Tag Archive | "engagement"

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Fallacious Celebrations of Facebook Fans

This post was originally published on BrianSolis.com on September 16, 2009.

Guest Post by Dr. Mark Drapeau – read his blog, follow him on Twitter

Source: Shutterstock Images

Publishing “top 10″ lists is unfortunately a staple of modern journalism.  But alas, writers must drive readers’ eyeballs, even when discussing serious topics like the government.  And so we find a new list that mixes Web 2.0 with the government: “Top 10 agencies with the most Facebook fans.”  For the record, this list is topped by the White House with 327,592 fans, followed by the Marine Corps, Army, CDC, State Department, NASA, NASA JPL, Library of Congress, Air Force, and Environmental Protection Agency.  Congratulations to all these hard-working agencies.

But what exactly are we celebrating here?  The fact that government agencies are embracing new technologies that the citizens they serve actually use?  That’s nice I suppose, but everyone from Papa John’s Pizza to America’s Next Top Model (200,000 more fans than the White House, cough) to someone I met once at a party during Internet Week has a Facebook “Fan Page” now, so surely we are not celebrating the mere presence of them.  In fact, when everyone in my social circle’s social circle asks me to become a fan of their long-standing charity, their favorite television program, or their single-person consulting firm, everything becomes a blur of meaningless, cheap invitations that become remarkably easy to decline.  There is no value in simply having a fan page anymore.  There may be street cred in not having one – time will tell.

Are we applauding the government’s fan numbers?  The article leads with, “The White House currently has more fans than the Washington Redskins.” The most powerful global seat of power in perhaps the most recognizable office building in the world has more fans than the local football team?  Earth-shattering.  Let’s consider how popular the White House is.  Facebook now has 300 million users; thus, approximately one out of every 1000 Facebook users is a “fan” of the White House.  The other 999/1000 are not.  And since many Facebook users live outside the U.S., one must assume that many White House fans do as well.  Should every U.S. citizen using Facebook be a fan of the White House?  Is that the goal?  Who knows.

Still, the White House shouldn’t feel too bad about those stats.  Rounding out the top 10, the EPA has convinced one of every 100,000 Facebook users to become their fans.  Bravo.  Let’s keep this in perspective.  Soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo has two fan pages that total four million fans.  Julia Allison, who isn’t even a real celebrity, has over 15,000 fans – if these numbers are in any way meaningful she’s roughly as popular as the State Department, the agency heading up U.S. foreign policy.  These numbers seem even worse when one considers that there are hundreds of U.S. Federal Government departments and agencies, many of which haven’t a presence on Facebook or anything similar.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh.  Let’s assume for a minute that these agencies are genuinely touching microniches and that the fans, whatever their numbers, are indeed fanatical about these agencies.  What are they doing with that raving fan base?  Not much.  Sites like the Army and CDC and State Department primarily re-post their own news from their own websites.  I didn’t see any original writing.  I didn’t even see aggregation of information about, say, foreign policy from other sources.  I certainly didn’t see any innovative contests from the Marine Corps, or crowdsourcing from NASA.  And while there are fan comments posted on the pages, it’s not obvious at all what is being done with that feedback, if anything.  Make fun of Tyra Banks all you want, but her show’s fan page has 286 discussion topics, hundreds of photos, headshots, names, and bios of people involved in the show, and listings of upcoming events.  They’re so organized at America’s Next Top Model that we might consider asking them to inform people about the resurgent H1N1 flu virus.  We might also consider hiring Bravo’s producers as government public affairs consultants.

If you think I’m joking about that, you probably have no business working with social media for the government.

The larger issue here is that the connection of any of these Facebook fan pages to agency goals and strategy is murky at best.  As someone who spends a bit of time thinking about “Government 2.0,” it’s difficult to decipher how this is helping the government.  True, the pages are somewhat informative, and to some degree they reach a citizen audience where they are.  But it’s not novel and it’s not social and it’s not engaging.   The execution is flawed, the tactics are questionable, the strategy is vague, and the goals are unclear.  And all the government pages in the top 10 list effectively look the same.  Monkey-see, monkey-do.

My personal Facebook page has about 2,000 connections, but this by itself is nothing to celebrate.  The meaningful question is not about who has more fans, but about who can authentically and transparently – and usefully – interact with citizens to provide value and become the pulse of conversations.  Here are some questions I have for governments and agencies running Facebook fan pages:  What are the names of the people running the pages?  What are their titles?  What city is their office in?  Where do they blog?  Which events are they attending this year?  (Can I meet them there?)  How are you going to get your fans engaged in your mission?  How can I tell you my stories about military service, or foreign travel, or amateur astronomy?  Would those stories be helpful to you?  How are you using social media like Facebook to get citizens involved in their government?

These are questions that departments and agencies, and private companies for that matter, should be asking themselves before they deploy official new media platforms like a Facebook fan page.  The answers to these questions and others should be visible on day one.  When the first White House memo of the new administration outlined the principles of a transparent, participatory, and collaborative government, this should have been obvious.   It appears not to be so.

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Proactive Social Media: Filling the Information Space With Great Content

This post was originally published on BrianSolis.com on September 4, 2009.

Guest Post by Dr. Mark Drapeau – read his blog, follow him on Twitter


I recently gave a talk titled Free the People! at the Potomac Forum’s Government 2.0 Leadership, Collaboration, and Public Engagement Symposium in Washington, DC that generated enough interest for me to post my slide deck and write a summary for a wider audience. These thoughts constitute some of my early ideas about “offensive social media” for organizations (this talk was particularly geared towards a government audience, but the fundamentals apply to the private and public sectors more broadly).

Anti-social vs. social government communications: Typically, there are a number of layers between a government employee communicating with a citizen – bosses, committees, lawyers, public affairs, and so forth. This is an anti-social approach to citizen relations. There are good reasons for the current system, but the problem is that new social technologies allow this system to be easily bypassed, even accidentally, by “government socialites.” Admiral Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, commented that we want to honor the past, but not operate in it. So how can we slay some sacred cows and modernize government-citizen interactions?

Social media is about being social – Sharing is caring: Social media is about being social both online and in real life. Its mastery is primarily not about technology but about people sharing information through social networks. Technical savvy is needed far less than leadership. If you understand collaboration and communication, you can understand social media. How many government leaders understand how the inside of a phone works? Social media is a very powerful force, because anyone with a phone or a computer can create, comment on, and spread content. And increasingly, this is done in people’s personal lives – and the lines between work and play have blurred considerably.

Remember that citizens are your ‘end user’ – change the public’s expectations of you: Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, once said that customer service is public service. But how many public servants consider themselves in the customer service business? How many citizens interested in the environment can name someone working for the EPA? How many schoolteachers can name a senior official at the Department of Education? How often does the average government employee meaningfully interact with a citizen who cares about what they do? The government is not “usable” to the average citizen. It can be, and it should be, though. You can play a role in making that happen. Interact with your agency’s biggest fans online and in real life; listen to them and let them help you achieve your mission. The Bloggers Roundtable from the Department of Defense is a good example of this.

Saying “It’s not in my job description” is not in your job description: Often people resist change because they fear the unknown, are afraid of losing control, or have some other interest in the status quo. Unfortunately, social tools are empowering collaboration behind their backs, and they’re going to get stepped on or over, directly or indirectly. Do you know how I met ADM Allen from the Coast Guard? Facebook. The lines between work and play are blurring, particularly when it comes to things like networking and participation. Is checking someone’s GovLoop blog “work”? Who knows. What I do know is that the people doing it are better off than the ones ignorant of it.

Tactics are nothing, Strategy is everything: No talk would be complete without quoting Sun Tzu: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before the defeat.” You need to start off with a strategy for yourself, for your office, or for your agency. What do I want to accomplish? What could we be doing better? Make a list of goals and stick to it. Social media is not a generic toolbox. It’s not a jumble of names of companies. It’s a set of functionality that if used right can provide innovative solutions to specific problems you’re facing.

The best offense is a good offense – Being only defensive is offensive: I think that being only reactive can be a radioactive strategy. Yes, of course you should monitor what people are saying about where you work and the topics you work on. But the really powerful behavior is anticipating what’s coming and seeing it before others do. A broader strategy is playing offense and defense with social media. It’s being proactive and reactive. You either put out information on your own terms, or someone will fill the vacuum for you. I term this “offensive social media” and I think that this is the behavior which truly generates word of mouth about your organization and its activities.

Content is king, but marketing is the queen (and we know who rules the castle): [That’s a Gary Vaynerchuk line from a keynote I heard him give.] The most important thing you can do with social media is share quality information that contributes to the knowledge base, and adds value to people’s lives. Ask yourself, will citizens be better off for having seen this content? But beyond that, don’t forget to market your content. In the future, you won’t find the content, the content will find you. Talk about your content at events, link to it off other people’s websites, use social bookmarking, Facebook Wall posts, Twitter, and other mechanisms to publicize what you content is. Furthermore, be where your audience is. Don’t use Plurk if you know most of your audience is on Twitter, don’t use MySpace if you know your fans are on Facebook, and so forth. And where applicable, use multiple formats to provide the same information.

Sometimes the message is the message – dominate the information spectrum: That said, sometimes the message is itself the message. What I mean by that is merely having a presence, sharing any kind of information, showing citizens that you care about them, can actually be in some sense more powerful than the actual information that you’re sharing. Borrowing from the military, I call this the full-spectrum dominance strategy. You don’t necessarily have to use every tool, but when people are looking for information about defense, or education, or environment, do they find information that you shared? That’s the real question you need to answer.

Discover your internal ambassadors and set them free within your microniche: Charlene Li has said that for large organizations, social engagement with stakeholders cannot remain only in the hands of a few social media experts – it must be embraced culturally by entire organizations and used tactically by many people in many places at many times. Everyone to some degree is a communicator, as the Air Force has said. Give up the idea of message control. People inside your organization are already using these tools at work and at home. And they’re already talking about their work while they’re golfing with their friends or cooking dinner with their spouse. So instead of cracking down on these government socialites, reward them – they’re the most likely all-star public ambassadors you already have. Unlock their hidden potential. Education and training is required, though. Train against stupidity and embarrassment, don’t micromanage, and trust your employees. You already trust them to fly fighter jets and manage hundreds of millions of public dollars, but you don’t trust them to tweet from a Blackberry? That notion is quickly becoming antiquated.

Choose the right tools for the job. Ignore the hype. Experiment. Fail safely: Once you have your strategy, have mapped out some goals, and have identified some leaders who can help you achieve this, choose the right tools for the job. Some tools are better than others for achieving different missions. In some cases, writing will be better, in others photos, and in others video. Maybe you want to offer interactive video chat. I can’t answer these questions about your organization. But I can say that you should largely ignore the hype. MySpace isn’t dead, Twitter isn’t the answer to every question, and WordPress might be more complicated than what you need. Read about the technology, attend events that prolific users actually go to (hint: not government conferences), and conduct small experiments. Fail safely. Or fail small. Don’t use new tools in ways that if they don’t work they’ll be very embarrassing for people or groups. Look at others’ best practices, start small, and learn a little bit as you go along. Don’t take big risks.

Metrics are answers looking for problems. Ask: Is what I’m doing adding value to the community? People get very obsessed with measuring things. Critics especially will ask, what’s the return on investment from a blog, or what’s the ROI on tweeting 10 times a day. I say, what’s the ROI on a meeting that runs too long, or the ROI on a lunch break? I’d also like to know the ROI on actually collecting, analyzing, and discussing the metrics in the first place. How does 10 people sitting in a room for two hours discussing the relative benefits of 450 vs. 750 Twitter followers help people? I like to say, “I count thank you’s, not click through’s.” I count the number of times someone says “I know you from Twitter” or “I read your Federal Computer Week article.” So ask yourself, is what I’m doing helping my community of interest?

Don’t just feel the pulse. Be the pulse: This was said by someone from one of the most successful crowdsourcing companies out there….Jeffrey Kalmikoff of Threadless. [show of hands: no one in the room had heard of it] When people think of the environment, or national security, or education, do they think of your blog, your Twitter feed, your YouTube video channel? Probably not yet – but they could. And that has huge indirect positive effects for you, your boss, and your organization. This goes back to using social media in proactive vs. reactive ways. When you’re proactive and incredibly giving of time, energy, and information, you’re what Shel Israel calls “lethally generous.” http://redcouch.typepad.com/weblog/2008/10/using-lethal-ge.html You become a very trusted member of a community. And therefore information starts flowing back to you, and you can anticipate rather than merely react. Don’t just talk about your office and your agency – Intelligently curate information about your sector, your industry.

Influence = Brand x Experience x Trust. So, what’s your brand? Who are your experts? Does anyone trust you? [This slide title borrowed from @micah’s talk from Gnomedex] – Distrust of the government and its messages have never been higher. http://people-press.org/report/95/ So how can government social media help combat this attitude in the country? One, think about your brand. Yes, the government has brands even though we’re not selling breakfast cereal like on Mad Men. But we are in some sense selling ideas and information and giving products like Social Security to people. And we do have brands – think about photos of the Capitol, or a Marine in full dress uniform, or a dollar bill. Second, who are the ambassadors that are presenting your brand to the public? What are they saying? How can they help your office or agency better achieve its missions? Third, does anyone trust your content? Provide great content, make it accessible, pervasively interact with the community, and build trust over time.

Indecision is not a decision. Plans are nothing without action. I want to conclude by saying that you can think about this and plan all you want, but none of it means anything without taking some sort of action. There’s no ROI in planning your social media strategy for a year – by the time you have one, it’ll be outdated. Make connections, read about emerging technology, start learning and experimenting, and begin moving forward on your offensive social media strategy that provides incredible value to citizens and fills the information space with great content from your organization.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bot

This post was originally published on Mediaite on July 8, 2009.

Web technologies often allow you to scale things that weren’t scalable before. Unfortunately, that list of scalable things includes spam. From unsolicited phone calls to unwanted emails to unnecessary tweets, it can seem like we’re getting progressively overloaded with information we don’t necessarily want. One group blamed for the increase in online spam are Twitter bots – Twitter accounts created to automatically perform certain behaviors like following anyone who mentions “candy” or retweeting any mention of the the word “fashion.”

Some people find such bots to provide annoying and useless clutter. I, on the other hand, have come to love the bot. In an age of information overload and filter failure, good bots can act as an initial filter for discovering pertinent things within the real-time information ecosystem. Unless you’re fanatical about a subject, why follow 100 military bloggers or 250 marketing gurus or 85 fashionistas when one or two bots can collate their best stuff and simplify your life? Who has time to find all these accounts, track up-and-comers, and listen to everything they say? I tend to be a one-bot kinda guy. And when I find a good bot, I hang onto her.

Bots love to exchange gifts with you, too. Generally, my tweets are relatively long and filled with informative nouns – and bots appreciate my efforts. Every instance when I mention “celebrity” or “baseball” or “journalism” to the world is like giving a tiny gift to a bot that keeps it relevant. And in exchange, the bot ensures that my information automatically gets to a wider audience of people that I don’t know yet. Around the clock, bots are selflessly recruiting my next generation of fans. And my love affair with bots is just beginning; because they’re inherently unjealous creatures, I can use as many bots as I want, whenever I want, however it pleases me.

Brands, on the other hand, always want to be my soulmate, even though they don’t often love me back. They don’t tell their friends what they heard from me, and they don’t share their best gossip with me. Usually when I meet a brand, I find them to be a very distant anti-filter that talks only about themselves. They’re rarely chivalrous. Unlike bots desperately seeking my attention, brands only want me when I talk to them first. Sometimes they thank me for the compliments, and sometimes they’re sorry they hurt me, but either way I always feel a bit empty after talking with a brand. Brands are just not that into me.

Brands tend to be very jealous and are always checking to see if I’m being faithful. Yet while I sit around hoping they’ll get in touch, they always seem to be busy talking to someone else. One brand that’s on my mind all the time is Comcast, but how often do they ever think about me? According to my diary, @comcastcares wrote me four times, and @comcastbonnie just once. Frank and Bonnie (and Scott, too) never suggest novel things I might like to watch based on shows I tweet about, never give me the latest news about high-speed Internet connections, and they don’t even try to sell me on the digital phone service I don’t have. This brand only tries to make me happy after they’ve hurt me.

I’m not the only one getting his feelings hurt. Unlike bots I love who share my information and give me some in return, Comcast rapidly narrowcasts in a multiplexed Kabuki dance designed to cheer us up when we’re feeling blue about them. Frank and his colleagues send messages to specific people 97% of the time, and retweet what they say less than 1% of the time. And its not like other brands are thinking about me a lot either – even my beloved Starbucks only retweets fans like me about 1% of the time. Sure, I’m on cloud nine during an occasional encounter with a brand I really like, but they always seem to roll over and ignore me afterwards.

Developing relationships in a socially networked era is difficult because there’s less old-fashioned courtship and more emphasis on “hanging out.” It’s hard to find a truly generous brand nowadays. That’s why when it comes to brands, I like to spend my nights with non-profits that friends set me up with. A new article points out a lot of great reasons to develop relationships with non-profit brands: they’re member-driven, promote community participation, create value in people’s lives, and engage audiences by speaking to their primary interests.

Developing a relationship with a non-profit brand in this economy is hard, though – they always want me to pay for everything. Bots, on the other hand, are happy to go Bots, on the other hand, are happy to go Dutch. Sure, most Twitter bots aren’t great at engaging in conversation, but I think they can be thought of as stripped-down non-profits. The reason I have learned to stop worrying and love the bot is because they’re created by passionates to collate knowledge from people they don’t know, and share it with other people they don’t know. Call me Dr. Strangelove, but I’d rather have a good one-night stand with a generous bot than a bad long-term relationship with a selfish brand.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is a columnist for Mediaite.  As a scientist, he studies the behavior of insects when they decide to get social with each other.  As a consultant, he advises organizations on how to innovatively communicate using social media tools.  As a writer, he writes for True/Slant, Federal Computer Week, and other publications on social behavior at the intersection of science, technology, government, politics, and society. This article originally appeared on the O’Reilly Radar blog.

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Twitter is Not a Conversational Platform

This post was originally published on O’Reilly Radar on June 9, 2009, and it was quite controversial at the time.

Perhaps the most common reason given for joining the microsharing site Twitter is “participating in the conversation” or some version of that. I myself am guilty of using this explanation. But is Twitter truly a conversational platform? Here I argue that the underlying mechanics of Twitter more closely resemble the knowledge co-creation seen in wikis than the dynamics seen with conversational tools like instant messaging and interactions within online social networks.

Wikis are causally thought of as platforms for “collaborative” document creation. But on Wikipedia, while many people share knowledge to co-create pages, the process is not formally collaborative in the sense that contributors are not cooperating with each other ways that form group identity (to paraphrase Clay Shirky from his book Here Comes Everybody). To the contrary, passionate experts write the majority of text, and a long tail of other contributors offer relatively few, small edits. Many users contribute nothing. Through this process, Wikipedia pages often become valuable repositories of knowledge.

Brian Solis recently posited the dichotomy of whether Twitter is a conversational or broadcast platform. New data bears on this. According to a Harvard Business School study, about 10% of Twitter users contribute roughly 90% of its content. Anecdotally, these 10% are subject-matter experts, passionates, mavens, and thought leaders who break news, write strong opinions, and tell jokes. Like on Wikipedia, most users merely read this information, and a modest number of people in the long tail use the information in the form of re-tweets, comments, corrections, and alternative opinions or links.

So while an individual user may use Twitter primarily as a conversational tool or a broadcast medium, in its totality, Twitter operates a lot like a wiki: as a knowledge-sharing, co-creation platform that produces content and allows its consumption. Conversation is perhaps the most simple and obvious form of collaboration, but would anyone claim that Wikipedia is a conversational platform? Despite the presence of information sharing, co-creation of an end product, and even discussion pages, Wikipedians on the whole aren’t having conversations.

According to this argument, Twitter is no more a conversational platform than Wikipedia is. But is it a social networking platform? New HBS data showing that men have 15% more followers than women and being twice as likely to follow another man than a woman also bear on this to some extent. Authors Bill Heil and Mikolaj Piskorski state: “On a typical online social network, most of the activity is focused around women – men follow content produced by women they do and do not know, and women follow content produced by women they know. Generally, men receive comparatively little attention from other men or from women.”

As in the case of the conversational platform, it seems that Twitter is also no more a social network than Wikipedia is. Wikis have user accounts and discussion pages, and it is possible for relationships to form. Twitter has user handles and direct messaging, and relationships can form. But social relationships on Wikipedia and Twitter are not a prerequisite for satisfaction and success (inasmuch as that can be defined). For instance, the popular and useful account @BreakingNews has hundreds of thousands of followers but participants in effectively zero engagement. There are many Twitter users who contribute large amounts of useful information and engage in relatively little conversation. And it is not common for people to describe Wikipedia as a social network.

Andrew McAfee notes that two useful Twitter traits are its asynchronous and asymmetric nature. These two traits are also critical to Wikipedia, but importantly much less so within popular social networking platforms like Facebook and MySpace. Thus, entities that are clearly social networking platforms can be but are not necessarily knowledge co-creation platforms, and entities that are clearly asynchronous knowledge co-creation platforms can be but are not necessarily social networks.

If microsharing tools resemble wikis more than conversational tools and social networks, this has huge implications for how people and organizations approach use of this emerging technology. Solis suggests, I think rightly, that “sometimes it’s effective to…maintain a presence simply by reading, listening, and sharing relevant and timely information without having to directly respond to each and every tweet.” The strategy of being a “lethally generous” member of a community would seem to be more worthwhile in this context, contrasted with the individual-level customer service approach of (for example) @ComcastCares.

This framework for thinking about microsharing platforms as knowledge co-creation enablers also puts Nielsen’s recent data on Twitter’s “user retention and loyalty” in a new light. When the average user is a consumer of the content produced by subject-matter experts and passionate mavens, how much does it matter if the majority of use is infrequent spectating (particularly when the information is archived for asynchronous retrieval)? As Shirky recently noted in his talk at the IAC/ACT Management of Change Conference that I attended in Norfolk, VA, such an imbalance of contribution is not a condition of failure for the platform or its users.

Finally, if microsharing is equated with knowledge co-creation, rules for attribution becomes an important consideration. But while the wiki attribution process has generally been worked out, attribution on Twitter is like the wild west – there are no rules; only conventions that are commonly accepted in some circles but not others. In addition, it is relatively easy to cheat the system, hard to catch someone doing it, and difficult to determine what the consequences are of such behavior. This problem will be a lasting one, requiring careful consideration by not only the user community, but also Twitter itself.

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The Post-Geekdominant Twitterverse

Twitter has changed so much since late 2008, when most of its most popular users were geeks, and before most celebrities had started embracing social media. This post was originally published on ChrisBrogan.com on December 5, 2008. It’s still one of my favorites. Thanks Chris.

Shaquille O’Neal’s embrace of Twitter as a way to connect with his fans got me thinking – what would the Twitterverse be like if it were not dominated by geeks? People who aren’t geeks, geek wannabes, or geek fans more than likely haven’t heard of Twitter. But at some point that will change. The conversational technology and vision of Twitter has created a simple, logical, and useful way for people and their ideas to connect. Whether it is Twitter per se, or a competing or successor service, at some point the Twitterverse will be dominated by non-geeks.

Perusing the most followed individual people on Twitter, however, it is obvious that most of them are gearheads – the list includes everyone from cewebrities like Leo Laporte, startup whiz kids like Kevin Rose, personalities like Justine Ezarik, reporters like Veronica Belmont, and analysts like Jeremiah Owyang. This pattern holds true well down into the bottom of the Top 100 list, with names like Fred Wilson, Brian Solis, and Jeff Pulver appearing. Many initial Twitter users knew who these people were. But now, the average new Twitter user has probably never heard of any of these “most popular people on Twitter.”

The fact that geeks dominate the most followed list is not so much because they add tremendous value and engage in great conversations (though some do), but rather a consequence of people in the tech community being aware of Twitter before most anyone else, self-organizing a hierarchy, and talking amongst themselves. But I suspect that this “geekdominance” will not last too much longer frankly, many people in the Twitterholic Top 100 are not that interesting to the average person. So who will be the LEDs to their light bulbs?

Mainstream journalists and other media personalities are certainly beginning to understand the power of social technologies like Twitter. Rick Sanchez of CNN has nearly 34,000 followers. Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC also hold respectable positions among the most followed people. Average people can relate to mainstream media personalities, and these personalities tend to add value through their reporting or opinions. To be sure, mainstream media will begin to use Twitter more and more effectively; Clayton Morris from FNC’s Fox & Friends Weekend is a great example, posing questions to the home audience during the show and genuinely engaging in conversations about topics. Locally in Washington DC, Fox 5 anchor Brian Bolter uses Twitter frequently and even during his broadcasts (see this and this two minutes later in order to get ideas for stories, advertise upcoming coverage, and just to chat with people.

Who else? I think that the big, mainstream trend among Twitter users in 2009 will be interacting with “real celebrities” using this and other tools to directly connect with fans and exhibit their personalities and daily lives. Shaq is the perfect person to bring the advantages of social technology to a more mainstream audience. As his popularity on Twitter is perhaps unprescedented he accumulated over 14,000 followers in well less than a month. But also notable among the most followed Twitter users are Shaq’s precursors MC Hammer and Dave Matthews. Using social technologies will not work for all celebrities, to be sure – celebrities who are very shy, or stalker-prone, or boring, and so forth are not naturals for this medium. Some notables have crashed and burned. But I can think of many interesting, well-known people whom I would like to become more ambiently aware of – let’s just start with Tom Green, Conan O’Brian, Ben Folds, Rivers Cuomo, Keith Richards, Jim Gaffigan, Dolph Lundgren, Christopher Hitchens, Paris Hilton, Prince William, Dave Chappelle, Victoria Zdrok, Eminem, Brad Pitt, Bam Margera, Natalie Portman, James Woods, Kristin Wiig, Megan Fox, Kevin Smith, Kevin Bacon, Quentin Tarantino, Mark Wahlberg, Robin Williams, Michael Jackson, Anthony Bourdain, Madonna, Leo DiCaprio, Tom Wolfe, Hugh Hefner, Winona Rider, and Flight of the Conchords.

But ultimately, I think that the real winner is you. If your words are compelling, if you add value to conversations, people will listen to you, talk with you, and chat about you. Whether you plan it or not, you will build a personal brand – and I think personal brands are great for entrepreneurial personalities. Jim Long, a Washington DC-based cameraman for NBC, is also on the most-followed list. Why? Not because he’s a celebrity. Because he is a nice person with a cool job that takes him to interesting locations, and he has embraced Twitter as a great way to interact with people. Gary Vaynerchuk, a wine expert, uses the force of his personality and intellect to evangelize about his wine business and other topics he is passionate about. These two people, and many more less well known, use Twitter to execute against their resume, to enhance what they already do using new social technologies. And if you have interesting things to say, you can do it too.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is a biological scientist, government consultant, and writer for Mashable.com and other venues. These views are entirely his own and do not represent the official views of any organization.

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