Thinking Systemically About the Impending Death of Twitter Auto-DMs

OKIGiveUp

Well, I made it official today. I threw in the towel and turned off my auto-welcome DMs (direct messages) I had set up using TweetLater. I’ve had a lot to say on the subject of auto-DMs, and I’ll sum it all up in another post at some point. But for now, I just want to lament the fact that it’s not the general principle of auto-DMs that is bringing about their demise, but the abuse of them by so many people.

Despite the mainstreaming of social media, it’s obvious a lot of people still don’t get it. It’s not for lack of trying. For example, here’s the advice TweetLater gives on their site about auto-DMs:

Best Practise: The message should not be about you, it should be about your follower and your future interaction with your follower.

Write a very simple welcome message. If you really want folks to unfollow you, then try and sell them something with this first welcome message. Very few people like that. Be careful even if you’re giving away something for free. The purpose of this message is to say hello and welcome. Most people take a dim view of you when you do any kind of self-promotion with this message. If your message smells remotely like, "Hi, thanks for the follow, now buy my stuff or do something that will benefit me or check out how cool I am," then you really are misusing this welcome message. Don’t send what you wouldn’t like to receive from others.

SocialToo had similar advice on their service. But despite their best efforts, it was abused. SocialToo made the move today to end their auto-DM service. For all you anti-auto-DM fanatics, read Jesse’s post closely. It’s clear he’s not happy about having to end the service – in fact, it’s why he started SocialToo:

For Twitter, as my followers grew, I wanted to show the gesture of at least following those people back that were showing interest in me. It was the least I could do, even if I could not pay attention to each and every one. (We’re working on that second problem)

I began by manually following those that followed me, and when my numbers were still small I would even message them, some times privately, some times publicly to thank them for their interest in me. This became a repetitive process for me, and therefore I wrote a script, and eventually an entire service which became SocialToo.com, around this.

This is exactly why I’ve said before that auto-DMs are not necessarily inauthentic. That’s not the issue – it’s that people abused it. Classic Tragedy of the Commons:

“a dilemma in which multiple individuals acting independently in their own self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared limited resource even where it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long term interest for this to happen.” (Wikipedia)

In this case, the shared limited resource is the collective attention and goodwill of the community. And a bunch of people “acting independently in their own self-interest” abused the system:

Based on my statistics, while a small percent of you are using auto-DMs for legitimate business reasons (for instance, sending instructions to followers if you are doing an online promotion that includes following the Twitter user as part of the promotion), over one-third of you sending automated DMs have some sort of URL in your message to followers. The remaining majority is just sending simple thank you’s, which while I think are truly genuine, are now being ignored by most people that receive them. (SocialToo)

C’est la vie. Thing is, ending auto-DMs is a band-aid. The real problem – people not understanding the right time and place to promote themselves – remains the same. We’ve taken away a tool, not addressed the real issue. Another classic system archetype: Shifting the Burden. Where will it pop up next?

Managing Multiple Twitter Accounts

3247followers

All kidding aside, I do actually have two Twitter accounts, and I know some who have more. It’s actually becoming fairly common to have a personal account covering a wide variety of topics and one or more additional accounts for specialized niche topics that might not be of interest to your main audience.

For example, @ScottAllen is my main account, but in my new role as Director of Online Marketing for American Guitar Academy, I’ve also set up @AmerGuitarAcad. On that account, I talk pretty much exclusively about guitar. I also have it synchronized with AmericanGuitarAcademy at Blip.fm, where I play and comment on some of my favorite guitar and bass music. While some of my followers might enjoy that, it would be overload for most of them.

Another good example of this would be something like a local coffee shop. The owner might set up an account for the business that just talked about upcoming events at the coffee shop and maybe some occasional posts about coffee or other topics that might be of interest to customers. Then on a personal account they could cover their broader range of personal interests.

The key is that there’s no deception. Be open about the multiple accounts. Occasionally explain what your other accounts are for and invite those who are interested to follow your other accounts. You can even re-tweet from one account to another if you think it’s relevant to the followers of your other account.

What you don’t want to do is pretend it’s different people, e.g.:

I’m loving the music @AmerGuitarAcad is playing.go have a listen if you like great guitar music.

What I actually posted instead was:

Speaking of my other Twitter acct, if you like great guitar/bass music you can follow @AmerGuitarAcad here or at Blip.fm: http://is.gd/kiMj

So how do you manage multiple Twitter accounts?

That’s a great question. Obviously, logging in and out of them frequently in your browser would be time-consuming, not to mention the possible confusion of posting on the wrong account. Even if you use a Twitter client rather than the web, if you use any third-party applications like Mr. Tweet or TwitterGrader, you’ll have to deal with which account you’re logged into in your browser.

My solution is that I use different browsers for each account. I do my main account on Google Chrome (my main browser) and my American Guitar Academy account on Firefox. I also use TweetDeck as the client for my main account. It’s not ideal, but it works for now.

A couple of sites have started building tools for managing multiple Twitter accounts:

HootSuite (formerly BrightKit) allows you to read and post to multiple accounts in a single unified interface. Conceptually it’s great, but I find their design is too spread out. A lot of information comes across my Twitter account – I need higher information density on-screen. This would probably work fine for fairly low-volume, but the people with fairly low volume probably aren’t the people with multiple accounts who need a tool like this.

TweetLater just announced their Professional version, which includes their TweetCOCKPIT, a dashboard for managing all your Twitter accounts. It includes some incredibly useful features like:

  • Including or excluding only certain parts of certain accounts (timeline, replies, DMs),
  • Setting the number of tweets for each part (e.g., max 10 tweets from account "X", 5 DMs from account "Y", 15 tweets and 15 DMs from account "Z", etc.)
  • Pulling in tweets that contain certain keywords regardless of whether you follow the tweeter or not.
  • Take a tweet from one account and retweet it on one, some, or all your Twitter accounts with one click.
  • Respond literally within seconds of someone tweeting about your brand name, or about any of the keywords you monitor.
  • Reply to all the tweeters mentioned in a tweet. No more copying and pasting of @names.

It’s pretty good – quite a few more features and better use of screen real estate than HootSuite. But:

  • It still can’t make use of my whole screen if I want to, plus a good 20% of the screen vertically is taken up with their freakin’ logo!
  • It doesn’t refresh automatically, so it still doesn’t have the immediacy of a desktop client like TweetDeck or Twhirl.

Also, it’s not free (you can try it free for 72 hours). The regular subscription price will be about $30 a month, but if you order before 3/21, you can lock it in at $19.97 per month. If it does the job well, I think it’s worth it. It’s not there for me yet, but I’ll keep my eye on it. A few things would make it worth it:

  • No TweetLater logo/branding on the cockpit.
  • Give me the option of a third and fourth column if my screen size/resolution will support it.
  • Allow exclusion of keywords in their search, e.g., I want “guitar” but not “guitar hero”.
  • An Ajax or Flash interface that automatically pulls updates.
  • A way to pull up the previous tweets that fit the criteria that I might have missed. I want an “older tweets” link.

Actually, TweetDeck is probably closer to being what I want. All they’d need to do is add multiple account support. A dropdown list to switch between them would be fine – I don’t need to see tweets from multiple accounts at once. The screen layout, groups and searches would need to be separate for each account. I’d be happy with that.

Are you using multiple Twitter accounts? How do you manage it? What tools do you use?

UPDATE:

Since I posted, I’ve discovered or had people recommend the following tools for managing multiple accounts:

Also, I’ve been told that you can open multiple instances of Twhirl for different accounts.

And here’s a cool video on using NetVibes to manage multiple accounts:

I’ll post an update next week after I’ve had a chance to try out some of these other tools myself.

Twitter Phishing Scam Alert, Password Safety

I’d heard this was going on, but I just received my first one of these, so I figured I’d better share it with everybody. I received an email that looks like a Twitter direct message notification:

TwitterPhishing

I was a bit suspicious of the message and URL (http://twitterblog.access-logins.com/login), and Google Chrome (my new default browser since Firefox went crazy on me) was kind enough to give me a possible phishing alert when I went to the site.

The site looks exactly like Twitter — the URL is the only give-away. But if you put your user name and password in, you’ve just let someone hack your Twitter account.

The notification will appear to be from someone you know — the follower data is publicly available if your profile is open. It doesn’t necessarily mean their account has been hacked. If uou only get an email notification, not an actual Twitter DM, then their account is probably OK. If you receive one of these as an actual Twitter DM, then they’ve probably been hacked and should immediately change their password.

On the topic of passwords, I know a lot of people use the same password everywhere. BAD IDEA!!!

I hope it’s obvious why you shouldn’t do it. The problem, of course, is trying to manage/remember multiple passwords. One approach is to use some kind of password management software, but that only works from your own computer, and you’re in trouble if you want to log on from somewhere else.

In Chapter 16 (pp. 140-141) of The Virtual Handshake (free download or buy at Amazon), we offer a simple scheme for creating passwords that are unique for each site, but not easily decipherable if someone obtains a single password. I’ve found, though, that more and more sites are requiring longer passwords — sometimes 8 characters — and also doing things like requiring both numbers and letters in the password. A couple of years ago, I posted a little more complex password scheme that should meet those requirements.

Developing a secure password management scheme is one of the single best things you can do to protect against online identity theft.

How to Squeeze Maximum Value from Business School

A little while ago, I gave a speech at NYU Stern Business School on “How to Squeeze Maximum Value from Business School: Leverage Your Education to Accelerate Your Career”. How can you maximize the benefits of all the years and all the money that you invested in your business education?

I prepared the Powerpoint for my personal reference, for my friends starting school, and for any of my future children who may go to business school. My main focus is business students, but the principles I discuss are relevant regardless of the exact subject you are studying.

To prepare this paper I interviewed many of my MBA classmates on what were the most effective uses of their time during school. I also probed to learn about what were the least effective uses of their time.

I thought that you might find the slides, below, of interest.

My 3 (4?) Favorite URL Shorteners

With the growth of Twitter, it seems there’s been a surge in the use of URL shorteners. They’re also an essential for mailing lists, including Yahoo! Groups and Google Groups, as links over a certain length (40-50 characters) will break for people who use plain-text email.

TinyURL.com was the original, and is still widely used. But depending on your needs, there are probably some better solutions for you. Here are my three favorite URL shorteners, for various reasons:

is.gd – It’s supposed to be a URL shortener, right? But because of its fairly long domain name and its widespread popularity, TinyURL now generates URLs that are 25 characters long (http://tinyurl.com/6527hq), while is.gd generates them 17 characters long (http://is.gd/bOln). Maybe not a big deal on a Yahoo! Group, but extremely important on Twitter. It’s also built in to Twhirl, my Twitter client of choice.

budurl.com – For serious marketers, this thing is pretty cool. It gives you extensive tracking reporting. Free for light use, reasonably priced for heavier use.

snurl.com (aka snipurl.com) – TinyURL now lets you create custom aliases for links, but that’s a recent addition – snurl has been doing that all along. It also includes tracking capabilities – not quite as extensive as budurl, but ample to satisfy most people’s curiosity.

New addition 12/19/2008:

TwitPWR – Intended to be used only for Twitter, this cool tool ranks the top URL sharers and hot URLs, as well as showing recently posted URLs by TwitPWR users. It also shows a tiny bar at the top of the site showing who shared the link originally (follow my link to see it in action). Seems like a great way to get a little extra exposure for your Twitter link sharing. Hat tip to @joelcomm.

Do you have another favorite (or love one of these)? Leave a comment and tell us which one and why.

Joe Rogan on Connecting Virtually

Over the past few days, I’ve gained a massive amount of respect for comedian and TV commentator (Fear Factor, UFC) Joe Rogan. One of the things that has impressed me most is his very raw, open, heart-felt blog. I was especially touched by this passage in this post commenting on the death of former UFC middleweight champion Evan Tanner:

Sometimes when I write, it’s like I’m reaching out to an old friend without a name or a face. I think of it as some new form of non-physical intimacy.

I’m trying to find my consciousness and merge it with yours, and as weird as it sounds I feel that connection with every myspace message and email I get.

We’re both alone and interfaced with a monitor in silence, and as I craft my sentences and express my ideas my intention is always for you to get an unfiltered view into my thoughts. I want you to take them with you.

I’m opening my head to merge my thoughts with you, and the only way that really works is if I’m 100% honest.

Well said. We don’t have to see people in person to connect at a deeper level. We just have to open ourselves to the possibility and, as Joe said, be completely honest with each other. Even the smallest little deceptions cause us to be more cautious and create barriers to building deep, meaningful relationships.

Joe’s blog and humor are pretty crude. Fear Factor is tame in comparison. If you’re easily offended, skip it. If not, then start reading his blog, look him up on YouTube, and enjoy.

Email Etiquette and Productivity

For all the popularity of blogging, social networking, Twitter, etc., email is still the killer app (or at least the workhorse app) for building and maintaining relationships virtually.

And yet, so many people use it so ineffectively, or at least so much less effectively than they could.

I was recently interviewed, along with with several other experts on email communications, for Newsday for an article on email etiquette. The consensus of the experts:

  1. Pay attention to the subject line.
  2. Get to the point.
  3. Check spelling and grammar.
  4. Answer emails promptly (although I have to admit I have a hard time with this just due to sheer volume).
  5. Be careful about forwards.
  6. Treat every e-mail as if it’s for public consumption.
  7. Personalize your e-mails.
  8. Account for tone.
  9. Don’t let e-mail replace the human touch.

For more details, see Email Etiquette Tips at Newsday.

On a related but slightly different note, have you ever had this experience:  you send someone an email with two or three questions in it, but they only reply to one of them?  And then you have to email them back, restate the question, so on and so on, and the whole thing takes three times longer than if they had just answered all your questions in the first place?

I have a solution, which I just wrote about over at GTD Times:

There’s a Time and Place for Long Prose – Email Is Rarely It

In it, I share and explain one of the top email communication tips I use myself and with clients, and it’s the first time I’ve shared it publicly. Check it out, and I’d love to hear your feedback if you try it.

For more tips on email etiquette and productivity, see chapters 13 and 14 of The Virtual Handshake, which you can download for free or buy at Amazon or the usual outlets.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words, Even Virtually

2536673130_1131d0de48_m It’s an old cliche, but it still holds true, even in the virtual world.

One of the things we discovered in the process of researching The Virtual Handshake is that one of the best ways to build strong relationships with other people is to help them actually get something done. Small talk is cheap. Actually stepping up to do something that makes a difference in someone else’s business or life costs some effort, but pays much higher dividends in the long run.

I would even go so far as to say that much of the reason that it’s easier to build close relationships face-to-face than online is because of the fact that we work with other people towards common goals more in person than online. Much of our online interaction is "just talk" — bouncing ideas around, sharing opinions, etc.

But there are all kinds of opportunities to have more helpful, valuable and meaningful interactions through virtual interaction. Personally, I choose these interactions over light conversation as much as I can. Sometimes that may mean I spend an hour helping one person actually accomplish something rather than doing courtesy replies to 10-15 other people. In fact, those people may never get replied to — there are so many demands on my time and only so much of me to go around.

Case in point…

Next Monday, I’m conducting a teleclass with Diane Darling entitled Maximizing LinkedIn and Other Online Networks. Diane and I have been virtual acquaintances since early 2003, when David I reached out to several established networking experts as we started working on our book. While we haven’t actually collaborated on a project until now, our history has been one of small, truly helpful actions, not just conversations.  She introduced us to her literary agent (we didn’t end up with her, but still…). And a couple of months ago, I spent a couple of hours helping her set up an Excel spreadsheet in response to a question she asked on LinkedIn about limiting a mailing geographically by distance from a given point.

So when Diane decided she wanted to do a teleclass about online networking, who did she call first?

While a couple of years ago I was "THE guy" about online networking, these days, a Google for "social media expert" turns up 51,000 results, and "social networking expert" turns up 11,000. A few of them actually even know what they’re talking about.  😉

Now certainly it wasn’t that one act of extra effort that put me at top of mind, but I asked Diane about it, and here’s what she had to say:

Your help with the spreadsheet was part of it, you wrote about my business…and you’ve been a generally good guy. You get reciprocity. Not everyone does.

This is why I still contend that for most people, focusing on a smaller number of stronger relationships is more valuable in the long run than chasing numbers and building a list with no substance to support it. There are dozens of other qualified social networking experts who Diane could have found via LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Facebook, etc. But when it came down to it, it was the one who she actually had a substantive relationship with — the one she had actually exchanged favors with — who she picked.

In our article for FastCompany.com entitled Who Knows Who You Know: Leverage and Focus, David and I explained the concept of the "action threshold":

Crossing the Action Threshold

Many people will respond if you ask them for a favor. But it’s far better if they proactively market you and seek out clients for you. It takes a certain degree of trust and relationship strength for them to act proactively — that’s when you have leverage. If your relationships aren’t above that "action threshold", they’re not really serving you at full capacity. To achieve this goal, you first and most obviously need a high credibility level in what you’re selling. Assuming you have that, you can also motivate that proactive behavior in others by being proactive yourself in your service to them. A finder’s fee is another way to motivate more people to look out for your interests.

For more ideas on how to build strong relationships virtually, check out Chapter 20 of The Virtual Handshake, which you can download for free, get a paperback copy of for free, or buy at Amazon.

Image: Megan Soh via Flickr

Personal Virtual Hubs

815942_86184086 I know there are quite a few people reading this blog who, like me, have several different virtual points of presence. The challenge I’m having is that no single one of them really feels like “me” — all just “a part of me”.

This site (TheVirtualHandshake.com) and my consulting site (LinkToYourWorld.com) are both shared with other people and subject to the constraints of supporting the brands and purposes of those sites. LinkedIntelligence.com is focused solely on LinkedIn. At Entrepreneurs.About.com, I’m subject to their editorial policies — it’s not really just “my” site. While all of these may have a bio and links to the other sites, each of them is slanted towards the purpose of that site.

Then of course there’s Twitter conversations, articles I write for various other sites (e.g., our column at FastCompany.com), my networks at Ryze, the Sales & Marketing channel at Work.com, interviews, media coverage, yada, yada, yada.

I could perhaps use my LinkedIn or Facebook profile as “home base”, but again, so much of the space is eaten up with stuff that ‘s not “me”. Also, they don’t really let you bring in all your various other content and media very well.

I’ve also thought about using something like WetPaint, HubPages, Squidoo, etc., but I’m not sure I want it to be on a third-party site — again, much of what’s on the page is about them, not me. Plus, you’re subject to the whims and vagaries of whatever they decide to do with the service.

I could set up yet another blog, but that’s really not what I’m looking for — I want something for the first-time visitor (or long-time-no-see friend) to be able to visit and navigate in a useful way.

So I’m in the process of building a personal web hub that incorporates all the many things I do. One site I can link to in my signatures. One site I can put on my business card. One site that doesn’t just link to all the other sites, but actually incorporates dynamic content from them all in one place.

I’d like to know if anyone else has done something like this. If so, please provide the link and any other comments you feel might be helpful. If you’ve done this with one of those hosted sites, I’d love to see that too.

I’ll also be happy to share the site once its done for those who might be interested in doing something similar.

Why Your Company Needs a Blogging Policy

I could go into a long explanation about legal liability, etc., but Jeremiah Owyang said it perfectly on Twitter today:

Many bloggers I know prefer a blogging policy at work, as it helps to distinguish where the guardrails are.