Getting Started with Twitter: A Smart Newbie’s Perspective


As you know, I’m a big fan of serendipity. This morning, it struck again as I invited folks in the great city of Austin, TX to join me for coffee at one of my favorite spots, the Hideout. I had low expectations given the fact that I gave people less than 18 hours notice AND the fact that it was two days before Christmas. While we didn’t get quantity, I got quality in spades with my friend, Michael Pearson and new friend, David Patton.


Why I mentioned “serendipity” is that David happens to be quite an interesting fellow. What intrigued me the most was the fact that he had just started on his Twitter adventure about six weeks ago so this was my opportunity to relive those early moments of “holy shit, this thing is a game changer” of Twitter. Since I didn’t have an audio recorder, I went the old fashioned route and sent David six questions via e-mail to answer. Being a good doobie, he turned them around within a few hours.

For anyone that’s new to Twitter, I REALLY like the way David is approaching the space. If I were to have a do over, I’d likely take an approach to Twitter that’s similar to his.

1) Talk a little bit about your role at Hush and the jobs/paths that led you up to your current position.
My association with Hush began in late ’90s as an initial investor, and subsequently, after helping secure several rounds of funding, as a director.

Starting and growing a real estate development company in Austin during the malaise of the savings and loan crisis, and a securities/investment firm in the latter part of the decade, provided much of the experience necessary to help guide Hush through the dot com meltdown.

More importantly, very early on we decided it was important to gain credibility with encryption experts, by publishing our source code, and with our customers, by offering swift, honest and detailed
customer service, often provided by our CTO, Brian Smith. This was completely uncharacteristic of the industry at the time, and it built a high level of trust between the company, our industry peers and our subscribers. And this trust is the foundation of our business, because without it the technology means nothing.

2) When did you get started on Twitter? What was the impetus for joining?
Uncharacteristically, the early phase passed passed me by. But the Twitterstorms which erupted during the Hudson River plane crash, and after the Iranian election voter uprising, got me to take notice that something had changed in the way we communicate as a society. News procurement and provision would never be the same.

3) What has been your greatest “aha” moment on Twitter?

There were two. The first was replacing decade old website habits with my real-time Twitter timeline. It didn’t take long to realize Google is a horrible search engine for up to the minute news. And
even once cutting edge sites, updated daily, began to appear stale. If it’s happening now, it’s streaming on Twitter.

The second was the realization that the Cluetrain had picked up steam and was making speed right down Madison Avenue. This was a game changer. Who buys anything anymore without reading customer reviews? Who went to see Bruno? James Cameron should pay a portion of Avatar’s box office receipts to Robert Scoble and [Mike] Arrington.


4) What do you find most annoying about Twitter?

Not much. It’s all pretty fascinating to me. Democracy can be messy. Democratization of industries can be downright ugly, and that’s what we’re seeing. But like the dust, sweat and noise of travel, it’s all part of reaching a better place!

5) Talk a little bit about your follow strategy.

This can be tricky.  To get right to the crux of any matter you have to go where the action is, so I right off the bat I followed almost all of the employees at Twitter, listened to the buzz, followed who they followed and who followed them, and gradually got a better feel for the etiquette and protocols of the Titterverse. Scoble followed me then you followed me, so I said, wow, anyone can engage anyone else here, and that was key. I made it a point to follow, and to be followed by, anyone who genuinely wanted to engage in a conversation that was meaningful to both of us.

6) Words of wisdom (this is the freeform section)

  • Listen. It takes a lot of patience, but you can learn so much more by paying attention to what’s going on around you than by interrupting a conversation.
  • Give. Link people who may gain something by knowing each other, without expecting anything in return. It will come back around (The twizzang effect!).
  • Say “Yes” to hyper-caffeinated, outgoing marketing types who randomly arrange early morning coffee tweetups ;)

What about you? Do you remember your first few weeks on Twitter? Please feel free to share in the comments section below.

Ten Most Poplular Citizen Marketer 2.1 Posts of 2009

For the record, I’m totally following the pack on this one — something I don’t normally do. But give the fact that I had a lot of posts this year, I couldn’t resist putting out a list of the ten most popular posts on Citizen Marketer 2.1 aka “Stroutmeister.com.”

One funny aside, my Experts in the Industry interview with Ken Burbary – a good friend and the head of digital strategy and social media at Ernst & Young — got 6,786 hits in one day. Why did this not make it into your top ten you ask? It’s certainly not because I get so much traffic that Ken’s post didn’t rate. But rather, it was due to a misdirected shortened URL in a tweet by a Ms. Demi Moore. Yes, that Demi Moore. I wonder if any of the 6,786 people that visited Ken’s interview that day actually stayed and read the post.

With that as the backdrop, here are the top ten in reverse order. I tried to provide a one sentence summary to help you decide whether or not you want to spend the time reading. Enjoy!

10. Experts in the Industry: Jennifer LeggioI’m going to go out on a limb and assume that the popularity of this post is 50% due to Jennifer being a rock star and 50% due to her being my Quick-n-Dirty podcast partner. #justsayin

9. What’s the Deal with MovemberWhile the post itself was shit, I am most proud of this one because of what #TeamAustin did with Movember [hint: it had something do with raising $17,800 to fight cancer in men]

8. The Virtual Tongue: How to NOT Use Facebook for Business – In fairness, this one was a little bit of a rant but it got a surprising number of comments and retweets, mainly because I think many folks knew exactly what I was talking about.

7. Five Reasons Why Your Comany’s Website Sucks – To be honest, this one is a little bit of a headscratcher because while the topic is an interesting one, it was definitely not one of my better posts.

6. How We Market – This was definitely one of my favorites, probably because it spoked to the value of “eating one’s own dogfood.” The fact that it got 19 comments also didn’t hurt.

5. Experts in the Industry: Diane Hessan – No real shocker here. Diane, the CEO of Communispace is a smart woman and one of my favorite people in the world of community.

4. Marketers Beware the Age Wave – I co-penned this post with my good friend, and now semi-regular blogging partner partner, John Cass. It speaks to the risk that marketers face if they ignore the impact of GenY consumers in the coming years.

3. Can Social Marketing Save the Auto Industry – this post (which wasn’t really even a post but rather a teaser for a kick ass webcast I did for my company, Powered) was an amazing discussion with the heads of social media at Ford  – Scott Monty and GM – Christopher Barger, along with the fabulous executive director of community at Edmunds.com, Sylvia Marino. Definitely worth the hour of time investment.

2. Social Marketing Challenge: In 100 Words or Less… – Amazing what a $20 iTunes giftcard and a challenge to describe “social marketing” in a 100 words or less can do. 54 comments on this one and one winner in the smart and witty, Shannon Paul.

1. Experts in the Industry: 45 Interviews in 45 Days – I would have been shocked if this handn’t been the winner (it was twice as popular as #2 on this list). In short, the concept of creating a series of 45 interviews with smart online/social people leading up to South by Southwest was one of the better ideas. Not only was it great blog fodder but it had crazy SEO implications. I’ve also had at least half a dozen people ask me if they stole the concept – of course I agreed. Oh yeah, I ended up interviewing closer to 75 people and ran way past SXSW but that was neither here nor there.

So these are according to the numbers. What was your favorite post on Citizen Marketer 2.1? Let me know in the comments so I can better plan my content calendar for next year.

The Semantic Web: A Treasure Trove for Marketers

Co-written by John Cass and Aaron strout. First posted on ReadWriteWeb on March 12, 2009.

What is the semantic web, you wonder? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The term “semantic web,” or “Web 3.0″ as some folks have started calling it, means different things to different people. In this post, we’ll clarify what it is and why we think it will play an important role in the world of marketing.

Two technologies in particular (natural-language search and content enhancement) promise to bring companies much closer to their customers and deliver to consumers more relevant content than ever before.

A little background may be helpful first in understanding what the semantic web is before we talk about why it’s important. Tim Berners-Lee, the man best known for his role in “inventing” the World Wide Web, is credited with coining the term “semantic web.” In fact, as early as 1999, Tim is quoted as saying:

I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The “intelligent agents” people have touted for ages will finally materialize.

Heady stuff, to say the least. An easier way to think about the semantic web is to boil it down to a few baseline concepts:

  • The web as we know it is mainly comprised of HTML documents, or web pages, as opposed to data repositories. Sure, mega-sites such as Wikipedia, Bigyellow.com, Amazon and YouTube sit on mountains of data, but by and large most sites have little to no real connectivity with each other.
  • Because most web pages and websites were built for people (to browse and search) rather than machines (to crawl, collect, and interact with), there is very little “meta-data,” or information that actually describes the data on an HTML page. For instance, most HTML tells a web browser where to put text, images, and video on a page but beyond that doesn’t do a good job of categorizing the information required for search engine optimization.
  • In that sense, search engines don’t actually understand what they read; they see only patterns or primitive contextual pairings of words. For instance, searching for “semantic web” will lead most search engines to scour billions of documents for those two words (preferably near each other) and then return results based on set SEO criteria. What they won’t return is a list of companies using semantic technologies, unless those companies’ websites scream it in the title, header, or body text.
  • Until more sites are built in semantic-friendly formats such as XML, OWL, and RDF, intelligently collecting, compiling, and connecting the billions of web pages out there will be nearly impossible. This becomes increasingly problematic as more and more consumer-generated content (CGC) is created on blogs and social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

With this baseline, we can now dive into the two particular ways that the semantic web is beginning (and will continue) to help marketers like us. The first, natural-language search, is implicit in nature insofar as it will help companies consume, digest, and interpret terabytes of conversations. The second, content enhancement, is more explicit because it makes existing content more valuable by reaching out to the vast resources of data available on the web.

Natural-Language Search

Consumer-generated content gives companies an opportunity to understand their customers’ concerns and conversations. Yet because so much content is out there, companies need filters to find the most relevant conversations. Natural-language processing can provide this function by automatically summarizing online content for useful analysis by filtering compiled conversations.

Natural-language processing is the process of analyzing web content for meaning. Using sophisticated linguistic technologies, large volumes of content would first be collected into a database. Then, identifying information, perhaps the sources or authors of the content, would be tagged. All of the data would be standardized into one relational database. Lastly, key metrics would be drawn from the raw data. The metrics might include the specific issues being discussed or the “sentiment” of a conversation (that is, whether it is favorable or not).

Semantic technology enables companies to understand the meaning of content and, hence, determine how people feel about their brand. Natural-language processing can help determine how much conversation is happening around an issue, the importance of that issue, and the growth rate of new issues. Natural-language processing can also help determine who is influential on a given issue and if a company’s marketing communications engage and resonate with customers.

As companies become more sophisticated in their understanding of what it means to engage customers, they recognize that the entire company needs to be involved in the process of engaging customers and community online. Semantic web technology vendors have developed workflow processes that copy the manual systems developed by companies to triage online opportunities. These workflow processes are CRM tools. In the process, semantic technologies have moved from just search and monitoring tools to engagement tools that allow sophisticated response management across the enterprise.

Examples of companies that are exploring ways to help businesses tap into the power of true natural-language search are Visible Technologies, Radian6, Nielsen Buzzmetrics, Cymfony, and BuzzGain. (Disclosure: Aaron Strout serves on BuzzGain’s Advisory Board.)

Content Enhancement

While natural-language search helps companies interpret data and see deeper into the trends in the conversations of their customers and prospects, think of content enhancement as a way for companies to make their existing content more valuable. As “social marketing” — or the practice of deeply engaging customers through content and social tools — becomes increasingly important, so too is finding ways of giving that content life and context.

Companies can pursue content enhancement in two primary ways. The first is to find out more about the explicit likes and dislikes of their customers — think favorite music, books, products, movies, activities — and then to find related pieces of content that are semantically tagged and bring them back for users to interact with. Companies like Twine (in private beta) promise to deliver on this concept.
The second way is to take existing content — think c
ompany blogs, press releases, product descriptions — and add in “semantically charged links.” If you created a blog post, podcast, or video a couple of months ago about the credit crisis, technology such as the kind provided by AdaptiveBlue can add suggested links to it after the fact.

As the treasure trove of consumer-generated content on the web gets richer, these types of semantic technology could go a long way (with the right filters and human oversight) towards helping companies better allocate scarce resources. Content will not only last longer but increase in value exponentially from the contributions of billions of other virtual contributors.

Conclusion

Semantic technology enables consumers and companies to find information that is difficult to discover using traditional search technology. Companies can use the results of this technology to improve their marketing intelligence and provide more relevant content to their customers.

With the cost of monitoring and providing relevant value to consumers lowered, the stage is now set for the development of semantic technology: building out a customer engagement infrastructure. Technology for finding relevant data may still be new, but the deployment of semantic technology is giving a boost to the next stage of development for mapping the engagement workflow to customers, in which opportunities that appear on the web are brought to people who can take advantage of them, whether marketers or consumers.

In essence, semantic technology will help marketers listen easily to the increasing volume of content, sort through the clutter, and find what’s relevant to companies and consumers.

About the authors: John Cass is Online Marketer & Author of Strategies & Tools for Corporate blogging and the blog PR Communications. Aaron Strout is CMO, Powered Inc.

Quick-n-dirty Podcast Recap 26: Let’s Get it Started

Not surprisingly, my podcast partner, Jennifer Leggio, and I were a little punchy as we geared up for our two week hiatus during the holidays. This was a good thing and the momentum — along with some silly behavior — carried over into the chat room (I think we had a record number of participants). It didn’t hurt that was had a true social mediast on as our guest in Jess Berlin.

Jess is the social media manager of Cirque du Soleil and not only does she kill it on Twitter and Facebook but she brings her social nature (and awareness) into the offline world. I witnessed this at BlogWorld Expo ’09 as did Chris Brogan at BWE ’08. During our call, Jess talked about engaging Cirque’s customers via social media, their fan run group on MySpace that is 40,000 strong and the importance that bloggers play in helping share the good word about Cirque.

Prior to bringing Jess on the line, Jennifer and I talked about social platform, Squidoo. In a nutshell, it’s parts Wikipedia and Mahalo or in other words, human currated pages or “lenses” for a variety of popular topics. Mike Arrington of TechCrunch did not flatter Squidoo or Seth Godin (one of it’s backers) in the background post I read. And to pile it on, Jennifer had read a lot about people getting spammed with malware links on Squidoo pages. However, our friend and occasional guest host, Kyle Flaherty, demonstrated how good a Squidoo page could be with his company, Breaking Point’s, presence.

Next up, we showered Boston PR man and Twitterer extraordinaire, Doug Haslam, with all sorts of praise. In summary, Doug has pioneered on Twitter using it for Red Sox tweets, raising money for charity and of course, providing “love” for his company, clients (I’m one) and occasionally his podcasts/blogs.

Finally, we came to our signature part of the show: the point / counterpoint. Unfortunately for Jennifer, I took the wind out of her sails a little bit by agreeing with her recent post about branded online communities failing to evolve. While I am still VERY bullish on the future of branded communities, I know that many companies have not done them well, failing to focus on the crucial elements like strategy, content, ongoing management and measurment. Jennifer and I did have a productive conversation about some of the successful communities out there like Nike+, Sears and Powered’s very own, Sony community.

So as I mentioned up front, we are off the next two weeks although look for wrap up posts listing out all of the social networks, guests, featured Twitters and point/counterpoints over the last 26 shows. Speaking, if you missed our last show, you can read the recap here or you can listen to archived shows here (also available for download on iTunes). Happy holidays!