Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Twitter's 1st evangelism comms guy, Linkedin's 2nd PR guy. These are my thoughts on tech, public relations, and life.

#NotAtSXSW

For the past four years, I’ve made the annual trek to Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest Conference and have fond memories and some great friendships that were forged during those weekends. This weekend will be the first year in 5 years (I even made it last year despite the chaos) that I’ll be missing out on the action – partly due to a bruised rib and partly cos I haven’t had a chance to breathe since my return from Toronto.

Bringing #SXSW to Twitter

Over this weekend, I’m gonna do my best to avoid staring at my Tweetdeck screen that will taunt me with tweets from friends streaming into Austin, sharing their Instagram photos or checking in non-stop over this weekend, I figured why not get other non-attendees together do something constructive – a Twitter chat.

Who better to host the chat than Mack Collier. Mack and I started blogging at roughly the same time over 7 years ago, we shared the stage at Southby years ago and he runs a weekly twitter chat (#blogchat) on topics related to social media every Sunday. And, that’s exactly what we’re doing this Friday to distract ourselves from SXSW.

Here are the details:

  • Time: Friday, March 10 at Noon Central for an hour (see Mack’s post here)
  • Topic: Using Social Media tools to network (here’s a hint on some of the things we’ll cover)
  • How to: Log onto Twitter (ideally use a desktop app via Tweetdeck or Hootsuite). Create a search column for #notatsxsw and you’re off to the races. And, hashtag your tweets #NotAtSXSW

How do I participate? And, what’s a Twitter Chat?

To the uninitiated, Twitter chat is an online unconference, if you will. What’s an unconference, you ask. Well, never mind. It’s a great way to bring together peers with a common interest on common topics. Frankly twitter chat will be a perfect example to illustrate how to “Use Social media tools to network”. For you newbies, here’s a short description from Mack on how Twitter chat works:

If you’ve spent any amount of time on Twitter, you know that there are a lot of conversations happening at any one time, and it can sometimes seem like a jumbled mess. But when we add a hashtag like #blogchat to our tweets, then it becomes much easier for us to track and keep up with the conversation that’s happening!

Think of the #blogchat hashtag as a ‘mark’ that we add to our tweets, then if you are searching for the term ‘#blogchat’, you can quickly and easily see all the tweets that are related to our discussion!

The only difference this time is we’ll be using the #NotAtSXSW hashtag both during the chat as well as for the rest of the week, as we lead up to it. So, look forward to seeing you guys there. Don’t forget to follow @mackcollier and you know me – @mariosundar. See you guys on Friday!

Follow me @mariosundar

Filed under: HOW-TO Use Social Media, Twitter, , , , ,

Do you view your career as a startup?

I first met Reid Hoffman, nearly six years ago (Thanks, Kay!) as I was being interviewed by the then executive team at LinkedIn for my role as social media guy. Since then, what has always struck me the most about Reid is his simplicity coupled with his enthusiasm in debating complex topics, whether it’s a philosophical discussion on social media to something as simple as the importance of adding commenting to our blog.

 One of my favorite pics from the old days – Reid Hoffman (center) with Jean-Luc Vaillant (left) and Allen Blue (right) at our old Palo Alto office

Working at LinkedIn during those early days was a great opportunity to watch, discuss and learn from him on a slew of topics and it’s great to see that Reid’s now shared many of his learnings into his recent book – “Startup of You“.

There are tons of valuable insights that Reid and co-author, Ben Casnocha, have assembled in the new book. Insights that are simple on the face of it, but you’d be surprised at how unheeded some of them are. Here are some:

  • How to establish close professional alliances who can help you and whom you can help in turn.
  • Why the most powerful networks include a mix of both allies and looser acquaintances.
  • Why you should set up an “interesting people” fund to guarantee that you spend time investing in your network.

The other parts of the book that I also found fascinating include the anecdotes, like this one:

I [Reid] first met Mark Pincus while at PayPal in 2002. I was giving him advice on a startup he was working on. From our first conversation, I felt inspired by Mark’s wild creativity and how he seems to bounce off the walls with energy. I’m more restrained, preferring to fit ideas into strategic frameworks instead of unleashing them fire-hose-style. But it’s our similar interests and vision that have made our collaborations so successful.

We invested in Friendster together in 2002. In 2003 the two of us bought the Six Degrees patent, which covers some of the foundational technology of social networking. Mark then started his own social network, Tribe; I started LinkedIn (LNKD). When Peter Thiel and I were set to put the first money into Facebook in 2004, I suggested that Mark take half of my investment allocation. I wanted to involve Mark in any opportunity that seemed intriguing, especially one that played to his social networking background. In 2007, Mark called me to talk about his idea for Zynga (ZNGA), the social gaming company he co-founded and now leads. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to invest and join the board, which I did.

An alliance is always an exchange, but not a transactional one.

Now, some folks may think that these alliances are an exception:

All of which prompts a question: in a winner-takes-all world, do the networks of the rich and powerful become self-reinforcing? For all Hoffman’s claims that the lives of successful Silicon Valley zillionaires are a useful model, one cannot escape the sense that he moves in a rarefied world in which a you-scratch-my-back chumminess excludes the less fortunate.

I beg to differ. These mutual alliances model is one that all successful professionals follow. These alliances can be found everywhere in our careers. And, we do it all the time.

Now, some professionals may have an old-school way of thinking where they stop looking at professional enrichment once at a job. Though this may have worked in the past, I couldn’t agree more that in today’s economy it’s imperative that we not only keep our skill sets updated constantly but more importantly, that we also actively nurture our relationships that matter so much. As Reid shared with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times last year:

The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone. No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach your career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.

I highly recommend this book if you believe the world of work is undergoing a dramatic change and if you’d like to learn some of the basic lessons to equip you to deal with those paradigm changes successfully. So, I wanted to share some reasons why I think it may be worth your while to take a read. Tweet me your reactions to the book.

I look forward to your stories.

Follow me @mariosundar

Filed under: Linkedin, LinkedIn Colleagues, ,

Companies: Why your LinkedIn Page is now a really big deal

As we’ve hinted at in the recent past, LinkedIn just launched the ability for companies to update their LinkedIn Company page, like companies could have been able to do on their Twitter and Facebook pages. In the past, LinkedIn’s Company page was populated only with select auto-generated content like job changes for e.g. Now, things have changed.

Moving forward, all companies or small businesses with a LinkedIn Company Page can customize updates to their followers (whether it is a customer, job seeker or a prospective client). Here’s why it’s a pretty big deal.

What’s new?

With this new release, companies (with an assigned administrator and whose company page is set to “designated admins only”) will have the flexibility to share the latest on the company directly to all of their followers on their company page’s “Overview” tab.

Keep in mind your status updates can be up to 500 characters long and can support URLs with multimedia as well. Given that any LinkedIn member can comment, like or share your Company’s status update, this is a great way to build engagement with customers, potential employees and prospects alike. – Ryan Roslansky, who runs our Company Pages product (though Ryan manages the larger team, I found that my colleague Mike Grishaver runs the specific product itself. Hat tip to Karen Chin!)

Why should it matter to companies or small businesses

1. The confluence of company and brand 

So, why is this a big deal for companies? For starters, this is something companies had been clamoring for a long time and given the recent pace of adoption we’ve seen with millions of company pages and tens of millions of LinkedIn members following companies already, the scope and impact of Company Pages is only gonna grow.

What I find most exciting about this development is that, while Twitter and Facebook focus solely on the mainstream consumer brand experience and its accompanying follower base, a LinkedIn Company page is probably the only place that you can cater to both external (consumers) and internal (employees) audiences. That’s a rare combination, which while possible on Twitter / Facebook, is way more powerful on LinkedIn, given the professional scale. (Disclosure: As a reader, if you don’t know this yet — I work at LinkedIn)

2. It’s just before the tipping point 

Getting in sooner vs. later on social platforms not only lets you claim your ground, but also helps you build a larger following faster. So, building a huge follower base on Twitter these days is more difficult than during those early days. On LinkedIn, the number of company pages, the audience and timing feels like it’s just before the tipping point.

It’s large enough to be a happening place (over 120 million professionals) but it’s not big enough that its unwieldy (only 2 million companies have their profiles on yet), so it’s a great point in time to create one for your company or small business before you get lost in the ensuing land grab.

3. Find a targeted audience and measure yourself

This is probably the most important reason for the right company in the right space (B2B for e.g.) or small business to capitalize on the opportunities posed by LinkedIn. The people on LinkedIn are different from the folks on other social networking sites.

As a marketer, if your goal is to reach professionals there is no better place on the planet than to engage with them on LinkedIn. Let the facts speak for themselves, but I’m amazed at how huge Fortune 500 corporations like IBM or Microsoft are on LinkedIn compared to their equivalent on Twitter for e.g. Here’s a sample:

  1. IBM Company Page: ~450,000 followers, +10,000 employees
  2. Microsoft: ~330,000 followers, +10,000 employees
  3. Oracle: ~230,000 followers, +10,000 employees
  4. HP: ~350,000 followers, +10,000 employees
  5. Google: ~320,000 followers, +10,000 employees

And, I could go on. But, if you’re running social media teams at any of the millions of companies on LinkedIn and you’re not taking a more active role on your LinkedIn Company page, you should be fired.

And one more thing.

ROI. As someone who runs social media for a social media company, it’s my job to figure out measurement models on the key social networks that LinkedIn (the company) has a presence on. LinkedIn Company Pages comes with an analytics component that’s similar to the one you’d find on Facebook for e.g. More on that in another post.

In the coming weeks, I’ll delve into more Company Page details. Follow me here.

So, whether you work for a large company or a small business, you better be setting up a LinkedIn Company Page. And, if you have one already. Start talking, start sharing your updates now — to the people who matter most to your business: Your Employees. Your Customers. Your Prospects.

Filed under: Linkedin, LinkedIn Features,

How to make Social Media work for Earnings

Does social media work well with earnings? It was my goal to find out a few weeks ago as we planned the social media component of LinkedIn’s first earnings announcement and the accompanying earnings call, which went out yesterday at 2pm Pacific time. For those of you who missed the action, here’s a recap.

But, I digress. My goal was to find out what are the key social media tools a company should leverage during an earnings call and I found there were two, in particular, that could come in handy. After the jump.

Step 1: Start with the Basics / 3 key social media channels

First off, figure out the key social media channels that’ll work best at disseminating information around the earnings to the right audiences (investors, customers, members of your service, etc.), in the right way (share friendly and compliant). This may seem simple, but planning every last detail whether it’s post, tweets or sequence of uploading content well in advance really helps.

Here are the three basic social media channels that we used for our first earnings call yesterday:

  1. The LinkedIn Blog – post from the CFO
  2. LinkedIn’s Company Page – will link to our twitter page @linkedin  (didn’t want too many tweets, cluttering our homepage there, so we decided to have select tweets that redirect to our Twitter page where I’d be live tweeting the call)
  3. LinkedIn’s Twitter Page (real–time updates during the earning call)

In addition, specific to the earnings call – I found the following two channels helpful. More on that in just a second.

  1. LinkedIn’s Slideshare Page
  2. LinkedIn’s StockTwits Page

This is of course, in concert, with your existing official channels that should kick-start the process (there are mandatory regulations that govern this process; so make sure you work with your legal team on figuring out that order). In our case, right after the press release crossed the wire, and the PDF slides were up on our IR site, the social media component went into play. So, time it well and stick to your schedule.

Trust me, it’s all a blur once the call starts and you start live tweeting – plus, there are so many moving parts that you’ve got to be careful you don’t mess up the ordering or accidentally upload stuff before the official news is out there. Also, don’t schedule stuff for auto-publishing, cos, you never know when things break.

Step 2: Make it easy to share / Slideshare 

I think the biggest advantage that social media brings to the table is the ability to let users – members, investors or other bloggers get a hold of content (like earnings deck slides) and make it easy for them to share. The earnings call (in our case) was an audio webcast and you had to register to listen in. You could also download a PDF deck of slides, but you’d have to email that and there’s no way to tweet that either.

Enter Slideshare.

Not only does Slideshare make it easy for you to upload your slides in private mode (premium feature) so you have it ready to go when the call starts, they also offer customization that lets you feature your earnings slide on your Slideshare homepage. And, of course, it makes sense to add your Twitter and StockTwits widget as well. More on that in a second.

Some examples of companies that use Slideshare around earnings: Dell, Amgen, and Pfizer. Here’s the brand new LinkedIn page.

Step 3: Get Compliant / Stocktwits

Finally, the biggest question that companies have about earnings call and social media is staying out of trouble and keeping your blog post/s and tweets compliant with regulations. First off, you wanna work closely with your legal team to nail the specifics around your Safe Harbor statement and Disclaimers, which we used on the blog post. But, what about tweets and 140 chars?

Enter Stocktwits.

If you’re live tweeting your earnings call — and I’d recommend you do that — ideally, you’d want to add a disclaimer to every tweet that contains financial information. Now, doing that manually is one heckuva problem and Stocktwits helped take care of that (premium feature we subscribed to).

They have a system which allows you to add a disclaimer to every tweet (it may be a simple tweet, link to other webpages, a slideshare page, etc.) That does reduce the # of characters for your tweet (from 140 to 117) but from my perspective the premium feature was worth the peace of mind. In addition, they allow you to send this out to your Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook pages.

Here are some examples of companies that have used Stocktwits in a similar fashion: eBay, Dell, AEP.

And, here’s our Stocktwits LNKD page.

To summarize, the earnings call was like our other recent announcements on social media but the two new components that made the earnings call simpler, were Slideshare and Stocktwits. Here’s how I described it on their official blogs:

As a social media company, it was a no-brainer to use Slideshare to share our earnings call slides on our corporate blog. While Slideshare made it easy for our readers and followers to share this content virally, Stocktwits ensured that our status updates and tweets were compliant; both necessary components for an effective social IR strategy.

Work in social media for a company planning earnings? Got questions? Let me know.

Leave a comment or @mariosundar a question to me.

Filed under: Best-of, Business Blogging, HOW-TO Use Social Media, Linkedin, Slideshare, Social PR, Stocktwits, , , , ,

Airbnb is sorry. Really, really sorry.

Airbnb CEO just blogged a much awaited response to what we (in the tech community) call #ransackgate (the unfortunate story of one of their customers who was ransacked) recently. As someone who dabbles in words, I found their blog post today a great start on their road to recovery.

As I’d outlined in my post yesterday, there was a ton of back-and-forth over the past week, between Airbnb co-founders, CEO (Brian Chesky), investors and EJ (whose house was recently ransacked). As I’d outlined, the original blog post that Brian published on TechCrunch was quite a yarn.

I concluded that they need closure on the case, and an intense customer service makeover to move forward. Today’s response goes far in that direction:

“Over the last four weeks, we have really screwed things up. Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post trying to explain the situation, but it didn’t reflect my true feelings. So here we go.”

Wow! a real apology. Kudos there.

With regards to EJ, we let her down, and for that we are very sorry. We should have responded faster, communicated more sensitively, and taken more decisive action to make sure she felt safe and secure.

But we weren’t prepared for the crisis and we dropped the ball. Now we’re dealing with the consequences. In working with the San Francisco Police Department, we are happy to say a suspect is now in custody.

Moving forward: to assuage customer concerns and irate customers, they’ve instituted a $50K guarantee retroactively. Wow! that sounds really hard to manage but is probably really good news for folks like EJ.

To EJ, and all the other hosts who have had bad experiences, we know you deserve better from us.

We want to make it right. On August 15th, we will be implementing a $50,000 Airbnb Guarantee, protecting the property of hosts from damage by Airbnb guests who book reservations through our website.

We will extend this program to EJ and any other hosts who may have reported such property damage while renting on Airbnb in the past.

As I’d said in yesterday’s post, they would also have to make it easier for you to get help (something they sorely lacked from the two incidents we just saw recently) in the event of such a catastrophe. And, they now assure you of a 24 hour customer hotline.

24-Hour Customer Hotline (Nice!)

Beginning next week, we will have operators and customer support staff ready to provide around the clock phone and email support for anything big or small.

2x Customer Support Team

Since last month we have more than doubled our Customer Support team from forty-two to eighty-eight people, and will be bringing on a 10-year veteran from eBay as our Director of Customer Support next week.

Dedicated Trust & Safety Department

Airbnb now has an in-house task force devoted to the manual review of suspicious activity. This team will also build new security features based on community feedback.

Contact the CEO (Nice!)

If you can’t get a hold of anyone or if you just want to contact me, email brian.chesky@airbnb.com.

There’s still no closure on the EJ case (but that’s gonna take a while), but they seem to have done the right thing by instituting the guarantee that should take care of folks like her, fessing up, apologizing, assuaging potential customers’ concerns, earning some goodwill and halting the PR trainwreck that all of us had to witness.

Filed under: Social PR

Spin, Lies, and Airbnb

The one thing more absurd than the debt-ceiling cliffhanger these days, is the unraveling AirBnb PR fiasco that’s been getting more bizarre with each passing day.

What really stands out is the botched PR response to an unfortunate customer experience, with multiple points of view obfuscating reality and closure.

The Rashomon effect is made worse by spin...

Airbnb is a service that helps people rent out their homes or apartments or boats (yes, boats) to other “real people”. And last month one of these apartment rentals resulted in a scary home destruction:

Three difficult days ago, I returned home from an exhausting week of business travel to an apartment that I no longer recognized. To an apartment that had been ransacked.

With heart pounding and stomach churning, I slowly swung the door open as both a pungent odor and the full realization of what had occurred washed over me: this wasn’t just a random break-in. My home had been burglarized, vandalized and thoroughly trashed by a “traveler” I connected with via the online rental agency, airbnb.com.

The post really goes into detail on the level of destruction in a home, a nightmare situation none of us would ever want to step into. That was a month ago. More recently though, in the past few days, there’s been a storm of back-and-forth blog posts from both the company and victim of that destruction. So, let’s try peeling the layers here…

Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky, wrote a pretty reasonable guest post on TechCrunch, pointing out the company’s efforts to help the victim (“EJ”), pointing to a resolution and offering next steps to assuage other users’ concerns. That’s a textbook response to such situations and in the face of it does seem adequate. But, that soon turned into a crazy back-and-forth this past weekend when the user wrote a second post refuting some of his claims.

He said. She said.

Airbnb CEO: “Our first concern was to make sure our host was safe.”

Which may not have necessarily meant they help secure her safety.

EJ (victim): “I am not clear here if Chesky is trying to convey the message that Airbnb was involved in securing my safety, but the company was not. My safety was secured by my own efforts.”

Here’s another:

Airbnb CEO: With a single booking, one person’s malicious actions victimized our host and undermined what had been – for 2 million nights – a case study demonstrating that people are fundamentally good.

As TechCrunch points out, it makes it sound like that was the first time that happened, but apparently not. Granted these break-ins (two in the public eye) may be more the exception than the norm but the way the media works is to focus on the extreme situations — whether good or bad. And, this is one such terrible experience that makes for a riveting human interest story. I think Robert Scoble does a good job of pointing out how companies should deal with customer service disasters of this type.

But, I digress. The back-and-forth between the CEO and the renter gets ugly with the following back-and-forth:

Airbnb CEO: “We have been in close contact with her ever since, and have worked with the authorities to help find a resolution. While we are not at liberty to discuss the details during the investigation, we understand that with our help, a suspect is now in custody, and our information will now become important evidence.”

In her 2nd post, published on July 28, EJ refutes that claim:

EJ: As of today, July 28, I have received no confirmation from either the San Francisco Police Department or the District Attorney that any culprit is in custody for my case.

One month ago an individual was apprehended, however as far as I know, this person was transferred to a neighboring jurisdiction for prosecution of previous crimes, and no charges or arrest warrant has been issued for my case within San Francisco County. If this has changed and Chesky’s statement is in fact true, I have not been made aware by city officials.

She then goes on to suggest that things were even worse:

EJ (victim): And I was – but no longer am – scared of Airbnb’s reaction, the pressure and the veiled threat I have received from them since I initially blogged this story.

On June 29 I posted my story, and June 30 thus marks the last day I heard from the customer service team regarding my situation. In fact, my appointed “liaison” from Airbnb stopped contacting me altogether just three days after I reported the crime, on June 25, for reasons that are unknown to me. I have heard nothing from her since.

Wow?! And, that would contradict what their CEO had said earlier: “We have been in close contact with her ever since”. And…

EJ: During this call and in messages thereafter, he (ed. another co-founder, not Brian) requested that I shut down the blog altogether or limit its access, and a few weeks later, suggested that I update the blog with a “twist” of good news so as to “complete[s] the story”.

If true, that’s just sad, disappointing and plain wrong.

Closure & Moving Forward

At the end of the day, I think both parties (Airbnb and the renter) find themselves in an extremely difficult time in their lives. Airbnb just raised another round of funding and is on a hot streak, but the renter has just lost her peace of mind, home, and belongings (a month ago) with no end in sight.

What makes matters awful, is the company’s attempts at making this go away by utilizing everything from traditional spin to suggestions on shutting down the victim’s blog. Given how emotional this can be (for the aggrieved party) this needs to be dealt with in a considerate manner without coming across as pressurizing someone whose life has been upended recently. Interestingly enough, that customer service approach works in the best interests of the business as well.

Once again, I recommend you read Scoble’s post on a few ways to deal with this crisis.

For now, I think the onus for the company should be on getting some real closure in this unfortunate event, ensuring there aren’t any more random rants from their side, and an official update on their blog once there’s some real news to share. Most importantly, given Airbnb’s business model, the institution of a serious customer service policy (like at Zappos) seems essential.

All else is spin.

What do you think Airbnb should do? Tweet me @mariosundar.

Filed under: Social PR, , , , , , , , ,

Looking for a Job? Here’s a LinkedIn Checklist.

In the past few months, two of my good friends started looking for a new gig and I shared with them a primer on using LinkedIn to find a job. As I’ve always maintained, be engaged on sites like LinkedIn before you need a job, but rest assured if you’re looking for a job you definitely want to add LinkedIn into the mix. So, I put together a basic checklist that’d come in handy for any job seeker.

Looking for a job? Try LinkedIn and Twitter.

  1. Your profile – Check if it’s got the basics covered. Besides the obvious, don’t forget to update websites (with any press articles or blog posts you’re mentioned in), summary & specialties (cos this really stands out when people stumble upon your profile), and your skills (btw, you can reorder these sections to be most effective).
  2. Your connections – Next, your specific LinkedIn universe is only as effective as the people you’re connected to on there. So, find your real friends, colleagues, peers and connect with them on LinkedIn. Two ways to do this: people you may know or find your friends on email (whatever mail client you’ve got web or desktop works).
  3. Search – Have a strategy / a plan / keywords before you try researching jobs, companies and people you know who could help you on LinkedIn. Try advanced search here (but before that come up with key areas, places you like to find a job at, etc. And, the best part is you can slice and dice these results through your past college and work history. So, find your friends from school or past colleagues who are connected to a hiring manager (for e.g.)
  4. Reach out to potentials – once you have your first set of search results. Figure out how you’re gonna reach them. There are two ways :
    1. Connect through a common connection. If you’ve a common connection ping them for an introduction. Always the best way. The only way in my opinion.
    2. Cold call. Not ideal but if time’s of the essence you could try InMail (requires subscription) that lets you reach out to folks who may help.

That’s just a primer. I realized since I was sharing these tips with friends who were looking for a job, I may as well just codify it here on the blog for those searching for similar tips.

But, don’t forget, you don’t want to start looking for a job in the last minute, so go into your LinkedIn profile today, do some spring cleaning today, edit work experience after every project completes, gather recommendations from folks you worked with right after the project ends, or easier still create a twitter profile and tweet out a simple recommendation to a friend (it’s easier than writing a lengthy one) and connect your Twitter account with your LinkedIn account — start establishing your reputation on the web, before you realize you need a job!

Wish you guys the very best!

Filed under: Linkedin

My frustration with Twitter

First off, a huge hat tip to MG Siegler who wrote this sentimental post on TechCrunch the other day about the early days of Twitter and how far we’ve come (on the occasion of the President’s Twitter town-hall).

Aah, those were the days. Were people scoffed at the idea that Twitter was a passing fad. I remember those days when Steve Ganz would walk all the way up to my cubicle to try and get me using Twitter more actively. I relented, attended the next SXSW, got hooked on Twitter and have never looked back.

Since then, Twitter became a media phenom in the spring of 2009, culminating with this TIME cover. They scared the bejeezus out of Facebook who copied some of their innovations (@mentions anyone?), fended off apparent threats from Friendfeed and grew to over a quarter of a billion users making me and every other early adopter – a proud user.

But, what frustrates me till date is Twitter’s inability to corner the brand identity ecosystem that they were made to win.

You break my heart, Twitter! (Note: If you don't get this movie reference, you'll be breaking my heart too, dear reader)

The Brand Identity ecosystem

Twitter’s model (following) is far more well established to create a brand identity ecosystem vs. Facebook’s model that lends itself far more easily to creating the personal identity ecosystem (for more on the difference between the network models, I recommend an earlier post of mine). But, I digress.

Since the very beginning, I’ve shied away from liking or promoting brands on Facebook since it feels inauthentic to sell or promote (even inadvertently) to people I really care about. Twitter, on the other hand pioneered (kinda like Blogger) the follower model that was more about building your brand identity that makes it far easier to share your thoughts on the services you’re most passionate about to people who care for your thoughts. Guess what? I do it every single day and it feels natural for me to love or hate brands and products publicly on Twitter. It’s got an in-built reward mechanism for both individuals and for brands.

That’s also the reason, I feel it poses such an opportunity for Twitter to pioneer the lead in building out this brand identity ecosystem for brands.

Instead, I’ve been surprised and impressed by Facebook’s relentless second mover foray into the brand identity ecosystem. They’ve successfully and despite many concerns, impressively built out many a subtle innovation for brands along the way. Whether it is making it easier for all of us to build out brand pages (much like personal pages), tag brands in photos (my thoughts then), and give brands as close to a human identity as possible. Facebook has single-handedly created the online equivalent of treating brands / corporations like people. Brilliant, elegant solution.

Herein lies my frustration with Twitter.

Why haven’t you guys nailed the brand identity ecosystem. Given the obvious intent of folks who use your platform, you’ll be permitting a far more organic use case of the system. Everybody on your system is a brand — be it companies or marketers:

So, why don’t we see the following:

  1. Why can’t I create an auto-fill for brands when I update my status? Not just brands I follow. Make auto-fill possible for every single brand in your database. Kind of like Quora does today on all questions, names in their system. Or, like Facebook does when you go to their search bar and start typing in a name. Make it as easy as possible for me to find and share brands. You know the part that’s aggravating. I rarely go to Facebook to pimp my brands, but I talk about brands all day on Twitter and till date I don’t have an easy way to @auto-fill those brands. That’s like a golden opportunity waiting to happen.
  2. Why isn’t this auto-tagging of brands available across all your twitter products and services (tweetdeck, tweetie, twitter.com, etc.)?
  3. Why can’t I tag brands on any picture or video shared through your ecosystem?
  4. Why can’t I tag brands on my phone right after I take a pic or video? (Hopefully, with tighter iPhone integration these things would be possible)
  5. As a brand myself, why isn’t there a way for me track my twitter stats? I’m sure other brands are wondering the same. And, why do I have to turn to a slew of social media monitoring products to help me do this when this is obviously your bread-and-butter. Or, at least should be.

I could go on… but you get the idea. I know, you twitter elves are busy at work probably making many of these dreams come true. And, I know making changes in a company (startup or otherwise) takes effort and serious planning. But, given the obvious advantage you have in this segment, it’s about time we see some magic.

Signed, a loving 4 year old Twitter user.

C’mon, Twitter! We love you guys. Now, chop-chop.

Filed under: Twitter

Zuckerberg ain’t Jobs. 3 Ways to Try.

This post has been a long time coming. As someone who earns a living in the PR space and one who obsessively follows the unique craft of tech CEO presentations, I had to concur with CNN’s recent piece on Mark Zuckerberg’s recent product announcement and why it was a giant FAIL compared to a Jobs presentation!

C’mon. Comparing Zuckerberg to Jobs is like expecting Shia LaBeouf to act like Marlon Brando. While Transformers may sell $750 million in box-office receipts — that doesn’t a Brando make. This seems like a perfect time to finally share my thoughts on Steve Jobs’ virtuoso D8 interview – yet another instance of Jobs’ public speaking savvy.

Here are three of the Jobs’ unique speaking skills that you can glean from his presentations — seemingly simple but tough to emulate:

Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field can be emulated. 3 Simple tricks below.

If you’re telling a story, make it gripping:

There are a million boring ways to tell a story. Just ask Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer (don’t even get me started), but Jobs has a penchant for telling an elegant story that hooks you from the get go.

Juxtaposing Jobs’ d8 presentation with Zuckerberg’s presentation would be interesting, but if you ran a word cloud through Jobs’ presentation, here’s what you’d have seen. It’s all about people.

His very first anecdote about Apple’s resurgence (overtaking the market cap of Microsoft) recounts the bygone days when Apple was down in the dumps to highlight what a glorious triumph this is:

Well, Apple was about 90 days from going bankrupt… (Boom!) in the early days. It was much worse than I thought when I went back.

But there were people there (I’d expected all the good people would have left), and I found these miraculous people, great people and I asked them as tactfully as I could: Why are you still here? And, I’ll never forget. A lot of them had this phrase: because I bleed in six colors. (Note: I remember having a “Apple bleeds six colors” poster on my cubicle wall a few years back)

You know what this reminds me of:

Don Draper, Season 4, Episode 1 (Public Relations). After learning the craft of telling stories to reporters, Don is asked if he’s the definitive entity in his newly formed ad agency. Here’s the story he relates:

Last year, our agency was being swallowed whole. I realized I had two choices: I could die of boredom or holster up my guns. So, I walked into Lane Pryce’s office and I said: Fire us! (Boom!) — Cue Background Music.

Two days later we were up and running at the Pier Hotel, within a year we had taken over two floors of the Time Life Building.

Again, start with the nadir of the story to pique the viewer’s curiosity and build up to the finale. The cadence of story-telling between the two quotes is uncanny but good story-telling always remains the same.

Use evocative metaphors that ring true and wise:

Throughout history, all the great teachers have spoken in parables. More importantly, when asked questions use plain speak metaphors from every day life that each and every one of us can relate to. Before you frame your answer, ask yourself: would a 12 year old understand what I’m about to say? And, go…

Here are a couple of examples from Jobs (from just this interview):

On why they ditched Adobe: Apple is a company that doesn’t have unlimited resources (Reality Distortion Field in effect). They way we do that is by looking at technical vectors that have a future. Different pieces of technology kinda go in cycles: they have their springs and summers and autumns, then they go to the graveyard of technology.

We try to pick things that are in their springs. And, if you choose wisely you can save yourself an enormous amount of work rather than trying to do everything. (true and wise)

To a question on whether the tablet will eventually replace the laptop:

I’m trying to think of a good analogy. When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks cos that’s what you needed on the farm. But, as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, and America started to move towards them. Cars got more popular and innovations like power steering, etc. happened.

And, now, maybe 1 in every 25 vehicles is a truck where it used to be like 100%.

PCs are gonna be like trucks.

Such a nuanced answer that yet again, aims to simplify and would communicate effectively to any 12 year old in the audience.

Here’s one more from the past on how computers are like a bicycle for your mind. Watch the video.

Clarity and consistency in thought and messaging

I recently read an essay on “Politics and the English language” by George Orwell, 1946, that I’d recommend to anyone with a fleeting desire to revisit their usage of the spoken and the written word. The essay culminates in 6 simple rules for clear writing and I think that can be extended to clear speaking as well.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.

I think Jobs best defines this in every single interview he’s done. I could go on. But, let me pick an example from D8’s interview for his thoughts on privacy – an area where every company from Google to Facebook have had their fair share of stumbles but I think the clarity and simplicity of Jobs’ definition of privacy is startling.

We’ve had a very different view of privacy. We take it very seriously.

Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for… in plain english, and repeatedly.

I’m an optimist and I believe people are smart. Some people want to share more data. Some people more than others do. Ask em. Ask em every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them.

Let them know precisely what you’re gonna do with their data.

And, finally speaking of consistency of values that shines through every single interview Jobs has done, was this quote:

You know (long pause). When this whole Gizmodo incident happened, I got a lot of advice, that said: you’ve got to let it slide. You shouldn’t go after a journalist because they bought stolen property and they tried to extort you.You should let it slide.

And, I thought deeply about this. And, I ended up concluding.

That the worst thing that could possibly happen as we get big and gain a little more influence in this world, is if we change our core values and if we started letting it slide.

I can’t do that. I’d rather quit.

We have the same values now as we had then.

And, that consistency is true of Jobs impeccable communication skills. Watch the entire D8 Jobs interview here.

Filed under: Best-of, Facebook, Leadership Communication, Mark Zuckerberg, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs, , ,

Top 10 Corporate Blogs: 2011 Edition

As someone who has studiously put together the top 10 business blog listings since 2006 (here’s the first such post that garnered over 120 comments — long standing record on this blog), I was glad to see another post posing the question “Are these the 10 best corporate blogs in the world?” via Ragan.

Written by Mark Schaefer, who recently taught a class on corporate blogging at Rutgers, the post covers interesting blogs that are not too promotional nor technology focused and I’m glad he did put together this list, cos one of these blogs even crept into our top 10 listings. Read on.

Couple of quick thoughts before I present to you the latest ranking of the most popular corporate blogs on the planet (methodology for the ranking is given below). The reason I started tracking these rankings was to identify the corporate blogs that stand the test of time within certain commonly agreed upon criteria. What’s interesting is that the top 10 blogs have pretty much stayed the same over time with the inclusion of some fast growing blogs (like Mint and this week’s new entrant – Whole Foods).

Without further ado, I give you the current state of the corporate blogosphere and the Top 10 corporate blogs ranked by Technorati [Disclosure: I run LinkedIn’s corporate blog, since 2007, which has been a Top 10 blog].

Top 10 Corporate Blogs in 2011 (per Technorati Authority)

General Motors, Monster, Dell and Digg have fallen off the Top 15 list. In particular, I’m surprised by Dell’s fall since I bet it has something to do with their restructured domain space (Yahoo! had the same problem), cos I know how well managed they both are. The ones in red are the blogs that are going down in the rankings and the green ones are either new entrants or the ones that are rising (some, fast) in popularity – for e.g. Delta and Whole Foods.

Note: Click through the above brand names to get to their corporate blog and feel free to bookmark them or subscribe to their posts on your favorite RSS reader.


Methodology:
I’m using the New PR Wiki (Corporate blog listings) and Technorati authority to help navigate the corporate blogosphere terrain. This term made most sense to rank corporate blogs for 2 reasons.

1. Popularity

“It is the # of blogs linking to a website in the last 6 months. The higher the number, the more authority the blog has”.

Not only does that give a clear indication of the popularity, it also provides context for this rank in the past 6 months. You’ll be surprised at the number of dead blogs in the list, since the last ranking.

2. It’s the number of blogs vs. number of links that’s being measured

It is important to note that we measure the number of blogs, rather than the number of links. So, if a blog links to your blog many times, it still only count as +1 toward your authority. Of course, new links mean the +1 will last another 180 days

Also, if you find any corporate blog (official) that find themselves in the middle of the above rankings, please let me know by leaving a comment.

Given my experience, both starting and running a corporate blog, I’ll continue investigating best practices and sharing them here. If you’re interested in learning more, please consider subscribing to this blog.

SAY “HI” ON TWITTER! LET’S CHAT.

Filed under: Business Blogging