Archive for July 2009

Three steps to improve your social web literacy


Black Speech Bubbles
Image by StreetFly JZ via Flickr

We wrote last week about the rise of social web literacy - how people are having to get used to a new way of communicating and a new way of using language to share information and ideas. It’s not just the technology and tools available to us that are different, the real change comes when people use these tools, adapting what they say and how they say it.

In short, as we make more use of social media, be it personal or for business, we need to hone our social web literacy. We need to practice and develop how we communicate. How do you enter a discussion in a forum? How should your brand talk differently in social media to in other, more traditional, media? How do you engage people online?

At FreshNetworks we work with brands who are engaging strategically online often for the first time. We help them to improve their social web literacy so that they get the most out of these interactions. And we find the following three steps are a simple and easy way for people to do just this.

1. Write comments

In social media and, particularly, in online communities, people share and develop ideas based on a common area of interest, concern or a goal. They may not know each other, but will happily share thoughts with each other to develop an idea or solve a problem.

A great first step to improve your social web literacy is to get involved in discussions just like this. Find a news article, blog post or forum topic that you are interested in and comment on it. Subscribe to updates so that you can follow what others say and make a conscious effort to go back to the same discussion and develop what you said first time around.

By entering these kind of discussions you will learn how people discuss and debate in comments and forums. By taking part you will start to develop your own style in forums, learn how to respond to people politely and how to express your opinion even when others may not agree with you

2. Use Twitter (even if nobody follows you)

There are many benefits of Twitter, but one clear benefit is the focus that comes from 140 characters. Having to express yourself in such a short space is a great way of learning the kind of direct and concise language that often works well in social media. The restrictions that this character limit brings means that you need to think carefully about exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. How do you express your opinion in such a short space, without being unnecessarily ambiguous or causing offense.

Getting used to expressing yourself like this is a great way of developing your social web literacy skills. That’s why we encourage clients to start using Twitter (even if nobody follows them). It’s a way of learning a new way of expressing yourself and the impact that a restriction on message length can bring. Many people are comfortable expressing themselves at length, when they have time to set out their opinion, ideas and supporting information. Conveying a similar idea in a very short message is a skill that is good to develop.

3. Get tagging

One aspect of social web literacy is developing the skills to tag and categorise information. Social media involves users organising information for themselves and for others. And how this information is organised dictates how easily it can then be found by others. Tagging content and then using these tags to find information relevant to you is a great way of accessing the vast quantities of information that is available online. One of the best ways to learn and experience how this works is to get involved and do it. To get tagging.

Set up an account with Delicious, and bookmark content your see and enjoy online. Choose relevant tags for this content and then see what else others have tagged in the same way. Learn and refine how you use tags, using more or less and choosing your words carefully. Learn how to tag content in a way that is useful for you and for other users. Find out what tagging typologies work for you and why.

Twitter 101 - a guide to Twitter for business


Image by futurowoman via Flickr

This week has seen Twitter launch Twitter 101; a guide for businesses of how to use Twitter. We’ve looked before at how organisations can use Twitter, and this guide covers the basics as well as showcasing a few cases studies of what some businesses are doing.

The guide itself is part a how-to guide, part an explanation of what Twitter is and part a set of ideas and examples. The fundamental recommendations from Twitter can be summarised in four simple steps

  1. Listen to what people are saying about your brand on Twitter
  2. Set up your own presence and be honest about who you are
  3. Follow people that are relevant to you
  4. Respond to discussions about your brand and business

This approach of listening first is a great way of starting to develop a strategy of how your business should use Twitter. Once you know what people are saying about you, what issues they are discussing and what problems they raise, you will know what kind of responses might be expected of you when you get to stage 4. But I would suggest an additional stage that builds on this information. Getting your strategy right.

There is a strong argument for brands being on Twitter. Experimenting and finding out what works for you. However, you will get most success if you take a step back first and think why you are doing this. What are your business aims and what do you hope to achieve. How will you measure your success and evaluate if you are getting out of your use of Twitter what you hoped?

This needn’t be a lengthy and complex process but it is one worth doing. It helps to focus what you are doing and gives the use of Twitter a real focus and direction. Different businesses will be in different situations, with different business needs and different strategic aims. Think about where you are and where you want to go and then brainstorm how you might use Twitter to help you get there.

Innovation is great and social media is a fantastic medium through which to innovate. But a little bit of focus and strategy will help turn this innovation into something that you can evaluate. Something that you can assess and something that you can improve on.

Only if you think about what you want to achieve will you really be able to measure what you have done and the success it has brought your business. Then you’ll be able to add to the great case studies from the likes of Dell and Pepsi that are listed in Twitter 101.

Download the Twitter 101 slides

  • Twitter 101 for Business - official case studies, tips and downloads (
  • Twitter Launches “Twitter 101″, Step One Of The Business Plan (
  • Hints of many business models in Twitter 101′s case studies (
  • Twitter Tries to Bridge the Gap Between Sign Up and Engagement (

Don’t get it right; get it written


fountain pen
Image by [phil h] via Flickr

We sometimes analyse things too much. We spend too much time thinking about what we’re going to do and too little time actually doing it. Don’t get me wrong - we are big believers in planning and strategy at FreshNetworks. When we are building an online community for a client we spend a lot of time on planning, more so than some might, but enough to mean that when we do launch and build the site, we know how to make it a success. At this stage the detailed planning is important - you should try to make as many decisions as possible up front, consider all outcomes and plan for what you will do in different circumstances.

But sometimes you can get too wrapped up in planning things to the smallest detail when really your time is better spent just doing it.

In an online community, copy in forums, newsletters, polls and features is important. It is one significant way in which you can engage the community members, highlight what is happening on the site and how they can benefit from and add to this. Newsletters, in particular, can be a very effective way to engage people and draw them back to certain types of online community.

There is a lot of analysis that you can do on the effectiveness of copy - do certain articles attract people more than others? Do some headlines get more click-throughs and greater time spent reading the particular article once people are there? Do some newsletters have lower unsubscribe rates? All of these are valid and really important measures. They help you to monitor the health of what you are doing and identify things that are not working. But the beauty of online communities is that they are changing and organic environments - you can benchmark what you know typically performs best, and you know what works for an individual community. But there are many unpredictable factors in an online community and with community members. Sometimes it’s best to just get things written and see what the impact is.

The benefit of having a strong online community manager is that they get to know the community and its members. They live and breath it day in and day out. They know the key members, the ones who contribute most and those who are starting to become more engaged that they want to nurture. They understand these people and what makes them tick. They take part in discussions with them and they know when these discussions have gone too far.

A good online community manager will develop an innate sense of what works for their community. They will know how to talk to them, what to talk to them about, and how to engage them in a new idea, discussion or piece of functionality. In short they will know what to write to get the impact they want.

This kind of knowledge can be augmented, refined and enhanced by statistics and measurement. But they are not a substitute for the intimate knowledge that an online community manager will have. Sometimes, rather than spend forever planning, writing, testing and rewriting copy it can be best to trust your community manger. They know what works and test and refine this knowledge with the data from what actually happens. Trust them to get it right. And trust them to get it written.

The most engaged brands on the web


Gold star
Image by communista_unicorn via Flickr

There are some great examples of brands using social media that we use a lot at FreshNetworks. Not because they necessarily get everything right, but because they show what works for them and why, and they help to give ideas and inspiration to others. We’ve looked at some such examples before with how organisations can use Twitter. The cases of Dell, Starbucks, Nike and others are great stories and there is much that we can learn.

That was why it was good to see these brands, among others, performing well in the Wetpaint and Altimeter Group report ranking the worlds Top 100 global brands based on how they engage people online.

The study gives each of these Top 100 brands a score based on their engagement across more than ten social media channels, including blogs, Facebook, Twitter, wikis, and discussion forums. The highest score (127 points) went to Starbucks, and the top ten brands are:

  1. Starbucks (127)
  2. Dell (123)
  3. eBay (115)
  4. Google (105)
  5. Microsoft (103)
  6. Thomson Reuters (101)
  7. Nike (100)
  8. Amazon (88)
  9. SAP (86)
  10. Yahoo! and Intel tied (85)

The report analyses the different companies and groups them into four types of brands that engage online. But for me the most interesting aspect of the report is the observation that engagement increases at an ever faster rate as brands engage in more social media channels. There is a clear and measurable benefit to brands engaging in an increasing number of places online, and through an increasing number of channels.

This supports a need for brands to have a presence in a large number of social networks - interacting there and engaging with people where they are. But whilst engaging in this ever increasing number of social media channels, it is important to provide a space where these engaged people, these brand loyalists, can be brought together. Whilst you may engage them in a photo-sharing site or a mobile social network, you benefit most when you then provide a place for them to go to. Do you build your own community or go where people are? Do both.

This is what the brands at the top of this list do best. They may have very successful engagement strategies in social media sites and channels, but they also provide their own online community. From MyStarbucksIdea, through the Dell Community and eBay Discussion Boards. It’s about both engaging where people are and providing a place for them to come to. And the most engage brands online do just this.

ENGAGEMENTdb: Most Engaged Brands On Social Media -

  • New Study Finds Correlation Between Social Media and Financial Success
  • Social Media ROI: How about an increase in revenue?
  • New study: Deep brand engagement correlates with financial performance
  • Study: The biggest brands on the Web

Do you speak social? The rise of social web literacy


Gutenberg Bible
Image by jessamyn via Flickr

It wasn’t the invention of the printing press per se that caused a revolution; it was when everybody learned to read.

This extract from Antony Mayfield‘s excellent WOMMA presentation on social web literacy sums up nicely my thoughts on social media tools. It’s not the tools, per se, that are changing the way we communicate, share information and learn. It is users themselves who are changing - talking in different ways about different things to different people. Tools will come and go, users will develop and change with them.

From this respect, social media literacy is important. We see this in the online communities that we run at FreshNetworks - users are very familiar with some tools and less so with others. They are developing their social media literacy and use different tools in different ways depending on their experience. We also see them develop this literacy - such as has been the case of a team of first-time bloggers.

Technology should be invisible and it is the way that users use the tools that matters. You can have the greatest piece of social media technology that exists, but if people don’t know how to use it then it is of no use. At least not now.

It’s an interesting area that is often overlooked - technology is placed too often in front of users’ habits and the social structure of interactions online. For that reason, Mayfield’s presentation is Required Reading for this week.

WOMMA: Do You Speak Social?
View more presentations from Antony Mayfield.
  • Energising word of mouth through social media
  • Steve Woodruff: Getting Started with Social Networking
  • Technology, newspapers, the future
  • Monster vs LinkedIn vs Twitter battle heats up