Tool(bar)s to Manage Social Media

I was recently tagged in a note on Facebook that was a departure from the typical  list of things about myself. Gene Deel, a fellow Dell employee, solicited my input on his note titled “Defying Newton: Simultaneously Managing Relationships in Multiple Social Networks.” It turned out to be rather thought provoking.

Gene’s post was prompted by a post he read on Mashable called “How to Simplify Your Social Media Routine.” My first thought was that I don’t really do anything to manage social networks. Then, I thought, well maybe it’s that I focus on one; but, I wasn’t sure that was totally true because being here is not that area of focus. Then, I thought I’d take a read of the Mashable article you’d linked.

Turns out, I’m thinking along many of the same lines as that writer. I have, as he suggests, determined which social media network gives me the most value – Twitter. It has become integrated into my life and allows me to quickly connect with people with similar interests.

That didn’t happen overnight, however. I’ve been there for more than two years – longer than I’ve been in any other social network. Some of the people I have connected with there are also connected to me in virtual worlds, facebook, friendfeed, etc. So, we do cross paths in multiple ways; but, the majority I met there first.

One of the hardest things I had to learn is another tip from the Mashable article: “Let go of the need to read everything.” It is still sometimes hard to resist the urge to look back at what I might have missed when I’m away from Twitter, but if I don’t, I spiral into a never-ending whirlpool of twitterstreams of which you can never reach the top.

I did disagree with that writer on one thing, however. He said to “limit yourself to high-impact messages to reduce the time you spend communicating.” If I were to do that, I don’t believe I would have expanded my network as much as I have. Some of this may be due to my social network of choice. If you wait for something “quality” to say in Twitter, you will seldom tweet. Most of us don’t believe we have a lot of quality things to say, and would therefore rarely tweet. Those who do have that high of an opinion of themselves are usually just self-promoting and quickly become boring.

The whole thing that makes social networks social is that you share the mundane along with the impactful. Yes, it means we must sift through a lot of chaf to get the grains of good stuff; but, without it you don’t really get to know the people from whom you are learning. Without that information, you can’t congratulate them when their kid gets a part in the school play. Or send your best wishes and sympathies when needed. Or know that they might be interested in a certain blog post you just read. And without that knowledge you need to have about someone in order to give back to them, you simply use them. That’s not the sort of relationship that lasts, or that I want.

Tool Knife

But, I’ve digressed from the original question of what other tips I might have for managing social networks. And my best suggestion for that is toolbars and buttons. Many of the different networks have toolbars or buttons you can add to your browser that allow you to easily share. I use the StumbleUpon toolbar, delicious buttons, the TwitThat button, and a Share on Facebook button.

Grabbing those links, I notice that most of them are Firefox add-ons, so maybe the real Swiss Army knife of social media management tools is Firefox!
[image from Phillip Torrone via Creative Commons License]
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Why I’m Not “LauraatDell” on Twitter

The blending of work life and personal life on social networks is a topic for long discussion in and of itself. But, today I thought I would try to articulate how I walk the line between the two with my Twitter activity.

If you haven’t read my bio here, or figured it out otherwise, I work at Dell.  Dell has become well-known as an active Twitter participant. The DellOutlet account especially has been touted by Dell executives, social media consultants and many mainstream media outlets as proof that Twitter can be used for business.  RichardatDELL and LionelatDell are individuals at Dell who blog and respond to blogs that have also gathered quite a following on Twitter.

Brand Blending

When a person adds their company name to their own like that in a social media setting, they more strongly attach their company reputation to their own and vice versa. Or, in popular terms of the moment – they mix their personal brand with their employer’s. Doug Walker at Social Media Group recently raised some good questions about what happens when those two break up.

While I do tweet about things I’m doing at work and things others at Dell are working on that I think are cool, I also tweet on random topics of personal interest, things I’m doing with my family and even the now stereotypical (or useful, depending on your view) tweet about what I’m having for lunch or dinner.

This blending of somewhat professional and personal tweets I think is more easily achieved because I am not as official of a Dell representative as I would be if I tweeted as LauraatDell.

Risky Responsibility

A prime example of how difficult it is to be social when you are the corporate voice happened recently with Dell’s education community manager. Bri Brewer is a great gal whose education tweets under the Edu4U corporate account have been interspersed with light, humorous tweets.  A teacher/blogger recently expressed fears that those off-the-cuff tweets could diminsh her efforts to have social media or Web 2.0 technologies taken seriously by many in the education profession.

That teacher makes a very valid point about official company interactions online when she says, “What I say may or may not be long soon forgotten. What you say can and may influence the way vast millions of people think about educational technology.” It is a great reminder to all who enter social media on behalf of their companies that they carry greater power with the backing of a well-known brand.
Everything is Risky

The fear of that sort of responsibility, however, is not the reason I tweet as myself instead of my company. As a corporate communications professional I know well what it means to be a company spokesperson and I’ve been trained and gained many years of experience in dealing with the media and the general public on behalf of an organization.

No, the reason I tweet as LPT rather than LauraatDell is much simpler – I was LPT on Twitter before Dell ever came into that online neighborhood. I’m the one LionelatDell credits with getting him to really engage there; and, then he and I both brought RichardatDell into the fold. So, I had already begun to build my own presence as an individual before my company was there.

But, Lionel was not originally “atDell” either – he later changed his name.  Why didn’t I?

Ambassador Spokesperson

While I have been a company spokesperson in the past, it is not something that is currently part of my official job at Dell. I basically get paid to manage the content in the corporate section of known as About Dell.  In doing that, I work closely with our PR and Investor Relations teams, and I look for new ways to leverage and integrate social media/Web 2.0 technologies. I also get to dabble in virtual worlds to help Dell learn about these environments and how we might leverage them – sorta the way that Google engineers get to spend 20 percent of their time on projects outside of their job description.

I do occassionally have the opportunity to speak to media or at conferences as our subject matter expert on that topic, but I feel that on Twitter I’m more of an ambassador than a spokesperson for Dell. My profile links from there to my bio here that explains who I work for, in keeping with Dell’s Online Communication Policy about transparency. My “bio” on the Twitter profile, however, has not changed since I whimsically dashed it off when I signed up for Twitter more than two years ago.  Until today.

To be super clear for those who don’t click-through the web link, I’ve just added “(who works at Dell)” to my profile. If that job status should change, I can easly adjust that without making a major change to my “personal brand” of LPT.

And that, my friends, is the rest of the story. (Rest in peace Paul Harvey)

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Something to Sneeze At

I started this blog a little more than a year ago, not to establish myself as some expert at something, but simply to have a repository for things I wanted to say that wouldn’t fit easily into the 140 characters of my twitterstream.

I restate that simply as a warning that this post serves no great purpose other than to let me get something off my chest: Enough with the swine flu already! I know we border Mexico here in Texas, but it’s getting a bit ridiculus with all the school closings and signs suddenly appearing in our office bathrooms that tell us to “WASH YOUR HANDS.”

I mean, people die from the flu every year and we don’t make this big of a deal out of it.  The Center for Disease Controls reports:

“During the 2007–08 influenza season, the percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) exceeded the epidemic threshold†† for 8 consecutive weeks in the 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System during the weeks ending January 12–May 17, 2008 (weeks 9–16).”

That’s just the regular old flu that we all know and expect and somehow manage to carry on a normal life around.  But, go and put a descriptor in front of the flu like avian or swine, and suddenly everyone freaks out.

Yes, we should wash our hands. And, yes, we should avoid contact with those who are displaying symtoms of illness. And, yes, the very young or elderly or otherwise immunosuppressed should probably take extra precaution. But, I really think people have blown this a bit out of proportion.

Get a grip and get on with your life.

And, I’ll try to get back to writing more interesting things here than rants like this. 🙂 Maybe something like my latest Direct2Dell post where I show that Second Life will run on a Dell Mini?