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.


Fantastic Cameraphone Photography

April 21, 2008

Some fantastic imagery here taken with cameraphones. Once again it shows that it’s not necessary to have the latest and greatest equipment, and that creativity and vision can produce wonderful results.

It’s a Wrap! We’ve Finished Shooting our Corporate Video

August 16, 2007

Today was the last day of shooting for three videos we’re producing at work for our largest client. It’s an ambitious project. We’ve been using online video internally for a couple of years, and it’s been quite successful (and will be expanding). For our external audiences, however, while we have previously produced videos, I mostly project-managed contracted resources. We never fully took on the task of fully producing them in-house. Partly it was a lack of resources–that is, I had no help–and also that we didn’t have the equipment. I now have both.

We’re still building our equipment inventory, but we’re at the point where the barriers to producing a good-looking production are essentially eliminated. We still need a full lighting kit, otherwise we’re rolling.

Here’s a quick summary of some of what we’re using:

And there’s more. A nice big light (brand name escapes me), accessories, software on the editing station, DV tape recorder, etc. Like I said, we’re decked out quite nicely.

So back to the project. We’ve shot three short (max 3 min each) commercial-style videos explaining the benefits of being part of a pension plan. A few months ago I pitched three concepts to a sub-committee of the full board of trustees and they chose a hybrid of all three. I returned with their feedback and we started in on storyboarding and scripting the new concept. Finally, I presented the polished scripts to the same committee confident that we had hit the mark. Sure enough, they bought it.

This was a great success for a couple of reasons. First, I went in planning to have the committee approve the scripts at the meeting so that I could leave with my marching orders ready to roll. Some colleagues thought this would never fly, since approvals are not usually granted so easily by the committees. But I was undaunted: I viewed it as my responsibility to provide them with a compelling vision of what we hoped to achieve and a strong enough script and presentation that the committee would have little reason not to give me the green light. And it went off perfectly.

Second, we have a mandate to produce plain language materials, but, given the industry (pensions), it’s not always easy. Not to mention satisfying a variety of stakeholders who typically want to include a lot more information without realizing the impact on readability, comprehension, etc. Anyway, the scripts that we developed were plain languaged to the extreme. We worked hard to distill pension concepts and benefits down to their barest essentials. Again, some were worried that our trustees would never buy into this vision. And, again, they were wrong. The trustees loved the concept, the language, the simplicity.

Anyway, so now we’re on to editing, and we’re right on schedule. Next step is to preview it for the trustees, which we’ll be doing in a couple of weeks. I’m a little anxious, naturally, but confident that what we’ve produced will exceed expectations.

Sopranos – Cut to Black

June 13, 2007

In truly dramatic fashion, HBO’s long-running series, The Sopranos, has finally come to an end.

A lot of people are upset about the ending–the now famous cut to black as Tony looks up at the restaurant’s opening door. I’ve watched the episode twice now and while I was just as caught off guard as everyone else watching on Sunday night, with a little bit of time to let the episode sink in–plus the advantage of one additional viewing–I think the ending is perfect.

However, not wanting to add to the growing mass of Sopranos critiques, the point I really want to make here is about the use and power of the black screen.

The Sopranos was a very visually appealing show. Great sets, lush environments, hair, makeup and outfits to feast your eyes upon. Visuals weren’t wasted. So, when David Chase decided to end the episode and the entire series with a quick cut to black, you know he was taking the move seriously. I don’t believe for a second, as some have suggested, that this decision shows he doesn’t care about the audience. Rather, I think it suggests he gives his audience a little more credit.

There were countless ways Chase could have wrapped things up, but by moving to blackness we’re left with quite possibly the most enduring image of the entire series. Think about it: after six seasons of watching Tony and his crew inflict all sorts of harm, after watching them linger in the Bing while strippers sway in the background, after they traveled to famous locations like Italy, after all this, what people are most talking about and what people will likely remember most poignantly is a black screen. A black screen.

The black screen has power. Not only in the context of the expectations heaped upon this final episode, but in that by presenting viewers with nothing their focus becomes very sharp. The clutter is taken out of the equation. People stop and take notice. Everything that they’ve carried with them up to that moment is suddenly condensed to a pinpoint. And, sometimes, they may even hold their breath.

Digitizing Books One Word at a Time

May 25, 2007

Sample of a reCAPTCHAThis has got to be one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time. reCAPTCHA is a project by Carnegie Mellon University that makes the authentication process for web registration forms, or posting blog comments, more useful. A CAPTCHA, which we’ve all seen, is a program that presents us with distorted text and asks us to type in the word or letters so that we can confirm we’re humans: computers have a hard time deciphering this distorted text. Well, reCAPTCHA intends to take these small expenditures of human brain power and use them to digitize books. One. Word. At. A. Time. Ingenious.

Here’s what they say:

Over 60 million CAPTCHAs are solved every day by people around the world. reCAPTCHA channels this human effort into helping to digitize books from the Internet Archive. When you solve a reCAPTCHA, you help preserve literature by deciphering a word that was not readable by computers.

Like I said, this is exciting. This is the kind of thing that really gets my creative energies flowing. You don’t need to be a programmer or tech expert to be able to appreciate this effort; in its simplicity we can detect parallels to our own projects or challenges, independent of where we spend our days (at least two of John Maeda‘s Laws of Simplicity apply here). First off, it elegantly takes advantage of a pre-existing process that most of us use already. And secondly, it demonstrates that small steps can make a big difference.