Category Archives: Microblogging

Developing IBM’s largest Twitter profile: grassroots marketing the @developerWorks way

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Frank Carlos, a grassroots marketing expert on the IBM developerWorks team. Among his many accomplishments has been the development of the @developerWorks Twitter profile which has amassed a princely 33,000 followers.

@developerWorks on Twitter

In my mind, this makes Frank something close to the Ashton Kutcher of the B2B tech world.

So, how did he do it? A few lessons came out of the conversation with Frank.

Curation is the key

The @developerWorks twitter account works as a syndication channel: posting links to content from across the developerWorks site. However, rather than just automatically spewing out the contents of an RSS feed, Frank takes the role of editor, curating the content and only posting the pieces he thinks make most sense. This resonates with Paul Gillin’s claim in B2B Magazine that curation is the new creation and as the amount of information out there on the web grows exponentially, we find real value from those who can pick through the haystack and just hand us the needles.

Let’s be clear though, the role of curator involves some serious graft. Frank points out that he posts over 20 tweets a day. Every day. Obviously, in order to do this you need a large network of content to pick from.

Focus on the audience

developerWorks is an IBM resource for developers and IT professionals, allowing them to build skills around the gamut of technologies that IBM solutions touch. It covers IBM’s own platforms and tools such as WebSphere, Rational, Tivoli and Information Management. There is also a mass of content on popular programming languages and applications, including PHP, Java, Ruby, Android and HTML5, and it is in these areas where the @developerWorks account is focused. (As an aside, a recent developerWorks study shows just how important these technologies are to the developerWorks audience).

Going after popular topics is a shrewd play that has obviously paid off for the @developerWorks account. Just picking a random selection from today:

@developerWorks tweet sample

Here you can see posts covering Cloud, JavaServer, Ubuntu, RedHat, Scala.

Sure, many of the tweets are related to IBM solutions, but the relationship is made with popular tech topics of the day. The message here is if you know there is a popular theme related to your offerings, exploit that relationship!

Let folks know you’re out there

There are a few attention-grabbing tactics that have been employed to publicize the @developerWorks account: none of which have cost a dime to implement (well, beyond the internal resource).

The first, is the choice of a somewhat unusual URL shortener to post links: StumbleUpon. The advantage of this service over other shorteners such as or the newer is that the links are automatically added to the StumbleUpon network and Frank points out that his links receive a good chunk of traffic directly from the StumbleUpon channel.

Another technique used by @developerWorks is that of following people in the networks where you want prominence. Using the Android example, you can search on people using the ‘#android’ hashtag and follow those that appear to be tweeting on-topic. Following them also puts you on their radar. If you’re putting out quality content in that area, there’s a good chance they will follow you back.

The use of hashtags in tweets is a great way of associating your content with topics/subjects. How do you find the right hashtag? One way is just a simple search on Twitter, such as this one for ‘#android‘. What you are looking for is a hashtag with a hive of existing conversation around it. And, yep, the mighty Mashable has a primer if you want to know more on making the most of hashtags.

Prove the results of your work

Syndication is the core objective of the @developerWorks account. Frank keeps detailed records on each tweet and how many clicks it receives. As well as knowing that he drives 200,000 clickthroughs a month, he also can break that down by topic and IBM technology. All through the clever use of spreadsheets!

Much is talked about the ROI of social media. For syndication you can go beyond counting clicks and approximate the value of the channel by looking at how much it costs you to attract visitors using other channels. For instance, you can take your hashtags and find out how much it would cost you to get traffic for those terms through paid search on Google. You can take this a step further if you have a good connection between your web analytics and your CRM and calculate how many of these clicks have turned into customers.

Although I bring this up last, tracking the value of your work can be the most important piece. As you’re probably aware, if you can’t find a way to express the value of your efforts, you may find your management pulling the rug from under your campaign.

I should come clean and point out that one of the motivating factors in my decision to move to the developerWorks organization was wanting to be a part of a team that is making excellent use of social media in innovative and effective ways. Frank’s use of Twitter to build the @developerWorks profile is an excellent example of this.

Blogging: the Google way (webcast with Karen Wickre)

Those SES guys in conjunction with Hubspot just hosted an excellent presentation by Karen Wikre, Google’s Senior Manager of Corporate Communications. Karen has been at Google for over 7 years and in that time has played a prominent part in bringing blogs into the center of Google’s communication strategy.

Why the empasis on blogs?

As Karen points out, blogs allow you to reach customers, those who know nothing about you, critics and the press all through a single post. In some ways blogs can be thought of as surrogates for newsletters, where you don’t have to wait to collect 16 articles before publishing. She also points out that posts serve well as your statement on an issue that can exist for years. She draws on the Googlebomb example, where the original post served them well years later when the issue arose again. There is a downside to this approach: especially if you are in an industry/organization where the viewpoint can shift over time. A blog post has a serious shelf life so be prepared to stand by what you say for months, if not years.

Blogs also allow you to put out information that you wouldn’t consider for a press release. Think about the back story into how a product came to life. You can also go further and integrate customer stories, video footage and geeky stuff about what’s going on under the hood. There can be an audience for all of this, but the traditional press release really doesn’t offer the breadth.

As an aside, I’m you’re probably aware that Google owns the Blogger platform so it makes sense for them to adopt this tool for company communications.

Just how many official blogs does Google have?

Karen mentions that currently Google has more than 150 product-related blogs (with over 10 million unique visitors a month). supplement that with around 80 Twitter accounts reaching 2.3 million followers and you get some idea for the scope of this effort and the payback in terms of visibility. There are Facebook pages for the consumer products, however these are a newer addition.

What should you consider when starting a blog?

I think Karen gives as good a criteria checklist as I’ve seen:

  • Do you have a lot of regular announcements?
  • Are you in a busy area with a lot of activity?
  • Do you have a lot of customers (eg. Gmail)?
  • Do you have a strong community of developers (maybe around an API)?

Karen also points out the notable exceptions where blogs can make sense. If you have an area where less frequent detailed stories may exist, this can still make sense for a blog. For instance a research department, or security team. In this case the content does not appear very often, but when it does, it tends to be deep. An external example of this is Clay Shirky. His posts are infrequent, but read like book chapters.

What are key parts of the content strategy?

While Karen points out her team tends to take a light touch approach and isn’t in the business of editing posts, she does give some content pointers that are used in training:

  • A good title is very important: especially as more people consume information on mobile devices and through channels other than directly visiting your web site
  • Use a consistent style (eg. around capitalization)
  • A post should have one designated author, even if it has been worked on by a team
  • If the message is global, think about translating the content
  • For product announcements, specify the availability
  • Offer the most useful links
  • Clearly mark any updates you make and don’t alter either the title or the timestamp

Closely related is the voice with which you write. Google relies on an informal tone (one person talking to another, rather than a company broadcast). The language should be clear and direct, peppered with examples and understandable real-world examples. If humor is used, make sure it is appropriate.

When should a blog be terminated?

Occasionally, it may not make sense to continue with a blog. It could be that the blog is not being updated, there is a new related blog that is more relevant, visitors have stopped coming or a project has been terminated. In these cases the blog should be shut down: a final post should be written as explanation, the blog removed from the public directory, but importantly, the blog should not be deleted. The posts should still be available on the web.

Do Google have official bloggers?

Whilst there are some in the organization who blog frequently (such as Matt Cutts), Google does not have official bloggers. Blogging is a part of the job description of some employees and others may be asked to create a blog post (a product engineer that comes up with a new gadget). Google prefers to go to the source of the story and have that person tell it, rather than have official blogger/journalist types.

Karen provided a great insight into how one of the world’s most successful companies makes blogging a cornerstone to its communications strategy.

More on this topic:

Interview with social media cartoonist extraordinaire Rob Cottingham: exposing humanity in a rapidly-evolving world

I first came across Rob Cottingham late one Friday afternoon a couple of months ago whilst looking for something off-topic to kick-start the weekend and was fascinated to find an artist talking in detail about his art (in this case, creating a lightbox from his Mac to trace up a cartoon).

Exploring further, I realized Rob’s witty penmanship is widely traveled, having appeared in such illustrious places as the Huffington Post and ReadWriteWeb, among others. More than just dissecting the relationship between our online and offline lives, Rob revels in placing social media tools and the social phenomena that surround them in unfamiliar situations. Like blogging on the battlefield. Hidden in these absurdist vignettes are nuggets of truth about ourselves and the way we now live:

(click on the image if you can’t read the punchline)

So, I decided to reach out to Rob across the Twitterverse and wonder of wonders, the affable artist agreed to answer my questions:

CagedEther: Why cartoons? When did you start drawing cartoons and where has your work appeared?

Rob: I’ve actually been cartooning since middle school, but after university it dwindled. For a while when I was working on Parliament Hill, I included cartoons in the material I produced in my communications work. But after that, there just didn’t seem to be a venue for it.

Then I started blogging, and after that launched our company, Social Signal. And a little into our second year of operation, I started to draw again – sometimes as a way of taking notes during meetings, but often drawing cartoons about them.

Finally, it dawned on me that I could start posting these. Alex, my wife and Social Signal co-founder, encouraged me to start cartoon-blogging on our company web site. And that’s how Noise to Signal began.

Since then, the cartoons have been blogged on every continent except Antarctica. And they’ve appeared on sites like ReadWriteWeb (where I do a weekly cartoon), the Huffington Post, Treehugger, PC World,, the Consumer Reports web site and

CagedEther: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Rob: Well, I spend so much of my day immersed in the social media world that it’s no surprise that’s my biggest source of ideas. Sometimes it’s the latest announcement or news, other times a trend I notice, and sometimes someone tweets something that starts the wheels turning. Alex will often suggest something, too, and you’ll see her credited for more than a few cartoons.

There’s also my background in communications and our own experience running a business. And some of the most resonant cartoons, for me anyway, come from parenting. A lot of the cartoons involve overlaying two of those worlds: parenting meets social media, for instance.

Then again, sometimes something just sticks in my head – wordplay especially. I’m watching The Sound of Music, hear “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” and think, “Okay… how would you solve that problem permanently?” And the result is a kind-of-gruesome cartoon.

One last thing, at the risk of being a little self-help-y: I’ll get inspiration from things I notice about my own behavior, especially online, that strike me as funny – things I’d probably like to change. You know, the way we sometimes waste time, or obsess over minor slights or meaningless metrics, or get swamped with email.

CagedEther: Is there anything you wouldn’t cover/parody?

Rob: Well, there’s the potential conflict involved in commenting on areas where my company has a client. So I try to steer clear of those or disclose my interests – mainly because I want to be fair to my readers as well as the client. So far, that hasn’t come up very often.

But I don’t touch racist, sexist or homophobic jokes. I don’t go in for shock humor, and I try not to belittle people – especially people who are suffering or especially vulnerable.

CagedEther: Any favorite subjects you constantly revisit?

Rob: I’m constantly surprised at how many of my cartoons have time-honored human traditions and the latest tech or business trends bumping up against each other. A mobster is getting whacked, and his killer tells him it’s just an iron-clad NDA. Maybe two people are making out on the sofa; how would augmented reality work with that?

And for someone who’s never really done the bar/pickup scene, I go to that well a whole lot in my cartoons.

CagedEther: Is being a cartoonist your main source of income? Do you have a day job?

Rob: Social Signal still accounts for the great majority of my professional life. Cartooning is starting to make a real contribution, though – reprints in books like Sociable!, for instance; I’m also selling cartoon prints, and I have a Zazzle store with mugs, cards and T-shirts.

And I’ve also launched a new service, cartoon-blogging for conferences and events – which really excites me, partly because it’s fun, partly because it’s unique and partly because I think it could make a big difference for conference organizers and participants alike. I love the thought of pioneering a whole new way of engaging with audiences.

CagedEther: You often send up bizarre uses of artifacts of the online world (eg. a Twitter handle) in the offline world. Do you personally have any issues keeping up with all the new and emerging technologies?

Rob: Me and the other six billion people on the planet! The truth is, you can’t do it. (My wife and Social Signal partner, Alexandra Samuel, had a great blog post about that on the Harvard Business Review site.) And once you stop trying to keep up with the digital Joneses, you’re a lot further ahead – because you’re free to focus your attention on the technologies that really make a difference to you, and to what you’re trying to accomplish in the world.

That said, I try to at least understand the big trends. And I’d be irresponsible if I didn’t keep tabs on the flavor of the month (if only to to be able to knowledgeably warn a client off). For instance, YouTube – I’m predicting it’s going to be huge.

CagedEther: What’s the most important channel for you to get your work out? Your blog? Facebook? Twitter?

Rob: The glib answer is “yes”. 🙂

The real answer is that each channel does its own job. My blog is a hub, tying it all together and providing a repository for everything I create. Facebook lets me create a community of users, and I get some really valuable feedback from people there. Twitter, though, is huge: I get a lot of response there, I have some great conversations, and I can tell very quickly which cartoons are striking a nerve.

The big surprise for me this year has been YouTube. I’ve branched out there, posting high-speed videos of my cartooning (there’s a virtue of working digitally – I can easily do screencasts as I draw), and a few seasonal cartoon collections for New Year’s and Valentine’s Day. The response is terrific.

CagedEther: Any tips for anyone out there wanting to use social media to promote their work?

Rob: The key is to see social media as something more than an advertising or broadcast tool, which is where I see a lot of people stumble. It’s a place where you build relationships and have conversations. And to the extent that your work can actually fuel those conversations – the way a cartoon can work well with a blog post, for example – you can have a big impact.

And be generous with your appreciation. You know, the word “fan” has taken on some unfortunate lord-and-serf overtones, but really, a fan is someone who follows what you’re doing because they really like your work. And in the social era, they’re absolutely critical. Let them know how much their encouragement and enthusiasm means to you.

One last thing – the work and the relationships come first. The “promotion” is secondary. Keep that in mind, and it’s hard to go too far wrong.


I added most of the links into this interview: Rob was far too modest to do so himself. I also amended to American English (‘humour’ to ‘humor’) – an odd task for an Englishman, but all in the interests of blog consistency. As Rob mentioned, to find out more, visit which links all his many presences across the web.

Current issues with B2B social media

Paul Gillin penned an excellent article on the rise of social media in the B2B space for the latest edition of B-to-B Online. As the veteran tech journalist points out, marketers are now showing a higher comfort level with using social media, as evidenced by the ‘Twitter and Facebook emblems sprouting up on business Web sites like dandelions in a summer field’! As Paul explains, both Twitter and LinkedIn work well for getting in front of a professional demographic whereas Facebook has huge mass appeal but often the communication is less work, more play.

Are some platforms more equal than others?

Paul points out how organizations like Forrester and IBM have built considerable fan bases on Facebook, however I’d argue whether these in many instances are as much about securing a brand URL and doing the minimum to make the page look ‘fresh’, as opposed to being part of a more concerted marketing effort. I would say the same thing applies to a lesser extent on LinkedIn – we don’t see too many case studies showing specific marketing benefit from running campaigns here (eg. around group management). This is where Twitter differs. Whilst you can easily just hook  a Twitter profile up to the RSS feed from your blog(s), there is a lot more interest from B2B marketers around developing a Twitter strategy with more meat on it. Why? I believe these are key reasons:

  • The 140 character limit makes it among the easiest of social media channels to maintain
  • As a result, proliferation of profiles across the organization can be well-maintained
  • The ease of setup means it fits well with the social media dictum: experiment and fail fast
  • Conversations tend to be business-focused
  • The platform works well for both community-building through message promotion
  • Easy integration with web and other properties through RSS/API

So whilst it’s obligatory to at least camp down in each major social media territory, this doesn’t necessarily equate to a high level of involvement. I’ve had discussions around the water cooler as to whether it even makes sense for us (in the B2B tech space) to be on Facebook.  I think we should be, but don’t have the answers around appropriate interaction on this platform).

Organizational challenge

One aspect that Paul doesn’t cover in much detail is a problem which tends to be magnified in larger organizations: how do you deliver a coherent message across all the various departments? For instance, let’s glance back to the wonderful Twitter. Marketing can use the platform to dish out special offers and converse with prospects. Support can take product-related questions. R&D can discuss newly-introduced features. PR feeds information to the major influencers. HR can advertise jobs. What happens when these interactions overlap? For instance, if that prospect trialling a product has a support question… or a major influencer starts talking to the R&D department, rather than PR. In a small organization, these cross-department interactions can be solved quickly by just peering over a cube and talking to your neighbor. As organizations get bigger, these roles tend to operate in virtual silos and it could be that a relevant organization is on the other side of the globe.

As more and more corporate communication moves into the social space, these problems will grow. I’d expect new roles to emerge (or existing ones to evolve) to deal with this. Currently, the social media manager role sits largely in the marketing function and is at least loosely tied to the number of leads generated from the web. The fact that a support question on Twitter goes unanswered for days is not of prime concern. Until, that is, it is picked up by an external blogger and becomes a PR/marketing issue.

Moreover, we’re yet to see the kind of workflow tools we need to ensure that all queries or issues are followed up on.  Some blogging clients like CoTweet have introduced some of this functionality, but we’ve some way to go to allow these tools to be integrated fully into the organization.

HR paranoia

As Paul rightly points out, there is much head-scratching in the legal and HR departments around these tools which effectively allow employees to have  a much stronger influence on the brand. Whilst most organizations cannot logistically monitor the firehose of social media content generated by their staff, there is an emerging market for technologies which at least help isolate problem spots. For instance, Social Sentry from Teneros claims to lessen corporate risk around compliance, legal exposure, brand damage and HR issues, amongst other things.

Wanna be starting something

In terms of the lifecycle of social media in the B2B space, we’re seeing evolution out of the hype/evangelism stage to the point where we need strategies that integrate social media into our business processes. Personally, I think social media has the power to warp these processes into a form completely different to what we have today (much like the effect web marketing has had on direct marketing).

However, the only way to get to this stage is to build and iterate. Test different platforms and tools. Look at what you can and can’t measure. See what level of organizational involvement you can secure. The clarion call remains the same: get out there and get involved!

More referrals from social media than from search?

There’s a startling assumption buried as a throwaway comment on this post from TechCrunch on Google Buzz’s recent arrival. Apparently, links shared on social networks have been growing to the extent that the mighty Goog is concerned that this phenomenon could start taking eyeballs away from all those juicy paid search ads that keep the lights on at the Googleplex. Is there any validity to this claim? It appears so, if these data points are to be believed:

The Big Money: According to, Google lags behind Facebook in driving traffic to major portals like Yahoo, AOL and MSN.

Silicon Alley Insider: This report last year claimed 19% of Google traffic came from Facebook (and that number is growing). As you can see below, Facebook is rapidly gaining ground on Google. Golden question is what proportion of this audience are clicking on links taking them out of the blue-walled garden and into the wider web?

Anecdotally, I’ve heard on the web manager grapevine that a larger proportion of traffic appears to be coming from social media – eating into the portion of the pie previously reserved for traditional search engines. Another indication of this is the number and attendance of social search sessions at major SEO events like SES.

What does this mean? Whoever owns the largest share of our life streams (the current killer app of social media) enjoys the strongest visibility and all the financial frills that follow. Also, given that we show strong signs of adopting a crowd mentality when being ‘social’ online, the chances of the market fragmenting look slim. We will all congeal our content around a handful of platforms (if that) at the top of this lucrative pile.

And then there’s all those paychecks tied to Google’s golden egg – here I’m thinking more of the huge search marketing industry that has risen up over the last 10 years. Skill sets will shift away from the technical aspects of SEO (goodbye masters of canonical URLs and 301 redirects) to more touchy-feely PR (hello reputation managers and online community builders). Key concepts in SEO are still relevant, like creating modular topic-based content, but there will be some shifts. Rather than looking for links from authoritative sites, we’ll need to understand more about who are the authoritative figures in a network.

Where will Google be in all of this? It looks like the search giant is hedging its bets with the launch of Gmail Buzz: a lifestreaming service that sits atop the versatile Gmail email client. The future is looking distinctly social.

Engaging a social media agency? SMG provides template questions

Those far-reaching tentacles of Shel and Neville over at the FIR Podcast picked up an informative new document from the Social Media Group titled ‘Social Media RFP Template’.  As more and more agencies from across the marketing spectrum (and in particular SEO and PR) now offer social media services, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

Apart from dealing with the obvious stuff you’d cover with any agency engagement, such as agency background and their past experience in this area, the RFP also covers the following areas:

  • Integration of social media across marketing/communications functions
  • Social media channels employed
  • Reputation management and social media monitoring
  • Establishing social media profiles
  • Influencer outreach
  • Crisis management
  • Social media training
  • Compliance with legal requirements
  • Metrics and measurement

I’d say this list is equally valid if you are in the situation of having to prepare a job description for a social media manager or associated role.

Download the report

SMG also run the hugely popular Social Media Today blog aggregator. If you write in this space, you should definitely hook up your blog!

How businesses are using Twitter: Hubspot webinar and report

In their latest report on the State of the Twitterverse, the Hubspot team note that most posts occur on a Thursday and Friday, with the most common time for posting being between the hours of 10-11pm. This would suggest that a significant amount of Twitter activity is generated outside of the workplace.

So, how do businesses make the most of this medium for their purposes?

This Thursday, Hubspot will be running a webinar addressing this subject. Registration details:

Title: How Businesses are using Twitter
Time: Thursday, January 21, 2010, 1:00 PM ET
Register now

Unfortunately I have a prior commitment so won’t be able to attend but hopefully will be able to catch up with what happens on Twitter. 😉

Tweetdeck introduces new features including Directory

Tweetdeck, one of the most popular Twitter desktop clients, has recently rolled out a new edition which now features a directory of Twitterers to follow. Topics include ‘Sports News’, ‘Environment’, ‘Technology’, ‘Business & Marketing’ amongst others.

The service is particularly useful for newer users of Twitter who are still trying to figure out the technology: the directory makes it easy to instantly follow top Tweeters in these fields. This is how the Tweetdeck team describe the service:

Think of it as a TV Guide for Twitter channels.  Simply browse the directory by topic.  You’ll find everything from music to news and sports to travel.  When you find the perfect group for you simply click ‘Add to TweetDeck’ and the column will magically appear in your TweetDeck.

There are a few pieces to this which I’m still not clear on, such as who decided which profiles are included in the directory and whether this will be updated over time. At a stretch you could say this directory gives a competitive advantage to those listed on it.

There are a bunch of other new features in this release including enhanced Facebook posting and support. So if you haven’t already, download the latest version and see why Tweetdeck is the most popular Twitter client out there.