If you really think about it, why did you join a social network? Chances are it’s that you had a desire to connect with friends, family, colleagues, or even meet new people that could bring value to your life. I too joined the various social media tools for this very reason, but have noticed a shift in the way they have been used as of late that is cause for concern, specifically Twitter. In my opinion Twitter was created as an easy way to share content, receive information, and establish a valuable online community of connections; but what good is that network if we don’t continue to maintain it, engage with it, and expand it.
It is all to easy to get caught up in the clique mentality, which I can assure you defeats the purpose of what these tools are all about.
It is this slight shift in my observations that has motivated me to send out a challenge to all of you. A challenge to do things differently and encourage others to do likewise. A challenge to promote inclusion and network growth so that all feel welcome and valued, in an effort to maintain a healthy online ecosystem that looks out for its new or less visible members just like it does its “gurus”, “experts”, and “ninjas”.
Tuesday Twitter Challenge
The challenge is simple really, it was never meant to be difficult. Simply use Twitter the way it was indented for such as sharing content, receiving information, and developing valuable new connections. Step outside of your comfort zone, commit to trying something new, even if it’s just for today. Take the Tuesday Twitter Challenge.
Imagine with me for a moment…
After a series of storms, which made road travel nearly impossible, you choose to stay the night at a relative’s house to ensure your family’s safety. The next day you’re excited to return to your residence which was just made officially a home as you welcomed a new baby to the world just months earlier. Life is good for your young family, and the future is looking pretty bright. Morning now, the rain has passed and you start your journey home; only to realize as you drive through your neighborhood that something’s not right. Piles of wet carpet, garbage, and damaged furniture line the street leading up to your home.
Thoughts of happiness turn to quickly fear and uncertainty as it is clear the neighborhood was flooded during last nights storm. You pull into your drive way, sick, realizing you had no basement, and are reluctant to open the door to your family home for fear of facing reality. Eventually you muster the courage to enter your abode, yet what you find is surreal. The flood waters clearly breached the dwelling and reached depths of 2-3 ft throughout. Your home, now severely damaged and unlivable is completely destroyed.
The dream is gone.
Not knowing where to start, you make several calls to your insurance company, at least they can help. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse your agent delivers a below the belt punch and tells you the damage to your home is not covered. You don’t have flood insurance, says your agent, thanks for playing, we wish you well in your future endeavors. Flood insurance? Why would you ever consider flood coverage? As you live no where close to a lake or river. Maybe there is hope? What about FEMA? Wrong! The damage was not substantial enough to qualify (at least for right now). What would your young newly formed family do now? There is no way possible you could afford to rebuild your home without taking out significant loans, and becoming overrun by debt. Luck, if there is such a thing has run out.
Unfortunately the above story was a sad reality for the Cigelske’s, a Milwaukee area family, during the #BrewCityFlood in July 2010. Not knowing what to do or which way to turn, Tim Cigelske shared his story in a touching blog post via Twitter, which prompted many on the tightly woven online community to ask how they could help. Tim (@teecycletim) is no stranger to social media heading up online communications for Marquette University, and founder of Teecycle.org where his company sells reclaimed t-shirts and donates a portion of the proceeds to help save urban rivers and trails in Milwaukee. Naturally he wanted to share his experience with his connections online. What was about to ensue over the next month went beyond his family’s wildest dreams, and brought an online community closer together in an effort to help rebuild the Cigelske family home and help #saveteecycle.
The link to Tim’s initial blog post quickly spread throughout Wisconsin and beyond via Twitter, where several people, strangers really, were quick to ask how they could help. A group in Indiana even sent the Cigelske’s an ample supply of baby supplies to help alleviate at least once necessity at the top of the young family’s mind. Soon after the story was circulated two members of the Milwaukee area Twitter community truly came to the forefront in an effort to help this family get back on their feet. Enter complete strangers, Sue Spaight (@suespaight) and Katie Klein-Murphy (@bootyp) and the birth of www.saveteecycle.org.
Together these two women realized a need to step up, and took immediate action to make things right for this family. At first Sue and Katie started a website explaining the Cigelske’s story along with a link to accept donations to aide in the rebuilding of their home. The website generated significant traffic and received an outpouring of support, including donations both personal and corporate. What happened next took me by surprise, as it’s not to often you see complete strangers make it their mission to help each other. The website served as a catalyst for greatness, creating even more interest in helping to get the Cigelske family back home.
With more awareness came an increase in people “tweeting” about the cause. This in turn inspired several businesses and individuals to partner with Sue, Katie, and www.saveteecycle.org to rebuild the Cigelske’s home. In a generous donation the Cigelske family received all new windows for their home, from Renewal by Andersen. Another one of the key players in rehabilitating the Cigelske home was William Ryan Homes represented by Craig Vermeulen (@WilliamRyanRE). As an avid member of the local Twitter community Craig knew he needed to do what he could to help this family in need.
Craig leveraged his connection to William Ryan Homes, and was able to donate all of the labor, and purchase supplies at contractor prices, in an effort to rebuild the Cigelske’s home. Craig and his team of contractors worked on this project before and after hours for several weeks, rehabilitating the destroyed home to it’s original glory. When I asked Craig why he worked so hard to help the Cigelske’s his answer spoke to his remarkable character. “I helped because I could…it was the right thing to do. If my family was in a similar position, I know someone would do the same for us.”
Additional steps were taken by Sue and Katie in an effort to make things whole again for the Cigelske’s. They planned a benefit on September 18, 2010 for the family to raise additional funds to ensure the costs to rebuild the home were covered. With hard work these amazing women secured some solid partnerships ensuring the benefit would be a success. Sprecher Brewery graciously offered to donate the venue, creating a perfect atmosphere for the benefit. Delicious food was donated for the event by COA (@GetCOA) in Milwaukee, who also donated a portion of their restaurant sales to the #saveteecycle fund. COA specializes in authentic Mexican cuisine, so needless to say this stuff was tasty, and was a big hit among guests at the event. Sue and Katie also secured an extensive array of silent auction, and raffle items from various individuals and businesses throughout the community. A final tally of supporters for the #Saveteecycle event puts attendance north of 200 people. I truly feel passionately that because of Sue Spaight’s and Katie Klein-Murphy’s unselfishness and stewardship, a deserving family was saved from tragedy. Their courage to stand up, take charge, and make things happen for the Cigelske’s (at the time total strangers), is an inspiration and a triumph for Milwaukee’s social media scene.
The #SaveTeecycle benefit accomplished several things looking back now. First and foremost, the Cigelske’s can now move home! Craig Vermeulen and his team at William Ryan Homes, finished the rehabilitation and were able to turn the keys over to a family that hasn’t been home in months. The big reveal was viewed at the benefit live, via video from Dan Wilde (@dwilde), to the surprise of all in attendance (watch the reveal here) (Fantastic work with the video Dan). With the generosity of the community through various ways of donating, all of the costs of the rehab were covered. Additional funds collected will go to help neighboring families that also suffered loss due to the <a hr
I am sure we can both agree that Social Media as we know it is not going away anytime soon. Sure it will evolve, take on a new flavor, social networking sites will come and go, but Social Media as we know it has become a fundamental way our culture chooses to share and gather information about the world around them. Think about it. Have you ever asked your social networks for advice on a product and or service before you yourself made the purchase? I know I have and would be willing to wager that many of you have done the same before making said purchase. The fact of the matter is that we have built trust with many of those in our social networks, we value their opinions, and we rely on them for advice at times. Why wouldn’t we tap into that as a resource?
As an avid user of several Social Media channels (Twitter being a current favorite – yet they all have their place), I have had ample opportunity to meet and engage many people, willing to help me become more successful in this arena. With their help, coaching, and foresight over the last year, I feel more confident in my approach to Social Media. Let me be the first to tell you I have gotten some constructive feedback in the past when I was starting out, but learned from it, tweaked my approach, and improved. Due to the assistance others have given me I am not only using these mediums to build stronger personal relationships, but also leveraging the power of relationships to improve business results within my work life.
During this time I have picked up on, what I believe to be a three key re-occurring themes, which those successful in the Social Media arena have embraced and are doing very well. The observed themes have helped me to enhance my ability to build online relationships with people (many of which have turned into face to face interactions), build trust, build loyalty, and help others in the process. Also noted was a clear distinction between those that “get it” and those that just don’t have a clue. If you find yourself having to think about which category you fall into, I have bad news – It’s probably the latter.
Now for the good news, there is hope, but it takes an open mind and a willingness to learn from others around you that have in fact found success developing relationships through the Social Media vehicle. In an arena such as Social Media, that is changing every day, no one is an expert – it’s simply not possible. There is certainly room for people to claim to be knowledgeable and have a great sense of direction on how to leverage Social Media, but to dub oneself as an expert in an arena that changes almost every day, that’s a little far fetched. Egos need to be checked at the door to truly get ahead in Social Media.
As mentioned above I wanted to highlight the three themes found over the past year as I have worked to move effectively leverage Social Media in my life. First and foremost you need to be willing to listen. People are using Social Media as a sounding board, a place to socialize, get information, and yes even a place to vent. Watch the feeds, monitor what people are saying, especially about your brand, and acknowledge concerns. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to reach back out to people when they have a concern or problem with something you said, posted, or experienced with a product or service you offered. The fact that you took the time to respond to those concerns shows you were listening. Thank customers and potential customers for discussing your brand, offer creative solutions to problems, and work to take escalated issues offline for resolution. These actions go a long way in showing Social Media users that you are in fact listening to them.
Second you need to engage with people. This can be done in a manner of ways such as asking questions, creating polls, and posting valuable content related to your professional field or areas of interest. Another way to engage online is to involve your self in the conversation with others. Add value, insight, and a new perspective with your comments or responses. Over time people will embrace the contributions you have to offer. Lastly one of the most important ways to engage online is to help others. This can be done by reposting their content to your networks helping spread the word about their cause and/or moving the information onto a larger circle of people.
Recently there was an amazing example of this happening in Milwaukee, WI. A local White Fish Bay resident recently lost the majority of their home by way of having their entire neighborhood flooded about six weeks ago in a large rainstorm. After the rain passed the family was advised that insurance would not cover any of the damage to the home. One of the members of the family, Tim Cigelski (@teecycletim), was already giving so much to the online community in addition to running an amazing business and website www.teecycle.org, that is helping to reuse our resources in a more responsible way.
A Two wonderful members of the Twitter community Sue Spaight (@SueSpaight) & Katie Klein-Murphy (@Bootyp) decided to step up and give back creating a movement to help Tim and his family rebuild the damaged home. The movement that was started was #SaveTeecycle (as a searchable hash tag on Twitter) or online at www.saveteecycle.org. This movement quickly went viral receiving support from Twitter users everywhere re posting the message that this family needed help. The movement even began to gain support from many local businesses that were able to donate money, supplies, and offer their assistance to get the family’s home rebuilt. Just last night it was highlighted on the Channel 4 news for the entire viewing area to see. In the end the movement is on pace to generate enough awareness and funds to not only help rebuild the Cigelski family home, but also some of the neighboring homes as well.
The third theme I have observed of those successful in leveraging Social Media is the ability to create positive awareness for your brand (from both a personal and corporate brand position). This is first done by adding value to the online landscape. Monitor your verbiage, be tactful, and professional. The online communities are already full of nonsense talk and clutter. Rise above the rest and stand out above the noise. By being unique and creative online you will draw others to you and your brand increasing your overall awareness in the marketplace. It’s also ok to share what you or your business is doing within the community to give back to others. To me this shows you have goals to make the world a better place and don’t just have a what’s in it for me attitude. I firmly believe it is these things that will get others to talk about you to their networks, share your information, and get more people to want to connect with you or your brand.
In the end after considering these three themes uncovered in being open to learn from those successful in the Social Media arena, consider this: the online environment is constantly changing. Even if you start to master these steps, new trends will come about and you’ll need to be willing to adapt and change to them. Never stop wanting to learn more, try new ways of connecting and engaging people, and let your personality shine through in your communications. After all we are dealing with people here – we need to recognize that as the same rules that work in our face to face world of communication apply equally if not more online.
June 11, 2010 my daughter Lillian was born, which allowed me to take some time off of work. Enjoying the time I was able to spend with my wife, and new baby, I quickly learned how much of a non schedule babies keep. I found myself up at different hours than I was used to helping to care for the new addition to our family. I loved every minute of it and still do, yet as I had down time I found it harder to rest and or sleep as I wanted to watch Lillian constantly. To this day I am amazed by her beauty curiosity, and innocence. Along with the down time I had while she slept, I had time to think about relationships a lot. Relationships with my wife, newly formed family, friends, online connections, ect. I thought about improving those relationships, making new connections, networking, and bringing people together.
One night, while watching my daughter sleep, the idea for the #WaukeshaTweetup was born.
Now that I had a few weeks off from work, I started to think about a local venue in Waukesha County that was both on Twitter and that would be seen as a top class establishment. I immediately gravitated towards Piano Blu on Pewaukee Lake. Having dined there in the past I knew it had the atmosphere that others would appreciate, had great food, and a spectacular view of the Lake from the private room upstairs (The Rhino Room – getting its name from the enormous Rhinoceros head mounted above the fireplace). I emailed the owners about my idea for the event, it was quickly embraced and planning commenced.
Together Penny Schultz (Marketing and Event Planner for Piano Blu) and I came up with a plan of what this event could and should look like. We also partnered with a Local Social Media trainer Katie Felten, of MKELive, to both bring more awareness to the event and be a resource for guests that had questions on social media. In my opinion this was a great move seeing as how Katie is so well connected in the Milwaukee area, she helped us spread the word to our neighboring community to the east. Going into the event the restaurant set a goal of 20-25 attendees and a date of 8/4/2010 was set for the event. After the initial planning meeting we had 1 month to promote the event. Go time – The Twtvite went live! As the restaurant was relatively new to the social media space, I took the lead promoting the event through Twitter, and was amazed at just how quickly the event was embraced by the online community.
Within two weeks of the invite being sent out and the event being promoted on Twitter we had already achieved the goal of 20 confirmed RSVP’s. Both myself and Piano Blu were very excited, and starting to think of ways that we could enhance the event even further. On the restaurant side, Penny began to formulate a plan with the Chef for what to serve our guests at the event. As we still had some time before the actual event, she helped to plant the seed with Chef and get him thinking about what to prepare. Knowing in addition to food we needed great signage and name badges, I reached out to Chris Sherman (@Amerisign) owner of Amerisign and Graphics for help with these. He gladly partnered with us to make these items, and they turned out top notch. I can’t thank Chris and his team enough for the work they put into the items for The Waukesha Tweetup. If you have a future printing need yourself I highly recommend you work with Chris Sherman at Amerisign and Graphics – They will not disappoint.
Fast forward – one week until the event. We are now @ 60 plus RSVP’s and the tweets regarding it are becoming more frequent. Penny of Piano Blu and I are texting regularly now, updating each other on new names to the list. Needless to say the excitement of the event has taken over. I continue to promote the event via Twitter, and get the support of the online community to help spread the work and keep the interest high.
One day before the event – We received a surprise from one our local area businesses, North Shore Bank (@NorthShoreBank). Tim Gluth (@tiglu) and Kate Knox (@LAXgirl) of North Shore Bank contacted me regarding the possibility of contributing some door prizes for the event. Up until now it was not really discussed as Piano Blu and I were focused on ensuring we had a solid menu as well as people in attendance. To be honest, I overlooked the importance of having some give away items for our guests. Tim and Katie came through in a big way for the #WaukeshaTweetup rounding up several great items from local business for us to raffle off at the event. North Shore Bank, Dunn Bros Coffee, Attitude Sports, Footprints, and U.S. Cellular® were the businesses rounding out the donors for the event. I cannot thank Tim and Kate enough for their efforts in securing these items and helping to enhance the experience that our guests had while in attendance at the #WaukeshaTweetup.
Additionally with one day until go time we added 15 RSVP’s to the list bringing us to 75 guests. At this point, I cannot believe the interest that resides within in the Twitter community! I also start tweeting about the amazing Tapas items that Chef Oscar of Piano Blu was going to be serving our guests. The menu to follow below:
The food tweets alone were a big hit, as they received many positive responses, re-tweets, and created even more excitement around the event. So much so, the morning of the event we were @ 83 RSVP’s. Not a bad go around for us first timers hosting what is shaping up to be one of the biggest tweetups around.
Nervousness sets in now – they’re all signed up but will they show?
August 4th 2010 it’s #WaukeshaTweetup Time. I arrive about 4:30pm at Piano Blu to help set up the upstairs room we have for our venue. I am excited to see the amazing view of the lake which spans the entire length of the Rhino Room. Impressive I thought – really stoked to hear what our guests will think. After minimal setup we were ready, and 6pm could not get here quick enough. I was so anxious to see if all of our efforts would in fact pay off. Now 6pm the Twitter community of Waukesha County swarmed on Piano Blu where guests arrived in groups. Over the next hour we would welcome 75 unique Twitter characters to Piano Blu and the #WaukeshaTweetup. I could not be happier, and I am certain that Piano Blu felt the emotions I had experienced as well. After all, here are 75 people all with large circles of influence that are now experiencing all that the restaurant has to offer, from the amazing food and cocktails, to the exceptional atmosphere the restaurant has created.
Live tweets are being displayed on a plasma TV by the bar, which is drawing quite the crowd. As I look around I notice several people every time starring at their smartphone tweeting about the event, the food, the venue, or the wonderful person they just met face to face. I saw a statistic later that night – that the hashtag #WaukeshaTweetup was in the top five trending topics for Wisconsin that evening. For me this is what the event was about. I could some it up in two words – building relationships. Those same relationships I was thinking about while watching my daughter sleep just one month ago, are now becoming real. Not only just for me but for all of the other guests too. People are connecting – I have done what I set out to do.
I made it a point to engage with everyone who attended in some way, albeit difficult as it’s hard to work a room of 75 people in three hours and have effective and meaningful conversations with each of them. I did my best to make sure that all guests felt welcome, and that they had the opportunity to participate and network face to face with those they follow in the online world. In the time I spent mingling, I observed an amazing energy in the room as people were connecting in robust dialogues about life, children, business, food, Piano Blu, and of course Twitter. We paused briefly during the event to raffle off the fantastic prizes from area business. I called upon our good friend Jim Raffel (@Raffel) to help us with our door prize raffle which received a laugh from the guests. He did a great job – and thanks for being a good sport Jim!
Just as fast as the event started, it came to a close. I glanced at my BlackBerry® and noticed it was already 10pm. We had a few remaining guests enjoying some wine and engaging in conversations about what else, you guessed it, Twitter. Tom Snyder (@Triverguy) had busted out the laptop and was giving a clinic on his preferred Twitter clients to the small group that remained. I sat in for a moment, absorbed what I could, and eventually re-connected with Penny Schultz of Piano Blu.
Together we recapped the event, discussed what went well, and what we would do different the next time. Both of us agreed on one thing though, the success of the #WaukeshaTweetup. Never in our wildest dreams did we think the event would grow to this size and receive the support from the local businesses that it did. From the bottom of my heart I want to personally thank each and every one of you who came out to support the event, donated your time or resources to make it happen, or simply just tweeted about it. It was because of your efforts the event was a smashing success. Thank You.
I have had some time over the last few days to really think about why I am present on Twitter, and what I truly enjoy most about that arena. To be honest I could quite possibly open it up to the entire social media landscape as I am passionate about building relationships regardless of what form they might take in person or online. For me Twitter seems to have a significant draw. Mostly because it seems to house a significant number of local professionals, that are for the most part *bites tongue*, trying to add value to the online community in some way. More over these people actually care about others and are working to build relationships with people, in turn enhancing their personal and business lives.
Clearly there are the ever present distractions on Twitter i.e. Tweens discussing @JustinBieber or obsessing over the #Twilight movies at all hours. Let’s not forget the constant noise of those individuals claiming to be “social media experts”, “gurus” or my favorite “ninja’s”; that won’t let you forget how awesome they are. Meanwhile your Twitter stream seems to be overrun by these individuals selling their snake oil. For the record, I am not impressed by your 38,000 followers, and 1,356,900 tweets. When was the last time you actually “connected” with someone in a way that actually makes that other person feel valued? It is clear to me that many on Twitter just don’t get it. These “experts” cloud the internet with noise and distraction.
For me it’s different. I’m not a social media expert by any means, nor will I ever claim to be. How can one claim to be an expert in an arena that changes every month, every week, or every day for that matter? For me social media is about learning. Continuous learning. Learning about how to better connect with people, both personally and professionally. For me Twitter is about building trust, credibility, and relationships with real individuals. It is these relationships that can ultimately lead to customer retention, customer loyalty, new business, or even a new friendship.
I can’t tell you enough how amazing it feels to have searched Twitter for a dissatisfied customer, a customer that has a problem or simply needs a question answered, and then been able to deliver for that customer in a way that turns around their perception of the products and or services you are selling or support. To me this is the ultimate use and reason Twitter even exists. Your customers need a sounding board. A way to give you feedback, ask questions, or just plain vent. The occasional positive praise doesn’t hurt either. There is one important lesson to take away here. Listen to your customers. They are taking the time to talk about and give feedback about you, your products, and services. Use this information to make changes for the better, and build positive relationships with others in the process.
My goal is to serve as a resource in my field. Someone others can trust and are excited about working with. If I can help someone in some way, no matter how small, then I have added value to their life. The ability to add value when possible is what keeps me using Twitter as a means of communication. For me it’s all about building relationships and connecting with people. Social media (Twitter included) is just another vehicle to get to that special place with your customers.