Feeling Anti-Social

I’ve been thinking a lot about what we get out of social networks. There has to be a reason why they are so popular. I think there’s more to it than it makes the Internet so easy your grandma could use it– grandmas have been using the Internet for as long as its been around. No, I think it has to do with content, more to the point, the delivery of content to your doorstep.

A little history: when the web first started, it was an amazing collection of pages, pages about almost anything; pages that linked together in weird and unpredictable ways. It used to be you would “surf” the web– I wonder how long it’s been since someone broke out that phrase. But it was apt at the time. You would start with a topic, a search phrase, and then spend hours clicking through pages, finding new and interesting things.

Then some people started making lists of the new and interesting things that they found, and then you didn’t have to surf the web anymore. You could just make the rounds at a few of these web logs and find cool and interesting things to look at. And as these logs became focal points for community, as people would talk about and discuss what they’d found where, as the logger’s personality and tastes started to influence what they were posting, the web log morphed into the blog.

But even though the blog is a step closer to a person than a web log, I think for a lot of people, it’s not close enough. Sure, it’s cool to know what Jason Kottke found the other day on the web, but it would be cooler to know what my brother found the other day, because I’m far more likely to make a comment on my brother’s post because I know him.

So, social media offer us two things: easy delivery of content; and a degree of familiarity with the source. Now I don’t have to have this awkward conversation with my brother, “Hey, did you see that cool thing?” with the possibility of having to describe it if he didn’t, and we know it’s not going to be as cool when I describe as it actually is. Now I know my brother saw that cool thing because it was on my Facebook page, and therefore was in his news feed.

So, why does going to Facebook feel so empty to me? I think it’s mostly due to the fact that I’m not seeing anything cool in the stream. I mean, yeah, there’s funny pictures of cats, and articles about the government, and there are people talking about their lives and what they are doing, but only in the sense of the twitterable status update. One of the interesting things about blogs is how they morphed beyond lists of cool things on the web to being a publishing medium. Blogs gave voice to people who didn’t have it before. Instantly, your writing, for better or for worse, is in the hands of millions.

But social media seems to pull away from that depth. Facebook doesn’t want to hear an indepth look at what makes you so mad about smoked paprika. Facebook wants to hear, OMG, if I hear another thing about smoked paprika, I’ll twerk myself. And then maybe you’ll explain yourself in the comments.

I am interested in Ev Williams’ Medium. I haven’t played with it much yet, but I’ve been steered there a few times, and the articles have always been good. But Ev was there, back in the day, when the web was suddenly about writing, working on a little piece of web logging software called Pyra, which became Blogger. Which became history.

Medium is about longer pieces of writing, not about the short bits and status updates. The problem is that you lose the degree of familiarity with the writer. These posts aren’t written by my brother– they could be, but most likely they’re not. These posts are written by strangers, or as I’m trying to teach my son, friends you haven’t met yet.

It used to be that’s all the network was, friends you hadn’t met yet. And then all of our families and friends joined, and we wanted to share with them. But now I feel like we are locked in this insular bubble, and we’re losing sight of what is one of the greatest wonders of the Internet: the unknown. The person, the place, the things you haven’t met yet.

You know Aunt Betty. She isn’t going to tell you something new. Try to meet someone new or learn something new every time you get on the ’Net. Lets see if we can get that wheel rolling again.

My Wife Hates Gwenyth Paltrow

Gwenyth Paltrow on the cover of BA
But can she cook?

We love to cook in our house, and subscribe to several cooking magazines. One of the these is Bon Appétit. Last May, when the June issue of BA arrived at our house, my wife swore as she took the magazine from its plastic sheath. Smiling back at her on the cover was Gwenyth Paltrow.

My wife reads these magazines more thoroughly than I do– I usually just slip through, looking for recipes that seem interesting or challenging. She knew that there was a new Editor-in-Chief for BA, and she knew that he came from GQ. Apparently, she had been trying to keep an open mind about the change, but now she had her doubts.

Bon Appétit is one of the more serious food magazines. The focus has always been on food. Paltrow’s appearance marked the first time that we knew of that a person instead of a dish had been featured on the cover. In fact, the tops of our kitchen walls next to the ceiling are lined with covers from different cooking magazines, most of them wonderful shots from BA.

So, my wife went into the issue with a chip on her shoulder. She tried some of the Paltrow recipes, but dismissed them for a variety of reasons, most of which she couldn’t really articulate. She just didn’t like it.

The whole incident made me think of the value of reputation, and how much weight your fans will place on it. It’s the divide between being polished and being authentic. Not that Bon Appétit’s cover shots of food weren’t polished– they are some of the best food photography I have ever seen. But it was that thrust towards food that made them authentic to us.

You should constantly re-evaluate your social media strategy, and you should always think about the persona that you project to your fans. You need to change, to re-invigorate your brand, to keep it fresh, to keep it new, to keep it interesting to your fans so that they will continue to pay attention to you and continue to pass along your social media along their networks. But you need to be very careful that you know and understand your persona, particularly how your fans see you.

They are your fans because they feel that you are a company with whom they agree. You have something in common, whether it’s your attitude towards shoes, or your preference for sans-serif fonts, there is something that you have done in the past that they appreciate, and that’s why they elected to become your fan. You need to always be aware of that the essence is of your company’s persona, so that you know what your fans are looking for when they look at you.

Because if you go changing things in a way that is not consistent with the persona you’ve been projecting before, they’re going to notice, and they’re not going to be happy about it. They’ve invested something in you, and they expect that to remain. So when you work on your company’s persona, be aware of what it is that makes your company what it is, and how it is perceived. Play within those boundaries, and don’t change things to chase a trend, or to do things that other companies do. Your fans probably like you because you don’t do what other companies do. Stay true to yourself, and they’ll stay true to you.

Mailchimp and Facebook

Facebook and Mailchimp

A basic social media campaign should effectively utilize three platforms: Facebook; Twitter; and email. Mailchimp is our favorite email service. In addition to being able to host a list of up to 2,000 users and sending out 12,000 emails a month for free, Mailchimp features a wide variety of tools that make sending HTML newsletters simple and effective. Your social media can really get clicking when you link everything together. In theory, it should be relatively easy to link Mailchimp and Facebook together. In practice, you’re probably going to have to get your hands dirty.

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Social Media for Small Business

Back in February, I gave a presentation on using social media for your small business at the Downtown Association of Iowa City. Here’s a video created from that presentation, laying out a simple strategy for using social media to help your marketing efforts.

Get Involved

There are a lot of things that volunteers do for our communities that enrich everyone’s lives. There’s no doubt that non-profits have been huge beneficiaries of the powers of social media. An event held in Columbia Missouri was able to quickly raise a ton of money for tornado ravaged Joplin, all through the power of social media. You and your small business are sitting there with your powerful social media network, primed to reach all of your fans. It’s time to use your network to do some good and get involved.

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Twitter & Facebook

You should link a Twitter account to your Facebook page. Even if you don’t tweet, or even see the value in it, millions of other people do. By linking your Facebook page to a Twitter account, all of your page’s activity on Facebook will be automatically tweeted, giving you another channel to spread your message along. When you create and event, post a picture, or update your page’s status, a tweet will be generated with a link back to the Facebook activity.

Unlike a personal feed, a Twitter to Facebook fan page connection is one-way. Tweets on the account are not passed back to the Facebook page. This allows you to continue using the channel for Twitter specific messages without worrying whether those messages are appearing on your Facebook page.

To link a Facebook fan page that you admin to a Twitter account, simply go to www.facebook.com/twitter. Pick the page you wish to link and you’ll be directed to Twitter to complete the connection.

Switching from a profile page to a fan page

There’s good chance that your business has been on Facebook for longer than Facebook has had business pages. A lot of businesses started using Facebook early on, which was part of what prompted Facebook to create the business fan pages in the first place. After years of your business having a personal profile page, posing as actual person, you might be wondering if you need to switch, and create a business page. The answer is an overwhelming yes, but you don’t need to scrap everything and start over.

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What Are Social Media?

Social Media are web sites where the content is created by the users and distributed over user-created networks.

About 8 years ago or so, there was a paradigm shift in web development, moving from a framework of static set pages that the users consumed to dynamic web sites where the users produce the content. Social Media websites expand on this by also allowing users to craft their own network of connections, allowing them to see just the user-created content they want to see, instead of everything.

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Why Should You Use Social Media

One of the challenges that small businesses face is how to effectively manage their marketing dollars. Marketing is expensive, but it is vital to growing and maintaining any business. Your customers can’t buy from you if they don’t know you are out there. Social media is ideal for cost-effective marketing campaigns. It is extremely efficient, very cheap, and is growing so quickly as to become ubiquitous.

As we’ve progressed from the industrial age into the information age, the rate at which new technologies have gotten adopted has increased exponentially. The telephone was adopted more rapidly than the telegraph, television was adopted at a faster rate than radio, and the Internet was adopted faster than computers were. The adoption rate for Facebook of over 500 million users in just six years is historically unprecedented. Twitter averages more than 370,000 new users a day. Just as almost everyone has an email account, you can pretty much count on the fact that in the near future, nearly everyone will have a Facebook account.

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