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Playing with Plurk

PlurkJust a very quick post to let readers know that I’m playing with Plurk (another micro blogging/life streaming tool that is a little like Twitter).

At first I only intended to grab my names (problogger and darrenrowse) and use them as placeholders but I’m now starting to find it a really interesting medium. It takes the Twitter experience to the next level with threaded comments, cliques/groups (yet to explore these) and all kinds of other features.

It’s a little quirky and it takes a while to get used to the way updates are displayed (it’s all on a sideways scrolling timeline) but it’s definitely got some potential. Anyway – if you have time in your life for another social media site – check out Plurk. At the least it could be worth reserving your name/s in case it does get popular and you want to use it at some point in the future.

PS – if you’re a ‘Plurker’ tell us what you think about it in comments below. What do you like about it, what don’t you like about it and how would you describe it?

Twitter is a Complete Waste of Time!

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Every time I’ve written about Twitter (or FriendFeed or most other social media) I see comments left saying ‘Twitter is a waste of time’.

My response is simple – yes it is.

Twitter is a waste of time…. unless you use it in a way that isn’t.

  • Twitter can be a waste of time just like blogging can be a waste of time.
  • Twitter can be a waste of time just like going to conferences and talking to people face to face can be a waste of time.
  • Twitter can be a waste of time just like other micro-blogging/life streaming/social messaging tools like Plurk and FriendFeed.
  • Twitter can be a waste of time just like talking on the phone can be a waste of time.

I would argue that there’s never been a type of communication invented that can’t be used in a way that is a waste of time.

The key is the way you use it.

Twitter can be beneficial to bloggers in many ways (I’ve written 9 ways that Twitter benefits me here) but the key is to work out how you want it to benefit you and to go about using the tool (and it’s nothing more than a tool) in a way that takes you a step closer to it paying off in those ways.

If you’re just on Twitter because everyone else is and you’re using it in an unfocused way then you’re unlikely to see it as anything more than a waste of time.

I would also add that I don’t think Twitter is ever going to be something that everyone should use.

The way people talk about Twitter (or any other type of social media tool) sometimes reminds me of how people used to talk about Blogging.

Four or Five years ago I heard people speaking about blogging as though it’s the answer to every problem that a company or individual might have with their online presence. It was claimed that blogging could do almost everything and fix any issue you faced. The truth is that blogging can be great but it’s not right for every situation. The same is true for Twitter.

It takes a certain type of personality to click with Twitter and it will only ever meet some of your needs and even then, only if you’re smart about it.

If not, it could well be a waste of time!

A Question to Ask about Your Use of Any Medium

When looking at Twitter, or any medium for that matter, the question to ponder early on is ‘what are my goals?’ Once you have them nailed down you then have a framework to begin to think about how you’ll use it and how you measure whether it’s a worthwhile medium to use.

So what are your goals for Twitter?

MU vs NING for Community Building

This is a guest post by Roni of GreenLiteBites. Roni has developed a successful online community, BlogToLose, to support her weight loss blog WeightWatchen.

In 2005, I started a blog to track my weight loss progress after joining Weight Watchers. Initially, the site was a very egocentric attempt to be accountable on my weight loss journey. However, as I started to get some regular visitors my blog began to change. In addition to reaching my own goals, my focus turned to helping others reach theirs. I polled my readers, asking if they’d be interesting in connecting with one another if I gave them a space to blog. The response I received was and astounding “YES!”.

My initial solution was WordPress MU. If you don’t know, MU is the multi-user version of the famous WordPress blogging platform. Installing it was a cinch, but customizing it and managing it was a bit of a different story. Despite the problems and time commitment, my idea worked! I built a community of about 1600 people (600 blogs) interesting in communicating, sharing experiences, changing their eating habits and losing weight. Consequently, the traffic and popularity of my blog grew as I now had a community of people supporting it.,

However, after a year of managing the users, the site and the SPAM, I sought out another solution. MU was great and some of my users loved the control they had on their blogs, but overall my novice users felt intimidated and overwhelmed and I was getting burnt out supporting it all on my own.

Then, a few months ago, a friend asked if I heard of NING. NING allows you to easily develop a robust network (community) with minimal or no programming. Unlike MU there is no installation involved. There is absolutely no upfront development to get off the ground. A few clicks of the mouse and you have an online community shell with forums, user blogs, templates, etc.

I successfully launched the NING community 3 weeks ago and with 485 users it’s growing faster then I ever imagined. As suspected, my novice users are ecstatic about the easy to use interface. However, my advanced users are a bit discontent about the loss of control on the new site.

Currently, I’m running and managing both the orignal MU community and the new NING social network. Both have thier pros and cons…

  WordPress MU NING
Installation & Set up Need your own server space, php, mySQL Complete hosted solution with no cost for the basics
User Tools Nothing beyond the base WordPress admin, unless you install or program them yourself Comes with base tool set, RSS feeds, forums, ability to create groups, user profile page with comment wall, etc.
Customization Full access to open source code but must know how to program Drag and drop customization for basics but can request access to code for more advanced control
Message boards Not integrated but can install BBpress and share user database for integration. Included but can not customize unless you request access to code
Chat Not integrated Not integrated without 3rd party widget
User Pages Users have control over blog and can add posts as well as pages Users have no ability to add their own pages
Friends Feature Not integrated Included in basic solution
Community Messaging Not Integrated Included in basic solution
Ad integration Easily include ads in community pages and user templates Must pay monthly fee for ability to include ads
SPAM control Hard to mange without installing plugins for captcha and comment spam control Integrated captcha for new user sign up
Privacy Options Nothing beyond basic flag for "I would like my blog to be visible" Community control over access level for non-members and individual user control for thier own blogs.
Support Large user base and therefore a lot of online support and user generated plug ins. Not as many users but online support is growing.

Overall, both solutions offer a great start for building an online community to support your blog. MU is a great solution for those who have programming knowledge or access to programmers while NING offers a nice base of community features for those with minimal programming experience.

Come Join us in the ProBlogger Room on FriendFeed

Most regular readers of ProBlogger will know that I’ve been playing quite heavily with Twitter over the last few months. I’ve found it to be a very fruitful exercise.

Over the last month or two FriendFeed has been another tool that many bloggers are also playing with. I’ve dabbled with it (my FriendFeed Account is here) bot to this point am still trying to get my head around it (would love to see some good tutorials on how others are using it).

In the last 24 hours FriendFeed have added a new feature – Rooms. Most people that I see are still trying to work out what to do with rooms but from what I can see they could be useful – so I’ve started a ProBlogger Room to see what we can do with it. If you’re on FriendFeed and want to ‘play’ in our room – come join us.

If all we discover together is that rooms don’t work – we’ll learn something – but hopefully in the process we’ll get to know each other a little more and learn more about FriendFeed.

What Are The Unspoken Rules of Social Networks?

Bruce Simmons asks:

Social Network sites like Digg and StumbleUpon and what not seem to have unspoken rules about who can promote a blog. What I mean to say or ask is: OK, with Digg, one cannot submit their own blog. But Twitter, you can chest thump all day long.

Do have a list of what sites you can ‘chest thump’ on and other sites that you are reader dependent on?

What are social networking sites?

This is an interesting topic, and I feel that we should start with some very basic information. Contrary to what some people might think, social networks were not born online with Friendster and MySpace. Social network, in fact, is a very old term used to describe any social group where individuals and/or organizations form a specific structure with nodes and connections. Here is the Wikipedia definition:

A social network is a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as values, visions, idea, financial exchange, friends, kinship, dislike, conflict, trade, web links, sexual relations, disease transmission (epidemiology), or airline routes. The resulting structures are often very complex.

The Internet completely changed the way people used to communicate and interact, so it was a natural step to create virtual social networks, or social networking websites. Back in 1979 Usenet, a global Internet discussion system, was already attempting to accomplish this.

Then in 1995 you had perhaps the first online social network as we known them today, ClassMates.com, which the purpose was to allow school mates to connect.

What about social bookmarking sites?

While websites like Digg and StumbleUpon do have a social factor, I don’t think we can classify them on the same level as MySpace or Friendster. Mainly because they have different scopes: the first two aim to let people share and discover new websites and online stories; the second two aim to let people with similar interests connect online.

You could consider Digg and StumbleUpon a sub-category of social networking sites, for example. Social bookmarking sites is what I would call them, but you have many other definitions floating around, including community bookmarking sites and social news aggregators.

Centralized vs. Decentralized Social Networks

Now that we have a clear understanding of social networks and social bookmarking sites, let’s get back to the central question. What are the unspoken rules of these websites? When someone can promote his own content directly, and when one should refrain from doing so?

In order to draw the line that divides the accepted and unaccepted behaviors, I think that we need to classify those social networking sites under two different groups: centralized social networks and decentralized social networks.

Note: That is a classification that I came up with, so I am not sure if it has being used in the past or not, and if with the same meaning. Feel free to suggest other interpretations or to disagree with my theory in the comments below.

Centralized social networks are those where the actions of the single elements will inevitably affect the whole community. That is, all the actions flow to the center.

Digg is an example of a centralized social network. Every time you submit a story, digg or bury a story submitted from another user, ask for votes or try to manipulate the system in your favor, your actions are inevitably affecting the whole community.

Centralizednetwork

That is because all members of Digg use the front page of the different sections to stay updated with the hot stories around the website.

The same principle applies to StumbleUpon. The central part of their system is the “Stumble!” button on the toolbar. Virtually all the members use that button to discover new and interesting websites. As a consequence, whenever you give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to a particular story, and whenever you share the stories you liked with friends, you are affecting the experience of all the other members of the community.

Twitter, on the other, is a decentralized social network. There is no central or core location where the actions of the single elements flow to. The system allows you to create you own micro communities, and your actions inside those communities will not affect people outside of them.

Decentralizednetwork

That is, you can decide who you follow, and other people in turn will decide if they want to follow you back or not. Suppose someone starts using Twitter solely to promote his own website. Users that are not following that person will not even notice what he is doing, and the ones that are following him can simply remove the follow to stop receiving his messages if they find them annoying. Finally, if someone likes to receive the promotional messages about the website of this person, he can keep following him.

Now you might ask me: so are all social bookmarking sites like Digg or Reddit centralized, and all standard social networks like MySpace and Facebook decentralized?

That is a good rule of thumb, but it is not always the case. Most social bookmarking sites are centralized, including Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Mixx and Propeller. Some, however, are not. Del.icio.us is an example of a decentralized social bookmarking site. Provided you use the service to save your own bookmarks or to share them with friends, the actions of other users will not affect your experience.

As for standard social networking sites, I would say that most of them are indeed decentralized. Of course you have people trying to spam and manipulate those websites nonetheless, so the action of abusive users can end up affecting the whole community. But that is the exception and not the rule.

Conclusion

By now you should already know the answer to the original question. Whenever we talk about decentralized social networks, you can use them in whatever way you desire (well, excerpt for spamming). You can promote your website, yourself, express your opinions and what not. You will create your own micro community on those sites, and your actions there should not affect the other members, so they will hardly care.

Consider Twitter again. There are people who use it as a micro blogging tool. Others use it as an instant messaging utility. Others yet use the tool to promote their websites, and some people are even trying to sell their Twitter accounts on eBay! It is all good though, because each user has the autonomy to decide who he will follow, who will be able to follow him, and what micro communities he will join.

As for centralized networks like Digg or StumbleUpon, you will need to play under the rules of the community. Usually these rules will encourage you to be active in the community and to actually help it grow. Self promotion and system manipulation are frowned upon.

Practically speaking, can you get away with the occasional submission of your own stories? Yes. Can you use it over and over again solely to promote your own stuff? No.

Over to you

Do you agree that some social networks are centralized, while others are not? Do you think people should avoid completely promoting their own content, or there are exceptions?

Daniel Scocco is the author of Daily Blog Tips. You can stay updated with his blog tips by subscribing to his RSS Feed.

Which Social Bookmarking Site Would You Prefer to Hit the Front Page Of?

Here’s a question that might provoke some interesting discussion over the weekend:

Which Social Bookmarking Site Would You Prefer to Hit the Front Page Of?

Would you prefer to hit the popular page on Digg, hit StumbleUpon’s buzz page, make it big on Delicious, Mixx or Reddit or is there some other social bookmarking page that you’d rather do well on?

Also – WHY did you choose the one you’ve chosen? Is it just about the raw numbers of readers, that it leads to secondary links, that it’s more focused and brings a higher quality of reader?

Now it’s over to you for your say….

Building Your Twitter Presence Part 3 – TweetBaiting

Twitterbaiting-1Last week in my 5 Tips to Grow Your Twitter Presence post John suggested that an additional strategy to grow your follower numbers in Twitter is to target bigger Twitter users for conversation.

The logic behind this is that if you can get them to reply to you and even have a multiple part conversation with you then you increase the chances of some of their followers following you also.

This is actually a strategy that works very well – however I didn’t include it in my previous post because it can also be a little risky and lead to two main problems as far as I can see.

Let me explain the risk of TweetBaiting

1. TweetStalking - The first problem with TweetBaiting a bigger Twitter user is the danger of putting them offside. I’ve had a few people target me for this type of thing in a way that I’ve found particularly annoying.

I do enjoy people engaging with me genuinely and attempt to reply to people but when it becomes more of a TweetStalking thing I tend to block people. I’ve even been tempted to call them out for it publicly (something I’ve seen others do). If you engage in spammy/annoying tactics in any medium you need to be prepared for the consequences.

The take home lesson is to engage Twitter users whether they be big or small in a way that adds value to their lives, is genuine and on topics that they’ll be interested in. If you do this you’ll find most are happy to engage in conversation.

2. Unfocused Followers - The other more subtle problem is that you can end up with followers who are less interested in what you’ve got to say. I’m going to talk more about this later in the post but I personally would prefer 500 followers who shared my interests and were focussed upon the things I talk about than 5000 followers who don’t really like what I’m talking about.

For example, lets just say I successfully TweetBaited Heather Armstrong from Dooce. Heather has 9111 followers at the moment so she’d be logical to attempt to engage in conversation however if you look over her Tweets they cover a real range of topics – just like her blog. As a result she’s attracted a followership who are interested in what she’s wearing, how much she pays for bourbon and what songs she hears on the radio. Now I personally enjoy Heather’s tweets and do follow her – however I’m not sure that her readers would necessarily be interested in my tweets on blogging, social media etc.

Sure there will be some overlap – but if you’re looking to effectively use Twitter to grow your profile in a niche then if you’re going to do a little TweetBaiting then you’ll want to target those you ‘bait’ carefully and preferably find those who would have a similarly focused group of followers to you.

Take Home Advice about TweetBaiting

While interacting with larger Twitter users can accelerate the growth of your own Twitter follower numbers it is something to approach with caution. I’ve never strategically done this. While I occasionally interact with a few of the bigger Twitter users I’ve only done it when it’s natural, on topic etc (as I would with any Twitter user). My advice would be just to use Twitter in a natural way. Interact with lots of Twitter users (big and small) and you’ll find that as you do your follower numbers will continue to grow.Have you TweetBaited anyone? Did it work? What would you add to my advice?

PS: there’s another type of TweetBaiting that I’ve seen also. It’s where you ‘bait’ interactions with other Twitter users based upon…. well getting them angry, personal attack, insulting people etc. Of course the risk associated with this is looking like a complete fool and/or getting blocked by those you go after.

Building Your Twitter Presence Part 2 – Pre-Prepared Tweets

Pre-Prepared-TwitterYesterday I wrote 5 tips to help increase your follower numbers on Twitter. Thanks to everyone for your comments and suggestions on the topic.

As I read over the comments I realized that there were a few more things that I’d been learning on how to use Twitter that might be worth sharing. So over the coming few days I’ll pick up a few threads of thought that your comments sparked for me on the topic of growing your Twitter Presence. Today I want to talk about a tactic that I’ve used a little lately that might help those of you who don’t live in parts of the world where the majority of your followers live.

Pre-Prepare Your Tweets

This one is going to probably rub some Twitter users up the wrong way because it is a medium which is very spontaneous and immediate – but I pre-prepare and plan a portion of my tweets.

This is something that I do with a minority of the things I do on Twitter but for two main reasons I find that it is helpful to have some Tweets that ‘I prepared earlier’.

1. My Time Zone – As mentioned in my earlier post, living in a time zone which is almost completely opposite to that of my followers can be frustrating. When I was in the US earlier in the year I realized just what I was missing out on when I suddenly was about to use Twitter in the same time zone.

For me the times that I am awake when my followers are awake are either when I first wake up (7am-9am) and just as I’m heading for bed (10pm onwards). The problem is that in these times I’m not really at my best. I tend to have more insightful things to say, better questions to ask and more value to add to conversations at mid morning here in Australia.

As a result if I think of something to Tweet during the day that is timeless (ie it’s not related to the here and now) then I sometimes save it to Tweet late at night or first thing in the morning.

2. Timing is Everything – Twitter is a medium where timing is very important. As already mentioned, if you Tweet something when your followers are asleep and it’ll go largely unread. However even in peak times if you tweet something profound just after you’ve tweeted 10 other things and it could go unnoticed – lost in the crowd of your own tweets. As a result I find that sometimes the best time to Tweet is after a pause in the conversation.

For example sometimes I might think of something new to Tweet in the middle of another Twitter Conversation but wait until everyone has had their say on the last topic before starting a new one. I find that if I do I have a lot better response rate than if I’m talking to three people about three things at once.

Tools for Pre-Tweeting - My Twitter followers will know that a month or two back I went on the hunt for tools that would allow me to ‘Pre-Tweet’ or schedule my Tweets to go off at particular times – just like most blog platforms allow you to set a post to go off at scheduled times. There are a couple of services that allow this – they are TweetLater and TweetAhead. I should point out that I’ve had mixed results with them – particularly TweetAhead which lost tweets and mistimed others. As they say on their site – they need more servers. TweetLater looks promising though, I’ve used it 5 times so far and it’s been perfect so far.

While these tools are useful – I tend to take a simpler approach. I have a text file open on my desktop where I keep my prepared tweets. It currently has a few questions to ask, a quote or two to share and a few links that I want to share also.

As mentioned above – I only pre-prepare a minority of my Tweets. I do like the medium for it’s spontenaity and fast flowing interaction and if all of your tweets were dryly pre-tweeted I think it’d reflect on your follower’s experience.

5 Tips to Grow Your Twitter Presence in 2012

Twitter has a stronghold on the blogosphere, yet sometimes, it’s hard to be heard. If you’re struggling to grow your Twitter following, you’re not alone.

I have more than 160,000 followers now, and quite a few readers have asked how I’ve grown my following. Here are my tips.

1. Leverage your other “engagement media” profiles

Do you have an existing online profile somewhere outside of Twitter (big or small)? Use it to springboard into Twitter. If it’s a blog, mention that you’re using Twitter in a post, add Twitter sharing buttons to your home page and individual posts, and link to it from your profile and contact pages.

Tweet button

My posts all display a Tweet button

If you’re on Facebook, use one of the numerous tools or apps available to republish your tweets to Facebook. If you promote your blog on Google+, share your Tweets there. Using Pinterest? Cross-pollinate between those followers and your Twitter followers to maximize the return on the time you’re investing in social media.

It goes without saying that you should add Twitter, along with your other social media account details, to your email signature, business card, and so on. The same applies with any online (or even offline) presence that you have—link to your Twitter page and link to it often.

2. Tweet often—but leave space for engagement

The more active you are on Twitter, the more likely you are to have others find and follow you. However, tweet too frequently and you run the risk of losing followers. I try to stick to one topic at a time and create pauses between them to let others interact.

Striking the right balance takes time and experimentation. Watch who retweets your updates—and which updates they’re sharing—to get a sense of your strongest advocates.

And be sure to engage with those who share your updates and those who respond to you. Thank them, answer their questions, and ask them why they likes that tweet or this post. Consider this engagement part of your ongoing market research for your blog, and your social media strategy.

3. Get talking

The secret to building your follower list is interaction. I get most new followers on those days when I interact with other Twitter users_and over time, that’s grown to a massive number of people.

We call them @ replies but you can, of course, also use the @_name functionality to engage with people you don’t know or follow—and who don’t know or follow you.

Asking questions is perhaps the best way to get conversational on Twitter. Get ten people to answer a question you’ve tweeted and if even just one person retweets one of those ten replies (or your original question), you’ll have gained exposure to whole new rafts of potential followers.

Just as important is to participate in other people’s conversations. Reply to their questions and ideas as much as possible.

The key with Twitter really is shared interests. people will share your tweets with their followers if they think you share a common interest with them, and your tweet is relevant. So, be conversational about topics that will interest others. Be conversational in a way that encourages your followers to reach out to their own networks.

Sharable tweets

Make your tweets resonate with a broad audience

Finally, you might find your first few engagements on Twitter easiest if you’re not talking about yourself—I find I do better when I’m not talking about me! No one likes to hang around with people who just talk about themselves, so get the balance right between talking about yourself and talking about others and other topics of interest.

4. Provide optimal value

Tweeting on a personal level is fun and for many that’s as far as it goes, but if you’re interested in growing your Twitter influence, you need to provide your followers, and potential followers, with value.

It’s the same principle as growing a blog—if you help enhance people’s lives in some way they are more likely to want to track with you, read more of what you have to say, and share your ideas with others.

Make your conversations matter on some level. Sure you can throw in personal tweets and have some fun, but unless you’re providing something useful to people (information, entertainment, news, education, etc.) they probably won’t follow you for long, or share your content with their own networks.

5. Tweet in peak times

Last week I tracked when I had new Twitter followers add me, and found (as I expected) that the frequency of follows where made during business hours in the USA.

Tweeting at the times when your followers are online only increases the chances of their finding and adding you to their lists, and sharing your tweets—timing certainly affects sharing on Facebook, and if you look at your retweet stats, you’ll find it does on this network, too.

My being situated in Australia can have some positives and negatives, but one of the things I don’t enjoy about it is that I miss out on a lot of interaction with my followers who are on the other side of the world. While many social media management apps will let you schedule status updates and tweets, there’s no substitute for in-person, real-time interaction on Twitter.

Bonus tip: tweet from the heart

Don’t worry too much about how you “come across” on Twitter. Just be yourself and tweet form the heart. Don’t stress too much about the numbers—instead, use the platform to connect genuinely with the Twitter followers you already have, and let the rest take care of itself!

Top Twitter Blog Marketing Tips has more Twitter tips.

Oh, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the burden of social networks, read my post on how to beat the social media beast!