Keep Twitter Weird

Twitter is the best open social media network there is. Unlike Facebook – which openly states that they control your newsfeed – the basic idea of Twitter is that you follow and find the news, content, and people you want to see. That’s changing – partly because Twitter is a chaotic mess – and partly because it’s easier to consume “channels” of pre-packaged content rather than to find the curated ideas or hashtags that make Twitter great.

Twitter is weird. It is a place where you can find almost any interest represented. Twitter contains bots, it contains parody accounts, weather forecasters, pundits, celebrities, and regular people. And for the most part they all use Twitter in similar fashion – because they have to. Limiting posts to 140 characters remains a brilliant idea because it forces people to be creative and focused. Recent ways that people have changed the form of Twitter have been to use photos to increase the visibility of tweets and to use longer form “Tweetstorms” to express their ideas, stringing together 140-character ideas into longer proto-essays.

Twitter is also free. The combination of free and weird is not likely to produce the predictable revenue stream justifying billions of dollars of valuation. (Although you might look at some of the political movements that have expressed themselves on Twitter and rightfully conclude that there is a billions of dollars of societal motivation happening on Twitter, and that it’s just not monetizable yet.) So what would help Twitter to make money while keeping the service quirky and weird?

In the spirit of a Tweetstorm (where this idea started), here are a few ideas that might help to keep Twitter more open and less like the Walled Garden of Facebook.

1/ #KeepTwitterOpen by reminding #Twitter that in-stream purchase ads > controlling tweets that we see

One of the best ways to #KeepTwitterOpen is to remind Twitter that most people would prefer to be able to buy things from Twitter advertisers to pay for things rather than having the timeline that we either meticulously (or not so carefully) created get selected for us. It’s neat to have an area called “Trending” because that’s a way for people to learn about unexpected things. It’s not so neat to have promoted Tweets for things you don’t care about show up in your tweetstream.

If I follow a brand, I might want to buy things from them right from Twitter. And if there’s another brand out there who would like to engage with me, I’d rather that they start a conversation with an @ reply rather than serving me a promoted tweet or an ad.

2/ #KeepTwitterOpen by creating paid/advertorial curated streams (the Best of Twitter)

It would be nice if Twitter lists worked well. They’re a pain to read and to use unless you use a client that specifically makes this easy. I for one would rather have “advertorial” curated streams – something akin to a sponsored list – to show the best items on a topic. What, you say? #Hashtags are the way to do this – they are organic expressions of people’s tweets on the same topic. And hashtags sometimes also get spammed – it’s hard to know what you’re reading and whether someone is an active participant or just a troll.

Curated streams on a topic or an event are the future of social media – Twitter should figure out how to do this well and then charge a small event fee or a monthly subscription for the “best of” feed.

3/ #KeepTwitterOpen by creating reports on the way people use Twitter and selling those

Analytics are cool. Learning more about the way that people use social media is really compelling. If Twitter isn’t already creating specialized reports for individuals and companies based on the way that people use the service, they are missing out. These reports would be most useful when categorized by “People Like You” or “People in Your City” and would be less interesting to find out “things your friends favorited” since you might already be seeing this sort of content anyway.

4/ #keepTwitterOpen by reminding networks and publishers that many people voluntarily spend time on this network

Twitter has great engagement from the people who use it. Publishers who try to tell Twitter “what to be” and make “experiences” using the network are missing the point that social networks are … well … social. They consist of conversations with people and brands using this unusual format. Twitter has a private and public conversations happening at the same time. It has Tweets and SubTweets. And Twitter is confusing and wonderful and horrible and great. It’s a picture of human nature. Please keep Twitter weird.

Whodunnit? A Customer Service Detective Story

(Lego Minifigs of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson courtesy of
(Lego Minifigs of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson courtesy of

Once upon a time, you had a problem with customer service and you mentioned the problem to your server, the front desk, or the person who interacted with you directly. You may have also called a toll-free number or a front office to tell them about your experience, only to find that no one remembered your call or logged it anywhere. If you solved your problem, you often did it by personal persuasion or by forcing the representative to follow a policy that was written on a wall or documented somewhere.

In the present, when you have a problem with customer service, you likely call the front desk, email the company, or call the toll-free number, and the person on the other end of the line knows that you called, logs it for their supervisor, and is able to do … very little. You might get them to answer your question. You might get them to do what you want, but it’s very hard to convince them what happen, to get something substantive to change, or to publicly acknowledge that they are changing their process to treat customers better.

In the near future (or for some the present), you Tweet at the company or complain in social media to make a point because it forces the company to acknowledge you and to at least say “We Got This.” Many times the individuals manning the social media communications channel can and do more than the people you talk to on the phone. And when you call in the representative knows you contacted the company online and can tell you what you did, what happened, what are the options for you to process, and how they can help you.

Now, imagine a future state where you will call or contact the company, they know that you contacted them, and they make it very clear to you what the steps are in the processwhat’s next, how to get there and when it will happen. If this dialog happened before you even knew there was a problem, you might really consider this “Wow” customer service.

What could we do with today’s tools and services to get closer to that state?

Step 1: The customer starts a conversation with the company and it moves into another channel like email.

There is a gap in today’s customer service process where the customer doesn’t know what was done to solve the problem, the company doesn’t have easy access to the transcript of the customer’s opinions and actions, and there are no clear next steps. Logging and categorizing the inbound contacts is “table stakes” for baseline customer success – there really needs to be a next step to understand the actions of a likely happy or sad or indifferent customer.

In a world where all of the customer’s interactions are treated similarly – as inbound communication – it will be easier for companies to know about the breadth of the customer’s experience across channels. Yet it places more pressure on the company to behave transparently (or at least, consistently) in public and private communications to the customer.

Step 2: there is a gap where the customer doesn’t know what is done to solve the problem.

It would be nice if simply saying “We Got This” was necessary and sufficient to solve the customer’s issue. The reality of many customer problems is that they are complex, nuanced, and not always easy to solve. When they are easy to solve and easy for the customer to know that they are solved, simply communicating the steps to resolve, the result, and the change in process may be enough. But many customer problems need first to be triaged, acknowledged, and dealt with before any root cause analysis is complete.

Step 3: companies cannot always share how they solved the problem in a transparent way to the customer.

There are many good reasons why you cannot always share all of the details of how a problem was solved. The customer only cares whether the problem was solved or not, and how they felt about the whole process. Making the problem solving process as transparent as possible is the best way to make the customer feel better. After a mistake, restore trust for the customer and make it “one in a row” for the customer by telling them exactly what’s going to happen for them and when and make sure it happens.

Step N: Take what you learn and make it better

When customers are upset, they are telling you important things about your business.You learn more from an upset customer than you do from a neutral customer, so take those messages to heart and do something about it. Customer feedback is the best way to solve your customer service mysteries and turn them into solutions.

Short Messages About Breakfast Can Change the World

My first Tweet was a lot like yours: lame. At the time I wasn’t sure what to expect from a service that shared short 140 character bursts about nothing. It seemed mostly like an echo chamber – where you test what might happen if you respond into the void and hear an echo. And for a long time it was an echo.

And then a strange thing happened. As I got into the habit of sharing information in the form of links or ideas that I found interesting, I met people who were like-minded. I found people I had never met before who read my blog posts. And I started searching on Twitter to see what I could find.

I found short messages and pictures of people’s breakfast, of course. I found memes and bots and messages that didn’t really make sense. And then I found real time news, ideas and amazing stories. There were first-person stories about earthquakes. There were impassioned pleas for attention to far flung corners of the world. There were news stories before they were reported on the news. And there were news stories never reported on the news.

The point is that Twitter felt like a new thing – a combination of CB Radio, Community Bulletin Board, conversation and chaos all at the same time. It was a new form of (relatively) unmediated conversation and opened up the world in a way that other walled garden networks (AOL, Facebook, Google) hadn’t done. Twitter’s become a little more grown up in the last year or two and feels more like a media network than it did a few years ago, but it’s still really interesting because you can use its filters to create your own channels for news.

It’s a challenge for a network built on decentralized messages to stay relevant to a large number of customers and to expand its purview beyond individual conversations. Twitter feels like it might get there. I still love seeing pictures of people’s daily experiences published to the web in real time and the snowball effect when people share a meme.

As a community manager, how should you be using Twitter?
photo by

Imagine you are a community manager and today is your first day promoting the brand. How should you use Twitter? You might be overwhelmed with the river of information and wonder what are the “right” answers to questions like these:

  • How often should you tweet? And should you retweet?
  • How do you decide to follow people on Twitter? And should you unfollow?
  • Should you care about your follower to following ratio?
  • Will people share and discuss your content?

The Best Twitter Strategy (doesn’t exist)

I think the best Twitter strategy (and really, the best content strategy overall) for a community uses metrics like these and doesn’t live by them either. It’s important to measure your activity, and you should explain why you are participating in a channel.

Here are three core beliefs I think are important to build community on any channel:

  1. That you should share relevant, interesting content with your community and your industry;
  2. That the best content is sharable by nature because it teaches and informs;
  3. And that you build an ongoing community by writing and sharing that content.

Community=Actions + Beliefs

You can’t build a community on beliefs alone, so here are some tactics that are useful to consider when you are engaging on Twitter and elsewhere. The act of engaging in conversation means that you should do more than just share your own posts or your own news. You should ask questions. You should always respond to conversations, even when they feel difficult to start or to continue. And you should understand that Twitter is a fluid, changing medium.

The “rules” for engagement are changing constantly as well. Here are some ideas to consider to help you build the kind of community you want. Post as much as you want to – and understand that this may drive some people away. Follow as much as you want to do – and understand that the dynamics of Twitter favor a high follower to following ratio. For your next 10 posts, tweet 1 about yourself, 2 about your firm, 4 about your industry, and 1 just for fun.

Be A Human.

When you reinforce your brand message in the style and tone of the communication channel, people come back. And they talk to you. You should talk back to them and engage in real conversation.

So are all of those metrics up top important? Yes, and they are not the only thing you should consider. You should build real relationships offline with people whom you meet online when you building a community on Twitter or elsewhere. That interaction at a conference or an event brings a community to life. In the meantime, share great content and make sure you talk to the people around you (offline and online.)

Why Vine and Other Short-Form Video is Important

Redvines Punning with Vine - a New Form of Ad?
Redvines Punning with Vine – a New Form of Ad?

Video is not just for Cats

When Twitter announced the Vine product that allows you to share 6 second videos with friends, you may have thought as I did that the whole genre of app development was getting a little too specific. “Why would anyone want to share a short video with friends?” was admittedly my first thought, and oh was I wrong. In the last week I have seen some amazing content on Vine that included: a stop-action movie of a “magic 6 ball,” a visual postcard from India, and some other very clever uses of video that caught my attention, made me think about short video as an art form, and challenged me to reassess my original ideas about Vine.

Why does Video Matter?

Short-form video is important because

  • The sound and movement gets your attention
  • It doesn’t take long to download
  • It can be personal, broadcast, or just something entirely new (a serial told in 6 second chapters?)

The first reason short-form video is vitally important (especially in this format) is that Vine was designed from the beginning to be social and mobile. Video is inherently interruptive in nature — both in the combined use of audio and video that commands your view — and the visual dopamine hit you can get from seeing something novel and interesting (and no, not talking about Vine’s porn problem here, as I think that will fade in view over time) is fulfilled very very quickly by Vine. The fact that you can fill a few seconds of your time with interesting content is a great sign for Vine.

We Communicate Visually

Short-form video is also important because it’s an evolution in the way that we communicate with each other (both on a one to one and on a multicast basis.) Because Vine is owned by Twitter, it’s reasonable to assume that the Vine features will percolate into Twitter over time, and the idea of making both a video for an individual person or for an audience will develop. My first impressions of this medium are that it’s compelling because it’s novel and also because it’s not too much work to discover some amazing, creative work.

Where will short-form video go from here? We’re in the early days, and short-term video seems well suited to survive (and thrive) as a third screen. If the tablet is the de facto second screen to the computer or Television, then the mobile-only video will have a place as well. I’m looking forward to seeing visual content that moves back and forth across these different visual modalities like a gigantic visual treasure hunt. And Vine would be a great way (if you could geofence it) to provide visual clues to a scavenger that only pop up when you’re within 50 meters of the target. The possibilities are intriguing, particularly for brands that want customers to engage via mobile.

What’s Next for Short-form Video?

Short-form video is here to stay, and Vine is an interesting first step in moving the animated gif into the mobile age. Because of the distribution that already exists in the Twitter ecosystem, I’m certain that Sponsored Vines are only a few clicks away – and by the way Twitter, if you can target these ads to me based on the people or brands with which I follow and engage, that will make those Vines more interesting to watch. You can find me on Vine – I’d love to see what you’re doing there – and in the absence of profile pages, watch this 6 second video of my dog

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