TOOLS, TOOLS, TOOLS – Working the Crowd

TOOLS, TOOLS, TOOLS

Terms and concepts

Outside the firewall, blogs and wikis are just one part of the digital engagement toolset. There are many other tools:

TOOLS AND TERMS

  • Podcast A digital media file, typically audio, made available for download from a website in a consistent format.

  • Vlogging Short for ‘video blogging‘, which delivers video or Internet television from blogs and from video sharing sites such as YouTube.

  • Moblogging A mechanism allowing blog posts to be published from a mobile phone.

  • Phlogging Short for ‘photo blogging‘, where photos are uploaded from a mobile phone directly to the web for sharing.

  • Screencast A recording of a computer screen, perhaps showing a demonstration of a feature which is captured in video format using a capture tool and uploaded to the web.


These tools, and many more like them, add to the wealth of news distribution mechanisms which encourage user generated content to be added to the web. With an effective plan for finding your customers, engaging with them and getting them to become advocates for your brand, you can leverage these Web 2.0 tools to your advantage and enhance your business.

There are so many tools to update your networking sites that it could take an age to go through them all to update them. Fortunately, there are information aggregators that allow you to pool relevant information. Some tools, Huddle for example, work well for online collaborative ventures or create online workspaces for virtual team work. Other tools, such as Digg, Reddit and Stumbleupon, relay content, news and information, keeping followers up to date. Some tools like Hunch and Yelp in the US are rating services for people to give feedback on a product or a service, and others like Google Reader are online personal aggregators of news. All of these sites are designed to make things easier to find on the social web, linking videos, blogs and other websites together in one useful place, ready to be tagged, marked as a favourite and commented upon by community.

Video

The value of meeting someone face to face cannot be underestimated if you want to be successful in business. However, there are alternatives such as talking to customers on the telephone or seeing them online. There are many applications available on the web that do this—both for consumers and corporates—and they help people communicate wherever they are. Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and a headset together enable seamless audio and video communication from computer to computer. All you need is a computer with audio and a webcam. Popular applications include Adobe Acrobat Connect, GoogleTalk, iChat, Intercall, Meetcam, Microsoft Live Meeting, Radvision, Stickam, Skype, Telepresence, WebEx and Yahoo! Messenger.

Blogs

Blogs are personal, compelling and can be hugely successful in a very short space of time. You can find blogs on almost any topic you care to name.

For example, Judith O’Reilly writes the Wife in the North blog.8 Judith only started to blog when her husband, who wanted to bring up her children in a country setting away from London, moved the family to Northumberland, 30 minutes from the nearest town. Her husband was kept in London for weeks at a time with his work, so Judith started to blog in 2006 as a way of chronicling how different and challenging her new life was.

Her blog is notable for how quickly she managed to turn her blog into a book deal. Her blog was linked to by Tom Watson MP, an influential parliamentary blogger. Tom’s blog was linked to by Iain Dale, another influential blogger. Iain’s blog was commented upon by Andrew Sullivan, a writer and columnist. The comment came to the attention of Patrick Walsh, a literary agent based in the UK, who contacted Judith about a book deal. This is a classic example of how effective the word of mouth network can be in getting your message out. Judith was amazed by the attention. She wrote:9

Blogging is a strange and wonderful thing. I reached out into cyberspace because I needed to—not in any expectation of a book deal. Better than a book deal, any book deal, have been the kindly comments, e-mails and messages from strangers who aren—t strangers any more who said: —I read you and you made me laugh— and —I read you and you made me cry—. My book deal isn—t so much about money; it is more to do with the fact that blogging is a force to be reckoned with. Ultimately blogging is people willing to commit time, effort and emotion.


Mobile blogging

Moblogging, which is the ability to blog, upload videos or pictures from your mobile phone, has grown significantly over the past few years.

The ability to microblog, or use short status updates, post photos or videos, makes the moblogging concept compelling to the consumer and gives companies a great marketing opportunity to connect at the actual event.


Mobile blogging is popular with tourists, people on the move or people who want to post blog entries as they are happening. The ability to communicate with others at events, posting images of new announcements or items, shows readers what you are seeing at the time you are seeing it. You can post updates to your blog, upload photos, sound bites or video clips whilst you are actually at the event watching the news unfold. You are effectively blogging ‘live‘.

With the advent of applications for mobile phones such as Twitter and Facebook and location aware applications, you can automatically update your location from your device. This term has evolved to include any status update, image or video update from a mobile device or smart phone.

Microblogging: the shorter blog

Microblogging is defined as a shortened version of blogging, uploading an image or posting a video to a website. The most notable microblogging sites are Tumblr, Plurk, Yammer and Twitter, which has exploded in popularity since its launch in April 2006. More and more business is being conducted online, so the value of Twitter cannot be underestimated. With around 50 million status messages or tweets per day according to the Twitter blog, someone, somewhere, is listening to what you have to say. It’s a hugely powerful way of promoting your business, connecting with your customers and creating buzz about your brand. With Twitter, you have up to 140 characters to create and post your message, which is then broadcast to the world. Anyone can follow you without your consent. Everything you tweet appears on your feed stream and anyone can click on the link to follow your status updates. If you want to build privacy into your status updates you can. You can decide to protect your updates so that they can’t be seen by everyone. Then, when someone wants to follow you on Twitter, you can decide to permit them to follow you. Therefore only people you have individually authorised can see your Twitter stream.

It’s very easy to get started on Twitter. All you need to do is to set up a profile and a unique user name on the site. The user name is used in the URL and takes the form of http://twitter.com/username. No spaces or characters other than underscores are permitted in the name. Users communicate with you directly by including your Twitter username, preceded by the ’@’ sign in their message, which is called a tweet. This message can be seen by anyone who follows the sender of the original message, so whole conversations can be followed. To privately send a tweet which can be seen by the recipient only you need to precede the tweet by the letter D. This is known as a direct message or DM.

You can customise your profile with extra information about yourself within the 160 character limit which is more than the 140 characters permitted by each Twitter status update. You can upload a photo and include a link to your website or blog. You build lists to group people into categories which can be seen by anyone who sees your profile. You can ‘favourite‘ a particular tweet for your reference. This status message which can also be seen by others if they click on your favourites button on your page. You can tag topics by using a hashtag. A hashtag is a word preceded by the character # which can be searched for. If many people use the same hashtag, it can become a trend for others to use. The search function in Twitter lets you search for phrases, words, hashtags or people.

The retweet

The most powerful mechanism is the art of the retweet. A retweet is when someone rebroadcasts your original status update to their own followers, amplifying your message. There are three main things you need to think about when you planning a message and want it to be retweeted:

User names:

My own Twitter user name, @eileenb, is eight characters in length out of the available maximum of 140 characters. If I want to create something compelling in my status update to engage the audience and encourage a series of retweets then I need to consider this:

HOW TO GET YOUR STATUS RETWEETED

  • I want to make sure that, when my message is rebroadcast, the context of the original message isn’t lost. Therefore I need to make sure that my original message is short enough to be rebroadcast.

  • The first few characters of my message when it is retweeted by another person looks like this: RT @eileenb. This phrase is 12 characters in length. I’ve counted one trailing space after the character ’b’ for spacing purposes. This gives me 128 remaining characters to create my original message.

  • Most third party Twitter clients use the form ‘RT‘ at the start of the message, but that‘s not the only option available. Some seasoned Twitter users use the term ‘via‘. However, `via‘ uses another character from my allocation and would leave only 127 characters for the message.


This is something to keep in mind when you’re planning the update that you want to have retweeted. But what if you intend your message to be broadcast over and over again?

Multiple retweets:

Suppose your carefully crafted message, consisting of a maximum of 124 characters, gets retweeted and the news is so interesting that it gets retweeted again. A retweet appends a further name to the tweet which now looks like this: RT@eileenb @quiggles. This new format uses 22 characters from your original allocation of 140, including the trailing space. The more retweets you get, the more user names are appended to the message, leaving fewer characters for the actual message.

URL shorteners:

Try not to put a shortened URL at the end of your tweet. You may be well within your 140-character limit with the original tweet but after it’s been retweeted twice without care, the last few characters may have disappeared from the URL, which could leave you with a URL that looks like

http://tinyurl.com/ydr


instead of the five or six characters you actually need to visit the destination page.

Getting your message rebroadcast

People buy from people and relationships do matter, even if they are relationships that started in 140-character form. Getting people to talk about you is important—as are referrals and retweets. Retweets are a great way of getting the message across and amplifying it throughout the Twitter audience. You—ll never get poor content rebroadcast, so it—s important to consider the impact of your message and its newsworthiness. Make sure you retweet other interesting pieces of information that you find to propagate to your own followers.

There is an awful lot of ‘noise‘ on Twitter, and it is estimated that out of over 10 million users, only 5% of these accounts are actively posting updates. The average tweet per user is 1, which indicates a large number of unused accounts. Statistics currently show that over 50% of accounts are completely inactive. Your challenge is how to channel the relationship that you have created with your Twitter followers into something worthwhile for your business. It is important to remember that Twitter is like any other communications channel. Make your users feel valuable by responding to them, rebroadcasting their messages and giving them more visibility which will encourage positive responses from them. Asking for help often brings new and valuable connections you hadn‘t considered before. I have discovered new friends on Twitter. I have been at events and total strangers have introduced themselves to me. They have followed me on Twitter and, due to my friendly style of interaction, they feel they know me personally. When I announce that I‘ll be at an event and will be at a certain place at a specified time, my virtual friends come and say hello. This turns my existing virtual relationship into a face to face relationship and strengthens bonds. I was at a trade show a couple of years ago and a man walked up to me extending his hand. ‘Hi, I‘m Gary‘, he said. I looked puzzled. ‘Quiggles!‘ he announced. It was really great for me to meet someone with whom I‘d been having a conversation for months but had never met.

Of course, with the huge amount of information flowing from Twitter, you need a client application to manage the people you follow and the messages they send. The most popular client application at the moment is Tweetdeck, although other applications like Twhirl and Hootsuite are popular. Applications for mobile devices like Twitterific, Twitterfon and Dabr help you tweet on the move. New applications appear and disappear regularly, so it’s always a good idea to see what’s hot or not at the moment.