ALWAYS have a Plan B with Social Media

Or why you should never base your entire business around any one social network or platform that you don’t control or own.

Social Networks are great.

Thanks to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, we’ve now got unprecedented levels of access into people’s personal and private lives.

As a consequence, whilst they’re busy staying plugged in and connected with the people they know and care about, we get to join them at that treasured level of intimacy, and can use our own posts, and updates, to be a part of that world.

Unfortunately, whilst that’s great in ‘principle’, in practice, that priviledge can be taken away from you at any time, for any reason, and you can be left completely powerless when it happens.

In it’s early days Twitter would disappear at times, because it was being overloaded by too much data.

Users would often dread the ‘fail whale’, which would happen often, and at the time, completely isolated users from each other who had come to rely upon the platform for their daily kinship.

Even now, if you post updates too frequently, or your tools are not configured properly you can end up in ‘Twitter Jail’ so to speak, and be left without the ability to post an update from an account for an entire hour, or longer, depending on the problem and where it lies.

Facebook is notoriously bad for taking down fan pages, with no reason, or excuse being provided to the page owner, and no reasonable course of action, for the page owner.

This post itself, was inspired by the folks at The Cool Hunter losing their Facebook Fan Page for no reason and not being able to get it back online and active.

As much as we’d like to think all that hard work, and effort will pay off, it’s important to build a ‘direct’ relationship with your fans/community/audience as soon as possible, as you never know when the plug will be pulled, and then all that hard work will be for nothing.

Even with Twitter, in the early days it was possible to be able to go back in time, and search an archive of all of your tweets.
Now, the only way to get all of your twitter data, is to send an official request to Twitter’s UK Legal Department, citing European Law, and the Data Protection Act, when users who have been on twitter for a while, want to get their older tweets. Fortunately, if you haven’t tweeted more than 3,200 times, you should be able to get all your data, with just the Twitter API directly. But I digress.

As a rule of thumb, you should always think of your social media profiles as part of your ‘list building’ strategy, of potential customers, as well as of your existing customers. However, like all good ‘list building’ strategies, try to get a ‘commitment’ or an exchange, as early on in the relationship as possible, so at least you can still connect with those people, even if the platform goes down, or the Fan page gets suspended.

Regular offers through exclusive newsletters, contests, promotions, or special gifts, that can only be downloaded, or viewed after handing over an email address promoted through your social channels, means that you can start collecting email addresses, and add another line of communication with your audience.

This way, even if your social channel of communication disappears, or becomes unavailable, you can always improvise, and come up with an alternative tool/platform.

Most importantly, you won’t lose all that value, and relationship that you’ve built up with a fan, just because you’re no longer in their Facebook stream, or they choose to unfollow you on Twitter.

As a brand, or a business, it’s all about building a lifelong relationship with your customers, but if you can’t find your way back to them, then you’ll have a very hard time keeping those relationships alive.

An Introduction to Social Media for Small Business Owners

Following a chat with Julia McDaid, of The Results Factory, it occurred to me, that there’s many many people out there that I keep bumping into, or meeting, who are still relatively new to the world of Social Media, from a marketing perspective.

Over the last few months, I’ve frequently had chats, that have turned into social media strategy sessions over a drink, or a coffee.  Some of those informal discussions have even turned into elements of a training session, and a basic set of suggestions, or recommendations on how to use a particular platform, or a tool.

So, now I’m starting to wonder if there’s generally any interest out there in webinars introducing people to the basics of Social Media, or an introduction to the respective platforms, with suggestions and best practices on how to use them, why to use them, and how to get the most out of them, for the time that you spend with them.

I’d also be interested in hearing if you’ve got any other needs around Social Media, whether it be help with devising a Social Media Strategy, or just figuring out where to start.

I know it can all be quite overwhelming, especially when you’re a small team, without too many people to spread the workload with, or an individual going solo; but know that there are simple, easy ways of getting started, and that with a bit of coaching/training and guidance you could completely begin to master the basics, and start seeing the returns on your investment of time, and effort.

I’ve included a Google Survey in this post.  If you’d like to find out more, or are interested in learning through a training, virtually or physically, then please be sure to leave your details below, and I’ll be in touch, next month, to let you know what I’ve decided to organise, in response to the interest.

The Next ‘Wave’ of Social Media..

We’re living in a platform saturated, attention deprived, information overloaded, flooded stream of updates with Social Media at the moment.

Most people, genuinely have access to far too much information, and not enough time, or attention, to process all the things that they would ideally love to read/consume, absorb, and participate in, conversation wise.

The online conversation is here, and it’s depriving us of our offline existence. What was designed to bring us closer to friends and families, have now become advertising portals, to the masses. The product is ‘us’ the consumer. The individual that consumes all that information, and occasionally ‘clicks’ on an ad, or a post, not necessarily realising that this is ‘paid for’ advertising, and gradually gets led ever deeper into the abyss of consumption, and attention deprivation.

Buy this thing, it will make you feel a certain way. Eat this, drink that, wash with this, party with that. The TV, and Mass Media has infiltrated the worlds of online social networks, and most of them are obsessed with increasing clicks, and selling more stuff.

Which is a real shame, because when that balance is wrong, you just don’t get the returns on the investment (which ironically is why Facebook stock has dropped so quickly in value, after being released publicly). Facebook’s stock flotation is nothing like the Google, or Amazon experience, where once they went public, they kept going up in value. Why is that, if not because of the inherent lack of value in the offering?

People are online, for 3 core reasons. To connect with their friends, their families, and their ‘interests’. So far, most of the social platforms have only really done a good job of helping people connect with their friends and their families. Most of the first wave of social networks, have all been focussed on connecting with people you already knew, in some way, shape or form.

However, new social platforms, like Instagram, and Twitter are starting to connect around ‘interests’, more than specific ‘people’. You could claim that Facebook let’s you connect on an ‘interest’ level too, however, if we look at it’s ‘origins’, and ‘focus’ – it was ‘friends’, and then slowly, family, based on how users came onboard. Through my own personal experience, I’m less than satisfied with Facebook’s ability to provide me with an appropriately curated way of staying in the loop with my friends and family, and generally am finding ‘interests’ and brands add far too much noise, to a potentially already busy environment.

Our needs when we connect with our friends and our families are very very different to when we connect with our interests. The conversations we have with our friends, and family, are generally very personal, and intimate, compared to the types of interactions we would have with people who we share a common interest with. In general when I go online, to a social platform, if I had to choose between finding out about someone I know, and care about, and a brand, or a random group of people, I will choose the people I know personally over the strangers. It’s human nature, to tend towards what’s familiar, and known.

So with that in mind, the only time I’m going to go into the ‘unknown’ is to find out something I don’t know, about something I’m interested in knowing more about. That could be related to an interest, a hobby, a sport, or something related to my work. Something that ‘adds value’ to my experience, rather than have me be the source of the experience.

This is where brands should really be. In that ‘interest’ space. Not hanging over our shoulders trying to get access to us, when we’re talking with our nearest and dearest. Even if that is where we spend most of our time. Brands need to find us out in those communities, where we’re asking questions, that their product or service can solve.

The need for yet another tool, to connect with people we know is for the most part over. What we need now, is ways of separating our personal conversations, with our friends and family from the world of our interests, and ‘likes’. There’s only a finite amount of time that people will spend coming to a service, where they can’t do everything they want to, and in my opinion, the time is coming, when communities will start emerging where the content/information/people are so key to the value of being in them, because of their expertise in a very specific niche, vertical, or sector, that the entire community focus will be singularly on that domain.

It will allow domain expertise to start being shared, and built upon in a way that doesn’t overwhelm people with updates, when the conversations get overly active, and allows people to curate and segment their news feeds and update streams by defined interests and level of activity that needs to have developed around a particular topic or discussion before it being brought to your attention.

So keep an eye out for those interesting platforms, interactions, or conversations on topics that matter to you – because you’ll start to need a life outside of your friends and family, and when you do, you’ll probably want to have tools and platforms that connect you in a different way to the dialogue/discussions that are happening there.  (and yes, Google+ does have the potential to be in that space, if they continue to grow and evolve as they have done so far..)

My Agenda for Social Media Week London 2012

It seems that with all the sponsorship money that’s gone into Social Media Week, one of the key features that was missing from the main website, is the ability to be able to share ‘calendars’ or schedules with friends/other participants.

Social Media Week London 2012

Register for Events At Social Media Week London 2012

Having buttons, that allowed you to post the event you were attending to Lanyrd, or Plancast would have solved that problem, but it seems that even just getting a calendar of all the events you’re attending wasn’t high on the list of priorities of the developers this time round..

Ironically, because certain events require registration via third party websites, I wasn’t even able to compile a list of all the events that I was attending, just by registering through the website. Instead, I need to ‘favourite’ the events I’m planning on attending, in order to be able to see a single list on the Social Media Week Website, of everything I want to attend (and as far as I can tell, there’s no simple way of pulling that content into a Google Calendar), so I just went ahead and manually added each of the events I’m planning to be at into a single calendar, which I’ve shared below.

Just one small note, for the website developers for next year, when you hit the ‘Google Calendar’ button on any event, the event that gets added uses the URL of the event as follows:

http://socialmediaweek.org/?event_id=1133

(which doesn’t work).

The correct URL needs to be

http://socialmediaweek.org/event/?event_id=1133

(note the extra /event/ which is missing in the url that pre-populates the Google Calendar.)

It’s probably too late to fix this now, but perhaps next year, you could at least get that part working properly? Or even let us share our calendars publicly, to friends that haven’t registered on the website?

Anyways, here’s my schedule during Social Media Week London 2012 (however, bear in mind, that like with all things social, this is subject to change at a moments notice) :

Social Media Week London – Feb 13-17, 2012

So next week is Social Media Week, in London, and it seems that this year there are even more talks, events, and sessions being run, than last year.

If you haven’t yet decided what you’re going to attend, I suggest you head on over to the calendar for London’s Social Media Week activities and pick out some interesting sessions that might be of interest to you.

I’m planning on attending a few events each day, and this year, I’ll do my best to blog about the different talks I attend each day. (Rather than live tweeting out of all the sessions, as I usually try to do :)

Partly because it then means I don’t need to rely on or worry about the Internet connections at each of the venues, and partly that means I get to document all the pertinent and interesting points that are made during each talk, and then capture them to remember, and share.

Historically I’ve been a much more active advocate of tweeting out from the events, and sessions, but with the amount of problems I keep experiencing whenever I try to use Twitter at an event, or in a live streaming environment, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to use twitter in a meaningful way right now, is through the occasional tweet, not the second by second blow by blow account of what’s happening – as apparently Twitter doesn’t like that, and ends up blocking me, or stalling on me whenever I do that!!

Look forward to seeing many of you at various events around town, over the next week!

Crowdsourcing Social Media Trends of 2011, and Predictions for 2012

Usually, when it comes to this time of year, I like to look into a crystal ball, and start thinking about what I think is going to be up and coming in the year to come.

Crystal Ball

Most times, those posts get stuck as drafts, and become a constant reminder of how there’s never enough time to synthesise my thinking, other times, I end up choosing not to publicly share my views, and opinions (there’s something about having your own personal take on things, which sometimes it’s nice to keep personal ;)

This year, I’ve decided to try a different approach.  I want to talk to as many people as possible about what they think has been the big trends of 2011, and where they think 2012 is headed..  In the spirit of collective wisdom being smarter than any one individual, I’m curious to see what a ‘collaborative’ vision of 2012 looks like, and how 2011 looked, through the eyes of peers, and colleagues old and new..

So if you’re interested in sharing your two cents, please feel free to chime in below, in the comments, or to get in touch, if you’d be up for a short 5 minute interview.  I want to get a much more granular view of the Social Landscape across Europe, for 2012, as it looks like a much more interesting tapestry of changing user behaviour, than has been in recent years past, so I’ll be reaching out to folks individually, as well as collectively, to piece together a collective vision of what 2011 was, and what 2012 could be, from the eyes of the “Social Media” Professional community.

If you want to get involved, drop me a line on farhan [at] consciouscomms [dot] co [dot] uk.

Hopefully, the effort will produce something that’s of as much value to the community as it is to me :)  Here’s to a fantastic end of 2011, and a great 2012!

Why come to #TweetCamp?

On the eve of the event, it’s almost a bit redundant, to talk about why you should be coming to TweetCamp, as by now you’ve almost definitely made up your mind as to whether you’re coming or not.
That said, I did want to jot down my thoughts, if only for the next time, as they’re all ripe in my mind, as I turn in for the night!

So first off, TweetCamp is an ‘un’conference.
Conferences, are usually attended purely to learn from. In an ‘un’conference, the intention is that you’ve arrived to both learn from others, as well as to teach something of value that you know. Automatically, it creates a very different dynamic, and a different experience for all.
With TweetCamp specifically, it’s not just about the learning, and sharing, it’s also about having ‘real’ conversations, with the people you know virtually.

It’s also about having that ‘deep’ relationship, that can only come out of meeting people in person, and spending the time getting to know someone. My own life experience has taught me that no matter how much you know someone, over a phone, email, or tweet, there is just infinitely more value in a face to face, that you can’t get remotely. There’s something that happens, when we meet people and we spend time with them. It’s almost as if we get super clear on why we really connect, and trust an individual, or that we really discover they’re not who they appeared to be, to us, online. (Most times we can never truly represent the full spectrum and diversity of who we are online, so it’s only in the face to face meetings that we are able to truly ‘know’ another).

Within TweetCamp, we deliberately structure part of the day, as group discussions, because we want to encourage more reflection, and thinking, than just ‘broadcasting’, and ‘talking’. We borrow some of the principles of World Cafe, to help discover what collective wisdom we have to share, but also to stretch each individual and challenge them to listen and engage with the dialogue, and discover where that may take you.

The other element that’s incorporated into TweetCamp, is the spirit of emergent learning. There is a very clear and specific intention that TweetCamp is all about learning together, and seeing what new knowledge, or insights we might discover. But most importantly, it’s about getting back into that spirit of play, and not-knowing. If we already knew the reasons why we came to TweetCamp, there’d be nothing left to discover.

That said, if the spirit of adventure, and an enquiry into what you might learn, or who you might meet isn’t of interest to you, then definitely TweetCamp isn’t for you.. But if it is, then come along, in the spirit of playfulness exploration, and I look forward to joining with you on an adventure into uncharted waters.

Night for now.. Last sleep till #TweetCamp! God knows I need it :)

Social Media Monitoring & Marketing Conference

There’s very few good conferences I’ve been to in London, when it comes to Social Media Monitoring. One that I regularly keep an eye out for, is the conferences that Luke Brynley-Jones puts on. Primarily because of the quality of the speakers, and the diversity of perspectives that are shared throughout the day.

In the past, I’ve mainly been to conferences that have focussed on Social Media Monitoring (a key component of the Social Media Mix, especially when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of what you’ve been doing, and helping contribute toward providing an ROI on an organisations Social Media Investment).

His most recent conference, on the 19th of September, looks to be a real interesting mix, of case studies, discussions around measuring engagement, monitoring Social Media, using gaming mechanics, SEO and Social, as well as a discussion of Social Media as potentially the future for e-Commerce (you can see the full agenda here).

If you’re interested in getting a ticket, you can try your luck here, but given how packed the event gets, I wouldn’t be suprised if they’re sold out by the time you check it out.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for Peter Parkes, Head of Social Media EMEA for Expedia, who I’ve spoken with online, but never had the pleasure of meeting in person.

I also look forward to hearing from:

 

Hope to see some of you there! I’m sure if the agenda is of interest, you’ll come away from the day feeling inspired/engaged and enthused about what’s working and what’s possible with Social Media.

I’ll also do my best to capture, and share info from the day. Keep an eye on my Conference Twitter channel (@conffar) for updates throughout the day (That way my regular @farhan twitter channel won’t be flooding everyone with updates throughout the day). You can also keep an eye on #smm11 for the fuller conversation from everyone who’s attending.

Using Social Media in Times of Crises and Riots

Social Media is both the cause and the saviour.
I want to thank @codepo8, for writing up his thoughts on the power of social media, during these recent times of the london riots.

I must admit, it got me thinking. During the London Riots, I’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until Sunday, that I was even aware that something was happening. And even then, it was only because a friend in the US emailed me about them.

But then as I started watching, and reading more about it, I realised the extent of what was playing out on the streets of London. Instinctively I took to the social webs, and was sat there in the living room, watching the news on the screen, and scanning twitter and facebook, to make sense of what was happening where.

It was scary at first – the thought of it happening, in our back yard, in our neighbourhoods, in our streets, was terrifying. Living in Wimbledon I wasn’t directly exposed in any way, but at the same time, so many people I knew would be, and I was afraid for them, as much as I was for the people that were there.

Seeing direct accounts from friends, both virtual and real drove home how real this was, but also helped me to see what I could do, and how I could be involved.

To provide some context, this wasn’t the first time that I was in a city where violence and public disorder had been happening. I was in Pakistan, the night Benazir Bhutto was shot. That happened the night before we were meant to fly out of Pakistan, back to London. That night, I barely slept, if at all. There was looting on the streets, vans set aflame, the roads were full of people in rage, burning buildings, protesting, and acting violently on the streets of Islamabad. We had just a day before been near the very place where Benazir Bhutto had been shot, and the fear was palpably in the air. Petrol stations had been shut down, and the family we were staying with fortunately were able to source petrol, and cars from neighbours, to be able to drive us to the airport. We were going to get taxis, but there were no taxis on the streets that night. Everyone had been told to go home, and stay indoors, whilst the whole of Pakistan was set in chaos. Our uncle worked in the police force in Karachi, and he was as worried for our safety as we were for his. These were not pleasant times indeed. Unfortunately, back then, the only news source we had was the TV, and the reporters on the screen. I couldn’t reach out, or speak to anyone. I couldn’t know what my neighbours or the rest of my family in Pakistan was experiencing. Most importantly I couldn’t be involved in what was happening, other than as a captive victim sat at home, watching on in fear. Fortunately when we did set off to the airport in the early hours of the morning, the roads were relatively empty. We drove through traffic lights (slowly of course), but we didn’t stop, as that would open us up to being attacked, or being targetted, if there was anyone around wanting to cause trouble. The airport was surrounded with armed guards, and they were restricting people entering the airport terminal, so that only travellers and their cars could enter, keeping law and order.

Now the difference between both incidents was that with the London Riots we were able to sit online, and use social media to start mobilising cleanup crews, and groups of people came together to start putting the world back to normal.  If it had been left up to just the authorities, and the existing set of public services it may have just been too much to handle, and would have probably taken a lot longer for things to be restored to normal.

In times of crises, or difficulty, it is crucial for ‘social media’ to be open, transparent, and publicly available for people to be able to use and communicate through.  We have seen how powerful social media can be to establish responses, and also during humanitarian, or natural disasters, teams of people, and entire communities can be mobilised just to support causes, or send much needed provisions.

It should never be a question of whether we allow these Social Media channels to remain open or not – but how do we as a society provide the much needed support, and guidance to these young people who feel left out from society, feel excluded from the mainstream, or have just been unable to make a clear moral choice in the face of peer pressure, to make inappropriate decisions.  What we should be examining is not how can we stop this riot from happening.  But instead, why did it even happen in the first place?  And then, once we’ve found the structures in our society responsible for the feeling of social exclusion, and separation, we need to find constructive ways of addressing them differently.  Through better education, greater personal support, and the encouragement of individual and team contributions.

People living in an inter-connected society should never feel alone, or disconnected.  That is if we do our job right, of making sure that the technology is an enabler, and not a hindrance to the process.

We Understand Through Stories

I’ve been thinking about this one for a long time, and after much thought and deliberation, I’ve come to the conclusion that everything we ever understand has to be framed in the context of stories.

There is no real ‘knowledge’ or ‘information’ that cannot be told in the form of stories, and whilst we may learn ‘facts’, or ‘information’, it is almost always, only possible to make sense of it, in the context of having learnt something that provides a foundation upon which the story can be told.

If you think back to the teachers you enjoyed the most at school, it was almost always the teachers who did a good job of keeping your attention. Now anyone will be able to relate to speakers who are slow and boring, and monotonous, who don’t tell stories, but preach facts, and consequently lose our attention and our respect, along the way.

In contrast, the people that we all cling towards, or gather around are the ones who have great ‘stories’ to share.  They are the ones that we warm to at parties.  They are the teachers that we remember.  The one’s who gave us more ‘context’ than just the information itself.

As the mind itself, can only ‘store’ information in an ‘associative’ manner, it can only really ever build on the knowledge it has, and can never learn something completely new, unique, or different, without finding some way of making sense of it or connecting it to something that already exists in it.

Nothing is so unique, different, or special, that it can’t be explained in terms of something else.  Everything is somehow connected to something else, somewhere along the way.  So to have the greatest impact, through social media, try to make what you share, something that is either a story in and of itself, or connects with, or is a part of a story, that a person either pieces together, or weaves into an existing frame of reference, or context.

The best stories, are the ones that leave us feeling uplifted, and inspired, but in which we can find something personal to resonate with, and follow along with, and feel like that we’re ‘part’ of the story being told, as much as being the observer to another telling their story.  It’s a tough art indeed, but a necessary one, I believe, for it then enables you to artfully tie together narratives, and descriptions, into stories that connect with the individuals, not leave them watching from a far, unengaged, and with no desire to participate or interact.