Posts Tagged ‘twitter’

Are you now or have you ever been a commentist?!

Since I have a foot in the music “industry”, one of my regular reads in my RSS Reader is the Musician Coaching blog by Rick Goetz. He quite often has posts of interest to me. But last week, he had one that hit me right in the bull’s-eye: an interview with a singer-songwriter about how she built her career around house concerts.

About now, you’re asking what a house concert is. Quick explanation: a house concert is a musical event where a host opens up his or her home to a performing musician, and that musician is paid by donations from the audience. My partner and I started doing house concerts in 2007, and have had about 40 evenings where amazing musicians have left audiences laughing, crying, or just about any reaction in between.

After I carefully read the post, I left a comment praising the post, adding some background and context, and correcting (politely and constructively) some misstatements. That was on March 21. I waited a while, then dropped back to the site to see if there was any response to my comment. It was still in moderation. And, as I write this, there it remains, in moderation. After a few days I emailed Goetz to ask if there was some reason my comment wasn’t being approved, and I tweeted him as well. To this point, I haven’t heard from him. It’s been five days.

I’m not egotistical enough to think that being deprived of my comment is something that will affect anybody. But I do want to point out a problem that many websites face – handling comments well.

To effectively manage commenting, there are two things to keep in mind: your policy, and your technology.

First, policy. Decide if you even want comments. Most of the time, the advantage of comments — the extension of the conversation —  outweighs the disadvantages. But if you are concerned about abusive comments, about spam or malware, or have another reason for not wanting to allow comments, then that’s a choice you have the right to make. For example, übersite Copyblogger has just ended commenting on its site, arguing that the conversation shouldn’t be confined to its own property, but should be “in the cloud.” I don’t quite get that, but hey, they’re way more important than me, so …

You need to think about whether you are going to allow anonymous comments. I am generally of the belief that you should be confident enough in what you say that you’re willing to say it under your own name. Much of the worst vitriol online is generated by people using anonymous handles rather than real names. There’s no “right” answer to this beyond the answer you decide is right.

If you decide to accept comments, then you need to think about how you’re going to do it. You can let the floodgates open up and allow people to comment willy-nilly, without moderation. You can have people moderated the first time, but are given free rein once they’ve had a first comment approved. You can always have comments moderated. If I’m working in that environment, I get email notifications when I have comments, and I pretty much ALWAYS immediately click on them. If you’re going to moderate, you’re pretty much committing to TIMELY moderation or you’re going to take the wind out of the conversational sail.

If you moderate, you also need to make clear somewhere on your site why you moderate, and under what circumstances you won’t approve a comment. It’s much easier to point people to your house rules and explain why what they wrote is not going up on the site: personally abusive, obscene language, racist content, etc. are some of the reasons that are quite valid for rejecting a comment. AND DO NOT rewrite anyone’s comments. That’s just not done.

Now, to the technology.

Most modern blog software have built-in commenting systems. My usual recommendation is to ditch those. They’re pretty rudimentary, and there are better ones that you can plug in with little difficulty. There are three that are commonly used: Livefyre, Disqus, and Facebook. The nice thing about these commenting systems is that they allow things like threaded discussions, so that you can follow the flow of a discussion. They also allow people to sign in using a variety of social media tools (e.g. Sign in using Twitter, Google, etc. etc.). That makes it easy for people to sign in. While I’m not a giant fan of Facebook-based comments, there’s one undeniable advantage to them — when people comment using the FB comments, it will more often than not pop up on their wall, which may lead to people discovering your post from the commenter’s wall.

So put a little thought into your strategy around blog commenting. It’ll pay off down the road.

Using online ads? Prepare for backlash

Interesting example of one of the pitfalls of online advertising passed by on my newsfeed. Ottawa realtor Tracy Arnett had used Facebook’s new promoted posts feature on Facebook. Available since May, this new feature allows a specific post to be pushed into people’s newsfeeds (this is different from Facebook ads, which appear in the sidebar of a Facebook profile). The one I saw advertised a condominium apartment.

But what really caught my eye was the first comment on the post. Take a look:

A screenshot of Tracy Arnett Facebook advertisement


To the credit of the realtor, she responded exceptionally well. Apologize for the offense, explain calmly and carefully why it happened, offer a solution.

When I went to the realtor’s Facebook page, I noted the following messages as well:

Arnett Facebook page screen capture

But it points out to businesses using new social media options for advertising such as sponsored posts on social networks that they may well tick off people who see them. Be prepared to receive angry — even intemperate — feedback, and to respond in a measured and factual manner. Imagine if the realtor had responded by saying “Look, if you don’t like it just hit ignore, okay? It’s not my problem”!

And in fact, depending on the type of advertising you’re planning on doing and the nature of your business or organization, the potential for negative responses might well dissuade you from doing such advertising. Proceed carefully!

When and how your business should take a stand

It’s easy for a business or organization to shy away from taking public stands. Don’t want to offend anyone, right? But when should you take a public stand on something? And how best to do it?

I started to think about this when I saw a stand Toronto Public Health took on July 22.

Toronto Public Health went to Twitter to call for ABC to not add celebrity Jenny McCarthy as a permanent host of their morning talk show The View. McCarthy, originally a Playboy model, has developed a career as an actress, an author, and more recently as an anti-vaccination activist. She has said her son Evan was diagnosed with autism, that the autism was caused by vaccines, and that he has recovered from autism. In a CNN op-ed, she (and then partner Jim Carrey) wrote: “We believe what helped Evan recover was starting a gluten-free, casein-free diet, vitamin supplementation, detox of metals, and anti-fungals for yeast overgrowth that plagued his intestines. Once Evan’s neurological function was recovered through these medical treatments, speech therapy and applied behavior analysis helped him quickly learn the skills he could not learn while he was frozen in autism. After we implemented these therapies for one year, the state re-evaluated Evan for further services. They spent five minutes with Evan and said, ‘What happened? We’ve never seen a recovery like this.’”

McCarthy’s hiring has sparked a significant controversy. The blog post announcing the hiring has hundreds of comments, some supportive, more critical (in my estimation).

So why would Toronto Public Health, a Canadian city agency, go public on this?

I twice asked for an interview with Toronto Public Health, but they chose not to make someone available to me. So I’m going to speculate a little, based on the media release and material they sent me (I guess if I’m wrong enough, they’ll ask for a correction.)

First is the numbers argument, which was amply illustrated by this infographic they distributed when they went public.


When you look at the reduction in incidence of some very serious, if not fatal, diseases, I would suspect that public health professionals felt the potential for misinformation by McCarthy (both explicit misinformation from her discussing her views on the show and the belief that her appearing on the show would lend her credibility) was more important than the risks of going public.

Second, I would guess that there was a discussion of whether going public with opposition would in itself lead to publicizing her views more.

Third, I would assume that  while it was more or less certain that Toronto Public Health would gain some widespread attention as a result of their stand, they were more interested in raising awareness of the importance of immunization in their local market.

A media backgrounder from the agency tells of a local outbreak of measles that had been caused by parents delaying childhood measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination.

It’s uncommon for a private-sector company will take a proactive stand on an issue, and it’s rare that government departments will do the same (excluding policy decisions, which are government stock in trade, and politicians taking positions, which they do all the time – it’s kind of their job). It’s much more common to see not-for-profits or associations take on the task of taking on a point of principle. But businesses taking stands is far from unheard of: in the US, the same-sex marriage debate has seen corporate interventions on both the pro side (Starbucks’s Howard Schultz telling a shareholder unhappy with the coffee giant’s support of same-sex marriage to sell his shares) and the con side (Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy tweeting that the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act was a “sad day” for the US), to point out just one example.

So when you see something happening that your company seems to have an interest in, think about whether you want to take a public stand. Here are some tips:

  • Be aware of the risks of speaking out as well as the potential benefits. Prepare yourself for backlash or criticism. Think outside your own organization and supporters. Brainstorm what the strongest opposition to your stand would or could be.
  • Decide how relevant the issue you’re looking at is to your organization’s mission. You might have a strong opinion on vaccination. But if your organization doesn’t have a lear link to some aspect of the issue, you run the risk of being accused of “newsjacking” or just making people go, “huh?”
  • Ensure you have senior-level commitment to the position. This HAS to be something the leadership of the organization must be comfortable with.
  • Base your arguments on information and fact, not on purely emotional appeals, and vet your messaging very carefully.
  • Don’t hide any interests your company or organization has in the issue. Transparency will lessen the probability that someone will come back later and attack you for a bias you didn’t disclose.
  • Have a listening post set up to monitor the progress of the conversation both before and after you intervene. (I’m going to write about this later this week).


Escape from app-pression

Yesterday I posted about the idea that we can get hemmed in by structures. We can work within a structure to replicate things, and do it really well, but that’s not the same as making our own rules.

One of the things that I really find inspiring about Twitter is just what frustrated me about it when I first joined Twitter (in February 2007, according to this website). I didn’t know what to do with it. I’m not sure how I heard about it. And I joined because I find the best way of learning about something is to get on board and start from the inside.

I couldn’t see what Twitter was for. And then, I started to see tweets from Chris Brogan. Rather than statements like “This soup at restaurant X is AMAZING”, he was throwing out questions on Twitter that seemed like Zen koans. They seemed designed to provoke you to think. And I liked that. That was enough to engage me with the idea of Twitter. (Ironically enough, as I was writing this post, Brogan was writing about a sort of “Twitter fast” he did.)

But what frustrated me about Twitter was that my thought processes were based on the blogging model, which was based on the radio and magazine model that I was familiar with from decades of doing it. I was forced to move away from a format I was comfortable in. I needed to make new understandings for that new format. And that was good for me. I found value in Twitter.

When I tried Empire Avenue, I found a highly mechanized system that seemed to be the social media version of Farmville or Mafia Wars. While some people seem absolutely focused on maximizing their “share value” on that platform, I found zero reason to devote time or energy to it. (To the point that I don’t want to even give it the linklove.)

Here’s another example, and yes, it’s about Lego. When I was teaching this winter, a student told me about her son’s use of Lego. Remember those kits that I criticized last time? Well, this kid was taking his Lego kits and making stop-motion animation with them. Turns out, there’s tons of this stuff online. Some of it’s hilarious!

Consciously or unconsciously, he took a construction toy which went together one way, and used it to create something much more random and anarchic. He escaped the tyranny of the app.

Escaping the “app” is not getting rid of your smartphone. It’s about resisting the tendency to follow patterns.

  • Don’t let your tools define how you use them.
  • Re-examine your routines.
  • Best practices are one thing. But don’t fall victim to being limited by them.
  • Here’s one I have trouble with: recognize that you WILL fall back into the comfortable patterns, that routine will take over. Acknowledge that an attempt to change something has broken down… then do something about it.

Creativity is a joy and a treasure. Use it. Don’t let the routines govern you.

Social Merlot? Where wineries sit with social media.

I got pointed to an interesting slide deck yesterday from a company called ABLE. ABLE is a NYC based company doing social media marketing for food and wine clients. They did a survey of French and US wineries about how they used social media.

The short version of this? More wineries are active on social media platforms in the US than in France. And the US wineries are reporting that Facebook is a particularly powerful tool to generate sales.

Part of this is boosterism. ABLE quite naturally wants its potential clients to believe that social media is a must for them, and that they need to devote more time, money, and resources to it.

But there are some surprising numbers in here. What do you think of these?

  • 4 in 5 French wineries don’t have a dedicated marketing manager creating content on social networks.
  • Fewer than 1 in 13 use FB advertising.

Now, the report does suggest that France’s wineries are jumping into the social media vat of grapes with both feet. But there will be challenges ahead for French wine. How will they prioritize markets? What will they do to ensure they’re creating content that matches the culture and languages of their markets? And how will they ensure that they’re doing their social media work strategically, rather than just hopping onto Twitter or Facebook?

I wonder if Vaynermedia has been watching this happen. Would seem a natural place for them to excel.

And I wonder if there were any indications of how wineries are measuring what they do against goals they set for themselves.

SMB 101 Post #3: When someone complains, respond

Last week, I was challenged to write about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of people blocking or ignoring their online critics.

This week, I’m going to give you a few tips about how to deal with online criticisms of your business.

No business pleases everyone. And now, displeased customers can complain in public. Sometimes with lots of people watching. And when that happens, what do you do?!

Not recommended

CC licenced from Flickr user Gordon2208

Shockingly enough, many companies are choosing to ignore online complaints. Look at this blog post by Jay Baer, based on research published in September 2011. According to that research, less than a third of complaints on Twitter were responded to by the company being complained about.  According to Baer,

Brands must look at these new channels as the “social telephone” and ignoring these 140-character cries for help is a flawed decision.”

There are a few options. First thing is to assess the validity of the complaint. If Jane Bloggs is saying you screwed up the delivery and the product was broken when it finally got delivered… is she right? If so, did you know about her dissatisfcation and attempt to make things right? You need to have as complete a picture of what happened as you can get, so you can know where you stand and decide on a response.

It might be that this person is not a customer at all. And that’s good to know too. It might be rare, but some people do enjoy causing trouble by making up stories.

Assuming Jane Bloggs is real, then reach out using the same means she did to voice her complaint. Did she tweet it? Then @ her. Did she use Yelp? Then comment on her post, and try to engage her.

Use neutral language. Acknowledge her feelings. Show that you’re listening. And try to move the discussion into a more private place, like email, or even better, the phone. Human contact trumps electronic contact when it comes to resolving conflict.

If you’re able to mollify her and resolve the issues which got her mad, then thank her for being reasonable and promise to do better in the future. And do.

If you aren’t, do your best, and explain why you can’t help any more than you can.

I’ve adapted this chart from the US Air Force’s chart of how they respond to bloggers. And thanks to Jeremiah Owyang, we’ve all had a chance to see that classic piece of work.

A simple way to deal with online complaints

Don’t ignore complaints. You’re only hurting yourself.

SMB101 Post #2: The myth of engagement.

SMB101 logoIt’s a real pleasure to get a request for a post. So when I got one asking for one called “The Myth of Engagement,” how could I not respond? The crux of the request was:

 I am so tired of hearing about how people who Tweet are engaging their audiences. In fact, many don’t actually engage but just push out info in a one-way channel. And how do they deal with anyone who challenges them? Easy, they just use that trusty block feature. In my book, you take the good with the bad and that’s the way actual Twitter engagement happens. 

My esteemed correspondent was talking about Twitter, but his point can be made for any social media tool that you choose to use in your business, and it’s a valid one. My advice goes like this:

  • You can use social media tools in a one-way, push-information-out fashion. There’s no “Ten Commandments”, no matter who tells you there are. You can do it. It might even be the right thing to do for your business.Even social media leaders like Seth Godin push out material without offering people the opportunity to engage in conversation. If you visit his blog, you’ll see lots of Facebook “likes”, lots of “plusses” on Google Plus, but … no comments. He doesn’t allow ‘em. Look at Godin’s Twitter page. It’s simply a retweet of his blog posts. He follows nobody, he doesn’t engage.
    La la la, I can't hear you

    Photo CC licenced by Flickr user:

    I could argue he’s doing it wrong. But he’s an award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author, with 170,000 people following his Twitter feed. And I’m … me.

  • You can also choose to use social media tools such as Twitter in a more conversational way. That implies that you listen to other people’s conversations about your company or organization, and you engage where appropriate. For example, look at Southwest Airlines on Twitter. Their corporate account chats with customers, commiserates, solves problems, and runs contests.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both strategies. And perhaps unfortunately, I’m not able to give you a magic formula that tells you whether your organization should go one-way or two-way when it comes to online communication.

What I would argue is that if you’re going to use a social media tool, you should make clear HOW you’re using it. If people expect responses, then you need to respond. If you aren’t prepared to respond, then set out some ground rules and make people aware of them. Don’t tell people you’re “engaging” with them if you’re really just shouting at them.

My correspondent described one of one of the worst ways of dealing with negative voices in social media: blocking all challengers or critics. Next week, I’ll describe how to triage comments your organization receives and decide when and how to respond.


If your small business needs some help choosing from the nearly infinite set of social media options, get in touch. I’d be happy to help. I love finding ways of helping small business that are affordable and effective for you and profitable and rewarding for me. 

It’s tragic because it’s true

On April Fool’s Day, I was one of a bunch of people who announced that we had created a spoof site called PinPal, which promised to match up similarly Klouted and Pinterested people for loooove.

Hahahaha, right? April Fool! Well apparently the joke was on us.

Tawkify  is apparently a quite serious site, created by someone named “E. Jean Carr”, who writes for Elle magazine and someone else. Here’s their manifesto:

“Your Klout Score—which measures your online influence from your social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Linked In and Google+ —is just another way to calibrate your awesomeness. It’s a hipper, newer, fresher, more authentic, more modern, more romantic way to match your allure. Your Height? Your Weight? Bah! Soooo superficial. A Klout Score over 17 reveals that people find you so appealing that you inspire them to listen to the Adele song you just recommended or to share your comments about Jeremy Lin.” 

I think Jimmy Addison is hunkered down in some San Francisco law office right now getting some papers prepared for service. As if Klout didn’t have enough mess on its hands already, does it really need to be offering up a tacit endorsement of an online dating service on its corporate blog?

One more reason I’m happy to be happily living in sin.

Your business isn’t every business

Hat shop, from Flickr user Slimmer_Jimmer

Just 3 more and I get one free!

The Consumerist is one of my must-read blogs. But I don’t necessarily read it for solid marketing and communications advice. Until this morning, when I opened up my feed reader and found a post called “The Silly Hat Shop.”

It reminded me of a cool furniture store in my neighbourhood in Ottawa. They sell the sort of furniture that funky condos would have, as well as custom design services for furniture.

On their door, they trumpet that they’re on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. What’s that mean? For Twitter, they’ve posted 76 tweets in two years, with less than 50 followers. Most of those tweets are for sales on their products. On Facebook, a page with 133 friends and an unending series of sales. And on LinkedIn? Well, they have some employees there.

What does their online presence say to me? I’m NEVER buying full price from them, and they aren’t that different from a Leon’s, a “The Brick”, or other furniture stores.  In short, Ben Popken needed a hat and bought one at a new hat store. They then subjected him to a variety of marketing and loyalty techniques that, in his opinion and mine, don’t fit a hat shop. A frequent buyer card? Really?

I’d also wager that neither the hat shop nor the furniture store have put a second of thought into how they are going to evaluate the success of their frequent buyer club or their Twitter account.

Being a great buyer / retailer of hats, of furniture, of whatever, does not make you a great communicator of what you’re REALLY all about. If you sell great funky furniture that deserves premium treatment — and prices — why not treat it that way? And act as if you’re a trusted advisor rather than a salesman? If you sell hats, don’t treat them like they’re a cappuccino.

And if you can’t think this through because you’re too close to your store, too much in love with what you do — hire someone with a clear vision and trust their insights to do it for you.

(Photo CC licenced from Flickr user Slimmer_Jimmer)

Five tips on choosing the right medium, thanks to Tony Clement

Tony Clement

Tony Cement demos a new Twitter app

While politics isn’t a huge part of my business life (unlike my compatriot Mark Blevis, for example), I am an armchair political quarterback of the first water. So this post by Maclean’s magazine parliamentary correspondent and blogger Aaron Wherry really caught my eye.

Minister of Industry Tony Clement is possibly the most passionate user of Twitter within Canada’s federal cabinet (although there are others.) And he should be given credit for not cutting and running despite being in charge of some controversial files, including changes to Canada’s census, an attempted takeover of Potash Corporation by Australian firm BHP Billiton, and most recently the government’s awarding of $300 million to Pratt & Whitney Canada to assist the company in carrying out research & development on new aircraft engines.

The announcement of this funding led to some stiff media criticism, and last night, as Wherry illustrates, Minister Clement took to his Twitter account to joust with several people, including journalist Andrew Coyne and economist Stephen Gordon (who had been intensely critical of Clement’s decision to discontinue the mandatory long-form census).

Screengrab of Tonyclement_MP feed

Clement puts on the gloves Twitter-style

The exchange lasted about two hours and ended at about midnight. I think it’s remarkable (in a good way) that Clement is doing this. But it makes me wonder about a couple of things. The Stephen Harper government has been painted as exceedingly locked-down in terms of communication, and there has been a long history of clashes between journalists and the government. But here’s a senior cabinet minister slugging it out with a journalist and others in the public twitterverse.

So I tip my hat to Minister Clement. I think it’s great that he’s doing this. And now, some tips that I think his tweeting can teach us all:

  1. Use the tool that you are comfortable with. It could be argued that a blog might be a better tool for Clement. But for whatever reason or reasons, Clement likes Twitter. So he’s using Twitter. You can’t force a minister to do stuff. But I don’t think anyone’s twisting Clement’s arm to do this. He’s engaged. So work with that.
  2. Don’t cut and run when things get tough. Clement has gone through some bruiser battles on Twitter. But he’s still there, and while he may end a given exchange, he doesn’t go to ground when critics appear. You have to brace yourself for the critics and be ready to respond.
  3. Remember that you control your message, no matter the medium. In the exchange from last night, Andrew Coyne presses hard for Clement to disclose departmental research. Note that Clement doesn’t say “no.” He ignores the request. He could provide it at a later time, or he might not. Or Coyne could do an Access to Information request to obtain the research.
  4. Choose a medium you can communicate in. Clement appears to be a tech savvy guy; he also appears to like cut and thrust. That makes Twitter useful for him. Furthermore, he uses the shorthand and conventions of the medium to his own advantage. He shortens words, uses hashtags, etc.
  5. Choose a medium that matches your urgency and frequency needs. I mentioned in tip 1 that a blog might be better for Clement in terms of putting out fleshed-out arguments. But the conversationality wouldn’t be there, and the need to polish the writing would be higher. A podcast would require some sort of equipment (even Audioboo would require a mobile device), and it doesn’t have the immediacy of a tweet.

I hope these tips are useful. If you have any more to add, please leave them in the comments.