Bright Matrices

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

Tag: twitter (page 2 of 3)

Key Elements for Measuring Your Social Media Campaigns

Now that social media channels like Twitter and Facebook have matured into solid communications platforms, many individuals, organizations, corporations, and agencies have taken to these channels to reach their audiences. What hasn’t quite solidified, however, is how these campaigns are tracked and measured. There’s still a decent amount of confusion and differing opinions of what you should measure and how.

In this post, I’ll share several factors, methods, and steps that I’ve learned this year about how you can effectively and realistically measure your social media campaigns. This isn’t intended to be a complete or exhaustive list of what you could use, but it’s my hope that each topic will assist you in your endeavors.

Define Your Goals and What Constitutes Success

Before you pursue any coordinated effort in your social media channels, think very carefully about your goals and what constitutes success for you. Remember, you cannot measure success (or anything at all, for that matter) if you don’t have defined goals up front or have an unclear vision of what defines a successful venture.

  • Expectations: Set the expectations of the campaign early and often. Make sure the goals and definitions of success can be precisely tracked, measured, and reported on. Build a communications strategy and make sure everyone who will be involved in the campaign has read and understood it completely. If you’re simply testing the waters of a specific social media channel or experimenting with a new approach, that’s perfectly fine, but make certain everyone understands that, especially those in charge.
  • Timeframe: Think about the timeframe of your efforts. What is the life expectancy of the campaign? Is it a short-term promotion, a webinar, conference, or event with specific dates, a brand awareness effort, or a marketing campaign to raise awareness of a cause or resource? Will you announce the effort ahead of time so users are prepared to take action, such as a “save the date” for events? How will you build interest and sustain momentum over the course of the campaign? What are your plans for retiring the campaign once it’s complete? Have you considered follow-up activities like a user satisfaction survey?
  • Transactions: Work out which transactions will define a successful campaign and stick with those decisions throughout the effort. How is the campaign intended to affect your transactions? Are you seeking to drive more traffic to a specific website, blog, or web-based application? Do you want a certain number of users to sign up for a promotion, event, or product trial? Do you want them to buy something? Think about “goal conversions”: the action(s) you want your users to make, and the end result(s) you want from them.
  • Return on Investment (ROI): ROI is a classic business metric, but it’s one that’s generated a lot of heated discussions when it relates to social media. Whenever you think of ROI, it should always boil down to money: hard dollars and cents (or euros, sterling, yen, etc.). Did your campaign generate enough revenue to justify its cost (marketing materials, agency fees, manufacturing costs, etc.)? Did you increase sales of a product or service? Did your transactions balance out the (estimated) hourly rate of the staff spent managing, tracking, and measuring the campaign? You don’t have to always sell something to determine ROI; in essence, you’re figuring out whether the campaign was worth the effort, but that worth has to be a financial measurement.

Look for Active Responses

Among the most valuable success metrics are direct responses from your audience. These can include mentions and direct messages on Twitter and wall posts and comments on Facebook. Be sure to check these regularly, especially if you intend to respond to comments or engage with your audience to keep up the momentum of your campaign.

If one of your transactions is new fans or followers, you may want to activate e-mail notifications to have “hard copies” of these actions. New follower notifications from Twitter, for example, not only show you basic information about the new follower, but also which platform or browser they used, the date and time of their activity, and the size of their audience.

Check How and How Often Users Are Sharing

To track how far your message has reached, look for evidence of sharing within your audience.

On Twitter, keep track of retweets, both the old- and new-style versions. “Old-style” retweets have the prefix “RT” before the original tweet along with the handle of the originating account. Users may choose to add their own comments in the retweet, and may edit or winnow down the original text to fit their comments. “New-style” retweets are simply a reposting of the original tweet in the user’s timeline; they can’t make any changes to the original text. Depending on which tool you’re using to measure retweets, you may need to look in different views. For example, Hootsuite will not show new-style retweets in a “Mentions” view; you need to track them in the “Your Tweets, Retweeted” view.

On Facebook, look for both “likes” and “shares”. Whenever a user likes a post, it increments a “thumbs up” value associated with the post; all fans of the page see this value. If the user chooses to share your post, the original post will appear in the user’s timeline. They can also choose to add a comment to prefix the shared post.

Likes and new-style retweets are what I consider “lazy successes”. It takes a user only one click to perform these actions, so it may not indicate that they read the complete post or whether that post was informative, helpful, or useful to them. Facebook comments and shares, along with old-style Twitter retweets with additional text, are more valuable for quantitative feedback.

Use Query Variables or URL Shorteners

Whether you’re sending out links in your tweets and Facebook posts, including website URLs in direct mailings, or displaying QR codes in your promotional materials, go the extra mile to insure that you can properly measure user activity.

Several URL shortening services, such as or Hootsuite’s, have back-end reporting tools you can use to track and analyze click-throughs. Hootsuite can also overlay tweet click-throughs with your Google Analytics reports to show possible relationships between your posts and website traffic.

Query variables, which are additional pieces of information you can include in a website URL, can provide you with richer metrics. Web analytics applications and services such as WebTrends, Google Analytics, and Radian6 can collect information from query variables whenever a user visits the URL. What’s nice about these variables is that you define them: add whatever information you’d like to collect, such as the campaign’s name, a specific marketing code, or which channel you’re sending the URL out to. You can then work within your chosen analytics platform to track, monitor, and report on the variables.

Never Rely on a Single Metric

When it comes time to gather, analyze, and report on the results of your campaign, never base your success or failure on a single metric, such as followers or fans. Always use multiple measurements and track trends in their activity over time. This allows you to form the complete picture of your campaign, and makes you better informed about what contributed to the results.

Crossing the Finish Line

Building realistic expectations, setting your timeframe, defining your transactions, and understanding how ROI will relate to your campaign will all help immensely when it comes time to measure your efforts. Be diligent in checking (and responding to) active responses from your audience and how they’re spreading the word about your campaign. Give your measurements a boost by considering URL shorteners and query variables to supply additional information about your users. And, finally, don’t hang the success (or failure) of your efforts on a single value or metric.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I don’t consider the thoughts I’ve gathered here as the “be-all-and-end-all” compendium of social media measurements. If there are specific methods or insights that have worked well for you, please feel free to share them in the comments.

I want to thank the good folks at Marketwire and the #smmeasure chats for helping to inspire this post. Their weekly social media measurement Twitter chats have been quite valuable in my own social media efforts, especially since metrics in this space are still not clearly defined or universal. The #smmeasure chats take place each Thursday at 12 noon Eastern Standard Time. Follow the @smmeasure Twitter account or the #smmeasure hashtag to participate.

New Metrics Are No Excuse to Continue a Pattern of Lazy Analytics: An Example Using Klout

As a student of analytics, I’ve learned that measuring success is never as simple as comparing two numbers. In fact, that’s exactly the kind of lazy analysis that can show false positives (or even worse, false negatives). To really do analytics justice, it’s vital to devote time to researching and understanding what you’re attempting to measure so that you can provide informative, relevant, and accurate findings.

A few months ago, a new metric for Twitter was created by Klout, a San Francisco-based company. Their “Klout score” measures your overall influence on Twitter: how much people listen to and respect your messages, and how likely they are to act upon and share those messages. Many third-party clients, such as Hootsuite and CoTweet, are now displaying the Klout score in their dashboards.

I personally think it’s great that Klout is gaining widespread acceptance. I feel it brings a true standard to the “quality” factor of social media analytics in contrast to the “quantity” factor of followers. However, I believe this score, like any other single metric, needs to be used carefully.

In this post, I’ll explain the mechanics of the Klout score, show an example of how similar Klout scores can be misleading when taken out of context, and explain why you can’t lean on new metrics to continue a pattern of “lazy analytics.”

The Klout Score

The Klout score is calculated from a broad range of data: your follower totals, how many accounts follow you back, how often you’re retweeted or mentioned, how frequently you tweet, etc. These data points are then boiled down into three values: your true reach, your amplification, and your network.

  • True reach is “the size of your engaged audience,” or basically those accounts with whom you engage with regularly, have common followers, and share similar interests.
  • Amplification “indicates how likely it is that your content will be acted upon,” in essence, the probability that you’ll get retweeted and how fast word with spread within your network.
  • The third value, network, is “a measurement of the influence level of the people who interact with you.” It’s important to note the emphasis on interaction here: this value is composed of the ratio of your followers vs. how many accounts you follow, how many of those you follow also follow you back, as well as unique senders and retweeters.

So, does this mean we can just look at the scores of any number of accounts and make assumptions about relative influence by directly comparing their Klout scores? No!

Let’s use an example to illustrate why.

An Example of Relative Influence… or is it?

As of August 30, 2010, I have a Klout score of 48. According to Klout’s calculations, this ranks me about halfway on the overall scale of 0 to 100, but based on the total number of accounts measured, I’m more accurately placed in the 80th percentile. Another Twitter account with a very similar Klout score is the CME Group, a Chicago-based financial firm billed as “the world’s most diverse financial marketplace.” Their current Klout score is 46; they’re also in the 80th percentile, overall. The CME Group’s Twitter account currently has over 750,000 followers, whereas I currently have 375. Their true reach is calculated to be 280,000, while mine is 9 (not nine thousand or nine hundred, nine… one less than 10).

At face value, based on Klout score alone, it looks like I’m just as influential as the CME Group, but when you start taking into account factors like followers and true reach, this assumption falls apart.

What happened? First, it’s because we’re making assumptions. Second, we’re missing context.

Let’s start digging into the data. You’ll notice that our network scores are roughly similar (59 for the CME Group, 57 for me), though my amplification is a slightly higher (21 for the CME Group, 26 for me). That still doesn’t explain why we have similar Klout scores, so let’s examine the supporting data points.

  • True reach: The CME Group has a massive amount of followers, but only follows back 0.003% of them; I follow back 20.3% of mine. They currently show 0% for both follower mentions and follower retweets, whereas I show 19% and 39%, respectively. This indicates that virtually no one seems to be talking to the CME Group or passing along their content. Note: While the 0% follower retweet looks like it’s a fluke, it may actually be a very small number (less than 0.1%) because of their high number of followers.
  • Amplification: The CME Group shows 77 total retweets, a mention count of 10, and 69 unique retweeted messages. I have 37 total retweets, a mention count of 254, and 31 unique retweeted messages. Their inbound/outbound message ratio is 0.26; mine is 0.74. This indicates that my followers tend to talk about me more frequently and are more likely to respond to me when I tweet.
  • Network: The CME Group’s follower to follow ratio is much higher than mine (172.71 vs. 3.16), their percentage of reciprocal followers is a bit lower (54% vs. 64%), and they have fewer unique folks who are mentioning them (10 vs. 71). They do have a higher number of unique retweeters, however (59 vs. 27). This indicates that my network is tighter and more engaged.

The key theme that emerges here is engagement. While my network and reach are much, much smaller in size and scope, I have a stronger connection with my audience. You also have to consider the function and audience of these accounts. The CME Group gathers and spreads time-sensitive financial information for consumption by their followers; they do some engagement, but are primarily focused on informing and sharing. I also share and retweet content (primarily on topics like social media and user experience), but I spend a larger percentage of my time connecting and talking directly with my followers. Not to mention, no one is trading stocks or making monetary decisions on my tweets (at least, not that I’m aware of). Finally, you need to consider the perspective: the CME Group offers a corporate experience vs. my individual one.

So, even though our Klout scores are very similar, you can’t say that I’m just as influential as the CME Group as a stand-alone statement. Our network, level of engagement, function, audience, and perspectives are significantly different enough to make this a false assumption. You could perhaps say we’re equally influential within our own unique networks, but not as a direct comparison. You have to consider the context.

Don’t Be Lazy With Analytics

As with website analytics, you should never use a single metric in a vacuum to make assumptions on the success or failure of what you’re measuring. Think for a moment about hits. Have you ever been asked to compare the number of hits on your website with those of another website? It’s a thoroughly unfair comparison. Even if the sites in question are similar in audience and purpose, you have many things to consider, such as: originality, readability, and freshness of content; strength and effectiveness of marketing and promotions; ease of use and overall usability; ranking for relevant terms in search engines. Each and every one of these factors, as well as a number of others I haven’t mentioned, all contribute to the success or failure of a website. Taking only one metric and directly comparing it to the same metric for a completely different website is not an apples-to-apples comparison, no matter what you may think. It’s essential to take everything in context and do thorough research of the data to determine relative success or failure when making comparisons.

It’s exactly the same with the Klout score.

You can see from my example how much happens behind the scenes in order to generate a Klout score. It’s a deeply interesting and unique metric in its own right, but, just like with website hits, it needs to be examined and valued in context with its supporting data points to form a complete picture of relative influence.

Don’t be lazy by looking at just one metric to measure your influence on Twitter. If you’re really interested in determining how well you’re doing or what you need to improve in order to make your presence in this channel more effective, do your homework: sift through the data, observe trends, and pay attention to the purpose and audience of your account. Klout allows you to refresh your score every six days, so take advantage of that feature and keep refreshing your score to see how your data shifts over time.

Auto-Following and Mutual Follows: A Circle of Obligation

There have been a good amount of discussions recently that focus on influence vs. followers on Twitter, as well as how you decide whether or not to follow a specific account. I’ve also be reading posts and comments about perceived notions of “Twitter etiquette” with regards to following, specifically auto-following and mutual follows. I have some thoughts on these two specific interactions that I’d like to share, based on my personal observations and perspectives.


“Auto-following” is, as you would expect, a process where a Twitter account starts following you automatically. This usually happens when you mention a specific word or phrase, or start following that feed (see the “mutual following” section below). There are two basic reasons I can see for why someone would choose to auto-follow: a bid to get more followers themselves or to monitor what’s being said about them, their business, or a specific topic in Twitter.

Personally, I think auto-following is highly inefficient. I once likened it to “shooting at a moving target, in high winds, blindfolded.” Nearly all of the auto-follows I’ve observed that come from keywords are totally off the mark. I once tweeted to ask for music recommendations, asking for “anything except country.” I immediately got followed by an account for a country musician. I never again tweeted anything about country, nor had I done so until that moment. Um, you’re doing it wrong!

Think about how many false positives and missed marks you could end up with if you decided to auto-follow in this manner for the purpose of monitoring. It’s much more effective to use some basic mention tools like Topsy, socialmention, Hootsuite, Google Alerts, Twitter’s search engine, or enterprise tools like WebTrends or Radian6. That way, you can check for instances where your brand is mentioned, in context, and reach out to specific accounts appropriately and intelligently.

Let’s go back a moment to the misguided exchange with the country musician. This could have been turned around had the musician engaged with me. They could have said something like, “Hey, I read that you don’t like country, but why not check out Song X from my new album?” Sure, it would have been a sales pitch, but that personal touch might have swayed me to at least give it a shot.

Mutual Following

The act of “mutual following” is simple: I follow you, you follow me. Most often, this is triggered automatically. What I don’t like about mutual following, particularly when dealing with individuals, agencies, or small organizations, is the expectations that come with it.

I don’t feel any obligation whatsoever to start following someone just because they started to follow me, and neither should you. I use Twitter as an information aggregator and professional networking tool. I purposely pick and choose which feeds to follow. I don’t have the time or the patience to wade through irrelevant or unrelated tweets simply to honor a “return the favor” agreement. That said, I also never expect anyone I follow to start following me in return. I’m quite certain that I’m not interesting to everyone, and that doesn’t bother me one bit.

You may notice some interesting behavior when accounts try to solicit mutual follows from you. They’ll start following you, then, when they don’t get the “expected” follow back, they drop you. Tools like Qwitter can send you updates on who unfollows you; most often, it’s the accounts that started following you randomly.

Now, I do see one solid use for mutual following from a customer service or issues management perspective: exchange of private, direct messages. For example, say you post a question or complaint to the Twitter account for your bank. They may ask you to follow them; when you do, they’ll follow you back. Once you’ve mutually followed each other, the bank can send you a direct message to discuss personal information about your account or give you contact information to get ahold of a representative. When the exchange is over, both parties can unfollow each other, if they choose.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think both auto-following and mutual follows, with the exception of the customer service interaction I described above, are rather pointless and don’t contribute to the value that can be derived from using Twitter. You’ll get much more out of this channel by directly choosing the accounts you want to follow, using proven and effective tools to monitor comments and sentiment, and pursuing focused, helpful engagement.

Don’t contribute to the circle of obligation that surrounds these interactions, and never feel that you’re doing your followers or colleagues a disservice by avoiding them. Good relationships, whether in Twitter or in real life, should not be based on guilt or expectations.

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.

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.

Some Lessons Learned from Live-Tweeting the UIE Web App Masters Tour

I was lucky to attend the User Interface Engineering Wep App Masters Tour in Philadelphia this week. The event, arranged by Jared Spool and his talented team at UIE, starred luminaries such as Stephen Anderson, Jason Fried, Luke Wroblewski, Hagan Rivers, and Bill Scott. Since I’m a prolific user of Twitter, I decided to tweet throughout the two-day event to share quotes and key points from the presentations with my followers.

I learned a lot during my tenure as “citizen journalist” and would like to share some of my experiences and a few “lessons learned” that I picked up along the way.

Folks familiar with on-the-ground Twitter reporting call it “live tweeting”. You’re basically giving your audience a taste of what’s happening at the event; this can be quite helpful for those who were unable to attend in person. You may also decide to share your own opinions on event proceedings, give instant feedback to the hosts, or share related topics and links with anyone else watching your feed. The critical piece that connects these posts together is a common hashtag. This is either issued by the event organizers or crowdsourced into existence by the attendees. In this case, the hashtag for the App Masters Tour was #uiewamt.

On Day 1 of the event, I hit the ground running as soon as I was seated and hooked up. I let my followers know I would be tweeting from the Tour and blazed ahead. There was a lot of really good stuff the presenters were sharing; I estimated that, at some points, I was tweeting as frequently as once every 40 seconds. I got some complements on my reporting, both from folks at the event and those watching from afar.

Before lunch on Day 2, though, I was made aware that it was getting to be too much for some. One of my followers made a helpful comment asking those live-tweeting from events to use the conference Twitter handle at the start of each post to “reduce noise” in his account. It was a simple solution to put into play and I started to use it immediately. Those already following the conference hashtag could continue to read what I was posting, but my followers were now freed from my Twitter frenzy if they weren’t interested in the Tour. It was a great compromise.

There are two key advantages I see for the “quiet approach” to live-tweeting:

  • You spare others from being bored. If you’ve been chatty on Twitter, you’ve probably accumulated a decent collection of individuals over time. Not everyone may be interested in reading a blow-by-blow transcript of something that isn’t as near and dear to their hearts as you. If you become too boring to them, even for a few days, you might get dropped.
  • You reduce noise pollution. If your followers include you among others they enjoy reading for a diverse source of news and information, suddenly seeing nothing but you in your timeline could become annoying very quickly. I’ve stopped following people who seem to do nothing but retweet all day, every day.

The only thing you stand to lose with this method is the “discoverability” that would be gained from your followers seeing something at random whenever they tune into your posts. That could be fixed, however, by giving them a heads-up on upcoming proceedings (see the third bullet below).

Besides the “quiet reporting” concept, here are some other thoughts and suggestions I came up with for live-tweeting at events:

  • Monitor your frequency. See how often you’re posting once the first presentation of the day is done. If you’re pushing out updates more frequently than once every five minutes, it may be too much for your stream. Consider toning it down, or, if the information is too good not to share, switch to “quiet” reporting.
  • Take feedback, and graciously. Look to your mentions to see what your followers or others are saying about your reporting style and adjust accordingly. If they love what you’re putting out, or getting annoyed by the chatter, they’ll let you know either way. Whatever you decide to do, be prompt and polite about it.
  • Remind your followers about your “quiet” reporting between breaks. If you decided to run “quiet”, give your followers a heads-up on the next session. Drop the event handle so the tweet shows up in their timelines and share some details about what’s coming up next. That way, if they’re interested in that topic or presenter, they can pick up the hashtag and follow along at their own pace.
  • Check in with the event hosts. I haven’t heard of a situation where you’d run afoul by posting comments at an event, but checking in is probably a good courtesy if you’ll be running at full speed. I realized halfway through the first morning’s proceedings at the UIE Tour that I was tweeting two to three times more frequently than another person who represented UIE. If that person had been designated as the “official” source of information at the event, I might have diluted their efforts. Thankfully, the good folks at UIE were very gracious about the added contributions.

I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to live-tweet an event, and hope my suggestions will make the experience pleasant and informative for everyone. I’d like to thank the folks at UIE for, as Jared Spool likes to say, encouraging my behavior.

Have you live-tweeted an event and have helpful suggestions to share as well? Let’s hear about them and discuss; I’m always up for alternate perspectives. I also welcome feedback on my thoughts as well.

Update (8-3-10): Since I wrote this post, I’ve done further experimentation with live tweeting. I followed the advice of either an article or tweet I read earlier this year (and for the life of me can’t remember which it was) and stood up a unique Twitter account to handle live tweets: @noisymatrix.

My strategy so far is as follows:

  • Prior to the event, I’ll announce on my primary account, @brightmatrix, some basic information about the event and when I plan to start posting.
  • Once the event is underway, I’ll shift over to @noisymatrix and start tweeting. My tweets use whatever hashtag has been chosen for the event or seminar.
  • When the session is over, I encourage folks who enjoyed my reporting to follow my primary account.
  • Finally, I compile all of my tweets into a blog post and publish them within a day or so of the event. This way, folks can read the entire recap at their leisure. I’ll announce the blog post on both accounts.

I’ve only done this once so far (for a July 30 Radian6 event on open leadership in social media), but I think this method will be more successful. Stay tuned!

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