Step Outside Your Social Media Echo Chamber

I was struck recently by a tweet from a social media guru, commenting on how staid and outdated he found the presentations at a healthcare conference because social media was so undervalued and unappreciated as a marketing vehicle.  That tweet really got under my skin.  It seemed pretentious to me, calling healthcare marketing outdated because they aren’t using the latest social media tactics.  But then I realized this ‘guru’ probably spends much of his time on social media blogs, following other social media gurus on Facebook, Twitter & Google+, and using all the latest ideas himself.  I’m sure he talks with hundreds of clients, helping them make the best use of social media for their businesses.  Of course he would think that healthcare professionals ‘just don’t get it.’  He, after all, lives in the social media echo chamber.

social media perspectiveIf you’re active in Social Media – any kind of media, in fact — you’re probably familiar with the echo chamber.  The echo chamber is what happens when you follow online communities or media sources you agree with, and before long, you find you’re listening only to like-minded people, you hear your own opinions constantly echoed back to you, and you’re further reinforced in your own belief system.  It goes a long way to explaining our currently polarized political system, where neither side can even hear the opposing side anymore, much less appreciate their point of view.

For many of us, the echo chamber also frames our business and personal discussions.  Do you find yourself bored from reading ever- similar story themes in your daily Facebook stream?  Do the tweets from people you follow all start to sound the same after a while?  Do you find the sources you read tend to cluster around certain repetitive themes?  If so, you’re in an echo chamber that was most likely crafted for you by Google or Facebook.  It’s a dangerous place to live for very long, because you’ll find after a time that your opinions become hardened, you start to think your views are ‘the truth’, and you gradually lose your ability to see other points of view.   Or, if you’re naturally more open-minded, you’ll find yourself becoming bored by the lack of diversity and new ideas you find online.

Remember those long-ago days when most people got their news from mass media, when we had to trust news editors to decide what was newsworthy and fit to print?  In those days, editors had to print a diversity of topics in order to satisfy their diverse readership.  Today, Google serves up a smorgasboard of information, making us feel like we’re exposed to endless diversity.  But it’s deceiving because Google tailors the delivery of that information in search results based on what it knows of our interests and previous behavior.  Facebook does the same, by favoring posts from people we interact with most.  And Twitter has the same effect, as we follow people we find interesting and then get drawn further into their circles of similar people.  Google+ alleviates the echo chamber somewhat by allowing you to deliberately create separate – and ever-widening — Circles of connections.  But it doesn’t do away entirely with the echo chamber.

In the world of social media, it takes work to keep an open mind and a broad perspective.  We’ve offloaded that job from the mass media news editor to the online individual.  It’s a heavy burden but an important responsibility – to yourself and others.  If you leave it to Google and Facebook, they will, over time, cocoon you in a well-padded chamber of echoes of your own voice.  If that is scary to you (it is to me!), you’ll need to keep a vigilant hand in the management of your social media circles.  Prune the list of who you’re following, what blogs you’re subscribed to, and what perspectives you’re reading.  If you feel the chamber walls narrowing, go out and find opposing viewpoints and subscribe to those.  Get active in their comments.  Engage with other perspectives. The old adage “don’t judge a man till you’ve walked a mile in his boots” could be updated to say “don’t form your opinions till you’ve ventured outside your own echo chamber”.

I have this nightmare image that, if we don’t keep ourselves vigilantly openminded online, we could become an entire nation that’s a macrocosm of our current Congress.  Now that’s a scary thought.

Just to keep things interesting and open-minded, here are 3 articles with quite different perspectives on the theme of this blog post.

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Small Biz Updates From Google

November 9, 2011 Filed under: Local Search,Social Media Marketing — Tags: ,

Google rolled out updates this week that will give searchers more direct access to your Place PageGoogle Local Search Update 2 in their search results — and a brand presence on their new social network, Google+.

Your Place Page Just Got Promoted

Instead of just a list of local businesses displayed next to a map, Google now brings your Place Page to the search surface, displaying your pictures and details right on the search results page.  When someone searches for your company name, your Place Page will display in the right column, giving them map, pictures, details and customer reviews, without requiring an additional click. When they search for your category (for example, ‘furniture’), you’ll see the traditional Map in the right column at first, but that changes to an abbreviated version of your Place Page as you mouse over the >> to the right of your listing (see picture).  Congratulations, Place Pages — you just got promoted to the search results page!

Google+ Pages Roll Out

The long-promised brand pages have now been rolled out on Google+.  Following Facebook’s lead,  Google+ has quickly evolved to a person-to-organization social network and now welcomes Google+ Pages to allow businesses to interact with followers through Circles, Hangouts, and other Google+ features.  There’s quite a lot of buzz in this first week and plenty of instruction available to help you create your Google+ Page (much easier than Facebook Pages).  See links below for some great tips for getting started.  Time will tell whether Google will be able to lure people and businesses away from Facebook.

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The Next Great Web Filter

Time to cry information overload – again!

how we've filtered the web

how we've filtered the web....what's next?

Way back, in the early days of the Internet, there was lots of excitement about all the information available online.  Organizations quickly learned that having a website was a requirement to operate a successful business, and people began turning to the Web for most of their information needs.  As websites  multiplied, people struggled with how to make sense of it all, sort through it, find what was most valuable to them.  An exciting new communication channel soon blossomed into information overload with no effective filters.

Enter search engines.  Google, Yahoo, AOL rose to fast prominence by giving people a way to navigate through the morass of websites and find what they wanted quickly.  Then SEO, blogging, and content marketing were born, and smart marketers started feeding the search engines to get them to point people their way.  It started with link buying and swapping, then moved to a content creation craze.  Now, instead of website overloading, we’re inundated with “7 Lessons Learned” “10 Best Ways to…”, “6 Tips for…” headlines intended to lure people and links.  An exciting new search marketing field soon blossomed into content overload with no effective filters.

Enter social media.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ all rose to fast prominence by connecting people, establishing online relationships, and giving people a way to chat and share information.  Now, in addition to search engines navigating and giving meaning to web content, friend recommendations are helping people to filter and discern what’s worth paying attention to.  But what happens when you gather 500+ friends and you’re following their lives, their interests, their shared links?  An exciting new communication channel soon blossoms into information overload with no effective filters.  Hmmm…sound familiar?

Enter… what’s next?  I don’t know about you, but I’m now yearning for the next great filter that will save me from drowning in all my social media activity.  Too much information.  Too much wasted time.  What new technology is going to help me navigate through all the social clutter and find my way to meaning – and still leave me time to live my life?

What are your thoughts?

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Facebook’s F8 Announcements – Too Much Information!

September 23, 2011 Filed under: Internet Marketing,Social Media Marketing — Tags: ,

As always when major news happens in the online marketing arena, I’ve spent a fair amount of time today digesting the announcements Facebook made at its F8 Developer conference yesterday (see Facebook’s page on the event).  While I’ve never been much of a Facebook fan to begin with (I’m just not exhibitionist by nature), the new features seem over-the-top… even for people who do like to share.  How much do we really want to know about hundreds of other people, after all?  And how much more time do people really have to waste on daily trivia and minutiae?  I think it’s time to call TMI.

If you haven’t seen or read about the new Facebook updates, these were the key news highlights:

Timeline. The redesigned Facebook Profile includes a “Timeline” allowing users to go back as far as their birth date and fill in with pictures and important events, essentially creating & sharing their entire autobiographical photo history.

New Apps. With a new developer capability called Open Graph, Facebook apps will now allow users to share with their friends whatever they’re doing – automatically.  You’ll be notifying your friends about what you’re reading, what music you’re listening to, what you’re watching, and whatever else developers can think of for you to share.  The news of your activity will appear in a new Ticker stream. Then your friends can copy you or share the experience with a single click.

Facebook Partners. To illustrate what you can do with the new Open Graph apps, Facebook announced partnerships with a bunch of media and entertainment companies (see Why Netflix, Spotify and Others are Friending Facebook).   All of them referenced examples of how you can share and consume news & entertainment — without ever leaving  Facebook.

So, does this make you want to jump in and add, not just your recent photos like before, but your entire life history in pictures for the world to see?  Does it make you hungry to know everything that all your Facebook friends are reading, watching and listening to?  Does it tempt you to leave behind the onerous task of browsing all your favorite news & entertainment websites, so you can consume their content from inside Facebook?

Hmmm.  Not me.  Doesn’t make me want to jump aboard.  Maybe I’m a luddite or a hermit or just anti-social.  But what I’ve read elsewhere about the Facebook updates shows I’m not alone.  Here are some reactions from others that I happen to agree with.

New York TimesFacebook as Tastemaker.  Can Facebook become the primary channel for web users to determine where and how they spend their time & money?  Perhaps, but some think such big goals will eventually be their undoing, just as Microsoft and AOL stumbled by overreaching.

Biznology. The New Facebook: I Get it and I Don’t.  Facebook’s focus has now turned from acquiring new users (who doesn’t use it at this point?) to expanding what users do on the site.  But who can (or wants to) absorb and learn all these new things?  Not me, says author Frank Reed.

Mashable. Is Facebook Trying to Kill Privacy?  Good question, as the new features encourage users to put their entire life online.  If you don’t want your friends knowing or sharing all this information about you, Facebook provides inline privacy controls so you can manage how much you want shared (though given their acquired social habits, many users won’t bother).  But even if you don’t mind sharing your details with friends, you should still be concerned that Facebook will own all the data – and has yet to reveal how they’ll share and act upon that knowledge.

ReadWriteWeb. Reactions to Facebook’s F8 Keynote. Want to know what the audience thought at the F8 event?  This infographic will at least tell you how they tweeted about it.

GigaOm. Media Companies Revisit Their AOL Days with Facebook.  Among the news from Facebook’s F8 Conference yesterday was the partnerships with media companies such as The Washington Post, The Guardian newspaper, The Daily from News Corp. and Yahoo News that will allow users to consume their news from within Facebook.  Many news commentators are calling this approach a “walled garden” (e.g. users get everything they need inside FB and will never venture out), comparing it to the early days of the Internet when AOL offered users a single portal to make it easier to navigate the scary new online world.  But is anyone really still scared to explore the Web on their own?

What about you?  Do you like what Facebook announced at F8?  What have you read about the announcements that makes the new features sound enticing?  I’m open to being converted, after all.

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Which Social Media Channel is Best for Your Small Biz?

August 29, 2011 Filed under: Social Media Marketing — Tags: , , , ,
demographics of social media users

data from AdAge Blogs, May 16, 2011

There are plenty of companies today with an active presence on all the latest social media networks, taking full advantage of the exploding popularity and visibility of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and others.  But most small businesses simply don’t have the resources to engage effectively on more than one or two social channels.  If that’s the case for your business, you may be asking yourself which social media channel is likely to drive the best results for you. Or, perhaps you’ve dived into too many channels and, like the hamster on the spin wheel, you’re wondering how to step things down and better focus your efforts.

While there’s no standard profile for who should use which social media channel for what exact purposes, there are some distinctions that may help you decide which one(s) will be most effective for your business.   Start by defining your own goals, and then consider these differences between the social media options.

Twitter

Twitter usersThis cool infographic from BuySellAds.com gives lots of demographic information about Twitter users, including size of the user population, who uses it, why they use it, how they use it, how often, and more.  While Twitter has been around only 5 years, it has been credited with influencing – some even say inciting – significant newsworthy events, including the “Arab Spring” movements, the British riots, and relief efforts for numerous natural disasters.  But can you harness it effectively for your business?

Twitter allows you to broadcast 140-character tweets to a broad audience, and attract followers on the basis of your information value.  Twitter users tend to follow good information rather than personal connections, which is why it’s the channel most popular with media and news reporters, and favored by businesses who want to establish thought leadership.  If you have valuable, informative content to share, this may be your best choice – and it works particularly well for promoting your blog.   Also be sure to monitor what’s being said about your company on Twitter, and be quick to respond when any issues arise.  Given the popularity of Twitter among influentials, negative news has a way of travelling fast and can quickly spell disaster if you don’t manage it.

Facebook

Facebook usersAnother infographic, this from Digital Surgeons, shows how Facebook and Twitter demographics compare.  With over 700 million users, Facebook is the big daddy of social media channels.   But does that mean it’s a good choice for your business?

Most people use Facebook to chat informally with friends, so it tends to work best for consumer-facing companies – brands which consumers interact with as part of their daily life.  If you want consumers to follow your business on Facebook, be prepared to offer special deals, discounts or coupons, as that’s what most followers expect.  Also be prepared for honest customer feedback — and have a plan for responding to it – as consumers are known to engage most when they have something to complain about.  Some people say that having a company page shows you care what your customers say and think about you (see survey results) – implying that if you don’t, you don’t care.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn targets the business professional and acts as a networking hub, a sort of online rolodex.  It’s useful for job seekers and recruiters, and many users see it as a way to post their resume and credentials online.  There is also a fair amount of selling that goes on, especially by B2B service companies that are heavily relationship-dependent.  LinkedIn discussions have become popular forums in some industries, where idea-sharing and industry-focused meetups are valuable forms of networking.  LinkedIn has recently honed its professional focus even further by offering industry-related news feeds in LinkedIn Today.

If B2B relationship building is key to your business, you’ll want to have a presence on LinkedIn.  Beyond that, it’s a great way to stay in touch with colleagues, to discuss issues within an industry or professional group, or to network for sales or job hunting purposes.

Google+

This newest of the social media channels has had a meteoric start, gaining 25 million users in its first month.  The reviews have been somewhat mixed, with a lot of enthusiasm for features like Circles, Hangouts and Sparks that are missing on Facebook, and a lot of ‘wait and see’ pronouncements because so many of the early adopters are techies and not representative of average users.  Google has not yet rolled out the ‘business version’ of Google+, so it’s too early to characterize what it does best for a small biz.

What is your social media channel of choice?  And why?

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What Does PR Even Mean Today?

August 9, 2011 Filed under: Blogging,Content Marketing,SEO,Social Media Marketing

Public relations used to mean working with the media, feeding them story ideas, providing access to spokespeople, and putting the best spin on stories about your organization.  I know – I did it for many years. The assumption was that journalists, with their high degree of credibility, could influence public opinion in your favor if you played your cards right.  The PR skill was in finding and cultivating influential reporters, understanding their audience, and offering them unique, newsworthy story ideas to interest their readers.  You could of course spin things in your favor, but most reporters have a keen ear for the truth and a credible reputation to uphold, so having high quality content and an interesting narrative would get you the farthest.

The model has changed, of course, as journalists are scarce and people currently rely on blogs, social media, online communities and other forms of crowd sourcing for their information.  And yet, despite the changes, the basic ingredients for how to tell your story haven’t changed.  Establishing credibility for your brand still requires compelling stories and influential relationships.

PR today has migrated from media relations and story ideas to encompass blogging, SEO, content strategy and social media.  A PR professional who doesn’t embrace these other points on the Communications circle will likely be overrun by those who do.

PR bleeds into SEO, social media, blogging

Blogging – PR professionals understood early that many journalists were turning into bloggers.  Today, finding the bloggers that influence your target audience can be more challenging as there are more of them and their needs are different.  Many are open to more than story ideas and will welcome contributed articles and guest posts.  Most welcome comments and opinions and can be a great opportunity for focused industry discussion.  PR professionals need to come to the table with more than story ideas if they want to take full advantage of the blogging opportunity.  Ideally, start your own company blog and use your great story ideas yourself.  Or build relationships with other influential bloggers in your market and guest post there.

SEO – SEO aims to bring your target audience to your website.  It starts with keywords, and uses those keywords to flavor your company’s website content so it can be found by searchers.  It then uses links in offsite content  – press releases, blog posts, articles, etc. — to bring new visitors to your website.   Since PR professionals live by words, knowing which keywords to feature and which sites to target for links will make you a key contributor to SEO and online marketing efforts.

Content Strategy — PR is about communicating a company’s messages to its target audiences.  You can’t do that without having interesting stories to tell and plenty of content to share.  That’s true now more than ever.  But with so many places to tell your story online, you’ll be running in circles unless you have a clear strategy for what you want to publish, to which audience segment, via which channel, and when.  A content strategy will  help you determine which audience segments to target with different messages, which channels (blogs, social media, etc.) to target for each audience, and how to ensure consistency across the board.  An editorial calendar is an essential tool for this purpose.

Social Media – Everyone is chatting on social media.  If you’re not there, listening to what opinion leaders and customers are saying, you’ll have a hard time influencing anyone in your company’s favor.  Traditional PR media relations required you to connect with reporters who covered your business; social media relations requires you to connect with anyone talking about your business.  The importance of relationship building has never been greater.

Are you a public relations professional?  How has your job been transformed?

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Roundup of Google+ First Impressions

Google+ pictureIf you follow anything about marketing or technology, you’ve probably heard about Google+.  The new social media channel, released to a limited invitation-only trial on June 28, has taken the tech world by storm.  Since there are plenty of news stories – and Google itself — to explain the new features, I’ll give you instead a roundup of the early impressions and opinions from early trial users.  It seems to be generating as much enthusiasm among Search gurus as HP and the DH2 is among Harry Potter fans.  Here’s what people are saying after the first 2 weeks:

Google+ Circles more like real relationships. The most talked-about new feature is Circles, which allow you to segment your social relationships more like people do in real life (define what circles you travel in socially, separate friends, work, family, etc.).  Wall St. Journal columnist Katherine Boehret, invited to test the Google+ trial, gives a clear overview here.

Targeted for Business. While Facebook was designed with college students in mind, Google+ seems a better fit for businesses.  Google has plans to start a test phase for businesses today, so expect more light to be shed soon on how business can make best use of it.  With high expectations and baited breath, many are waiting to see if and how Google is the social business network we’ve all been waiting for.  Read here about Google’s social business plans.

Game changing for small biz. Google+ Circles, a real-life way to segment your social connections online, will allow small businesses to ‘go social’ with their customers more easily, and will make it easy to join circles of your favorite local businesses through an integration with Google Place listings.  Andrew Shotland writes a great piece on Google Plus Google Places.

Plenty of hype & navel-gazing. Since the trial has been by invitation only, Google has heightened the mystery and gotten the pundits talking.  Like lots of big tech announcements, the initial hype may be a tad overblown. “Once Google+ users start discussing topics other than Google+ then it might get interesting…”  quipped one commenter on TechCrunch.

Google’s Trojan Horse. Devin Coldewey (TechCrunch) claims (convincingly) that the latest Google announcement is not only a replacement for Facebook and/or Twitter, but Google’s long-range plan to take over the Internet. “Sure, right now it seems like it’s aimed at Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter, but when the stakes are this high, you better believe they’ve got guns pointed at everyone in the room.”  Yikes.

Inevitable Facebook comparisons.  Google has been widely rumored to have Facebook in its sights, so the comparisons are rampant.  Some of the more interesting include Rafe Needleman’s (CNet) claim that “Google+ Makes Me Happier Than Facebook,” Ryan Singel’s (Wired) preference for Google+ over Facebook on Privacy, …and Mashable’s Facebook Defectors survey results from voters who said “I’ve already left. Facebook is so dead to me” (24.4% of votes at this writing).

It’s still social media. While lots of pundits are saying it’s an improvement, Google+ still gives you the unending stream of comments from all your connections.  Here’s some early advice on how to manage it before it manages you.  Peter Meyers (SEOMoz) advises how to invest only 15 Minutes a Day on Google+.

If you’re not one of the early trial users, be sure to get on Google’s waiting list so you can discover Google+ for yourself!

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Organize Your Social Media Life With Hootsuite

April 26, 2011 Filed under: Social Media Marketing

Are you drowning in the firehose of information coming to you via Twitter, Facebook and other social media?  Are you getting friends, colleagues, personal and work life all mixed together in a confusing mess?  If you’re an organized person, like I am, the onslaught of constant input from social media can feel overwhelming.  I couldn’t get my social media life organized till I found Hootsuite.  Now that I’m managing all my social media from a single place, I can keep track of a broader reach of contacts and stay on top of my social media life much more easily.  I made this video to provide a quick overview of Hootsuite so you can put your social media life in order too.

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New Social Media Marketing Industry Report is Here

social media examiner guyLast week, the third annual Social Media Marketing Industry Report was released by Social Media Examiner.  The results, based on completed surveys by 3342 marketers, show clearly that social media is taking the marketing world by storm.   Growth in social media usage since last year’s report is significant, with Facebook leading the way and small business gaining the most benefits.

Here are some interesting highlights that surprised me… (more…)

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Ten Tips to Keep From Burning Out on Social Media

March 22, 2011 Filed under: Social Media Marketing — Tags: , ,

Social media is great for forming online relationships, for sharing information with people who share your interests, for keeping your finger on the pulse of your industry or community, and probably for lots of other things too.  Gotta love it!  If you plug in every day, you can be sure to stay connected and to have your say in what’s going on.  But how do you keep from getting addicted?  And how do you keep from burning out on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Delicious, Quora, and all the other social media channels?  Here are 10 tips to help you stay fresh and avoid burnout.  They work for me, at least, and help keep me freshly excited about blogging, tweeting, Facebook posting, bookmark sharing, etc. each day.  What works for you?

social media comic

Comic from Geek and Poke

1. Look for opportunities to add value. It’s tempting to just jump on board and start chatting on Facebook or Twitter because everyone’s doing it.  But think first about why you’re doing it and then stick to your goals.  Are you looking to stay connected to friends and family?  Great, then share your personal news and pictures and see what others have to say about theirs.  If you’re looking to use it for business, however, stay focused on how you can add value to the customers and prospects you want to reach.  Use tools like search.twitter.com to find out where the conversations are happening about your company or your industry.  Find bloggers who write about topics your customers care about.   Follow closely what fans are saying on your Facebook page or pages of your competitors.  Use all these sources to understand what your customer base cares about and who is talking about it.  Then look for opportunities where you can add value.  Offer free advice, help someone with a problem, refer people to helpful information online — in general, demonstrate what you know and how you can be of service.  Social media is not the place to promote yourself, and if you do you’ll burn out fast.  But if you seek to help and add value, you’ll find it easier to go the distance.

2. Focus on 2-way relationships. Social media is not a 1-way communication vehicle for blasting out your promotional messages to the world, or even to your niche market or friends.  It’s a 2-way conversation with people who choose to connect with you.  So, welcome and respond to people who follow you.  Comment on their posts.  Link out to other websites and share what you’ve found.  Engage with your friends, family, business partners, customers, and other people you want to  hear from. Listen more than you speak and respond to what moves you.  If you only speak and don’t listen, you’ll end up as lonely as the blowhard at a cocktail party who wonders why the room has cleared out when he’s finally finished talking about himself.

3. Expand and prune your circle of contacts to keep them relevant. I think of my social media connections as a living, breathing garden of connections.  Just like you prune your garden so that some plants thrive in one season, others in another season, so too you can prune your social media connections.  I find that when someone dominates my stream too much, I tuck them away and hide them for a while so I can let others shine & be heard from. Hootsuite is a great tool for doing this, as you can juggle between different lists and decide which list you’ll pay attention to (or not) at different times.  It also pays to plant new seeds, look for new people to follow, add more color and variety to the people you hear from each day.  If you particularly like someone’s tweets or posts, find who they follow, and follow them as well.  If you’re hearing repetition among the bloggers you follow, branch out and get new ideas from bloggers in other fields.

(more…)

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