(Note: This is my post from smbplans.com, where I posted it yesterday. I was asked to repost it here.)
Here’s another good question I received from my Ask-me form on my Timberry.com website:
If I’m trying to build my Twitter presence to support my [omitted] business, who should I follow? How do I find them? How to decide?
I’m happy to answer that one because I think it could be useful to a lot of people starting to look at real-world business use of Twitter. Following in Twitter is important for several reasons:
Who you follow determines what you see. Your Twitter stream is the collection of tweets from the accounts you follow.
Who you follow is who you are. Other people can see how you follow. That means they see what you like, believe in, care about, listen to, and so forth. c
Who you follow is who’s likely to follow you back. For most businesses, following is the best way to be followed. About a third of your follows will follow you back — more if your tweets are interesting, less if they aren’t.
So, with that as background, here’s who I think you should follow for your business twitter account, in order of strategy value:
Leaders. The influencers you respect, want, and need. The people, businesses, and organizations you’d like to have knowing and liking and trusting you. It’s hard to generalize so think strategically for your specific business. For example, a restaurant would want local media, local organizations, hotels, food blogs, night out blogs, restaurant guides, travel guides, reviewers, and local people who comment on restaurants and have followings. The chamber of commerce, restaurant association, chefs’ schools, local university groups might be good targets too.
Media, writers, bloggers, and experts in your field. Authors whose work you like and respect. People who you’d like to see writing about you. Our sample restaurant would look for food, dining, restaurant, travel media.
Social media stars who turn up in keyword searches. Search the web, search Twitter, using important keywords. The restaurant example might search for #dining, #gourmet, #organic, #vegetarian, #chefs, #fastfood, #slowfood, #meals, for example. And if it is located in Eugene, OR then it would search for #eugene and #oregon too. See who tweets with those hashtags. See what content they tweet. Decide whether you are compatible with them.
Local organizations, groups, and institutions. The schools, universities, community colleges, public theater, development groups.
Some general news and bloggers and information sources on idea, places, topics, and people that interest you. This is just because you want to see what they’re offering. They’re not strategic.
Friends, family, and compatible business associates.
It was more than two years ago that I first saw a business plan for a social media cleaning service, meaning a company that would clean up all those dumb and embarrassing things college kids posted on Facebook, when they wake up to the job market and the implications. (Aside: that one was done by Kai Davis, who is now doing marketing for Palo Alto Software).
My favorite comment in this context:
What part of the word publishing don’t you understand?
I’m traveling as I write this, waiting for my car to get new brakes while on a driving trip to California. While I was driving this morning I heard a major radio station commercial for a social media cleaning service. Sorry, I forget its name, I’d like to mention it.
So the contest is on: the social media scraping service, telling your next employer every dumb comment and picture you posted online; vs. the social media cleaning service, helping you get all of that off of the web.
Social media seems inherently about people, to me, not companies. It’s like a conversation, sort of, but one that has publishing mixed in, so it’s an amplified, recorded conversation. Do you agree? Isn’t this what’s happening on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn?
But there are companies there too. Do we engage in conversation with companies? Perhaps, but not in the same way. I’ve used social media methods to contact companies looking for solutions, or information. So I’m glad they’ve made themselves available to me for that. I’ve tweeted with hosting providers, airlines, and restaurants. It’s nice, but it’s not conversation. The tweet here from Infusionsoft, for example … I like the company, but is this good use of social media? I’m glad they’re there when I need them, but it’s not conversation.
I engage happily with people at companies. Shashi Bellamkonda., for example, who works with Network Solutions, or Richard Duffy, with SAP. These are people. I’ve met them on Twitter, and then in one case in person and the other by phone. This is actually social, amplified by technology. It’s cool.
I don’t care to converse with the Infusionsoft logo, or the Pillsbury Doughboy or the Michelin tire creature. But I’m glad they’re there too, when I want to communicate with them about business.
A couple of weeks ago I was in a classroom full of entrepreneurial MBA students, as a guest speaker, answering their questions about me and Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, this blog, and so forth.
When they asked me how I managed my online self in social media, my response went something like this:
I don’t do social media clutter. I think of social media as publishing and I try to offer nothing that isn’t useful to a reader. When I’m on Twitter I tweet only what interests me and might interest somebody else. I highlight blog posts I wrote and posts I read that seem worthwhile. I ask questions. I sometimes share something useful about business planning, or small business. I use TweetDeck to manage my Twitter self, and I set TweetDeck up to share that with my Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
Several of the students seemed troubled. One of them asked: “So you never post anything personal? What about who you really are?”
And I realized, with that question, that maybe I was lucky. I got into social media late in life. The topics I care about are business related, and my friends are business related. I was already a published author and business owner. I wasn’t ever tempted to post the kind of personal stuff that gets younger generations in trouble. I was always aware of it as publishing, not just gossip. Most of the students, on the other hand, started on Facebook as high-school or university students. Facebook was fun first, business, if at all, only as an afterthought, later.
So here’s my advice: your social media presence is public. It’s publishing. Never clutter it up with personal trivia, much less drinking parties, embarrassing pictures, inappropriate comments, or anything your adult self might not be proud of. Use phone, sms, and instant messages for playing around with friends. Build a social media presence you’ll be proud of when your next prospective employer, boss, or client looks into it.
Oh, and by the way: you don’t have to call it personal branding. You can just call it taking care of your reputation.
Not long ago I was driving a five-year-old grandson to kindergarten when he asked me how to make friends. That’s ironic because networking is hardly my strong suit, but he doesn’t know that. And I guess that’s what kids expect grandfathers to know, so I really wanted to help him. I tried. It sounded like a lot of clichés to me, but then I’m not five years old.
I think it’s about Empathy. That’s too big a word for a kid, so I called it feeling what the other kids feel. You have to be a friend to have a friend; the golden rule; kindness. etc. My mother would have said “put yourself in the other kid’s place.” My mother-in-law called it “see yourself through the other kids’ eyes.”
Just a few hours later, in a group of mostly-baby-boomer types drawn together by interest in entrepreneurship and possible angel investment, Twitter came up. I like it and I said so. Somebody asked me for supposed secrets of success in Twitter.
Without actually thinking of that moment with my grandson earlier that day, I gave them these five tips for success with Twitter. And as I did so, it struck me that it’s mostly the same thing: empathy.
Offer something other people want. In Twitter specifically, nobody cares what you’re watching on television or eating for lunch. It’s publishing, not babbling. Use twitter to offer people quotes, humor, ideas, and – my favorite by far – useful links they can follow up on.
When in doubt, treat others like you want them to treat you. Teasing, mocking, insulting, shouting (all caps) are not appreciated.
When you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything.
When you’re angry, wait. Breathe. Think about it before you do it. Public arguments are ugly. And (when published on Twitter, at least) they live forever. Angry words are not biodegradable.
Return favors. When somebody does you a favor, remember it, and do them a favor back. Thank you is nice but a favor in return is more effective. In twitter at least, too much thanking becomes clutter. Twitter involves a lot of passing other people’s tweets (posts) along, called re-tweeting, so when somebody likes what you’ve published (tweeted) there and passes it to others, find something of theirs to pass along (re-tweet).
The next time I was with my grandson, I gave him almost this same list, revised only slightly, for kindergarten use. And while I’d like to report that he took it to heart and he’s now the life of the proverbial kindergarten party… well, at least we’re both still trying.
I took a one-hour flight over the weekend and ended up talking to a smart business owner — she has a bakery in a small town in Oregon — who doesn’t have any Web presence.
What’s really cool is that her business, as she described it, is doing just fine. She makes a good living, it’s in a small town she loves, she knows all of her customers, and she enjoys her days. She loves the actual work. She enjoys the baking and she enjoys the interaction in the shop.
She is online, but in her own way. She has personal email and uses it often to keep in touch with grown children and grandchildren.
So, what do you think? Does she need to start a blog? Should she be announcing daily specials on Twitter? Should she have a Facebook account? Should she be apologizing to me (sort of) as we talk on the plane because she doesn’t do any of that stuff?
I don’t think so.
Sure, I do see that the online world provides a great leveler, a wonderful opportunity for even the smallest business to share and validate expertise and build a reputation. I’ve known some and read about many businesses that do very well in online reputation and social media. Still, let’s not assume that everybody has to follow the same path. Are there additional opportunities for my bakery friend? Sure. Is she crazy to just do what she’s doing? What do you think?
I overheard (couldn’t help it; waiting in line) somebody complaining about social media metrics like the Klout score, a measurement of influence. She said: “What’s up with these people to try to judge and rank people?”
And I thought to myself:
1. You are always being judged and evaluated…
A couple of generations ago we were all judged on appearance, dress, diction, actual resume stuff, and perceived resume stuff. We went from being tracked through dumb class to smart class beginning in first grade through the whole high-school thing with grades and SAT scores, dating and coolness assumptions, athletics, accerated classes, or not. And then there was which college, which degrees, and, finally, for some of us, which grad degrees. And did we marry or not, and if so, kids or not. And then where we lived, what car we drove.
People have been sorting and selecting and evaluating and judging other people for thousands of years. There is nothing new about that.
2. At least it’s objective…
So now it’s almost 2011 and we’re all doing it as much as we ever did. I don’t deny it. I google you if I’m going to meet you, check out your blog if you have one, your website if you have one, look at the “about” page to see what you think is important about yourself, see who you think you are. Don’t you?
So what’s so bad about a ranking system for Twitter and Facebook based on some algorithms, measuring how your self-published items flow to the rest of the world?
(Disclosure: one of my daughters works with klout.com)
This is so cool. I’m really jealous. As he finishes up his next book, Jonathan Fields turns to the web and his so-called tribe for help with the book title. In Help Me Choose The Title Of My Next Book, he put a poll onto his blog and promoted in there and in Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Why am I jealous? Because I didn’t think of something like this for any of my books. What a great idea.
Choosing a book title is hell. It’s really hard to do, critical to the content, and critical to sales and success. Could there possibly be a better way? Much as I complain about dumb polls and over-researched decisions, this is a great use of so-called crowd sourcing.
In my defense, it’s easier now than in 2008 when my most recent two were published. But Twitter had already started, and this blog was already here, and so was my other blog Up and Running, on entrepreneur.com. I could have done it. And I don’t want to sound ungrateful for how much help I got from Jere Calmes and the team at Entrepreneur Press, but still … damn!
Whatever the eventual title, I expect Jonathan’s upcoming book to be really good. When he interviewed me for it maybe a year ago, he was talking to a lot of people and asking some very important questions. He went into deep core issues about entrepreneurship and creativity, like dealing with fear, finding time for silence, and balancing needs and wants. That interview left me thinking about related issues long after. I’m really looking forward to reading the book that comes out of that.