Sunday, February 8, 2009

Social Media

This post has been provoked by an exchange with Raph Koster on Twitter. Which is kind of appropriate, because Twitter is one of the social media I'm going to talk about.

There are a lot of people in a lot of companies out there who are looking at Facebook, Twitter, and other such facilities, and scratching their heads. The main question asked seems to be 'How can we make money from this?', and the one they don't seem to ask is 'Why do people use these things?'.

This isn't going to be a ground-breaking analysis of social media, but I'm hoping to make clear a few points. The main one is this: you won't make money directly from any social media use. You have no shopping cart there, you probably won't have anything showing up in the conversions column in Analytics, and trying to sell your brand to people will put them off instead.

Step back a little instead, and look at things from a different point of view. Pretend that you're in the mythical small town of the good ol' days, where there are balmy summer evenings where people sit outside the pub, snow in winter, a May Pole on the village green in spring, and a harvest festival. You get the idea. Now, your small town has businesses, and they get along pretty well. If someone drops by from out of town, they probably won't see anything they have to have, but the businesses serve their local customers, and do well. And there's an active, participatory community.

Facebook is the community noticeboard in that small town. Maybe an even smaller community is the right reference point, but since I spent a paragraph describing it, bear with me here. It's where people post "for sale", "room to rent", and "work wanted" notices, but you'll also see things about concerts, the Drama Society's play, the Scout trip to the Lake Country, and maybe some photographs from the Summer Fete. You post notices about anything other than your annual sale there, and people will probably quietly remove them - or tear them down, if you keep at it.

Twitter is the coffee shop, or the pub, or even the tables on the village green. You're probably there with friends, but there are people around who know them but not you, or who you only know vaguely. You can overhear things as well as have them said directly to you, and sometimes the conversations that arise from overhearing are more interesting than the ones you meant to have.

Blogs are more like presentations, talks, and lectures. These were big business before television, even well into the days of radio. People sit and listen for a stretch, and then ask questions. Sometimes people start arguments, and sometimes people completely miss the point.

So, that's why people use them - they give a sense of community that's often missing if you live in a suburb or apartment, if you work in an isolated office or cubicle, or from home - or indeed, if you're on the road a lot for work. It's a community you can be in from wherever you physically find yourself.

So is there anything you can do with them from a business point of view?

Of course there is. In our mythical small town, the business people are part of the community. Everyone knows what they do, and they talk about it with people - or are heard talking about it. Someone looking for a carpenter is automatically directed to John, because everyone knows that's what he does. And they know it because he turns up covered in shavings and muttering about elm being unavailable, as well as when he's worked for them.

In our modern circle, no matter what you do - unless, I suppose, you're an A-List celebrity, or a major political figure - I guarantee you there are people you know who don't know what you do for a living. But things like Twitter and Facebook give you a way to say - unobtrusively, and in a way that people will remember without being offended - that you work with Adwords for a living, or that you know how to make Excel stand up and bark, or that you grow organic vegetables, or whatever it is you do. And if you participate in the communities on these services, people will come to you when they have something to advertise, when they want tutoring in Excel, or when they want organic celeriac.

So... they're social media. Be social.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Getting Things Done

I borrowed a book from the library a few weeks ago, called Getting Things Done. I’ve been poking at a few of these marketing / business / management / organisation books lately, because I’m pretty certain my use of time hasn’t been what it could be.

This book has blown me away. It’s got some very simple principles, no corporate gibberish, no affirmations, and completely dodges the “prioritising” bullet in favour of context.

The basic idea is that people have difficulty getting things done because they have too much in their heads. You sit down to answer an email, and find you need to research something, which means you have to ask someone, which means you have to send them an email, and then you see another email reminding you of a meeting, and all the while you’re aware of another project that you’ve done nothing on, and the need to buy milk on the way home.

The simple solution is to get everything out of your head and onto a very simple system of tracking things that need attention. This centres around making a great whacking list of projects, working out what the next action is on any given project, doing it if it’s short and easy, or putting it on a contextual list otherwise. The contextual lists could include things like “Near phone”, “Near computer”, “Things to buy”, and so on.

The idea is that once you have everything you need to attend to in some sort of trusted system, where you’ll be reminded of it at the right time, you can get down to what you’re doing in the moment without wasting RAM, as it were, on irrelevant things. If something does come to mind, you put it in the appropriate place in the system and go back to your current task.

The effect is rather stunning. I don’t have a huge amount of stuff to manage with this in work; we have an excellent project manager who makes sure we don’t have to bother with anything other than the task in hand, but I have a good-sized pile of projects at home. 78, actually, at the moment. The difference it has made to have these out of my head is absolutely huge, and I’m getting things done at a rate of about three times as many per day as I was before, with more time to kick back at the end of it.
So yeah. Huge recommendation for Getting Things Done.

(Wikipedia, Author’s Site)

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