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The NFL season starts Thursday…is twitter ready?

I make no bones about the fact I am a huge fan of NFL football. Judging by what I have seen from many of the SMMI faithful lately, so are you. It seems the labor struggles between the Players Association and the club owners this past summer has done nothing to diminish the excitement we feel as the regular season gets underway Thursday night. I know I’m psyched to root for my team as they begin their quest for the Lombardi Trophy.

But this is a social media blog, so my angle on the new football season has to do with how it will be impacted by social media – especially twitter. According to tweeting-athletes.com 1185 NFL players are on twitter, and from a cursory glance I see very few with less than 1,000 followers. While I admit that number includes some coaches and guys who aren’t on active rosters after cuts came this week, the percentage of NFL players using social media and the reach they have is astonishing – I challenge you to find another industry with this kind of social impact.

We have already seen instances of twitter impacting the day-to-day workings of the 2011 NFL. During training camp Houston Texans running back Arian Foster (a significant player on his team and a fantasy football favorite) tweeted about the hamstring injury he sustained in a game before the same information was conveyed to the media and other teams by the Texans. A few days later Foster tweeted a picture of his MRI with the note that the “white stuff surrounding the muscle is known in the medical world as anti-awesomeness”. I think it is safe to say that this move was not in line with the team’s PR manual. Needless to say, Foster’s tweets were picked up by the major sports broadcasters within minutes and were spread around the world before the team could even react.

The NFL is a league with a strong understanding of protocol. The success and integrity of their brand requires that the public never believe a team is getting preferential treatment or that individuals have knowledge others do not. The games must be won and lost on the field…nowhere else. Sounds familiar, right? Many of our brands have the same challenge with our customers. To address the need for transparency, the NFL created its injury-reporting system in the 1940s, has upheld it carefully and continues to monitor injury reporting closely today.

So how does a brand with a strict concern for disclosure and fairness handle a member community so in touch with social media? The answers can be a guide for us all as we deal with our own groups and their tweets.

The first move the NFL made was to prohibit gameday tweets. According to a @reply I received from NFL Senior VP of Public Relations Greg Aiello “(the) use of twitter/social media is barred for players, coaches and game operations people from 90 minutes before kickoff until after the post-game news media period.” Certainly a good move to keep last-minute injuries/strategy from making it to some and not others but not necessarily enough to keep all the info from getting out. That said, I don’t know the NFL has the ability to suppress tweets from every one of the 1185 players each and every week. Just like in our organizations, management of communication has to be done at a much more local level.

But are player tweets that useful? I asked Philadelphia Daily News beat reporter Les Bowen if he gets any benefit from player tweets, and if using twitter gives him a “leg-up” on his more “old-school” colleagues. He admitted that while sifting through retweets of fans telling players how great they are is cumbersome, twitter has given reporters (and fans) unique insight into players off-field personalities and their reactions to other off-field happenings. He also opined that with the recent growth in player tweets (including the MRI photo mentioned above) the future of beat reporting in the NFL may change during the 2011 season.

I think I agree…and I know I’ll be following along. For any of us who manage brands, the NFL could end up being an amazing social media case study.

Enjoy football, friends!

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Time to put your phone in the cloud?

Photo: Jesse Kruger (Flickr)

I have several office locations that were impacted this past weekend by Hurricane Irene’s tour of the East Coast. While I am spending today sorting out and cleaning up, I am also thinking about some long-term structural goals – namely whether it is time to give up on location-based telephone services completely.

To put things in perspective, I have two offices that are within about 10 minutes of each other. One of them is part of our cloud-based phone system pilot while the other is not. Both lost power Saturday in a wide-scale outage related to Hurricane Irene. When I called our cloud-based office, things were just fine….in the other office I got a fast busy signal. While I know cell phones have made office numbers less critical, they are still a key component of having an office and everyone seems happier when they work correctly.

For those of you who may not be familiar, cloud based phone systems allow you to forward your calls to a server in another part of the country/world, where they are sent through an automated attendant and then routed (per your pre-defined rules) to another phone back on Terra-firma. More importantly, they provide you a web-based control panel where you can change those rules when life situations make it impossible for you to work normally – like when a hurricane rams into your hometown. You can program the phone to ring one number – or two – and can change which one(s) with the click of a mouse.

You may already be familiar with the single-user services such as Google Voice or Skype where you get a number and control how it rings or forwards. I have those too – but I have learned that they are not robust enough when you are trying to manage a larger operation. In some instances, bigger really is better.

Our firm uses a service called RingCentral, but that is just one of many firms that use the same technology. Within the system I can create virtual “extensions” for each of our users that mirror the extension numbers they have on their desk and then create rules for how to handle each call to that new virtual number. In some cases, the call just rings right to the same desk extension it always did – with no change at all – but those instances are rare. Usually what I find is that our users (especially our salespeople) want their extensions to ring to their cell phone numbers so they can have the capability to answer them wherever they may be.

Users can also log in and make their extension ring right to voicemail – a great feature when they are on vacation or when important family time preempts business calls. In these cases the voice mail messages (the recording, not a transcription) are emailed to the user within minutes of the call. Even if you are working right at your desk, an email record of the messages you need to save/reply is a valuable tool. Some of the services let you receive faxes on your extension as well – which may be a big help if you are already paying for a service like EFax or MyFax.

And finally, there is a tool that works best on weekends like these. With our virtual phone system I can log in and change the main company greeting from anywhere; so that people in other parts of the country remember we are dealing with a hurricane and may respond a little slower than normal. Never hurts to be prepared.

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If you lost 36,000 followers….

Dear President Obama:

A few weeks ago I took some time to congratulate you on your decision to be involved with your own twitter account and gave you some pointers on ways to maximize the impact of your investment.  I really wish I had thought to add one more paragraph before I wrapped things up back then, perhaps I could have saved you some unnecessary aggravation.

I know it has been a tough couple of days for you, so let me refresh your memory.  On Friday, July 29th someone from your campaign staff (I assume with your blessing) sent close to 100 tweets from your account encouraging followers to contact those legislators active on twitter.  Each tweet had a state name and a few twitter handles under the hashtag #compromise.  Never before has someone made so much noise in such a short period of time to such a large audience…more than 9 million people received the tweets during the #compromise campaign.

Unfortunately 36,000 fewer people received the tweets that came afterward…because according to Mashable they quit following the @BarackObama handle.  So did it work?  Or was it a bad idea?  This one constituent votes for the later.

Even as the leader of the free world you can annoy your twitter followers pretty quickly if you over-post.  It happens all the time online – someone tweets out a half-dozen posts in a row and they get unfollowed….you sent more than one hundred.

By the way, those Republicans whose handles you provided to the populace gained 6,500 followers during the same period of time.  If I were on your campaign staff, I would have to consider that a major #fail.

As you head into what will undoubtedly be the most social-media-rich campaign in history please take a lesson from this experience.  Twitter is powerful – few doubt that anymore – but twitter can also backfire quickly.  When someone runs a “well we’ll just tweet this and tweet that” plan past you, remember whose name comes after the @.

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OK, so you’ve been flamed…now what?

This may not be the deepest post to ever come from SMMI, but I think we have to be ever-mindful that there are new people finding us every day and there are times when a recap is in order. As always, I encourage those of you with longer histories in the social space to offer your comment.

Yesterday I was with a colleague, someone who I met recently and with whom I was discussing some potential work. She runs a communications company, but the company has never really engaged in social media (I know, I was baffled too). Nonetheless, our meeting started with her asking me to grab my laptop so she could read an article/blog post that appeared on the .com version of a newspaper about one of her clients – a client who was not excited about the recognition.

In reading the post, it turns out this colleague was mentioned too…in a less-than-flattering way. After she and I had a long discussion about why she needed Google Alerts for herself and her business we began discussing how to address this post and the claims made therein. It was an interesting case, because not only did she have to manage the claims made against her, but her client was expecting her to work through his mention too. Certainly not your textbook case, which is why I decided to discuss it here.

If you have just recently started blogging, one of the things to be mindful of is that comments are as important (if not more important) than the post itself. That is why it is called “social” media…you are working with the world to produce the best product. Some of the best blogs I have ever read start with a subtle comment from the author and then grow with insight from the community. Within that there is plenty of room for things to go wrong. My advice, never let a comment go unnoticed….even if it is something you didn’t really want to discuss.

In this case the claims made about my colleague were all based upon some rather lofty innuendo, so addressing them was not hard. She crafted a reply that connected dots A, B and C without offering too much wiggle room for the author (or the community at large) to insert their own opinion. I am watching carefully to see how it is received.

But what if the comments had been an absolute fabrication? They are the ones that make it harder to reply with a cool head. Nonetheless you still have to reply. I had this happen to me recently. A former client of my firm decided to go online and tell the world that the president of the firm and one of our sales staff were crooks, liars and despicable. Of course it immediately trended to the first page of Google for their names and for the firm…perfect. I needed to reply, and I needed to reply quickly. In talking with our company counsel, there were many many facts this person had chosen to ignore, including the fact that he had asked the sales person to commit a felony on his behalf. As I started to craft my reply I considered whether to add those elements that clarified the story….and then I remembered that blogs are social media, and that anyone and everyone could (and would) use this as a chance to pile on the firm for any possible wrong they ever felt they had been done. A reply was still necessary. I finally ended up with the “We dispute the facts stated in this post, and we look forward to the opportunity to discuss them with anyone who reaches out to us” and put a link to our company contact page. Never heard another word.

You may have heard this before, but it bears repeating – do not just take the comment down if you control the blog, or ask the admin to take the post down on another. Doing so will only create more angst, and will make things worse for you. Perhaps this is time to talk about having a clearly-defined comment policy for comments – and using that policy to screen comments before they run. However instead I am going to point you to a great post from last year that was done by SMMI’s own Amy Chorew. Hopefully that will help.

These are just my thoughts on the issue – I encourage you to comment freely.

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Chrome Alone?

Right after Google’s I/O conference in May I took a second to discuss the new “Chromebook” personal computing device. If you still have not seen one, here is a quick video introducing it to you. I ended that post with “stay-tuned” because there wasn’t much information available at the time.

Following the June launch of the first ChromeBooks Walt Mossberg of WSJ did his review. There is a text version and a painfully-long video version. In both instances he offers that cloud computing is going to be a key component of personal productivity in the future, but that today’s ChromeBooks are just too limited to be worth even the small investment.

That wasn’t enough to deter me, however, so I created an experiment for myself to see if I could live “Chrome Alone”. I swore off every other program on my computer and went solo with my browser – just as if I owned the new ChromeBook I have been considering. What I learned at the end of the day was that, sadly, Mossberg may be right.

The first “oops” moment came early in the experiment when the .docx attachment sent to my Gmail opened in my resident copy of Microsoft Word. My ChromeBook wouldn’t have that (because it won’t have “software” on the machine), but of course it would have access to Google Docs and would have just defaulted there to open the file. That’s why I can’t call that one a fail…just an oops.

Things got worse when I went to open my Instant Messenger. I have been with Trillian.im for a while now because I like how their desktop app launches from the taskbar, stays open and floats over the other work I am doing during the day. In my Chrome-only world it seems I don’t have that luxury – the Trillian “app” available from the Chrome store just takes me to the Trillian web based chat and opens it in another tab. Not a major inconvenience, but having to watch the tab to see if someone is trying to engage you in conversation is a bit cumbersome when I am managing a few other applications at once (although I did start to rely on the audio cues more than I do on the desktop version).

Later I went to do my online banking. That experiment did not go as well but I’ll take most of the blame. I am embarrassed to admit that I still use Microsoft Money – and of course since MS quit supporting the product two years ago there is definitely not a cloud-based version. While the interaction with my bank went smoothly, when it came time to download and reconcile my statement I knew (although I did it anyway) that my ChromeBook would not be able to play along. That said, I know there are great cloud based programs out there now – Quickbooks and Mint.com just to name two – that would have allowed me to work it out online although I would have had to save the download file from the bank to a USB drive instead of the desktop.

Printing wasn’t so bad because I had done the work ahead of time to configure Google Cloud Print on some of the office computers. Had I not done that work beforehand, however, I would have found my ChromeBook unable to put anything to paper. Certainly something to be considered if you are generating a large quantity of paper.

There were other software run-ins that caused me angst, but many of them are industry-specific so I won’t spend a lot of time with them here. One important word of caution for the Realtor community though…ZipForms does not currently run in Google Chrome.

Alas, the thing that ended my quest for a ChromeBook was the one thing I totally took for granted….wireless internet. I have a cellular modem in my notebook so I rarely worry about wifi – and for this experiment I decided not to worry too much about it either because I knew I could easily team my ChromeBook up with a cellular signal when I needed to get online. But then I went to write this post….and couldn’t get to Google Docs because I didn’t have a cellular signal. So because I am already past deadline I am writing it in Microsoft Word….the one housed on my hard drive….on the computer with no access to the cloud. So much for that “Chrome Alone” pledge. Hopefully if I stand out in the driveway I’ll be able to get this posted online.

So I am still debating whether ChromeBook is for me. I think there is a blogging rule somewhere that says you can’t end two posts with the same “stay tuned” cliché, so I will open it up to all of you to offer your thoughts – and I’ll decide from there.

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