Friday 27 May 2011

A Business Guide to Twitter

An absolutely FREE download from Glanton!

Download the pdf from our website!
(No registration or other hoops to jump through!)

Heard about Twitter but not sure what all the fuss is about? Think you would like to explore it but have never got round to it? If so, then this short guide is for you. It will show you how to get started, some simple techniques and ways it can help you and your business.

* What is Twitter?
* What it's not
* What are Tweets?
* Key facts about Twitter
* How does that help my business?
* Real-life examples of businesses using Twitter
* The growth of Twitter
* How do I get involved?
* Get started
* Completing your profile
* Having a plan
* To follow and be followed
* What to tweet?
* How much, how often?
* Some techniques
* Some tools
* How can I promote my feed?
* Embed your feed on your website

Download the pdf from our website!
(No registration or other hoops to jump through!)

Thursday 12 May 2011

Who thinks Social Media is there for the taking?

Or who thinks they own the social web?

Until a couple of months ago I would have answered without hesitation - "marketers".

Since the beginning of the social media revolution wannabe marketers and wannabe marketer gurus have been desperately talking up and promoting the supposed potential of social media as an effective marketing tool. Well they would, wouldn't they? They were willing the future to be a nice income stream for them - social media as gravy train.

They pushed the concept to such an extent that by 2010 it had become an accepted dogma; a 'given'; carved in stone. Among marketers. Apparently it didn't matter what your business was, all social media platforms were there for the taking. It was just how to actually tap in was the problem. But never mind: there's money to be made selling the 'secret' too! Hurray!

Instead of "How might a marketer use social media?" it had become "Only I can give marketers the knowledge to use social media effectively."

But now there is a slight change out there in cyberguruspace. An ever-so-slightly more cautious tone is creeping into blog posts and analysis. In time this will be a bubble that bursts.

There is worry inside and outside Twitter about the microblog and newsfeed's huge percentage of inactive accounts: is Twitter over-valued as a result? For example, Bob Warfield summed it up very nicely at Enterprise Irregulars on April 14 2011.

He looked at how most tweets are really ads, and free ones at that. So how will Twitter convince business to pay for adverts? And will Twitter users accept their streams filling up with paid ads? Or will they simply not follow these kind of accounts? Isn't a paid ad automatically spam in the minds of most users? Afterall, they don't have to receive the free kind if they don't want them. And of course this applies to the true spam tweet - those emanating from dodgy marketers. Just don't follow the source. And block them from following you if you don't want to be associated with them in any way.

Twitter users have the power. That's the only way Twitter can really work, and why it has been such a success. Deep down Twitter must know this.

It is useful to look at the history of spam in a social web context. Spam started with email. In those far off innocent days when email was conceived nobody really thought about the way the unscrupulous would use it. There then began a long struggle to claim back the inbox and rid it of the pestilence. The war is effectively won. Ten years ago or so it was a total preoccupation for most users. That is all history. In these days of webmail, sophisticated filters and firewalls, unsolicited emails should be a relic from the past. Simply put, if you suffer from more than a couple of spam emails per month in your inbox you are doing something wrong: either you are using a very old-fashioned and poor service or you just can't be bothered to do anything about it. And though the spam email is still out there, everybody is familiar with those miniscule ROI stats associated with spam.

Furthermore, personal power has extended to all kinds of straight advertising on the web. If you find it gets in the way you can block selectively or with a blanket, using multi-browser add-ons such as Adblock.

So, when the social web came along with the ongoing explosion in platforms providing multitudinous ways for people to connect around different networking concepts, the spammers (they like to think of themselves as marketers these days to give themselves some cred) were very quick to see an opportunity.

But there is one huge stumbling block. The social networking sites were built on the back of years of experience with unsolicited email. The developers built sites at which users controlled who they were connected with and what they saw in their news streams. Of course this hasn't always worked perfectly and users have often been confused by some of the complexities of set-ups and options. Add to this the difficulties encountered by sites (eg Facebook) in letting in business without compromising the basic principles.

However the principle remains and is actually stronger than ever. Social sites are exactly that: they are for people. Businesses are mostly only let in under sufferance if they behave. (An exception would be Foursquare where businesses are central to the concept and users willingly buy into the game). Generally users must be proactive in connecting with business. If a business either doesn't behave, or is simply boring, or offers no incentive to connect, it will be ignored.

Where does that leave the 'marketers' - the modern spammers? Up a gum tree, that's where. How to invade Twitter (for example); appear attractive and interesting so real people follow you; and convince them to click-through and buy what you are ultimately selling? Because that is what it is really about.

The good news for the social media using public is that it is just beginning to dawn on all those thousands of wannabe Twitter 'marketers' (for example) that it is very difficult indeed - nay, impossible. That doesn't mean there aren't thousands more wannabes joining up every day and trying to find the yellow brick road. But they are joining up to an illusion; an incestuous roundabout with eventually no winners.

Quite a long time ago in social web history there was a site called Entrecard. (It still exists, but in a rather different form.) The concept was to get bloggers together in one place to promote eachother. Participants earned credits for 'activity' following other bloggers which could be used to place ads/links on other participants blogs. The more clicking-through a blogger did, the more credits you earned and apparently the more 'popular' your blog became.

Of course there was a fundamental flaw: serious bloggers haven't really got much time to read many other people's blogs and what they are really looking for is the great mass of non-bloggers to be interested in their posts, not attract a collection of other bloggers desperately feigning interest in an attempt to attract more people to their blogs - an incestuous roundabout.

This is what is developing slowly and more subtly at Twitter for the hordes of new marketers.

For the last few months I have been conducting an 'experiment' at Twitter. I have had the tweets at my personal account 'protected', meaning that potential followers must ask to follow me through an automatically generated email and I can accept or decline. The first thing I noticed was a significant increase in potential followers. My personal account is a fairly low-key affair - I tweet but once or twice a week and mostly use the account as a news harvesting service across several areas of interest, so this new found attention was something of a surprise. (Does a protected-tweet account give me some kind of kudos? Do people assume that I must be special?)

But who was trying to follow me was interesting: almost exclusively the new breed of wannabe marketers. Below are two recent examples. They are typical, and it will be seen that they are crass and uniform - tweeting without imagination to a formula set out by some wannabe make-quick-bucks guru. Everything about them feels wrong: from the 'attractive' but anonymous stock photo style of image, through the absence of any kind of biography to the post mix of irrelevant and oft-heard bon mots or platitudes juxtaposed with links to whatever-it-is that is being flogged.

But what really interests me is the list of followers these accounts attract - and believe me all these accounts are interested in is increasing their followers ad infinitum. I was struck by the similarity to the original Entrecard site. Most of the followers appeared to be abandoned or inactive accounts following automatically, or (and this turned out to be the case with these two examples) yet more wannabe marketers following back because, well, that's one of the ways to get more followers yourself isn't it? You've got to laugh.

Note that in the fragrant valenciamay's record of lists following 'her', IanDavidB has got it exactly right with his "spamandotherdouchebags" list! (Don't be surprised if by the time you read this both accounts shown above will have disappeared).

Comical really. So just like the old-style Entrecard, the modern Twitter spammers are setting up rings of incestuous wannabes all spouting trite quotes at each other and pushing the same stuff. One day they will catch on that it is all an illusion.

So what will happen? Under cover of the usual caveats about the foolishness of predicting the future, spamming as a social media activity will slowly fizzle out as we, the users, become increasingly savvy about who we let into our social networking lives. (Spamming should not be confused with aggressive account-hacking - that will almost certainly increase as the dodgy marketers realise that if they can't get your attention by 'fair' methods they must try foul.)

This will be bad news for the those that seek to over-value the likes of Twitter. The pop and collapse of over-valued social media sites is set to be the next Internet bursting bubble. This does not mean Twitter will disappear - far from it. It will be chastened, yes. More sensibly valued, yes. And the real users will go on using the service in all the many ways they use it now, once the hysteria has largely evaporated.

The conundrum for SM was, is, and will be, how, having attracted users in the first place by giving them the power, to make an honest buck without driving those same users away in their hordes. The users on the other hand will come out stronger than ever.

Footnote: a tweet suggestion (of a type they favour) for wannabe marketers to ruminate over: "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink."

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Is history repeating itself?

This is a capture of a recent jokey conversation at Facebook which I was involved in. I have the uneasy feeling that history is making a stab at repeating itself. Right now it appears we have a dotcom bubble getting within sight of bursting point. It may not be such an idiotic and hysteria-driven bubble as the one a decade or more ago, but it may yet prove to be an even more tragic crash because of the stupendous amounts of money being thrown around. Ten years is about half of recorded history in Internet terms, so I guess a large number of today's players were too young to notice the first time. Their elders should know better. A bit of quiet reflection might be in order.

(If the images are too small to read, click on each to enlarge)

Monday 17 January 2011

How to Auto-tweet Calendar Events

Generally speaking auto-tweeting is not a good idea. Your followers on Twitter will be thoroughly turned-off when they discover your tweets are impersonal and robotic. In a word, they will be seen as spam, nothing more. Auto-tweeting naturally falls into a similar numb category to auto-following based on a keyword.

However, that is not the whole story. There are a number of circumstances when auto-tweeting is the perfectly acceptable and time-saving solution. One of these circumstances is calendar events. What better way to provide your followers with useful information about your activities than have your public calendar tweet event reminders automatically? This must be useful for a huge range of individuals and business types: a musician tweeting tour dates and a cinema tweeting programme changes; companies announcing which exhibitions or trade shows they are attending, and university departments, societies and clubs of all kinds posting event dates and fixtures.

Automatic calendar event tweets can be the sole output of a particular Twitter account if it is made perfectly clear in the bio that that is the modus operandi, and you feel that that is the best way to serve your purpose. However, I suspect that in most cases these kind of tweets best form just a part of the output.

Back in the middle of 2009 I wrote a piece call "Do a bit of plumbing with Yahoo! Pipes." It described two methods of producing an On This Day In History type feed for a learned history society, the Crimean War Research Society. The first method was by iframe and javascript, the second used RSS and Yahoo! Pipes. Since then I have set the whole thing up on a Google Calendar and processed it so that every event is posted at Twitter. It works very well as an illustration of the method described below.

This method for auto-calendar event tweeting is not unique to me or Glanton and there are other ways of doing it. However, this is the method I find most satisfactory. One side-effect of the process is the creation of a blog of all the automated events (to which the auto-tweets link) which can in turn be automatically processed further - for example with geo-location.

The method involves using a Google Calendar with email reminders, Googlemail and Google Blogger, plus Twitterfeed. For simplicity and to keep control of the process I recommend setting up a unique Google account to handle the calendar, mail and blog. You can always import other calendars into the main one, and having another Google account gives you an extra lump of potentially very useful cloud storage space.

When setting up the Google account I suggest choosing an esoteric or even coded name - remember this account is not intended to handle emails other than those generated by the calendar and you don't need punters trying to use it as way of contacting you. Similarly shut down the profile of the Google account to the barest minimum. Whatever you do, you will get some spam in the inbox of course, so you will need to visit the email account every so often to perform housekeeping tasks.

Now, using your new Google account, set up the blog at Blogger. Like the calendar, this part of the system is public: it is where people will come when they click on the shortened URL in the tweets. Each tweeted event will have its own blog post, or rather each reminder from the calendar will be posted at the blog, which in turn will be tweeted by Twitterfeed.

Next, start populating the calendar with one or two events. Set up the reminder(s) for each event, and also the location if relevant. Make sure you put concise details of the event in the title field as this is the bit that will get tweeted along with a link to the blog post. Remember that it is only 140 characters long and will always be preceded by Reminder: , which is 10 characters including the space, and will have details and shortened url for the link to the blog stuck on the end. So it is best to keep the title to around 50-60 characters, or at least get the important information in that space, because anything over that will be chopped off.

Each reminder will be tweeted, so think about what is going to be the most effective sequence for each event. If geo-location is relevant, add the event location and check to see if it gives you the right map. If not, edit it until you get the right response. (Clearly if the event is to take place in Conference Room 101 at Head Office, then you just need the location of Head Office.)

So you can see the whole system working, I suggest setting up a dummy or test event only a matter of a couple of hours or less into the future so you can check it all works.

Now go to 'Settings' in your intergrated account blog. Click the 'Email & Mobile' tab and then look at 'Posting Options' (see below). What I have changed to 'account-name' will show as the first part of your Google account name. In the field that I have changed to pink you will be invited to enter the 'secret words' part of your special posting email address. When filled in, make a note of it and 'Save Settings'.

Next, return to the email account armed with this special blog-posting email address. Set up forwarding by creating a filter: click 'Settings', 'Filters' and the 'Create a new filter'. Fill in the Subject field just like this below and click 'Next step'. (Every email from the calendar will have 'Reminder' in the subject field, so it is a good choice of keyword. However, if you can guarantee to always use an even more esoteric word in the event title field - perhaps the initials of your company - then you could use that instead.)

Fill in 'Forward to' with your special blog-posting email address and click 'Save filter. You CAN set up forwarding using the 'Forwarding and POP/IMAP' facility, but that will forward every incoming email straight to the blog and you don't want to risk those few spam mails that get in your inbox being blogged and then tweeted! That would be very confusing for your followers, and excessively generous of you towards the spammers.

Now you need a Twitterfeed account. Set up a new feed to catch every new post from the blog's RSS feed and send it to your Twitter account. Use the 'Advanced Settings' to tweet 'title only' and make sure 'Post Link' is ticked.

Don't forget that you can have Twitterfeed do the same for other blogs too: tweet a reminder that there is a new post at any of your blogs. And you can have Twitterfeed post to Facebook too, if that is your game. (In fact this is one of the best ways to keep an FB page appearing fresh). Other end services offered are StatusNet and Hellotxt, either or both of which could be the right place to send your calendar event reminders, depending on your particular circumstances. The possibilities are endless - but work out what is best for you and your audience, rather than over-egg the job by trying everything! Consider also that in the next year or two there is almost certainly going to be a big shake-down and streamlining of Social Media apps: the same services - in fact more - will be available, but they will be provided by fewer companies and sites.

If you would like to see a simple calendar event tweet set-up in action, go here to the blog and here to the Twitter account. This is the one I set up for the history society mentioned at the top of this piece. It tweets one or more events per day from the Crimean War, covering the period of the war, 1853-1856. There is at least one event for every day of the year, and every event has a map location. The calendar is set up to repeat every event every year ad infinitum and send out the reminder just before the event. The Twitter account also receives irregular and infrequent automatic posts when the society's website is updated, plus occasional manual tweets about new books and Crimean War related websites. I hope it acts as inspiration!