Swimming In The Social River

river LEADING THOUGHTS Twitter is a river. Think of the image that a river conjures up… It’s babbling, full of life, effervescent. In some areas, it appears to move really fast, and even may have cascading waterfalls. Sometimes a river may seem  quiet, but may have a strong undercurrent that can drag you in if you aren’t careful. Twitter reminds me of  a river, barreling forward at an enormous speed. Just like a river, it babbles along, full of life and full of light. Just like there are many streams of water in a river, there are many conversations going on at the same time, in parallel, together and orthogonally. At times, it moves at a million miles a minute. Some other times, it’s seemingly dormant, only to wake up 5 minutes later. They say that you can’t enter the same river twice, because it won’t be the same river. Twitter is the same. The fast-moving tweets don’t slow down for anyone, and if you can’t keep up, you’ll miss it. Let’s deconstruct our Twitter river:

Ignore the noise: One would say that social media is very noisy, and one would be right in saying that. The true key to results in your social media efforts will be based on your ability to filter out the noise and focus in on the signal. Unfortunately, as social media hits the mainstream, the signal to noise ratio will only deteriorate. Don’t get me wrong: I am 100% behind democratization of media and giving people a way to express themselves. However, most tweets, Facebook posts and blogposts are not going to be relevant to you in your business. If you are a business and you are trying to connect meaningfully with others in a particular community, you can’t simply engage  with everyone. You need to pick and choose the most meaningful messages to focus on. Here’s what you should listen for:

Listen for signal: The only way to make sense of the social media noise, to “swim in the social river” as Nimble founder Jon Ferrara likes to say, is to catch on to meaningful signals, as you would to a life raft. Here are some types of things you should listen for. Although keywords are obviously going to differ by industry and product, you should always focus on:

  • Mentions of company and product: this is an obvious one, and listening for mentions of your company to discover a service opportunity merits its own blogpost or two.
  • Mentions and conversations around particular functional areas and industry: For example, if you are a PR shop, it would be wise to listen to mentions of “PR”, “PR2.o”. Once you listen to a community over time, you will figure out who the influencers are that you should reach out to, in order to learn more and form a symbiotic relationship. Forming relationships with smart people is not opportunistic if you turn it into a symbiotic relationship from which everyone benefits.
  • Hashtags: Once you keep your ear to the ground and listen to conversations about the space, you will start seeing certain hashtags re-occur time and time again. A hashtag is a keyword demarked by the # sign in front of it.
  • Mentions of company officials and spokespeople, competitors, competitive products.

Hashtags and tweetchats: Hashtags occurred as a result creativity of early twitter users, in the face of austerity in Twitter functionality.  Chris Messina was the first one to suggest that everyone who was at a barcamp event use  # symbol so they could all find each other easily. It caught on, and today hashtags are used to unite conversations into mini communities. Some communities come together instantaneously, and disband just as quickly. Some hashtags denote discussions that go on daily, while some mark regular conversations (tweetchats). Tweetchats are exactly what they sound like. They are somewhat regular “meetings of the minds” on Twitter around a particular topic. Some are structured and moderated chats like #socialmedia, and some are free-flowing discussions like Mack Collier‘s #blogchat. Check out this great resource of pretty much every tweetchat you could dream of.

Be a good judge of character: Even though social media allows you to meet many more people than you would otherwise, quality is still important. It’s paramount to form meaningful connections, which will somewhat limit which connections you should focus on. Even though the Dunbar number had been set at 150, Brian Solis smartly amended it to include contextual “relations”, which can expand the number of people we talk to successfully. To ensure that you are making the most relevant connections, take stock of the following characteristics:

  • Bio: this can tell you a lot about who the person is, and at least link you to a URL with more information.
  • Recent tweets: when deciding if I want to follow someone on Twitter or connect in any other way, I always examine the kind of conversationalist this person is — what is the ratio of tweets about self vs. highlighting others? RTs and @ replies vs. broadcast tweets?
  • Follower / followee counts can be a dead giveaway for spammy behaviors. Many follow in order to be followed, so they mass follow and then unfollow those who don’t follow back. A significantly higher number of people you follow vs. those who follow you can be a red flag.
  • Influence is very tough to measure, and is better left to Dr. Wu and folks at Klout. However, for us, laypeople, online influence metrics like Klout scores, can be extremely helpful, even if limited to online interactions. Klout, which measures many behaviors, takes a balanced view, and especially when considered by topic, can be super useful to separate the wheat  from the chaff.
  • Similarity in network: birds of a feather sick together. Make sure you are following and are followed by people with whom you have something in common, but who can also teach you a few things.

Respond quickly & engage: Depending on the situation, various speeds of response are acceptable — however, the two speeds that exist in social media are “realtime” and “fast”. Typically, if you don’t speak up to comment on a conversation within a couple of hours, your comment won’t make much sense. If it’s a tweetchat, that’s especially true, as it feeds on realtime interaction. Once you have identified folks you want to engage with, make sure you make a meaningful first impression.

Types of people you can plan to meet: Wherever you are listening, and whatever keywords you are listening to, you need to have a goal of whom you want to meet. The social web is not just for meeting future customers. Social media doesn’t encourage just one-to-one communication — rather, it’s many-to-many. Someone who will end up buying from you later, may be doing so because they read and loved some of your content; and it just as well could’ve been from a tweet or a blogpost from an industry thought leader. You need to be touching all of the denizens of the social media ecosystem, whether or not you consider them a revenue-paying customer.

Plan your serendipity: To solidify relationships formed in the digital realm, there are easy ways to make plans to meet up in person. I’ve met many people in person following a strong series of interactions on Twitter. This “planned serendipity” is made possible through social media and location based services.

Image source: paul (dex)