Thursday, January 26, 2012

Vend Locally, Speak Globally

I can remember how in 1997 when I talked to small local business owners about the excitement of the Internet and what it would make available to them, many of them told me, "I don't need people all over the world to know about my business, my marketplace is right here in this town."

Today if your business does not have a web site however, it's like not having a business phone number. (In fact, even if your business has not yet opened its doors and doesn't actually have a phone number - you still need a web site in place for many purposes.)

The conversation today is very different. I talk to business owners about how they can use a social media strategy and they say something that sounds a lot like what they said in 1997. They ask me if it matters to their bottom line that Twitter readers in New York City can read about their local flower shop or restaurant.

This article makes a great case for how it DOES matter. (Why Online Reputation Matters - Small Business Trends, Jan 2012)

Here's what I have to add in the way of a cautionary tale.

A certain business with prominent success in the Southeast US recently leaned hard on a small business owner who makes t-shirts in his garage. (They may have believed that they had to do this in order to protect their trademarks.) The business owner struck back by mobilizing a veritable army of fans and friends of friends to expose the bullying. He used Facebook, YouTube, and a network of cost conscious blogger moms to spread the word.

Even when the outrage belonged to someone in a distant geographical region (like California or Colorado) where the prominent brand had no business -- the reach of these social media participants did bring the message back into the core markets for the brand.

The t-shirt guy is doing very well, thank you so much. The impact of the boycotts and bad publicity for the larger brand is difficult to measure given that it's a family owned company without a requirement to expose its sales figures.

I can attest that others have told me that they like the larger brand's products, but they will not be purchasing them any more.  Guess the family that owns the company will have to just Eat More Kale.

For you as a business owner, this should serve as an indicator that if you don't use today's tools strategically to manage your brand's reputation, someone else will be doing it for you.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Truly a Twit? I don't think so!

Occasionally as I follow new people on Twitter, I get an automated response from them that goes something like this:

"Thanks 4 the follow! Please prove U R not a Bot & validate..."

The first part is good, although I've learned that adept users of the English language can still use complete sentences and words on Twitter, even with the 140 character limit. It's merely a matter of efficiency with language.

The second part is a little startling and mildly insulting.

You see, if I've followed you on Twitter, it is a sign that I respect what you have to say to allow your thoughts into my news timeline.  So asking me to prove something is a bit rude.

On top of that however, the link that is supplied leads to a service called "TrueTwit Validation System" that promises to instantly give you 10,000 followers. Without even having to register for their service (which IS a required step to be "validated") I can tell that this is...

Hogwash!

The principles of effective social media participation have to do with engagement, with participation, and with value provided in the network through contribution, mentions, re-sharing, and feedback. None of that results in the instant assignment of 10,000 followers.

I don't drop people I follow when I get this message, but when I'm in the mood, I do call them out with a mention.

If you don't use the service, I recommend not using it. If you do already use the service, I strongly recommend turning off the Auto Follow message.  I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who's startled and alienated by it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Month Over 50

Klout Scores and The Red Queen's Race

I don't know what caused me to check into it, but sometime back I fired up an account at Klout to see what my social media reach looks like.

I mean who would ignore a round of calls to potential allies and colleagues about business when there's a new way to examine graphs about frequency and impact of our thoughts shared online?

Okay, well here's the point.  Klout allows you to aggregate statistics on activity related to your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Tumblr, and a variety of other social media platforms. It determines a composite score based upon the size of your network, the number of people who respond and interact with your supplied content, and other factors that illustrate the reach.

The gold standard for a Klout score is 50 or better.  If you can manage to arrange your network so that it reaches that peak, you have achieved the equivalent of a .290 batting average in baseball. (For those of you who don't follow the game, .290 is performance in the highly acceptable range.)

I did manage to crest past 50 about a month ago and although I suspected a tweak to the Klout scoring algorithm, I still discovered that I was very pleased with myself, especially when I checked to see where others in my peer group were rated.

But then the Red Queen's Race began.  After a couple of days of rising score, I saw mine begin to fall incrementally each day.  If I made it a point to post often, and to do the things that would incent people to share my posts, retweet my updates, and to mention me in their own posts, the decrease would be mild.  If I went to the beach and left the system powered down, my decrease was more significant.

Ultimately, I don't know the value of this measure -- but since everyone is measured the same way, it certainly provides a relative guide. On the other hand, I have to ask myself if I'm willing to persist at spending time each day hunting for content I can publish to keep the buzz high.

It is free on the other hand, and only takes about 5 minutes to get started, so perhaps you'd like to visit Klout and discover your own score. You may find it entertaining or insightful.

And then there's always the beach.



Thursday, January 12, 2012

Me and My Photos (Part 2)

A while back, I needed to present a series of photos as part of a video promo I was creating.

I knew that Picasa (the free photo curation and editing tool from Google) would make a video from a slideshow for me. To test it out, I made this little video. It was pleasing to share the fabulous song (Catie Curtis - It's a Wonder) and I was happy with the treatment of the photos given that I didn't have to do very much work to put it all together.


As a first cut, it was just fine and I've had fun returning to it occasionally to reminisce.  On the other hand, it was a little bit simplistic and I'd wished for more options.  Fortunately, Picasa does offer other options. (You can select the length of time for each photo, have a choice of transition types, and as you could see with this demo, a choice of audio track to add.)

Recently though, I found that the options it offers are not rich enough to put into a video about which I was serious.  I believe that Picasa photo videos are fine for sharing with family, but the range of options falls short for putting into a serious promotion clip.

The option for doing that in a way that works was to use iPhoto on the Mac. I know, I know, it's not fair to suggest options that only work if you have this particular brand of computer, or subscribe to this particular service.  I'm not suggesting that you should necessarily do this (but it did give me a thrill to imagine how the fan boys will shudder as I call the Mac a "brand of computer").

On the other hand, if you are serious about rolling out a video promo, you probably have strongly considered using a Mac to do that work, so you will have iPhoto right at hand.

But here's a video that uses the slide show video presentation available by using this approach.


The nuances of the presentation made a good visual bed for the content we wanted to present in this clip.  (And no, this really isn't that serious -- it's exactly serious enough!)

The good news for you if you are trying to decide how to present a set of photos is that you can use free software (for any platform) from Google, or you can use (nearly) free software on a Mac to get good results as well. The choice is up to you.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Me and My Photos (Part 1)

Most of us have discovered how we can share our photos with our friends using Facebook, Flikr, or Google+. There are other choices available to you (Twitter, Picasa Web Albums, Photobucket), depending upon who's watching, and what features you want when you post your photos. This is our chance to talk about which of the choices will really meet your needs.

First, let's rule out some of the poor choices.  Here are my top two.

The first inviolable rule for me with a photo sharing site is that my friends and readers must not be required to create an account and log in before they can see the photos. Kodak's poorly conceived Photobucket site is the poster child for this broken architecture.  I know they tell you that "it's free to register for an account" and they've even made it (apparently) easy to log in by allowing you to use your Facebook or Twitter account for credentials, but there's this little problem...

When you return to the site after having been away for some time, do you remember your username and password for their system? Maybe you write it down somewhere (not recommended) or maybe you're willing to simply have them reset the password every occasional time that you log in. But tell the truth. How much trouble are you going to go through just so that you can see your friend's puppy pictures? (Update: Seems that Kodak has a new site called Kodak Photo Gallery that uses the same broken approach, but they also made it easy for you to buy other stuff from them. How thoughtful!)

The other poor design choice is a pet peeve I share with many people about Facebook.  The system for displaying new photos is irrational and causes a great deal of confusion.  At first, it seems great because they make it quite easy to share the photos from your computer, phone, or from a growing variety of other devices that you use to get your photos.  (Ironically, even as Kodak files for bankruptcy, they have just released a camera that shares directly with Facebook.)

The problem comes with how the albums are shared.  If I add a photo to an album (a popular choice for that is "Mobile Uploads") the last three or four photos from those albums are posted on my wall along with any comments people have added to the album.

What that means is that if I post a photo with the owner of a great restaurant I'm visiting, it may show up on my wall with a photo from the club last week, or a photo from my friend's wedding ... and whatever comments my friends had about those will be dragged along too.  Someone reading on FB today will see that I've added a photo, may be able to guess which one is new, and will generally have little idea which comments are related to the photo.

A scenario just in case that doesn't seem infuriating enough to you:

Imagine that the last photo I posted to my album was one of our family dog with a litter of new puppies.  If I post a snapshot of myself with a new girlfriend at a concert today, it appears in my news stream along with the prior photo of the dogs. Unfortunately one of my friends commented about the puppy photo with "the bitch looks a little tired, you should probably get her a stand-in"

This is the comment that will appear under the display of the new photos.

Okay, this is minor annoyance but c'mon. This has happened to my friends several times (not the "bitch must be crazy" comment exactly, but something similar). Did no one at Facebook notice this?

On the other hand, there are good and useful sites that allow sharing in a fashion that really works.  Facebook is not too bad if you curate the photos carefully. (Mostly this means you must carefully segregate them into appropriate albums, and adding photos to an old album will probably misfire in some way you can't predict until you see it.)

We also like Picasa Web Albums from Google for its presentation and upload options. Google offers software you can run locally (Picasa) that allow you to curate and make simple edits to photos.  The software connects directly with the web platform to allow you to share the photos online using the resolution (from near thumbnail to original dimensions) and privacy options that you select. (Update: Google has announced that it will be re-branding Picasa to be "Google Photos" to bind it more readily to the Google+ platform.)

When the photos are online, then you have the choice to share the link to a specific photo, an entire album, or even a slideshow. Sharing can be public so that everyone sees, or it can be limited to people you select (although in that case of couse, they will have to log in somehow to identify themselves), and the photos or slideshow can be embedded easily in other web content.

The service has the right features and I would wonder that it's not more popular for sharing if it weren't for the widespread acceptance of another very useful sharing platform - Yahoo!'s Flikr.

This platform also allows you to place the photos online at the resolution you select, share with the population you choose, and to craft slideshows and albums in a way that works.  It's likely that Flikr's long history as one of the most popular photo sharing platforms has given it the edge in the field.

Conclusion: If you want to share photos with your friends and family, or more critically with your team at work, or with clients, you will want to consider using Flikr or Picasa Web to give you the most useful and professional presentation. (Update: While writing this article, I checked in at Flikr to recall its features and options.  Several of my page requests ended at an error page that asked me to try again later.  This usually means either that the host company is either rolling out a new option and is in transition, or that they are backing out support for the service. So your mileage may vary.)

In part two of this article, we'll take a look at two options for turning your photos into a movie.