Archives for the month of: February, 2009

Yesterday two things converged that really got me thinking about localism.

First, I published my analysis of Rockville Central’s reader survey. It was my first chance to see what the readers of my hyperlocal news site really thought about my volunteer work over the last eighteen months or so. It was very gratifying, and at the end I wrote: “[It is] clear that many, many of you who took the time to respond see Rockville Central as ‘yours.’ That means so much and I will always try to respect that.”

Second, I ran across a fascinating tips-from-the-trenches piece on what it’s like to take over and run a local newspaper. This piece included a great sidebar:

You Want To Buy A Weekly?

Find an owner/operator who is retiring. Don’t worry about quality. You can improve the content and revenue yourself. 

Financing was tough before the credit crunch, and it’s next to impossible now. So you may have to do an owner-financed deal or pay for this out of your own pocket. The price of a paper depends on its annual revenue, so if you’re looking for a deal, think small and rural.

Pack a lunch. You won’t have the time or the money to eat out for the first few months. (Perhaps years.)
 
Consider your business skills. You can create great journalism, but do you know how to run a circulation program and print labels? Keep track of ads and expenses? You have to take a hundred bags and bins to the post office — who will do that? 

Be humble. Readers don’t care if you won Pulitzer or interviewed governors. They care about their community, whether you make it better and whether you spell their name correctly.

Be true to yourself. This is tough. You’re running a business and you’re a valuable member of the community, but you have to uphold your core values.

All sounds very much like the advice I gave anyone thinking of starting their own community news blog!

It’s all got me thinking: Is it time to develop a real business model for Rockville Central, and embed it even further as a local institution?

My friend Thomas Kriese pointed me to a piece by a NY-based VC named Fred Wilson. It’s about “living publicly.” There are a lot of ways you might take that term — in this case it describes the state that it seems many of my friends experience these days. With all the blogging, Twitter, FaceBook, FriendFeed, and whatnot, it seems like we are living on display, out there in public for all to see.

Fred bases his post on an email message from Jason Calacanis that outlines a number of the negative consequences that one faces when one is a blogger. One such observation: “At some point, a participant, or more typically his or her thinking, will be compared to the Nazis.”

That seems a pretty steep price to pay, just because one writes a blog. But I can tell you, the negative feedback inherent in living in public is real. While you may take great care over each specific blog post, the sad truth is that most people who are moved to comment do so becuase they disagree with you, and they only rarely take as much care with their comments as you did in the first place. The result, for many bloggers, is a constant, low-grade irritation. Any given post will generate resentful comments or emails. It adds up and eventually you just become inured.

Still, it’s disconcerting. “But, this is what you asked for,” some might say. After all, aren’t you seeking fame? The thing is . . . no. Most bloggers I know actually want to connect, to hold a meaningful dialogue, or have a forum within which to flesh out their thoughts. (That’s typically what I am after in my various online fora.) They aren’t seeking celebrity. So it seems an unfair thing to say that they somehow “deserve” negative attention for having the courage to speak up.

Nevertheless, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, at least in my view. I feel a greater sense of connection, encounter a greater diversity of ideas, and connect with a wider range of people than I would otherwise, all through online social media.

Fred Wilson has been living publicly in this way for some years, and his post ends with a series of useful rules for doing so and keeping a smile:

1) Keep your family out of it until they want to be in it
2) Be nice.
3) Demand that others are nice back.
4) Encourage the community to police the comments. Early on Jackson was my “bouncer” and now Kid Mercury has assumed that role.
5) Take the nasty comments lightly and use humor to defuse them.
6) Do not delete comments unless they are hateful to others, porn, or spam.
7) Ignore the trolls even though it kills you
8) Be careful with photos. They greatest lesson I got was when I posted a photo of me on vacation looking smug. Bad move that I learned a lot from.
9) Give more than you take.
10) Enjoy yourself. Talking, discussing, and debating is fun. Keep it that way.

Great advice.

A remarkable report crossed my desk from the Groundswell folks at Forrester Research. It’s a study of the social media habits of a representative sample of business-to-business buyers.

These are the folks you imagine are dry. Buying stuff for their company, from other companies. Where’s the innovation to be had there?

Well, you’d be surprised. This group of people are among the most socially active. Fully 91% of them use some form of social media — 69% are using it for business purposes. This isn’t just sucking time with FaceBook. “This means you can count on the fact that your buyers are reading blogs, watching user generated video, and participating in other social media,” according to the Groundswell blog post.

A key finding of the report:

If you’re a B2B marketer and you’re not using social technologies in your marketing, it means you’re late. We’ve seen a lot of excellent activity here from the likes of Dell and National Instruments (both won Forrester Groundswell awards) but a lot of the blogs, communities, and other social outreach from business to business companies is less than mature, to say the least. This is your chance to stand out. Take this report and show it to your boss to convince her that it’s time to get started.

I recently witnessed an interesting event. 

Some people I know on Facebook, who had sort of reconnected after a long hiatus since childhood, got into a political argument and appear to have “broken up.”

Each side had their points, but it was a great example of how hard it can be to engage with people you disagree with. We like to call for people to “disagree without being disagreeable” but it’s easier said than done.

In this case, the rhetoric was OK for almost the entire exchange, and then — it seemed almost in the midst of a post — one of them got angry and made mention of unfriending the other. At that point, the other basically said “fine. See if I care.”

“I divorce thee,” in other words.

It’s easy to wring one’s hands and think “oh, it could have been avoided.” But I’m not so sure. Sometimes people just get in fights. It takes a lot of energy to stay out of that paradigm when you feel strongly about something.

Will they patch it up? I don’t know.

I do know that, once things are said . . . they become very difficult to unsay.

Some of my friends and colleagues in a number of organizations have continued to ask me about using social media, and specifically Twitter, in real ways that actually help the organization fulfill its mission.

As I said in a recent post, executives don’t need fancy, shiny tools that are neat — they need things that work and add value.

Rachel Reuben, writing at Amber Naslund’s Altitude Branding blog, recently touched on some important things to keep in mind for any organization implementing a “Twitter strategy.” (Andrea Jarrell pointed the piece out to me.)

This important idea is simple: Make sure you are backing up in the real world what you are doing in the online media space.

Rachel writes:

Imagine what the world would be like if real-life was like our Twitter world. You’d go to a grocery store and there’d actually be a real-life bagger, and s/he would ask if they could bring your groceries to the car for you. (Oh wait, that does exist at Publix in Florida.) You’d go into a Wal-Mart, where everyone has aprons that say “how can I help you?” and they actually would, instead of nervously avoiding eye contact and running away from you when you can’t find something in their behemoth of a store. You’d sit in on a committee meeting at work and offer to help with the next task at hand, and everyone in the room jumps at the chance to help as well. You walk into a packed auditorium and ask if anyone knows how to fix your broken Facebook application, and half the crowd stands up and shouts the answer to fix it.

In reality, most grocery stores I frequent don’t have baggers, would never offer to help bring groceries to your car, and are never around when you need help finding something. Committees tend to be filled with naysayers and difficult individuals who aren’t there to really contribute much.

But… what if they did? What if Comcast repair technicians were all as helpful as Frank Eliason is on Twitter (@comcastcares)? . . .  What if every single employee at Home Depot responded as quickly and kindly as @thehomedepot does — including follow-ups 24 hours later? Do these companies have the same inward culture as they appear with their Twitter personas?

If you’re representing your company/business/brand on Twitter — are you being helpful? Or, are you just “listening” and there for damage control? Excellent customer service is still the foundation of solid business success, and Twitter provides the perfect way to expand your customer service initiatives into this space. If you’re helpful on Twitter, that will build a strong foundation for relationships outside the Twitter world, which is, unfortunately where the far majority of us have to live most of our life. We could use more helpful people in this real life world.

This is important, becuase often organizations spend lots of time “strategizing” what they will do with social media. But the reality is that it ain’t rocket science. The best practice I have run across is to find (or get) someone on your organization who is into this stuff — and let them go to town. Make it their job to be present everywhere, in helpful ways.

Then — and this is the kicker — make sure that your actions are in line with your online presence.

You may find, on honest reflection, that you just aren’t up to the task organizationally. Not becuase you can’t handle the social media piece — because you might not be able to back it up.

If that’s the case, you may want to reassess a few things.