Can you make money from your Twitter stream? Mack Collier just did it.

Very quietly, a significant milestone occurred last Sunday night.  Blogger and consultant Mack Collier monetized a Twitter conversation.  That’s right.  Mack made money from other people’s tweets on a free and public platform.  I think this is one of the most clever and interesting social media stories of the year and Mack agreed to tell us about it in this interview.

Mack, I noticed on your well-known #blogchat that you had a sponsor for the first time.  What an achievement for you! How did it come about?

A couple of months ago I was thinking that there is SO much that I would love to do to help grow the #Blogchat community.  For example, I would love to start a blog devoted to #Blogchat, and I have transcripts from over 40 previous #Blogchats that I would love to share with everyone.  But I just don’t have time to do these things as I am trying to grow my own consulting business at the same time.

That’s when I started toying with the idea of bringing on sponsors.  Because if I could start getting some money coming in from sponsors, then I could justify spending more time and money on growing the #Blogchat community.

You noted that most of the feedback has been positive so far. How do you intend to salt in other sponsors in the future

Honestly, there may never be another sponsored #Blogchat.  The main reason why is because I am going to be extremely picky about the sponsored topics, and making sure that potential sponsors can speak to those topics. For the first sponsored #Blogchat last Sunday with Grant from Headway, it made perfect sense.  Picking a blog theme/template is a topic that #Blogchatters have asked about before, and Grant could speak to it better than I could.  Plus it was a great chance for him to get exposure to hundreds of potential customers.

So it was a win-win for everyone.  #Blogchatters get an expert covering a topic they were interested in, and the sponsor gets exposure and access to hundreds of potential customers.

But at the end of the day, I want sponsored #Blogchats to be as close to a ‘regular’ #Blogchat as possible.  If someone can join a sponsored #Blogchat in the middle and recognize it as being sponsored, then I have done something wrong.

Obviously the sponsor was attracted to #Blogchat because of the high number of targeted clients you attract each week. I’m amazed at how quickly this little property has taken off. What’s been the secret?

I don’t know if there is one “secret.”  Two things I have done that have really helped #Blogchat:

1 – I’ve encouraged EVERYONE to join.  I’ve always been of the mindset that the more participants in a conversation, the better.  And that might sound like it could be confusing, but what happens with #Blogchat is that everyone comes in under a certain topic, but as the #Blogchat progresses, this small cluster of people will start talking about this particular aspect of the larger topic, and this small cluster will talk about a slightly different take on the same topic.

I view it as a large coffeehouse where everyone is talking about the same topic, but each table is having a slightly different take on the larger topic.  So you mingle and find the conversation that’s right for you, and join in!

And I am relentless about welcoming new people to #Blogchat.  I want people to feel welcome joining and understand that there are NO experts allowed, we are all coming to learn from each other.  People respect and appreciate that, I think.

2 – I give #Blogchatters as much say into the topics as I can.  For example, one of the most popular #Blogchats are the monthly OPEN MIC chats that happen the last Sunday of every month.  This started as a complete accident.  One Sunday nite I couldn’t join #Blogchat, and I really didn’t want to cancel it because I didn’t want to disappoint everyone.  So my only option was to make it open mic, meaning everyone that joined #Blogchat picked whatever topic they wanted to talk about.

I honestly thought it would be a complete disaster, but it ended up going pretty well.  What I loved was that some of the regulars took it upon themselves to ‘police’ the group and let them know what the deal was for that #Blogchat.  The session was so popular that I asked everyone if they’d like to do an OPEN MIC #Blogchat every month and they overwhelmingly said they would, so we added it.

How long has it taken to bring #Blogchat to this point?  Do you have other ideas on how to further develop and promote #Blogchat as a brand?

The first #Blogchat was March 22, 2009.  Here’s the recap post I did the next day.

As for ideas, as I mentioned above, I’d love to get a #Blogchat blog started, and have that be more a space for the #Blogchat regulars to post, more than me.  And I really want to get these transcripts up and let others have access to them, and I’d also like to make an ebook or two with the best insights from some of our amazing co-hosts, and give that away to participants.

Personally I find it difficult to follow a Twitter chat because of the multiple, concurrent conversation streams. What advice would you give people to participate effectively in Twitter chats, especially as your audience grows?

Yeah that’s the one thing about #Blogchat that I hear the most “complaints” about.  It just moves too damn fast for a lot of people to keep up with.

Personally, I use TweetChat,com to keep up with #Blogchat.  One neat feature of Tweetchat is that you can “”eature’ tweets from a user, which means Tweetchat will add a colored band around their tweets which makes it very easy to see them as the flood of tweets passes by.

Another good idea, especially if the chat has a co-host, is to follow in Tweetdeck, and create one columns for all #Blogchat tweets, then another for the co-hosts’ tweets, and probably another for the host’s tweets.  I know many on #Blogchat use TweetGrid as well.

Thanks for relating this story of your success, Mack. How can people find you on the web?

You can find me at my site – http://www.mackcollier.com or on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mackcollier.

And I’d like to invite all your readers to check out #Blogchat, it happens every Sunday nite starting at 8pm Central.  Thanks Mark!

Twitter success stories: Explaining the ROI of Twitter

Measurement and ROI are constant themes in the social media world.  How do you PROVE the value of Twitter?  Like most questions in business, the answer is, “it depends,”  but I’d like to offer a couple practical ideas that might help you when this inevitably comes up at your company.

First, let’s establish a crucial point. There are MANY benefits to Twitter besides direct sales.  You might gain information, competitive intelligence, insight,  a new supplier or partner, publicity, brand awareness, an idea, customer insights, and yes, even a potential customer.  And while all of these are great, most are intangible and difficult to display in an Excel spreadsheet!  So why keep trying to do it?

As a small business owner, I don’t find it necessary to formally calculate the ROI (even though it may be possible) because the value I am receiving is instinctive and self-regulating. I have precious little time, so I better get something big out of Twitter if I am going to devote time to it.  Like any investment in time or money, if I don’t realize a benefit, I will pull back.

It gets more difficult for a larger business that is conditioned to run on data and not the entrepreneurial instinct of doing something because you KNOW it works or because it “rocks.”  That simply doesn’t fly in a board room.  And yet spending time and money trying to quantify some of the intangible business benefits can be a complete waste of time.

So how do you break the ice?  When benefits are difficult to quantify, the best way to explain the value is through a story.

For most experienced business people, hearing a compelling story of Twitter success can be just as effective as a pie chart. Once somebody understands how the networking works and the RANGE of business benefits that exist beyond money, it’s easy to make the decision to give it a chance.  And once they try it, they’re usually hooked!

At least that’s the way it has worked for me. Why keep fretting over measuring something that can’t be easily measured?  Just show them.

Another useful tactic is the pilot program. People get nervous about commitment.  Just tell your boss you want to test it for six months. Then week by week, pass along the stories as the tangible and intangible benefits accrue. Or, perhaps they won’t.  Then you can kill the thing gracefully and still get a good performance review.

I’m a data and measurement junkie. But I can also see many companies stumbling around trying to calculate their return on investment while their competitors are establishing a social media foothold.

Balance.  Common sense.  Qualitative measures like stories. Try new approaches to measuring value if traditional methods are difficult.

Would this work in your organization?

If you’re interested in learning more about qualitative measurement, these articles will be helpful to you:

Social media measurement: sometimes a picture is worth a thousand tweets

Three reasons why the experts are wrong about social media measurement

Is social media creating a generation of cowards?

I’ve been asked about my perspective on Malcom Gladwell’s article, “Small change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted.”  My take on it may surprise you … and provide uncomfortable reading if you are a parent or social media junkie.

Social media and leadership

Mr. Gladwell is a master storyteller, but usually starts with the history of fire to make his point so I will summarize his premise:

Social media will not be the agent of social change that many say it will be because it is built on a network of weakly-connected links and lacks a central leadership structure.  He compares the passive changes built on social networks with the risky and courageous acts needed to confront racism in the U.S. in the 1960s.

His article prompted quite a backlash, including a lengthy article on Mashable with illustrations of social good created through the web.

Perhaps I am the only blogger around who agrees with Mr. Gladwell.  And, in fact, I will take the story even a step further.  Not only do I think the social web is incapable of enabling significant social revolution, it is probably conditioning young people out of the leadership and communication skills they need to lead — or follow — any change at all that requires personal risk.

The end of human social skills?

Here’s a small illustration of what I mean.

Recently a teen-aged girl I know met a new guy and started dating.  He came over to her house, dropped off a CD she wanted to borrow and then left the house five minutes later to go home and have a Facebook conversation with her into the morning hours. They dated for a short time and when he broke up with her (over Facebook-induced jealousy) it was via cellphone.  Not talking — texting.   She said he preferred to argue this way because the delay in response while text-messaging afforded him the opportunity to think of a snide remark. When his Facebook relationship status changed to “single,” a whole new round of nasty claims and counter-claims were levied — to the world, on status updates.

Here is a young couple using technology to avoid the small amount of personal courage it takes to even have a phone call.   The loss of an ability to communicate or even relate to humans in a face-to-face environment is not a mere observation but the subject of a growing body of research.

Susan Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at the University of Oxford, said we are “enthusiastically embracing the erosion of our identity” through social networking sites.  She said children using these sites can  lose sight of where their personalities finish and the outside world begins.

She further claimed that sense of identity is being eroded by “fast-paced, instant screen reactions,” so that the next generation will define themselves by the responses of others instead of their own self-worth.

The neuroscientist even testified before Parliament that “Social network sites risk infantalizing the mid-21st century mind, leaving it characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize and a shaky sense of identity.”

In other words, we may be creating a generation of insecure cowards.

The toxic childhood

Greenfield referred to one subject as saying they had 900 friends, and the fact “that you can’t see or hear other people makes it easier to reveal yourself in a way that you might not be comfortable with. You become less conscious of the individuals involved (including yourself), less inhibited, less embarrassed and less concerned about how you will be evaluated.”

Educational psychologist Jane Healy believes children should be kept away from computer games until they are seven. Most games only trigger the ‘flight or fight’ region of the brain, rather than the vital areas responsible for reasoning.

Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, writes about “screen saturation” eroding basic social skills.  “We are seeing children’s brain development damaged because they don’t engage in the activity they have engaged in for millennia.”

Greenfield warned: “It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations. We know that the human brain is exquisitely sensitive to the outside world.”

Generation Farmville

The Mashable article misses the point, or perhaps avoids it. Undoubtedly lots of social good can be accomplished with a Paypal account and a “like” button.  That is all wonderful and I love to read those stories.  But what Gladwell is saying, and what I am expanding upon, is that a systematic re-conditioning of our children is occurring.  They could be losing the very behaviors required to participate in dramatic social change.

Hopefully, we will always have individuals willing to lead.  But will we raise a generation of children courageous enough to  follow?  Courageous enough to risk criticism, risk a reputation —  or even a life — in the name of truly revolutionary change?

Dramatic social change — like Gladwell’s example of confronting racism — takes leading and motivating followers to make a real sacrifice.  Can this still happen in the Farmville Generation?

An open letter to France

Dear Country of France,

I’ve crawled around your country about a dozen times over the years and each visit has been filled with beauty, culture, history and fine food.

But I have to ask … How did you become such a great nation with such lousy bacon?

Indeed, I believe the foundation of  American’s strength — not to mention its girth — is fortified by its wonderful bacon.  As an act of selfless diplomacy, I’d like to suggest that I can help you out in this area.

Bacon provides important nutrients from the five basic food groups: salt, sugar, fat, cholesterol and pork.  Hence, it is Nature’s Most Perfect Food.  In fact, I think the only food that rivals bacon in nutritional value is Beer Nuts. You can probably skip those, however.

With the global financial crisis and political controversies you’re facing, I believe a good slab of bacon would effectively distract your foes and delight French citizens. Who would not be much happier with a nice plate of thick-cut, maple-smoked bacon?

Now I know you have a lot of national pride and are probably thinking you can establish your own bastion of bacon. Forget about it.  Our technology is far too advanced.  Let us help you get over the learning curve and ship you a couple of truck loads.  Don’t worry, we have plenty to go around.

I await your call.

Your friend,

Mark

P.S.   If you are a new reader or otherwise confused, this is meant to be humorous.  At least to me.

Illustration: zazzle.co.uk  I can’t believe I found this picture. Damn the Internet is great.
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