The Power of Influence: How People are Changing Social Media

handAttending Social Media Dallas’ 2016 Showcase  a couple of weeks ago, I was nonplussed ― but not for the reasons you might think.

I attended expecting to learn about the latest and greatest ― the slickest bells and whistles and the snap in the chat. Because I work clients who often use social media tactics, I am interested in staying abreast of the freshest online alchemies and digital wizardry. But what I learned was neither technical, nor expected. Everything old is new again. Or, coming full circle, again, anyway. The more we automate, schedule, trigger, track, integrate, regulate and calculate, the more we need two essential things:

  1. A novel, relevant and compelling creative strategy.
  2. Good, old-fashioned human communication.

Yes, all of these featured “showcase” programs started with clever, innovative, all-in thinking. That was pretty much a given. But the thing that surprised me was the human component. Though cynics mostly deride social media tools as anything but ― saying this brave new world alienates our souls and creates pariahs who prefer quality time with their phones to a human conversation, most of these campaigns attributed their success to “key influencers.” People.

Meaningful results did not arise solely from some artful mix of organic messages and social ad buys strewn across the e-verse. They required authentic, real-life relationships or champions ― on the ground and/or on the case to evangelize messages and carry them to the appropriate constituencies. I found this fascinating. The more we evolve technically, the more we stay the same ― the more we require human connection and relationship

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Here are some examples:

  • Harwood International needed the partnership of two very important Dallasites to drive the success of #HarwoodSummer. Two transplants from two coasts who have spent the last year immersing themselves in the culture & community of Dallas have become Dallasites. They provided the conduit to the culture and crowd. ( Lily Kramlich-Taylor and  Kara Shannon)
  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise in Accelerating Beyond. The concept to link with the Star Trek film was genius, but the real magic came from deputizing the HP employees ― empowering the people with the traditional and digital communication tools they needed to engage and spread the word.
  • Stub Hub. Apparently, this one required literal hand-holding on a global scale― due to the “technical” nature of Snapchat. Social Media Delivered reported that the “brand ambassadors,” professional proselytizers on the scene, were indispensable players in the campaign’s logistics impact ― managing actual face-to-face conversations at festival booths and navigating the musical melee.

All of the honorees had some important human dimension ― and kudos for that!  Social is now social in the purest sense. So, what’s next?

We are still asking that question, and that’s part of the fun. In fact, some of us were feeling a bit nostalgic that Thursday eve a couple of weeks ago ― as Chris Vary, our emcee, recalled his first presentation to Social Media Dallas. I was there. In fact, in What’s the Next Layer on the Stack? ― my Nov.1, 2009 blog post, I referenced some of Chris’ predictions at that time, as well. (Check out his thoughts on Twitter.)

Watching the evolution. Stay tuned . . .

 

Twitter or Facebook?

Is that one of those fundamental questions like–The Beatles or The Rolling Stones; chocolate or vanilla; Letterman or Leno; paper or plastic?

Last week, a friend of mine sent me an article published by Slate“Who I Follow on Twitter and Why.” It was kind of a light-bulb moment. We seem to lump Twitter and  Facebook into the same bucket, “You on Facebook and Twitter?” But they are really so radically different.

I love discussing this stuff, because we are right in the thick of such a pervasive transformation in communication. We have no concept how this moment in time we are living right now will impact our behavior, relationships, culture, and lives in the next few years–and for the rest of eternity.

Not that Twitter will stand the test of time or  be around in the year 2100, but who knows what communication will look like then? Getting back to the here and now, I really do think there are “Twitter people” and “Facebook people.” I deal in both professionally–and more and more, Linked In. But they all render fiercely different experiences and visitor payoffs. As I was exploring this “Twitter person” concept, I found this Venn diagram from BoingBoing. It provides another way to slice and understand social-media behavior.  I guess the increasing interest in Twitter is understandable–as sort of the nexus of it all.

I agree with erudite Shafer in Slate  that Twitter is most valuable as a resource and a research tool.  It’s like a custom real-time info stream that’s completely personalized.  Connect with the great thinkers and follow the interesting things they say. Plus, you have the added benefit of commanding much higher quality attention from Google–from an SEO perspective. Hey, I smiled when I received a notification that Yoko Ono was following me on Twitter — even if it’s “her people.”

I read somewhere that Facebook is like playing in your fenced-in backyard. Twitter is like playing in the street. You are much more exposed, yet the asynchronous format is much more impersonal. Following is actually much less social than friending. Except for the way Mark Zuckerberg can mine our clicks and our navigation paths, I don’t buy the security complaints on Facebook. A user can manage access. You can protect everything you post with your settings dashboard. My son Elliot is a very good example. His profile is so well hidden, the way can see it is when he accidentally leaves it up on his computer. LOL. That’s security, huh?

As to Shafer’s being nonplussed about receiving a friend request from someone who ostensibly does not like you, consider Winston Churchill’s recommendation, “Keep your enemies close.”

Are you a Twitter person or a Facebook person? And why? Let me know . . .

Conducting Your Social Media Symphony

Elaine Gantz Wright is a speaker, writer, and social media strategist. Contact her at elgantz()yahoo.com.

A client  told me last week that he hired us to “do” social media so that he would not have to be involved.  What!? Really? Would he ever consider having a storefront without a sales staff? This is the essential conundrum we have been wrestling with in recent weeks.  Businesses, particularly small businesses and nonprofits, are running lean and over-tasked—especially in this rocky economy. Therefore, it’s difficult for many of them to even conceive of adding a litany of new online tasks to their already maxed-out agendas.

And yet, a thriving, organic social media presence is critical to practically every business’ success in our new-media marketing universe.  From texting to tweeting, we recognize the value of involving customers and empowering word of mouth online, but the question is — What is the best way to get it done? How do we manage it all?

It seems to me it comes down to two options — coaching or doing. Should you hire a coach or consultant to train you and/or your employee(s) to blog and work the key social media platforms? Ideally, strategy and daily activity must work in concert to achieve best results.  A post here and there does not a social media campaign make.  The other option is t0 hire someone outside of your organization to “handle it” –posting, responding, blogging, monitoring, driving, and analyzing.  What is most productive?  How will you optimize ROI? How will this outside person or team integrate with yours and the unique needs of your operation?

Here’s the rub — we are trying to force social media into a traditional public relations and advertising paradigm.   Hire an agency; produce some ads; run the ads; hope for good response, and move on to the next campaign. However, social media defies the typical one-way, sequential marketing communications models. It requires ongoing attention, 360 degree tending, focused involvement, authenticity, transparency, systematic monitoring, creative energy, and a real persona. Thus, we need an entirely different delivery system and process. But what will that be? How does that look — parsing together so many pieces:

1. Blogging
2. Promoting your blog
3. Driving and participating in conversation on your blog
4. Commenting on other related blogs
5. Monitoring and responding to Tweets
6. Tweeting and responding with value opportunities
7. Driving Twitter crowdsourcing campaigns
8. Facebook product launches
9. Facebook “like” campaigns
10. Facebook applications and lead capture
11. Driving Facebook conversation
12. Integrating social media in email and website
13. Promoting social media connection in your store.
14. Rewarding Foursquare or Facebook checkins
(Just to name a few.)

Of course, the program will vary in size and scope –whether you are Best Buy or Frank’s Nail Salon, but the realities of execution  may not be that different. For many retailers, it’s all about customer service – an inside team that monitors and responds to customer comments and complaints. For others, it’s about launching new products via Facebook, for example, or running limited-time discounts and deals. Regardless of the content or appeal, the relationship-building objective probably surpasses the importance of the final tallies of coupons redeemed or contests entered. It’s not realistic to think you can have a “social media department.” It should be woven in to the fabric of your operations.

So, maybe we need to think of “doing” social media more like conducting an orchestra in real time, as opposed to, say,  downloading a series of iTunes.  An orchestra needs a conductor to keep time in real time, indicate when to come in and when to stop – or know when to staccato  or to legato. Like an orchestra performance, a social media campaign can be led by a “conductor.” But for maximum effectiveness, the organization’s actual players (the musicians) should be directly involved in making the music. They listen to each other, sense the audience’s reaction, drive the melody, layer the harmonies–and know the score.

What do you think? How are you managing you social media efforts? What has worked and what has not? What are your biggest challenges? Share your stories.

6 Ways to Make Your Neighborhood Your Business

Elaine Gantz Wright is a speaker, writer and social media strategist, helping neighborhood businesses expand word-mouth-marketing exponentially–driving referrals, repeats and revenue.

It’s ironic to consider how we have come full-circle –from the vast global frontiers of the wild and woolly worldwide web to the intimacy and personalization of going local.  Does this mean the bloom is off the rose for our passionate love affair with the cavernous, impersonal box store on the edge of town? Are we heading back the personal service of Mr. Drucker the general store? Can’t help but thinking of Dorothy’s iconic line –“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

As we return to our own backyards, we have a remarkable opportunity to use the newest communication tools to create this new personalized customer relationship. It’s time to put the social in social media– in a way that produces tangible results for neighborhood businesses and independent merchants. Here a six things you should do right now:

1. Build an organic online hub – a socially empowered website
Your website is more than just a static online brochure. It is the center of your customer-generating universe. Think about its connections and ability to attract and refer. Incorporate a blog, social widgets, easily sharable content, compelling visuals, video, clear calls-to-action, contact forms, site analytics, best-practice search engine optimization (SEO), links to your social media profiles—and a fresh, updated design.

2. Create your business’ awareness and revenue generating social ecosystem.

Create and energize three branded platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla — and depending on your business, your choice of YouTube, LinkedIn or Flickr. Manage , monitor, engage, and respond. Learn the basics about using Facebook —creating pages, managing privacy, encouraging conversation, posting, creating quizzes, inviting fans, messaging fans, promoting the page, etc. If you don’t do anything else, think of this as your golden triad:

  • Facebook
  • Blog (Subscription/email)
  • Multi-Media (in-store and online – video, audio, photography, print)

3. If you have an email list, optimize, segment, and grow it.
And if you don’t, start it today. Think of your email address as direct path to your prospect or customer—another essential ingredient in your social media marketing mix. It’s your own CRM (Customer Relationship Management System)—a customer “intelligence base” that you can use to segment, target, and attract—in conjunction with your website and social media platforms.

4. Frame an integrated promotion plan

Create promotion in-store and online promotions and associated materials to capture prospect and customer email addresses, as well as drive Facebook engagement and You Tube, Flickr and/or Linked In participation. Leverage this affinity, along with email campaigns, to help increase repeat business and referrals through:
• Special, private events
• Quizzes
• Contests
• Polls
• Voting
• One-day-only specials
• Cause marketing opportunities
• Customer spotlight and how-to videos
• Submit-a-photo campaigns
• Gift-card purchase
• Co-promotion coupons with surrounding non-competing businesses

5. Train your customer/client –facing staff.

It all begins and ends with outrageously good customer service. Make talking about Facebook a priority. Make it part of your customer banter and in-person relationships. Work from the inside out; make the social media message more social, and watch the referrals flow. Coach your staff on how to manage your business’ presence enterprise-wide in an authentic, human and engaging way.

6. Claim Your Business of Google

This will instantly improve your Google search listings, and/or locate you on Google Maps, which gives help make finding you much easier—on and offline. Next, you may want to consider a listing on Yelp (primarily restaurants, but now expanding to travel, leisure and entertainment). You might even consider placing posts and/or ads in Craigslist, so that people seeking out your services on that site would know how to find your physical location.

Do you have a question about neighborhood marketing?

Is social media the new job one?

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about optimizing social media, life, and spirit. Hire her: elgantz@yahoo.com.

Erik Qualman waxed rhapsodic about Ford’s strategic and systemic embrace of social media when he spoke at the Social Media Club of Dallas.

“The good companies,” Qualman surmised, “know a sound social media strategy is much more than having a Facebook page or setting up a Twitter account. The good companies know that social media has to be integrated into everything that they do – it’s a part of their overall strategy since it touches every facet of the business.” He went on to say in an interview on Clickz that ford changed not only the external perception of the brand—but the internal culture of the company. However, the Facebook numbers are hardly in low gear – 156,738 on Ford and 25, 416 anticipating the exclusive Facebook launch of the “new” Explorer.

Qualman praises  Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford, for driving the change, and I certainly agree—understanding from the top down is critical.  Qualman says that car companies typically spend 10 percent of their marketing dollars on digital initiatives. Ford shifted its percentage to 25 percent digital. And its stock has increased from $1.5 to $11.  This reallocation of funds appears to be a trend.  A business I was visiting with this week said their national enterprise cut their $12 million print/television/radio budget to $1 million—and it’s now all digital!

Earlier this year, Jeff Bullas talked about Ford’s phenomenal social media savvy. Scott Monty, head of social media at Ford, said his “Jewel in the Crown” is the Ford Fiesta Movement that involved selecting 100 socially vibrant individuals who received the European version of the Ford Fiesta to drive for 18 months prior to its release in the USA. He truly harnessed and leveraged word of mouth.  He “knighted” key influencers and empowered them to lead the Fiesta crusade.  It’s all about raw, authentic, unedited (or routed for corporate approval) emotion and passion.

The Inside Job

Still, this is social media as promotion and marketing.  Now, I’m wondering about those integrated, internal systems. It’s one thing to create a dialogue with your market—but quite another to configure internal business processes and/or culture around social media.  I suspect this will evolve less rapidly.  I have experienced the birthing pains in my own practice. At The LTV group, for instance, I was retained to build a social media ecosystem to help drive REO Expo attendance, but now that my “special assignment” is complete, I wonder how they will cultivate the landscape in terms of strategy and function moving forward.  I certainly contend that any business needs more than one or two people off “doing social media” in the corner.

Dealer’s Choice

Operations become even more complicated in the car biz—something I have experienced firsthand.  As a Ford customer, myself, I recently took my 4-year-old Escape to Park Cities Ford in Dallas when my check-engine light began to glow. Unfortunately, I had an extremely disappointing experience with the service department, so I decided to test the much-ballyhooed customer service power of Twitter—and tweeted my dismay.  I also emailed the appropriate person at the dealership. I received a reply within 48 hours from the corporate customer service but nothing from the Park Cities folks.  I was impressed with the timely, friendly corporate tweet. I provided the VIN number and explanation, as she requested. Meanwhile, I needed to repair my car, so I took it to Westway in Irving, and the difference was night and day. They exuded honesty and proposed only necessary repairs. I tweeted my glee, too.

When days went by, and I heard nothing, I followed up with Ford corporate. The original tweeter was on vacation, and they lost track of the string.  Plus, I was told the corporate customer service folks can report the issue, but they have no control over the actions of the individually owned dealerships. Outcomes may vary.

Hmmm . . .isn’t that where the rubber meets the road, Ford?

I guess it’s one of those “process” issues that still needs to be ironed out to bring the social media loop—full circle. It’s complicated, indeed.

Now, I’m interested in how businesses of all shapes and sizes are weaving the threads of social media into their daily operations—internal and/or external. Or, should we say, the new “working  inside out”?

What are you doing that’s working? What’s not? Comment below or email me at elgantz@yahoo.com. I’d love to talk with you about it.

Will Social Media Make the Grade?

Integrating social media into business in a meaningful way is more difficult than I thought it would be—academically speaking, of course. In fact, it’s really ironic. Though higher education is ostensibly about forging trails, igniting discourse, and driving innovation, the reality is that the business of academia is still working on how to maximize the high-octane power of social media. Methinks it’s probably just a little too out-of-control and outside the box for those venerable educational brands.

I think the real rub is the expectation of immediate results versus the fear of unbridled conversation. But it really comes down to justifying the opportunity cost (now that’s a vestige of my 25-year-old MBA trickling out of my baby-boomer psyche). Truthfully, social media may even be the ultimate paradox. In a world of 24/7 e-commerce, instant gratification, and auto-responses, business leaders want immediate profitability and irrefutable ROI. But social media in business is more about the journey than the destination. It’s process. And that’s very hard to justify in a dollar and cents world—especially in today’s, re-orged, laid-off, downsized, bailed-out, and bedraggled business climate.

As many experts have said about social media, it is more a mindset or behavior that a channel or tool, in the traditional marketing parlance. More and more, I see how companies really need to transform from the inside out. We must radically rethink everything—communication, marketing, and sales to truly maximize the power and effectiveness of social media—and marketing, in general. The online social media space is not an environment where ROI can necessarily be calculated based on standalone, one-off calls to action—but where we build an intertwined, 3-D, online “ecosystem” that enables customers, constituents, or alumni to respond—whether it is buying the latest alumni directory, dog food, or a tax preparation service.

It also means integrating a company’s brand and grassroots employee behavior into the rhythm of the social media dance. To be successful, we can no longer be afraid of engaging through our own profiles, website, and presence. We as small business can carve out a more profitable future if we are willing to fully engage in the opportunities. Granted, social media for business is a revolutionary concept. We must be willing to test, test, test, experiment—and even fail. We must also be willing to allocate time and resources. Some ideas:

1. Perhaps this means training a core group of employees (or volunteers for nonprofits) or interns to nurture, tend, and cultivate social media farm, as Chris Brogan calls it.

2. Start from square one on the brand, value proposition, and core products. It is important to analyze and synthesize online behaviors to best understand how to trigger them. Online activity is a very different behavioral energy from the traditional one-to-one sales call transaction. We must understand the dynamics of both.

3. We must spend as much time listening and participating online at posting calls to action. Social media expert Chris Brogan emphasized this in his recent Dallas presentation. This means actively posting, conversing, and responding on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Gowalla, YouTube, the university website, and blogs. The rehearsal is just as important as the performance. It’s about igniting behavior, interest, and activity – then making the pitch.

How will we know that we are successful? When we have increased our goal of social media lead generation and revenue impact, we will know. In addition, web response tools help us continually clean email addresses, physical addresses, and contacts. Streamlined e-marketing can also drastically reduce dependence on snail mail, thus enhancing the profit margin of each project.

What are the appropriate metrics to track? We will implement a series of initiatives and promotions for each type of product offering. We will measure their effectiveness based on fans, followers, click-thrus, and incremental increases in revenue. Key indicators:

• Brand activity and campaigns on Twitter, Facebook, Digg, blogs, online communities, and more traditional news.
• Website traffic.
• Conversions of social media traffic to leads and sales.
• Daily user engagement via online communities.
• Benchmarks for measuring the impact of social media efforts.
• Content on multiple blogs and syndicated content.
• Competitive programs and initiatives within the online product/service community.

A well-meaning, yet hopelessly pedantic friend recently sent me this quote that resonates for me in this context:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Begin it now.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social action. Elaine covers social media for education, nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Contact her — elgantz @yahoo.com

Chris Brogan Coaches Dallas’ Social Media Farm Team

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social action. Elaine covers social media for education, nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Hire her — elgantz@ yahoo.com

Chris Brogan

I saw Chris Brogan (@ChrisBrogan) speak last Thursday night at the Angelika—a real coup for the Dallas Social Media Club (#smcdallas). Chris Brogan is an eleven-year veteran of using social media, web technologies, and mobile applications to build digital relationships for businesses, organizations, and individuals. He consistently ranks near the top of official blogger lists. Very impressive. I have been a fan of his no-nonsense blog and prodigious tweet stream for a while.

He was certainly convivial—quite clever and coy; however, I gotta admit it. I did not really receive much meat for the price of admission (and I’m not talking about the decimated appetizer bar). I’m talking figurative meat—those insider ah-ha moments and golden nuggets, those epiphanies that come from being submerged and steeped in the social media soup 24/7 and still thirsting for more.

He confessed that he wrote the talk on the plane, and I do think I saw him referring to a cocktail napkin a time or two. I will say that I loved his rapier wit, teddy-bear approachability, and keen sense of comic timing—kind of the Robin Williams of social media. Yet, there were many non sequiturs and streams of consciousness which seemed to flow off course at times. To be fair, I suspect he is used to speaking to the social-media uninitiated, so he focuses on the brass tacks (as opposed to the trackbacks). He seemed constantly surprised that we actually got his jokes. But then again, maybe social media is really just that simple:

• Be nice to people.
• Every person is in the company is in sales and customer service.
• Social media is about authentic relationship building.
• Be there before the sale – social media is about listening, helping, responding, and interacting.
• Reciprocity is what makes social media work.
• Highlight customers.
• Ask questions.
• Understand how to network effectively, and don’t stick to “just your vertical.”

I really liked this concept: “What if marketing were 2 parts helpline, 2 parts connection, and only 1 part selling?” And I liked his concept of farming and tending the garden (Hmmm . . . glad to know my blog of Aug. 23, 2009, was on the right track.) Just don’t want to confuse farming with Farmville. He encouraged us to think about planting seeds, tending, watering, and nurturing growth.

Still, I can’t help asking: Is this a ‘medium is the message’ lesson? (Chris did reference McLuhan several times . . . and Ogilvy) I’m just wondering if the 140-character, truncated messaging of tweets, texts, and pithy comments is defining the way we send and receive content—even in person? Is it impacting spoken language — reformatting and reframing our fundamental speech patterns and synapses? Maybe that’s it. Maybe we are all learning to expect and talk “tweet.”

Guess that means I’d better start brushing up on my Gowalla . . .

What would you like to ask Chris?

Literary Device


I admit it. I like texting. I don’t know if it is the writer in me, the social media maven, mom, or bon vivant, but I am hooked. It took me a while to embrace it, but I have found the direct access to those I care about quite appealing. I can receive a quick text at work when my son gets home from school—or a little casual banter with a flirtatious friend—without the formality a phone conversation entails. I guess it’s part of the “instant,” byte-sized culture we are creating.

So, I suspect that’s why I haven’t stopped thinking about Stanford University professor Andrea Lunsford’s five-year examination of college students’ writing in the Stanford Study of Writing. From 2001 to 2006, she collected 14,672 student writing samples—everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. What she discovered might surprise you. The reality is that the most popular technological tools and social media platforms continue to receive plenty of sanctimonious slander—from Facebook’s narcissistic drivel, to PowerPoint’s bullet-point prose, to Twitter’s unintelligible prattle. But in true train-wreck fashion, we just can’t seem to stop looking.

As many traditional academicians, such as University College of London English professor John Sutherland have moaned, social media and texting are “dehydrating language into bleak, bald, sad shorthand.” However, the new media guard thinks differently. The truth is that communication is evolving and morphing as breakneck speed, and we are right smack in the middle of maelstrom. Granted, it’s hard to achieve the perspective needed to make sense of it all. Professor Lunsford suggests:

“I think we’re in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization. Technology isn’t killing our ability to write. It’s reviving it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.”

The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s because so much socializing happens online, and it almost always involves text. Moreover, they are writing more than any previous generation, ever—in history. They are immersed in a complex, often confounding, new space where writers and their audiences are now enmeshed. “The consumer has become the producer,” says Professor Clay Shirky. The rules of the game have changed, and communication mores have been literallyturned upside down.

Lunsford pins her findings to the pervasive psycho-sociological trends defining our culture. She says, “More than earlier generations, young people today are aware of the precarious nature of our lives. They understand the dangers that await us. Hence, writing is a way to get a sense of power.” Interestingly, comparing the Stanford students’ writing with their peers from the mid-1980s, Lunsford found that the writing of today’s students is about three times as long today—they have “the ability to generate more prose.” I guess expressing ideas about hard things requires hard words. And when grappling with hard things, “I don’t think it can be worked out in 140 characters,” Lunsford contends. How ironic.

Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom. Lunsford calls this “life writing.” Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up. The fact that students today almost always write for an audience—a real switch from the prior generation—gives them a different sense of focus and message impact. It’s almost as if we are narrating our own lives. In interviews, students defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading, organizing, and debating. It’s about finding a voice and taking a stand—even if it’s a review of the latest movie.

The Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing, because it had no audience but the professor. It didn’t serve any purpose other than to get them a grade. How about texting those LOLs and emoticons? Are they eroding the sanctity of academic writing? When Lunsford examined the work of first-year students, she didn’t find a single example of texting speak in an academic paper.

At the end of the day, texting has it’s time and place. And, there’s the rub. It represents a fascinating dichotomy of communication. It is simultaneously immediate and intimate, yet passive. It finds you any time of the day or night (no matter where you are—except driving, I hope) in the soft, fleshy palm of your hand. But at the same time, it gives you the power to choose when and how you want to respond. To engage or not to engage—the new “text-i-quette.”

Some psychologists warn against this intimate anonymity—that it encourages risky behavior. Elisabeth Wilkins wrote in a blog post that “texting can rob our kids of the ability to interact socially”—diminishing the importance of body language and facial expressions. I think the evolution of email and texting has radically changed the way we communicate and how we express ourselves, but I’m not sure it’s something we can condemn or alter. It simply is. It is the new communications behavior and landscape, which is inextricably intertwined with the technological innovation that enables it.

What do you think of texting and the changing patterns of communication? How are they affecting us as human beings?

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media that makes a difference. Contact her at elgantz @ yahoo.com

Does “Unfriend” Really Have Lex-Appeal?

This morning, Rex Petrasko, my savvy, smart, sincere executive vice president, closed our daily meeting with the announcement that the New Oxford American Dictionary had proclaimed the Word of the Year for 2009 to be “unfriend.” I smiled at him knowingly from across the room, because I had heard the confounding announcement hours earlier on NPR as I brushed my teeth.

When I heard the brief news byte, I paused for a moment, swallowed hard and considered the irony. First of all, how interesting that the Word of the Year would be a social media—even Facebook word. And “unfriend,” no less. How perplexing that the Oxford folk embraced the negative version of the verb-ized noun “friend.”

Unfriend: (verb) To remove someone as a “friend” on a social networking site such as Facebook. As in, “I decided to unfriend my boyfriend on Facebook after we had a fight.”

“It has both currency and potential longevity,” notes Christine Lindberg, Senior Lexicographer for Oxford ’s US dictionary program. “In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year. Most “un-” prefixed words are adjectives (unacceptable, unpleasant), and there are certainly some familiar “un-” verbs (uncap, unpack), but “unfriend” is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of “friend” that is really not used (at least not since maybe the 17th century!). Unfriend has real lex-appeal.”

Christine, I think I beg to differ. “Unfriend” has a limited appeal, if at all, and it is particularly disconcerting in this age when people are desperate to connect on some level—electronic or otherwise. Friend, blog, text, comment, post, and tweet are all new inhabitants of the morphed communication lexicon. They are all terms for a new mode of behaving—a new way of being—not so much communicating.

I commented on my Facebook page status today that the Word of the Year might be indicative of the dark underbelly of social media. Merridith Branscombe, a Facebook pal and spirited, sassy woman from my Northwestern sorority days, commented, “It is fairly strange that friend somehow transformed to a verb; and that ‘unfriend’ is Word of the Year? I guess it’s not on the underbelly anymore, but in plain sight.

She is absolutely correct. It is in plain sight. We are connecting and disconnecting in plain sight—in front of God and everyone, and “there’s the rub,” as Hamlet said. Social media is less about communicating and more about behaving. At one point, my ex-boyfriend seemed more disturbed about my “unfriending” him on Facebook than about the actual breakup of the relationship. It gives me pause. Are we all more concerned about the virtual ramifications of relationships than the realities? Something to ponder—especially when we are all so hungry for valuable, real, authentic connection, and online experiences that are truly worth our time and attention in this choatic, often superficial world.

More and more, we are defining ourselves by how we interact, as opposed to what we say. The way we describe ourselves is really irrelevant. We are—how we are, as opposed to who we are. Same goes for businesses. Our customers are defining our brands—not vice versa.

“Unfriend” means that we no longer wish the “offending” person to be part of our online inner circles—our intimate online world, our defined universe. Our walls and tweet streams are sacred ground in many ways. They document our inner most thoughts and our profoundest dreams—our vulnerability and our humanity. As I have mentioned in other posts, “ambient intimacy” has come to describe the visceral nature of social media. Considering that an old boyfriend still might be lurking around as a so-called friend feels invasive, almost voyeuristic. But, how incongruent this seems in a word of open-source and “shareware.” It’s a paradox, indeed.

As the social web continues to explode with opportunities for connection and synergy, conversely, the need to maintain personal autonomy and control somehow intensifies. What do you think?

What’s the Next Layer on the Stack?

pancakesI was privileged to speak to a class at Southern Methodist University last week on social media for nonprofits. Nina Flournoy, the charming, accomplished corporate communications professor, was taking a very practical, professionally focused approach to the material. Clearly, the bright, enthusiastic students were hungry to comprehend the marketing power of social media.

They asked great questions – What makes something go viral for a business or nonprofit? How do I know what to post? When to post? How do I find my audience? Looking back on the day, my insights were many, but I was surprised to notice that though we may be asking similar questions, our points of view were remarkably different. Facebook, Twitter, and social media are as much a part of their daily lives as the telephone or the iPod. In fact, they live perpetually connected lives. Therefore, looking at these social media sites as marketing channels to be managed or positioned can feel incongruent. Social media is simply how they live, how they interact with the world and each other. It’s second nature—breathing, eating, sleeping—and tweeting! The reality is here:

As part of a slightly older generation of professionals, I am still experimenting with ways to integrate, coordinate, and differentiate somehow. But whether you are Generation X, Y or Z, I think these are questions we as marketers must address right now, in the moment. We are all trying to figure out how to weave social media tactics into the overall marketing mix—and manage them effectively. As we know, setting up a Facebook account or a Twitter profile is just the beginning—definitely not the whole story.

Content is king—but even more important is the conversation it triggers. Social media is less about information and more about participation. And geez, that is very hard to schedule! It is an activity, behavior, and process. Therefore, the question is—does the user experience have value? I think that’s where businesses and nonprofits are stymied. They look at social media and ask, “how is this relevant?”

And yet, that’s probably the flawed interpretation. Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In are really relevance-neutral. They are only as effective as their context. Sage North America recently released survey data that “88 percent of U.S. and Canadian nonprofits are using some form of social media, although less than half of this number have been using it for more than a year.” The surprising news is, “Of those who have not adopted a social media campaign, 45 percent indicated that it was because they were unsure of its relevance or advantages. Others said that they were unable to devote the time or resources.” The other hesitancy seems to be an uncertainty about integrating existing online transactions with social media environments. “91 percent of nonprofits said that they raise funds online, yet only 58 percent of these respondents said they use social media for fundraising.”

The challenge is to embrace the social media landscape in a valuable, productive way. That is, from a business perspective, we need to find a way to aggregate the vast, messy world of social media into a usable set of metrics, messages, behaviors, and/or outcomes. As I have written in earlier posts, it’s the new success measure—ROE, return on engagement.

At the end of the class, the SMU students asked me the question, “What’s next? What’s the next big thing?” What a fabulous and provocative question. There is some buzz about this among thought leaders. They suggest it is the question is really “What’s next on the stack?” We need to think about the media communication world as a stack or a progression. Many point to aggregation, dashboards for marketers, and consolidation tools. Chris Vary of Weber Shandwick and the Dallas Social Media Club says he suspects Twitter has probably peaked in terms of growth, so we should keep our eyes on the social media horizon. I have read there are 11,000 registered third party apps built on top of Twitter and probably more for Facebook; therefore, I’m thinking the cycle dictates some sort of consolidation or filtering.

Thinking back on my visit to SMU, where I earned an MBA and an MA, I am dizzied and overwhelmed by the acceleration of change. When I was sitting in those same chairs in the Hughes Trigg Building (well, maybe replaced since then) twenty-ahem years ago, I was thinking about taking my box of punch cards to the guy who worked on the other side of the little window in the mainframe building. No PCs. No Internet. No email, even. Still had the old Smith-Carona and Liquid Paper, for heaven’s sake! So hard to fathom.

gartner-social-software-hype-cycle-2009
Gartner Social Media Hype Cycle

And now, I can’t imagine a day without my iPhone and HootSuite. I guess I’m sort of a hybrid. As I wrapped up my remarks, I waxed a little nostalgic and encouraged the students to stay open, curious, and highly, highly adaptive.

The human condition is evolving at hyper-speed—intertwined with high-velocity technological innovation focused solely on expressive capability. As NYU professor Clay Shirky observes, “The moment we are living right now, this generation, represents the largest increase in expressive capability in human history.”

So consider this—social media as we know it right now will not be recognizable in 3-5 years. What do you think is next? Are you ready?

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media and other communications phenomena. Please post your comment below and join the conversation. elgantz@ yahoo.com