Twitter Automation #FAIL

Some people have this crazy idea that automating content to their Twitter profile will be effective. Besides the fact that, for any real business trying to reach real people, it doesn’t work, you also run the risk of ending up with something like this:


There are a couple of key lessons here for business owners exploring social media:

First, use automation with care. I generally recommend reserving it for mundane, low-risk tasks like following people back on Twitter, scheduling a Tweet for later, perhaps even automatically following people who meet certain criteria. All of these are low-risk, i.e., if they fail, they won’t affect your image or reputation.

Secondly, if you use any automated content publishing, e.g., syndicating your blog to Facebook or your LinkedIn updates to Twitter, check them fairly regularly (at least a couple of times weekly). If your social presence is worth investing time and effort into at all, it’s worth checking regularly to make sure you’re not embarrassing yourself.

The Problem with Being Slightly Famous

One of the things that happens when you become slightly famous is that a whole lot of people want a little piece of your time. Sure, it may only be ten minutes, or even two, but multiply that by dozens, or even hundreds, of people, and pretty soon you’re buried in a stack of email, voice mail, Twitter DMs, Facebook messages, and so on, most of which will take some time to reply to, and some of them maybe never.

That can be frustrating enough by itself – you want to help everyone and reply to every email in a timely fashion, but it’s simply not possible, or at least not practical. Unfortunately, some people take offense at it, or attribute it to something other than simply information overload. They think you’re either mad, rude or disorganized, when in reality, you’re just very, very busy.

Social media can exacerbate this problem. Besides creating even more channels for people to demand your time, it also can create difficulty when you’re publicly spending time in social media and people who are trying to communicate with you individually see that, as happened to Steve Rubel last night:


I can empathize with both sides of this. On the one hand, I totally empathize with Steven in this situation. The smiley face is a small amelioration of the fact that he’s being called out on this issue over an 8-word Facebook post, which I’m sure took far less time than responding to her email would.

[NOTE: Karen’s a friend of Steve’s, not a client, and this post was clearly in fun, but still, it illustrates the point. What follows is stream of thought, not based on this specific example. I’m not accusing Steve of what I describe below, and I realized after the fact that it may have come across that way. Apologies to Steve & Karen for that – not my intention.]

On the other hand, if I were a paying customer of someone, waiting on work from them, it would be very frustrating for me to see them blogging, conversing on Twitter, posting extensively on Facebook, etc. As a service provider, I become pretty scarce in social media when I have clients waiting on work from me. While you’re entitled to use your time as you see fit, and to continue to engage in marketing while you have client work due, I think being really “out there” in public social media is kind of rubbing it in their face.

Always keep in mind that your current customers are far more important relationships to your business than your social media fans and followers. Take care of your existing customers first and foremost, even if that means a brief hiatus from your social media channels.

The Art of the Email Introduction

6a00d8345189aa69e2011570172541970b-150wi[1] Guest post by Auren Hoffman

The Art of the Email Introduction
How to introduce two people so that they both benefit

Email introductions are a poorly-understand art and are often done too hastily without careful thought.  Making introductions the right way can be the best way to help two people and create a lot of value.  But doing it wrong can make one of the parties look bad and can alienate one or both parties from you.

Below are my tips on the best ways to make an email introduction between two people.

Before we go through the mechanics, let’s first define your objectives as the introducer. Your goal should be to benefit both people you are introducing. Both parties should be happy you made the introduction, glad they met the other person, and thankful to you. You should not bother making an introduction if it will only benefit one of the parties. 

Now for the tips on the proper way to make introductions:

1. Take the time
Good introductions require careful thoughtful and preparation. Take the time to really think why both parties will benefit from each other and spell it out in an email.  Hasty introductions can have minimal or even negative impact.  I’m sure we’ve all been victims of hastily written email intros.  I recently got one that said "Auren/John – you two just HAVE to meet each other. You two take it from here." – I’d like to know who John is and why we should meet.

2. Ask for permission
A good way to start the introduction process is to first email the people and ask them for permission.  Make the case of why they should meet the other party and ask them if it would be ok for you to introduce the two.  Usually it will work well, but occasionally someone will say that they are too busy.  If that’s the case, you just saved both friends a lot of trouble.

3. Make sure there is a quick follow up
You never want to make an introduction where both parties don’t immediately respond to each other.  To prevent this from happening, make sure that the weight of your email encourages both people to quickly arrange a time to talk. 

4. Take the time of each person into account

Be clear in your email introduction what the next action for the two parties should be. Suggest whether they should meet for lunch, coffee, over the phone, or just exchange emails.  Often people should just have a quick phone call and you don’t want to waste the time of one or both people by suggesting a lunch.   

Rarely introduce your friend to someone just because your friend wants to meet her.  There needs to be an exchange of value between the two people and both parties need to come away with more value than their time is worth. To find a worthwhile introduction, you may need to proactively suggest people who your friends might want to meet. 

5. Clearly give the location of each person
Location is one detail that is forgotten all too often but can save a lot of back and forth communication. If one person is in LA and the other is in NY, let them know.  If they are going to be the same city in two weeks, they can now meet in person. If they are going to arrange a call, they will now know what time zone they are in. 

6. Be sure to give their first and last name and a quick bio of the person
I often get intros from people to – so I know the first name of the person is "Jim" but don’t know their last name and it makes it difficult to save the person’s contact information.  And a quick bio will go a long way in giving context.

7. Mention if two people have met before
If you know the two parties have met before, even if only briefly, be sure to mention it in the introduction. Often people forget brief meetings so you can save them from embarrassment.

8. Include all necessary parties
If the people use their assistants, then copy the assistants of both parties if appropriate.

9. Only forward emails that make the originator look good

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been introduced to someone by an introducer who forwards me a semi-confidential email chain that I probably shouldn’t see. Forward only positive emails and, if you have to, edit the email before forwarding to make both sides look good.  

10. Make intentions of your introduction clear

If you are introducing single people of different genders, make sure that the purpose of your introduction is clear and that there is no misunderstanding.  Being clear about whether the introduction is a business or a personal one will preclude embarrassing situations where people have misaligned intentions. 

As an introducer, your goal should be for both parties to be glad that you made the intro.  If only party one gets value from the meeting, you have failed. But when you succeed, you have the potential to massively increase the happiness of both people.

(Special thanks Michael Hsu for his help and edits.)

Auren Hoffman is the CEO of Rapleaf. Rapleaf helps B2C companies give their consumers a better experience by providing automated search services for each consumer. Re-published with permission. You can see more comments and leave your own on the original post at Summation.

For more ideas on effective email introductions, check out Chapter 13 of The Virtual Handshake (free download).

Writing Great LinkedIn Invitations

Idliek2addu2 Great LinkedIn invitations? Are they really that big a deal? Sure, canned messages are lame, but inviting someone to connect via LinkedIn (or any other social networking site) is just a simple matter of record-keeping. What’s wrong with just, “Hey, let’s connect?”

That’s one way to look at it. But consider this: every communication you have with someone in your network is an opportunity to move that relationship forward, to make it stronger. It’s not that there’s anything “wrong” with treating a LinkedIn invitation as a simple mechanical action, but it’s a missed opportunity. A few extra seconds can transform it into a relationship-building activity.

There’s another reason your LinkedIn invitations matter: if too many (five or so, best guess – LinkedIn doesn’t publish the actual number) of your invitations are rejected (“I don’t know the sender”) by the recipient, your account may be temporarily suspended and you will lose the ability to invite people to connect without their email address.

One way to ensure having your LinkedIn invitations accepted is to email the person before sending them a LinkedIn invitation and ask them if they’d like to connect on LinkedIn. That’s not always possible, i.e., old friends/colleagues/classmates who you’ve lost touch with. I also don’t think I’d email somebody solely for that purpose. But if you’re having an email dialog with someone already, slipping it into one of your messages is a good way to grease the skids for an invitation.

Let’s look at the “stand-alone” invitation in three scenarios: 1) someone you know well, who you are confident will accept the invitation, 2) an acquaintance or colleague that may not immediately recognize your name, and 3) someone you don’t know personally, but are interested in connecting with.

The basic format is the same in all cases:

  1. Establish context. This is the main thing that will vary between the different scenarios. More below.
  2. Invite them to connect, in your own words.
  3. Suggest a next action. Coffee. A phone call. Sending them a link. Making an introduction. If you’re particularly interested in developing this relationship, make a commitment and then keep it. Otherwise, you can put the ball in their court.

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Thinking Systemically About the Impending Death of Twitter Auto-DMs


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, 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?

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.

Free Speech and Censorship in Online Communities

Earlier this year, I blogged about some of the ongoing debates I’ve seen regarding online communities and free speech. Some users seem to think that the right of free speech applies everywhere, when in reality, it doesn’t. In fact, the very same right of free speech that allows people to say whatever they want also allows discussion list organizers and online community owners to choose not to carry certain kinds of speech. In fact, read the user agreements of most online communities and you’ll find a whole host of prohibited speech that you might be able to say in other venues.

David helped me flesh out my original blog post into our latest column over at

Free Speech and Censorship in Online Communities

Free Speech and Censorship in Online Communities

Every so often in the business-oriented online communities in which I participate, the issue of free speech and censorship comes up, usually from someone (or several someones) who is testing or pushing the envelope of the acceptable boundaries within the community — profanity, flame wars, etc.

Is free speech an absolute right within online communities? Can an online community, regardless of its size and membership requirements, establish and enforce a more restrictive code of conduct?

There is a long, well-established precedent for moderation/governance in online communities — even ones that are open to the public. Whether it has been tested for constitutional validity in court or not (and I haven’t found any court cases, but would greatly appreciate any references anyone may have), online communities have for years been in the practice of having codes of conduct that were far more restrictive than constitutional protections. Even large, open membership communities have moderators who are able to edit or delete posts and suspend or eject members who violate those codes of conduct. To say that the boundaries of constitutionally protected free speech is applicable to any privately-owned online community is to go contrary to decades of business practices.

Do blogs change this? What about sites like Gather, Ecademy or AlwaysOn, in which individual blogs are aggregated or displayed in the front page and other pages? One could make the argument that blogs are somehow different because of the fact that they are an individual voice rather than a community space. However, the aggregation of them on the front page and the nature of the threaded comments would, I think, negate any such argument. The site may call them blogs, but if they’re aggregated and allow comments, they’re still really just one big threaded discussion forum. I doubt a court would see a substantial difference simply based on the slight technical difference.

Even so, most hosting companies, including blog hosting companies, also have terms of service that are more restrictive than free speech limits, typically restricting hate speech and pornography, among other things. For example, prohibits the use of PayPerPost. Is that a violation of a blogger’s right to free speech?

Under the Uniform Commercial Code, we all have the right to voluntary restrict our free speech by contract, and when we join an online community we are doing just that — subject to whatever the terms of service are. In fact, the contract doesn’t even have to be explicitily signed in order to be in effect. Consider that when you walk into a theater or restaurant, you give up some of your free speech rights. Do anything that is significantly unpleasant to other patrons — talk too loudly, let your kids run wild, etc. — and you’ll be warned and eventually ejected.

Why would anyone expect an online community to be any different?

You do have the right of free speech, but the owners of a community also have the right to establish and enforce codes of conduct within the community, and be joining that community, your right of contract supercedes your right of free speech.

So when you find yourself bumping up against the boundaries of behavior in an online community, you might want to consider whether that community is really the right community for you. If so, then you can either adapt your behavior to the code of conduct or you can use persuasive means to try to change the code of conduct. But don’t make cries of “Censorship!” — you gave up that right when you joined.

Online Negativity and How to Deal With It

It seems that on many of the networks and lists on which I participate, there’s been an issue with “negativity” lately. Many have had members leave because of the negativity that they perceive.

You know, I would never be one to come out “in defense” of negativity. It frustrates me as much as it does anyone here, and those of you who have been around a while know that I’ve dealt with more than my share of it as a moderator (going on four years as a network leader).

On the one hand, I can understand why people wouldn’t voluntarily choose to be in a place where negativity prevails.

On the other hand, I also recognize that these communities are a microcosm of the rest of the business world. Here, you can learn to deal with difficult people in a low-risk environment. In small doses, it’s almost like a training ring for dealing with difficult people face-to-face. And if you can’t deal with them here — ignore them or confront them, as appropriate — how can you expect to be able to deal with them in the real world?
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The Secret Cause of Flame Wars

“Don’t work too hard,” wrote a colleague in an e-mail today. Was she sincere or sarcastic? I think I know (sarcastic), but I’m probably wrong.

According to recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, I’ve only a 50-50 chance of ascertaining the tone of any e-mail message. The study also shows that people think they’ve correctly interpreted the tone of e-mails they receive 90 percent of the time.

More at Wired News