- Build a tool that people want to use. Check!
- Put in a whole lot of nice crunchy Ajaxy stuff for people to play with. Check!
- Figure out how to make money from it while not chasing away the free profile folks. Double checkmark!
Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t be reading this.
Thirteen or fourteen years ago, I had a blog (I called it a web diary) that had about three irregular readers. All of them knew me. There weren’t really any search engines (yeah you can haggle with me on this one, but really there weren’t!), and there was no possible way anyone could have found me.
Today anyone with a big of imagination and some free time can post up a blog, cross reference their feed in a bunch of places, crow about it on Twitter, comment on a few other blogs – and within a few hours (if they have anything useful and interesting to say!), they have an audience. Not just people they know – people anywhere.
If that isn’t empowering, I don’t know what is.
If you are looking for an example of a social media site that really works hard at building a relationship with its “customers”, check out DandyId.
I found the site via a plugin for WordPress by Neil Simon.
DandyId allows you to put in links to all of your public profiles in a single place, which is useful when you have a large number of them. The plugin, in turn, allows you to list them all on your blog.
I happened to note on this site that there were a few social media sites that I had profiles for that were not available on DandyId. Within minutes, Neil had contacted me to ask for a list, which he then forwarded along to DandyId. The next day, they were all incorporated into their system.
If you are in the business of dealing with customers, I hope that you a) listen, b) care, c) respond as well as Neil and DandyId. I hope that I can relate to my customers that well.
Alas, this post is a lament.
Way back when, there used to be a website called Askme.com. A friend of mine introduced me to Askme, which filled a niche similar to Yahoo! Answers today. Unlike Answers, people needed to specifically register to answer questions in a particular category, and in doing so indicate how they were expert in the topic. Users of the site rated answers in the standard manner, and experts were ranked both overall and in their categories of expertice.
The Askme community is probably the most vibrant of all of the online communities that I have been involved with over the years. In every category in which I was active, there were users who I truly got to know – both experts and people asking questions. People stuck around for years, and got involved in maintaining their categories.
Unfortunately the company decided that running a free website to showcase their technology was too expensive, so they shut it down in order to focus on selling their software to Fortune 500 companies instead. The hundreds of thousands of committed experts floated away along the internet’s pipes, and so far I have yet to find another site that I truly felt at home participating in to the same extent. From what I’ve heard, I’m not the only one.
I’ve seen this a lot lately: some little flyspec place a million miles away from anything decides that they need to be bleeding edge. So they build a virtual world that duplicates the whole town and everything in it, and then try to provide municipal services through it.
My chief question is whether they have virtualized garbage collection and property taxes. I’d love to be able to pay my property taxes in Linden Dollars.
I don’t see anything wrong really with the notion that municipalities need to find more ways to connect to residents (as long as they do it right). I think the critical factor is that they need to realize that Social Media provides a different set of features and opportunities to other, older ways of “interfacing”. If their goal is to give their residents a way to contribute to the community then good for them. If they think that throwing up a 3d VR version of City Hall and then hoping that people will vote them in again next time around, then they should understand up front that they are wasting taxpayer’s money.
The idea behind corporate blogging is to somehow build a more effective connection between a company and its customers. By allowing customers to have a say in how the company functions – giving them “ownership” in a certain sense – there is both opportunity and risk. The risk is more obvious: what if they say bad stuff about us? The opportunity has been well documented by people like Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki – there is something incredibly attractive about a company that is truly willing to open itself up and “embrace” its customer base.
The truth of the matter is that I don’t have too much first experience with this idea. Yes, I’ve blogged in the past, but it was always more of a personal thing to amuse myself and my friends. Yes, I’ve played around with social media for marketing previous companies that I’ve been part of, but again this was in some way a half-hearted effort; not much more than randomly broadcasting “here I am” to anyone who would listen.
When I started Lichtman Consulting, I wanted to do things better, in a way that I had always somehow felt attracted to, yet never quite did – often because I couldn’t get buyin from my stakeholders (and other times because it is hard and takes real work). My goal was to build the kind of company that I had always admired from the distance. A company that listen to its customers. A company that gave them a say in matters. A company that is committed to Open Source, to community give-back, to making the world a better place. Not just words, but for real.
When I think of embracing my audience, I think of:
- let people comment on anything;
- respond to their comments;
- try to learn their needs;
- make an effort to change what I do to fit their needs better (even when it hurts);
- learn (and teach) constantly;
- care about stuff
I’m not convinced that I’ve totally nailed it yet. I mean I’ve seen other people do it, and do it well. People you’ve heard of too. I know I’m still new at this game, and that there is a lot to learn if I’m going to be any darn good at it.
Have some good ideas on embracing your audience? I’d love to hear from you!
Facebook was the first social media site that I started using. I used to be stuck in the mindset that social media was a complete waste of time, and I actively avoided creating profiles online for years. These days, social media forms a critical part of how I market my company: a significant chunk of my business comes about via my interactions with people on sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others.
Initially I used Facebook primarily for looking up long lost friends – not an unusual purpose. The key site for networking purposes was always LinkedIn. I’ve come to realize though that every social media site has its own personality, and that the differences can be very useful once you recognize them.
Facebook places a higher priority than many other sites on connecting only to people that you know well. I don’t know too many “LIONS” (LinkedIn Open Networkers) on Facebook. Typically the vast majority of people in your Facebook friends list are people that you’ve met face to face. I get many requests from complete strangers on sites like MySpace, but seldom from Facebook.
The advantage of creating a network of people that you actually know (i.e. separate from a loosely linked network of people that you have just interacted with online), is that many of those people will have some existing idea of the kinds of things that you do. This means that you don’t need to explain too much in order to start utilizing that network for finding leads. It also means that the people in your friend’s list are already “rooting” for you – they’re your friends after all. If your set of friends has anything in common at all withyou (and I assume that like most people you are friendly with people that are similar to you in interests), they’ll have the right kind of connections to be able to come up with targetted sales leads.
I’m not advocating using Facebook exclusely for this purpose, or ignoring the kinds of loose networks that you probably also have on other sites. Don’t spam your friends with sales requests, and make sure that you actively reciprocate with leads in return. They’re your friend after all! Do, however, make sure that your profile accurately reflects the kind of work that you do, that your status updates indicate what you are trying to accomplish, and that you obey the Golden Rule of Networking: always give the first lead.
Back in 2007, Chris Brogan posted a list of 100 Blog Topics that he suggested people write about.
The list blew me away when I read it recently.
I immediately wrote a blog entry on one of them, but I’ve discovered that that just isn’t sufficiently satisfying.
I want to cover ALL of those topics.
So here’s the challenge (and I love a race): Let’s see who can be the first blogger to cover every single one of those topics. If you’re in, let me know so I can keep track.
In my experience, build traffic to a site is easy – it just takes work. The same goes for building a following on social media sites like Twitter or Facebook. If you’re willing to dedicate the time to posting regularly, promoting diligently, and continually learning new tricks, eventually everything will come together.
I discovered DandyId recently while playing around with WordPress. It’s a tool that allows you to enter in the links to many of your other social networking profiles.
I’m currently working on a book on social networking, so the number of accounts that I have has reached ridiculous proportions. I’ve seen a couple of other sites that try to tie things in together, but DandyId is the most comprehensive one I’ve seen so far.
One small hitch: its still missing about a dozen of the sites that I have accounts on.