Tag Archives: shel holtz

“Search and save” on Facebook, Twitter?

In episode 533 of the For Immediate Release podcast, Shel Holtz provides a remarkably lucid and convincing defense of companies and organizations creating Facebook fan pages.  This was in response to comments from members of the FIR Friendfeed room predicting the end of commercial fan pages on Facebook.

Shel points out that many fan pages are indeed ineffective, because the creators have clearly not put much thought into why people might want to come visit the page.  One of the main reasons customers give for visiting a fan page is to find out about special deals and offers.  Like this one from Starbucks, which was in my Facebook newsfeed this morning.

Of course, there are other reasons people interested in an organization or brand might become a fan and be motivated to return to the page regularly.  As Shel points out, patients with chronic illnesses might become a fan of their local hospital to learn about seminars that help them to manage their condition.  It’s not hard to imagine other reasons as well.  A local retailer could keep its customers up to date on sales or the arrival of a hot new product.  Museums could announce new exhibits, or alert people to slow days when popular exhibits might be less crowded.  Presuming not everyone buys their books on Amazon, a local book seller could let literary types know when a new novel was in stock or its author would be appearing for a reading and book signing.

The point of course is that a successful fan page starts with the consumer.  What do they need, what might be of value to them, how could a Facebook fan page help?

Another aspect is particularly important. Companies and organizations can of course feed this information to people elsewhere on line, through their own web sites or email, for example  But that demands more effort and time than most people have today.  It has to occur to them to go to the web site, they need to take the time to remember your URL or find it in their “favorites” list, or consciously decide to click on your email vs. all the others that are cluttering their mailbox.  For more and more people, Facebook is where they are anyway.  And when they’ve opted in to your fan page, you are there with them, because everything you announce shows up in their news feed.  They don’t have to go to your information, your information goes to them — automatically.

Which brings me to the last point.  Most of us don’t have our eyes constantly glued to our Facebook news feed.  The same goes for Twitter.  Facebook should create a “search and save” tool, like an RSS feeder, but for Facebook posts.  It would have a function that allows you to enter the names of the fan pages from whom you would like to receive posts, and then automatically collects those posts for you to review at a time that’s convenient, with the reassurance that you didn’t miss the latest big deal or event.  I’m not aware of a tool like this, either on Facebook or Twitter, where it would also make sense.  Do you know of one?

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Thoughts on a recent German social media debate

Recently a debate emerged among German social media mavens.  The question was whether social media can be successful when companies that use social media channels don’t respond to consumer comments or otherwise enter the conversation.  The debate was ushered in by a post from Mirko Lange on his talkabout blog entitled, Social Media Myth Buster: Successful Social Media Doesn’t Require a “Dialog” (Social Media Myth Buster: Es braucht keinen “Dialog” für erfolgreiche Social Media).

Two aspects of Mirko’s post bugged me.  First, he was fairly unspecific about defining “successful.”  It seemed simply to be the number of fans on Facebook or the number of followers on Twitter.  So one of his successful examples was Lufthansa Germany’s Twitter page.  Lufthansa has 20,000+ followers.  Is that a success?  Perhaps.  Some context would help.  How fast was the growth in followers?  How many of those followers actually engage with Lufthansa via Twitter?  On the face of it, it doesn’t look that good compared to Southwest Airlines, which has over 1 million Twitter followers.

The other point is that as far as I can tell, Lufthansa is indeed “dialoging” with customers via Twitter, much the way Frank Eliason has done with Comcast Cares, by identifying customers with problems and helping out.  One difference is that Frank identifies himself by name to leverage a key strength of social media, the opportunity for companies to behave like people, by having real people with real names engage on behalf of the company. As  Southwest’s Twitter bio aptly notes, ” Airplanes can’t type so @ChristiDay and @Brandy_King are piloting the Twitterverse!”

Nevertheless, I fundamentally agree with Mirko, as well as with Timo Lommatzsch, who, on the current edition of his Social Media PReview Podcast, which discusses Mirko’s post, points to the example of Die Zeit’s Twitter page, with nearly 25,000 followers.  Die Zeit is an erudite German weekly newspaper that covers a broad range of topics including politics, culture, economy and sports.  There’s no dialogue on their Twitter feed, it serves merely to inform followers of the online edition’s latest articles.  But one can imagine that these followers are the type of people who will retweet a post on Die Zeit to all of their followers, which is an effective way to spread the paper’s content across personal networks and potentially bring new readers to the site to the delight of the publication’s online advertisers.

Consider also that consumers aren’t as puritanical about demanding dialogue as social media “experts” assert.  I recall recently a study quoted by Shel Holtz on his For Immediate Release podcast.  It found that the main reason people become fans of brand Facebook pages is to find special deals and price-off promotions.

As long as a social media provides value based on how the community defines it — be it  special deals, product information, help with problems, or the pleasure of sharing one’s passion for the brand with others — the community will grow.

In writing this post, I remembered something I included in the “Who’s on the soapbox?” section when I started this blog in July, 2008.  It said, “I’m Steve Rothman … I have a passion for new media, social media, web 2.0 — whatever your preferred label for the way people are using the web to connect, share and empower each other on the things they care about. And that includes the products and services they buy.”  I didn’t write that those people necessarily had to include the company or the brand.  That’s as true now, as it was then.

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Social media may be creating a generation of dummies

I blog, therefore I am?

Steve Rubel is SVP, Director of Insights for Edelman Digital, and a social media and marketing thought leader.  I respect him tremendously.  But when interviewed recently by Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson on their podcast For Immediate Release, he said something that disturbed me profoundly.  He mentioned that he had given up his standard blog and was now only micro-blogging.  The reason, he said, was that people no longer have the time to read.

He’s wrong.  It’s not that people no longer have the time to read.  It’s that they no longer have the desire to read.  Because they don’t think it’s important.  That’s disturbing.

But what’s even more disturbing is the apparent readiness of thought leaders in social media to accept this fact and by words and deeds to further encourage it.  When instead they should be leading the discussion that this is something we should perhaps be concerned about.

Why be concerned?

Because ideas, analysis and opinion usually require more than 140 characters.  Because a successful society needs a citizenry that can think, and evaluate the validity of an argument.  I’m not saying that every member of the population needs to make The Journal of Foreign Affairs his or her favorite Sunday afternoon reading.  But I do think the greater the number of people who are at least capable of reading an article in The New York Times from start to finish, without becoming confused or disinterested, the better it will be for our country and the world in general.

Democratization of the creation and distribution of information is great, but what good is it if we’re creating a generation of information consumers that is intellectually incapable of separating the informational wheat from the chaff?

Unfortunately, by word and deed, there’s much that goes on in the web 2.0 world that I’m concerned may be breeding a generation of dummies.

Words and deeds that bother me

Our infatuation with all things visual vs. written word

Don’t get me wrong.  I love YouTube as much as the next man. But although pictures may speak louder than words, they don’t necessarily speak more intelligently.  My concern has less to do with video itself – after all, there is fantastic video content on TED Talks – but that so much video favors the superficial, the snackable. With people becoming seduced by the endless amount superficial, snackable video out there, they are developing an appetite for content, and only for content, that is the intellectual equivalent of cotton candy.  And soon their systems won’t be capable of digesting anything else.  The philosopher said Cogito ergo sumI think, therefore I am,  not I snack, therefore I am.

I also believe, though I have no scientific evidence to prove it, that there is a greater depth of involvement with information when we take the time and apply the concentration required to read something.  We also may stop, and ponder a paragraph, before reading further, which we’re less likely to do when watching video.

Our obsession with churning out content – twitter posts, blog posts, comments – for the sake of our Google juice

Does anyone talk about quality vs. quantity anymore?  We’re all suffering from information overload.  But the sad thing is that a good deal of the overload is sifting the garbage from the stuff worth engaging with.  How about posting a little less, and thinking a little more?

Giving in to the lowest common denominator

This is what Steve Rubel has done.  And when a thought leader like Steve does it, it’s doubly concerning.  It’s what the TV network news stations did two decades ago, turning organizations that had formerly helped to inform and intellectually empower a nation into a mirror in which the nation’s most unflattering features were merely reflected.

The dismissal of learning for learning’s sake

Lately I’ve heard buzz among social media “thought leaders” about the worthlessness of a college education.  “Nothing that I learned in college prepared me for what I do to day.”  The first thing I would say to that is, if most of what you’re doing today are the kinds of things I’ve written about above, then that reflects more poorly on you than your college education.

I would agree that there is much I learned in college that is no longer relevant to what I do today.  But the most important things I learned are more relevant than ever.  I learned how to think, I learned the importance of investigating opposing points of view, I learned critical analysis, and I learned to value intellectual integrity.

And as far as the “no longer relevant” things are concerned, that’s beside the point.  College was a time of exploration and discovery, of things I might learn and become, and  things I wouldn’t.  I am thankful that I had that opportunity, an opportunity many never have the privilege to enjoy.

What we can do?

Well for one, we can start talking, as I am in this post.  And encourage further conversation.  The more we talk and discuss, the more this discussion will spread.  And if it even gets one person to start thinking about the importance of getting a complete picture on an issue, reading different points of view about it, or in general just taking the time to read and be exposed to different ideas and perspectives, and thinking critically and thoroughly about stuff – well that’s a good thing.

I wish more of us would resist the temptation to post, post, post – flooding the blogosphere, Twittersphere etc. with endless streams of information, half of it bogus, self-promoting, superficial or simply spam.  Post when you have something useful to say, or found something that you have taken the the time to read and come to a conclusion as to whether it’s really worth spreading or not.  If not, use that time posting for something more worthwhile — like reading.

Break free from you own compulsion to read and follow everything and everyone.  My God, how can you possibly follow more than a few hundred people on Twitter and not feel overwhelmed.  Be selective, be critical, take the time to really read what people are sharing with you and make decisions about which of those people are really worth hearing from.

Keep blogging, and podcasting, not just micro-blogging.  Big ideas, themes and points of view require more than 140 characters.  If all we feed our audiences is the equivalent of intellectual cotton candy, then we are accessories to the crime of turning their minds into mush.

Finally, talk about this.  Share your thoughts with others.  The more people talk about this, the more we can help to create a web 2.0 culture that still values quality of thought and writing, intellectual discipline and integrity, and validation of sources, facts and information.  And to cultivate a web 2.0  community that doesn’t simply surf,  snack and spread, but thinks, analyzes and informs.

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Inspired social media from an unexpected source — the Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic would not naturally have occurred to me as a topic for Steve’s Social Media Soapbox.  Not because social media can’t create value for medical institutions and their patients.  On the contrary — social media and online communities can obviously be of tremendous help to people challenged by illness, investigating treatments, dealing with the side effects of medications and coming to terms with a host of other health related issues.  Similarly, the people who treat and care for patients can surely profit from the broad ranging opportunities for collaboration and sharing that social media tools offer.

But as a friend of mine who works for a health care communications agency told me, social media is fraught with legal implications and risks for pharmaceutical companies and medical institutions.  For example, a drug maker that hosted a web site allowing patients to share information about a particular medication would apparently be responsible for documenting and, I believe, investigating all claims of side effects that weren’t yet covered in established protocols.  There are also obvious issues with confidentially and patient privacy.

sharing-mayo-clinic

That’s why when the Mayo Clinic recently launched Sharing Mayo Clinic, a blog for patients, families and staff to share  stories, it seemed to be a breakthrough.  In an excellent interview with Shel Holtz on the For Immediate Release podcast (2/05/09), Lee Aase, who heads up social media for the Mayo Clinic, pointed out that there really wasn’t an issue regarding patient privacy.  According to the Mayo’s lawyers, “If someone decides to tell their story on our site, that’s them disclosing their information, not us disclosing their information.” (This and other quotes of Mr. Aase are from the For Immediate Release interview.)

The upside is tremendous.  In the past the Mayo Clinic posted patient stories on their web site.  But these were written by a freelancer, who first interviewed the patient, and then wrote the story.  According to Aase, they didn’t match the impact and authenticity of people telling their own stories in their own words as they now can do on Sharing Mayo Clinic.  And clearly this transparency is much more credible and trustworthy to patients seeking information about the character and quality of treatment at Mayo.  It’s also highly motivating for Mayo staffers to read these patients’ stories, which often praise the professionalism and humanity of the clinic’s personnel across the board.  Finally, it also costs much less than hiring freelance writers!

Sharing Mayo is only the latest of several blogs from the Mayo Clinic.   These cover — among other topics — health policy, clinic news and diseases, treatments and therapies.

Especially pioneering for a medical institution, the Mayo Clinic provides blogging guidelines to Mayo staffers and allows them to represent the clinic online.  Private sector companies should take these words of Mr. Aase to heart, and recognize the potential power their companies have within the organization to communicate with customers (or in this case patients, friends and families) through engaged, well-guided and social-media savvy employees:

“We have a half a million patients a year, we have 50,000 employees, and our goal with our social media team is to engage and empower them and to get them involved in the conversation, not having the top-down kind of messaging where we try to control and script everything.  My position is that we can’t afford to hire enough people to communicate all things that need to happen, but we’ve got these 50,000 employees who we’re trusting to treat patients and deal with patients everyday that they can probably handle a blog too.”

He finishes the last sentence with a chuckle, as if to say, “Wouldn’t it be silly not to entrust your employees in this way?”  But so many companies have yet to free corporate communications from the iron-fist clutch of the corporate communications department.  Surely the possible risks of this transparency aren’t higher for a Fortune 500 company than they are for the Mayo Clinic?  And the potential benefits are the same.

The Mayo Clinic’s social media engagement goes well beyond these blogs.  They run a Facebook page with at last count 4,990 fans, where you can watch videos on specific health issues and Mayo clinic treatments, link to news bulletins and the main web site, and also read stories of patients and their families.  These posts of course have particular word-of-mouth value as they appear on the pages of Facebook friends, coming from the most credible and trusted source of all, people they know.

The magic of Facebook was also apparent when I clicked on photos of Mayo Clinic buildings uploaded there.  I didn’t find the photos particularly good — the buildings appeared monolithic and kind of scary.  A place where a patient could feel lost.  But these two comments about the photos erased any such impression:

mayo-clinic-picture-3Colleen Manley Wells (Orlando, FL) wrote
at 1:24am on January 27th, 2009
Our favorite doctors in the whole wide world work in this building. Dr. Casler and Dr. Maples – the Wells family loves you!

mayo-clinic-picture-21Jill Hughes (Trenton / Princeton, NJ) wrote
at 5:10pm on January 26th, 2009
my second home

What a great example of “patient generated content” improving significantly upon an institution’s own official communications.

The Mayo also produces a large number of podcasts dealing with health issues of all kinds that can be downloaded from the website or from i-Tunes.

The only reservation I had about the Mayo’s social media efforts was a statement on their Blog Comment Policy page.  It said in effect that if you posted a comment on Mayo-sponsored blogs, you gave the Mayo Foundation the “irrevocable right” to “reproduce, distribute, publish, display, edit, modify, create derivative works from, and otherwise use your submission for any purpose in any form and on any media.”

This seems extreme and dictatorial.  Surely, considering the personal dimension of health issues, patients who share stories and experiences on Mayo online properties, which are beneficial to the institution, its patients and its stake holders, should be permitted some say in how their contributions are used beyond their initial appearance.  Perhaps it’s not an issue for many patients and their families, but I imagine that many people, presuming they read this regulation, would prefer not to tell their stories, or would not share as openly and honestly as they might otherwise.  Would you? … Knowing your words could be edited and published anywhere without your permission, at any time in the future?

Other than that, I was inspired by the Mayo Clinic’s wholehearted embrace of social media and the rich and positive  impressions it provided about the institution, its values and its dedication to patients and their families.  If, God forbid, you are ever confronted with a serious illness, this is the place you want to be.

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What’s wrong with the social media “expert”?

The social media expert -- still learning?

The social media expert -- still learning.

I first became aware of this debate on an episode of C.C. Chapman’s podcast Managing the Gray.  C.C. expressed his reservation about being called a social media “expert.”  I can’t remember all the details, but I believe one of the points C.C. made was that the field of social media was so new, nobody could lay claim to the title of expert.

Shel Holtz subsequently chimed in with a different opinion.  He asked why anyone would want to hire you if you weren’t an expert?  The title didn’t necessarily mean that you knew everything about a particular topic, merely that you had acquired a good deal of knowledge to the extent that others could benefit from your “expertise.”  Through continued study, thought and action you deepened your knowledge and experience further and in so doing advanced the discipline.  On that basis, Shel concluded, C.C. absolutely deserved to call himself a social media expert and should wear that badge proudly.

Despite Shel’s logical argument, there was still something about that word that made C.C. feel uncomfortable.  Recently, another podcaster, I think it was Mitch Joel (Six Pixels of Separation) or Heidi Miller (Diary of a Shameless Self-Promoter) — sorry guys, I honestly can’t remember which one of you it was — also expressed reluctance to use the term to describe bloggers and podcasters who advise and comment on social media, saying that generally we don’t like to call ourselves that.

But why not?  Is this false modesty?  Or is there something more to it?  I’m not sure, but I gave it some thought and came up with a few reasons why some of us might still shirk at being called social media experts.

  • Social media is indeed new. There isn’t a whole lot of best (or worst) practice upon which we can base our opinions and recommendations.  What we normally think of as “expert opinion” derives from a depth and breadth of experience  on a subject that in the case of social media simply isn’t there yet.
  • Related to this is the ROI question. If we’re talking about social media in the marketing and communications context, a basic component of expertise will be defined by clients as the ability to advise them on what kind of social media initiatives will bring the best return on investment.  The parameters of social media ROI and tools for measuring have yet to be adequately defined.  Until they are, we will lack a key pillar upon which we can claim expertise.
  • The landscape changes so fast. Of course, all fields of knowledge continually develop and change, but that doesn’t stop them from having their experts.  Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say that there are few things that evolve as quickly, as dramatically, and within such short time frames, as social media.  It’s hard just to keep up and understand the implications of these changes, much less build a foundation of knowledge and experience that one would traditionally need in order to be considered an expert.
  • You can’t be an expert in something as broad and complex as social media. In a previous life, I studied musicology.  A musicologist might be an expert on renaissance music, or ethnic music, or jazz, but he or she can’t be an expert on all aspects of music.  Social media comprises everything from communities, to corporate blogs, to consumer rating sites — and a whole lot more.  Perhaps there’s just too much to social media to say you’re an expert on the entire spectrum of it.
  • When the wisdom is in the crowd, who’s an expert? The phenomenon of the wiki and the power of the community is based on the notion that true understanding comes by listening to a range of opinions, interpretations and experiences from different individuals, rather than through the filter of expert opinion .  The wisdom of the crowd is at the heart of what makes so much of social media so potent.  What is the role of the expert in an online, interconnected world where we can learn so much that is meaningful from the experiences of many different people in situations like ours rather than from traditional experts?

What’s your take on this?  Are you comfortable being called a social media expert?  Whom do you consider to be today’s true social media experts?

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