Bright Matrices

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

Category: Twitter (page 3 of 3)

Bored With Twitter? You Have No One To Blame But Yourself

Over the past few years, Twitter has become a serious method of communication for individuals, businesses, causes, and governments. Yet this channel still can’t shake the perception that it’s all about vapid observations on sandwiches and the activities of dimwitted celebrities. It’s sad, because Twitter has, in my opinion, moved beyond an “emerging channel” into an established communications platform that has much potential and plenty of uses. Not everyone is talking about fluff … there’s lots of good stuff out there.

If you think Twitter is boring or ephemeral, you have no one to blame but yourself. Why? Because it’s all in how you use it.

It’s quite possible you’re doing it wrong.

I’ve said over and over again that you are in control of your social networks. It’s your territory; you can do whatever you want. Twitter is all opt-in: if you want to get real-time updates on any number of personalities or topics, you just have to follow ones that interest you. Don’t like what you’re reading? Don’t follow those feeds anymore. Getting bored with the same chatter from the same folks? Shuffle the deck once in a while: go use Twitter’s search engine, check out real-time updates through Google, or look up hashtags to find feeds or topics that are of value to you, and follow them. Pull up the websites of your favorite hobbies, restaurants, musicians, etc. and see if they have a Twitter feed to follow. Try them out for a bit, and don’t feel bad about unfollowing them if it doesn’t work out.

What you’re reading on Twitter should be valuable to you. Don’t waste your time by following feeds you no longer read or find interesting. Don’t sit there and wonder why you’re not finding anything good by refusing to be adventurous and finding new sources of information. Go out there and get it done … and stop blaming Twitter for your boredom.

Update (8-10-10): While cleaning out my Twitter favorites this morning, I happened upon a saved tweet from Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder) that was the progenitor of this blog post. Therefore, I must give credit where it is due and cite his post for inspiration.

Notes from Radian6’s Online Seminar on Open Leadership in Social Media

On Friday, July 30, 2010, I attended an online seminar hosted by Radian6 and starring Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group. Charlene talked about key points from her book, “Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead”. Below are some brief elaborations of the key points I live-tweeted during the seminar. You can listen to the entire recording on Radian6’s website.

Please note: All quoted text is attributed to Charlene, not me.

  • “You are no longer in control because of these social technologies. Have the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control” of both the message and the medium.
  • The dialog between businesses and their customers is changing from formal press releases to chats on Facebook (John Deere) and question-and-answer sessions on Twitter (Best Buy’s Twelpforce). Starbucks is successful in crowdsourcing, for example, because they take the time to integrate it into their business (My Starbucks Idea). These relationships will deepen as the culture of sharing becomes more accepted.
  • Learn and listen first. There is a movement from traditional market research to “anyone who can do a search”. Learning comes ahead of dialog, supporting, and innovating. Monitoring tools are key t0 success in learning about your customers and their needs; free, online tools like Google Blog Search and Twitter’s search engine are great starting points for listening.
  • When businesses consider entering social media, they should think about blogs. “Blogs establish thought leadership” and showcase the act of sharing with your clients, partners, employees, etc. CEO blogs are good examples of this.
  • Respect that the relationship your users want with you may not include engaging; they may just want to watch. When responding to feedback found via social media monitoring, start with comments on blogs. Use a personal approach instead of simply acknowledging the post with “send me an e-mail”; it’s less unsettling and sets a more comfortable tone.
  • Pick one of your annual strategic goals where being open and social will have an impact. This decision is crucial for budget and buy-in from senior management.
  • Prepare your organization for the new relationships your company will have when going social. Think about how you’re going to engage negative comments or reviews. Prepare for failure. Encourage dialog to foster trust and speed recovery. Follow Google’s mantra: “Fail fast and fail smart”.
  • Create “sandbox covenants”: rules of engagement for how open your business will be in social media.
  • Trust is not an absolute; it is built over time. “You may not trust a lot, so you may need to start with a small base”. Make small gains and show discipline in order to gain trust in use of social media and openness. You can’t have trust without responsibility. Being open means understanding the promises you’re making by establishing a relationship with your customers; it requires accountability.
  • Explaining and updating are two ways people are often open within their organization. Being open doesn’t mean completely open, however; you don’t need to share everything. Most businesses have false sense of what “openness” means in social media.
  • The key employees to seek out when staffing social media channels are those who are “obsessed about developing that relationship [between the business and the customer]. They see themselves as the glue tying people together” and can come from any dept: PR, IT, marketing, investor relations, etc.
  • One of the biggest problems with social media in business is, “who owns the technology”. HP, for example, has multiple Facebook pages for their brands, but each has a consistent look-and-feel to help unite them.
  • Capturing social media information for compliance (a requirement for government agencies) is difficult. There are ways to accomplish this on the back-end, but can be a challenge to identify people. The structure of regulated industries can give a more defined focus on how to drive their efforts. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Pfizer are examples of large, regulated firms who are well-established in social media.

Some of the many quotable quotes from the seminar included:

  • “Can being more open help connect you with your customers? What do your customers what you to be more open about?”
  • “You never know what’s going to happen on the other side of that tweet.”
  • “I look at blogs and Twitter as two great cousins working together.”
  • “People realize [that social media] isn’t a bright, shiny object any more… it’s here to stay.”

Many thanks to Radian6 and Charlene for an excellent seminar.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Shedding Twitter Complainers

I came across an excellent tweet by Jeremiah Owyang last week that gives a very simple tip to shedding folks on Twitter who complain about your posts. Basically, you block, then unblock them. It’s quite a “gentleman’s way” of pushing folks out of your circle: you set Jane Complainer free but don’t shun them by blocking them. It severs the connection, nice and neat.

I realized, however, there is a small trick to this method. If you use Twitter’s native interface, selecting “Block USERNAME” gives you an “undo” option by default. Clicking “undo” merely restores the user as one of your followers; it doesn’t “unblock” them.

Here’s the solution. Go to your list of followers, then open the account page for the follower you want to block/unblock in a new browser tab or window. From the first tab/window, select “Block USERNAME” from the list of actions (see first screenshot below). The user will be blocked, and you will see the “undo” action. Do nothing else here.


Switch to the tab with the user’s account, then refresh the page (use Control + F5 to fetch the freshest version). You’ll notice that a gray box appears with an “unblock” option (see left side of screenshot below). Click the “unblock” link to complete the process.

Now, what you don’t want is the “undo” option; this is what you’ll see if you block the user directly from their account page (see right side of screenshot below). As mentioned above, the “undo” link will just make them a follower again.


Third-party Twitter clients may give you similar options. I’m most familiar with Hootsuite; you can block users from their “Contacts” pane, but you can’t unblock them there. You’d need to take the extra step of opening up the user’s account in your browser and unblocking them as shown above.

I hope you’ll find this extra elaboration of Jeremiah’s idea helpful. I’ve also used this technique to shed accounts following me due to an unrelated keyword match or spammers.

Update (7-29-10): Shortly after publishing this article, I received feedback on Twitter that questioned the use of this technique in lieu of engagement and conversation. A few thoughts on this:

  • First, I personally advocate engagement first and foremost vs. bluntly shutting out detractors or those who disagree with you. However, some folks just want to gripe instead of talk; that’s human nature.
  • Also, your network is your territory: you have the freedom to do whatever you want. If blocking out users without dialog is your thing, that’s up to you.
  • Lastly, I certainly wouldn’t advise organizations or corporations to do something like this unless they’re concerned about the nature of certain followers (and whatever reputational implications that one-sided relationship carries). In that case, that’s up them and/or their management. At face value, pushing out followers limits the voice of your business and doesn’t appear very customer friendly.

A topic for a future post, perhaps …?

Using Hashtags to Win Friends and Influence Others

One of the most useful aspects of Twitter are hashtags. Effective and clever use of hashtags can really make Twitter’s role as an information aggregator shine, and can also be used to spread your messages to a larger audience. While simple in concept, hashtags can often stump relatively new users or clients seeking to use Twitter for business purposes.

What’s a Hashtag?

A hashtag is a way to join common topics together in Twitter. You enter the hash mark (#) before a word or phrase to create the keyword; omit spaces or replace them with underscores to grab the entire phrase. The hashtag then becomes “clickable”: Twitter users who click on a hashtag will see a real-time stream of everyone who’s used it in their posts.

Hashtags are commonly used for events and online discussions or chats. Whoever organizes the event or chat will assign a hashtag in advance for use by the participants. This insures that anyone who wants to join in will be heard in the ongoing conversation (for some recent, good examples, look up #twtrcon or #uiewamt). You’ll often notice that your followers will increase after participating in these types of chats (just don’t post for that purpose alone; be informative, helpful, and polite).

Hashtags are also useful for joining together communities of interest. If you tweet something about user experience, for example, your messages will only reach your followers (unless they decide to retweet you, of course). But adding the hashtag “#ux” will carry your message to anyone tuning into that discussion, which can often be a much broader audience. In addition, by following community of interest discussions yourself, you’re likely to come across helpful and valuable sources of information. It’s also a great way to make new connections with folks who share your passions.

How Do I Use a Hashtag?

The most effective way to use a hashtag is to find one that’s already in use; that way, you’re confident that your messages will find their way into existing conversations. Go to Twitter’s search page and enter a sample term to see whether it turns up any results. There may be more than one term for a specific topic (such as “#ff” and “#followfriday”). If you’re at an event, check with the coordinators to see whether an official hashtag has been assigned.

If you’re thinking of creating a new hashtag for a business purpose, make certain it will have common, consistent, and frequent use by any accounts managed by your organization. It’s important to check whether your chosen hashtag is already in use to avoid confusion.

Some users will make up their own hashtags for a whimsical or clever purpose. Foes of the font Comic Sans (myself included) will occasionally post using the hashtag “#deathtocomicsans”. Social media luminary and frequent traveler Olivier Blanchard (also known as The Brand Builder) uses “#WhereisTBB” to let his audience know his location when on the road. These may be less practical, but they’re often a lot of fun.

Best Practices for Using Hashtags

When using hashtags, be mindful of some etiquette rules that have been established:

  • Choose wisely: Don’t use more than three of four hashtags in one post; not only is this a technique of spammers, it also reduces the length of your message (make clever use of all 140 of those characters!).
  • Stay on topic: Don’t use hashtags for unrelated posts. During the Iran election protests last year, the hashtag “#iranelection” was used, where it resided as one of the top 10 trending topics for several months. An intern at a British furniture store capitalized on this hashtag’s popularity by using it in their Twitter promotions, and they were promptly slammed for this tactic.
  • Don’t overshare. It’s one thing to be a chatterbox in your own feed, but when you join a hashtag conversation, you’re adding your voice to others who don’t normally follow you. Don’t irritate your new neighbors by posting too frequently. If you’re not sure how much is too much, see how often others are posting and use that as a guide.

Counseling Your Clients About Twitter Use in the Enterprise

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed increased interest in standing up Twitter accounts for in-house corporate events where I work. As a local evangelist of Twitter, I’m pleased to see more visibility for this channel as a serious communication tool. At the same time, I’m concerned that clients don’t understand some of the risks of Twitter use in the enterprise and are wading into murky waters.

From my perspective, there are three risks clients should be counseled about whenever they approach you about Twitter for use in-house: content strategy, code of conduct, and internal security.

You need to have your clients think hard about their content strategy. Why are they using Twitter for this purpose (instead of other in-house networking tools)? What are their expectations? What are their goals? Do they want to engage or simply inform? What is the nature of the material that would be shared? How will the event and its presence on Twitter be marketed internally? Your clients also need to have someone (or more than one, if that’s possible) manning the feed who understands the topics of the event and can respond to questions, comments, and overall feedback in a timely fashion. You don’t want to promote use of Twitter and have no one tuning in, offer paltry content, or leave comments unanswered.

For many organizations, code of conduct dictates how employees are expected to use or avoid use of online forums, which includes social media channels. There’s always a legal angle here. If your goal is to throw up an internal Twitter account and expect employees to connect and converse with this feed, you need to think twice about you go about this. Folks who are new to Twitter or limited in their expertise may not understand how far their messages can reach. You don’t want to unwittingly get folks in trouble with your legal department just because they wanted to play along. Err on the side of caution and talk to your legal folks for their verdict. Involve the client so they can understand, too.

Let’s move to internal security. First and foremost is the illusion of privacy within Twitter, which I wrote about in more detail in a previous post. I can’t stress to clients enough that simply locking down a feed isn’t sufficient to keep the information they want to share within the organization. Plus, a locked-down feed can be a barrier to employees who are new to Twitter: the large yellow box and lock icon don’t exactly evoke feelings of openness. Then, there’s sensitivity of content. If you invite outside speakers to present at an in-house event, for example, as long as they keep the discussions based on their industry expertise vs. something tailored to your business, you should be OK posting highlights from the presentation. The slope becomes slippery for panelists or speakers from within the organization. Consider carefully whether their topics would stir up trouble for your organization’s reputation or bottom line if released to the general public. Now, of course, the folks manning the in-house Twitter feed could keep the tweets generic or simply avoid commentary on those sessions altogether, but the value gained by having the feed in the first place would be lost.

So, what about enterprise microblogging tools like Yammer? Well, that’s a great solution because everything stays within the organization: posts are limited strictly to employees of the organization and encryption is provided, which eliminates both the code of conduct and internal security risks. However, Yammer is not as well known (at least in my personal experience) and requires a more official process to get off the ground; anyone can get a Twitter account up and running within minutes. Still, I believe it’s a worthy effort to consider if you or your clients intend on using this type of channel for more internally-focused purposes in the long run.

Why Twitter Privacy is an Illusion

When I first talk with clients about standing up a Twitter account, invariably the question of “can we make it private?” comes up. Maybe they’re considering Twitter as a crisis communications tool limited to employees only, or perhaps they’re skittish about dealing with criticism from a public forum. After explaining to them that making a business-oriented Twitter account private is neither an effective nor trustworthy way of using the channel, I also elaborate on why privacy on Twitter is an illusion.

A private, or “protected”, Twitter account means your tweets can only be seen by followers you approve. Your tweets won’t show up in search results (either in Twitter or third-party tools), and they can’t be retweeted (quoted) by anyone who follows you. It doesn’t however, stop your followers from copying and pasting your tweets into their own posts, but the same could be said for any type of social networking account with varying levels of privacy.

So why are Twitter’s privacy settings less substantial? Let’s use Facebook as a comparison.

The walls are thinner. Protected tweets apply only to your timeline. If you have a conversation with someone whose account is public, outside observers can see their half of the discussion. Depending on the context, it could be quite easy to fill in the blanks. In addition, protected accounts still allow others to see who you’re following and who’s following you; outsiders could study your connections to learn more about you. Conversations within Facebook are somewhat more closed: as long as your privacy settings are configured correctly, people you’re not friends with can’t see when your friends comment on your wall posts. Also, Facebook’s settings allow you to block the list of your friends from those not in your network, so they can’t see who you’re connected to.

The audience is larger. Facebook has an upper bound of 5000 friends per standard account. If you’ve allowed someone to view your protected tweets, and they either have a dialog with you or post your content via copy-and-paste, those messages could potentially reach an audience of millions very quickly.

The privacy settings are more austere. You can either protect your tweets or make them public. That’s it. No friends-only, friends-of-friends, or any custom settings in between.

I think dispelling the illusion of privacy in protected Twitter accounts is helpful, not just from a business perspective, but also for folks who want to keep their tweets behind sealed walls. The best practice is to always assume you’re speaking in a public space, so be mindful of your privacy on Twitter by understanding what can be shared about you.

No Good Tweet Goes Unpunished

I want to share a rather curious exchange I had recently that evolved into a discussion on Twitter etiquette.

This May, I helped manage an annual conference at my company that brings together over 100 digital communicators from across the country to discuss topics related to the online world, such as content strategy, user experience, and social media. We decided to stand up a unique Twitter account this year to allow attendees, both in-person at the event and those tuning in remotely, to stay connected, share their thoughts, and let us know how we were doing. On the second day, I noticed a negative post by one of our attendees about our speakers. I wanted to do right by the comment, so I responded to them publicly from our event account, acknowledging their dissatisfaction and encouraging them to complete our conference survey so we’d know how to do better next time.

Within a few hours, I received an instant message from them asking me to never talk to them publicly and instead use direct messages. I was a bit confused by the request and its tone, as their feed was public. When I mentioned this, the attendee said they didn’t want that comment to be read by us. “Why post then?” I asked. “It’s for my friends only,” they replied. After asking me again not to respond to them in public, I repeated my offer of completing our feedback form and opted to end the conversation.

I sat there for a moment and thought, this is absurd. Why was this person getting offended that I responded to a public tweet they made, especially when, in my opinion, the response was handled in a professional manner? After thinking over the situation for a few days, I determined that the attendee hadn’t wanted their co-workers to know about their Twitter account. I had unintentionally “outed” them to anyone who was following the event feed.

So how did I find the complaint? During the event, I had noticed a reply to the attendee from one of our speakers, responding to a compliment given to them by this person. Curious to know what was said, I looked over the attendee’s feed, and that’s where I spotted it, a few posts down in their timeline. Now, this person said they didn’t want their comment to be read, and they did a good job not making it obvious. They didn’t mention our feed or use the unique hashtag we established, so it wouldn’t have shown up in our monitoring. I only discovered it because the speaker used our event hashtag in their reply and included the attendee’s handle.

I was pretty certain I had done nothing out of line, but the conversation was still nagging me a bit, so I did what any self-respecting twitternaut would do and crowdsourced a question: did I break an unnamed rule of Twitter etiquette? One of my followers said that there’s a fine line when replying to public posts, as it could be similar to someone randomly walking up to you on the street and commenting on a conversation you were having with a friend. When I elaborated that I was replying to a complaint, they replied that, in that instance, the response was probably appropriate. Another follower said “public is public” and I was not in the wrong. A third follower’s comment, which was my favorite, said that I “shattered the illusion that [the person] wasn’t talking to the entire world”.

After digesting these thoughts, here’s my conclusion: it’s all about intention.

Let’s use the person on the street analogy my follower suggested. When you’re in that sort of situation, you’re not intending the random bystander to be involved in your conversation, so if they suddenly come up to you and chime in, it becomes a violation of your privacy and it pretty unnerving as a result. With Twitter, however, if you make your timeline public, you’re pretty much intending to speak to whoever happens to be listening; that’s the whole point. Don’t be surprised to get a reply or a comment from someone whenever you tweet. Because their criticism of our event was made bare for all to see, the irked attendee shouldn’t have been irked at all. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t flag the post so it wouldn’t be obvious to find. It was public, so it was fair game.

So, what do you think? Did I cross a line and break an etiquette rule, or was I justified in my actions? I’d love to hear what others could add to the conversation.

Update (5-17-10): Two things I wanted to add: First, in order better balance the article, I decided to strike out two bits I felt strayed into “weasel word” territory. Second, I neglected to mention that the attendee promptly made their Twitter account private following our instant message exchange.

Keeping Your Private Life Private: Social Networks Only Know What You Tell Them

Between Google Buzz and Facebook, discussions centered on privacy and the implications of using social networks having been hot topics so far this year. The issue certainly isn’t new, but it’s reaching critical mass now because of the players involved. With over 500 million unique users, Facebook is sitting on an exceedingly rich vein of personal information and usage data, and Google, of course, pretty much knows everything you’d ever need to learn. Both have advertisers chomping at the bit to know as much about you as possible to make that next sale. What’s their only barrier? Your privacy.

Right now, the primary difference between Facebook and Google is the basic structure of their networks. Google, for the most part, is an open network: various and sundry details about you and your browsing habits are collected and retained as you go about your business on the web, but these remain generally anonymous. Buzz started off on the wrong foot by trying to mix this anonymous, open data set with the more closed network of Gmail. Facebook, on the other hand, started off as a more closed network, where your information stayed relatively safe within the confines of your personal network. Their privacy settings, however, have evolved towards making much of your profile public by default, often with little fanfare or notice. The shifting walls of security in both Buzz and Facebook have given their users and privacy advocates plenty of heartburn. It’s good to see a constant hum of awareness about what is truly private and public, as a lot of folks don’t seem to be aware of what’s happening to their data, but there’s one key observation that I see missing from these discussions: social networks only know what you tell them. If you don’t want your personal details to be shared under any means or circumstances, then don’t share them in the first place. You’ll cease to be concerned about your privacy if you don’t sacrifice it. Facebook is not magical; it won’t tell CNN what shows you watch and suggest articles without your intervention.

Of course, I understand that one of the main points of social networks is the sharing of information. You obviously can’t and shouldn’t be fearful of sharing, but you can be aware of how much you do share. The very nature of these networks will make people who follow you seem eerily clairvoyant about your comings and goings, but if you keep your details to a relatively general and innocuous nature, there’s neither harm nor foul. To that end, I’ve collected a few thoughts I hope will get you thinking more about your social privacy.

Always assume you’re talking in a room where you can be overheard. Closed networks like Facebook can be penetrated by those willing to be patient and creative, so don’t share things that would make you embarrassed, get you kicked out of your preferred religious place of worship, fired, or cause you to be incarcerated if it were suddenly made public to everyone. Stick to the facts. Don’t overshare. Be very mindful about broadcasting your location on tools like Fourquare. Folks running on the right side of the law are not the only ones being creative with these networks.

Never settle for the default settings. If you’re just joining a social network, check your surroundings carefully before you reveal anything significant about yourself. Is the network open or closed by default? Is there an all-or-nothing set of options, or can you customize? A great quote I read on Twitter this week made the analogy that leaving your default settings unchanged was “like streaking in public”.

Stay informed about your network. If there’s an option to receive e-mails whenever the network makes a change, sign up for it. Follow resources like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Help Net Security to learn about changes in privacy policies or security incidents that you may need to worry about. It never hurts to review your account preferences on a regular basis to confirm that you’re sharing (or hiding) exactly what you want.

Avoid revealing “security questions”. Banking and financial websites like to ask you “security questions” they feel “only you can answer” should you forget your user name or password. They’re usually along the lines of “what was your first pet’s name?” or “what is your mother’s maiden name?”, and are intended to decrease the likelihood of someone getting access to your account. People tend to be nice and chatty on social networks, and it’s become much easier for scammers to learn more about you. Social engineers look at what you post, what you like, who you talk to and follow, and use these details to fill in the blanks. Avoid talking about the subjects of your security questions or pick ones that are more obscure. The same goes for passwords: find something memorable but ephemeral: What song has been in your head recently? Was state does last week’s Powerball winner live in? What’s your cat’s least favorite toy? You get the idea.

Keep an eye on your friends. In networks like Facebook, where you can be tagged to photos or videos taken of you, with or without your knowledge, it’s important to stay aware of what your friends and colleagues are doing with your data, and, to a larger extent, your reputation. Make sure your account notifications are set up so that you’re sent an e-mail or text whenever someone associates anything in their profile with you. Don’t be afraid to tell people you don’t want anything posted without your permission; it is you, after all. Also, don’t “friend” people who you think will be less than trustworthy with your personal information. Check to see how much they make public, and then imagine how much of your profile would end up there if they start tagging your posts.

The struggles with your public presence and what you choose to keep private will continue to change as social networks progress in their evolution, but you can stay ahead of the game with a dose of skepticism and some healthy common sense.

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