Web 2.0 Expo Sessions Focus on Best Practices in Social Media

webexsf2009_logoThis year’s (non-sponsored) sessions at the Web 2.0 Expo have a heavy focus on the tactical aspects of social media. This is symptomatic of the current state of social media, which has finally moved past gee whiz, with many companies firmly in implementation and learning phase of social media adoption.

There are some quality sessions devoted to healthy introspection of what has worked in the social media space and learnings from those experiences. Here are the sessions on best practices in social media marketing that I am looking forward to attending (more details on these sessions to follow in future posts): 

Why Social Media Marketing Fails – and How To Fix It
Peter Kim (Dachis Corporation), Charlene Li (Altimeter Group), Jeremiah Owyang (Forrester Research)
8.30am Wednesday, 04/01/2009
In order to make social media marketing matter, brands must answer key questions like: – How can companies measure activity? – What about scalability? – Why does our organizational structure prevent participation? This session will propose answers to those questions and attempt to help marketers think through the issues that will make social media marketing matter.

Best Practices in Social Media Integration for Web Publishers and Content Providers
Bob Buch (Digg)
2:40pm Wednesday, 04/01/2009
This session will explore some of the best practices employed by publishers who have been successful in gearing their brands, user experiences, and content toward increasing traffic from social media sites and providing a relevant experience to help engage those users and monetize the traffic.

It’s the People, Stupid
Brian Oberkirch (Small Good Thing), Deborah Schultz (deborahschultz.com)
1:30pm Thursday, 04/02/2009
The most interesting problems on the Web are social, not technical. Once the open, social stack moves into wide use, the real work is going to be on us to create ongoing experiences that inspire, inform, evolve. his session will pay particular attention to what happens after launch, as the presenters think – an attentive to and fro is the intimate secret of success.

Applying the Social Dimension to the Lockheed Martin Mission
Steve Wylie (Techweb), Shawn Dahlen (Lockheed Martin), Christopher Keohane (Lockheed Martin)
2:40pm Friday, 04/03/2009
This is the session I am most interested in attending, since it’s the only session that covers social media deployment in a specific large enterprise. In this session, Lockheed Martin will share the details behind their Unity program (new methodology) and explain their roadmap to assist the IT community in rapidly developing mission-specific applications that leverage their social media investment.

Two more sessions on the Enterprise 2.0 space that also sound interesting:

The Open Enterprise: How Web Tools And Culture Are Remaking Business
Stowe Boyd (The /Messengers), Oliver Marks (Sony PlayStation, )
2:40pm Wednesday, 04/01/2009
This session covers long-term research project starting in November 2008 to examine the impact of Web 2.0 technology and culture on the enterprise: The Open Enterprise 2009 Study & Report. The presenter intends to discuss the motivations for business adoption of Web 2.0 tools and technologies, and the barriers to their adoption; the types of tools and technologies involved; the sorts of investments being made; and the ways Web 2.0 is changing the way business is conducted.

Collaboration at Scale: Why Technology Alone Doesn’t Work
Doug Solomon (IDEO), Gentry Underwood (IDEO)
1:30pm Friday, 04/03/2009
The session will address key principles for maximizing the value of technology in Web 2.0 systems that have been derived from IDEO’s own experiences. The decisions made will be illustrated through actual live demonstrations of how these choices have been implemented in an operational intranet.

Guide to Enterprise 2.0 Tools, Frameworks, & Platforms at Web 2.0 Expo

webexsf2009_logo1This is the first in series of posts covering the Web 2.0 Expo starting tomorrow at the Moscone Center, in San Francisco, California. I am very excited about the number of companies offering Enterprise 2.0  tools, platforms for developers and end-(business)-users at the event this year. Many of these companies  have plans to announce exciting new social-sharing features and tools at the show, stay tuned for more details. 

 Here’s a sneak peak at some of the more interesting Enterprise 2.0 collaborative platforms and developer tools at the show this year:

logo_oovoo

ooVoo provides a high-quality video chat and communication service for people to call and connect over the Internet. ooVoo’s technology enables people to experience a face-to-face conversation and share a full range of emotions as if they are in the same room together, whether they are across the street or across the globe.

Huddle.net combines unified collaboration with social networking. The two year old company, based in London UK, provides asynchronous collaborative tools (document management, project management, discussions, team management) and live collaboration (web and telephone conferencing) via their online application and rich API. Huddle’s founder Alastair Mitchell will be talking at Web 2.0 Expo on April, 1st.

vertical_white_bg2MindTouch is an open source enterprise collaboration and community platform that enables users to connect and remix enterprise systems, social tools and web services. The MindTouch Deki i’s built with a Web Oriented Architecture (WOA), enables users to connect teams, enterprise systems, publishing systems, Web services and Web 2.0 applications to create unique content oriented experiences while maintaining IT governance.

ProtoShare

ProtoShare is a collaborative website prototyping tool for teams to build, discuss, and refine clickable website wireframes and their creative design comps. Team members, management, clients, and marketing can all  participate in the discussion at an early stage of the interactive development process. ProtoShare is a web-based tool, it supports a wide range of interactive prototypes, from gray-box wireframing to rich Internet functionality.

dreamface_logo2

DreamFace Interactive  develops and markets an Open Source Ajax Framework for creating Enterprise Web 2.0 Applications and Mashups. The new DreamFace version, called Outsider, allows tech-savvy business people to create, personalize and share their own web applications through a unique and innovative concept called Web Channels.Web Channels are mini dynamic applications designed for change. They incorporate DataWidgets; widgets which use diverse data sources coming from both corporate data and the internet, to display information and interact with other DataWidgets.

coremedia_logo2

Last but not the least, CoreMedia CMS is a content management system powering corporate websites, Intranets, public and high traffic media portals. CoreMedia CMS provides a foundation for strategic content platforms for corporate websites, intranets and high-traffic media portals. Soeren Stamer, German entrepreneur, CEO of CoreMedia and Author of “Enterprise 2.0 – The Art of Letting Go” will speaking at Web 2.0 expo on Wednesday, April 1st.

I’ll be blogging on social media tools and platforms for the enterprise space throughout the show, if there’s an enterprise-focused company/product that you would like to see on here or if you want to tweet up, you can find me at Twitter.com/MiaD

You can also follow the conversation on the Web 2.0 Expo website or on Twitter (#w2e).

6 Reasons Why Enterprise Social Media Needs its Own Playbook

The last thing any company getting on the social media bandwagon should do is adopt  best practices established by practitioners and “experts” in the consumer space. Consumers and enterprises have very different objectives so here are 6 reasons why enterprises should write their own playbook rather than borrow from the consumer space:

  1. Numbers do matter: I recently wrote a blog post on how folks are getting too obsessed with their Twittercount. I still believe that when you aren’t selling something, the obsession with Twitter and Facebook numbers is just an ego trip. Individual social media activity should be focused on quality of engagement rather than quantity. However, when you are a business - quality is important but so is quantity, perhaps more so. If you’re running social media campaigns or activities for your company, you’re expected to deliver results. One way of measuring results is by looking at customer engagement numbers, but how will you engage when there’s no one to engage with?
  2. Consistency is important: I remember when the Motrin/Twitter Momscontroversy erupted, well-known blogger Louis Gray had a great blog post on how “Brand Reputation Management is Not  a Monday-Friday Gig“. The same applies to social media in general. You can’t say, I am taking the week off, so the corporate blog can languish until I get back or the unhappy customer who has been tweeting about a product issue will just have to wait. When you’re doing it for your business, you have to make sure the show goes on regardless of  what’s going on in the background. Can you imagine, shutting down your company website just because the guy who manages it has gone on vacation? That becomes even more critical for social media, which is a much more dynamic media and people expect consistent real-time updates.
  3. It’s a team sport:Unless you’re a company of one, your social media team should involve many other cross-functional folks. so that you are representing voice of the company not just your individual thoughts. Having an individual voice for a personal blog is fine, but ideally you want to have consistent messaging even through your social media channels. As a business, you want to ensure you’re not confusing your customers by having conflicting points of view from two different employees from the same company. To make the content authentic,  input on social media content should come from subject matter and content experts, not just the best communicator/blogger on the team.
  4. It’s not personal:Like it or not, enterprise social media is all about business, so companies shouldn’t go crazy trying to emulate personal blogs in their content and approach. Your company’s social media content needs to be authentic, by which I mean present truthful information without any marketing or PR spiel. Being professional is also right up there with authenticity. As your customer, I don’t want to know about your six cats unless I am buying cat food from you and even then, I don’t care unless the information is  relevant and interesting to *me*. Your customers come to you for value (no matter which social media channel you choose to use) and it’s your job to make sure you deliver that value..minus any spin or personal stories, please.
  5. You can’t fake it: I cringe when I see social media enthusiasts trying to conjure up a fictitious fun persona for their corporate social media accounts, especially when their company culture is anything but customer-centric. This warm and fuzzy approach works for companies like Southwest Airlines or Zappos, because their brand IS fun and customer-oriented, so are their employees. However, if your company is notorious for lousy customer service, no amount of cutesy tweets will help your cause.
  6. Last but not the least, it’s NOT free:When you’re writing your personal blog, it’s a fun hobby and since most social sites/tools are free, there’s no financial cost involved. However, if this activity is for a company account, it’s costing the company $$$ because the company still has to pay their employees, right?! So it’s essential to put some productivity and business outcome metrics around social media activities to ensure that these activities are aligned with company’s financial objectives and goals.

Enterprises are in business to generate value for their stakeholders, whereas personal/consumer social media activities are not encumbered by those responsibilities. Enterprises should ignore the social media hype and do right by their customers. They should leverage the social media sites/tools to deliver value to and engage their customer base even when it’s perceived as being “uncool” to do so.

SAP and Intel Discuss Enterprise Social Media

thirdtuesday_panel

Recently, I joined fellow marketers and PR professionals for a panel discussion on “Social Media Adoption in Large Enterprises” hosted by Third Thursday Meetup, at the SAP campus in Palo Alto. After an hour of quality  networking over generous portions of appetizers and crisp white wines from local vineyards, we settled down  for an evening of insightful panel discussion with Ken Kaplan, New Media Manager at Intel and Donald Bulmer, VP of Industry and Influencer Relations at SAP.

The moderator Jen McClure did a good job of moderating the two-person panel with many thought-provoking questions. Overall, it was a solid discussion and both panelists provided a fascinating perspective on how social media is being deployed by two of Silicon Valley’s largest enterprises.

Here are some interesting insights from the discussion:

Innovation and thought leadership: Dan Bulmer credited the current economy as ideal for fostering creativity and innovation. According to him, tight budgets and current economic climate have made it easier and paved the way for social media  adoption in large enterprises. Kaplan offered a great insight from the PR perspective as to how social media has revolutionized the communications space. In the past, press releases used to be an one-time event, but now thanks to blogs and social tools, a press release event can go on for weeks. To promote innovation, Intel works closely with industry thought leaders and many prominent bloggers are on Intel’s internal blog council. They consistently leverage thought leaders from the social media space to create and foster social media best practices.

Efficiency: The budget cuts have impacted three primary areas – events, ads, and travel. The budget cuts have ranged between 30-50percent, however, the goals for the organization have stayed the same or have grown. For SAP and across the industry, while advertising spend has been cut, additional resources are being diverted to social media, because it’s perceived as a more efficient way to generate results. Bulmer mentioned how virtual tradeshows are fast becoming more prevalent as an efficient channel for driving results at lower costs.

Customer Engagement: SAP’s approach is very community-focused, they use web 2.0 collaboration platform to bring their customers together based on common products they use. They expose customers to SAP products as well as connect their customers to others who also use the same products. They leverage social media technologies to foster a strong user community and also, enhance SAP’s relation with their customer base. Kaplan was pleasantly surprised to discover their customer’s passion for Intel’s processors when he came across on tweets like “Loving Intel Processor” on the popular micro-blogging site, Twitter.

Collaboration: Bulmer’s approach was extremely pragmatic and he said, that he wants the  business units to have “skin in the game” to make them more accountable for the deployment as well as results. His group doesn’t take more than 5-10percent stake in any social media project, which forces the businesses to take responsibility for their activities and consequently, the results. McClure had a great question about how the two professionals dealt with the challenges of deploying social media across large enterprises with highly multi-cultural and multi-national presence. Fulmer had a great point and which was to drive social media adoption, you  have to associate social media with success  because success  tends to be culture-agnostic and that in turn has helped adoption. Kaplan’s approach was to decentralize the deployment because he believes (and rightly so) that social media is not scalable and it has to be driven from individual regions and centers. Kaplan referred to the key role that Centers of Excellence (COE) play in deploying best practices and knowledge across a global organization.

Monetization: What particularly resonated with the audience was Bulmer’s approach and philosophy to social media, which he called “purpose-driven” engagement. He encourages folks at SAP to engage in social media with a specific intent and purpose, which forces them to stay productive and efficient. He seemed to be very cognizant of how social media is often dismissed as “fluff” and this awareness was reflected in his highly monetization-oriented social media strategy. According to Bulmer, SAP is already generating thousands of leads from their social media efforts and many of those are about ready to close.

Corporate culture enhancement: Kaplan had an interesting observation that although silos are breaking down they haven’t completely disappeared. However, social media has certainly forced people from across the organization and different functional groups to work together.  He urged folks to find the communicators and the experts  in the organization who can then engage with the customers. .  Both SAP and Intel offer a variety of information resources to their employees on social media. At Intel, these are structured like college courses ranging from #100 to #500 level courses depending on the employee’s level of engagement. Both panelists agreed that getting the right people within the company involved and engaged is the key to social media success.

All in all, it was a very relevant discussion, especially as more companies are getting serious about social media adoption. It was great to get meaningful  insights from these two seasoned professionals on the real challenges and opportunities in deploying social media in the enterprise space.

6 Simple Steps to Your Company's First Social Media Policy

kittypornIn my previous post, I gave three reasons “Why Every Company Needs a Social Media Policy”. It’s reckless for companies engaging in the social media space not to provide their employees with some basic rules of engagement especially, as these employees blog, tweet, and engage on social sites as a representative of the company.

The purpose of the social media policy is to clearly define acceptable and unacceptable social media behavior for employees active in this space. Anyone can put together a bad policy and many policies are long and tedious, which is also why they are generally dreaded and loathed. Here are 6 simple steps to a social media policy that’s easy to create, understand, and implement.

#1 Don’t reinvent the wheel. The objective of this project is not to recreate the constitution and you don’t need a bunch of lawyers for this, either. Most companies  already  have  policies that cover confidentiality and ethics, start with those first. Leverage the existing policies and expand the scope as needed to cover social media activities. One practical approach that works well and avoids creation of multiple documents is to add a special section on social media to the overall corporate policy document.

#2 Don’t confuse policy with guidelines:  Many policy documents are excruciatingly long and irrelevant, because they end up being a mishmash of policies, guidelines, and anything else that is deemed to be remotely relevant. Don’t let your policy become a dumping ground. Keep it brief, precise and separate from your guidelines. It’s essential to  remember that policy and guidelines are not the same and shouldn’t be used interchangeably. Here’s an example of a policy – “Do not post confidential information on an external social media site or blog”, while a guideline is much more general  in nature – “Be authentic in your blog posts”.  Guidelines are best practices ie. ”nice-to-have” but policy violations can have serious negative consequences for your business, so it’s important not to confuse the two.

#3 K.I.S.S.:  Don’t overdo it and don’t overwhelm your employees with a 100page policy. Keep it short and simple. The employee shouldn’t have to go through 20pages just to figure out whether or not to post something on a blog. Frontload the document with specific yet brief policy items and provide detailed examples and glossary of terms at the end.

#4 Complete the package: Once your policy is ready, add your guidelines section that outlines best practices and finish up with a process guide. The process guide should include information on processes in place to help your social media initiatives such as getting approvals for use of company logo or setting up an external blog. Voila! Now you have a solid social media engagement guide to help ensure that your employees are engaging responsibly and not out there creating a social media nightmare.  

#5 Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!: The problem with most company policies is that either employees don’t know about them or they don’t care. Make sure you make your social media policy visible and available. Communicate it through every internal channel available. Build it into your s0cial media planning process so that folks are required to review it before engaging in any type of social media activity.

#6 Last but not the least, keep it current: The social media space is evolving at a rapid pace, don’t let your policy get outdated and irrelevant. Make regular updates part of your social media policy creation process. Set time aside to review your policy on a regular basis so the policy is still relevant in the changing landscape.

If you don’t tell your employees what’s appropriate, you can’t and shouldn’t hold them responsible when things go wrong. These steps will help your employees and your company in engaging responsibly in the social media world, by creating a social media policy that’s easy to understand and follow.

Credits: Thanks to Jeff Bucchino, “The Wizard of Draws” for the Kitty photo http://www.cartoonclipart.com

Why Every Company Needs a Social Media Policy

In this social media age, where everything is public and privacy is mostly an illusion, it’s easy to get the lines blurred between what’s personal and what’s business. Many social media champions forget to remind their clients that social media is not without its pitfalls and companies have a responsibility to help their employees understand the rules of engagement in this highly open social media world. 

If your company or business doesn’t  already have clearly defined social media policy and related guidelines, here are 3 reasons why it should be a priority for every company:

Do your employees understand the difference between engaging on a social network/site for personal vs. professional reason?
These days, it’s highly unlikely to find someone who isn’t on at least some popular social networking site like Facebook or has uploaded a video to YouTube. Given the long hours spent at work and the growing influence of social media on our lives, the lines between professional and personal life are blurring. If your employees use their personal account to pitch your products and your customers believe that they are representing your company, your company may very well be liable for their actions even if you didn’t authorize them. If you don’t want the next headline on Techcrunch or NY Times quoting your employee ,who was discussing the weaknesses of your product with friends on a seemingly private venue like Facebook , you need to clearly define acceptable online social behavior.  Even if you think it’s highly unlikely to happen, are you willing to take a chance and risk having to debate it in court some day?

Do your employees blog or engage on social media sites on behalf of your company?
For legal and practical reasons, you need to have the rules of engagement spelled out for your employees. If you don’t have some clearly defined guidelines and policies for engaging with your customers, you can’t blame your employees for posting inappropriate information on your company website or on behalf of your company. They might be including links to their personal website or or talking about products that aren’t even launched yet because they don’t know any better. It’s amazing how even rational people get carried away because the medium is so new and engaging that it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s appropriate and what’s not.

Do your employees understand the legal and other implications of posting content on a social media site or public blog?
Even folks who are engage in social media on a regular basis don’t understand the implications of sharing information on a social media site. It’s essential to note that on social media sites, that nothing is private and nothing is sacred. Anything your employees say could be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and used against your company and the employees themselves. Recently, courts in New Zealand and Australia ruled that court papers could be served via the popular social networking site, Facebook. Peter Shankman has a detailed account on his blog, how a seemingly social media-savvy PR person got into trouble with his client when he posted some not-so-flattering comments about his client’s location on Twitter.

I can understand why businesses don’t want to stifle the spirit of their social media enthusiastic employees however, as much as these policies and guidelines protect the company, they also help the employees avoid embarassing themselves. Many social media gaffes are not because of malicious intent but rather due to lack of awareness and understanding of what’s acceptable in rapidly evolving online social space.

Does having a policy or guidelines mean your employees won’t ever post something they’re not supposed to?  Of course not, there are no guarantees in life and certainly not in business, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try to mitigate potential liability. Just your company wouldn’t let a new employees run the business without some basic guidance, its unacceptable not to extend the same courtesy to employees who are representing your company and navigating the social media space on behalf of their employer.

Why We Care about Twitter revenue model

If it’s one thing folks in the valley and elsewhere in the blogosphere like to pick on, it’s Twitter’s revenue model or lack thereof. Techcrunch enlightened everyone today on the hoax by BBspot about Twitter’s purported premium accounts,

The author of the post mocks Twitter’s lack of an apparent business model after 3 years in operation, and writes that the startup’s CEO Evan Williams today finally announced plans to introduce a paid premium account scheme. Never mind that the news would have gotten broken on an obscure blog when the U.S. is mostly asleep, but other things should have given away that this concerns a hoax. 

Twitter revenue is no doubt a sensitive issue for the VCs who are coy on the subject. Last month, it was Readwriteweb who reported on a conversation with Todd Dagres, one of the investors in Twitter. Dagres laughed off questions on Twitter’s business model or lack thereof,

“We think it’s kind of funny…We know how we’re going to do it, and we’re very confident about how we’re going to do it, and it’s not necessarily in our interest to tell people how we’re going to do it.”

I can see his point of view, the VCs are probably thinking that here are a bunch of free-loaders (aka Twitter users) questioning our judgement. As if we would invest in something that didn’t have potential or didn’t have a plan to monetize it.

Note: Even if these VCs decided to flush a truckload of money down the toilet, it’s really their business and their stakeholders’ problem because they’ve invested money in the company, not the average user.

So why do we care so much about Twitter revenue and go into a frenzy every time someone mentions “Twitter” and “revenue” in the same sentence?

Twitter-envy:  Let’s start with the most obvious reason and that’s the good ol’ fashioned green. Many rational people with entrepreneurial aspirations are probably wondering – how on earth did Twitter get all that dough and other much-deserving startups didn’t? What makes Twitter so special? Also, Twitter’s growing popularity can’t be making folks on competing social sites, too happy either.

Curiosity is only human: While newly minted entreprenuers are looking for clues in the Twitter story, for what will get them funded, others are just …curious. Afterall, Twitter is the greatest phenomenon in recent history and everyone seems to be talking about. It’s shocking to the common Joe/Jane who aren’t as well-versed in the ways of the Silicon Valley as to why this “phenomenon” doesn’t make any money yet and has to be propped up through private funding.

It’s like crack: Let’s face it, Twitter is an addiction. Once you get going, it’s hard to stop. It’s not as if users were born with it or even grew up with it, we had to change our behavior around Twitter. This time, 5years back, how many people were thinking, “Hmm..I think I’ll send out a 140char message to (thousands of people whom I’ve never met ) about my imaginary cat.”  Twitter has changed the way we communicate and share information. So, naturally loyal users don’t want it to go down the tube, they want it to live long and prosper. In this day and age, how many brands can boast of such unconditional loyalty?!

Don’t forget the Twitter ecosystem: Let’s do a fun experiment. Google all the apps and sites out there that start with ‘Tweet’, ‘Twitter’, ‘Tw-something’. and count them. Thanks to the wonder that is an open API and thriving developer/entrepreneurial base, there are thousands of startups and related consulting businesses that are all based on one product and that’s Twitter. Can you imagine what would happen to these businesses if there was no Twitter? There’s an entire ecosystem built around one shining star and the possibility of that star failing is (and should be) making many folks nervous.

Lastly, nothing lasts for ever: ..and certainly not VC-funding. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that if Twitter doesn’t make money soon or get acquired, there’s a good chance VCs will pull the plug . Of course, the assumption benig that VCs are rational businessmen and make these kinds of decisions based on a site’s revenue-generation potential. I mean, how many more years will the VCs continue to fund this non-revenue generating site? Afterall, this is serious business not a hobby, right?!

In any case, investors in Twitter should be grateful for the attention because it’s the buzz that’s going to keep this site alive and kicking. There is really no such thing as bad publicity and the last thing, any stakeholder in Twitter wants is the site to become irrelevant and out of the news.

Has Twitter Lost its Mojo?

The controversy over Twitter’s suggested users list reported by LA Times last month, was re-ignited today by Dave Winer’s post “Why it’s time to break out of Twitter”.

Winer, a pioneer in the blogging and social media space suggests that there’s no fairness to the suggested user list and all it takes is being connected to the Twitter management,

I pour a lot of effort into Twitter, and while I wasn’t in the top tier of users, I was solidly in the second tier. I wasn’t doing the things you have to do to get the most followers, or I didn’t have a powerful media presence like Leo or Shaq to get me up there. People like Scoble, Guy Kawasaki, Jason Calacanis all viewed being at the top as a competitive thing, so they did what it took. Me, I just poured a lot of energy and creativity into it, and got the number of followers that comes from doing that. It’s now approaching 20,000, which I am proud of, but it’s not very much compared to the numbers of some people who did nothing other than be friends of Evan Williams to get hundreds of thousands of followers. Permalink to this paragraph

Twitter has a strange assortment of celebrities and companies on its suggested users list . It’s not very transparent as to why these folks were selected but one thing’s for certain, being on the list considerably boosts one’s ”popularity” on Twitter.

Lately, Twitter Co-Founder Evan Williams has been making the talk show rounds, to discuss Twitter and its phenomenal growth. Twitter founders/management invariably come up blank on two topics: Reasoning behind Twitter’s growth  and (Lack of) Twitter’s revenue model.

So let’s take the first one for the purpose of our discussion today. 

Twitter is largely community-driven and the management’s role seemed to be limited to making sure the site doesn’t crash. Recently, Twitter management has gone gangbusters in their quest to monetize the site and everyone from the founders to the investors are talking about it. In their grand mission to woo the “normal” people (as Evan Williams referred to them) aka the masses, is Twitter management alienating their key constituency?

The innovators and early adopters have started voicing their frustration with the Twitter management. As Robert Scoble , the popular blogger and tech-evangelist, vented on Friendfeed,  

Saying “normal people” will be on the service in five years is stupid. Why? Because it’s calling current customers who are on the service “not normal.” I find I’m hearing more and more arrogance toward Twitter’s existing user base from its management. That arrogance is stupid. Facebook already has normal people, as Ev puts it, and is far more “sticky” than Twitter is. Twitter is actually becoming harder to follow as more “normal users” come on the service. – Robert Scoble via Bookmarklet

As Scoble points out, Facebook is already mainstream and Techcrunch reported Facebook’s recently announced changes to the homepage as a direct threat to Twitter. 

In his follow up post, Winer has alluded to switching to a competitor’s site and has also started his own,

If a real competitor came along that would create one possible answer, some of us would move there. Probably everyone would instantly get an account, if it were done right, some large number would stay there. If it had features that Twitter didn’t have that were high value then it might suck a lot of the life out of Twitter. It might mean lots of little Twitters. I’m starting one here on scripting.com, and in the first few hours of use it’s already interesting. It wouldn’t in any way be a replacement for Twitter. But it offers an alternative. Sort of like the difference between a blog and a big website, when blogs were just booting up in 1999 or so.

So where does all this leave Twitter? Here are 3 critical questions that Twitter management has to ask itself:

  1. Can Twitter survive the exodus of the pioneers who made the site what it is by using and evangelizing it?
  2. Will it be able to counter the competitive threats in the form of Facebook and other social sites?
  3. Can it come up with a monetization plan that doesn’t alienate its user base (assuming they can identify which user base it wants to focus on)?

It’s obvious that Twitter management (including the founders and investors) don’t have a plausible explanation for Twitter’s stunning growth. So given that they don’t know what made it such a success, can they crack the code to keep it growing?

This is an interesting time in Twitter’s history, it will either go down in annals of history as a truly great company that revolutionized the way we communicate or might end up as a case study on how to kill a social phenomenon.

4 signs if Twitter has Gone Mainstream

Recently, Twitter co-Founder Evan Williams predicted that “Normal” people will be on Twitter in 5years and one can safely assume that he’s referring to adoption by the mainstream masses.

Wikipedia defines mainstream as,

Mainstream is, generally, the common current of thought of the majority.

While the most common definition via Google is,

…the prevailing current of thought

There’s no doubt that by any definition, Twitter isn’t mainstream just yet. Yes, there are plenty of celebrities on Twitter, which means the masses will follow. However, the folks claiming that Twitter is already mainstream are making a big assumption, that the total potential for Twitter is just 8million people. According to Quantcast, the figure is around 6.1million in the US, which is a far cry from a majority. 

It’s not surprising that many folks who claim Twitter has gone mainstream are the same folks who are heavily involved in social media and have convinced themselves ”everyone” is on Twitter. Thanks to tweeting politicians, actors, and late night show hosts, the site has enjoyed phenomenal growth, but it still has ways to go before it can be called a mainstream channel.

Here’s are 4 clues that will tell us when Twitter has hit mainstream:

Using Twitter doesn’t equal innovation:  It’s pathetic how anything and everything done in the name of social media and Twitter seems to pass for innovation these days. The Skittles story highlights how the medium trumps the message when it comes to Twitter. The company managed to create buzz with the asinine use of unfiltered content from Twitter, which also included accusations from a Tweeple about their “inhumane tests on animals”. Whether they created or added any value to their customers is anyone’s guess but one thing is clear, that anything using Twitter has the ability to create buzz because it’s not yet commonly used by the mainstream.

Twittering politicians no longer make headlines:If it really were mainstream, we would get used to it and not get our knickers in a twist every time it’s used by someone in Washington or Hollywood. Yay, Ashton Kutcher knows how to use Twitter, big whoop! When’s the last time we were so excited about some celebrity being able to send and receive email? It’s still a big deal if you *get* Twitter and if it was the “common current of thought”, would it really be all interesting?!

Hype will be replaced with significant, meaningful numbers: Everyone goes into a massive frenzy, when anyone makes any money off Twitter, no matter how insignificant the amount. Take the example of Dell. Venturebeat  reported that Dell claims to have made $1million on Twitter. Yippee! But what does it really mean for a company with over $60Billion in revenue? Not that much. Once Twitter hits mainstream, we’ll start looking at real numbers put in the right context not just hyped numbers meant to justify use of Twitter.

Lastly, no more speculation on whether Twitter has gone mainstream: If Twitter were mainstream, we wouldn’t be having discussions and debates  on whether it has hit mainstream and whether folks using Twitter are “normal”. Every day there’s a new discussion underway about how Twitter has gone to the dogs…er..the masses, etc. Once Twitter gets to mass adoption, we’ll probably won’t see any more complains from the innovators/early adopters because by that time, they should’ve moved on to the next big thing/site.

Bottom line: The day Twitter stops being a “phenomenon” is the day we’ll know it has hit mainstream. Doesn’t mean that going mainstream is a good thing or a bad thing, but rather just that it’s part of the natural evolution for any product/site and we just need to deal with it.

Can you be a social media expert without tweeting or blogging?

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about a social media ‘expert’ who doesn’t tweet or blog, which got me thinking - How important is it for the social media ‘experts’ to actually get their hands dirty?

Tom Foremski has touched on the same issue in his post , ‘Can you advise on social media if you don’t use it?’

Foremski talks about a PR person whom he met recently, who doesn’t blog or tweet but advises clients on social media and claims that,

… she knows all about Facebook and Twitter and blogging even though she doesn’t blog or leave comments, she isn’t on Facebook, and doesn’t have a Twitter account.

It seems that just by the virtue of being in a customer-facing and/or web-related role, professionals in communication, PR, marketing, and SEO have been thrust onto the social media scene. But chances are that while their clients look to them for guidance on how to navigate this new space, these folks are also scrambling to catch up and are probably just as clueless as their clients.

I agree with Foremski that if you’re supposed to be an expert in ’social’ media, can you really be credible if you aren’t out there being..um.. social?! There are definite advantages to getting your hands dirty. It gives one more credibility with clients and helps reassure them that the advice they’re getting  is based on experience, not just theory. It also provides a good understanding about what works and what doesn’t in the social media space, without relying on someone else’s opinion. 

That being said, blogging or tweeting by itself doesn’t make one an expert in social media. There are plenty of folks who have a huge following on social media sites, but not many of them are qualified to advise anyone on social media. And lately, everyone has a blog so that’s not a great indicator of social media expertise either. This great cartoon shared by Mark Evans, strikes a chord as everyone claims to be a social media expert these days. 

I think it’s irrelevant whether these ’experts’ learn about social media tools and sites by using them or researching them. What’s more important is that folks who are responsible for advising their clients on social media aren’t married to a single tool or site. These professionals need to be objective and tool/site-agnostic so they can recommend the right tools for their clients, even if they aren’t experts in using it. There’s nothing worse than a so-called expert who recommends a specific social site or tool because that’s the only one they are familiar with.

At end of the day, clients aren’t just paying for someone’s expertise in social media but rather their expertise in how to use social media to help their business.