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As someone not particularly concerned with my friends’ sandwich preferences, I was a late-adopter of Twitter technology.  A born skeptic, I didn’t know what value could be derived from 140 characters of Joe Schmo’s stream of consciousness. 

Despite my reservations, I opened an account because, as with most social media, it seemed like I had to have it, even if I didn’t know what to do with it.  (Ironically, this is exactly what I would advise my clients against.)   I dipped my toe into the Twitter water casually, choosing to be a voyeur of other people’s posts.  I don’t remember my first tweet, but I imagine it was something benign like, “First tweet posted!”  I’m certain it didn’t earn me a single follower.

I am fortunate to work for a firm that embraces and encourages social media, especially coming from the political world, where the thought of “polluting” carefully crafted talking points is sacrilegious.  I started spending my downtime reading about how to leverage social media and how harnessing its power could lead to important (if not accurately measurable) benefits for my clients and for my professional development.

The most difficult thing about Twitter for me was figuring out how to really get started.  Generally, I followed three steps:

  1. I followed the people I found interesting and informative (okay, and also celebrity gossip – nobody’s perfect).  I also made the conscious decision that I would use Twitter for news and information, not to have conversations with friends and family; for me, that’s what Facebook is for.
  2. I retweeted the things I found helpful and worthwhile and found that good retweet was just as beneficial as a brilliant original tweet.
  3. I joined the conversation, sharing articles of interest, social commentary, and occasionally the things that amused me during the day.

But it was not until yesterday that I experienced a Twitter breakthrough. 

Attending the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Bold Fusion conference, participants were encouraged to tweet the proceedings.  As a new owner of a Droid (this is not to invite commentary about the iPhone, only to indicate I am newly capable of twittering on the move), I thought I’d give this “live tweeting” a shot.

Over the course of the four-hour conference, @katiefoxdenis shared 16 tweets with #cincyhype hashtag.  I hadn’t really used hashtags before, but I fully understand the importance of them now.  By looking at all the other tweets under that hashtag, I got to see what other people were reacting to, interpreting, and taking away from the presentations.  I was able to get insights that applause and laughter just can’t reveal.  And I found new, interesting people to follow.

In a few hours, I realized the demonstrated power of this communication medium and how much value could be derived from it.  As it turns out, it’s not all about sandwiches.

Post by Katie Denis, Account Executive – 4.30.10

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Two seemingly unrelated references in the past several days and it feels to me like back to the future : Google and China; and, Twitter and the telegraph.

Google & China: Some are predicting that Google will leave China (Reuters article) in a few weeks rather than continue government-required although apparently limited filtering of certain news (see today’s WSJ).  The war of words has picked up by Chinese government officials, usually a precursor to government action.

I’m not sure what’s all involved here.  What I am sure of is that it all feels like backward movement.  Google is confronted with a non-option … limited censorship.  Imagine Google being expected (or required) to be an active participant in limiting the free-flow of information.

In short, Google is being asked by the Chinese government to turn back the clock … to do what can’t be done.  They are being asked to limit news-sharing after Chinese citizens have tasted a freer flow of news.  This is going to become very interesting if, indeed, Google leaves China and Chinese people react.

Twitter & the Telegraph:  A fascinating discussion over the weekend with Gary Kebbel, director of the Knight Foundation Journalism Program at a recent IPREX Meeting.  Interestingly, Kebbel, a former newspaper editor, shared that he will be leaving his Knight post to become the new dean of Journalism at the University of Nebraska.

Also in the discussion was Mike Griffin, the new VP of Communications (Public Affairs) for Walt Disney World, also the former managing editor of the Orlando Sentinel.

In a free-ranging dinner conversation about the challenges facing journalism today, mostly brought about by technology advancement and advent of online citizen journalism, these two hard-core journalists were lamenting the dimunition of good, crisp, journalistic writing and the lack of discipline apparent today in capturing the lead and reporting from there.

Kebbel interestingly added that tight, focused, journalistic writing was inspired by the advent of the telegraph and the need to get news from the “wild West” back to the eastcoast establishment.  Telegraph outlets were very limited and reporters stood in line to dictate to fast-fingered telegraph operators.  Out of fairness, reporters were limited to one paragraph of dictation – about 140 characters or so – and then they had to move to the back of the line.  They learned to write their lead and fill in more later.

Kebbel, Griffin and others in the discussion all agreed that Twitter was forcing many to tighten-up and write right, at least from a journalistic perspective.

Interesting, isn’t it?  China seeks to control the news flow and Twitter is making the world better at getting to the (news) point!

Post by Nick Vehr (3.14.10)

twitter iconWhat I have lacked in being an early adopter of Twitter I have made up for with curiosity and intrigued. 

I have been looking for applications beyond the fascinating and highly popular personal social applications.  I tried my own immersion with more than 100 tweets over a 7-day personal vacation (2009 Comfort Food Tour).  But, that was clearly one of those personal social experiences.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, there is a fascinating article about how some entrepreneurs have tweeted their way through business crises of various sorts. 

Assuming those businesses had already developed a significant enough follower list that they could communicate direct through whatever crisis they were experiencing, this makes a ton of sense.  I get it.

METRO, Cincinnati’s bus system, opened a Twitter account and tweets route change and update information.  It was especially helpful in a snow storm last winter and you can easily imagine the benefit to a METRO rider/METRO Twitter follower waiting at a bus stop getting an update that their bus has been delayed or cancelled.  I get it.

It is still obvious to me, though, that Twitter is very much a “consumer” application with limited, or at least very specialized and selected, B2B opportunity.

Post by Nick Vehr – 9.15.09

twitter iconThe 2009 Comfort Food Tour is over.  Phew!

Just to recap, my 23-year old son, his buddy and I covered 1,800 miles, 7 cities, 18 restaurants in six days.  From Cincinnati to Pittsburgh, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, NYC, Albany, Buffalo and back to Cincinnati, we experienced food and togetherness.  It was a blast.

Besides the obvious quality time with my son, and giving him and his friend the experience of seeing cities they had never visited, I decided to tweet (www.twitter.com/nickv) the entire trip as a Twitter immersion experience. 

So, how’d that go and what did I learn?  

I tweeted about 60 times over the the course of the trip.  From restaurant updates and ratings to sightseeing pictures (twitpic) and smart-aleck remarks, I kept busy.  I viewed it all as keeping a new media journal. 

Halfway through our trip, tech support (23-year old son) connected my Twitter account to my Facebook account so my tweets posted automatically.  The increase in online chatter happened immediately.

Tweeting enabled Mom and other famly and friends to follow the trip.  I think they enjoyed the updates but, like me, became a bit tired of the volume.

As a professional communicator, I entered the experience with a clear bias.  I felt that Twitter was mostly a consumer-focused social media tool with limited applications for b2b companies. I clearly understood the value of Twitter for crisis communications (reputation management), especially for consumer brands.

The trip and the Twitter experience left me a bit more open to broader applications of Twitter, but I still feel it is primarily a “social” tool rather than a “business” tool (of course, I know Twitter is developing a business application for Twitter and I look forward to learning more about it).

We all have friends whose excessive use of social media becomes sadly anti-social.  Rather than interacting and enjoying the moment, they have their head down typing away on their hand-held.  I found myself doing this periodically.

Regardless, for me it was a learning and growing experience in the use social media.  The 23-year olds were much more comfortable than me.  I had fun.  I got some nice suggestions and comments. 

The trip was a success, as was my own immersion experience with Twitter.  I’ll continue to look for, and feel I am now better able to spot, business applications for the benefit of our clients.

Post by Nick Vehr – 8.24.09

buffalo wingsI am breaking my rule about only using this blog for posts of interest to professional communicators, kind of.

I am leaving tomorrow on what I am naming (at least so far) the “2009 Comfort Food Tour”.  I, my 23-year old son and his buddy are heading out for 7-day roadtrip with one rule: no chain restaurants.

Dining choices will be heavily influenced by the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food” picks and the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Throughs and Dives” stops.

Cities?  We’ll see, but the plan for now is Pittsburgh, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, NYC, Boston (maybe), Buffalo, Cleveland and back home to Cincinnati. 

From Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh to the Anchor Bar in Buffalo (original buffalo wings, duh!), our cultural eating tour should be an absolute blast.  Robert Pirsig (Zen) would be proud because it will be very spontaneous, by design.

I plan to tweet and facebook (maybe) my way through.  I will not be posting to this blog – wouldn’t want to miss a meal.  In addition to learning what makes 23-year old young men tick (kinda scarey) and having some great food experiences, this trip will give me a chance to really experiement with Twitter and Twitpics.

So, follow me (@nickv) and have some fun with us.  If you do, the big difference between you and us on this trip – we’ll be gaining all the weight!

Post by Nick Vehr – 8.15.09

If you’re the CEO of a B2B company, does all this social media stuff matter to you?  Or, is it just some trend for young social-media-22consumers and the companies that sell directly to them.

It’s a fair question.  The answer, from the perspective of a strategic communications professional is – ABSOLUTELY!

Look at this way, how many functions within your company have moved online?  Do you think any of your employees are involved in online communities?  Do you marvel at how comfortably and seemingly innately the younger employees embrace, attach and understand new technology applications in the work place?  Don’t your new hires seem to get younger each year?

Here’s the point, your business is probably moving online, your suppliers and vendors businesses are probably moving online, your customers are probably moving online, and your new employes are definitely already online.

Read this link to a great blog post by Todd Defren, one of the early pioneers in the blogosphere and CEO of a PR firm with consumer and B2B clients.  He nails it:

“The world of business is increasingly moving online.  And businesses are comprised of people.”

Two terms I love: “digital immigrants” and “digital natives.”  If you’re wondering about or confused by the social media stuff, you’re a digital immigrant – you’re new to this world and you want to fit in but you’ll probably always speak with an accent.  If it all comes natural to you, if you are perfectly comfortable with all things online, you’re a digital native – it’s innate, part or your life.

Read this interesting post by Jeremiah Owyanga, Sr. Analyst in Social Computing at Forrester Research in San Francisco.  It will help B2B CEOs understand all this from a real geeks (affectionately intended) perspective.

Don’t panic.  You don’t have to start blogging tomorrow.  No one expects you to “tweet” by Wednesday (if you ever do).  When you post your profile on Facebook, your kids won’t get creeped out (well, maybe!).  Getting linked on LinkedIn can happen in time.

However, you do need to explore (or at least empower an exploration by others) the potential impact of social media on your business.  You should want to demonstrate to your existing employees and to all potential future employees, that your company, “gets it.”

Any good B2B social media stories out there?  Please share.

Happy Valentines Day

Post by Nick Vehr – 2.14.09

A colleague inspired this post. 

You might ask, why would a decidedly unhip, middle-aged guy insert Beyonce’s latest video “Single Ladies (put a ring on it)” into a blog about professional communications.  Connect on the link above, watch it and then read on.

beyonceAround the office, we were talking about how many new media applications there are to support client programs and help them to better engage, manage and strengthen important relationships.  Better to tweet on Twitter, google on Google, link on LinkedIn, face-up on FaceBook, digg, bookmark on de.li.cious, dish on YouTube, blog or vlog … who knows how to decide?!?

A mentor once shared that when it’s all moving too fast, when you find yourself confused and your head is spinning, simplify … go back to the basics.

Well, that’s precisely what Beyonce did and it’s the latest, greatest, hottest new video (according to my daughters and co-workers).  A catchy phrase, good rythym, and minimalist B/W video of three women dancing who are clearly having fun doing it.

There are few, if any, complex camera movements.  There are even fewer fades and dissolves.  The location is not a beach, a mountaintop, or even the lunar surface.  They’re in a studio … dancing … in B/W … really, really dancing.  And, they’re having fun. 

Pretty basic stuff.  And, boy, does it work!

When my colleague mentioned this and suggested I post about it, I couldn’t pass it up.  It will help us to realize that our clients don’t need all the latest applications.  They need the ones that will help them to succeed.

Oh yeah, if you didn’t watch the video earlier, go back.  You really want to see it.

Post by Nick Vehr – 12.4.08

President-Elect Barack Obama in CHicago's Grant Park Tuesday evening

President-Elect Barack Obama in Chicago at Grant Park

Dramatic history was written by American voters last evening.  President-Elect Barack Obama represents so many firsts.

In the context of this blog, with its focus on local, national and global trends that influence the communications profession, one merits particular mention.

Prez-Elect Obama is the world’s first new media U.S. President. 

No one may ever know how many tweets were twittered last night (just as interesting is that we now use words like “tweet” and “twitter” without giggling uncontrollably.)

The “Flat World” proclaimed by Tom Friedman in his 2005 best-seller became even flatter last evening as network, cable and online news broadcast live reactions from all corners of the globe. 

By 8 am Wednesday morning, 536 videos were posted on YouTube of President-Elect Obama in Grant Park last evening with thousands upon thousands of views.

That things have changed forever in U.S. Presidential campaigns is assured.  How big the change is an open question; another is how new media’s influence on the Obama campaign’s voter education and activation strategies and tactics will influence consumer and business strategic communications applications.

Consider just these few applications and let your mind wander a bit:

  • One Million Strong for Barack on Facebook has nearly 1 million members
  • My.barackobama.com (campaign Web site) enables visitors to join a local group, find an event, donate or blog.  It also lists, under the “Obama Everywhere” header, social media connections to: Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Digg, Twitter, Eventful, LinkedIn, BlackPlanet, Faithbase, Eons, Glee, MiGente, MyBatanga, AsianAve and DNC PartyBuilder. (Phew!)
  • This article also talks about how the Obama campaign used embedded advertising in EA Sports video games to geotarget specific swing states (Colorado, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and others).
  • The Obama campaign even offered a specific application for the IPhone designed to enable campaign organization and information-sharing to maximize turnout and motivate volunteers.

There is so much to learn.  Applications will only be limited by imagination and creativity.

Before we begin learning, though, maybe we should take a few seconds in our quickly moving and very connected flat world to simply appreciate the history made last evening.