Archive for January, 2011

Etiquette Please. Thank You.

Monday, January 31st, 2011

In an informal study by the University of Making Stuff Up, 95% of all Twitter users have a first tweet along the lines of “*Tap* *Tap* Is this thing on?” or “Still figuring this Twitter thing out.”

Still figuring this Twitter thing out… I’m pretty sure even the most successful social media folks will tell you they haven’t figured Twitter out completely, and if they propose that they have, they might just be selling you some snake oil.

Recently I’ve highlighted some successful uses of social media with Twitter and Tumblr, but today I want to talk about one of the pitfalls of not understanding the social media platform being used, and how simple things can have serious ramifications.

I was followed recently by a large non-profit after a tweet regarding their cause. I looked at their timeline and made the decision to follow back. I figured that with their small number of tweets, it wouldn’t introduce too much noise into what I am looking for from Twitter, and I could also help show my support. A few hours later, I received a direct message that said “Thanks for following, please friend us on Facebook.”

There are a couple of problems here. First, you should not send automated direct messages thanking people for following you. It’s considered inappropriate for personal Twitter accounts, and especially for corporate accounts. This has been true for several years now. With your corporate account, it proposes the idea that instead of just sending us news via your Twitter feed, you’ll also directly message us individually anytime you want to advertise something. Not that you necessarily will, but it illustrates that you don’t respect the direct messaging functionality of Twitter. On a side note, many people get notifications whenever they get a direct message. So if you send me a note, not only do I get the message but an email as well. In other words, you better have a good reason for making the red light on my Blackberry go off. Sending me a direct message thanking me for following you isn’t it.

The second problem with this message is that the non-profit was directing me to their Facebook account. I wasn’t sitting on my couch thinking, “you know Joel, you are following them on Twitter but maybe that isn’t enough. If only they had a Facebook account and maybe LinkedIn as well, then I could be assured of getting each message from the organization THREE different times. Then, and only then, would my life be complete.” If I wanted to follow this organization on Facebook I would have signed up on Facebook.

You need to be willing to engage your customers, or donors in this case, on the social-media platform they want to interact with you on. If your Twitter strategy is to try and direct your followers to Facebook, I’d suggest just having a Facebook account and deleting the Twitter account entirely. I have too many Facebook friends and I probably login every other day, but honestly Twitter is my social media application of choice. If you want to get your message to me, you need to be able to do it on Twitter. For others it might be Facebook, or even MySpace, but be prepared to meet people on their home turf. This would be similar to sending a direct mail piece asking people to listen to your radio advertisement. Just because it’s free to push your content on social media doesn’t mean you should abandon the most basic marketing fundamentals.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to clean my Gmail account of the “thanks for following” emails.


Pink Bathrooms Unite!

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

My Pink Bathroom

Thanks to social media, I took two hours of vacation last Monday to scour my shower to a glistening shine. I went inch by inch with a toothbrush and despite what my dentist would say; I did draw the line at flossing. What does my obsessive cleaning of the bathroom have to do with social media? And why were there a bunch of people hanging out in my sparkling bathroom? While it is a somewhat convoluted story, it serves to show how social media allows you to make interesting and unique connections no matter how esoteric your interests.

Two and a half years ago, my wife and I purchased a mid-century home with an original pink bathroom – the type of bathroom inspired by Mamie Eisenhower and apparently beloved by many people (please forgive the author for knowing very little about bathroom styles). At the time we purchased the home, my wife posted quite a few photos on Flickr, including one excited reference to “Our Pink Bathroom!” That caption led to her being contacted by the head of Save the Pink Bathrooms, a group she later joined on Flickr. From there, she learned about Retro Renovation, a sister site to SPB, which she friended on Facebook. When Retro Renovation put out a call for pink bathrooms in the Twin Cities metro area, my wife emailed them. A little while later, we had a writer and photographer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, as well as my wife and I, crammed into our tiny pink bathroom for a thirty-minute photo shoot.

If that story wasn’t enough to tire me out, the alchemy of cleaning supplies created a dangerous haze that I was probably warned about in the film strips of my youth. So even a week later, I might just be a touch light-headed.

What’s really interesting with this story is how social media helps you make connections—often more quickly than traditional means of communication—and those connections allow you to network in ways that may have been previously prohibitive. Just five years ago, it would have been a far greater challenge to find enough bathrooms to write a lifestyle section article on something that’s retro cool. With one picture on Flickr, a whole set of dominos fell into place, leading to a metro newspaper hanging out in my bathroom for an evening. There are a myriad of inventive ways to grow participation within your group or businesses using social media. Sometimes you can even be creative enough to get someone to clean their bathroom. And if that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is. Actually, that my wife and I could become “retro cool” and hip without doing anything is much better.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go sit on the couch and wait until my flannel shirts and grunge aesthetic are in fashion again.


A Swabbing Photo is Worth 668 Words

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

I don’t know Nevin very well. We are friends on Twitter and Facebook and I’ve read her posts on Tumblr, but we’ve never met face to face. She’s a wonderful person – smart, funny and warm, and because of her influence, I some day might be able to help save someone’s life. She’s the person who introduced me to the need for donating bone marrow. Because of her, I’ve signed up for the National Marrow Donor Program on Be the Match. I’m not the only one. Nevin shared her story and her need for a bone marrow transplant on the blogging site Tumblr and a significant number of people were moved to sign up with the registry.

Nevin’s story brings to light how Social Media has the ability to transform the way nonprofits and individuals can interact with donors and volunteers. Traditionally, these sources inundate us with communication that tells us that one person can make a difference. One person can make the world a better place. One person can save a life.

But we easily get lost in the numbers. The sheer number of requests and amount of time or money needed often removes the immediacy of need from the impact. We donate food at Thanksgiving and buy gifts for families at Christmas. We donate to victims of natural disasters. We are moved to act by stories of pain and suffering. Then once the cause drifts from the public eye, we don’t think about it again until the next news cycle or the next postcard in the mailbox. With social media, there’s immediacy to helping and an opportunity to keep the success stories fresh in the mind of people who’ve expressed interest in a cause.

After Nevin’s Tumblr post about her situation, people stepped up to be tested as potential bone marrow matches. What’s interesting is people didn’t just sign up for Be the Match. After completing their sign up packet, they posted pictures of their registration, or more comically, photos from swabbing their mouth for their sample. Every few days, there would be another picture and post to Tumblr of a new person signing up. So instead of reading a compelling post and maybe acting on it, or forgetting a day later, active Tumblr users were getting a weekly or sometimes a daily reminder of the importance of donating bone marrow.

Angela Helga shows off her Be The Match paperwork for Tumblr

Angela Helga, another person I’ve never met but am pleased to call a friend, responded to me when I reached out to ask people about the relationship with Tumblr and the National Marrow Donor Program. She said, “When she [Nevin] decided to use Tumblr as a forum to educate people about donating bone marrow, I thought it was so wonderful that a group of random internet people jumped right on it and registered.” Not only did they jump right on it, but people continued to sign up and continued to post their photos and messages on Tumblr. With a few minutes of effort, it becomes easy to keep the message alive and not contingent on a quarterly marketing cycle.

The ongoing immediacy of the interactions on Tumblr illustrates the value for nonprofits to be engaged with social media in a variety of ways. While the National Donor Program organization isn’t the one driving this on Tumblr, Nevin’s one post has helped to jump start a successful social media donor campaign.

One emotional and important story and some simple pictures posted on a blog site have created a compelling reminder that one person can do good. That one person can make a difference and save a life. This example stops the traditional cycle of marketing and allows for an ongoing message. In this situation we have a typical sense of urgency about how we can help, but it transcends the holiday stories or the quarterly mailer.

And that’s a great thing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I just got my kit in the mail. I need to fill it out and post my picture to Tumblr.


I See Dead Puppies

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Actually I don’t, but apparently I do talk to them on Twitter.

Yesterday, I was reading about the forever stamps being released this year by the USPS and came across the story of Owney the dog–who will be featured on a stamp in July. Owney was the unofficial mascot of the Railway Mail service from 1888 to 1897 where he rode the rails with postal workers. He even traveled around the world in 1895. You can learn more about Owney’s fascinating story at the National Postal Museum website. Today, Owney is stuffed and residing at the Postal Museum as a representative from that era of mail service.

After reading about Owney, I was compelled to post the following (somewhat humorous) remark on Twitter, “There’s a stuffed dog at the Smithsonian’s Postal Museum which is all the motivation my cat needs to do something noteworthy before death.”

Yes, I do tweet about my cat a little too much.

Much to my surprise, I received the following response just a little bit later.

Somewhere out in the interwebs an employee for the Postal Museum or the Smithsonian, is tracking these types of comments in Twitter. Looking for key words like “Smithsonian” or “Postal Museum” and commenting where appropriate. So a random joke like mine actually got the attention of an employee of the museum who responded as @OwneytheDog. It’s brilliant marketing if you think about it. A tiny gesture of goodwill from a stranger helps ensure that I’ll be looking for these stamps in July when they are released. For once, I’m not joking.

You read a lot about how to market on Twitter. Social Media Gurus use terms like “generating brand awareness” to sell the value of Twitter to their clients – or just to fill blog space. Either way, you don’t need a massive campaign to be successful at social media; it’s really the little things that count. The minimum required to be “good” at social media is to respond to customer inquiries and complaints, or seek out people to help generate interest. Yesterday, when the folks operating Owney’s Twitter account came across my silly little tweet and took thirty seconds to respond with two words, I doubt they anticipated a corporate blog from me in response.

Honestly though, isn’t that what people really want from Twitter? To know someone is listening to them and is willing to engage in a conversation.

This was so much more successful than the individuals that send you a message with cryptic text and a link to

Before I wrap this up, getting a tweet from a stuffed dog isn’t the strangest marketing I’ve received. Months ago I tweeted about throwing away single socks. I received a reply from an individual selling socks in packs of three. In other words, it ensured that if I lost a sock, I’d always have a backup. I replied asking how I’d know to buy an extra right or left sock. I never heard back.

To summarize, you can build a lot of goodwill with Twitter or Facebook by doing the little things right. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to impress people and get them on your side. It can be as simple as using the tools provided for the application you are working with, monitoring those tools and responding when appropriate. So if you find yourself at the Postal Museum, say hi to Owney for me. If you don’t find yourself there anytime soon, be sure to pick up his stamps in July.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make my cat a YouTube viral sensation.