Brian Watkins' Blog
Dignity and Self-Control

I enjoyed a conversation this morning on NPR about the meaning of the word “dignity.”

One point that struck me was the concept of demonstrating self-control and how that quality relates to esteem or respect. I’ve been thinking about people that I know that emulate that quality. They understand that just because you have the capacity to do something doesn’t mean you should. Some words don’t need to be said. One of the true measures of a “dignified” person is his or her ability to exercise restraint.

Just because the law says you can do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. We get caught up in defending our behavior because we believe we are “in the right.” This is almost always a justification for questionable behavior.

As I listened to this conversation I thought about how it applies to the Trayvon Martin killing, which has gotten a lot of attention in the national media - for good reason. I’ve heard some people defend the shooter, Zimmerman, by saying he was “within his rights” to fire on this teenager in a hoodie. That may or may not be the case, legally speaking. But that doesn’t mean his decision to escalate the situation was “right.”

Obviously there are a lot of facts that haven’t come out yet, so I’ll withhold complete judgment in this particular case. But I have a hard time believing shooting to kill was Zimmerman’s only option. Sometimes the right decision is to walk away from conflict. This tragedy is an extreme example of this principle.

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One-way Communication

I went to lunch with a guy I knew in high school. It was really nice catching up with him. He’s very successful and seems to have a great family. After an hour or so I said goodbye. Later that night I realized something: I knew so much about him now. I learned all about his job, his neighbourhood, his family, where he likes to spend his free time, etc. But he still knows absolutely nothing about me. I don’t think he asked one question to try to find out about my life during that lunch.

A lot of companies use social media this same way. They want to tell you all about their new product. They stick to their talking points. They use Facebook because they hear that 500 million people use it. Social media is the new thing. Everyone is doing it and some are even having some success. But companies with this mindset likely won’t have much success with social media.

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Whited Social Media Sepulchres

A family member of mine thinks that Facebook is a complete waste of time. I’ve been hearing this more and more lately.

He claims that most of the Facebook posts and blog entries that he has read amount to little more than people “whitewashing their sepulchres.” He’s referring to the New Testament scripture where Jesus says that hypocrites “are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23)

I think there is a lot of truth in that statement. Social media allows people and organizations to put their best foot forward. People spend a lot of time cultivating an image for themselves and often this image and reality don’t match. Some people appear to live their lives so that they can share things with their followers. I have a few “friends” on Facebook who seem to be trying to convince people that their lives are really glamorous than mine.

Here’s the thing: social media only amplifies who you already are.

If you’re an exhibitionist, you have a great place to show people that picked on you in high school how you look now with your shirt off. If you’re spammer, you’re going to use social media to pimp your products to people that don’t care. Hey, guy I haven’t spoken to since 9th grade English class, be a fan of my company you’ve never heard of! Buy my product! Listen to me!

Facebook and Twitter are just new ways to communicate. The problem is rarely the tool, it’s the person.

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Moving to tumblr

I’m  a “social media guy” and I feel guilty that I haven’t been blogging. In a long time. I spend a lot of time at my job showing others the “proper” way to use social media for business. But then I come home and need to unplug a little. I haven’t felt like blogging because it just feels like more work. Then I got into the habit of not doing it. Like not going to the gym. So I just imported my old stuff from ‘08 and ‘09 to the tumblr account. I like tumblr. For some reason it just seems easier. So that’s that. Hopefully I’ll be able to get into a groove here.

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Hey Ashton, Reach is not the Same Thing as Influence
You might have heard about Ashton Kutcher’s race to 1,000,000 followers on Twitter. Today he even appeared on Oprah to discuss his use of the popular microblogging tool. Check it out below:

Oprah asked “Why did you want a million people following everything you’re doing?”

Kutcher responded “In some ways this is a kind of commentary on the state of media. I believe we’re at a place now with social media where one person’s voice can be as powerful as an entire news network.”

Uh, Really? So having 1 million passive “followers” on Twitter makes the star of “Dude Where’s My Car?” as “powerful” as CNN? Okay, I don’t want to be too hard on Ashton. He seems like a cool guy. I definitely agree with him that Twitter can be a powerful tool for communicating. But you’ve still got to communicate something of value to be considered influential.

Don’t Get Caught Up in a Race to Get More Followers

Kutcher went on to say social media can make “one person’s voice as powerful as an entire news network. That’s the power of the social web. You through your own stream can actually have a voice as loud as an entire media network.” (those are my italics, of course)

Notice that he used the word “loud.”

Loud is not the same thing as influential.

America’s Next Top Model has higher ratings (meaning more viewers) than Meet the Press. Does that mean Tyra is more influential than Russert, Brokaw or Gregory? Of course not (though she is definitely louder.)

Reach is Not the Same Thing as Influence

Before I follow someone on Twitter, I like to see who they are following and who follows them. I also look at the kinds of tweets they send. Too many “Good morning twitterverse” tweets and I won’t follow them. I have enough noise to try to filter during my workday.

The Real Power of the Social Web

Robert Scoble and Michael Arrington have highly engaged followers. Kutcher isn’t tyring to have a conversation with all 1,100,000 followers. He is only following 80 people. He is building an audience. Scoble actually follows more people than follows him. He’s listening. He’s conversing with others. He’s not just broadcasting his life. It’s a two-way conversation. That’s the real power of the social web.

Gaming Twitter

It is definitely possible to “game” twitter. I have seen plenty of people on Twitter who have gained thousands of followers in a couple weeks but apparently don’t have much to actually say themselves. They use techniques such as following thousands of people and then unfollowing those who don’t follow them back within 24 hours. Or they use tools to autofollow people.

Be Wary of Anyone Who Thinks That Twitter is a Good Sales Channel

Many of the Twitter “gamers” portray themselves as “social media experts” or SEO gurus. Usually they have something to sell. Some of them might even have more followers than some of the original social media thought leaders. They have a lot of reach. But they don’t have the same amount of influence.

Twitter is a great way to share ideas and network with people. But those who try to sell too aggressively are rarely received well in the world of social media.

Ashton Kutcher was Right

Kutcher was right about this: social media definitely gives anyone who wants a voice a platform to be heard. But to be truly influential you have to say something of value.

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What Your Company Can Learn From Domino’s Social Media Nightmare
It’s amazing how much damage to a brand two jerks can do with a camera and a YouTube account.

We’ve heard stories about the sleeping Comcast technician, Motrin moms, Dell Hell and more.
But this gross video sets the bar for social media disasters. (You can see it here if you really want to, but you have to promise to read Brian Solis’ great post first.)

Learning From the Social Media Crisis

If you examine almost every corporate social media crisis, the company that experienced it later chose to embrace social media. Comcast has since embraced social media. They empowered Frank Eliason and his team to use Twitter to provide customer service. Dell launched Ideastorm.
Your company may not experience a crisis of the same magnitude as the Domino’s debacle (let’s hope not.) But chances are you will have a social media crisis some day.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch this video of how Dominoes chose to respond.

Lessons to Learn From Domino’s

Robert Scoble started a great discussion on Friendfeed about why Domino’s response is going to be the textbook for other companies to learn from when it comes to social media crises. Here are some of the best points:
  1. Respond Quickly
  2. Video is more powerful than words
  3. Let the CEO respond
  4. Speak Like a real person (“it sickens me.”) The didn’t use marketing speak
  5. Respond where the crisis started, not just on your own platform
  6. Embrace the Influencers - He thanked influencers for helping Dominos understand the issue and making sure that others knew about it
  7. Take bold steps to demonstrate that the crisis is over (They closed the store to “sanitize” it)
  8. Be decisive (they immediately fired the employees and pressed criminal charges)
Don’t Wait Until a Crisis to Embrace Social Media

Domino’s has since started its own Twitter account. This is a good way to communicate with customers. But you don’t need to wait for a crisis to start using these tools. During a crisis, an established blog, Facebook Page, YouTube Channel, Twitter account can instantly get your side of the story out to the world. If you wait to address an issue or hope it goes away, you lose the ability to frame the story the way you would describe it. And it rarely goes away.

Put in Place a Crisis Response Plan Now

  • Identify potential crises and who will respond in each case
  • Have Communications Channels in place
  • Develop a basic template for responding to crises

Which companies have you seen do a good job in communicating during a crisis?

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My Prescription for a Good Corporate Blog

Corporate Blogs Aren’t Trusted

Don’t take my word for it. Forrester Research found that most people just don’t trust them. In fact, only 16% of online consumers who read corporate blogs say they trust them. But that doesn’t mean companies should stop. Along with the diagnosis, Forresters’s Jeremiah Owyang gave a great health checkup for corporate blogs. Below is a prescription that should lead to better corporate blogs.

Embrace “Personal Brands”

Some companies are worried about their employees gaining too much brand recognition.

I for one don’t  really care what the name of the blog is, or which company the blogger works for. If Chris Brogan left Crosstech Media or if Steve Rubel left Edelman, I’d still follow them. That’s because they offer good content that helps me do my job.

Worry less about hiring people with “personal brands” because they might eventually leave. In today’s job market, excepting contract employees, anyone can leave at any time for a better gig. The focus should be on hiring smart employees and if they have “personal brands,” benefit while you have them. Make sure they want to stay and you might hold onto them for a while.

Readers Don’t Care Which Company You’re With

Too many companies make the mistake of  thinking that people will automatically want to tune into their new corporate blog because of the company. Maybe Google can do this, but chances are your company isn’t  that important in the average blog reader’s eyes. Content is key.

Your Blog Readers Are Opting In to Receive Future Content. But That’s a Precarious Trust. 

People aren’t going to subscribe to receive content that isn’t of value. If a blogger or a twitter user writes about topics that don’t interest me I simply un-subscribe. And I don’t think twice about it. I’m not concerned with the Twitter etiquette some espouse. Waste my time and you’re gone. I have enough noise in my life.

Give Away Some Valuable Information For Free

At Omniture, we have a few bloggers that write about very specific topics. For example, Adam Greco, gives tips and tricks on how to get more out of SiteCatalyst. His blog has become our most popular one because each post provides helpful tips that can help web analysts do their job better. I’m convinced that to be successful, a corporate blog needs to give away some information for free (rather than charging consulting fees for it.) There is a fine line here, but if done correctly, even companies that rely on consulting dollars will realize more revenue because their potential clients can see the value of these services.

Be Patient with Twitter

If you’re using Twitter as a marketing tool to promote your blog content, remember that it won’t pay off immediately. You can’t just send links to your own content. Sometimes people with 10 Twitter followers decide to follow 1,000  people. This never works. Usually the account is shut down for spamming. It takes time to build a genuine audience on Twitter. People aren’t going to flock to you, well unless you are Shaquille O’Neal, Dave Matthews or Al Gore.

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Don’t be a Social Media “Tool”


Photo used under Creative Commons from

Social Media Tools are just that: tools. You still need to be a good marketer to have success.

Now, we’re all still figuring out how to use social media to do effective marketing, but I do know a few things that definitely won’t work. Here’s what doesn’t work for me:

Add me as a friend on Plaxo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or any other social network. Then immediately start sending me spam. That approach amazes me. I mean, has that technique ever work for anyone?

Just because I accepted you invitation to “connect” doesn’t mean I want to be pitched. At least try to establish a relationship first. I have a pretty liberal policy for accepting “friends” on social networks. Even if I barely know you I’ll probably add you as a friend if invited. But if I don’t know you well, it is really just an invitation to get to know you better. Imagine if I approached you at a party and said “Hi, I’m Brian. Want to be friends? Want to buy some insurance from me?”

I’ve noticed that the most effective Twitter users usually add more value than. People will follow you on Twitter or subscribe to your blog if you provide information that can help them. Conversely, if you are constantly plugging your company or talking about your lunch, people will quickly unsubscribe.

One great example of how an influential thought leader uses Twitter is web analytics guru Avinash Kaushik. This sums up how he uses Twitter:

Well, there are a lot of uses for these tools but if you’re trying to use them to influence people you’re better off starting offering something that can help them. Once they trust your advice you are in a better position to influence. In fact, they may seek you out…

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Social Media Will Help You Do Your Job Better

I firmly believe that the more I immerse myself in good social media content, the better employee I become. When I began my job at Omniture, I started following just about any blogger that wrote about the company.  Then I expanded my Google reader to include anyone that talked about competitors. It has been a very quick way to understand complex industry issues  and how our customers use our products. 

Organize Your Feeds

My RSS reader has various folders such as web analytics, online marketing, search marketing, social media, PR, news, sports, friends blogs, and a few others.  It really has become the starting point for everything I do on the web. 


You don’t need to write a blog to create content on the web. Sharing things you find interesting is a great way to start.  I share items that I think others might find valuable.  If you’re interested, here are my Google Reader shared items.  I forward other articles to coworkers or to my Gmail (which I automatically tag and archive for later use.  I star others or send them to my Google Notebook for possible blog topics or an idea to share with my team.  Steve Rubel has some awesome posts on how to use Gmail as your personal nerve center on the web.

Make Your Google Reader Your Own Customized Database

When I need to find an item later, it is easy to run a quick search.  Since I have subscribed to a lot of blogs for a couple of years, I have an amazing repository of valuable information that can help me do my job better.  When I need to find advice about a particular topic, I usually just search my Google Reader. I currently follow about 400 different feeds.  Even though sometimes I get overwhelmed and I don’t actually read every word, it is easy to find information later. Since I subscribe only to content that can help me, I rarely get off-topic results.

Make Social Media a Priority

Even if you can just dedicate 15 minutes a day to social media, it will pay off if you do it correctly.  If might make sense to block out time on your calendar every day for it.

You Can’t Be Everywhere

Just join the most strategic conversations. Pick some expert bloggers to follow and star out by reading each post.  Slowly add more to your reader.  Leave a thoughtful comment if you can add to the conversation. As you get comfortable with that maybe take a look at getting some accounts with other social media services.  I’ll talk about some of the services that are worth considering in future posts.

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Social Media Won’t Work For Your Business if it’s Mandated
One thing I’ve learned about social media is that you can’t force people to use it. The best way to start using it is to start with a small group of people that understand social media. Find the people in your organization that are already blogging or using Facebook, Friendfeed, Twitter, etc.

Start Small

Take for example the recent launch of Yammer. The service, which is basically a Twitter for businesses, has gotten a lot of buzz lately so I decided to try it out. A few of my coworkers had also decided to check it out so we have a small community growing. I’m not sure if it will catch on but I’m convinced that the only way it would is if our small group becomes passionate about it and begins to use it to share useful information. If not, it becomes just another task and it’s use will quickly will fizzle out.

Change Your Thinking

Tools like Twitter and wikis can really help increase productivity if used correctly. Think about how many work emails you have in your inbox that could be relevant to others in your organization. How much easier would it be to just post status reports and general updates to an internal wiki? It requires a change in thinking, but eventually could really help increase productivity.

Some Aren’t Ready Yet

However, there are some employees that just aren’t ready to adopt these tools. Yes, email is inefficient, they say, but that is what they are used to. It won’t work if you push them to use these tools. Just start small with those in your office who “get it.” As you grow in your use of these tools, show success stories to management. If you can point to specific instances of a blog post helping to create a lead, they will begin to accept blogging as a legitimate business activity. Show them how these tools can help them do their job better. You can use web analytics tools to track visitor engagent on your blog and can even show how each post influences revenue.

Social Media is Not a Campaign

I think it is helpful to not think of social media as a campaign or a project. It is an ongoing effort- an interactive way of communicating with your customers and potential customers. As you continue in your social media efforts, you’ll see more and more ways to include social media elements to each campaign, product launch, event, etc.

By the way, check out this great post in ReadWriteWeb about using social media to reach people that don’t use social media.

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