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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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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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URL(Read time = 3-4 minutes)  So just how much are 8 keystrokes worth in a 140c world?  When you’re the marketer or copywriter or Agency social media guru charged with fitting key messages and a link into Twitter dress, a huge amount, I’ll venture.  Of course, headline writers and desk copy editors have faced down this challenge as any journalist can attest; but for most B2B marketers, it’s Twitter that drives home the need for being crisp, like never before.  Depending on what shorten URL service you now use, significant keystrokes are likely yours for the picking.

In 2008, Mashable did a roundup of URL shortening services and highlighted 90 providers… (yup 90!) of the truncating darlings.  Interestingly, several of today’s “most used” weren’t even then visible (think bit.ly  and BUDurl and ow.ly).   A year later, TopRank’s Lee Odden asked his 10K+ Twitter followers for their vote on favorite shortening service to arrive at a “top 11” list;  another good read isa cli.gs blog post catalogs the results of a massive (10.2 million) Twitter scrape with analytics on most used domains.

ManyB2B pros will care about analytics, tracking, campaign comparison statistics and customization as outreach social media initiativesevolve… client data-hogs will want to watch re-tweet performance, compare one approach to another using keywords, etc.  If data and tracking isn’t required, just go w/the flow and use whatever embedded services comes w/your Twitter client.  But if you do care, how do you begin to sort thru the choices?  Good news is, experimentation is usually easy and cost free.

Here’s an Evaluation Tick-List We’ve Observed Many Use

Do It Yourself…or Grab a Custom Domain  For some, the ideal of operating yourown shortening service can be attractive.  Lifehacker (8/09) has a nice discussion on this topic, here  ; As well, some of the commercial providers (360liveoak, for one.) have expanded into the custom domain business  such as Ez.com and clients like Travelocity and the Seattle Seahawks. Some companies have ready-made, very short names that could easily be developed for custom short URL use.

Tracking/Statistics/Analytics…or not  What do you want to know, how real-time, what level of analytics.  Or not.  Tackle this as an early part of the decision tree as it will simplify choices. Some providers cater to commercial, enterprise users.  Others take the simple/easy/no-problem path.  Spend time thinking about your needs and take the road most travelled.  Then, don’t hesitate to experiment and change.  Tap into the blog network to stay current.

Twitter Client Support:  Ask the question, what service is supported by the Twitter client you most use?  Below is a snapshot for TweetDeck and Seesmic, two of the more popular desktop clients. URL native support just makes life easier.  For those wanting to dive deep, Twitstat reports on Twitter client metrics.  By knowing what’s most popular, you can get a gauge of provider stability and value. 

 TweetDeck v30.5  – bit.ly is the default.  Can be changed to: tinyurl, is.gd, or twurl from the TD Settings/Services window;  Can manage multiple Twitter accounts; easy links out to: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace.

SeesmicDesktop 0.6.air  – bit.ly is the default.  Can be changed to:  is.gd, snurl.com, digg.com, twurl.nl, or tr.im from the Accounts/Services window; Can manage multiple Twitter accounts; easy links out to Facebook.

301 Redirect Availability: If SEO is important to you, this is a critical feature.  Shortener services can provide two URL options:  301s (permanent links) and 307s/302s (usually the default and only a temporary link).  Which is used impacts search engine performance. It’s important because search engines “credit” 301s to the original, long URL; in contrast, a non-301 redirect is “temporary” and search engines value these less.  For a case study in URL structure, go here

Customization options – think vanity URLs and branding extension here, as one option;  or use of your own domain (only useful if your domain name is short… see above);  Other options include keyword tags, grouping of multiple URLs into campaigns for comparisons, etc.  Marketers love this feature (the ScoopD team included) so it makes our evaluation list though not as critical as other pieces.

Other Considerations

Stability:  Reliability of the URL provider service, ie will the provider be around day-to-day, year over year. One way to evaluate is longevity and funding.

Bulk shortening – Far fetched, perhaps not.  We know of one client who routinely uses a dozen or so URLs for every launch as they are monitoring different vertical audience communities and trying to understand differences in response behavior.  Converting URLs one at a time can be both an irritant as well as just a long process.

Paid or Free – Cost does matter, even if it’s a balance between hard $$ and user time/usability.  For some, cost is a knockout box – but for most B2B companies some level of cost is permissible so long as there’s value associated w/the expense.

How small is small? “h t t p://”  takes 7 characters… add to this the shortener domain (eg, TinyURL.com would take11 more… bit.ly requires 6 (no .com needed)… is.gd takes 5 (again, no .com needed); then add on the obligatory “path” portion in the for of “/xxxx” (what a normal web site would appear as the page name. So, if size really matters, go for something like:   http://is.gd/3Np6h   (18 characters) v. a TinyURL like:   http://tinyurl.com/ya25va5   (26 characters) for a savings sof 8 keystrokes.

Recycling:  Re-use of URLs?  Surely never… but a close reading Terms/Conditions statements found only one service (is.gd) that explicitly said they would not do this (the type was very tiny so could have missed preclusions by other providers).

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relationsRead time = 3-4 minutes) With the buzz around social networking, I’m struck by how small the conversation seems to be regarding investor community/investor relations. IR pros, in my experience, are among the best at networking and engaging in community conversation. I see the occasional YouTube video annual report… certainly there are several blogs to be found, but in the larger social media conversation, IR seems mostly missing in action.

Yes, IR outreach is by nature cautious… and regulated. There’s concern about disclosure and eDiscovery, in particular. But with the evolution of on-line tools and global, 24/7 investment markets, the social media landscape would seem fertile ground for both messaging and IR communications.

Regulators weighing in: Social media IR relevance moved a giant step closed in July ’08, when the SEC recognition of corporate web content as public disclosure avenues (click here) .  Here also  is one of the better blog posts on that by brian solis.  SEC guidance on the use of Company Websites (Aug 08) is also available, a 41-page report; this addressed 1) when information posted on a company web site is “public” for purposes of Regulation FD, and 2) company information liability. Keeping pace with rapidly changing tools, transparency and regulation clearly presents a large challenge for PR/AR/IR company professionals. Even while companies might find roles for social networks, blogs and digital communities, traditional outlets remain as well as the underlying responsibility for companies to share data consistently and in compliance with regulators and standards.

So… Who’s Doing What? What Can Be Learned from the Pioneers? 

A snapshot of several big brands and how they are engaging on the investor relations front, as well as a research tracking site for a larger picture.

@DellShares  A Dell blog specifically aimed at shareholder conversation and community. Sun Microsystems: Official Investor Communications

Sun has been a loud advocate, wonder if the Oracle buyout will cause a change in direction.  In the past, Sun has offered up a  Compilation of RSS investor feeds; access to events; earnings news releases; breaking news; SEC filings; blog.

eBay blogs on earnings  One of the most innovative approaches. eBay official corporate Twitter account, used in part for promoting earnings calls example from eBay, Friday 3/6/09 by eBay’s own “internal reporter”, Richard Brewer-Hay. During earnings calls, he tweeted live and is empowered to shape the brand while adding perspective and personality.

The Society for New Communications Research tracks 75+ Fortune 500 companies that use corporate blogs and over 20 that link to corporate Twitter accounts.

Some Observations

  •  The line is blurring between traditional IR communications channels and new media channels/web. 
  • Paying attention is good due diligence
  • Social media is not just about Twitter and Facebook. Consider: Seeking Alpha, Wikinvest, StockTwits, 1000s of financial blogs, and the countless emerging services sites
  • Risk of social media exists whether you participate or not
  • New media amplifies an individual’s voice, sometimes louder than the company’s voice.

What else are you thinking; what other experiences or observations do you have?

By the way:  this blog post is not intended to be, in any way, a substitute for specific legal advice, as legal counsel, or in any other way recommendation for company behavior.  The blog post is an evolving discussion around the topic of social media use.
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