Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Customize your Twitter Page - Update!

At Podcamp Montreal, Adele McAlear did a session on how to build and monitor your brand using Twitter.

One of her recommendations was to create a background image that displays your branding and whatever contact information you want to put right up front. She used Wayne Sutton's Twitter page and her own Twitter page as samples.

I was intrigued by this and did a little research.

Here are a few posts that describe different ways of creating a customized background for your Twitter page:

If you try any of these, please come back to this post and share your experience.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Don't make an Ass of U and Me!

OK, be forwarned. This is a rant! A full blown, mad as a hatter rant!

I bought a coffee cake. (keep reading, the righteous indignation is coming)

I was at the grocery store looking for a dessert to enjoy that evening with friends who were coming to dinner. I spotted a nice looking cake. It said Coffee Cake on the packaging. So I thought "Mmmm, I like cake and I know we all like coffee so a coffee cake would hit the spot just right". I was already salivating at the thought of bitting into that first moist and tender piece and have that delicious java flavour explode on my palate.

Well, on the fateful evening, I bit into a forkfull of cake only to discover that...it tasted nothing like coffee. When I mentioned this to my friends, they all chuckled (as I am sure you are doing now) at my innocence. "Coffee cake doesn't have any coffee in it. It is to be eaten with coffee!" I was told. Well, perhaps it is because I am a francophone and had never had coffee cake but this made no sence to me. None at all!

So, for the record, I wish to state my case to the world: In the title of a cake, the first ingredient mentioned is supposed to be the main ingredient of the cake. Cheese cake is not a cake made to eat with cheese! Chocolate cake is not a vanilla cake made to eat with chocolate! Coffee cake is supposed to be a cake with coffee in it!!! These are basic rules of grammar we are dealing with here, rules without witch our society will descent into chaos and crumble! (crumble cake is ok though, because crumble is not an ingredient).

To support my point, I am including a long but not exhaustive list of cakes:

Caramel cake, Chocolate cake, cheesecake, strawberry shortcake (no shorts in there though), butter cake, fruitcake, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Rum cake, Three Milk cake, etc.

Exceptions to this rule:
  • Birthday cake (and all other "event" cakes like wedding cake, etc.)
  • Mooncakes (same deal)
  • Sponge cakes/pound cakes (which refer to the texture and consistency rather than to the ingredients)
  • Pancakes (which are not really cakes but a form of flatbread)
  • Angel cakes (I wouldn't expect them to be made with real angels, although that would be cool!)

Whew, that felt good!

But seriously, this whole thing reminded me that assumptions are dangerous things in the communications business.

You know the old saying (or do you???) : When You Assume, you make an “Ass” out of “U” and “Me”.

Whenever you are trying to communicate something, whether it is to market your brand, to promote yourself, or simply to inform or entertain your audience, don't assume that they understand your cliches, your sayings, your word plays, etc. This is especially true if you are adressing an international audience with a different cultural background or for whom the language you are writing in is not your audience's native language. On the web, this is increasingly likely.

So, what do you do? Write plain boring text that is painfully to the point? No, of course not. The fact is that expressions can add colour and emotion to a text and you don't want to eliminate those, but do use them sparingly. They will have greater effect this way.

Also, know your audience. This is much easyer if you are targeting a niche market or a specific group. Even then, try to ensure that your message is clear and can be understood even if someone doesn't understand your inside joke or the bon mot you just thought up. What's great about the Web is that is allows for built-in context so you can offer your readers a way to clarify specific content it if they need to (just as I did with the link above for "bon mot").

Communications, and especially persuasive communications, requires that your audience understands what you were trying to convey. This is true wether you are writing copy for a million dollar add or a simple blog post.

Well, I'm off. We're having Spotted dick pudding for dessert tonight. God I hope that's another exception...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Can you hear the whispers?

Imagine being in a crowd of millions and someone, somewhere, is whispering your name, talking about you or your business.

In the real world, this potential friend, or potential business lead, would be lost to you because there would be no way for you to find this person. Worse, you probably wouldn't even know about it. For an individual, it might meen that someone simply commented on their picture in Facebook. For a company, it might meen that a customer is praising, or trashing your campany name online for all to see.

The classic example is the case of the guy who realised he could open his supposedly inbreakable Kryptonyte bicycle lock with a simple bic pen. He filmed it and posted it on Youtube. It went viral with thousands upon thousands of people viewing it (Steve Rubel has an excellent post on his blog, Micro Persuasion, that outlines this story in greater detail). When the company heard about this video, they immediately...did nothing. It cost them dearly. Not only that but the video has inspired dozens more who are trying everything they can to see if they can break the lock - and are of course filming it and posting it to Youtube. I have seen multiple ways of opening this lock, from using a car jack, to sawing through it with a carbide rod.

I first saw this video in a presentation Mitch Joel gave at a big conference I attended for Government of Canada communicators. It was a real eye opener and spurred me on to learn more about monitoring your brand, in my case, my personal brand, online. Now, the purpose of this post is not to discuss the value of monitoring your name/brand online. Better men, and women, than me have discussed this topic at lenght. But knowing about the concept and seeing it in action are two different things. Sure, I have a Google alert account that sends me emails when something is posted somewhere about me, mostly by me :( , and from time to time I visit Technorati to confirm just how invisible my blogs are, but there is a hop and a leap from that to serious brand monitoring.

A little while ago, Mitch Joel posted a link on twitter asking for suggestions about online monitoring tools. On his blog, Six Pixels of Seperation, he listed the major free tools and asked if anyone knew of other ones. It just so happened that, that very week, I had read about a company called Radian6 that did just that, so I replied to Mitch via twitter. It was only a matter of hours before I had a tweet from the VP Marketing of Radian6 thanking me for my recommendation and offering to demo their product in more detail.

Wow! I must admit I was impressed. You have to understand that in terms of the Web, I am not well known. I am that whisper in the crowd and most would not strain the ear to hear what I have to say. But those who take their business seriously, the real pros, don't miss a beat. They know that every whisper is a potential client, or a potential lead to other clients, and in the business world of today, this can make all the difference in the world.

Knowing who is talking about you and what they are saying is not just a good-to-have, it is a must-have for anyone doing business and a should-have for everyone else.

Note: I am not affiliated in any way with Radian6, Google, Mitch Joel, or Steve Rubel, other than by the fact that I follow their (Mike's and Steve's) blogs regularly for those pearls of wisdom that help make me a better blogger and a better communicator. I have not been offered and do not expect to profit financially in any way from this posting.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Can you still tell the difference?

Yankee Doodle went to town,
A-Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.

On the way to work this morning, I saw a bum walking by. He was wearing a baseball cap in which he had stuck a handfull of pigeon feathers to form a sort of crown or American Indian headdress. For the record, he didn't look American Indian.

Not sure what this means yet but thinking about it hurts my brain! I consider this a good thing. The day I see this kind of thing and it doesn't bother me, you can stick a fork in me 'cause I'll be done and done.

Here's a hint. If you can't tell the loons from the sane people anymore, its that you've crossed over into the loon camp!

Here's to Yankee Doodle

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Web 2.0 the Wrong Way!

I received an email the other day from a guy, a former neighbor, who has created a website for communities of practice aimed at a regional/municipal audience. This guy supposedly has an MBA in electronic business yet I was dumbstruck by his approach and his total and complete lack of understanding of the spirit of Web 2.0 technologies.

The first thing that made me shake my head was his claim that he is "reinventing the internet" with this site.
With online communities? He really thinks he is reinventing the Web? All hail the revolution!

Oh, but he had other brilliant insights in store for me. According to him, the reason the quality of exchanges are so poor on the internet is because everyone is anonymous on the web. So, his solution to this fundamental flaw of the internet is that no one can be anonymous on his site. Funny, I'm pretty sure most of the 118 000 000 bloggers out there sign their texts. And very few people on Facebook, Myspace, Friendster, and LinkedIn are anonymous as far as I can see.

I'm not sure why at this point but I actually visited his site. He said he has been working on it for 3 years now yet it still had "Beta Version" written at the top (whatever that means) and he only had two people signed up, one of them being himself. This might have to do with the 2$ sign up fee he is asking for up front.

Last but by far the most unsettling, his email included a "Confidentiality Clause" after his signature block that stated, amongst other things, that "It is strictly forbidden to copy, publish or distribute this email, in any shape or form." This is just an extract as the whole thing is six lines long. Not only did I find it personnaly offensive that, in a sollicitation email, he would presume to tell me what I can and can't do with his email, but it highlighted for me the fact that he understands NOTHING about Social Media. He has picked-up the technology, but he understands nothing about the philisophy.

I came across a great quote today while reading The Seven Lost Secrets of Success by Joe Vitale that really exemplified for me the spirit of Social Media.

"Exchange ideas frequently. If you and I exchange dollars we are no better off - each of us still has a dollar. If we exchange ideas we each have two ideas where we had one before. What you gave you have. What I got you did not lose. Share your ideas - you will not become poorer - both of you will be the richer for the mutual exchange." J.C. Penney, 1934!

Those who think that the web today is about hoarding your ideas so you can make a buck down the line understand nothing about the Web of today and the Web of tomorrow. In 1934, J.C. Penney vas a lone visionnary for thinking this way but for those trying to be part of the global community, this is a way of life.

The ones leading the pack understood this way before the rest of us did. Mitch Joel, Chris Brogan, Bryan Eisenberg, Shel Holtz, Jeremiah Owyang, Andy Sernovitz, Kate Trgovac - they all have become highly successfull because they were willing to release control of their ideas and share their knowledge with the world. Sharing, instead of hording. Asking questions instead of just offering their own solutions. Engaging, instead of controlling. And THAT is the true spirit of Social Media.