Holy Twitter

preacher at the pulpitA New York Times article on religious broadcasters and Twitter misses a fairly big point while offering insight to “Twitter Dynamos, Offering Word of God’s Love.”

Joyce Meyer, Max Lucado and Andy Stanley were not well known inside Twitter’s offices. But they had all built loyal ranks of followers well beyond their social networks — they were evangelical Christian leaders whose inspirational messages of God’s love perform about 30 times as well as Twitter messages from pop culture powerhouses like Lady Gaga.

This may be a bulletin to the Times and the good folks at Twitter, but it shouldn’t be a surprise whatsoever to anybody.

Evangelical Christians have long been at the forefront of any technological means that furthers their evangelical ends. Two of the twelve transponders on RCA’s first (Satcom 1) satellite were owned by religious groups, including Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. The Christian Church is the penultimate one-to-many institution, whether it’s inside the worship hall or via the airwaves. Nobody “gets” mass marketing or the art of fundraising like these people do; it is their stock and trade.

This is the church.
This is the steeple,
Open it up
And see all the people.

When hologram transmission becomes a reality later this century, mark my words: Evangelicals will be right there.

The point that I want to note is that people who view Twitter or any form of social media completely as one-to-many miss its “social” reality. This is true of media, celebrities, politicos, athletes or, yes, the Evangelicals. It’s one thing to use it as a form of mass media, but the smart innovators know that who you follow is more important than who follows you. This is not, nor will it ever be what Evangelicals want or use Twitter for. It’s all about promoting their own ministries through blessing their followers with inspirational quotes.

“Pastors tell me, Twitter is just made for the Bible,” (Twitter’s) Ms. Díaz-Ortiz said.

It’s close. On average, verses in the King James Version are about 100 characters long, leaving room to slip in a #bible hashtag and still come in under the 140-character limit.

And proverbs are powerful draws on Twitter.

Religion, like every other institution in the West is being challenged by young (and older) people with a much more postmodern view than their parents’ generation practiced. Top-down or one-to-many fits Modernist thinking, which includes a God-to-us-through-the-church perspective. Postmodernists prefer the concept of God among us, the Holy Spirit. The term “postmodern” is often substituted as “postChristian,” and this is a part of the same cultural disruption that everyone is facing.

I’ve always been a fan of the question “What would Jesus do?” because the answers are rarely what the coiners of the phrase intended. Since Jesus’ ministry was in and among the suffering, the poor and the afflicted, one must ask whether the ministry of “blessing the saints” is what Twitter could or even should represent to Christians. Perhaps one day the New York Times will write about a new ministry that monitors Twitter for signs of distress or suffering among the people of the world — and then rushes in to provide relief.

No, wait. Along with a giant, corporate groan among all these folks, I also hear faint sounds of, cough-cough, well Terry, cough-cough, that’s just not my ministry.

Driving traffic (that doesn’t want the ride)

Nobody wants to be drivenThe new Pew study revealing that media companies use Twitter almost exclusively for spreading links to their own content comes as no surprise.

…mainstream news organizations primarily use Twitter to move information and push content to readers. For these organizations, Twitter functions as an RSS feed or headline service for news consumers, with links ideally driving traffic to the organization’s website.

Back when Twitter first came along, I predicted that media companies would immediately become big users, because they could easily see it’s one-to-many functionality. It’s what we know and what we practice. The strategy became:

  1. Get a lot of followers
  2. Feed them breaking news and weather
  3. Feed them promotional content
  4. Feed them stories, many stories
  5. Put a link in everything

Twitter is a terrific notification system, so it’s hard to blame media companies for this practice, but it points to a serious weakness that media has today: its mission can’t help but come across as hypocritical. What appears to be one of disseminating information and being society’s watchdog is actually a commercial mission to make money. There’s nothing inherently evil about that, but think about it. If influencing public life is the goal, then readership is what matters, and there are many ways to efficiently deliver unbundled content via the Web. When forcing people to read our content within our infrastructure, then it’s clear that monetizing that content is more important than anything else.

Using Twitter this way is easy, but it’s also lazy and sells short a tool for newsgathering and news dissemination. When I talk to clients about Twitter, the stumbling block question is always “How many people do YOU follow?” The answer is simple — none or very few. This means that Twitter is to them, in fact, nothing more than a notification system.

However, some individual employees of news organizations use Twitter in a myriad of ways, including to participate in its unique discussions. These employees seem aware of the new reality that their personal brands are everything in the world that’s ahead, so they participate in social media. These smart people may include links to their work as well, but that isn’t necessarily the sole purpose of their accounts. It gets very tricky for some media companies when they try to control the personal accounts of employees, because they cling to the notification system paradigm and the ethical (and profitable) mechanism of an opinion-less stage.

Twitter is also very useful on mobile device, so the practice of only spreading links — that then lead to a fully-packed website and not an HTML5 landing page — is ultimately self-defeating. This is a different playing field with different rules, and we risk our own relevancy by insisting that it’s best used to drive traffic to our advertiser-fed websites.

And nobody ever asked to be driven to such a place in the first place.

Why I’m abandoning TechCrunch and Techmeme

Farewell TechCrunch and TechmemeI’m separating myself from two old friends today, and it’s pretty painful. TechCrunch and Techmeme have both served me well over the years, keeping me informed on the cutting edge of news in the tech sphere. I can honestly say that these two websites have played a major role in my knowledge level, and I will miss them.

However, I can’t keep up with either. My RSS reader is overwhelmed with the stuff they crank out, most of which, frankly, is completely useless reading.

There is this belief in media that more is better. More produces more page views, and page views produce revenue, and so it goes. But this strategy disrespects customers, because I simply don’t have the time to keep up. And rather than stare at 100 unread items a day from each, I find myself simply marking them all as read and moving on.

Twitter is more than capable of keeping me connected with what’s really important.

I’m not sure if there’s an answer. Perhaps if Michael Arrington would personally oversee a specific RSS feed of “important” content, I would subscribe to that, but as of this morning, I’ve dropped both of these sites, along with The Inquistr, from my RSS reader.

Maybe it’s a sign of changing times. I don’t know. The only thing I do know is that time is the real scarcity in the life of any consumer today, and tactical revenue maneuvers designed to capture more of that scarcity cannot possibly win in the long run.

Farewell, old friends. Farewell.

Twitter handles should be personal brands

your personal brand is everythingWhen the BBC’s chief political correspondent jumped ship to work for a competitor last week, she took her 60,000 Twitter followers with her, and that has raised a few eyebrows in media circles. UK blogger Tom Callow made what I believe is an incorrect assumption when he wrote:

On Thursday 21 July, the BBC lost 60,000 Twitter followers when Laura Kuenssberg renamed her @BBCLauraK account to @ITVLauraK.

Callow wrote that the BBC has an ownership claim on that Twitter account, and suggested that those followers were interested in the views of the BBC’s chief political correspondent,” not ITV’s.

Twitter followers aren’t names in an address book. They are more like subscribers to a blog. We must remember that Twitter is precisely that: a microblogging service. Whilst the microblogs of BBC correspondents are running off Twitter’s servers, the BBC is controlling what tweets go out and must be able to stake a claim on the ownership of each official account — not least because they are now promoted so prominently on screen during news bulletins and even shows like Newsnight and Question Time.

Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman advanced the story, and asked the essential question, “Are people following the person — or the content the person represents?” Cory also smartly suggests that, contrary to what Callow thinks, Twitter does function in important ways like an address book.

This is a very important issue for media companies to get right, because in the world of personal media, personal brands are what matters. People follow people, not institutions, and if we try to practice the opposite, we’re likely to end up without any followers at all. This is why I think Callow is misinformed, because he’s viewing Kuenssberg’s (or any reporter’s) use of Twitter from an entirely old school business perspective.

People jumping ship and taking their followers with them is a necessary part of business in the 21st Century. The way to stop it is to make employment with you so attractive that there’s no incentive to switch, but if and when it does happen, the “loss” of those followers is simply a cost of doing business today. I would argue that we don’t really lose anything when that happens anyway, because to think otherwise underestimates both people and the ease with which technology allows them to change, too.

Moreover, we want to actually encourage the growth of personal brands among our employees. Why? Because without it, there’s no incentive for them to use social media 24/7 in the execution of their jobs. If we “own” those accounts, then we must pay people to use them, and that means on company time. Don’t think so? Press the issue and see how far it goes in the courts. No, we’re MUCH smarter to help individuals grow their brands with the quid pro quo being that they will use their brands to the furtherance of our business while our employees. We gain from their brands, which can include all forms of social media, blogging, personal events and appearances, and anything else they do with “their” brands, as long as they are our employees. When that ends, the cross-promotion ends, and that’s the way it should be.

Don’t think this is viable? Ask Arianna Huffington.

Individual people can go places that institutions can’t, and if we limit that in the name of protecting “our” assets, we effectively limit the potential that goes with it. We can’t have it both ways, folks.

Media companies, especially television stations, seem to hyper-react whenever somebody leaves. Their bios are immediately removed from websites with no explanation, and on-air goodbyes are often completely missing, depending on the reasons for departure. We do this despite that fact that it’s an affront to our audiences, who’ve gotten to know these people during the years of their service. Social media changes that dynamic, because true fans can follow them wherever they go. This is a good thing, I think, and another reason why my advice to any active or budding news person is to use their own name as their Twitter handle and not associate it with any media outlet.

Media companies who insist that call letters, for example, be included in Twitter accounts miss the point of social media by assuming it’s simply a way to extend their brands. Why we do this is a mystery, for the online world is not the airwaves; there are far more than four or five antennas in the ground here.

Dallas celebrates – local media misses an opportunity

This is a story about the value of the hashtag, that little Twitter phenomenon that everybody seems to get except media companies. Nobody seems to understand that Twitter will sell you a hashtag, which gets you an ad with a link at the top of the display on whatever software is being used to view Twitter searches. This is a significant opportunity for anybody, but especially for media companies covering a big event.

The Mavs sing 'We are the champions' from the balcony of the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Photo courtesy AP via the Denver Post

We had ourselves a huge (300,000 people estimated) public celebration this morning of the Dallas Mavericks victory in the NBA Finals, and it all began with a little parade. The hashtag #mavsparade was jumping with constant tweets from those attending the celebration. As a big Mavs fan, I sat here and watched live coverage on TV, but it was monitoring that hashtag that really allowed me to “feel” the event itself, to participate in the celebration. People put up pictures and videos and made wonderful comments. I’m not sure who originated the hashtag, but the local media companies blew a fleeting opportunity by not paying to sponsor the thing.

During the revolution in Egypt, Al Jazeera English bought the hashtag “#egypt. That meant they controlled the top of that hashtag. Here’s how it looked:

Al Jazeera English uses Twitter

Al Jazeera English had a problem with reach in the U.S. It’s only available in three cities here. By employing this strategy — and by consistently delivering high quality content on the ground — the company’s online live stream jumped 2,500% in a matter of days, and they’ve become a major global player in the news industry. Al Jazeera English used Twitter to report the news, position itself as the authority on the hashtag and drive viewers to its livestream. It was, frankly, brilliant strategy.

Media companies here use Twitter as a notification system, and it’s great for that. But it also affords opportunities for good old fashioned marketing, if we can think and move quickly. But isn’t that the real challenge for news organizations these days anyway, to be nimble, fleet of foot, adaptive and flexible?

So the celebration here in Dallas is over, and it’s been a lot of fun for the fans. To the media companies here in Dallas: store this missed opportunity away for some other day. It’ll come in handy.

Make it easy for me, please

In my morning reading, I once again came across something that is increasingly causing me frustration: having to research a writer’s Twitter handle in order to do them the favor of advancing a link of their work. Not only does this make me angry; it’s also damned foolish.

Here’s the article in question. It’s by Julie Moos of Poynter. Yes, THAT Poynter, a place that certainly should know better. I don’t follow Julie on Twitter, so I don’t know what handle she uses (turns out it’s @juliemmoos). I thought the article was worth passing along to others, but I wasn’t able to give @Julie the link love she deserved, because I didn’t have the time to look it up.

Poynter's automated sharingBut here’s what bites: why should I have to? If Twitter is so important to creating inbound links for content, why aren’t we making it as easy as possible for people to do just that? No, that’s not precise, for many media companies — Poynter included — automate the process (see the image to the right).

They do so, however, by tying the tweet to the company without mentioning the writer. This may seem like a good branding practice, but it disrespects best practices for the medium itself. It’s just one of many ways companies refuse to acknowledge the importance of personal branding, and that needs to change. I want to promote Julie, and in so doing, promote Poynter. That’s the way it works, folks, and I, for one, am tired of looking up Twitter handles when those who stand to gain should do it for me.

(Note: My Twitter handle appears at the bottom of every post here.)