressed, he explained, is inefficient communication to and collaboration among the sales teams. Everyone is trying to feed valuable information to the sales team. How do you manage the mass of incoming information?

They first started with adding content authoring, on both personal and professional levels, to the teams’ annual objectives, then turned to internal blogs. Jonathon’s group gathered data to learn how social the teams were and conducted more intensive tests on specific channels with volunteers. This process allowed the group to find the social advocates within their organization and use them to lead the way.

Jonathon and his group then created “villains” to rally the teams around. First, they flagged PDFs in internal communications as the villain to encourage to teams to share information in more accessible, shareable, and searchable platforms. Then, they identified fringe players attempting to disrupt asset management models, as well as competitors with thought leaders on their sides, as the external villains.

Ultimately, the social solution at BlackRock must provide real business value: revenue creation and cost savings to the firm. The group has defined several metrics, such as number of phone calls per day to content experts, as benchmarks for the solution.

Jonathon advised gathering dedicated resources to work on social efforts like his, and to keep those teams tight. He emphasized that his group is comfortable with “small wins” in social as they consider how they’ll expand their solution across the company.

The Mystery of the Silent Partner, Part II: Three Additional Theories

In a post this past August, I discussed a relationship I had observed on Twitter that I called the “silent partner”: accounts that follow you but never interact with you, or those who follow you back, but seemingly refuse interaction. I had put forth some proposals on why these connections occur, but I’ve since developed three additional theories on why you may find yourself linked up with a silent partner.

First, you may have become trapped in what I call the “follow-back haystack”. If your silent partner follows back everyone who follows them (a custom I find unnecessary), their timeline will become choked with thousands upon thousands of tweeters. Your questions, observations, mentions, and references get lost in the shuffle: the needles in their haystack. Or, to use another analogy, it’s like trying to raise your voice in a crowded restaurant or bar. You’re not silent, and neither is your partner, but they’re dealing with far too much noise to hear you. Some follow-back users are better at getting back to mentions than most, but even then, it may simply be a matter of your post getting viewed a just the right moment.

Your silent partner could also be a “list-exclusive conversationalist”: one who only pays attention to those they’ve added to a Twitter list or TweetDeck group. This is especially true if they’re the follow-back type: what better way to cut through all the noise of their timeline then to converse only with a select group of friends, colleagues, and peers? These users may tune back into their timeline now and again, but if you’re not on one of their lists, you may as well be tweeting into the ether.

Or, lastly, your silent partner may be an “inattentive idler”: someone who is either sporadically active on Twitter or who dropped off the map altogether. They may have followed you after comments you made in a Twitter chat, or a mention in one of their friend’s timelines. In the meantime, though, they either lost interest or were never really that much into Twitter in the first place. If the idlers only post once every few weeks or months, they’re not likely to spend time scanning back through their timeline’s history to catch up on your posts. Plus, mentions may fall on deaf ears if they’re away for extended periods.

I’m sure there are other ways to diagnose the syndrome of “silent partners”. What symptoms have you observed in your travels through the Twitterverse?

Older posts

© 2017 Bright Matrices

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑