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Twitter by the Numbers: 2011 update

Infographic of Matthew Hurst's Twitter usage

I’ve wrote before that Twitter has inspired a fixation by online marketers like myself because of how it can be measured. Since my previous post, Twitter has continued to grow its influence among newsmedia, brands, and consumers around the world.  Even among experienced Twitter users like myself, Twitter use has changed significantly over the last year as the social network broke records and even breaking news.  As of writing this blog post, marking my first 4 years using Twitter, here’s how I’ve used Twitter:

  • I joined Twitter 1462 days ago on September 15, 2007
  • I’ve posted over 16,100 tweets in four years, almost double my total since April 2010, and average 11.3 tweets per day and 328 tweets per month
  • I’ve gained 1677 followers, about 2/3rds more since March 2010, and I’m following about twice as many Twitter users (1347) as I was during my prior blog post measuring Twitter

In celebration of my 5th year using Twitter, I wanted to update my status about how I use the social network, so I created this infographic using Visual.ly to help illustrate my use on Twitter as of September 2011:

Infographic of Matthew Hurst's Twitter usage

Click here for a version of Matt Hurst’s Twitter infographic which is automatically updated based on my most current usage on the social network.

Extra credit: Follow @MattHurst on Twitter and see how I use Twitter and hear what I have to say.

Social Media 101: Why not to cross-post the same message

Don't cross the streams

At least once in your career as a social media manager you may be tempted to cross-post your marketing message over multiple social networks.  While new tools make it easy to post updates across Facebook, Twitter, and more sites you should resist this inclination to broadcast your message through social media; cross-posting ignores the unique purpose of using social media to reach your audience.

The practice of cross-posting has become increasingly common as brands build their online marketing strategy around Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and link baiting across social networks. Posting updates on each site requires sustainable commitments of time and resources, so there’s temptation to publish the same message across multiple sites with only a single update. However the acceptable rate of updates varies widely between social networks, so while it’s effective to post messages multiple times a day on Twitter, this same frequency might be viewed as spammy on Facebook and other networks. The result is often that brands lose fans/followers as well as the trust of their audience, not to mention deteriorating their brand’s value in the eyes of consumers.

In addition to making your brand become perceived as a source of spam, cross-posting also appears tone deaf to the consumers who are interested in interacting with your organization. Social Media opens up new opportunities that can help promote brands, but all too often is viewed as the platform to broadcast their own advertisements. But even a soapbox speaker will read the reactions of the audience they’re addressing, and likewise your brand should listen and interact with your audience.

Even the Ghostbusters use their TV ad to demonstate willingness to listen to consumers problems, and demonstrate how they can help provide solutions

Best practices:

  • Post updates individually to each social media site, varying the frequency for each platform; perhaps 1-2 updates a day on Facebook and 6-10 for Twitter.
  • For every 5 updates on Twitter, only 1 or 2 should promote your company, and the rest should engage your audience by sharing their ideas and answering their questions for subjects which you have expertise about.
  • Use measurement tools to note which posts resonate with each audience, and make adjustments accordingly to what they find most valuable.
  • Take advantage of the unique features of each social media site, such as @replies on Twitter and the Events or Photo apps on Facebook, to spark discussions with your target audience.

Use these unique social media tools to listen carefully to your audience and then offer them solutions to their problems, not just to sell them your products.

Being strategic in your communications means using research to focus your goals on any media outlet, including social media. Of course many organizations may not be able to commit resources to support so many social sites, and instead they should focus on one or two which best meet their goals. In many cases a poorly executed communication plan may be worse than no having no social media presence at all, so be don’t be afraid to be selective.  After all an abandoned social media profile is like a ghost for your brand, and when you’ve got the tools and the talent “I ain’t afraid of no ghost”.

Why Brands shouldn’t have Interns Manage Social Media

Perhaps no one better embodies the pitfalls of taking your brand into social media without a strategy better than Charlie Sheen. Last week the celebrity made headlines by joining Twitter and broadcasting his own professional (and personal) meltdown in this public forum, much to the delight of internet denizens and entertainment media. After attracting this considerable attention, Mr. Sheen must have realized he might need more resources and time to create a sustainable Twitter presence, so he did what many brands before him have tried: he asked for an intern to help out with social media.

What Mr. Sheen hasn’t learned through his own use of social media is true for many other organizations who want to promote their brand and protect their reputation using social media: you’ve got to have a communications strategy.  And no, “going viral” is not a strategy, it’s only a goal (which can sometimes backfire).  To that end Charlie Sheen captured the attention of the online world, but without a strategic approach his haphazard embrace of social media seemingly hurt, rather than helped his reputation.  In contrast with individuals who have developed their personal brands, Sheen lacks personal experience to cultivate the tremendous interest in his brand in the best direction, which seems justify his search for a third-party who can give his Twitter account a positive spin.  Yet instead of looking for an intern, he should take a page from the many established brands who’ve successfully managed their social media presence, either though hiring online marketing and PR agencies or developing internal resources to plan their communications strategy.

Of course many brands didn’t always feel this way; when I started this blog in 2009 I wrote about my own experience using Twitter as a tool to find internship opportunities. At the same time agencies turned to my generation of recent grads and millennials to help them understand social media, so many were receptive to the idea of an interns helping out with a niche website like Twitter or Facebook. Especially because many businesses still considered social media a new fad (and not an important emerging platform) many were willing to let interns manage accounts for their brands; after all many simply assumed it was only kids using new media.

What seemed true in 2009 should not be assumed in 2011; social media have emerged as core platforms not only for promoting brands but for building businesses. With 600 million members on Facebook, and an established user base on Twitter that averages over 30 years in age, no brand would risk putting their reputation in the hands of an inexperienced graduate, much less an intern.  Instead organizations who want to build their brand through social media should hire professionals who’ve developed their strategic approach through experience, especially those who have tactical experience using blogs and social media to promote another organization.  Brands should look for professionals who’ve learned about social media through broad online experience, not necessarily specific skill-sets related to individual platforms like Twitter, because it demonstrates their ability to adapt and learn as new platforms emerge.

For prospective interns and job candidates, Twitter continues to stand out as a great tool to network and find job opportunities like my own Twitter internship. It’s also an excellent platform to share ideas and build your online reputation as a knowledgeable professional, particularly for social media marketers like myself, in a forum that’s highly visible in search results for those screening applicants. Likewise for job recruiters, social media offers a unique opportunity to screen potential employees and get a fuller picture of the people outside of their resume.

While it’s yet to be seen what the outcome of Mr. Sheen’s search for an intern may be, it seems likely that the same lack of direction that stifled his own social media efforts will sabotage any intern’s efforts.  At the end of the day a brand is only as strong as it’s own commitment to their unique offering, and that comes only through the knowledge and experience all members of an organization share.  To be sure, Charlie Sheen has earned America’s collective attention fixed on his social media presence, so what he is able to achieve depends not only on what he says but also who he chooses to manage his brand’s voice online.

Update: (more…)

Twitter by the Numbers: measuring influence within my own social network

Graph showing the number of tweets per month for @matthurst on Twitter

Since Twitter was a start-up it has fostered a strange fascination with numbers: 140 characters, following-to-follower ratios, and a whole ecosystem to measure RTs and @’s from influential people.  Since I’m a communications professional working with social media, I’ve made it my business to try using many of these measurement tools, both for clients and my own (perhaps narcissistic) profiles.  Of course numbers only tell part of the story of interpersonal influence; gross popularity means less than the net of mutual friends who can trust each others’ judgment.

I share this fascination with measurement, especially in understanding interpersonal influence. As a result, my use of Twitter has been synonymous with my professional growth at the beginning of my career, charting my own progress all the while.  On this blog alone I’ve written about Twitter nearly a dozen times; to date search results for “Twitter Internship” bring the most organic visitors to this blog. My use of Twitter is frequently the first thing people learn about me, often before we’ve ever met.

So to celebrate tweet #8888 (88 is sort of a lucky number of mine), I wanted to thank 8 followers on Twitter who have been following me since the beginning (or at least the longest):

  • @CourtneyChesley – My first follower, who introduced me to Twitter in September 2007. She’s really creative, smart to boot, and is one of the most generous people I’ve met through social media.
  • (more…)

Why The Twitter Backlash Proves Its Influence

The backlash to Twitter was inevitable.  As recent attacks on the social network/microblog have made clear people depend on Twitter to communicate, although users of this site continue to be stigmatized. In the same week the AP published its new restrictive guidelines for online media, another AP story employed such recycled clichés as “tweeting about lunch plans, the weather or the fact that Twitter is down.”

Full disclosure: I’ve been addicted to Twitter since I started using it in September of 2007. Since then I have witnessed its explosive growth as a daily user of this social network, growing from thousands of daily users to millions now.  These attacks are evidence of Twitter’s importance, and like Facebook before it this social network is grown large enough to be experiencing a backlash.

Unlike many social networks before it, Twitter has become an agenda-setting media.  This might seem obvious because broadcast and print newsmedia about Twitter have been nonstop, frequently breaking news stories or framing an issue through its social media context. As a social network (although many of its users of Twitter do not think of it as such) Twitter facilitates interpersonal communication in which opinion leaders, or at least some with a large number of followers, introduce new ideas to their network which help set the public’s agenda.

Because Twitter serves an audience that is constantly engaged in the discussion of new ideas, frequently accompanied by hyperlinks, Twitter has succeeded at become agenda setting media like none before it.  To be sure Facebook, itself a much larger social network, only recently overtook email as the primary means for most individuals share news stories and links to websites.  But rarely have these social media, including social bookmarking websites like Digg and Delicious, taken part in constructing the news agenda with the wider public much less offline as Twitter does.

The explosive growth of Twitter is not necessarily because of any special function the site offers (there have been other microblogs before) but because of it’s core of users, who themselves have set the tone of what Twitter should be used for.  This isn’t to say there is a right way or wrong way to use media, just that some practices seem to work better. The critical difference in using a social medium comes from those who are using it; in this case the core users who serve as a social model are opinion leaders in diverse subjects such as communications, celebrities, and politics.  And it’s easy to see the appeal; opinion leaders are provided a platform to introduce ideas about culture (and even about themselves), while the accessibility of the platform allows individuals to interact within their network of connections which make even celebrities (who continue to lead the way onto Twitter) seem approachable by any fan.

Perhaps this model of influence offers a clue to one recent trend on Twitter, in which power-users remove all of the users they follow in order to reconstruct a list which better reflects a tightly-knit social network.  While some organizations scramble to create a list of followers on Twitter which seems to be the largest, these users illustrate the power of influence over a small agenda-setting audience they want to stay tuned into.  Because in social media influence is not measured as the number of followers who might read the monolougue you’re broadcasting to them, but by the relationship between individuals which is built through a dialog.

Never before has there been such a media tool to listen to the audience’s ideas, and to engage them in conversations about them.  The backlash may have been inevitable, but it has almost always come from those unwilling to participate in a dialog; it would seem from what I’m hearing that Twitter is here to stay.

Living Classrooms – Learning By Doing

Any company can use online media to connect their brand with their audience, but how does a non-profit grow their organization despite expected declines in charitable contributions?   Even with a limited budget online media levels the playing field to free and earned media for non-profits, like Living Classrooms a client I had the privilege of consulting for last spring.

Along with a team of classmates at American University, we set about creating a strategic communications plan for Living Classrooms, a non-profit organization serving underprivileged youth in the DC-metro community since founding in 2001.  One of the challenges unique to this client was their difficulty distinguishing not just from a successful parent organization, but also standing out from other non-profits in DC currently struggling for funds; branding would become a strategy.  Their hand-on education approach meant almost all of their funding was used in their programs, but was a challenge to developing new sources of fundraising. Meeting these budget limitations helped us build a strategy with specific objectives (met through some work on our own part).

As discussed in our presentation (and memo), creating and using a Blog and Twitter were critical tactics to meet the campaigns goals.  First these online tools serve an agenda-building relationship with the local newsmedia, through which Living Classrooms would try to earn media without expensive advertising. However social media is not synonymous with free media: even though these platforms are free to use, they require thoughtful and persistent work from dedicated professionals in order to work well.

Any organization can ask someone to Twitter for them, but only a professional can make it relevant to reporters, bloggers, and others who would want to tell Living Classroom’s story.  My role in this process was to build these media tools for them, and to start using these so that Living Classrooms would could model on them; unfortunately they did not have the budget to hire someone to write  so my model was key.  While new media levels the playing field, a public communications professional can lift an organization above from the rest, so that a non-profit like Living Classrooms can stand out online.

These tactics also play a critical role in winning and retaining new donors, since they allow Living Classrooms to provide regular updates which demonstrate the value of their donation.  Because Living Classrooms, like so many non-profits, is involved in so many programs donors don’t always know about all the work their donation allows an organization to accomplish everyday.  These regular updates demonstrate the compelling work Living Classrooms does through stories told in words, videos, and pictures in the channels which new donors are likely to discover this cause.  This serves as a compliment to the newsletter and mailer our group designed, usually adapting the same material for online use.

We’re still waiting to see which parts of our strategic plan will be used by Living Classrooms this year, so in the meantime please check out the blog I set up or follow @LCNCR on Twitter to learn more. For a communications professional with a strategic approach, online tools can become a successful tactic for non-profits to  overcome limitations and expand their communications budgets, ultimately changing minds and lives of those most in need of help.

Et cetera, Etc.

Here’s a few updates to previous posts, and some news on my professional life:

  • The Twitter Internship is soon to become simply An Internship.  Last week I was happy to join New Media Strategies as their intern, starting in May 2009. I’m looking forward to learning more about how they use new media tools, including Twitter where I got their attention to begin with, to participate in online communities where they promote and protect brands for their clients.  I think we’ll be a good fit together since we share the same inclination to try new online tools for ourselves so that we can understand any opportunities they offer for those we represent.
  • I have signed up for summer semester at American University.  The two last classes of my Graduate degree in Public Communication will be Crisis and Political Communications.  And since they take place in the evening, it shouldn’t be any trouble for my internship.
  • Rock the Vote, which I had previously applied for an internship, has begun to offer a fellowship program for young students like myself.  This largely self-defined fellowship encourages individual innovation using social media to reach young people and engage them in civics.  Although I probably will not be able to become part of their program because of my internship responsibilities, I hope to join their team and help out via Telecommuting over the course of their campaign.  Ask me or tweet Chris Kennedy for an invitation if you’re interested in joining the program.
  • To date I was able to raise $195 from 7 donors for People to People on Facebook.  Although this did not reach my goal, it surpassed my expectations, and has raised the bar for non-profits like PTP online.  I am proud of what I could contribute using these social media tools as an individual, and look forward to helping them in the future.

While some of these updates might warrant a post of their own, thanks for letting me be a little self-indulgent.  If you’re dying to keep up on the latest as it happens, why not join me on Twitter already? After all, it did help me get this internship, etc…

The Twitter Internship?

Work ExperienceSure Twitter is great for getting feedback from your work and building relationships online, but what if Twitter actually helped generate work opportunities instead of just creating work for you? That is exactly the opening I discovered for myself, and all I had to do was make a comment on Twitter to find it.

In my search for a summer internship in DC, using Twitter has become indispensable for learning about the social media and PR firms I might apply to for work.  Not only does it help me understand those communications companies on the cutting edge, but the participatory nature of Twitter helped a company find me.  Before I knew it I had the inside-line on internships offered to me, even as no such positions are being publicly offered.

About 3 weeks ago I bookmarked the website for New Media Strategies, using a service which publicly shares my bookmarks through Twitter.  I was surprised when NMS, who must have been following public discussion of their company using Twitter (as they would for any of their clients), replied almost immediately to my update on Twitter directly.  I was impressed, and we started to follow each other on Twitter.

Almost a week later I had finished a short internship inquiry application, with the intent to discover any more job openings at NMS, but their website did not make it entirely clear where such applications might be sent.  So I sent another message on Twitter directed towards NMS, inquiring about where to send my application, which replied to me a name and email address of the right HR rep for social media.  Their employee was also polite enough to include their personal Twitter feed, giving me access to someone inside of their organization that could help keep track of my application.

After a few modifications to my resume and a new cover letter, I am happy to say my application has earned the attention of New Media Strategies.  I am definitely excited in learning more about this possible internship, although I am still seeking and applying for positions around DC.

To me the most revealing aspect of this whole development is how new communication tools, like Twitter, mirror the process of networking in real life.  While NMS took advantage of Twitter as a tool to monitor public opinion about their organization, it also gives individuals like myself powerful access to information that might otherwise have been achieved with a phone call or a fishing letter.

At the very least, the counselors at American University were impressed with the job offering I found outside of those being posted online.  Perhaps a little initiative and novelty in communication might help me stand out from the rest of the job market in my internship applications for this summer.

Coming Soon

Under ConstructionPlease excuse the mess while I set up the future home of my professional, public website.  In the meantime, feel free to follow my progress on Twitter.com/MattHurst .