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Cultivating thought leaders

February 19, 2014

Just ran across an interview that really resonated with me. First, in the interest of full disclosure, because I worked with both Laura Mackey (the interviewee) and Michael Procopio (one of the interviewers) in my previous role as an influencer outreach manager. Second, because in my new role as communications manager for an IT services company, thought leadership (and how to create thought leaders) is an important strategic topic for me. Laura talks about several elements of her programs, including measurement, listening tools, and both online and offline tactics. A few things stood out for me:

  • Qualities of a thought leader: They’re reputable, influential, and recognized as an expert. I absolutely agree with Laura that not everyone is cut out to be a thought leader. Or maybe it’s more that I would rather expend my organization’s efforts on cultivating an existing potential rather than forcing the role on someone who demonstrates neither natural affinity nor interest.
  • Engagement as an element of influence: Having a ton of followers isn’t the only thing that dictates influence for Laura’s team. How the person uses that influence and engages with their audience is also important. So a person with 40,000 followers who only broadcasts their content may not be as interesting as someone with 10,000 followers who routinely has genuine conversations with their audience.
  • Writing as part of the exercise: Laura asks her thought leaders to personally write down what they want to talk about. She sees that as an important part of the exercise. This act of putting their thoughts into their own words helps build and flex their expertise. AND, if he’s written it, he’s much more likely to remember it. I think that’s an interesting approach. But, as with anything in your marketing toolkit, one size doesn’t fit all.

As always, I appreciate the focus on authenticity. Nothing bugs me more as a marketer or consumer than “ghost” personalities.

Watch the whole interview here:

Review: Social State by Esteban Contreras

January 20, 2013

I’ve had the pleasure of following Esteban Contreras since his early days as host of the Social Nerdia podcast and blog. In fact, he hosted me as an interviewee back in 2009. When he announced he was writing a book on the state of social media, I was eager to get a copy. I’ve long identified with his point of view because all those years ago when we first met, we were both struggling through many of the same challenges and opportunities in companies that were just beginning to embrace social media as a marketing tactic.

The past few years have seen enormous shifts in not just the technology of media, but also the culture and psychology of social media, as well. It’s extremely difficult to keep up with it all, but Esteban has managed to do just that. In short, I wish I had something like his book, Social State, four years ago when my team was building a B2B social marketing program from the ground up. I would’ve given each of my stakeholders a copy of this book as a comprehensive introduction to what social media is and why it’s become the phenomenon that it is.

What is it about Social State that is so important for marketing stakeholders?  Without question, even after five years as a solid marketing tactic, companies are still struggling to balance the need for immediate bottom-line ROI with the benefit of longer-term customer relationship returns. I’ve seen countless fabulous social marketing programs slashed to pieces because stakeholders preferred to rely on “traditional” tactics that yield short-term but immediate results.

It’s a lot easier in most businesses to claim immediate success, however fleeting, than to urge patience for success that lies down the road. Often, this expediency is not purely a numbers game—I’m convinced that if stakeholders truly understood the dynamics of social media and its culture, they would be more likely to embrace it to its full potential. That’s the key value of this book.

Social State is not a step-by-step roadmap for launching campaigns and programs, so don’t expect to get guidance on crafting or executing a marketing program. Rather, it’s an artfully painted landscape of possibilities and lessons. The author discusses the ins and outs of the major social platforms, but also offers insights on the qualities that makes those platforms so powerful. Then he speculates, with input from industry colleagues, where this social journey will take us next. Whether you’re a social media newbie or veteran, you will find gems in this book.

BlogDash review update: search is available

June 18, 2012
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If you read my first take on BlogDash, you’ll know I wasn’t really enthusiastic about it. One reason was that the database categories don’t yet cover my space (IT-related products and solutions). For that reason, I was dismayed that there wasn’t a keyword search functionality. As I thought about it more I figured that was too odd to be the case, so I contacted BlogDash through their contact form. Glad I did! Turns out the search field for “Blogger Name” can be used for keyword searches.

I ran a few searches on terms like virtualization, blades, and cloud. As you’d expect with such broad terms the results aren’t always relevant, but it certainly did help narrow down the roster quite a bit. So that’s one item that can be scratched from the “cons” column.

More to come on other functionality.

Blogdash review: I hoped for more

June 15, 2012

Having managed high-tech B2B blogger outreach programs for over three years now, I’m always excited to hear about new tools to make outreach easier and more effective. So when a colleague mentioned BlogDash, I dropped what I was doing and headed to the site to check it out. Unfortunately, what initially seemed a promising concept and tool has fallen short for me.

Pros

  • Laudable concept: If there’s one thing experience has taught me, it’s that traditional press and bloggers are different. A successful engagement requires a different approach than the good ole days of traditional PR. For anyone serious about conducting blogger outreach this is no surprise. Still, I hear and read regularly about outreach missteps because that simple reality escapes a brand or agency. In their videos for businesses, they stress that crafting a relevant pitch is important (yes!) and that engaging prior to outreach is important (yes!). There’s a “but” here, see the Cons section.
  • Easy to use interface: The tabs, form fields, and search filters are well laid out and aesthetically pleasing. The three-step engagement (Find, Engage, Pitch) structure is obvious and easy to navigate.
  • Multiple filters: When you’re searching for bloggers to engage, you can filter by category and subcategory, influence rankings, gender, presence of children, location, language, most likely smartphone users, and interests and behaviors.
  • Multiple ranking systems: Instead of relying on a single ranking system, you can filter by Scribnia rating, Google PageRank, and Klout scores. I don’t think it’s a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, so I appreciate the ability to view a candidate blogger’s standing in different contexts.

Cons

  • Pitch focus: This is the “but” from above. Even with the company’s stated purpose to engage with bloggers in the right way, there’s so much typical PR lingo and focus that it turns me off a bit. “Pitch” is so over- and misused that it’s a four-letter word in my book. The FAQs and demo video examples are all about selling your product. Depending on your business and standing in the community, you may undermine your outreach with selling as your primary purpose. Sure, they tell you to engage before pitching but the tool, in a functional sense, just seems to gloss over that step. An emotional reaction, perhaps.
  • No search function: I work with bloggers who write about IT (cloud, infrastructure, data center management, security, storage, etc.). There is no corresponding category and subcategory on BlogDash, so my first user instinct is to search. But I can’t. Argh. A keyword search would make this SO much more useful.
  • Limited topic coverage for my space: The current database seems to center around consumer, social, and lifestyle blogs, so my focus on B2B high-tech targets are largely missing (or unfound due to lack of search function).
  • No help or support links: There’s a FAQ and a Contact Us link, but no help. No user community. It’s a relatively new platform still, so this isn’t terribly surprising. Still, when I encountered the cons mentioned previously, I wished I had Help or community to read through just to make sure I’m not missing something.
  • Account structure: Call me crazy, but I intensely dislike this whole “freemium” concept. Any company that expects me to tweet or post to Facebook in order to access it for the first time is asking me to essentially endorse something I’ve never even seen. That’s seriously annoying. It wouldn’t have been so annoying if I could actually change the text of their tweets, but their form would undo any changes I made. Since I really wanted to interact with the tool I went ahead and sent their tweet (and it’s still rankling me a bit). I would’ve opted for a paid trial, instead, but their $20 monthly fee is billed annually. Since I’m paying out of my own pocket, and I don’t have a Help or Community to visit for more details, but I want to give it a shot, a $240 investment just ain’t gonna happen.

Recommendations

  • If you’re thinking about engaging with bloggers, focus on building a relationship before you pitch anything. That said,
  • If you’re looking for B2B or high-tech targets, I don’t think BlogDash is ready for you (yet, I hope).
  • If you need a relatively affordable solution to help you begin your outreach, especially in a consumer or lifestyle context, BlogDash could be helpful to you.

Bottom line

Until a few things, namely depth of the database and search functionality, are addressed, I’m not recommending BlogDash for my fellow B2B marketers.

Excel worksheet for HootSuite bulk upload

July 2, 2011
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I had a long list of blog posts that I wanted to post to Twitter. I’m talkin’ more than 140-links-long, so not something I wanted to post and/or schedule individually. I created an Excel worksheet that would help me automate some of the tasks involved in creating a bulk upload CSV for HootSuite. In January, I posted some hard-won tips hoping to help others using the HootSuite bulk scheduler. Today’s post uses some of those lessons and, I hope, provides a few more.

Planning the worksheet

A coworker provided me with a basic Excel spreadsheet listing the post titles (with embedded URLs) and blogger name. To craft the Twitter updates, I decided I needed several elements: topic, post author & blog, post title, and post link. As part of my regular Twitter regiment for this account, I use the event’s hashtag and categorize almost all tweets with a topic notated by brackets. For example, “[Registration] #HPDiscover registration is now open http://www.url.com.”; For the purposes of this content, I decided to combine the hashtag and topic by using “[#HPDiscover Coverage]“.

Constructing the worksheet

I decided that I needed a spreadsheet that would allow me to combine several columns into a final tweet that matches the HootSuite bulk upload template. I started with a spreadsheet with the following columns: date, time, topic, author, post title, and URL. But to reach that ultimate goal of matching the HootSuite template (which requires only time stamp, tweet content, and URL), I needed to concatenate some of that content to build the final tweet. I added several more columns: time stamp, final tweet content, and character count. To help me visualize how each element would combine, I color-coded the columns that would build the final tweet to make the final copy/paste simpler. You can see in this screen shot what my columns look like:

The red columns are the ones that I will keep as the final text for the scheduler upload. Here’s a rundown on each column and its formatting:

  • Date: manually entered date following the HootSuite requirement of DD/MM/YYYY.
  • Time: manually entered times following the HootSuite requirement of HH:MM (remember to use the 24 hour, or military, time format!).
  • Date stamp: combines Date and Time columns into one. The Excel formula I used was:
=A2&" "&B2
  • Topic: the text I decided to use was [#HPDiscover Coverage].
  • Author: Twitter ID (since we are using Twitter, after all) and blog name for author. For this column, I created a list that included each blogger’s Twitter ID and the name of their blog. With over 140 entries, I hoped being able to select the blogger’s name from a list would save some time and effort (as well as eliminate typos). To do this, I created an additional worksheet in the Excel file, then used the Data Validation feature to create a dropdown list that displays whenever I select a cell in the column.
  • Title: the same text the blogger used to title their post.
  • Final Text: uses the Excel concatenation formula to combine Topic, Author, and Title into the final tweet. Since my Author column lists the Twitter ID, and you can’t begin an Excel cell with the @ symbol without confusing the auto-formula feature, I used this to add the @ symbol so my final tweet would generate a mention for the blogger. Here’s what this cell’s formula looks like:
=D2&" @"&E2&": "&F2
  • Char count: uses an Excel formula to display the character count of the final tweet. I added this to help avoid troubleshooting the upload in HootSuite later. You’ll also see a red-shaded cell in the Char count column in the above screen shot: I used Excel’s conditional formatting feature to flag tweets that would likely be too long. That way I know immediately if I need to make manual adjustments to how the final tweet builds based on the previous columns’ inputs. I flagged counts over 110—allowing 18 characters for the shortened URL, plus a few pad characters to make retweets easier. I found instructions for the conditional formatting on this web page. The character count formula is simple:
=LEN(G2)
  • URL: no special formula, just the long URL that HootSuite will automatically shorten for me.

Completing the CSV upload

  1. Create a new Excel file.
  2. Select entire worksheet and set cell format to Text.
    This is important! Doing this prevents Excel from applying any autoformatting to the time stamp, which would seriously confuse HootSuite.
  3. Copy the entire original worksheet, then paste the values into this new Excel file.
    This is easy to do: select Paste Special and Values as the option. This is important! You don’t want any formulas or formatting to stick around or HootSuite will get confused.
  4. Delete the columns you don’t need for the final CSV upload.
    In this case, I deleted Date, Time, Topic, Author, Title, and Char count. That leaves Time Stamp, Final Text, and URL—again, these are the only columns that the HootSuite uploader understands.
  5. Delete the header row.
    This is important! HootSuite won’t recognize the header row.
  6. Create separate worksheets if you have more than 50 rows.
    This is important! HootSuite uploader only allows 50 items to be scheduled at once. Save each spreadsheet as a separate CSV file and upload them each.
  7. Save as CSV.

If you’ve followed these steps, especially the ones with bold red warnings, you should be all set.

Some additional tips

  • Check your Publisher after every upload attempt. When I tried uploading my CSV files from this worksheet tonight, the HootSuite servers were acting up. I kept getting 500 errors (internal server errors), so I’d try to upload again. Unbeknownst to me, some of the items scheduled each time I attempted an upload. Instead of recognizing those repeated uploads as a conflict, HootSuite appeared to just barrel through and schedule them anyway. Even though it appeared from the uploader that nothing had been accepted.
  • Choose your times wisely.  There are several tools that will analyze your Twitter stream and determine when you receive the most retweets. Ostensibly, this tells you the best time to post your content. I chose to use TweetWhen, a service provided by HubSpot. TweetWhen was produced in conjunction with the Science of Timing research done by Dan Zarrella. If you haven’t seen his research, you should!
  • Add a Calendar Control for even easier date selection. This only works on Windows, so I didn’t bother to include it in my file. But it would add an elegant means of selecting your dates. :) You’d need to ensure your Developer toolbar is activated, then follow these Calendar Control instructions.

Please let me know if any of this was confusing—I’ll try to answer questions or fix any broken instructions. Would it be helpful if I uploaded my Excel file for you to download?

Update: 5 July

I get intermittent Internal Server errors using my CSV file that I generate in this manner. HootSuite support gives me what by now seems to be their automated response: “it means that the .csv you are using isn’t encoded properly. It needs to be saved in UTF-8 encoding. We recommend using a basic text editor like TextEdit or Notepad to save your file. This will also better allow you to check the formatting of your document.” Well, sorry, I still say boo to that. If I wanted to spend my day editing documents in Text Edit or Notepad, I probably wouldn’t be so keen on batch uploading—that’s trading one crappy user experience for another, IMHO.

SO! I discovered that I can use my process outlined above on Windows with Office 2007 without error. However, when I attempt it on Mac with Office:mac 2011 I get the server errors. What makes me not buy into the standard HootSuite support response is that when I encounter the server errors, some of my updates post but some don’t. If it was as simple as a file encoding error, you’d think the whole thing would fail. I’m stumped.

Create your About.me profile

June 27, 2011
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I recently discovered About.me, a service that allows you to create a customized profile showcasing your online presence. The site offers a surprising level of customization options so you can truly make your profile your own. It’s pretty cool! I have to admit,though, that I wasn’t feeling quite up to the task of creating a kickass profile. So I cruised through their random profiles link for a couple of hours to see how people use About.me. It’s addictive! I hope you find these profiles as inspiring as I did—each one has an element that I think is worth emulating. Now I just gotta find time to bling out my profile!

  • Leonardo Teleanu: Freelancer – Logo & Brand Identity Designer — So far I think it’s my favorite profile. The design is so perfect for a brand identity designer.
  • Gavin Weeks: Entrepreneur • Creative Virtuoso • TW Steel Enthusiast — Weeks’ profile was the first (and only in my surfing so far) to make use of basic HTML within the description.
  • Ryan Deeds: Technology Leveraged Humanist — I love the photo in this profile with the “who are you?” question. It reaches out and grabs you. And it’s a great visual message of Deeds’ professional ethos.
  • Julie Hunter: atlanta based portraiture photographer — The simplicity of this profile is great. Personally, I’m drawn to the short, active phrases (perhaps that’s my “simpler is always better” tech writing background). And rather than being a passive bio, Hunter invites your engagement with the “Let’s chat” entry.
  • James Buckhouse — Buckhouse’s profile is a story, and the text and the photo tell the same story. Consistency is just as powerful as a superhero.
  • John Valentine: Startup Guy — Valentine’s personality, as an individual and a professional, shines through his photo and bio.
  • Ofir Cohen: 3D Artist ,Graphic Designer , Cookie Lover — Another simple yet striking profile.
Sign up for your own About.me profile here.

Simple tips for building a B2B Twitter following

June 21, 2011

I’ve managed a company event Twitter account for a little over two years, covering three dates for that event (2009, 2010, and 2011). 2009 was the first year we had a cohesive plan to utilize social networking accounts for the event, so 2009 was our start year. For the 2010 year, we built a larger Facebook following and topped 1000 followers on Twitter. In the 2011 event season, I and my extended team made some changes to our processes and approach to see what would happen. I’ll admit I’ve watched with a bit of surprise as our social footprint exploded. Here are a few of the things we did differently:

  • Put the face behind the brand: The first change I made was shifting the point of view of the content. It was then I noticed the first uptick in engagement on our Twitter account (which spurred me to experiment with the other changes that follow). I added my name to the bio, shifted from “we” to “I” when it made sense, and tried to keep my individual voice as much as possible.
  • Don’t follow everyone who follows you: I chose to be choosy on follow-backs. My audience was IT professionals, hardware and software managers, and tech industry followers. Real estate agents, performers, students, and especially spammers aren’t part of my audience, so I have no desire to project them onto my followers in any way. I drew more lines in the sand about who I followed. I did not follow back if the user protected their tweets, had not updated their avatar, or didn’t have an obvious connection to the industry (as shown in their bio or timeline). Invaluable tool for the job: Friend or Follow to easily find who you might need to follow
  • Be judicious in volume: In most cases, I tried to keep the account posts down to a manageable frequency. Of course that spiked during the event, but even though that during-event spike seems obvious and expected, that’s when the account lost the most followers. So for my audience, at least, 2-3 times daily seems to be the sweet spot. Invaluable tool for the job: Qwitter to monitor the rate of followers who leave you
  • Recognize your followers: Reply to everything that’s not just a rhetorical question (and even some of those) or that you can reasonably address. As you can imagine, even though I was working on an enterprise event, I got a lot of tweets about laptops and printers. Not my purview but I still tried to make sure they were pointed in the right direction. Thank retweets and mentions with a shout-out or Follow Friday. I also made sure that if I was out of the office, I had a backup in place who could do this for me. Invaluable tool for the job: Saved search in your tool of choice (search mentions and hashtags) and paper.li
Any tips from your experience?
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