GET IT ALL TOGETHER: WordPress, Social Media and Content

You’re not out there! Because I’m out there. And if I see you out there…

Hard to even imagine it: Facebook has tried – and other companies have tried on Facebook – to recruit workersvia the same social media that has wrecked more careers than you can count.

Why in the world would you ever invite such destruction? You don’t need to have shot a Girls Gone Wild video or taken selfies while you were drinking under age to have more than ample reason to keep your Facebook as locked down as you can manage and as separated from your job as possible.

In fact, all due respect to LinkedIn, it is precisely the kind of thing I want out of a professional social network: as boring as possible and not making a single request for your chosen emoticons. Of course, no good LinkedIn profile is without personality – lots of it, if you ask me. But duck face pics of you and your ex-girl of five years? The girl who was just arrested in a meth lab bust? No.

Twitter is an interesting go-between. Because Twitter is publication and broadcast, there is a sense in which everybody who participates is doing a job interview anyway. And I have never in my life had the networking opportunities or successes that I’ve had with Twitter. Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve booked a single gig on LinkedIn, but I’ve made thousands of dollars and invaluable connections on Twitter.

Facebook is where I speak freely with my friends and family. You have to be special to be let in.

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn… the list goes on and new social networks crop up every day. It used to be that a company spent its money on direct adverts where they would be most effective and called it a day. Now, you feel obligated to spend an unspecified amount of money in payroll to keep a bunch of obscure (at least to you) websites entertained, not always knowing whether anything you do has any effect on your bottom line. Any effect, that is, besides subtraction.

But as much work as it can sometimes be to maintain a suite of well-travelled social networks, the hardest part is making it look effortless. Social is social, as they say, and a bad social network management plan is one that treats some or all of your networks like a second-class citizen.

Those of us who immerse ourselves in social for a living see it way too often: a company that haplessly posts its press releases on social networks. The company that copies its content to three different networks without even the appearance of concern for voice. The zombie account that just reposts an RSS feed. And maybe worst of all: brands that don’t reply to comments and mentions, especially the negative ones. Unfortunately, businesses all too often mistake presence for voice and do more harm to their brands than good.

How does a company maintain its professionalism, keep a handle on its web expenses, and still maintain a legitimately social presence on social networks? Here are four ideas:

1. Don’t summarize! Discuss! And Blog!

Even if dumping your press releases on the web isn’t the greatest idea, keeping your audience up to date on your work is. So, how do you keep it from getting boring? First and foremost, your blog can be a bridge between the formal voice you require for press releases and the familiar tone you want to strike with your audience. This is where good blogging content comes in handy. Rather than release a press release on your social sites, why not break it down in a blog post?

Secondly, don’t summarize your blog posts when you post to social. Discuss it. Your press release and your resulting blog post are made up of multiple paragraphs of related content. Why not take one paragraph per social site and expand and reflect on it? Now, instead of a drab summary that reads the same on every social network, you have fresh content for each. Breaking your articles down in this way helps you avoid boring and annoying your most loyal customers, who may actually follow you on multiple social networking sites!

2. Use HootSuite!

… or really, any other multi-platform social media tool that you like. But rather than letting yourself or your team get overwhelmed with having to visit a bunch of sites, HootSuite and other tools allow you to pool all your social networks into a single location. Particularly when you’re trying to maintain an original and social voice across multiple platforms, it helps to be able to see those platforms and your content in a single view.

HootSuite allows you to see your Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and other social networks in multiple streams and tabs. Hours of login/logout time are saved by simply viewing this one tool. Its amazing for efficiency!

3. Don’t Use HootSuite!

Wait, what?

That’s right. Your rate of efficiency is inversely proportional to your level of attention. The more efficient you get with HootSuite, the less you’re going to be able to really identify with your audience where they are. Each social network has its own “vibe.” Each has a pulse and a raison d’etre all its own and you loose your ability to connect with those things when you’re staring at columns of content.

So by all means, use HootSuite for the things HootSuite is good for. But don’t think that’s enough. Get out there and get some of the “fresh air” social media platforms have to offer! Go see what your audience is doing when they’re not staring at you and you just might learn something.

4. Be vulnerable.

Hardest. advice. ever. But entirely true. Everybody on social makes mistakes, says silly things, leaves themselves open to criticism. You do, too. And in many cases, people on social are trying as hard if not harder to make connections as you. So if you’re afraid to laugh at a joke at your company’s expense, you risk alienating a hugely-influential crop of your audience that could do you real damage.

You don’t need to take abuse and you don’t need to lose your sense of professionalism. But you do need to engage an audience that will find fault in what you do. Stiff corporate help desk responses please no one. Blank indifference on social is a killer – better not to even be there than to ignore people. And sometimes, people just want to have a little harmless fun with your brand, which is a great thing! Jump at every chance to engage in humor, you’ll be surprised how much loyalty vulnerability provides.

For more information on how to engage your audience effectively, please consider HolisticNetworking as your social media consultant.

I am still having a hard time wrapping my brain around it, but FaceBook is making the announcement all over application pages that soon, FB applications will no longer be able to send you notifications through FB. You’ll have to give them your email address instead.

What?

The thing about FaceBook which I’ve been most enamored of has always been that it is an entirely separate form of communication from email. I’ve loved the fact that I’m able to keep up with friends and family, companies whose products I buy, shows I watch and political activists with whom I share values…. without tons of email clogging my inbox which I might never read. We all know that email drill: you check the box that says “yes, I’d like to receive email about exciting new offers…” and within a month, you’re deleting those emails as fast as they come in.

But on FaceBook, I’ve happily added all kinds of strange companies to my list of things I’m a “fan” of. And added tons of applications just because I thought they might be fun. After all, they don’t have my email address and I can always ignore the updates and whatnot that come through FB. If they decide, as they appear to have already done, that they cannot any longer deal with the security and privacy issues that they themselves created, FaceBook stops really being the go-to form of communication in a heartbeat. Once FaceBook becomes – not a separate and exciting new form of communication, but a new avenue for all that spam you hated in the first place – well, I don’t predict a very bright 2010 for them at all.

So, here’s what I’m thinking: developers, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll be boning up on the Google Wave API with a quickness. If you don’t yet have an account (holy crap! Seriously?), get one. Beg a friend. Start communicating quick before you get lost in the stampede which I suspect will be coming along about mid-way through this year.

But all this points to what I’ve said in the past is the real issue with FaceBook: what FB represents is an entirely new form of communication that works. It is a new streaming communications vehicle which has been adopted far more easily and readily than email was ten years ago – some people still can’t figure out email but they’ve got a FaceBook account. The trouble is that it is proprietary. It cannot stretch beyond itself, nor can anyone improve upon the system because it is stuck within the bounds of a narrow set of developers who now seem to have run their course in the way of creative solutions.

This should be a call to action for the W3C or some other working group. Now is the time for an open standard which solves the proprietary problems of FaceBook. Something on which clients can be built and improvements made without having to be restricted by a single company.

I can say with certainty that I’m not alone on this: my inbox has slowly, almost imperceptibly, switched from my primary source of communication to my least-used spam trap. Not even my parents generation is necessarily using email for much these days. Without realizing it, I’ve allowed my FaceBook account to be the de-facto means of communication in my life for all but the most specific of topics and recipients.

But this makes things very difficult, doesn’t it? For one, my entire communication circle is entirely under the banner of one company who can do whatever they like with it. That includes just plain screwing it up and making the service unavailable through some inadvertent “whoopsie.” Another problem is that I have really no means of auditing this type of communication: FaceBook keeps its own logs of wall posts, messages, comments and status updates to itself and I cannot backup my posts to my own private store. This is not the height of concern for those “I just ate bacon and it was good,” kind of status updates, but what about communication from really important sources?

Because, believe me, this type of communication can only grow more common and robust. We have a danger, in embracing the up-to-the-minute web, of losing what happened five minutes ago.

Alternative solutions which mimic the FaceBook system are being developed, of course. I suspect they’re being developed in one form or another just about everywhere. My company is looking to integrate such a system into an eCommerce website. Google Labs is developing Google Wave. Mozilla is looking to hit it big with Rain Drop. Such experiments and projects are inevitable whenever the meme of Internet communication changes in some way. I’m certainly starting to work new projects around the idea of FaceBook Connect logins as a gotta-have component; meanwhile, everything I build has at least some air of “Social Web” communication to it.

I’m not sure that any of these really hit the mark, though. Rain Drop, as it has been explained thus far, sounds like something akin to a Tweetdeck/Ping.fm hybrid. Google Wave looks interesting, but even with as much as communication has changed, I think it might be just a bridge too far for the majority of Internet users; the interface as it current exists is just too wonkish and geek-centric. Individual sites – both eCommerce sites like my company and service-based projects like I’m working on in my spare time – will inevitably include some very personal means of communication, but they hardly hope to replace email.

And the most distressing thing of all is that the one component lacking in these various systems is an open source protocol on which to build. What has to this point made email such a great option was largely the fact that the underlying system is an open protocol which can be and was adopted by myriad companies in their own ways. But an AOL user was never prevented from sharing information with a Juno user or a Hotmail user. As much as the good systems now include APIs to spread their influence, they don’t include open standards which allow free sharing across the networks.

Does anyone with influence step in to say something about this? Or have we sufficiently commercialized the Internet to the point where its foundations no longer matter? Open forum communication and status updates are a great feature of the modern Internet, but it will be a dark day when the primary means of communication becomes mired in proprietary warfare.

I love the freedom and random expressiveness of the modern service-based, social Internet. I thrill to every new development as it comes up, reading Mashable.com as my first source for the latest news. But its always worth considering whenever signing up for the next new service what that next new service will mean to your privacy and that of your audience. I noticed that Mashable.com is now using FaceBook Connect to authenticate those audience members that want to roll that way:

Example article on Mashable.com.

Wonderful. It’s a nice convenience to only have one login and use those credentials in many places at once. Its also nice for web designers to have some of the authentication burden lifted from their shoulders and have the ability to update their user’s FaceBook space with content from their Connected websites. I very much plan on implementing at least some of this functionality into PotholePatrol.org.

But how much is too much? It seems to me that FaceBook’s checkered past with user privacy – such as adding the ability of advertisers to use your images in advertisements, kind of slipping it in there unannounced – leaves me wanting a little less contact with FaceBook. I realize that my content is my own and that – at least for now – there isn’t any way for FaceBook to coopt my stuff into their own profit-making materials. But I feel as though allowing them to authenticate my users means handing over a significant portion of my site’s credibility to a company which has thusfar not proven itself worthy of that trust.

If you’re like me, you’ve got tons of social networking sites to keep track of. Personally, I think I was born without the self-control that prevents me from signing up with the next, latest-and-greatest social network just to see what it does. Keeping track of all that mess – and keeping it updated – is almost a full time job by itself.

And yet I’m committed to using social networking sites as a means to establish my authority on the web. I’ve been actively working to get the maximum bang for my buck with social networking, spreading my posts as far and as wide as I can manage. On the web design side, I have accounts on LinkedIn, Twitter, Delicious, Mashable and WordPress.com. On the political side, I have accounts on FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, YouAre, Flickr, Delicious and Tumblr. That’s in addition to one website for each side of my online identity.

To manage all these accounts, I’m using a social middleware service called Ping.fm. Ping.fm taps into the APIs of all these services – and loads more that I don’t personally use – to update my status whenever I update it on Ping.fm. It also allows me to set specific hashtags to trigger only a specific subset of my registered services. I have a Google Gadget on my Google home page to update Ping.fm from any convenient location. On top of that, I have a plugin for WordPress, on which my site is built, that will update Ping.fm every time I post a new article.

This system is working well for me so far, but I’m finding that new middleware services are opening up all the time. Just today, I discovered Posterous via an article on Mashable. This interesting service allows you to create your own subdomain on their site and post simply by sending an email to post@posterous.com or post@yoursub.posterous.com. This posting allows you to upload video, pictures and audio and have them automatically show up on the site. Then, you can also update all kinds of other social networking services as you go.

The other interesting advantage is that this service allows you to potentially create an entirely new ad-hock social network by allowing others to post to your Posterous. You can create as many Posterous sites as you like, those sites can update whatever other services you would like. The possibility is that people can create entire online communities that stretch over several services and for which they own no Internet real-estate.

There is another service for which I signed up, but which I have not had the pleasure of trying out, ZooLoo.com. This service seems to provide much of the same type of service as the other two. When I get more into that, I’ll report back.

But now, I’ve got a new problem, rather a lot like the first one: I have so many middleware sites that it’s just as confusing to use as the update services I was trying to organize! Sheesh, the cutting edge is complicated…..