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Social Media Is Not Customer Service


Lots of people enjoy following parts of my life using social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. But from time to time, I hear complaints about how I don’t have enough conversations, or I tweet too much, how I prefer my Twitter feed to my Facebook wall, and so forth.

I don’t care what you think. The reason for this is because these social media tools are ways in which I can express myself, for free. You’re not paying me for the Mark Drapeau Advice Service, you are not my clients, no one has an exclusive right to my content or time.

True, I do favor talking to some people more than others – they’re often people I know ‘IRL’ – in real life. And I do use Twitter more than my Facebook wall, which I use more than LinkedIn, which I use more than MySpace, etc. I do what suits me.

Social media isn’t Customer Service 2.0 for people who are interested in me. Not yet, anyway. If I start selling access to my information and advice, and you’re a customer of mine, then you can start asking for a callback, a tweet response, or a shoutout. Until then, while I’m really happy that people are interested in what I have to say, please stop taking social media so seriously.

There are many good reasons to use social media tools – to listen to conversations, to expand your social network, to publicize events or groups you’re involved with, and more. And everyone will do what they want.

When people sometimes ask me why I don’t follow them on Twitter or read their blog, I often say that they’re “not on my radar” – so rather than ask why someone isn’t paying attention to you, why don’t you spend your effort doing something so important that they feel compelled to follow you?

It’s not business, it’s just personal.

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Why I’m Writing for True/Slant


Yesterday, the alpha version of an exciting new journalism site called True/Slant became public. This is something I have been working on behind closed doors since January. True/Slant, a privately held company funded by Forbes Media and Velocity Interactive Group, is based in New York and has recruited about 60 writers, or ‘knowledge experts’ to write columns about things we’re interested in, along the lines of our motto: “News is More Than What Happens”. You can see my column, named Cheeky Geeky, here.

As the Wall Street Journal personal technology columnist Walter Mossberg points out in the premiere review of True/Slant this morning, the site is truly trying a new model of web journalism. When I had some initial discussions with the True/Slant team, particularly the Executive Director Coates Bateman (who will no doubt be challenged with ‘managing’ me), I was very excited to hear how social media tools would be mixed with original long form writing. And they were excited to hear about my knowledge of social networks and new marketing that’s come from experimenting with the tools for some time now.

Another quasi-news site based on blogging and funded by advertising, you say. What’s really different about True/Slant? Actually, a LOT.

For one, each contributor has their own platform under the True/Slant umbrella. That means that you can subscribe to just my articles from True/Slant, and not every author’s articles. That also means that advertisers can place ads about, say, technology on my column, and ads about food on my friend Robin Dorian’s ‘foodie’ column called Weird and Delicious. Hence, writers have a vested interest in exploring their niches and making their pages the best possible, worrying somewhat less about the overall True/Slant site.

True/Slant also wants you to know what it’s columnists are reading. Don’t you sometimes ask yourself where your favorite authors get their food for thought? At True/Slant, we tell you. We rip headlines of stories we’re reading and post links on our pages. And on the homepage, editors curate these headlines so you can see a mix of what everyone’s reading, and perhaps get a peek inside our minds as we work throughout the day.

Another thing that is different about True/Slant is a sense of community. As columnists we are strongly encouraged to follow other writers’ columns and post comments on their blog posts. This is already starting to build cohesion among the writers and throughout the site. Readers will learn more about our personalities and understand us more as people, and not just anonymous writers that put up a column once a week. I think this is not unlike the ‘ambient intimacy‘ that people feel when following someone on Twitter for a while.

Yet another unique feature of True/Slant is the plan for advertisers to have columns. Clearly marked as advertising, and perhaps similar to glossy special advertising sections of magazines, this is another potential revenue source that at the same time does not involve columnists in, say, getting paid to write about their views of brands – a highly controversial topic.

Finally, we want True/Slant to be a social network. The readers get involved too – when you comment on our posts, we can “call you out” for a great comment. Readers that get called out a lot will get recognition, as will readers that comment frequently. So, this is a multidirectional conversation – columnists are readers and commenters, and readers are commenters that join our social network. Even management is commenting on our columns – which is pretty cool if you ask me.

I truly believe that True/Slant is a step forward in combining the best of journalism and opinion writing with the best of social networking. It’s something I haven’t yet seen in sites like the Huffington Post, Slate, The Daily Beast, or Salon. Even great sites like Mashable and TechCrunch that cover the Web 2.0 sphere of news, for all their RSS subscribers and Twitter followers, do not empower their columnists nor engender a sense of community. So I think we are pushing the envelope. As I once heard Pete Cashmore, the CEO of Mashable, say – Return on Engagement is the new Return on Investment. True/Slant is poised to make a large ROE by creating a platform for the community that may evolve into loyal readers, in order to then generate a more traditional ROI.

And this is just the start. Looking towards a beta version in May 2009, in the near future True/Slant will have more WordPress plug-ins, integration with Facebook walls and Twitter posts, and other new features that should make the columnist and reader experiences even better. Remember, what you see now is just the early alpha site!

Every week, I plan to publish exclusive opinion pieces on Tuesdays, satires on Thursdays, and a feature called “The Best, The Worst, and The Weird” on Sundays, the latter of which will highlight the best, worst, and weird thing I read in the past week – so send me your ideas!

As Mossberg says in his review of True/Slant, there’s no guarantee that this will all work. But I think that the management of True/Slant is pushing the envelope with regard to the interface of old and new media, and so at the very least it is very exciting to be a part of a great experiment at its most nacent.

For now, check out my column, and start interacting with some of the other great writers on the site. They also author stories for Rolling Stone, Time, Financial Times, and other great outlets, and write about everything from politics to restaurants to neuroscience. Comment on the columns, and tell me about what you do and do not like about the site! From the CEO and Founder, Lewis Dvorkin on down, they are truly listening to what you have to say – and writing columns themselves!

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Do You Take Twitter Personally?


Ocassionally, I get notes from people I know only from Twitter. They’re along the lines of: Why are you following me now after so long? Why did you stop following me? Why don’t you follow everyone? And so on.

But my question for them is: Why do you take Twitter so personally?

People can do whatever they please with Twitter. Some people like to follow everyone to form a ‘Twitter mutuality’ and use the system as a multiplex instant message platform. Others like to follow only a few people that really influence them, regardless of how many followers they themselves have. Still others conduct experiments with Twitter, following new people in batches, seeing who may be interesting over the course of a week, and then unfollowing the rest.

Some people are also trying to balance their work and personal lives with their Twitter accounts, whether you know it or not. There may be constraints on who they can follow, or how often they can tweet. Who are you to judge? It’s as silly as looking at someone else’s cell phone minutes.

You can’t possibly keep track of what everyone on Twitter is doing! So don’t try. Focus on yourself and what you want to get out of it. Spending too much time thinking about why someone unfollowed you distracts from what should be much more important – saying interesting things.

Moreover, even if someone isn’t following you on Twitter, direct messaging isn’t your only option. People can be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Plaxo, by email, and at real events. And if you can’t get ahold of them at any of those places, they probably don’t want to be found!

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Facebook as Public Relations Platform


Temporarily, Facebook stole the very unofficial “social media darling” mantle from Twitter on Monday – for better or worse. Chatter erupted in the blogosphere after Facebook altered its Terms of Service (TOS) such that they appeared at first sight to be anywhere from intrusive to megalomaniacal . Immediate responses filed on some authoritative blogs ranged from relatively nonchalant to fairly neutral, to somewhat mistrusting.

Setting aside the fact that most people probably don’t read the Facebook TOS when they join, that all user information is voluntarily uploaded so that other people can see it, and that by using Facebook users allow a private corporation to profit from them, it is nevertheless understandable that people got bent out of shape. But what interests me is that very few people were prepared for this eventuality.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine that you belong to hypothetical social networking site named “GlobalNet” that suddenly switches from benign to draconian. When you joined GlobalNet it allowed lots of privacy control, but a new CEO wants to achieve extreme profit for a huge bonus that’s written into his contract: GlobalNet now plans to exploit user data by reprinting your notes on their blog, plastering your photos on their billboards, and selling visualized social networks of users with more than 1000 friends to corporations looking for influencers. Despite this, most people won’t leave, because GlobalNet is the leading social network with hundreds of millions of global users, instantaneous language translation, and not a serious competitor in sight.

Sounds bad, right?

Maybe. If your goal is to participate in a modest social network of close friends in a private manner, perhaps catch-all corporate sites like Facebook, MySpace, and the fictional GlobalNet aren’t the right fit. But if your goals include forging new relationships, building a personal brand, and fostering an entreprenurial spirit, you can capitalize on the kind of change that a future GlobalNet might spring on you.

Know how some investors make money by betting on bad things to happen? You can hedge your bets too, and consider using your personal Facebook profile in whole or in part as a public relations platform. Not only can this help you market yourself, but it also serves to pre-empt social networks who may or may not use your information in a public manner. (This sentiment was echoed by Peter Shankman a day ago).

People frequently ask me why I allow lots of people to “friend” me on Facebook (which I’ve used since 2005). The simple answer is that as my personal profile has risen over the years, an increasing number of people want to follow what’s going on in my life. I have a choice: deny almost everyone, or let almost everyone in. I’ve chosen the latter, and my Facebook stream tells interested people things about my life that other popular services like Twitter can’t.

Professional online exhibitionism isn’t for everyone. And sometimes it can get you blackballed if you “do it too fast”. But for individuals building personal brands and Internet startups, you might consider sharing more of your personal life with the world.

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