Archive for July, 2008

An Ace on Fire is Still an Ace

July 24, 2008

Let me start by stating the obvious: I am absolutely trying to capitalize on the attention my previous post received.

Its not quite as self-serving as it seems.

I’m not looking to increase my rss subscriptions or further my own personal “brand.” What I would like to do is share some thoughts on what I think Twitter can (needs to) do to successfully pull out of the flat spin they induced recently.

I mentioned previously that I thought that Twitter had set their Ace-in-the-hole afire when the latest snafu impacted the community’s Holy Grail: their subscriptions.

I have noticed more and more people commenting that the early adopter community tends to focus on the reasons a product will fail rather than the things that need to happen in order for it to succeed. I want to offer (what I hope will be) a constructive and helpful perspective derived from my experience in the campaign and public affairs arena.

There are certainly a number of marketing/public affairs/public relations professionals with far more experience than me on Twitter or FriendFeed – I hope they will add their own thoughts (but by all means please do so on FriendFeed, put them here an no one will ever see them!).

The biggest threat to Twitter’s survival is not rooted in technology but communications.

What I am going to suggest does not necessarily mix well with the old school PR or campaign regime whose focus often revolves around message control. Many would probably say that Twitter’s current PR/communication approach strikes the right balance between acknowledging the problem and discussing your plan to solve it and being so transparent that you make your product look more unstable than it really is.

There are certainly situations where it is important to find that balance. But not this one.

This is not Multinational Corporation X trying to figure out how to handle an internal study indicating their may be a higher than expected fail rate on their new hard drive, this is Aunt Milly drunk off her ass at the family reunion.

The cat’s out of the bag, we all know it is an infrastructural problem that will take some time to fix. We didn’t leave when we first heard the news so why would we now?

If Twitter fails I guarantee it will not be because they couldn’t fix the glitches fast enough – it will be because they failed to honor and leverage the rare and special community that has sprung up around a very flawed product.

So here are my suggestions – some of them may already be in place and users may simply need to be made more aware of them. Most of us have acknowledged that Twitter has created a very special community of  users – let’s put some action behind that belief.

My suggestions:

  • Update the standard FAIL page to include links to every official update channel. I don’t visit the Twitter blog or developer forum or status page – add links and I will probably click on them when I get the service is down page and feel better that I am not in dark about what is going on
  • Create an official Twitter channel on a video streaming site and make it company policy that someone from the Twitter staff will jump on within X amount of time of any major problem to provide users an update (even if it is to say “we are working to identify the problem”)
  • Identify a group of the most influential users (Robert Scoble, Louis Gray, etc) and provide them with regular briefing via  video conference, be open and transparent, allow for Q & A
  • If further decisions are required as to which functions need to be temporarily disabled (or the order in which disabled functions should be added back) ask the users!

I was verbose enough in the lead up so I wanted to limit my suggestions to what I considered to be the most important.

Again, I understand that the underlying concept of throwing the doors wide open and pushing uber-transparency goes against the grain of most of today’s accepted PR and communication CW but I would put money on their effectiveness in this situation.

Twitter is not your standard application or product – we don’t love Twitter because of what it DOES, we love Twitter because of what it has DONE.

Twitter has created a community out of its users but they will lose that community if they do not show they understand and appreciate its power by using it to ensure the growth and survival of the service.

PLEASE – go back to FriendFeed, Twitter, your blog, WHEREVER and begin your own discussion on what Twitter could do to avoid the ultimate FAIL.

I have no allusions that this post alone will lead to the communication changes that Twitter so desperately needs BUT we all interact with several individuals on a daily basis who have the ability to encourage change – collectively our ideas can and will make a huge difference.

So there are my thoughts – what are yours?

As a user – what could Twitter do from a direct communication standpoint to make it more likely that you not only stuck around but became a Twitter evangelist once again?

Twitter Just Pulled the Ace From Their Sleeve and Lit it on Fire

July 24, 2008

I’ve always been keenly aware of the massive chasm that exists between my core abilities and experiences and those of many of the people I follow on Twitter and FriendFeed (in fact that is precisely why I love following so many of them), so I do my best to leave the deeper analysis to the experts.

Even so I have always been an interested “outside” observer as the ongoing “will they or won’t they make it” Twitter saga has played out.

When I first began immersing myself in new media I was startled by the volatility that exists in the user market for any number of web-based programs and I have always intrigued by the way that Twitter has avoided this pitfall.

Unfortunately, their most recent snafu (see the link at the beginning for a succinct explanation) may be too much to overcome.

I can’t imagine any other service surviving as long as Twitter has while exhibiting the same level of near-constant problems they have and I think the underlying lesson, while extremely intuitive, should serve as a powerful reminder for anyone, in any business, in any industry.

None of us are perfect – we may make perfection our goal but it is a universal constant that every human and every organization is going to fail at some point. The trick is to identify the things that you MUST get right in oder to ensure your survival.

For Twitter I believe this was the subscription process.

There have been a few comments on FriendFeed chiding people for focusing on form over function, implying that the outcry over Twitter’s latest stumble is the result of the rampant egoism of some who find more value in amassing a large audience instead of developing quality relationships and conversations.

I can see where they are coming from but I don’t know that I agree entirely – while there are certainly some who view Twitter as a game to see who can build the world’s largest megaphone, there are also many people who haven invested a lot of time cultivating a community and environment that provides mutual exhortation.

I firmly believe that the success that a large number of highly influential individuals had on Twitter is the very thing that kept the service alive.

Makes sense doesn’t it?

If you had invested countless hours in a service and, as a result, had amassed a “following” of several thousand individuals who were eager to hear from and interact with you wouldn’t you give that service every chance to survive as well?

I’m pretty sure I would.

And so a cycle was created that acted as a virtual respirator for Twitter: highly interesting or knowledgeable person develops a large following on Twitter, word spreads as more and more users enjoy and benefit from the service, more join, Twitter hits massive potholes in the road, power users hang on for dear life not wanting to lose all of the hard work they had invested, mass defection is avoided as the rest of the service’s users enjoy the interaction that a growing, vibrant community offers.

Unfortunately, Twitter’s latest error was aimed squarely at the one thing that may very well have kept them alive all of this time.

This isn’t another “Twitter is now dead” post – the game isn’t over and, although it would take enormous effort, Twitter may very well still survive.

Instead, my hope is that this can serve as a reminder that no matter what the endeavor – relationship, job, company, etc – so long as we identify and remain aware of the expectations that we must meet at all costs and apologize and rectify our screw ups in all of the other areas, things will turn out just fine.

But if we neglect one of those core expectations…

Guest Post on Burson-Marsteller’s “Digital Perspective” Blog

July 18, 2008

I have had the wonderful opportunity of getting to know Burson-Marsteller Chief Digital Strategist, Erin Byrne lately and was honored and excited when she asked if I would be interested in writing a guest post for Burson’s digital media blog discussing social media from a grassroots perspective.

If you have a moment – pop on over and give it a quick read. Would love to hear any thoughts you may have!

5 Things I Learned From My FriendFeed Fast

July 7, 2008

I spent the better part of the last week in Connecticut in celebration of the 90th birthday. I adore my wife’s family but they are about as crazy as I am so keeping up with the wonderful world of FriendFeed was pushed way down the list of target objectives, buried by things like: keeping my sanity, not overdosing on food and sleeping.

I have  always enjoyed the insights of other Feeders following similar sabbaticals so I thought I would share some of my own. These may be, but are not meant to be, universally applied and except for #1 these are listed in no particular order.

I should first clarify something – this is not one of the “we spend too much damn time on the internet” paternalistic screeds I often see us subject one another to. I have never understood the off-handed attacks often made against the internet or communication facilitation tools like Friend Feed.

If I told someone that I had found a bar or coffee house where people regularly met in large groups to socialize and share massive amounts of ideas and information would they be likely to tell me that that is a ridiculous way to spend my time? Of course not, and yet that is what is essentially what I hear people say with regards to social media outlets like Friend Feed all the time.

If there is one thing that every society in the world has in common it is a desire and need for some kind of communication with their fellow citizens. It is a historically verifiable trend that humans have never stopped looking for ways to communicate more information, with more people, more quickly. Friend Feed is yet another example.

1) I must make it a priority to regularly unplug and process. I didn’t realize how badly I needed the 6 hour drive from DC to Connecticut. Between work and adjusting to the joys and demands of fatherhood I rarely take the time anymore to just be.

I recently commented that I have learned more in the last two months using Friend Feed than the previous six combined. I love that but that massive impartation of such vast quantities of information has spawned a myriad of ideas and contemplations and, until last week, I had been unwittingly pushing them aside.

My wife and son headed up to Connecticut a day before I left so I was able to crank the radio, throw open the windows and let my mind run free. Without even trying to I worked through several things I had been thinking about and gained a new level of clarity on some ideas I had been developing. I will be making this kind of activity a regular part of my life from now on.

2) The masses are no where near ready for this stuff. I’m wouldn’t have considered myself an early adopter prior to the revelation that was Twitter and Friend Feed so I interact with people who don’t “get it” every day. That said I have become more and more amazed by just how great the divide is between what is technologically possible and what society-at-large is prepared for.

“Normal” people are just getting the hang of texting – if they use Facebook they likely feel like they are on the bleeding edge. I become more convinced by the day that there has never been a time in recorded history when what is technologically possible so vastly out paces what is realistically viable.

3) The community that currently exists on Friend Feed is unbelievably special. With few exceptions, and allowing for differences in the degree to which the following statement is true, the lowest common denominator of everyone who participates currently understands the benefits of, and has an abnormal desire to expand their ability to communicate with others.

By and large the tone of the communications that occur on Friend Feed are marked by a respectful curiosity for one another’s ideas and opinions. It helps that, like many social media tools, Friend Feed allows users to unobtrusively share bits of information about themselves that, while trivial on their own, aggregate to form a bridge of commonality that greases the naturally rusty wheels of relationship building.

It would have been odd and unnatural if, during last week’s family reunion, I abruptly blurted out “I just listened to Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ and I love it!” and yet that is precisely what Friend Feed allows me to do.

Similarly, there are so many bits of information that would ease the process of getting to know someone you just met in person that we either don’t think to share or refrain from sharing because it is unnatural in that setting.

5) Its not going to be like that forever. As much of an optimist as I am I must sadly admit that, in time, human nature will pervert Friend Feed and strip the thing I love about it most.

As Friend Feed becomes more popular, the motivations of its users will become more decentralized and it will devolve into the very things that drove me to Friend Feed in the first place. The comment section of blogger Queen of Spain’s July 4 AOL Hot Seat question will, I fear, become more of the norm
should Friend Feed ever enjoy mass adoption.

As much as #5 saddens me I plan on throughly enjoying every glorious moment until then – if you are not currently using Friend Feed I would HIGHLY encourage you to join the fun. Look me up when you get there – I’ll be the one trying to convince everyone that not every Republican is insufferable.

My Independence Day Wish

July 4, 2008

Today is the United States of America’s birthday. I am going to forgo the part where I gush about what a wonderful country the U.S.A. is and how blessed I feel to have been born here – you will get enough of that during your History Channel binge today.

As an inanimate object, my country not able to submit the wish it has coming to it so I am going to arrogantly stand in the gap on its behalf. For my friends from other countries I ask that you mold my surrogate birthday wish so that it can apply to your interactions with those of us here.

My wish is simple (and, unfortunately, rife with cliche): disagree without being disagreeable, argue passionately for your view but always remember that it is possible to see a different solution to the same problem.

We live in an imperfect world – some have been unable to rid themselves of ignorant xenophobic or racist tendencies, others despise the country that has given them more than it has ever taken. In neither case are these individuals representative of the whole.

If I, as a Republican, turn a deaf ear to your thoughtful concerns and dismiss them as the errant and biased ramblings of a naive, unpatriotic, liberty despising communist I do us both a disservice – myself because I have lost the opportunity to learn and you because I have ignorantly forced you into a ideological corner inwhich you probably do not belong.

If you, in turn, sweep aside my considerations, labeling me a “neocon” or member of the “Radical Right” bent on legislating morality and eviscerating individual rights through fear mongering, you do the same.

I’ll end with an offer – it is easy to misappropriate the intentions of those who maintain values different from our own – if you consider yourself liberal and, as such, believe that those of us on the other side of the ideological divide bear nothing but contempt for the rest of mankind I invite you to come visit me in DC. We will have drinks with staff members from various parts of the Bush Administration from the White House to the Pentagon to the Department of Homeland security so that you can see that they don’t fit neatly into the Neocon, Hyper-conservative categories you would like to cram them into.

I’m doing my part to better the quality of debate in our beloved country – will you?