Collecting Souls: Knowing Your Social Media Strategy – Part Three

When I first started using the nascent Internet back in 1992 (How many of you were even alive – or at least out of Legos – by then? Raise ’em up!), there was little I could do to interact with it. Most content was static and commenting barely existed. There were very few “publishers”, and they were sharply skewed toward academics and others with access to University computer networks.

imageThere were, however, some content islands. I was a member of Prodigy and later CompuServe, and each had some places where one could express one’s self. As I remember, other than the early forms of chat rooms, there were discussions about stocks and some other investments, at least.

These content islands absolutely couldn’t support any crossover. Anything I posted in one was never going to be seen in another, and all of us thought that anonymity or identity walling was the way it would just be forever. (Sure, smarter people than I and pundits knew it would change, perhaps, but I’m a member of the unclean masses.)

Forward to the late 1990s, and there was an explosion of content islands as part of the Internet bubble. I worked for a company at the time called ArsDigita, and one of the things we did was help companies build their content islands, either by using our open source ArsDigita Community System (ACS) toolkit (a descendant of which is still available as OpenACS) or by hiring us to build them for them. One of the main goals for Internet sites was to make them “sticky”, meaning to increase the time someone would spend on them. A great lever to pull to make that happen was to create a community aspect for the site, and that’s exactly what ACS and those of us on the consulting staff tried to achieve. Make it interactive, and the eyeballs would stick around.

imageHowever many of these content islands there were during those days, they were still islands. It was like the manmade island structures off the shore of Dubai as opposed to the remoteness of the South Seas, perhaps, but they remained islands all the same.

Fast forward to the late oughts, and we started building bridges from island to island. Some outfits like Gravatar and the OpenID Foundation even built transportation hubs to move us easily from island to island. It started to feel like the teleporter from Star Trek; we barely felt the effects of the travel and we were able to interact with new cultures almost instantaneously. No longer was our persona isolated to a single island, where I might choose to have one “handle” on one island and another handle elsewhere. We’ve all gotten very used to linking up our island personas into one super-ego of self.

So what? Well, what this all amounts to is that it is no longer reasonable to assume that we can have unique, separate personas from Internet island to Internet island. For better or worse, we have all become citizens of the Internet world, passport in hand. There are many implications of all this, and some have profound implications for our current and future selves.

First, as opposed to the early days, content may as well be forever. Sure, islands occasionally submerge or become part of larger islands, but in general, the content we create – our Internet footprints on the beach – are going to be there for a good long time. What we may post as an angry comment on someone’s blog or as a cute photo with our virtual pants down isn’t going away anytime soon.

25 - Footprints on Beach, Northern California, United States
This travel blog photo’s source is TravelPod page: Eureka, Arcata and the Humboldt Coast

Second, we can’t realistically expect that we can manage separate personas as we often do in the meat world. I may act one way with my family, another with my mates in the pub, and another with my work colleagues, but on the Internet that is possible less and less. Someone in any of those groups is likely to follow me on Twitter, link with me on LinkedIn, read my blog, *and* friend me on Facebook. Suddenly my separate personas must meld together, or at least they will in the minds of the consumer.

The ginormous caveat in all of this is that a few assaholic moves on one island are going to follow you around the Internet world. In my [scarily almost 50 years] of experience, it works much like it does in consumerism. People remember your mistakes over your triumphs (unless they are *really* big triumphs) and carry the “lowest common denominator” opinion of you around with them.

imageThis may all sound sort of interesting, at least if you’ve managed to read this far. In practical terms, the way it has changed my thinking over the last year or two as I have tried to build some sort of personal brand for myself in the archipelago is that I must be my best self as much as possible.

I’ve chosen to use the Social Web professionally. As a solo practitioner, it sure beats advertising. That means that my every social move gets tacked onto my professional persona. When I tweet about my love for bacon, does it cloud a Muslim’s view of my capabilities as a SharePointilist? Does complaining about Microsoft’s sometimes abysmal documentation put me at risk in the technical community in which I’ve decided to be a member? Does tagging myself in a friend’s silly photo from college in 1981 put my possibilities for the next great consulting gig in jeopardy?

Lest you think I’ve become obsessively self-centered and sit in a darkened room contemplating my every move, rest assured that is not the case! I simply try to be cognizant from time to time that my every action may have an equal or *larger* reaction on the Social Web.

So what can you take away from this post? Well, just as every woman who has thought it would be funny to bare their chest for Girls Gone Wild and then wondered later “What the %#?$& was I thinking?”, pause once in a while and think about the persona you want to present to the world. If something is nagging at the back of your mind that maybe that little post isn’t such a great idea, hold off clicking on the Send button and read it over again, maybe a little later.

Think from time to time what your Social Media strategy is. Is it connected to your professional persona? Is it just for your silly side? Would you kiss your momma with that mouth? The Social Web is an amazingly rich and rewarding experience. Be sure to try the poi at the luau!

Collecting Souls: Knowing Your Social Media Strategy – Part Two

In Part One , I wrote about how I choose to use Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and Twitter. Those are all “external” social media outlets, in that they are available to anyone on the World Wide Web (assuming that their government or employer doesn’t block them or some other such nonsense).

But what of SharePoint? As with almost all of my blog posts, this one comes back to SharePoint. You thought I’d let you get away without it this time?

Those of you who use SharePoint inside your organizations may already be wrestling with you own social strategy for My Site alone in SharePoint 2007 or the expanded social features in SharePoint 2010. I’m a one-man show, so I don’t have those issues; no one would ever look at my My Site profile!

I’ve been thinking about the “social” aspects of SharePoint a lot lately because of some work I’m doing. Many organizations struggle with how to think about using social features in the enterprise because, while they may use the phrase “Facebook for the Enterprise”, that’s not really what they want. They want people to be doing their work, and doing it better than they would without SharePoint and its social capabilities. They don’t want people frittering away the day with their profiles and status updates a la Facebook.

Similar questions arose ten years ago or so when all of the instant messaging platforms really went mainstream and people we’re all of a sudden pinging each other asking what was for lunch. Many organizations were easily able to block these services because they initially lived outside the firewall. However, they eventually saw value in the technology and now many, many organizations have some type of instant messaging in house.

“Social” stuff is going through some of the same growing pains. Organizations are trying to understand how social can bring value and ROI while not becoming a waste of time. They are also trying to figure out what “social’ actually is, and the definitions vary from place to place. There’s a fairly high investment to get a platform like SharePoint up and running (which is probably happening for other reasons, mainly). To get the social features of SharePoint up to snuff, there seems to almost always be a need to layer on some third party tools like those from CubeTree, NewsGator, or others, or to do some significant custom development. These add-ons add even more to the cost and time to implement. So it’s a non-trivial set of decisions about how or whether to move forward with building social media into the enterprise.

What most organizations want is the new idea of the ‘connected enterprise”, and not just “social”. They want to make serendipitous connections between people which can result in innovation or leaps in efficiency. Understanding exactly how to do that within each organization is a tricky problem to solve. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. I expect that it will take at least a few years for most organizations to even understand where to start with all of this.

In the meantime, the Web at large will be moving forward as rapidly as it always does. Who knows what will be de rigeur by the time most organizations make their first serious forays into social media or the connected enterprise internally? Will they do it well? Will they go “all in”? I look forward to working with more organizations as they undertake this next step in their SharePoint Journeys.

Collecting Souls: Knowing Your Social Media Strategy – Part One

Around the time that my wife was pregnant with our son, I got very into genealogy. Suddenly it seemed very important to understand my backstory, and then my wife’s backstory, and even the backstory of any friends who were silly enough to mention a possibly famous ancestor to me. Since I’m a computer guy, I started mining every source I could find, which at the time included RootsWeb, Ancestry.com, and FamilySearch.org. Each of those sites gave me a way to grab a branch from someone else’s tree which I saw connected to mine and to easily graft it onto my own. I wildly grabbed all of the underbrush I could find, and got to almost 6000 people in my son’s tree. In truth, I was simply taking many other people’s unconfirmed research and adding it into my own. In retrospect, I had no idea whether any of the data was actually correct, and on some level I didn’t care. I just wanted to grow a bigger tree.  I started to think of this activity as “collecting souls”.

Today’s social media landscape lends itself to the same type of activity. It seems that many people simply want to be connected, linked, added to as many others’ cadres of souls as possible. But what does that actually mean? We could each grab some census data and, for those of us with a programming bent, simply stuff everyone into our guffins*.

It’s important to understand what your own social media strategy is. It may well be to decide you don’t have one, and that may be fine, too. But many of the social media opportunities out there will either follow us usefully or dog us throughout time based on how we use them. I thought I’d give a little outline of my own strategies for how I use the main social media outlets that I frequent to possibly help you think about your own strategy.

In each case, I’m not going to talk about all of the spam invitations, offers, etc., specifically. I try to squelch them as much as I can and also to actively report spammers where there are mechanisms to do so. To me, this is a part of our social responsibility. If the spammers continue unchecked, then all of these platforms will degrade into a useless muck of porn come-one, low-cost pharmaceutical ads, and the like.

Facebook

The largest social network in the world isn’t a big focus for me. I signed up for Facebook as soon as it started to get some press, but I’ve never really used it, with a few exceptions. For instance, when my class at Exeter was about to hold our 30th reunion, there was a move to sign everyone up on Facebook so that we could sort of catch up in advance of seeing each other. So the Exeter Class of 1979 is a big part of my social graph there. I also connected early on with most of my relatives because that felt like a good place to interact with my largely non-technical family. It turns out that only a few of my relatives seem to actively use it, at least based on my only occasional perusal of my feed.

I’ve connected my blog to Facebook because I know that some folks who work in the SharePoint world, as I do, like to consume the content there. (This gets me occasional questions from my family and friends like “Do you ever post anything on your blog in English?”)

So who do I connect with on Facebook? I rarely ask anyone to connect there, and because I don’t really consider it a platform that I actually use, I am fairly indiscriminate in accepting invitations. If people I work with want to see pictures of me drinking beer in college or on my beach vacation in 1992 with my family , then so be it.

Business Use: Low
Personal Use: Low

LinkedIn

LinkedIn has been, to me, the serious outlet in the crowd. I think I signed up for it way back in 2001 or 2002, and I kept my invitations and acceptances to only people I had worked with for some considerable time and could vouch for. Over time, I altered that to also include people who I admired and had at least met and had a decently long conversation with; someone who was a sympatico on some level and to whom I’d like to be related.

I get invitations all the time from people I ‘ve never heard of, who want to link with me because we’re members of the same LinkedIn group or because they like my SPServices jQuery library or something. I’m always flattered that someone took the time to look me up and ask to connect, but I don’t always feel that there’s any reason to connect with them. Maybe it’s the way Momma brought me up, but it feels rude to simply click the ignore button, so I’ll often write a little note back with the rejection explaining a little bit about how I think about using LinkedIn. But sometimes I’ll let the invitations back up and end up simply clicking the ignore button on a bunch of therm. This actually makes me feel bad, but I get over it. So, for LinkedIn, my rules are somewhat stringent, but there are always exceptions.

LinkedIn is excellent for understanding how to approach someone I’m meeting in a professional situation. In the technical orbs that I work within, there’s usually some connection between me and the person I’m going to meet. We either have worked in the same place at different times or have worked with someone we’re both linked to. If nothing else, it’s an icebreaker.

Business use: High
Personal use: Low

Foursquare

Foursquare to me is a bit of a lark. I like the fact that they’ve recently beefed up the point-gathering capabilities, which makes it fun to check in places. I even like getting the badges. I get invitations from time to time from people, and I usually accept them. If someone really cares where I’m having dinner on the weekend with my family, then so be it. I don’t use it all that regularly, and I’ll often check in without notifying my other networks (I’ve connected it to Facebook and Twitter). But it can be useful to check in with notification that I’m at a conference or meeting somewhere so that I can find the people I’m looking for.

Business use: Low
Personal use: Low

Twitter

Twitter is really my social outlet of choice. I use it primarily to communicate about things I learn and find useful in my professional world. Sure, I occasionally say something about what I’m doing, but I try to keep the “I’m eating a ham sandwich” tweets to a minimum.

Twitter is the social channel of choice for the SharePoint crowd. (I’ll talk about SharePoint a bit more in Part Two.) We use it to share links to blog posts or articles we like, ask for assistance, and otherwise banter amongst ourselves about what we are working on. The SharePoint community is the most amazingly strong technical community I’ve ever interacted with, and it may well be because of outlets like Twitter which allow us to interact on a regular basis with birds of a feather from around the world.

To me, Twitter gives me the right mix of valuable content and connections along with the ability to make surprisingly strong personal social connections.

Business use: High
Personal Use: Low 

In conclusion, as you leave your footprints all over the InterWebs, try to think about what sort of social legacy you are building. Increasingly, it is becoming our resume, as published to the world. When we research people for hiring, we are as likely to Google them or look them up on Facebook as we are to read their traditional resume. Be sure that your social resume says what you want it to say about you. We also judge people on what and how they talk about themselves and their daily life. For better or for worse, social media allows us to make even more rapid snap judgments which may or may not be fair.

And while it’s fun to collect souls indescriminately, make sure you know which ones you need and have value for you, and which ones you can allow to stay out there on their own. It’s a big, big world, and no matter how much fun it all is, we aren’t all related to everyone.

* A good friend of mine swears there’s a Stephen King story in which a monster collects people’s souls in something called a “guffin”. We’ve never been able to find the reference, but I like to use the word anyway: guffin – a container for storing souls.

Really Liking LastPass: Evidence that Social Media and Great Customer Service Make All the Difference

LastPass Logo

In a post about a week and a half ago entitled Judging a Company in the Age of Social Media, I talked about a product called LastPass that I had been trying out.  I had been having problems with it, and I tweeted about it.  Not a minute had gone by (literally) when I got a tweet back from @LastPass asking if they could help. Within ten minutes I had an email from Joe Siegrist, the CEO of LastPass, offering to remote into my machine to check things out.

I’m repeating some of my last post here, but that’s because it was amazing that Joe was so on top of the issue.  Not only that, but over the course of the next few days, Joe sent me links to several new builds of the product which contained fixes based on the information I sent him whenever I had a subsequent problem.  It’s been about a week no since I got the last patch, and LastPass is working perfectly now.

LastPass is a “password vault” product and I’ll let you read all about it on their Web site. What this experience demonstrated to me was that the big boys aren’t necessarily the right ones for me  to deal with.  If I had had a problem with one of the bigger companies’ products, you can bet I *still* wouldn’t have gotten a satisfactory response or a fix; I would have moved on the the next product to try it out.  Joe and the LastPass team showed me that they were on top of the social media concept, but more importantly, they had an agile enough development team that they could get me new builds to fix the problem fast.

So if you appreciate truly amazing customer support on top of a great product to begin with, give LastPass a shot.  Tell Joe I sent you, and I bet he’ll know what you’re talking about.

Judging a Company in the Age of Social Media

image In the last few days, I’ve had two positive experiences with this. I don’t see the point of just flaming about a product on Twitter unless it’s done something truly egregious. However, pointing out an issue seems like fair game.  In both cases, I think my tweets were pretty much OK.

LastPass

image I’ve been trying LastPass for the last few weeks to try to get a handle on the many, many different usernames and passwords I use.  It’s bad enough when it’s just your own stuff (banking, airlines, hotels, forums, blogs, etc.) but when you layer client sites on top of that it can get just plain crazy.

I really like the way LastPass works, but IE8 has been crashing on me a lot and it wasn’t doing it before I installed LastPass.  Thus the tweet.

image Look at the time lag there. That’s one minute.  Within ten minutes I had an email from Joe Siegrist, the CEO of LastPass, offering to remote into my machine to check things out.  He rummaged around (with my blessing) and made a couple of useful suggestions about disabling a few IE add-ins that had nothing to do with his software but that he knew to cause problems for other people.  We also found some entries in the error log about LastPass, and he’s working with that data now to try to solve the problem.

Microsoft Partner Program

image The Microsoft Partner Program is a huge beastie.  I’m a little tiny gnat on that beastie with my paltry Registered Partner status.  (My dead great-grandmother qualifies for Registered Partner status.) The other day when I got those emails, I figured I’d tweet about it.  It was sort of funny to me and I wondered if anyone else had gotten the emails.

image

That’s a pretty quick response, too. And from the 800 pound gorilla, natch.  I sent the emails to partnerQ and got a nice email back with some ideas about what had happened and the steps she was going to take to find out what was going on.

So bravo to LastPass and Microsoft for getting it right in these two instances.  Both of these are extremely good examples of what companies today *ought* to be doing with social media.  I was half joking about tweeting about the companies you want to test (if we all did it, they’d be deluged and it wouldn’t work).  But when you have a problem with a company’s products or services, it’s totally appropriate to take to the social media channel.  The companies that monitor things like Twitter and know what to do with them are the ones who will succeed. A sales pitch is the wrong answer. Telling you you’re mistaken is the wrong answer.  Acknowledging the problem and trying to solve it is the right answer and will earn the company loyalty in this world of fickle consumers.  Remember that old statistic that someone who is happy with you will tell one friend, but someone who is unhappy with you will tell ten? In the age of social media, the ratio is even more stacked against the company.  It’s up to them to decide whether to win or lose.