Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Elton John moaned the lyrics “Sorry seems to be the hardest word” three decades ago.

For many, the word appears to still be difficult.

You likely know about designer Kenneth Cole’s gaffe.  He tweeted from the company’s official account that crowds demonstrating in Cairo had likely gathered because of the company’s fall line.

An hour later, this tweet appeared.

Re Egypt tweet: we weren't intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment -KC
@KennethColePrd
Kenneth Cole Prd

Kenneth Cole is a smart guy with resources.  He went to law school.  His brother-in-law is the governor of New York.   His company (NYSE:KCP) had revenues of more than $400 million last year.  A simpler message might simply have been “I’m truly sorry.  That post was in poor taste and has been removed.”  Or I’m sorry followed by anything.

In a personal situation, I responded to an FTD.com survey with low marks and an explanation that the flowers were clearly old, looked bad upon delivery and did not last long.  The company thanked me for filling out a survey and wrote “We are sorry you were disappointed…”   The rest was meaningless boilerplate for the situation.  I wasn’t looking for a refund although a smart company might have dropped a coupon on me for a future purchase.  But by sending a token apology at the end of a direct transaction, the company acknowledged that my survey had been coded as “dissatisfied”, yet still failed to own the issue.  Had nothing ever happened, I would have simply assumed that the marketing research folks didn’t pass along my survey.

Your takeaway as a small business owner is to own your company’s mistakes and express regret by starting with a simple apology–”I’m sorry”. You should absolutely elaborate on how you’ll make things better and what happened if that’s appropriate to discuss.  But start with those two simple words and prepare to be amazed at the customer satisfaction that results when you sincerely accept a problem.

Source:  ”Kenneth Cole Egypt Tweets”, CNN Money, 2/6/11
Source:  ”NYSE:KCP Financials”, Google Finance, 2/6/11

Do You Know Your Twitter Limit?

Fast.  No counting on your toes.  Just answer this question really fast.

How many characters can you tweet while reasonably expecting a re-tweet?

Email and blogs without size constraints trained a generation of people to write rambling prose.  Then came Twitter with its 140 character limit.  People have slowly adapted although those you who treat each 140 character point as a paragraph mark better cut it out.

The problem surfacing more lately as everyone makes their way to the platform is that many small businesses are not leveraging Twitter’s magical re-tweet (RT) function.  Multiple people re-tweeting your message can drive a huge volume of traffic to your site or effort.

Think about the impact.  Your message is tweeted and then four people, each with hundreds or thousands of followers, each re-tweet the message.  Your audience just moved from your Twitter followers who happen to see that message to a much bigger number.

And the cascading effect doesn’t have to end with one re-tweet.

Know your retweet size limits

But there’s a problem. When I asked about Twitter length, you probably instinctively said that the limit was 140 characters, which is the correct answer, but not optimal.

The optimal Twitter length for something you hope to have re-tweeted is 140 characters minus the number of letters in your Twitter username and minus another 5 characters.

Think about the form of most re-tweets.   The standard is:

RT @username Message.

That’s 3 characters for RT and a space, another character for the @ sign and a fifth character for the space between your username and message.

With a name like @georgebounacos, I have something else to gripe about regarding my last name.   With no spacing it’s 14 characters.   Add on the 5 additional spaces, and my Twitter limit for things I want re-tweeted is 121 characters.

Remember:  Twitter is the don’t-pause-for-anyone lifestreaming utility.  Many users access Twitter on a phone.  If they can retweet a worthy message, they often will, but there has to be real dedication to actually edit a message so that it can be re-tweeted.  And yes, Twitter has a re-tweet button, but more people and Twitter clients use the rt@ convention to risk your message.

I’ve seen some decent 4 character names (@devo, @nasa), but most everyone comes in around 6-12 characters.  You know who doesn’t?  Those Twitter founder guys @biz and @ev.  Their retweet character limits are 132 and 133 characters respectively.

So when will the Twitter client software developers create a function that flags you when you reach your “easy retweet” limit?

Google’s Jolt of Caffeine

As major Google updates go, the search community must concede that Google Caffeine was launched with plenty of warning.

And Google Caffeine is officially live according to a post in The Official Google Blog by engineer Carrie Grimes.   Her post explains that instead of refreshing some parts of its search index every couple of weeks that Google continuously updates its index now.

There are many reasons (some spelled Facebook, some spelled Twitter and some spelled iPod apps streamed to the web) for Google to move in this direction.  Real-time search–you’ve undoubtedly seen Twitter results on a Google search page by now–has been around for months.

Do Not Fear The Caffeine Monster

Real time search is going to be more prevalent.

But your key takeway is that rankings will change more often.  They’re already subject to a variety of personally specific issues like your location, people in your social network, your personal search history and more.

Now the flavoring added to this stew is going to be Caffeine.

I adore her explanation of the process:

Caffeine lets us index web pages on an enormous scale. In fact, every second Caffeine processes hundreds of thousands of pages in parallel.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that you should have stopped chasing rankings a long time ago and it really doesn’t matter how vast Google’s computing power is this year versus last.

Last November, I wrote that leaders should stop demanding high rankings especially on arbitrarily chosen terms and learn about their analytics so they could focus on profit.

That doesn’t change, no matter which way you take your Caffeine.   Search engine results will be more dynamic, which means your SEO person (in house or hired gun) has a few more challenges, but we were already in a log rolling contest.  The people who guaranteed high rankings are bs artists at best.

Follow the money.  Focus on profitability.  And don’t stress about the changes because too much of this Caffeine will only hurt your health if you let yourself become stressed about the less important stuff.

Photo:  Lee Brimelow

Backing Up Your Online Data

The best technology executive I know used to regularly walk in my office and threaten to cut off my email, my Internet access or various appendages.   This was back in the bad old days when he had rolled out email to a startup, but he and I were two of the only folks who already had our lives in email.

[quote]

Like every good coach says, this guy read his email, responded or ignored and went about his day.  I kept my email open all day, dragged items into folders that were nested two deep and seemed hell-bent on creating the best archive system for mundane and trivial corporate news in the world.

Stop snickering.  I don’t do that anymore.

In the spirit of honesty I have to say that I don’t do this anymore because Gmail now lets me search on anything I want.   I use some filters to sort out everyday email that doesn’t need to be read every day, but other than that, my Gmail box is one big repository.  Okay, Gmail boxes.  But I don’t catalog email anymore, and I clean out my inbox every time I visit so that it’s no longer a de facto task list. No 100 plus message inboxes for me.   After all, that’s what Gmail’s “Send and Archive” labs function is for.

But what would happen if I lost access to that email?  That’s when my pack rat sensibilities are most offended.  And that’s where a relatively new service called Backupify comes in.

The service, still free with no indication on the site that there will ever be a charge, promises to backup Gmail, Flickr and even lifestreaming sites like Twitter and Facebook.   The site has the story of someone who lost 200 photos when a friend quit Facebook, as well as other horrifying tales. I have to admit I wasn’t especially moved by someone who had lost their Twitter DMs, but everyone values something.

Unlike backing up your hard drive because it might fail, you’re not typically using Backupify to protect against Google suddenly losing every bit of Google Docs.  You’re still protecting yourself against  yourself–an accidental deletion, for example.  That makes perfect sense to me, and if you can trust yet another company with your information, Backupify seems a sound option against accidentally deleting or losing access to an account where the only storage was in the cloud.

Update: Thanks to Rob at Backupify who reminded me that I blew right past the Premium and Business level plans, which seem like pretty good deals.  Premium is only $40/year and allows 5 accounts per service and a monthly backup.  Business is only $60/year with more accounts and weekly updates.  Either sounds like a good deal if you need your data in the cloud backed up.  [That's the "Are you sure you want to delete everything?" question we all sometimes race through]

Tweets Are Forever

Our information consuming society has managed to swing the august Library of Congress onto its side with Twitter of all possible things.

The Library of Congress, one of my favorite places in my adopted hometown, announced that every Twitter message ever sent would be cataloged in the Library’s archives.  What a coup for the guys who took the world’s biggest chat room with a memory, called it microblogging, and pushed the world to communicate in 140 characters.

Federal recognition of new media is wonderful.  The executive branch’s on and off embrace of digital media has helped get the ball rolling, and that’s a good thing.   But I often defend social media as a communications channel while acknowledging that you have to sift through a lot of junk to find anything remotely useful.

That is the heart of my concern with the Library’s announcement.   About 50 million tweets are sent every day according to their announcement. While this may be a sociologist’s treasure trove, is there really historical, archival significance in tens of billions of short messages?  That’s an awful lot of sifting through a lot of misinformation, spam and “Good morning, Twitter. Yum, I have coffee!” messages”

The misinformation bothers me most.  Communications experts will undoubtedly love to track and detail the failed communications and what prompted different individuals to write.  Despite the mess, there are a few things you need to consider with this being the most important:

What you say in at least one (for now) social media channel will now be indexed by the government and undoubtedly parsed many different ways.  That parsed data will then likely be made available to individuals at some future time.

Don’t be naive and think that this rich social and demographic information isn’t already indexed by a number of governments, corporations and other organizations.   The intriguing and somewhat scary part is the comprehensive nature of the index and the intersections that world-class data analysts can draw from linguistics, followers, time of day and dozens of other elements.

I don’t remember another instance where a new media company has given its entire dataset to the federal government, and I’ m still not sure how I feel about some of the erroneous conclusions that people may draw from that data in the future.

How do you feel about it?  Does having the entire database create a privacy issue?  Would it be different if this were Facebook?

Kevin Smith, Sarah Silverman & Social Media

Somehow managing to crack technology, business and entertainment news, Kevin Smith went nuclear on Southwest Airlines this weekend.

Smith, admittedly obese, was removed from a SWA flight after being seated.  He knows his social media.   TwitPic from the plane itself and a Twitter stream (NSFW) about the Smith-Southwest debacle.    Smith is a celebrity with 1.6 million Twitter followers.  After being removed from the flight, he went on a social media jihad.  Dozens of tweets were broadcast to his followers.  Just from Smith’s reach, figure that he had 30 million impressions.  That is not the kind of earned media you want in your business.

Case takes on Silverman

But Southwest got into a slugfest, publishing two blogs on the subject, including one on Valentine’s Day called Not So Silent Bob.  Apparently the marketing and communications team all took Valentine’s Day off because from United Breaks Guitars to RyanAir calling bloggers idiots, you would think the airlines have learned they take a major PR beatdown in social media when they cross celebrities.

Hint:  people like celebrities.  Airlines?  Not so much.  Airlines that have weight policies in a country 30% overweight and that charge $25 to check each bag?  Most people really hate those.

A company can’t beat a celebrity at this game.  Strike three, airlines, cut it out.  Yes, I know the safety issues involved.   I’ m obese too, but like Smith I can put the armrests down and buckle my seatbelt.   Heck, on Facebook doppleganger week, I used a mashup of Smith with my photo.  We’re not twins, but we could’ve been brothers.  Unlike Smith, I don’t have millions of people cashing their paycheck and lining up to see my work.

Smith looks like a populist hero especially having blogged twice himself (still NSFW).

But that’s the hoi polloi.  Let’s talk about the idiocy surrounding the TED Talks.

TED is a non-profit that brings folks together to push out ideas.  The organization’s name is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design.  The online content is often high quality, throught-provoking material.  The conference runs about $6000 so TED’s website actually has an FAQ that asks “Is TED elitist?”

If you have to post that question, you probably are.

Comedian Sarah Silverman got slammed by Wired editor and TED dude Chris Anderson.  His now famous Tweet called Silverman’s talk “god-awful”.   Then Anderson deleted his tweet, as if he thought that might end things.  For those following Silverman (she has 463,000 Twitter followers, but she’s nowhere near as fat as Smith) on Twitter, she unleashed a second jihad.

Then Steve Case stepped in for some reason and actually told the comedian and speaker she wasn’t very funny.

Now I first met Steve Case 20 years ago.  I wouldn’t call him a friend, but I’ve watched him eviscerate people with a look.

Silverman nailed him with a crack about AOL, reminding him to be nice to the last person on Earth with an AOL account.  Then they started sparring.

Here’s a hint.  If you run a company and you’ve ticked off a celebrity, don’t engage.  There are a number of PR and crisis communications firms who can help you.

From this perspective, the celebrities being right or wrong is irrelevant. They won.   Businesses and businesspeople lost.  I don’t see that model shifting anytime soon.

What do you think?   Besides having a debate on obesity, profanity or any of the symptoms, should the businesses have gone after Smith or Silverman?

Google Buzzes Facebook

“Hey, it’s way more better than status updates

That’s the implication, if not quite the words used in today’s video introducing Google Buzz.

[quote]

What’s a Google Buzz, you ask?   Well, as Google continues to embrace social media, the company is looking for connections between people much as it looked for connections between webpages when it originally began indexing the web a decade ago.  Buzz is a hybrid of Google Wave and Facebook comments with a dash of Twitter thrown in.   Having just logged in to Google Wave for the second time this year and again seeing nothing, I’m reminded of how the cool can often seem desirable until we actually attain it.

Linking email to social media seems like a cool idea, and maybe this interactivity will help Google Buzz succeed where Google Wave has yet to catch on.    Just like any other social media list, Google Buzz will likely require grooming and maintenance.  My son’s history teacher probably doesn’t care to be linked to me in a social graph.  Google previously dealt with such issues by putting addresses labeled “friends” or “family” into a social graph.  But again because I code my cousin’s husband as family doesn’t mean that he cares what I think about anything related to social media so a little maintenance will be in order.

Whether Google can suck even more users into the Gmail vortex and away from Facebook remains to be seen.   By all accounts, the company is seeing Twitter become the real-time search engine of relevance while Facebook becomes the Internet’s playground and chat room.  That leaves Google to be the library — not a bad place to be, but the folks in Mountain View want a little more buzz than that.

Stop Demanding High Rankings

Drawing of a self-service store.

Do you want visitors or profit? Image via Wikipedia

I watched another potential lead go by today and decided not to purchase the information because the prospect was in a medium sized market.  Their sole criteria was that they wanted to rank in the top 3 spots for a certain local phrase.

It’s important that you as a small business don’ t make this mistake:  there are no more ways that rankings can be counted. There are lots of SEO specific phrases that tie into this concept.  Ignoring them for a minute, here’s what you need to know:

  • The Google results you see for a query will likely vary based on the physical location of the Internet connection you’re using.
  • The Google results you see for a query will likely vary based on whether you have a Google account and are logged into that account.
  • The Google results you see for a query will likely vary based on how other searchers have interacted with a page and query over time.
  • The Google results you see for a query will likely vary based on constant testing Google does for thousands of variables.
  • And our new favorite, Google Social Search.

Forget about Social Search for a moment.  Remember this because it’s critical business advice that predates the Internet by thousands of years.

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Twelve Twitter Tips For New Users

Image representing javascript:;Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Welcome to Twitter.    Glad you made it.   The site is fun to use, often informative and can be a great way to learn about breaking news.

I started writing something to a friend in email and realized this was a perfect blog for those new to Twitter.  So in the interest of alliteration, here are Twelve Twitter Tips for New Users.

To round out a baker’s dozen, here is a bonus tip.  Throw out the nonsense you’ve heard about Twitter being a “microblogging platform”.  What did you expect the team who created Blogger to call the thing?   Twitter is the world’s biggest chat room with the extra benefit/curse of being seen by tens of million of people forever, not just in real time, and maybe even indexed in a search engine.  One step further:   Twitter is an ideal research tool for those checking out someone.   What you say on Twitter will follow you for some time.

Twelve Twitter Tips

1.  Don’t follow hundreds of people if you just joined.  It’s not a race.

2.  A profile picture helps.  Make it your picture.  I already know what that cartoon/movie star/singer looks like.

3.  If you’re an organization,  a Twitter landing page is really helpful.  Tell us what you want and why we should follow back.   If we’re only going to hear pitches (yes, news orgs, you too) then go back to the 1990s.

4.   Using automated tools?  Good.  Manage them.  Don’t manage them and get blocked.

5.  If you see-saw through my followers, joining and dropping every couple of days, blocking is the least of your worries.  Enjoy the time share calls on your 800 number.

6.   Build your Twitter capital like you would in any online or off-line community.  I use a tool that emails me your last 5 tweets when you start following me.  If at least one isn’t relevant to me, my life or at least interesting to read, I’ll bet you can guess what happens.

7.  Pitching is fine on Twitter.  I know I differ from many other, but we live in a marketing-driven society so hopefully they’ll learn to cope soon.  Pitch once though, and don’t pitch blindly.

8.   Once you’re having a conversation with another person, take the talk to direct messages.  Here’s another thought:  pick up the phone and interact another way.  You’re not really multitasking anyway.

9.  Don’t retweet without first reading the link.  If I decided to follow you and you retweet because you got taken in too, you’re history.

10. It’s okay to direct link if you’re an affiliate and your program allows it.  Just tell me you’re doing that, and we’re cool.  Give me a shortened link that dumps me off on a manufacturer’s page, and you’ll soon be enjoying many magazine trials.

11.   If you post a link that’s NSFW (or kids) and don’t mark it as such, you’re a thoughtless person.   Wonder how hard it would be to outrank you for your key terms in the job that pays your bill?  Show me the wrong thing in the wrong setting and perhaps that’s what I’ll do tonight.

12.   You don’t have to post every day about everything.  Quality, not quantity.

Look, have a good time.  Enjoy Twitter for personal use, promote your company appropriately and treat Twitter like more than your personal billboard.  Wh0 knew the chatroom would become ubiquitous?

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OfficeGossip Opens For Business – Fast Friday Fact

SAN FRANCISCO - MARCH 10:  Twitter co-founder ...

If you co-found Twitter, you get to use a big display too. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Pundits who live on Twitter and those who titter at social media often agree that companies and brands can take damage from anyone researching enough channels.  If I know Joe Smith and Mary Jones work at my competitor, rest assured that I’m monitoring both through a variety of free and paid tools.  That’s when the predator/prey game begins in earnest, but there is more than enough competitive intelligence being given away every day that spotting deliberate misinformation is easy.

And now former AOL exec Rick Robinson’s new company is making that process a lot easier by aggregating social comments about offices and brands on OfficeGossip.com.  Think of the site as TMZ for business geeks.  And beware.  That which you and others say about you is now that much easier to see at one shot.  Think about that on your three day holiday.

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