Social Networking Blog

Guy Clapperton on the evolving new media

Building online communities profitably

A community of interest gathers at Stonehenge,...
Image via Wikipedia

A great blog post from the moblogsproblems blog points to areas that might explain why people don’t follow someone online, or why they don’t take part in communities. Since one of the issues is with not acknowledging helpful people I’ll start by thanking Shonali Burke for pointing it out, I don’t have a note of her website but she has an excellent blog and you can follow her on Twitter here.

The monetisation thing is something that interests me (funnily enough). I’ve only been plugging away at this particular site for just over a month (and took a week off last week) but it’s starting to get significant amounts of readers, particularly when I pick a fight with someone (again, funnily enough). The option to try to make it profitable somehow is probably premature but as I’ve just discovered WordPress deletes html code on my page by default (thanks, guys) don’t worry, you won’t be plagued with ads for a while just yet.

There are a lot of people, though, who want to engage with and build communities for the sake of it – clubs, fan circles whether of sports, favourite TV programmes, you know the sort of thing. I think a point that the original blogger has missed is picking an audience that’s ready to be engaged is vitally important. I get a fair bit of feedback on this site, but then it’s about social networking. I chose the subject to go with my book (must do a bit of work on that when I’m through blogging) but also because the people who were into social networking would also be into responding online. If I’d picked another subject close to my heart – say being a fortysomething father, which believe me is the most important thing in my life – then a lot of my target market would have needed the concept of blogging and responding explained to them before moving ahead with it.

So, address the audience but make sure the audience is ready first, would be my first advice to anyone wanting to set up a community. Second, be prepared to market to them – since the invention of the Internet there’s been an illusion that the audience will just turn up, somehow.

No doubt more will occur to me, spurred by other blog posts and articles – I’d be interested to hear anyone else’s perspectives.

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April 16, 2009 Posted by | Social media financing, social media trends | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Music and Twitter


This is an odd one. The Streets, a band in the UK for anyone who doesn’t know, are going to start uploading music and making it available to fans free through their Twitter feed.

10/10 for innovative use of social media, and the same for pleasing the fans. I’ll be interested to see how they can continue to earn a living whilst giving their songs away for nothing, though.

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April 15, 2009 Posted by | social media trends, Unexpected things happen | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Social networks harming morality?

I was going to blog aboutthe reports claiming social networking harm morality earlier on but decided against it – they were too silly, I thought.

Then they hit the National Press here in the UK. And it’s crazy. The idea is that social networks like Facebook and Twitter don’t give you the time to react to a bit of news so you don’t see immorality or sadness as you ought to.

We’ll leave aside the issue of people telling us how we ought to feel – there are occasions on which certain reactions are definitelty appropriate in my view, and I’ll accept that. There are also times when I’ve seen so much death or sadness on the TV news that I hardly notice, which I accept is less than desirable. Social networks can of course amplify that effect by being such a fast medium.

What troubles me is the implication that I’m too stupid, and so are all the other users, to remain in charge of the media I’m watching. More than at any point during my lifetime, I can take my own time watching or reading something. I don’t have to be in front of the TV at a particular time for the news and I can take as long as I want reading a Twitter post, short though it may be.

By all means highlight the danger but please, could we remember the people reading this stuff are intelligent individuals who dictate how they use the new media, not the other way around.

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April 14, 2009 Posted by | social media trends | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bloggers and press releases

TwitScoop and Twitter search filters in Tweetdeck
Image by Kevglobal via Flickr

Back from the Easter Hols (very nice thanks, few days at mum’s place) and I’ve walked straight into an argument over PR and blogging. It started innocently enough; a blogger who I won’t name puts a note up on Twitter to ask people to stop sending him press releases because they’re ‘not relevant’.

Why this caught my eye I don’t know, but it did. So I check the guy’s profile and there it is, for everyone to see: “Information junkie”. So we have a self-proclaimed information junkie asking professionals not to send him information. I make this point to him.

He responds, saying he doesn’t want spam to his work address, and he’s a blogger not a journalist so if people want his attention they have to mail him direct. He asks me if I haven’t had a release I’d consider spam from a PR in my time.

Well, no I haven’t. I’ve had releases that were badly targeted (I write primarily about small business and technology, so the woman who started sending me releases about female sex aids once was way off the mark albeit she makes a good anecdote); I’ve had those that are poorly written, but no, once I’ve said in public that I’m a freelance journalist I don’t think I can justifiably describe any genuine press release as unsolicited.

Twitter spats aside, there are a few salient points to be made. First, if you publicise yourself – no matter where – as someone seeking information, people who choose to send you this info are not doing anything wrong. The chances are that they are a professional doing a job, and if you imagine that the rest of the world should be instinctively aware of any strictures you’ve unilaterally applied then you’re plum crazy. Second, PRs and marketers have thousands of contacts to manage so if their approach seems a little impersonal that’s probably because it is. If you want a personal approach then pick up the phone and there is every chance a real person will speak to you. Personally.

Second, even if you’re a blogger rather than a journalist (and goodness knows those lines are starting to blur) expect to manage your own online identity. If someone thinks something is going to be of interest to you, the chances are very good that they’ll Google for your name and send their mails to the first address they find. This means it’s up to you – not them – to ensure that the address they find first is the one you want them to use (try searching for Guy Clapperton and I can almost guarantee that every search you perform will produce clapperton.co.uk as the number one hit). And cut the guff – there are no ‘new rules’ for bloggers and other social media users, if you put your head over the parapet as being interested in information then the professional providers of it are going to start sending it. It’s your job to filter, not the PR’s job to hand-check every approach when they have thousands to handle. This means there is a risk to a blogger who is employed by someone else full time – yes, your work mail may become stuffed with information you’d rather went somewhere else. Your employer is not going to listen to stuff about how it’s the fault of an incompetent PR if their mail servers are becoming blocked. You’ve drawn attention to yourself, Pandora’s box and all that.

Not that bloggers are a bad thing. The ructions in Westminster over the weekend, in which some pretty dirty stuff was uncovered (here’s the blog where it all started) by a blog, and regardless of your politics it’s important that smear campaigns and blatant lies are uncovered for what they are. They are invaluable on the one hand, entertaining on another. As I’ve said before, though, there’s a real problem ahead for people who think they can blog without responsibility. In the past I’ve said this responsibility covers accuracy, libel and suchlike; it’s clear after this morning’s spat that this resp0nsibility also includes management of an online identity and not whining when people take you seriously enough to try to make contact.

April 14, 2009 Posted by | social media trends | , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

How not to win friends in a social network

Social network
Image via Wikipedia

Some great tips from the Feverbee blog on ways of dooming online communities and other social networks, by extension. It involves things like not planning your first ten members, not befriending people before the launch and making big announcements (so setting expectations when you’ve less to say).

There’s actually something a lot more basic that you can do to achieve much the same level of screw-up, in my view. It’s very simple – you just set the thing up without any clear idea of your message. The times I’ve seen companies decide they need an online community of some sort (they’d have called it a Web forum a few years back) and forget they actually need something to say, thinking of this only when they’ve started telling everyone it’s coming, is embarrassing.

Of course it needs marketing and of course it needs some sort of strategy. But many of the issues associated with an online community become a lot more straightforward if you address the basics first.

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April 6, 2009 Posted by | social media trends | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Social networking ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’

Digitage Web 2.0
Image by ocean.flynn via Flickr

Someone asked what I thought was an odd question when I started this blog a month or so ago. “So, you’re going to become a social networking guru then,” they said.

Once I’d picked myself up off the floor I asked them why they thought so. “Well, the socialnetworkingblog.co.uk domain name, the book coming out…” I could see how it was looking. But I’m not. In fact I hate people who describe themselves as ‘gurus’ or ‘experts’ in such new areas – I don’t actually believe they exist yet, we don’t know how social networking will evolve over time because it hasn’t had enough just yet. I was delighted. therefore, to be shown this piece on people styling themselves as such describing them as idiots.

It did make me think a bit about my objectives for the blog. First, this blog exists as a statement: I’ve been commissioned to write a book on social networking and I’d look ridiculous if I didn’t walk the walk and other such cliches. It’s a good repository of links I might come across that will help me, and if I can share some of the insights I gain with other people along the way, fair enough. When I found the socialnetworkingblog.co.uk domain name was available I couldn’t resist it, which is pure vanity, but if I have a book in the area coming out it might yet be useful for marketing.

And I do a bit of speaking in the area, it’s true – I enjoy that part of my work (actually I enjoy most of my work except the filing and record keeping, but nothing’s perfect). And if the blog brings a bit more of that work through, great. Sharing your research is a new way of working for me, but I’m finding it highly pleasurable.

None of which makes me anything like a guru. A guru knows stuff. A guru offers guidance, vision and direction. When the book comes out it’s going to be a lot more about practicality than the vision thing, and accommodating social networking into a business plan. Simple brass tacky stuff is what I want to offer, nothing high-flown. And there are so many people who claim they’re some sort of social networking know-it-all! Frankly even if I did know everything about social networking I wouldn’t call myself a guru, it would put me in the same league as so many chancers!

I was talking to a colleague – who I met through social media of course – about this only today. She thought of a new term I could use. I don’t have to be a guru, I don’t have to claim to be an expert somehow, I just have to use this new term and it’ll work fine. I think I’m going to do it. As of right now.

That’s it, then. I am the social networking antiguru. End of!

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April 3, 2009 Posted by | Unexpected things happen | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Social Networking makes you more productive

Facebook, Inc.
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve had a feeling about this for some time. And now there’s actual evidence to suggest social networking makes you more productive. Visiting Twitter, Facebook, YouTube et al actually makes you a better worker.

Some of us have been saying this sort of thing for years. As long ago as the mid-nineties, when I signed up to something called Cix (still going, a very early social networking thing before the term was invented) once I’d gone freelance I noticed that if I had some human contact, albeit through a keyboard,  I was happier, more motivated and therefore more productive.

This is exactly what services like Twitter offer, particularly to the self-employed or remote working community. I’ve been stunned – often – to read about people banning their staff from its use, missing the point that having pointless conversations about last night’s telly is part of the process, not something that distracts from it.

And now it’s official. There’s evidence. I’m not surprised in the slightest.

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April 2, 2009 Posted by | social media trends | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do you need training in social media?

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...
Image by luc legay via Flickr

This social media course in Birmingham is causing a lot of controversy. That’s understandable’ since everyone who uses it at the moment is self-taught so why the need to spend £4000 on a course?

The tutors involved are pointing out that people who aren’t on the course are in no position to comment, which sounds fair enough. I have another problem with it, though. I’m writing a book on social networking (yes I know I’ve mentioned that a number of times) and one of the things that scares me – no, terrifies me – is that between the time at which I submit the manuscript and it actually seeing the inside of a bookshop, a process that will take about 5 months due to dark arts and publishing industry reasons, it’ll be totally out of date.

Consider, for example, if I’d been commissioned to write it a year ago. I’d have mentioned Twitter, certainly, but it would have appeared as a bit of a side issue to other social media like Bebo, Myspace, Facebook. There’s no doubt that these will have their place in the book this time around, but I’ll be writing for a generation that’s aware of social networking purely because it’s been on Twitter. The hooks, the way people get into it, have changed. In a very short time.

And now there’s a course on it. Well, fine. 25 years ago I started a course in French at college, and over the years my knowledge has become dated – I don’t know whether there’s a French word for iPod, or WiFi, we simply didn’t have them 25 years ago. I can accept that over a quarter of a century. My concern about degree-level social networking is that it’ll date almost as much over a period of months.

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March 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Different rules for public sector?

Barack Obama @ Twitter
Image by comicbase via Flickr

A good blog post from Simon Wakeman raises the issue of following and unfollowing on Twitter when you’re a public body rather than an individual. He doesn’t particularly want to be followed by a council and you can see why not.

I’d actually extend that and ask people in the public eye why they follow back. For example, I follow Stephen Fry on Twitter. He doesn’t follow me but then I wouldn’t expect him to – 300,000 followers watch what he’s up to, he posts interesting stuff from time to time but he can’t possibly have an interest in following all of us.

President Barack Obama, on the other hand, follows me. He never replies to my messages and speaking as a lone journalist in the UK I can’t say I’m in any way surprised. He’s quite a busy man, funnily enough. But he follows me. So does famous comedian in the UK and small-time (so far) film star, Russell Brand. Once more, why he’d bother I have no idea.

Probably he and the Prez are using some sort of automatic following software, which I’d guess they regret now. The issue Wakeman highlights is that the councils appear to be following people who aren’t following them, which is plain odd. Why would a council follow an individual?

The chances are very good that the councils employ individuals who kind of forget that they’re acting on behalf of a public body. They see someone saying something of interest and they follow, which is good, it’s what the system’s for – but you end up with a confused person being followed, who thinks that it’s Wandsworth Council following him and not his old mate Wilf from school who hasn’t identified themselves.

This is going to sort itself out in the end as people develop more and more sophisticated internal rules as to what you may and may not do on this sort of system (and let’s not pander to the idea that Twitter is where development stops). For the moment I’ll be interested to see what happens when someone like M15 or the CIA start following innocent civilians on Twitter, all because an employee was at the same college.

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March 30, 2009 Posted by | social media trends | , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Ghost tweeeting

Facebook, Inc.
Image via Wikipedia

Occasionally you get a flurry of interest about whether a particular celebrity on Twitter is actually doing the writing themselves. The same debate has applied to Facebook, websites, Myspace, all manner of sites.

There’s a good critique of this on this blog. Personally I have another question – why would you bother? People using ghost writers to Tweet are taking huge risks. A couple of months ago Britney Spears was badly hit by this when someone posted, under her name, a note about the size of her vagina and how many teeth it had. Now, this was malicious but so ridiculous it was obvious it couldn’t have been her. But what if someone on my (nonexistent) staff had a beef with me, and decided to Tweet or blog in my name about how I was having an affair, or wasting shareholders’ money in a company I might own, or something? It would be easy to tarnish someone’s reputation by putting something credible up there. That’s one reason to control your social networking yourself.

The other is because there’s actually no point in engaging in a completely personalised social media if you’re not going to be the person doing it. 50 Cent might think he’s the ‘energy’ behind his Twitter account but he’s not, the ghost writer has the energy. Which is fine if you’re just using it for publicity and not to engage with people but then that’s what your website is for – Twitter has evolved into a place for conversations.

My guess is that there’s going to be more of this. And a lot of unfollowing as people realise that isn’t really their hero replying, whether it’s 50 Cent or Stephen Hawking.

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March 27, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment