Twitter Tips for Beginners #2

29 01 2009

With the use of twitter currently soaring there are many new users who sign up and then wonder just what to do next.  This is the second in a short series of blogs offering  a selection of  hints, tips and bits of advice for those wondering what to do with twitter …and how to do it.  

Getting followed

It feels odd typing out your 140 characters when you know there is no-one following you so here are a few suggestions for attracting your first followers;

  • Follow people.  Even if you are new at least one in four of the people you follow should follow you back.
  • Load a picture (or an avatar in social media-speak).  Don’t ponder too much just get something up there. You can change it any time but don’t delay many people won’t follow you until you’ve got an image.  Use the settings menu, top right.
  • Fill in a profile. Say as much as you can in the space allowed.  People may choose to follow you because of who you are or what you do.
  • Add a website to your profile.  It could be your own blog, your company website or perhaps your LinkedIn page but ideally it should prove information about you.
  • Oh….and follow more people.  

Say something

In Twitter Tips for Beginners #1 I suggested that you don’t worry too much about this at first but you should start soon.

  • Avoid platitudes and the mundane it will turn people off and they will stop following.
  • Post links to new sites and things that you have spotted on the web that will be of interest.
  • Ask questions….you’ll start getting replies. You can use twitter as a living, breathing search tool.
  • Reply to people.  Hover over their tweet and an arrow will appear at the right side (your right). Click it and you’ve started an @post. This is a tweet directed at one person but which everyone can see.  If your are the person receiving them they will go into your @Replies box so you shouldn’t miss them.

Stick with it and before you know it you will be twittering just like Jonathan Ross and Stephen Fry.

Is Blogging Right for Business?

27 01 2009

Businesses are often nervous about the naked conversations that take place in and around blogs.  They are right to be concerned,  careless comments can hit a corporate share price.  

The more common danger is that a corporate blog will be boring.  Many argue that corporate blogs should only be written by the Chief Executive because anyone else in the company will avoid any controversy and the end result will be anodyne.  Vetting, reliance on press releases and caution result in blogs that interest noone.  Blogs must really allow comments, but businesses tend to block any challenging comments or any that generate real debate.    

 “A lot of companies are making the mistake that blogging is publishing,” says Bob Pearson Vice President of corporate group communications at Dell. “Blogging is two-way and, crucially, it’s the audience that decides what’s read, what gets linked to and so what is deemed successful. So it makes sense to listen to the conversations your target consumers are having and then shape your blog around them.”

Should corporates blog?  The answer to this is a qualified yes but there is a real challenge.   We have to ask the question is the blog going to be interesting and is it going to be relevant to its target audience.  Once you’ve started the blog you will quickly discover whether the answer to these questions is yes.   If it’s no, stop the blog.

Twitter Tips for Beginners #1

23 01 2009

It was reported this week that twitter use has grown ten fold in the last year so I thought it might be useful to give some tips to those people that have signed up to use the service but are stuggling to get to grips with it.   For many people the first thing they type into twitter (or tweet) is “Trying to understand twitter” or simply “hello”.  They probably won’t get a reply so this is for them.

Finding people to follow

  • Use the ‘Find People’ tab at the top right of your screen.  Only use it to try and find people you know are on twitter.  Adoption is still relatively low (and you are still an early adopter!) don’t expect all your friends to be there – they might also be using a ‘screen name’ making them difficult to find.
  • Follow people that follow other people.  Twitter isn’t like Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn, you don’t have to know people to follow and be followed. Once you are following one person it gets easier. Click on their name of image (sometimes called an avatar) and look  at who they are following.  Follow the ones that interest you.  Repeat this and carry on repeating with new followers.

What’s the right number of people to follow?

  • There is no limit but I think that between 50 and 100 is a good place to start
  • If you follow too small a number you won’t be seeing enough in your twitter stream to be of interest and it will be harder to understand what twitter is for and how you might use it* 
  • If you immediately try to get to 2000 (the limit that twitter places when you have limited followers) you will be overwhelmed by the tweets you receive and you will probably be blocked as a potential spammer.

*What is twitter for?

What should I tweet?

  • Don’t worry about this too much at the beginning but discover what interests you and use that to think about what might interest others.  It probably won’t be what you had for breakfast.

Some final quick basics tips

  • The web page doesn’t refresh, Click ‘Home’ at the top or in the left hand panel to see new tweets
  • Go to the web site regularly or keep it minimised – once you are up and running you may want to consider using one of the many available applications for twitter (more on this at a later date).
  • Twitter jargon (tweet, tweeple etc etc) is silly, possibly even ridiculous. Get used to it and get over it.

‘Twitter Tips for Beginners #2’  coming soon.

Are Bloggers Journalists?

22 01 2009

If blogging is citizen journalism then bloggers are citizen journalists, which by definition is a form of journalism.  Blogger relations might then have much in common with media relations.

I argued this case or something much akin to it in a lecture I gave for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in May 2008 at Leeds Metropolitan University.  

I had pursued this argument before with little opposition but when the Q&A section came round my argument hit a wall.  Richard Bailey, an academic blogger and university lecturer at Leeds took me to task on this view and Chris Norton Account Director at Wolfstar supported his assertion that blogger relations and media relations are very different. 

The two points of view can be broadly summarised thus:

The case for the prosecution

  • Bloggers don’t like and seldom use press releases
  • Bloggers are generally of independent mind and blog because they want to express their own views and opinions and not those of others
  • Blogs are not edited in the traditional sense and therefore can not be considered to be media in the conventional sense
  • Many blogs simply don’t have an audience
  • We have to engage with bloggers in a different way involving more dialogue and discussion

The case for the defense

  • Journalists don’t much like press releases either and never did.
  • I’ve met some pretty independent minded journalists in my time.  If in doubt read Nick Davies’s excellent ‘Flat Earth News’.  He’s man of independent mind (although he describes others that are not). 
  • The difference between blogs and ‘traditional media’ on line is becoming blurred.  The process of editing creates authority but it does not mean that blogs can’t be authoritative.  

I modified my view after listening to both Richard and Chris but I do believe there is a significant amount of common ground in how we approach the most influential bloggers and how we have deal with journalists who fit the more traditional mould.  I imagine however that the debate will run and run.

Obama and the Social Web #2

20 01 2009

The inauguration of Barack Obabma is a historical defining moment for democracy.  The anticipation of the inauguration was described as being like Christmas Eve and was celebrated in every way from commemorative crockery to the new Ben & Jerry’s ‘Yes Pecan’ ice cream flavour.

It’s place in history goes beyond race and background. Obama is the first democratically elected leader to embrace the social web.   After a few quiet weeks his much talked about twitter stream went live again on Martin Luther King Day, the eve of the presidential inauguration.  Obama understood that the ability of the ordinary person to use the Internet, has and will have a significant effect on the relationship between  between the politician and the body politic.   Oh Boy Obama, was an unofficial site produced by his supporters described as an “online think tank” where people voted on policy ideas that they believed Barack Obama should adopt as part of his campaign.   Oh Boy Obama was a Digg style site that showed how political ideas could be tested against real grass roots opinion with those most likely to succeed in winning popular support rising to the top.

There is a great deal of hope riding on this new president.  If he pursues his relationship with the social web he could help to redefine what we mean and understand by democracy.  That would be history in the making.

The Tangled Web of Political PR

18 01 2009

s_spider-2Political parties around the world are tracing the steps of Barack Obama into the world of social media.  Few more so than the Labour Party in the UK.

The Labour Party is currently Beta testing a site called Labourlist.Org a quasi official Labour blog ‘Where Labour minded people come together’.

This is just the first element in a campaign plan that will have an ‘Obama-style virtual phone bank for Labour campaigners’, ministers appearing on forums, viral campaigns and a Labour Party HQ blog.  

Spearheading the initiative is erstwhile Mandelson acolyte and strategist (now turned psychotherapist) Derek Draper.  Draper is best known for the ‘Lobbygate’ scandal of 1998 when he allegedly offered ‘cash for access’ to leading Labour politicians.  The new Labour initiative demonstrates a very savvy approach to social media but in the tangled web of politics it appears that the black arts may still be at work.   I’m sure Derek Draper will one day embrace the Californian style openness of the social web but on Friday he was using his Twitter stream to direct people to the bogus Twitter of  ‘David_Camera_on’. 

Mr Draper had done well to spot this bogus Twitter as it only had three followers at the time – one was the official ‘Downing Street’ Twitter, presumably no stranger to the social web policy of the party and another was Greg Jackson who runs Tangent One, the company that built the site for Labour List.  So how would Draper and two Labour social media insiders know about it so quickly? Weird that.

What’s Twitter For?

15 01 2009

Andy Murray, Stephen Fry, Britney, Jonathan Ross and this week Phillip Schofield have all joined Twitter helping launch the latest ‘next big thing’ onto TV screens and the pages of the national press. 

This combined with a general surge in interest in social networks has led to a flood of Twitter newbies and Twitter wannabes asking just what Twitter is for.  Like much that’s new it can be used for a lot of things and we are still finding out just how useful it might be but here are a few things Twitter is definitely for:


1. Your Personal News Channel

Major media organisations have Twitter streams that are often faster with news than their other channels.  Follow a selection of them and you have an instant personalised news-wire (my selection includes the BBC, The Guardian and the PR Week and the New York Times) in the last 24 hours I’ve heard first on Twitter about Steve Jobs stepping down from Apple, the Manchester United result and staff cuts at Google.   

2. Celebrity Gossip

Get the scoop straight from the horses mouth.  In case you wanted to know Stephen Fry is currently having a kip in a hotel room that has a “perfect view” of the Sydney Opera House.

3. Business Networking

Use it properly and it works – trust me.  Twitter involves conversation and conversation builds relationships.  There’s nothing new in this but Twitter opens the door to conversations with people that you might not find a other way of making contact with.

4. Social Networking

Twitter isn’t a social network in the way that Facebook is, but people do use it to stay in touch with friends and update them on what they are up to.  It can be like Facebook status …on speed.

5. Social Search

Google is the search engine of choice but what if you want a mixture of opinion as well as fact or you want to get a real human involved ask a question on Twitter?  I asked my followers what Twitter was for and got some very interesting replies  

Stubers Still figuring it out – currently 50% newsfeeds, 30% industry stuff or pushing blog, 20% mates; katehughes listening gossiping watching laughing peeking blogging reading writing linking posting in the wonder of 140 characters!;  xxnapoleonsolo What are any of us for?; alisongow @robbrown For me – conversation, exchanging news/information, finding interesting people, being part of a community; alfox @robbrown Twitter – it’s good for stalking. It’s an information exchange? It’s eavesdropping; Ear_I_Am @robbrown Tweeting, of course. 

6. Narrowcasting 

It’s fine to use twitter to tell people things, but it’s better to be open.  If you are promoting a client say so.  Linking to a site or blog will be self explanatory and twitter can be a good way to drive traffic to a site.  Importantly your followers have chosen to follow you so many will be genuinely interested in what you say.  Use it with care because people can stop following you as easily as they started.  Nevertheless there are some very influential voices out there. 

7. Grandstanding

Mouth off now and again.  Get it off your chest.   Most of us do.

Obama and the Social Web #1

14 01 2009


The United States presidential election of 2008 was the first major election anywhere in the world where social media played a significant role.  Half of the candidates in the primaries including Barack Obama had blogs. 

The number American citizens who regularly went on line for news about the presidential campaign more than doubled from the previous presidential election. As well as news sites like MSNBC, CNN and Yahoo News voters used social networks like Youtube and MySpace for updates as well as blogs like the Drudge Report.

Interaction with social networks became very much a two way process in the run up to the election.   On the day that Barack Obama announced he was forming a presidential exploratory committee in January 2007, a student leader created a group on Facebook called “One Million Strong for Barack”.   Opponents created a group on Facebook called Stop Barack Obama (One Million Strong and Growing).  This reached the one million total in Summer 08 whilst the original and older pro-Obama group still had only 600,000 members.   

Involvement in social networks was significant from the earliest days of the primaries. Republican Mitt Romney was the first prospective candidate to launch a Facebook profile,  Democrat John Edwards set up a campaign headquarters in the cyber world of Second Life which resulted in one of the more unusual web 2.0 occurrences when it was vandalised by the avatars of his political opponents. 

Barack Obama was a prime mover from the outset.  He actively engaged with most of the high profile social networking sites including MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, LinkedIn, Eventful, Twitter as well as, a community with over 20 million members.

Beginner’s Guide to Blogging #2

13 01 2009

You have found a Blog platform and you have registered a blog.  You have also found a design template that you are happy with.  You might want to explore which features of the template you can adapt and alter.   You can often add graphics to the headline or background and this is a good way of  making a template based blog look a bit more individual.   Have a look at the widgets and see which ones will work best.  Have a look at your favourite blogs to get some ideas about which widgets to use.  Don’t worry to much about changing the look and feel of your blog even if it is ‘live’.  At this point it won’t be getting any traffic.  Work on the design and layout until you are happy.

Make sure you get the basics right.  There will be no separate proof reader and no grammar checker.  If you aren’t good at these things get someone to check your posts before you publish.  Most blog platforms have spell checkers, use them and proof read your work.  A blog with spelling mistakes or poor grammar will be the kiss of death, even if the quality of the writing is good.

The importance of the quality still can not be underestimated and it is our job to make the material engaging.  Some people find this easier than others but it can be learnt.  There are many blogs out there created by technically brilliant people who can’t or won’t write in a coherent fashion.

If it doesn’t come naturally then practise.  Read as much as you can learn what works and take advice from others.  If that doesn’t work then partner up with someone that can write.   If the content is poor then the blog is too.

Beginner’s Guide to Blogging #1

12 01 2009

Blogging seems daunting for those who have never done it before.  The easiest way to get started is to use an online blogging platform like Blogger or WordPress.  Both are free to use, easy and need the  minimum set-up.  This blog uses the online version of WordPress and you can uses the links at the bottom of this page to find our more about how to use WordPress.

For Blogger go to and click on the ‘Create Your Blog Now’ banner.  Use an e-mail address to create a Google account, this takes no more than a minute and click the ‘Create Your Blog Now’ banner at the bottom of the page.   Fill in a title and create a web address in the box below.   You then select a design template and that’s about it.  Well not quite, you have to add some content.  With both WordPress and Blogger is a text editor into which you can type directly and you can add photographs by clicking on the icon on screen.  It would be quite possible for you to have a blog online within 5 minutes of starting the process.

The ease of all of this means that quality sometimes gets forgotten.  Blogs don’t have editors and there is no quality threshold that the blog has to pass through in order to be published.   We can publish what we like.   Without editors, bloggers are solely responsible for the output.  The one measure that remains is that of popularity and readership.  If the blog isn’t good very few will read it, none of them will come back and they will recommend it to no one.  Never underestimate this.  User generated content has accelerated the growth of the Internet, which passed the milestone of one trillion unique pages at some point during the middle of 2008.  With so much out there most of it is going to be ignored.  If you want an interested audience for what you are publishing and the content has to be of real interest.  It may be obvious but search a few random blogs and you will see how often people forget.

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