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(Read time = ~2 minutes) bloggingThis week, four big tech brands (IBM, Microsoft, LSI and Silicon Graphics) are experimenting w/a “mini-blog” while attending the Supercomputing Conference in Portland. Essentially, technology experts from each company agreed to blog “live” for four days only – a unique opportunity for the IT and data storage communities to join a dialogue w/business-critical technology providers.

The target audience was narrow, the High Performance Compute (Supercomputing) a subset of the IT and data storage, data center segment. Because of the tradeshow/conference, hashtags/keyword for Twitter were extensively used.

As fellow B2B marketers, Agency-types and otherwise Social Media communicators, would love  feedback – see the live blog and concept by going here. Please tweet, pass-along, blog about it, etc. Remember, only live from 11/16 – 11/20 noon PST. I’ll report on metrics and add further color in a future blog post here.  Great cooperation from all the companies/experts led to a successful launch.

The primary draw:  Big Tech Brands Blog Live for Four Days Only at www.ITdialogue.com

UPDATE: Day 1 traffic:  1000+ unique visitors;  Day 2 traffic: 2400+ unique visitors.

The runway to launch was ~6 weeks with most of the content load and functionality happening in the final 10 days. Nice custom admin screens support the site;  Google Analytics under it all.  Promotion happens at the venue from the various Partner booths as well as from Twitter accounts.  For various reasons, no promotion on the .com main company brand web sites, no PR on the advernture.  Facebook fan pages were considered but time limitations precluded using.

Mini-Blog Approach As An Answer to Start-Up Barriers

One barrier to blog participation is often the workload and commitment. By limiting participation, in this example, to four days only, the risk and pain was lowered with the result more willingness to participate. A multi-partner blog platform was developed using WordPress as a starting point, then customized.

Another barrier is can be Twitter copy approvals and therefore participation in real-time.  In this case, generic tweet samples were routed for review to gain pre-event blessings.  Click here for a more detailed look at the generic tweet concept.

Content, as always, was challenging but all the participating companies were able to re-purpose material otherwise available and public.  Bloggers were asked to contribute two posts per day (morning/afternoon) as well as respond to community questions.

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tweet-retweet(Read time = 3-4 minutes)  One of the first investigations that marketers tackle when entering the social media game is likely to be Twitter. Near the top of the Twitter investigation will likely be re-tweets (RTs):  their value, characteristics, and strategies for gaining traction as will impact message persistence.  For those less Twitter savvy: a retweet is when someone re-posts a Twitter message that they received from somebody else. Re-tweets are usually preceded by an “RT” or “Retweeting” and then the source person’s name in an @ reply format to assign credit (akin to footnoting the original source.

So why the fuss to understand RTs? In simple terms, “authority” and the ability to sustain market messaging/buzz.  Being cited as an information source reinforces thought leadership and brand importance; gaining any level of viral messaging further impacts the marketing campaign.  But is it science… or just artful prose?

Consider the audience size:  Twitter June visitors wwide – 44.5 million (comScore). FYI, cS only counts traffic to Twitter.com; since many users instead use Twitter apps to consume/publish, Twitter’s total audience is significantly larger.  cS does provide a consistent measure, however, of Twitter growth.  Even when some research indicates that ~40% Twitter traffic is “pointless babble”  ( Pear Analytics study), the potential audience/traffic is large, indeed.

For a real-time Twitter traffic counter, GigaTweet estimates that the number of tweets recently passed the 5 Billion mark

Update 11/11: related video here; thanx Muneer.

Studies and Research

Microsoft employs social media research scientists: Here, Danah Boyd and Gilad Lotan (MS) joining with Cornell researcher Scott Golder to investigate the conversational aspects of retweeting: (draft paper on RT here) , scheduled to be published early in 2010.

Another social media research scientist, Dan Zarrella (bio here) pulls apart re-tweet trends and success analytics.  His data presentation is posted at SlideShare here.  Zarrella spent nine months analyzing ~5 million tweets and 40 million retweets.  He investigated when posts occurred, wording, link inclusion (or not), and much more. 

Briefly, some thought starters for consideration:

1.  Leave Room:  Write your original tweet shy of the 140 limit to both allow for the (RT @ Twitter User Name) addition, and avoid requiring that the pass-along author re-write your original text.  While challenging, an original character count of 115-120 should provide sufficient room to encourage a viral re-tweet.

2.  Timing matters:  4pm Friday EST!  I didn’t see that Zarrella’s data factored for content-type (ie B2B v. Consumer, etc.) but certainly the charting should give marketers pause;  A trend beginning to appear are marketers tracking their own experiences and building their own benchmarks, by industry target, as to most effective times/days for tweets and re-tweets.

Tweet-Graph

 3.  Include links:  Tweets that included additional content sources were 3x more likely to be passed along.  Interestingly, the research also noted that the shorter the URL link out, the more likely a retweet would occur.

4. Choose your words wisely:  “Please”, “retweet”, “check out”, “blog” and “new blog post” all appeared in Zarrella’s most frequently used word list.  In the least retweetable category were a number of “ing” verbs (going, watching, listening…”).  Takeaway: idle chit-chat, slang, and over sharing does little to prompt message persistence.

5. Original content:  Well, duh… original content is way more poular than news previously circulated.

6. Grammar:  Tweets that rely heavily on the  use of nouns and 3rd-person verbs (what we typically refer to as headline-style) were more likely to be retweeted

Monitor and Benchmark

The diversity in audience target segments, social media objectives and marketing goals demand that most B2B marketers establish their own benchmarks over time.  Tools are beginning to appear (think Tweetmeme, Retweet.com, etc.) but ROI for social media remains hotly debated.  By experimenting with approach, content and campaigns, individual benchmarks can evolve.  Would welcome reader insights and experiences as additions to the conversation.

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presenterMost B2B marketers and support providers have become adept at carrying on multiple IM conversations during conference calls, one ear listening while producing a running commentary on the merits of the discussion, or even expanding the back-channel conversation well beyond the topic at hand.  During meetings (digital etiquette aside), text messaging now consumes much more attention than the running dialogue.  Conference call and net-meeting participants now expect the sidebar comments from guests attending.

That this behavior is now invading the presentation world should be no surprise – but the consequences for speakers and panels in how they prepare and present are large.  Some call it “crowd force”, some “crowd source”. By whatever name the dynamic will need attention.

At two recent public events, I watched as the speakers struggled to solve the challenge of presenting to a live audience, and in real-time, negotiating the inclusion of Twitter comments and Twitter commentary.   No longer can a presenter totally dictate the flow of information. In one of the forums, the audience substantially created its own parallel conversation (hash tagged to the topic) without even having a seat on stage and with the presenter totally unaware. While perhaps only 30% of the audience was able to “see” both presentations, the behavior opens a brave new world for speakers, panelists and presenters at all levels.

So how best to take advantage of the new medium… how best to avoid the perils…

Integrating Social Media from Podiums and Panels

Expect Social Dialogue as the Norm, not the exception – Presentation  how’s and how-nots have been well documented.  Today, it just makes good business sense to expect that there will be Twitter comments as you present, that blog posts will go-live during your presentation and immediately after.  By expecting this, you can actually bake in sound bites and make direct references to social media w/in your presentation, thereby both engaging the participation as well as maintaining a semblance of conversation management.

Prompt the Event Sponsors to Integrate digital dialogue w/physical dialogue.  Ask for a screen at the podium so you can monitor the tweet-stream; consider a large console on-stage to proactively invite participation both in-room and to those outside the conference itself. By defining an engagement setting, speakers/panelists retain more command of the presentation flow.  Even if it’s highly unlikely that your audience will actively make use of social media conversation during your presentation, give a nod to the new media opportunity and your credentials as a thought leader.

Add  a “Social Engagement” quotient to your audience analysis – Most speakers/panelists go thru an exercise when preparing material for public consumption that includes an audience evaluation (subject knowledge, competitive and company awareness, hot topics/trends of the day, etc.  Presenters should consider a “Twitter Quotient”, as well – ie, the likely tweet adoption rate and use as a means for assessing the likelihood for back-channel conversation.

Add a New Page as You Read the Room– We’re all taught to scan the audience for signs of engagement and/or boredom, and to adjust presentation style real-time to better respond.  Add to this a scan for laptops and fingers flying across keyboards… for Bberry/iPhone thumb-fests  – all as indicators that tweets and blog posts may have invaded the room.  I’ve heard some discussions around having a colleague attend who specifically will monitor for back-channel discussion, and who can signal presenters when comments warrant inclusion.  Some go so far as to schedule “Twitter Breaks” as a formal part of the presentation, and where speakers/panelists dedicate a few minutes directly to social community feedback/discussion.

Would be insightful to hear from speakers on whether they’ve thought about this aspect of presentations, whether anyone has further first-hand experiences to share, and/or from coaches/trainers who have thoughts on this topic.

Bonus

Useful Tools to Consider: A powerpoint plugin allows tweets to be seen on-screen http://www.sapweb20.com/blog/powerpoint-twitter-tools/   Twitter conference filter tool http://www.tidytweet.com/

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Overlaping ColorsSome companies approach employee social media participation from the starting point of: “we hire smart people… they will do the right thing… we trust ‘em and the company benefits when our people are participating in the larger conversation…”  Other firms are deeply cautious of the new scale/scope and install policies as an extension of the PR/AR/IR process: “only a very narrow approved list can play and then, only with copy that has been pre-approved with a Legal dept. scrub…”.

Perhaps it’s a natural evolution, from one end of the spectrum to the other. 

If you happen to be a B2B marketer caught anywhere else than in the “we trust you” space, using social media networks, Twitter in particular, can be unexpectedly challenging.  Here, let’s explore solutions to two of the more common challenges for navigating the real-time and tweet approval maze.

Challenge 1:  Content Approval Not Aligned to Risk

For B2B, Twitter catalysts group very naturally into predictable categories.  The list here is a starting point, depending on your segments and how granular you might want to get.  Chime in w/others that you think make sense.

  • Events/tradeshows and associated panels and presentations
  • Educational opportunities, webinars
  • Content Assets (new whitepapers, videos
  • Product and/or Technology milestones/launches
  • Re-tweets of posts by others to keep the buzz alive
  • Product and trade news
  • Investor relations/financial-related news

A starting point for conversation w/the approval/Legal team:  conceptually, present the idea that Twitter participation falls into predictable categories:  many very low risk, some with higher risk, some peppered with significant risk.

A solution: Strive for an agreement with the approval team that risk levels vary and that approvals should scale in alignment to risk.  Then, focus on the content types with little/low risk.  For high risk content like financial transactions, earnings calls, acquisitions, etc. content may always need to undergo a rigorous and very specific scrub.  As well, AR/PR/IR tweets will usually be in the hands of company media professionals rather than the day-to-day marketing leads.

Challenge 2:  Marketing Participation Real-Time

When social media participation policy is an extension of PR/AR/IR practices, a consequence is that the thinking around review/approval is tied to historic and old-media cycle time.  Twitter and buzz opportunities move faster and break the mold. Marketing needs a pathway to participation that is both corporately safe as well as sales-useful.

A solution:  Narrow the Twitter participant list to approved spokespersons from the marketing and product teams already media trained. Add additional training on the nature of the social media beast. Partner w/Legal on the training content so governance and risk issues are illuminated and addressed.

A solution: In advance of need, work w/the approval team to pre-qualify Twitter content and approach.  The strategy is to define an approved architecture for tweet-types which then both complies with the approval policy and frees Tweeters to participate spontaneously w/out risk or delay.

As examples, here’s a few generic approaches relating to event/tradeshow speaker presentations, panel discussions and downloadable media assets:

“Check out (company name) and boothxxxx at (event name); stop by for (a chance to win… product demo…  special presentation… etc.).”

“Attending (event name)? (Name/Title) from (Company Name) will present a paper on (topic) in (location)(time). Listen in, join the conversation (link to presentation/paper abstract)”

“Listening to (names and companies) and the (panel title) discuss (panel topic). For a deeper dive, visit (your company name) at (link)”

“New analyst whitepaper on (topic) for download.  Visit (link) for a closer look at (product and/or technology description).

You get the idea.   By being armed w/ a pre-approved architecture, marketing should be better able to participate.

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deliberately(Read time = ~2 minutes) With only 140 characters, body language missing… no context or context of only 1/2 a conversation and no ability to “look your counterpart in the eye”… are you communicating well?  Is the messaging coming across the way you intend?

Double think before you click, or risk suffering the consequences,.

Real time case study:  An electronic firm last week issued news as part of a product line refresh.  Features and functionality were nicely added.  An editor for a European publication covering the story dropped on “creative” headline playing off current television jargon:   “(company name) pimps out new (XXX product name)…”.  No sooner than the story hit, tweets began to fly – exactly as I’m sure the editor wanted.

Inside the client company, angst occurred despite the story content being very positive.  Use of “pimp” in the headline caused many to argue against re-tweets and references. After an email flurry, the more younger marketers quickly pointed out a distinction between use of the word as a verb (ie, “pimping out your ride”) v. use of the word as a noun.  The former is actually a positive reference for “refresh”, “retool”, and/or “re-spin”.

The discussion brought to mind one of the difficulties facing marketers, Agencies and consultants when dealing w/Twitter, in particular.  the real-time nature of communications can often cause fingers to fly across the keyboard ending in “enter” w/out sufficient time for thinking or understanding.

Add now Google’s testing of its Wave (new email platform) application with keystroke-by-keystroke visibility and there will soon be another very misunderstood-prone platform available.

Most of us have experienced receiving email responses predicated on only the first sentence or two… worse, email responses based only on a subject line and zero reading of the actual email body itself. (I confess, I’m guilty here). So, just a word of caution as highlighted by last week’s client experience and a classic case of Twitter misunderstanding. 

Go fast, but slowly.

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perception_vase(Read time = ~3 minutes) Following on its last May promise to further clarify Fair Trade Commission guidelines regarding disclosure rules and paid endorsements/testimonials, the FTC Monday issued notice of changes to its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,  calling out behavior specific to blogger engagements and paid-per- tweet services.

The Guides are interpretations of law, intended to help advertising and companies comply w/the FTC Act.  The Guides were last updated in 1980.  Companies, bloggers and other “word-of-mouth” marketers are advised to disclose any “material connections” (payments or receipt of merchandise and/or service, in kind) that consumers would not expect.

Why Care: A Use Case of Accidental Endorsement

Because “paid endorsement” no longer is limited to hard cash, the line blurs quickly for many engaged in the larger conversation.  Imaging you’re attending you’re attending the next industry tradeshow.  Company A circulates a TweetUp! call and gathering at the second-floor bar.  Drinks are freely poured while a product demonstration occurs and management touts the latest and greatest benefits and functionality.  Impressed, you tweet the event and comment, ever so briefly, on the product demo, availability and/or functional improvements.  A blogger (or two) in the crowd reports on the event and reactions.  Have you unwittingly become a “word of mouth” conduit for endorsement? What are the disclosure rules that apply?  Where is the line?

We may need a hastag colution to quickly/easily communicate the “sponsorship/payment” case.  How about #$… #$$…. #$$$ depending on the amount of compensation?  (thanx @spookwrite)

Transparency is goodness, and the policy is aimed at correcting deceptive practices,  but it could easily become uncomfortable for those engaged in adding a voice to the larger, social conversation to think that a disgruntled response to a blog post, tweet or Facebook comment might escalate.  And for marketers using or thinking of using on-line and social media strategies to push messaging and sustain the buzz, be wary… be smart. Are you at risk of being an unwitting “word-of-mouth” endorser, and therefore having behavior subject to FTC regulation? 

Twitter is not specifically mentioned, but the Guides do call out “celebrity endorsement as relates to advertising regulation.  TechCrunch in July, did a thoughtful recap of pay-per-tweet networks such as Izea, TweetROI, Twittad and Magpie.  Very worthwhile for marketers to pay close attention.  What are the implications for personal branding behavior?

The FTC did write that it will review cases one-by-one so evolution of the interpretation will occur.  Consider also that In traditional journalism circles, produce reviewers are often provided product for investigation and perhaps public comment.  Widely, the products are kept by the reviewer/service yet not always disclosed.  This new FTC Guide seems to distinguish bloggers, in particular, as not being legitimate news resources and more simply advertising shill.  An unfortunate conclusion.

Oh, and by the way… on-line services and bloggers, in particular,were first to bring the news public.  If that’s not journalism, dunno what is… Several resources writing on the topic

Should all make for an even more interesting Blog World & New Media Expo beginning Oct. 15.  Can’t wait.

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Approved(Read time = 2-3 minutes) A previous ScoopD blog post illuminated the emerging dilemma for marcom practitioners driving their companies to social media best practices; namely the appropriate role of legal approval in the social media communications process.  As often happens in today’s social media, the post opened up a whole can of virtual and viral worms.  Here, contributor Chuck Byers takes the conversation a layer deeper w/regard/to striking an appropriate balance between protection, real-time marketing and freedom of expression.

This isn’t going to be an entertaining rant on the intrusion of our legal colleagues into the creative and messaging process (although such is tempting) because the truth is this sometimes acrimonious dialog is historic and on-going.  And ultimately, I’m going to ask you to share your best practices because, quite frankly, the role of legal and marcom in corporate social media is evolving.

At the outset, let’s acknowledge that there are enormous and legitimate legal concerns.  I’m not a lawyer but it is obvious that an entity is at legal risk nearly anytime it communicates with its constituents.  It used to be that biggest worries were having a corporate officer mutter something untoward into an unsuspected open microphone or in a mistakenly “off-the-record” interview. These risks are compounded in legal’s eyes by the litigious nature of today’s society, shareholder activism, and competitive business practices. 

There are clearly additional concerns over the implications and mis-steps of the speed of information exchange and the breadth of information reach.  The worldwide web isn’t called www for nothing and the ability to injure, harm or offend spreads as wide as the ability to enhance societal justice.  Trumping all considerations is the necessary ability to catalog, store, retrieve and produce — or more importantly legally protect and defend — material that could be potentially determined to be discoverable.

That said, what is the appropriate balance between legal protection, marketing, freedom of expression and capitalizing on the spontaneity and interactivity of the social media for the social good? How do companies balance these two historically orthogonal perspectives when there appear to be a range of corporate policies and cultures at play?

At one end, there is a technology company with a very active robust social media department who designates specific individual to be their social media communicators.  These individuals are charged with using good taste, a thoughtful consideration for the power of their words and deeds, a culture that reinforces that they are the company’s representatives and that they are the trusted messenger of the company’s good will.  Within these boundaries, they are charged to maximize all facets of social media for the company good … blogs, tweets, FaceBook and even virtual reality.

At the other end, there are companies whose legal departments are insisting that they need to approve an 89-character tweet that point’s customers to the company’s latest new product announcement. 

So where is the middle ground?  As communicators we would clearly prefer the former to the latter.  But this not Utopia and not every company is going to be so liberal 

What are the best practices?  We call upon the wiki-power of the blogosphere for the answers.  Share your experiences, best practices and worst practices.  The ScoopD team hopes to gather feedback with the intent to begin dialogue leading to a sense of direction.  

And in the best spirit of social media, we will share all in what we hope will be a consensus seeking exercise.  Follow http://www.twitter.com/maddogprofessor on Twitter and let’s begin trading ideas.

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