Using Twitter As a Tool

December 16, 2008

Guy Kawasaki has a great post on the power of Twitter. It’s full of good advice on using Twitter for more than your typical friend updates, complete with useful links.

This post comes at a valuable time for me as I get more seriously into Twitter myself. I’ve been following Twitter’s development since its inception, and have had an account for some time, but I never really took advantage of it. At first I saw it as one more way to communicate inane comments about day-to-day trivia. Incidentally, in his post, Guy talks about this exact use of Twitter, saying:

If the concept of using Twitter in a commercial manner interests you, keep reading. If it doesn’t, then you can continue to send and receive tweets about how cats are rolling over and the line at Starbucks.

But as the use of Twitter’s matured–along with social media in general–it’s real power as a tool is becoming clearer.

Just yesterday there was a post on VentureBeat about how Twitter has made Dell $1million. And I managed to come across this story because of a person I follow on Twitter–Ann Handley of the fantastic MarketingProfs.

Internal communications I think is one area where Twitter–or perhaps better yet,  a corporate Twitter-like tool like Yammer–would really shine. Even small organizations typically suffer from internal communications challenges, and integrating a tool like this has the potential to really break down barriers.


BC Government Tries to Ignite a Spark with Staff

December 8, 2008
Hompage of Spark

Homepage of Spark

The BC Government launched a new social media Intranet site last week called Spark. The site is meant as a place for staff to share ideas with colleagues which can then be voted on by other users of the site. Of course comments are enabled, allowing for some development of a particular idea within the context of its post.

While I’m actively participating in the site I’m left wondering how effective it will be in the long term. It’s being pitched as a Web 2.0 site for government employees, and it’s an encouraging step in that direction. But in my use so far, I’m not sure there’s enough there to get users coming back and continually participating. Possibly out of pure curiosity staff might return to check in on what ideas are being posted. But it’s lacking a mechanism for building community.

For example, I posted an idea about trying to get similar-minded communications and web workers in government to

Spark post page

Spark post page

come together to share ideas, best practices, etc. My idea was “voted” a few times and garnered a few comments. Okay, not bad. Then today I noticed that my idea had been given the status of “Run with it,” which, in the scheme of the Spark site means the administrators have looked at my idea and have given me the go-ahead to move forward since it doesn’t technically require any input or immediate support from them for me to make it a reality (it’s not like I’m suggesting government change a financial policy or something).

But now I feel suddenly alone. There’s no mechanism–at least from what I’ve been able to discover–for me to use the Spark site, or even the broader government intranet site in general, to move forward with my idea. If I’m interested in pursuing things, I need to go back to more traditional means, like email, to setup a connection with the people who commented on my idea. This seems like a big flaw in the system.

If an idea gets the go-ahead, it would be great to suddenly be given a space within the Spark site to collaborate. Possibly a wiki tool, for example, so that interested parties can begin sharing ideas in a centralized collaborative space. This is especially important given the government’s broad user base. Users could be anywhere in the province of British Columbia! I’m assuming those who commented on my idea are in Victoria, but they may not necessarily be here. And even if they are, my physical office is located out at the relatively remote Selkirk Waterfront, far enough from the hub of downtown Victoria to make quick meetings impractical.

So extending the purely idea-based structure of Spark into a place where the ideas themselves can begin to take form would make it much more useful, and give it more of the Web 2.0 credibility I think the site creators might have been shooting for.

However, I’m encouraged by this development, and will continue to follow it to see just how far one good idea can go.

Dan Pink’s Latest Book: Johnny Bunko

April 26, 2008

Dan Pink, best-selling author of A Whole New Mind (a great book, by the way) has a new book out, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. To promote it he has produced the fantastic video trailer above. This is creative, beautiful stuff. Based on this video, and on Garr Reynold‘s distillation of the book in presentation format (see below), I’ve got a copy of the book coming. I can’t wait.

Dodging the Email Tsunami

April 19, 2008

I’m always interested in articles that deal with managing email, since it seems to be the scourge of modern life. Staying on top of email is a daily struggle, and I’ve known a number of people who have “intentionally by accident” marked their entire inbox as “read” so that they could start fresh. That’s been a tempting thought to me a few times, but recently I managed to scramble to the top of my pile–I won’t even mention how many emails were sitting there unread. It took quite a few hours of effort, spread over many days, but my inbox is back under control.

I’m curious about one suggestion the article proposes, about keeping your email program off except for two scheduled times a day. I’ve heard of that strategy before, and never implemented it, since I thought it was not realistic. But I think perhaps it is, and I think I’m going to make myself a guinea pig to this method. I will set up some time in the morning and the afternoon–I’ll even book it in my calendar–and I will attend to whatever email comes at the allotted time, otherwise it waits.

Will it work? Who knows. I’ll find out. But I’m anticipating it being a challenge to colleagues and our collective reliance on email as an immediate communications tool. People often expect a response ASAP. Management sends a missive with immediate instructions, or alerts of one kind or another are distributed via email with the expectation that people are reading them within seconds. I’m curious about the consequences of being out of the loop for a few hours at a time. It may turn out to be minor, but I could imagine for some people it might be more dramatic. I will follow up with my results.

The Dip–Should I Stay or Should I Go?

March 21, 2008

The Dip, by Seth GodinI’ve recently finished reading marketing guru Seth Godin‘s latest book, The Dip. It’s a quick read. Which I’d say is a plus, since it really felt like an extended blog post, and not always in a positive way.

The book is basically about quitting. Godin’s premise is that you need to figure out if a project you’re working on, or even your job or career, is worth doing any more. The “dip” in The Dip refers to the low point you might find yourself in as you struggle to work through some challenge. For example, if you just got a new guitar, you’re likely excited to learn how to play it; you’re motivated, hyped and very keen. But as time marches on, you begin to realize that learning the guitar takes some effort: bingo! You’re in the dip. The only question now is, do you trudge through and become proficient or do you abandon the effort altogether?

I had really high hopes when I started this book. And there were a few highlights. A few sections spoke to me–personally and professionally–but mostly the book felt disorganized and random. It bounced around from concept to concept, with a quick-cut style that at best felt forced–and actually it felt copied (see below for what I mean).*

One section I found I enjoyed was “Quitting as an Intelligent Strategy.” Here Godin tells a story of Doug, a good employee who has, after more than a decade with his company, plateaued.

Doug needs to leave for a very simple reason. He’s been branded. Everyone at the company has an expectation of who Doug is and what he can do. He’s not going to be challenged, pushed, or promoted to president. Doug, regardless of what he could actually accomplish, has stopped evolving–at least in the eyes of the people who matter. If he leaves and joins another company, he gets to reinvent himself. No one in the new company will remember young Doug from ten years ago. No, they’ll treat Doug as the new Doug, the Doug with an endless upside and little past.

This really hit home for me because it’s exactly what I did two years ago. I didn’t fully quit, but I took a secondment to a government ministry. I felt I needed to shake up myself and the perceptions people had of me after working for a number of years in the same office. The secondment was also a valuable experience since it was a definite step up in responsibility and exposed me to some fresh points of view. After about six months I returned to my office, and things had changed. Roles were redefined and I was now to be a supervisor and take on other, higher level, projects. It felt, at least for a while, that the decision to leave, if only temporarily, had a positive impact. Now, two years on, I’ve got new boundaries to overcome, new perceptions to change, so reading Godin’s words have spurred me on once again.

*So one last thing. The style of Godin’s book felt very familiar to me as I read it, almost as if I had read it before. It wasn’t until I was in about a quarter of the way–and after seeing a few of the cartoon sketches that pepper the book–that it hit me. Godin was sounding almost exactly like the creator of the very cartoons featured in his book: Hugh MacLeod. Specifically, if you read MacLeod’s fantastic–and I mean fantastic!–How to be Creative you should quickly recognize the literary style of Godin in The Dip. The fact that Godin uses MacLeod to illustrate his book makes the comparison just to overwhelming not to notice.

Now, MacLeod’s manifesto is the kind of thing I was hoping for from Godin’s book. When I first read it eons ago, I was truly inspired. No other writing in recent memory has had such a strong impact on me from a professional and creative point of view. I’ve re-read How to be Creative at least five times, and a tattered printed copy sits not far from my desk, ready and available for the next time I need the smelling salts of its words. Really, if it comes down to it, I’d recommend How to be Creative over The Dip. And best of all, it’s free.

There Is No Shelf

October 25, 2007

Check out this great video. It’s about how the web has changed the way we use information and how we still struggle, to some degree, with the legacy of paper-based information systems. I find this video particularly meaningful because of my experience managing a large website using Oracle Portal. Oracle’s system is set up almost entirely as a shelving system and even uses the term found in the video–category–to label one of its central organizational methods.

Found via Compiler 

Using Wikis

August 28, 2007

As part of a bigger effort to introduce some real collaboration into my project work–and our office in general–I’ve signed up for a few wiki accounts, specifically Wetpaint, Wikidot and Socialtext. I’m starting small and looking to incorporate a wiki to help manage and develop some of my projects. Most people–or at least a lot of us who live and work online–have used wikis from time to time, at least as a consumer. Thinking about implementing wikis, from a corporate point of view, requires a shift in thinking about how content and communications are managed. (Aside: so much of the discussion surrounding new communications technologies is clouded by hype and debate about people who don’t “get it.” I find that framing a position this way rarely benefits anyone, since it naturally creates separation, and no matter how much you hold to this point of view you will have to work with those who don’t “get it,” or more likely, have to convince/help them to get it. So I will try to keep the hyperbole and drama to a minimum. We’ll now return to our regular programming.)

Organizations like to control. There may be good reasons for this, but often it’s just a leftover response, like the hunger pangs you get when walking by The Body Shop in the mall and inhaling the scent of vanilla; intellectually you know there are no cookies in there, but your gut is telling you something else. The problem is, staff talk. They always have. And these days, of course, they aren’t limited by a physical chat with one person, they blog it and tell the world.

Wikis have the potential to take the control–if it ever really was there to begin with–away from the top and hand it to the bottom. This creates some interesting dynamics. Suddenly, people who may have been used to being told what processes to follow are now actively creating the processes themselves. People whose opinions might not have been sought out previously can now directly influence decisions and policy.

I’m not sure what the future holds for wikis in my organization, but I’m hopeful that we’ll get something off the ground. Things tend to move slowly, but I have a feeling they’ll start to pick up soon. There’s a real need to move beyond fear–especially of “failure”–and experiment. Without experimentation how can progress happen?