Pope Benedict XVI Truly Part of the Silent Generation

Why would someone who is adventurous enough to leverage new communication tools like Twitter, suddenly think they’re too old for their job?

That’s what I first wondered when I heard the news that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping down citing his age as the reason.

Perhaps it was others within the organization that pressed him into the new social media world, rather than his own embrace of it, though. Maybe it even played a part in his realization that he was just not able to perform his duties in the current world.

But, then CNN reported that the pope’s Twitter account would close when he left office and I thought maybe he really was a part of what I call the Digital Generation. In my mind, this refers not to the kids growing up in today’s digital world, but the people I’ve encountered of all ages embracing new technologies. They’re the grandmothers I met in Second Life and the moms who embraced blogging and Pinterest.

At a recent Social Media Breakfast Austin meeting on “How Different Generations Use Social Media,” someone called them outliers. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book of the same name to try to explain the careers of really successful people. At its more basic sense, though, the term describes something that is outside the norm – in this case, outside of the typical behavior of a certain generation.

Sherry Lowry, who represented the Silent Generation, on that SMB Austin panel, is part of my Digital Generation. But, she’s not necessarily an outlier in my opinion. As she described it that morning, her generation rebuilt the U.S. economy after World War II and did so by working together – transparently and collaboratively.

Key aspects of social media or social business have always been transparency and collaboration.

Sherry said the lack of that in the way generations that came after hers did business will lead her generation to one day leave their wealth not to their kids, but to their grandchildren or great grandchildren. They are of generations that also embrace collaboration and transparency and have never known a world without the ability to leave comments on a company’s Facebook page, write an online review of a restaurant, or tweet directly to the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict, it turns out, was probably not part of my envisioned all-ages Digital Generation, although he was a member of the Silent Generation. It was later clarified that the @Pontifex account would not be deleted; leading me to believe that it was indeed the organization, rather than the man, that embraced it. Since his departure, Vatican has deleted the individual tweets and archived them on their website; but the account remains live, “Sede Vacante,” waiting for the next pope to fill it with Instagram pics of communion wine.

And if the humor of that doesn’t offend you, you might also be interested in this mashup from Religion News Service of March Madness and the conclave of cardinal’s voting on the new pope:

Make your picks in the Vatican’s Sweet Sistine brackets!

Basketball Tournament-Style Brackets with Names of Cardinals that Might Be Pope


Lies, Damned Lies and Twitter Shopping Statistics

According to a Twitter Advertising Blog post published just prior to the start of the busy holiday shopping season, a recent study found that people who see tweets from retailers are more likely to visit retail websites and make online purchases.

In fact, both the retail-tweet-exposed and the control group in this study were observed to visit retail websites at a higher rate than general Internet users – seeming to imply that Twitter users account for more traffic to online retail than non-Twitter users.
Bar Chart of Twitter Users who Visited a Retail Industry Web Site

This could be viewed with a healthy dose of skeptisim just because the study [full PDF here] was conducted by Compete in partnership with Twitter. But, when a report on Black Friday online sales by IBM comes out saying that commerce site traffic from Twitter accounted for exactly 0.00 percent of Black Friday traffic, well then you really have to wonder.

How could the two be so far apart?

The IBM report was strictly looking at one day’s stats – a day, specifically, when most people are expected to be making in-store purchases instead of online ones. And, IBM says while the average Black Friday online shopper bought 5.6 items per order, that was actually down 40 percent from just a week earlier – indicating less-than-average online shopping on Black Friday than any other day.

For Twitter’s study, Compete used a U.S. internet panel 100 percent comprised of desktop internet users of Twitter.com. These 2,600 panelists were exposed to at least one tweet – organic or promoted – posted by a company in the retail vertical such as Apple, Amazon, Groupon, Pottery Barn and Walmart during the time period of August 1st through October 14th, 2012.

No Twitter third-party applications or mobile phone or tablet users were part of the study, which I think says something about the audience right there. It may be a leap of faith, or my personal predisposition, but I think that desktop internet users are the demographic most likely to be camping out for crazy Black Friday in-store deals instead of shopping online. There is, after all, some research to indicate that smartphone ownership tends to be especially uncommon for less-educated and less-affluent older Americans.

So, perhaps that could explain it.

What do you think? Is it as as Business Insider writes: “Twitter’s impact on ecommerce, it seems, is zero.” Or, is it just a Black Friday anomaly?

Visual.ly Almost Here. Shows Me What I Tweet in the Meantime.

Back in April, I got excited when I heard that a new service was coming named Visual.ly that would give me the ability to create those oh-so-hot-and-trendy infographics.

My creative skills aren’t all that shabby, but I’m certainly not a trained graphic designer, so “a platform for people to plug in data and have infographics pumped out automatically” was definitely something I wanted to check out.

Unfortunately, at that time, it was an invitation-only site. I put in a request for an invite, but did not play their game of spamming my friends in order to hope it got me higher placement in the beta. So … about two and a half months later, I got an email with the subject “Visual.ly is live!” and two weeks later finally found the time to go check it out.

Well, it is mostly live, I’d say. The ability to share infographics and explore those from others is there today. It looks like they’re concentrating first on the things that they hope will lead to revenue (and who can blame them for that?). As noted in FastCompany back in April, “Visual.ly wants to offer its services up in a subscription model, providing its team to clients as needed for a monthly retainer fee.

So, I’m still waiting for what I hope will be an easy way to create graphics for my own use. In the meantime, Visual.ly is offering us a fun visualization of what we tweet via an auto-generating infographic (a similar functionality ionz in Brazil did not so long ago). You can compare yourself to another twitterer, or just get a snapshot of your own tweets.

That’s what I did here – enjoy!

Foursquare vs. Gowalla – The SXSW Showdown that Wasn’t

Heading into SXSW Interactive this year, everyone was talking about an eminent showdown between the top two location-based social networking services: Gowalla and foursquare. Both companies released updates and enhancements just before the conference started; and, I’m sure both hoped they would take off with users like Twitter did after SXSW Interactive 2007.
Texas Showdown Saloon sign
I have been playing foursquare for a few months and feel a bit guilty for not supporting Austin’s home team Gowalla. It came about that way simply because foursquare is the first one I heard about. Several of my Twitter friends were tweeting their foursquare check-ins and it made sense to go where the people I was already connected to were going.

During SXSW, I tried like heck to win some of the special badges foursquare unveiled for the event, to no avail. But, I certainly didn’t make the shift that Jeff Pulver described in an e-mail that Misae “Minxymoggy” Richwoods shared on her blog this week:

“A community of twitter faithful shifted from sharing everything about everything on only twitter (and maybe Facebook) and changed their habits to rely on learning about what was happening and where things were happening by using foursquare and Gowalla instead.”

No, I was still relying very much on Twitter as my means of communicating with friends and finding out what was happening around the conference, as I mentioned in my post recapping a Core Conversation about Second Life.

My use of foursquare at SXSW was all about the badges (maybe trying to make up for not being a Girl Scout when I was little?); and, quite frankly, when I was unable to secure them after name-dropping, staying out late on a school night, making it to the early panels, and attending a SXSW Music show, the lily lost of bit of its gild.

Aside from throwing competing parties on the same day at the same time, I didn’t really see any showdown between foursquare and Gowalla, either. Nothing visible like the TV screens in the convention center showing Twitter feeds in years past, or anything like the Zappos takeover of what attendees wore when they handed out ponchos from their trade show booth on a rainy day one year. I don’t have bandwidth to be active in both services, so I wasn’t seeing Gowalla from the inside. That may be part of why I didn’t see any showdown.

The other reason may have been that as a 40-year-old mother, I’m not really their target demographic. I didn’t go to either company’s party, choosing instead to come home to my family that evening. And, I can go to all the places people were checking in at during SXSW any time I choose, unlike all the out-of-town visitors. But, let’s face it, I just don’t party like I used to. I’m not going to be the person Chase Straight describes when he notes “you know a night has been good when you look at your Twitter feed the next morning and see five or more check-ins.”

But, maybe there really wasn’t a showdown at all. Maybe as Jemima Kiss put it, “perhaps that just reflects how much the press and the crowd wanted to claim The New Twitter, etc. etc.” Headlines like “Hot Startups Battle To The Death Deep In The Heart Of Texas” are great fun to write.

And that fun didn’t seem to hurt anyone. Richard Whittaker pointed out in the Austin Chronicle, “neither Gowalla nor Foursquare delivered a killer blow this year, [but] both benefited from the national exposure.”

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrflip/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

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Twitter Can Haz Zombie Stringers?

The other night I glance up from my laptop to view the heartbreaking images Nightline was showing of the devestation in Haiti and the photo credits began to catch my attention.

There amongst credits for the New York Times and other mainstream news organizations was Twitter.  Not, the individual who tweeted the photos, but just Twitter. And it led me to muse (on Twitter) about whether Twitter is now a news organization and we’re all its stringers.

Not the paid sort of stringers that freelance their writing, photography or video skills and get paid individually for each piece that a news organization decides to purchase. No, we are all a vast team of unpaid zombie stringers.
Zombie Stringers
Thank you to Eric Jusino for this photo to use via Creative Commons!

It’s not like paid stringers get any more glory.  When credits are given they go just to AssociatedPress or Reuters or such, rather than the individual who took a photo (writers at least get the byline in most cases).

Stringers can be a great resource for smaller news organizations who want to expand their coverage internationally. But, being a stringer can also be dangerous work for low pay and little glory.

Maybe I was just in that sort of questioning mindframe from reading Simon Dumenco’s AdAge post titled “Be Honest: What’s Your Real Twitter and Facebook ROI?

I’d love to hear more thoughts from some of you out there like Old Media New Tricks. It’s not like Twitter is selling our tweets or anything. Oh, wait. Yes, they are. It would only be a small step for them to start seeking payment from local newspapers and television news shows…

All you zombies hide your Twitpics!

Do We Really Need One to Rule All?

A couple of years ago, I like many others who were joining new sites that seemed to pop up daily in the web 2.0/social media/social networking sphere thought that the way to handle all of this disparate content was to aggregate it.

It seemed to make sense – one place you could go to track all the different things your friends were writing on their blogs, saying in Twitter, posting on Flickr, etc. etc.

Two main competitors emerged in the aggregator space, and while I much preferred SocialThing’s user interface, the power of Robert Scoble’s network pulled more people into Friendfeed and it appears to have emerged victor. But, somewhere along the way, Friendfeed changed.
The Ring
Image via Creative Commons by Cellach

From Aggregator to Instigator

One of the things I know Robert liked early on about Friendfeed was the way people could comment there on things that others had posted. It offered a much easier to follow a thread of conversation than Twitter and was more immediate interaction than blog comments.

But, after a while, I started noticing people getting bothered if the originator of the post in Friendfeed was not there participating in the commentary. They were beginning to treat Friendfeed as the destination, the networking site, the main conversation, rather than simply as an aggregator of people’s content. It developed a community of its own that could be offended by those who treated is simply as a bedroom community.

I myself rarely visit Friendfeed and mostly do so just to check to see if there’s anything I missed that someone I follow posted. I don’t have time to be there to respond to anyone who responds to something I posted elsewhere that just automatically fed into Friendfeed without any specific intention from me.

I’d been thinking about this a lot lately, but didn’t ever get around to writing about it until today when I noticed that Aaron Brazell aka Technosailor tweeted that he was closing his Friendfeed account. His reasoning was that, like me, he was never there to interact. In the conversation that ensued there on Friendfeed, he also mentioned trolls as a reason, but I got the feeling that the primary reason was the lack of time to interact there (I mean, trolls are everywhere, right?) He’s since posted more about it on his blog.

Cross Posting Crossing the Line

With so many people feeding tweets into their Facebook page, and and blog posts onto Twitter and Flickr photos onto their blog, do we really need aggregators anymore? Have we all overcompensated with the cross posting as SocialThing died and Friendfeed morphed under the spell of the power to hold everyone’s knowledge?

Early on, Scott Karp noted that “Web 2.0 derides the siloed balkanization of traditional media — yet Web 2.0 doesn’t have the wherewithal to figure out that I’ve now seen the same feed item for the fourteenth time in four different platforms.” Simon Salt more recently explained how cross posting is bad for your personal brand.

I’m certainly not going to throw any stones here. I do a lot of cross posting myself. But, I am also aware that some of those different services have different audiences that deserve some tailoring. Early on I quit piping all tweets into Facebook because many of the people I’m connected to there are not on Twitter and may be so due to a conscious choice about how much information they want to receive. My teenage nephews and the mothers of my daughter’s friends probably don’t care about the latest Mashable article I read. So, I update Facebook less frequently and often more personally.

But, imagine when I do tweet about a blog post such as this one and I post a link to it on my Facebook page. Right there, you’re getting the same information twice in Friendfeed. If I happen to bookmark the post in Delicious or give it a thumbs up in StumbleUpon, there are two more. What if I upload the image I use to illustrate it to Flickr? Bam. There it is again in Friendfeed.

And, with Steve Rubel announcing today that he’s moving all his effort over to Posterous, I’ve already gone to revisit my account there that hasn’t been used in almost a year. Posterous also lets you cross post to most other networks, so the potential is there for even more duplication. Will the madness never end?

To Stay or To Go

Aggregation doesn’t seem to be really working like I thought it would, lifestreaming is just more of the same, and too much cross posting can create a negative impact.

But, I don’t think I’ll be closing any of my accounts just yet. Instead I will continue to focus on a few, monitor many and seek to tailor updates to the audience. It’s more work, but hopefully by focusing my conversations and interaction on few (primarily Twitter and Facebook) I can handle it. I’m still not going to be active in the Friendfeed community that has developed, or the ones that exist as well in places like Flikr, but I do still see a use for their services.

What about you? Do you think you will continue to spread across multiple sites or try to aggregate everything in one spot? Or, even better, do share if you’ve found another solution all together!

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 Dell.com 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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Oh, the People You’ll Meet Via Social Media

When I was asked by Austin Woman Magazine “What is the biggest impact of social media on your life?” it didn’t take but a second for me to reply that it was all the new and interesting people I would never have met otherwise. Some have been on the opposite side of the globe from me, and some have been right around the corner.

Austin Kleon is one of those. He is a writer and cartoonist who lives here in Austin, TX, that I met when I saw another acquaintance Tim Walker talking to him at that giant cocktail party known as Twitter. I was intrigued by a tweet about a newspaper blackout poem which is described as “Newspaper + Sharpie = Poems.” By blacking out all but select words in a newspaper article, Austin creates poetry. He has quite a collection of them on his blog that I could pass hours reading. He also recently posted this cool time-lapsed video showing the making of a blackout poem.

While it took Twitter to introduce me to this cool poet and artist in my own backyard, ye old mainstream media is introducing him to a global audience. He was recently featured in the Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia:
Austin Kleon

A collection of Austin’s Newspaper Blackout Poems is forthcoming from HarperCollins in February 2010. I encourage you to check him out! You can follow him on Twitter, read his blog and become a fan on Facebook.

Tempting Fate and Twitter Trolls

While giving social media 1×1 coaching sessions at Assosciation for Women in Technology’s 2009 Women’s Business Conference, I found myself telling someone that I’d never met a mean person on Twitter.

It got me to thinking this morning (in the shower, of course): are there really no trolls on Twitter? So, later in the morning when I remembered it, I asked my twitter friends if that was really the case, or was I just lucky?

Sounds like I’ve just been lucky. Not only did many tweet back to tell me they are out there, with a quick search I found them documented on Flickr, reported to GetSatisfaction.com and escalated to Twitter executives.

So why have I, and apparently at least one other person, not run into them? Maybe because of the very opt-in nature of Twitter. If you don’t like what someone has to say, you simply don’t follow them. If they try to talk to you via @ replies, you can just ignore them or block them if they get rude. You can choose exactly whose tweets you wish to receive on your phone, if any. And, you can choose whether or not you want to receive e-mails whenever someone signs up to follow you or direct messages you. Heck, you can even chose who gets to direct message you because it is limted to who you follow.

If you are trying to track a topic on Twitter, I can see where spam, trolls and general noise could quickly mess up the signal, though. Jon points this out as a problem with hashtags because Twitter hashtags are completely open, so anybody can post on them. It was evident today, too, as Skittles tried to experiment with turning their web site home page into a Twitter search results page. Since I’m rarely trying to follow a trendy topic, that’s probably a reason I haven’t noticed it so much. Even when I’m enjoying the Oscars or some other television event with one eye on Twitter, just watching the tweets of the peanut gallery I already follow is more than enough.

Some folks are very big on following back everyone who follows them. While I want to be as friendly as the next person on Twitter, I just couldn’t go that far. I’m not there just to pile up numbers, so I’ve been selective about who I follow (although the selection process is not set in stone or always that rigorous).

The point I’m trying to make is that the power is really in your hands. I have probably tempted fate by bringing up the troll topic. I hope not to be besieged by mean-spirited people who take this as an invitation to crawl out from under their bridges; but, if they come, I’ll just ignore or block.

And, I’ll continue to tell folks how I’ve met some of the nicest people around on Twitter.