Why I am now learning more about social media from my family, friends and colleagues

When I started finding out about social media, I read the blogs  and followed the Tweets of leading practitioners. Their practicalities swiftly got me going.

Eighteen months later, I’ve got  a new circle of teachers and influencers. And this time they are a lot closer than Silicon Valley. They are my family, friends and colleagues who are influencing me because they do what they want with this social media kit without having read the blogs and followed Tweets like me.

So ask yourself? Are you so absorbed by the people in your Google Reader that you are neglecting to learn the lessons from those closer to home? Or, literally, at home.

Why I now learn from my family, friends and colleagues

  • They’re pragmatic: We people in social media spend most of our time blogging and Tweeting about….social media. But many of my family, friends and colleagues use it for their jobs or hobbies. They just aren’t interested in endless stuff about Google Wave or Apple’s Tablet. What they do want to know is how best to get what they want from this stuff. So they are experimenting and finding out new ways of doing things.
  • They reveal harsh truths: Assemble a hundred people in one room for a conference from most business sectors that have nothing to do with social media and do not be surprised if they are not Tweeting. Attend an industry event where people have Blackberries and do not be shocked when no one takes a photo. My family, friends and colleagues have taught me that, however easy the technology or the software, there just is not going to be mass adoption of this stuff. People want to listen at conferences and they want to chat at social events. We are going to have to get our heads around that unpalatable truth.
  • They self-promote: I have always been influenced by the sharing and caring philosophy of the early internet. I always believe that you get back only what you put into the web. But such great ideals do not wash with some of my family, friends and colleagues. To them, the internet is not some ideal but rather a means to an end. If they want to use social media for self-promotion, to push their message out, they will do so. And they don’t put their followers off since they are networking with people like themselves.
  • They interest me: My use if social networks changes over time. I’m going through a deep and intense renewal of my vows to this blog at the moment after months of philandering with Facebook. I’ve discovered that just as our loyalty to a social media channel is fickle, so our prefered teachers and influencers change over time. So I guess I’ll be getting bored of my family, friends and colleagues soon and will be returning to my first and former teachers any day soon.
  • They know me: When I headed out into the world of social media two years, there were some great new acquaintances but no one I knew. Sometimes it got lonely – just as you do if you are abroad on business. So one thing I really loved about my family, friends and colleagues getting online was to network with people I genuinely know. It makes it much more intense.
  • They owe me: God forbid that I sound bitter or anything but…I’ve put so much time and energy into encouraging and explaining social media to my family, friends and colleagues that it’s payback time. I deserve a little lesson-love.
  • Photo: Dan Taylor

    Another five reasons why companies should get into social media

    moneyCompanies are not using social media just to interact better with their customers or clients. They are increasingly doing it to engage with their own staff, according to research released last week by Melcrum, the internal communications research and training company.

    In the article  Research reveals widespread adoption of social media within the firewall, the study shows that

    “The business benefits of investment in social media highlighted included improved levels of employee engagement (21%), better communication with remote workers (16%), knowledge management and collaboration (25%), improving employee feedback (20%) and making business leaders more visible and accessible (14%).”

    Melcrum’s study adds to a growing body of research about the benefits of social media to companies. Social media platform Wetpaint and digital consulting firm Altimeter Group’s research published in Media Post over six months ago. It found that companies with high levels of social media activity increased revenues by 18% in the last 12 months on average, while the least active saw sales drop 6% over that period.

    When I Tweeted out a link to Media Post at the time, I was reTweeted several times. So it got me thinking. Beside revenue, how many other reasons are there for companies to embrace social media? I came up with five more, one of which (no. 4) neatly overlaps with Melcrum’s new research. But how many can you think of?

    1. Social media gets colleagues addicted to the web

    For most regular employees, getting involved in their company’s website is most unlikely. Even journalists are often put off by antiquated content management systems. So it is difficult to see the relationship between their labour and success on the web. Social media activity changes all that. Just set up a Twitter (no six-month new-build programme), Tweet out some content (no news desks or PR departments to deal with) and see how people come to you.

    2. Educate your teams as to the value of a social media strategy

    Is social media the right strategy to deliver your business goals? You certainly should be asking yourself that question. If you are looking to build communities, for example, would it be best to set up a LinkedIn group? Should it be open or closed? What if you actually want to get you message out, should you use Twitter or set up a Facebook group? Can your colleagues or you really answer that question without having experimented with some sort of social media activity? And if you commission an outside consultant, can you brief that company without some exposure already?

    3. Attract the best and most creative employees

    The best and brightest of employees want to work with those companies that are the most forward-thinking and acting. A media company that fails to recognise the importance of social media is not going to come across as offering  its employees – old or new – much exposure to the skills required in the future. How can a bright spark find out if a potential employer is on the ball? Simple. Google the top management and see how well they are represented.

    4. Better communication within a company

    A company that encourages communication between its employees is always going to operate more effectively than one that does not do so. Social media would seem the ideal vehicle to increase the exchange of information on so many levels. Many of my senior colleagues have opened up their Facebook feeds to their colleagues, the interaction playing a role in keeping teams together. And if your company then introduces a Wiki, colleagues will already be sufficiently skilled in networking to use it. I’ve written about this on These Digital Times in a post called “Three ways to cultivate your community at work”.

    5. Escaping the silo

    And, finally, in these tough times, what could better than for any sales, marketing or editorial person to be able to escape from their traditional silo of contacts? Social networking per se is about extending and discovering new networks. What better way to find that new customer or client in these tough times?

    Photo credit: boorman818

    The top ten posts of 2009 from These Digital Times

    Here are the top ten posts of 2009 from These Digital Times. Twitter and social media dominate – not at all surprising for a blog in this area.

    So what does the traffic tell us?

    1. The two blog posts about Twitter in the top ten make up just under 10 per cent of the entire year’s traffic.
    2. The top five posts represent just over 25 per cent of the entire year’s traffic while
    3. the top ten posts represent 40 per cent of the entire year’s traffic.
    4. All but ten of the 238 posts on this blog were looked at during 2009 although
    5. the least popular 20 posts only managed 30 views in all, the bottom nine posts only one view each.
    6. Three of the posts (if you include “About John Welsh”) date back to 2008, hammering home the point that people’s use of the web is blind to date but keen on relevance.
    7. Only two of the posts predate the moment when These Digital Times found its voice providing lists for those acquiring skills in social media, and even one of those (“What should a well design website look like”) can be seen as a list.
    8. Only one post (Tennis player Andy Murray’s Twitter goes dead!”) dates back to a time when I just used this blog to comment on what else was around. Little surprise that it is a famous tennis player’s name that keeps this post there.
    9. Look how high up “About John Welsh” is in the list. It reminds you not to neglect an often overlooked element of a blog.

    So the traffic follows the classic Pareto Distribution, a phrase used in economics to describe the typical distribution of wealth. This suggests that the wealthiest person in any town or country is likely to be twice as wealthy as the second most wealthy person who, in turn, is likely to be twice as wealthy as the third most wealthy person and so on. Such distribution, plotted on a graph, is a steep curve away from the vertical axis then continuing almost parallel to the horizontal.

    It is a distribution often seen in social media and digital. The activity of the most active member of any community, for example, is likely to be twice as much as the next most active and so on. And think also about something like Amazon where the most popular book is twice as popular as the second and so on.

    I’m rather chuffed that These Digital Times follows this pattern.

    A strategy for These Digital Times

    First some apologies.

    An apology to that colleague who recently said he had signed up to my blog. I did not have the heart to say that it had ground to a halt.

    Another apology to those reading Jeremy Porter‘s list of “91 Journalism Blogs and Websites You Will Love” who have clicked through to These Digital Times, as recommended, only to find the blog so out of date.

    And an apology to me for being tough on myself, first, for the months of work I put into this blog and, second, for the months of angst I gave myself when I didn’t.

    Let me give you some background to see if it can help you. And if not you, help me to restart my efforts.

    Early Days

    The original masthead for These Digital Times - from launch July 2008 to April 2009

    It was a casual conversation with another colleague at his leaving party that gave this blog a voice. He was going to have some time on his hands. I suggested he use the opportunity to get up to speed with social media. My email to him, listing some ideas, became “Six steps to get started in social media”. And a blog that rambled on about anything and everything for the seven months up to that point suddenly acquired a voice. These Digital Times, and the experience I gained through it, was a way to help my colleagues (pictured either side of me in the masthead) to acquire the knowledge and perhaps the skills necessary for new media. And the more I helped my colleagues in traditional media to understand new media, so These Digital Times became useful to all those grappling with similar issues.

    As soon as I had established these two goals (OK, I know you are supposed to do that BEFORE you start a blog), I then worked out very quickly my strategies to deliver that goal – a highly optimised headline, an often abstract illustration from Flickr’s Creative Commons and a list. I then backed it up with my recently activated social media activity on Twitter and Linkedin. The more I learned in public, revealing all faults and blemishes, the more the traffic came. The more counterintuitive I could be, the more people came back regularly.

    I reached a peak of what WordPress calls over 700 “views” in one day in February with such classics as “Six types of Tweets if you Tweet every day” (1970 views since posting in January),  “A list of 10 social media habits I am stopping immediately” (808 views in February 2009 with 343 of them in one day alone) or “A list of eight answers to the most commonly used excuses for not using the web” (18 views yesterday SIX months after it first appeared). Posts bookmarked on StumbleUpon had the longest shelf life  –  75% of my traffic or thereabouts, comes from StumbleUpon these days. Indeed the power of the bookmarker is so long-lasting that it makes Tweeting out a link to a blog post seem a short-term gain.

    For the truth is that a traditional journalist like me still finds it astonishing that the web has no concept of breaking news or shelf-life. If people are interested in a subject, and they appear to do so on my blog, then they will find this stuff whenever they wish –  days, weeks or months after its appearance. (Only last week, someone kindly Tweeted out a link to one of my blog posts nine months after I had posted it and only this morning someone else Tweeted out a link to a 14 month old blog post.) And if the content helps people to acquire new skills, then there will always be those who know less than you, even if you once knew less than them. I call this phenomena the Knowledge-Time Continuum.

    What came next?

    The next masthead - from April 2009 to December 2009

    So what happened next? Well first was my ability to extend my network, discovering and, in the process, learning from social media and new media experts. The overlay of practical experience  (actually writing the blog, commenting on others, putting in links) with the knowledge and wisdom generated by so many people made me a fast learner. It changed not only how I thought, literally rewiring my brain, but also what I looked like. The transformation was such it brought about the first change in masthead for this blog – see “On being John Welsh – why you need to change your social media identity to remain authentic”. Indeed I now look at the masthead for These Digital Times from that period (above)  and I see something that I had never seen in myself before. The photo (taken by Hollis Thomases in San Francisco) and the art work (by Claudia Moeller) suggests someone pretty much at ease in the world of social media.

    From a personal perspective, the masthead was spot on – I had acquired skills and moved on from those early days in social media. But from a professional perspective, the masthead had already become out of date. My job is much wider than just social media. Once I had acquired some of the skills of social media, it was time to assimilate those learnings, assessing social media merely as one of several types of strategies available to achieve digital goals. Social media was certainly not a goal in itself. My learning in public came to an end and silence ensued.

    And now?

    The new masthead for These Digital Times

    If lists about social media activity can be of use to so many people, it also hammers home the interest in the subject by so many companies concerned to catch up. How much more useful I might be if I can find a way to discuss other digital activities within a company like United Business Media. I felt relaxed to learn about social media in public without divulging anything sensitive about the business. Can I feel as comfortable discussing data, SEO and monitoring?

    Let’s see.

    Guest post: how cult YouTube directors can interest a young demographic in the issue of climate change

    Who better to write this blog post on Blog Action Day 2009 than my sister Cheryl Campbell?

    Cheryl is the executive director of tve, a charity that has been making films and documentaries about the environment for 25 years. Here she writes of her sons’ fascination for the cult YouTube videos of Eddsworld and Ted Crusty which  inspired her to work with the very same directors inviting them to give their take on climate change. What better way to appeal to a youngYouTube generation than to work with the stars of the medium.

    I like the subject of this post written for this blog on this day of all days.

    Blog Action Day 2009 focuses on climate change. These Digital Times is a blog dedicated to observing and supporting all our journeys from traditional to digital media. tve, a traditional maker of films about climate change,  launches something completely different using the tools of new media to get its message across. Cheryl’s post neatly brings all these elements together.

    Read what she has to say. Watch the videos.  And send a message to world leaders about climate change.

    Eighteen months ago I asked my young son to show me on YouTube what it was that (with all parental filters in place, of course!) was keeping him and his mates so fascinated, what it was that, when they got together as a group, made the computer more interesting than television or the XBOX.

    Last night, as a result of that fascinating tour of YouTube channels, tve launched A Million Views on Copenhagen, a series of short, quirky irreverent climate change videos produced by  – and for – the YouTube generation.

    tve, which is a UK based charity, has been making films and documentaries about the key environment and development challenges of our time for 25 years. Last year our films reached at least 300 million homes via global television broadcast and many more viewers via broadcasts on nearly 90 national and regional television channels. As you would expect, we are busy making films both long and short in the lead up to the crucial UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December.

    But how to connect with that younger “hard to reach” audience? Some of these cult YouTube producers have vast followings of on-line fans, including Eddsworld, Ted Crusty and Custard Productions. We decided to invite them to produce a series for us, to give us their individual takes on climate change in the run up to the conference in Copenhagen in December. They’re joined by Alisha Tuladhar, a 16 year old schoolgirl from Nepal, and Mike-Steve Adeleye, an award-winning Namibian animator.

    And we’ve been delighted with the results. Their films are exciting, innovative and engaging: a polar bear falling from the sky, plastic trees and a Lego campaigner against carbon tax are just some of the ways these members of the YouTube generation deliver their takes on climate change. It has been great to work with all the filmmakers: Edd Gould and Tom Ridgewell of Eddsworld, Mike Tapscott (Ted Crusty), Keshen Matus of Custard Productions, Mike-Steve Adeleye and Alisha Tuladhar. We thank them for sharing their creativity with us.

    And so far, from the comments mounting up on our YouTube channel, it looks as we are achieving what we as a charity set out to do – inspiring change – with plenty of entertainment mixed in. “That’s it! I’m plugging out my particle accelerator!” “Woot! Another hilarious eddsworld movie and this time it has a meaning” “haha loved it it made the message bout global warming clear in a funny way” “I better go turn off a light switch now” – let’s keep those comments coming!

    tve is not a campaigning organisation. But we often have most impact where we work closely with an organisation who knows how to take the interest and awareness we generate with viewers (be that through television or online) and turn it into action. In this our 25th year we’ve been delighted to partner with one of our founders, WWF, to give viewers of the series  that opportunity  ahead of Copenhagen. Viewers will be invited to Vote Earth and send a message to world leaders by clicking here and joining the call for a global deal on climate change at Copenhagen.

    We’re hoping to attract a million views to the series by December so please do click through to tve on YouTube , watch the films. And finally, none of this would have been possible without the support of the Artemis Charitable Foundation. I am hugely grateful to the Foundation for enabling us to reach new audiences with such an exciting and cutting edge series.

    Other UBM colleagues who have written for Blog Action Day 2009 are Anthony Hildebrand, Brian Sims, Ron Alallouf, Phil Clark, Grahame Morrison, Rob Enslin and Ed Sexton.

    blog action day 2009

    Here is a link to my contribution to Blog Action Day 2008.

    Why it matters that I successfully bagged my Facebook username

    facebookIt’s 4.58 am this morning in the UK and the alarm kicks off. I’ve set it to bag my Facebook username. What this means is that whenever I direct people to Facebook, I will no longer send them to a URL ending in a strange collection of numbers but rather to my name. Facebook only let us know about this around four days ago.

    It’s 4.59 am and as the laptop boots up, I’m thinking that I must me mad. Or, worse still, is this yet another sign that I am addicted to the web? My friend Peter Moore seems to give the theory substance with a Tweet saying “Working with social media can be like having a serious drug problem“.

    Facebook’s username selection page loads up and is now counting down the seconds. I am actually shaking.

    It’s 5.00 am I begin to remember why it is I am doing this. Try having a pretty average name like “John Welsh”. Google Alerts make it clear just how widespread it is. In one week, all these John Welshes are mentioned:

    • John Welsh, of the Hibernian Society of Utah
    • John Welsh, the photographer
    • John Welsh, principal of Key West High School
    • John Welsh, a US trader
    • John Welsh of the Riverside County Department of Animal Services, CA
    • John Welsh, an English actor in the Duchess of Duke Street
    • John Welsh, an English footballer
    • John Welsh will sell you tickets to the John O’Leary band
    • John Welsh, a Liberal Democrat councillor came second in a recent election in Sudbury, England

    As you can see, there’s quite a lot of us.

    It’s 5.01 am and the countdown reaches zero. I am just about to claim my name and deep peace settles in. I am almost in a state of Zen-like kama. If you, like me, came late to social media, you will have a ragbag of names on your social media profiles. Yes, I’ve managed to bag

    But I don’t own John Welsh dot com, taken quite sensibly years ago. And, as for the majority of my social media profiles, they boast a confusion of letters and numbers attached to my name, all of which seem pretty straightforward when compared to my utterly ridiculous Gmail address – johnchriswelsh@googlemail.com. It’s very length and complexity seems to deny the very purpose of social media.

    Addicted to the web maybe, but desperate to unclutter my social media footprint, yes! Chuffed to be sufficiently up to speed with social media nowadays that I can do today what many people have been doing for years and lay claim to my name first, yes! Keen to take control of my username for any eventuality the future might throw up, yes!

    It’s 5.02 am my name sits there beside a radio button, I press enter and that is it, I’ve nabbed www.Facebook.com/johnwelsh. Back to bed.

    It’s 9.00am and I follow a Tweet by Louis Gray to his blog post and realise quite how lucky I have been.

    The Knowledge-time Continuum

    star trekWhen I kicked off this blog almost a year ago, I found it really easy to think of topics about which to write. I was new to social media and what I discovered, I wrote about, as I learnt, I explained how to. There was a sort of innocence in the approach and subject matter as if it was the first time anyone had noticed this stuff. That’s probably why it was so popular. Those even newer to the subject than me did not feel intimidated!

    Don’t get me wrong. I went in to blogging the right way round, listening to the conversation before tapping out my posts. If that were not enough, my links alone showed that I was aware of what had been written before. But you could not keep me down. The sheer thrill of those early months made me so excited I just had to add my pennyworth to the blogosphere. The strange thing is that, however unoriginal my subject matter might have been, people found my blog and read it in increasing numbers.  

    One year on

    But that period has come to an end. Today I am in the midst of “blogger’s block”, a period when the ideas for new posts has deserted me. It is more unsettling than I imagined though very much more rationale. For the simple fact is that having learnt so much, I have stopped coming across facets of social media that are new to me. My source of posts, therefore, has dried up. New subject material is going to have to come from a much more original source within me. Or will it?

    I spent over 20 years in traditional print journalism and a year in the blogosphere. You’ve heard it said many times that old media had a monopoly on content – if you did not like the local paper you read or B2B magazine, you did not really have much choice to go elsewhere. But what old media also had was a monopoly on the timeliness and longevity of that content – a story did not exist until the editor published it and the same story remained active only as long as the editor chose to do so. 

    The blogosphere has changed all that.

    Content no longer belongs to one medium. And the timeliness and longevity of content has now stretched to be as long as anyone person is interested in it. And people are interested in subjects at very different times from each other depending on their experience and exposure. So if you had only stumbled upon the blogosphere within the last year, you would find many of the posts in this blog essential reading. But if you had been blogging for anything more, you would probably find many of the posts in this blog somewhat familiar. “A list of Google Reader Shared Items,” you might say. “Are people only just discovering them?”Or “Six types of Tweets if you Twitter everyday. Mmmm, does Twitter really need such analysis?”

    The Law of the Blogativity

    Just like Space-time Continuum, the Law of Physics that describes time being relative to an object’s speed, so Knowledge-time Continuum is the Law of the Blogosphere which describes this phenomenon. In essence, it states that:

    however many people are in front of you in knowledge or understanding of social media, there will be some, if not more, people behind you relative to your knowledge.  


    since the number of people within social media is only every going to grow, there will always be more people needing to read what you write.  

    So for some, what you write will always be tiresomely unoriginal. But for others, those who are only starting to make a step into the future, you will always be dashingly and seductively interesting.

    Indeed Knowledge-time Continuum is not just a law relating to blogs but one also for social media. Take this example. You start following really useful people on Twitter who introduce you to new ideas and teach you what to do. The faster you learn, the more followers you attract who are a week, a month a year behind you. And if the people you once followed on Twitter are not learning as fast as you and continue to Tweet out links to the ABC, then you find yourself looking for fresh Twitterers. 

    How do I prove all this? Follow the analytics on your blog. My most popular posts (Five people to follow on Twitter in 2009Six types of Tweets if you Twitter everyday and A list of 10 social media habits that I am stopping immediately) become not just more visited but visited by more people more frequently as time goes by. It is not that the posts get any better or my arguments any more intelligent (far from it, I wince a little on rereading them!). But rather the longer life they have, the more Google shoves them up the search engines and more people find them. Indeed the more people discover just how much they don’t know about social media (and remember a lot more people than that don’t even know what they don’t know), the more people will end up on my blog.

    Which type are you?

    Indeed I would go so far as to posit three types of people within the blogosphere.

    • The latecomers (0-12 months). They’ve just discovered how much they don’t know. 
    • The late early adopters (1-3 yrs). They’re already hardened by a few knocks but they’ve stayed the game.
    • The early adopters (4-10 yrs). Way out front with great analysis of what’s happening to us all.

    All three overlap- the linked in, connected blogosphere could do nothing else – but I would go further. All three are like cogs, one pushing the other on, and sometimes pulling it back. But none operating without the other.

    Picture 3

    Of course none of this helps my blogger’s block! But I have come up with a list of ideas for my next posts. They are not going to be about the actual kit of social media, as I have done in the past, but rather how you can measure and assess its success.

    Photo credit: As you said