Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Social media should make your city communicate better

Image of City of Chandler, AZ from TwitterImage of City of Chandler, AZ

The government has invaded social media. No, don't take that as a call to arms. I'm talking about a much lower-level invasion than that: Your city is on Twitter.

And on Facebook, YouTube, Photobucket and likely dozens more web 2.0 sites. Or they are busy trying to create their own. Some cities (hi, Tempe!) are even reaching out to denizens, seeking guidance and counsel as these municipalities move towards a closer relationship with their residents. And that's a Good Thing.

But when you start talking to people in their medium of choice, you have to start talking to them in their language of choice. And that should spread to the rest of the communications. For far too long, cities' websites have been vast wastelands of non-speak, bureaucratic ramblings and -- to speak plainly -- shit that only a handful of people truly care about.

Let's get specific. I live in Chandler Arizona. I've met Kim, the fine person who runs the @CityofChandler Twitter account. She's doing a good job of engaging with the community and posting relevant and timely information to her followers (well, the city's followers) on Twitter. But she's hobbled by that drivel that exists on the website. Take this recent tweet.

Chandler Tweet

We're in the peak of monsoon season right now, if the frequency I have to clean my pool is any indication. So yes, the tweet was timely and relevant. The "monsoons" we get in the southwest are often scoffed at by many of us who've been here a while. But they can be pretty scary to anyone unfamiliar with their dangerous-albeit-local fury. All the more reason why information on this topic from my city should be a Good Thing.

If only.

If only the information on the page offered up by the city was valuable. But it's not. Well, that's not entirely correct. The information could be valuable, if it were written to convey information to normal humans. But instead, we're treated to an incomplete sentence to start off the post. Not a warm fuzzy. But I can easily overlook that, as I'm no one to call out poor grammar and spelling errors. Our first directive is a point of contact. Who's listed first? 9-1-1. Yep. If you find yourself in a thunderstorm and have the urge to speak with someone, call 9-1-1. Right.

Next up is information on when you can expect thunderstorms and lightning, followed up the this juicy tidbit: "[they] can occur year-round and at all hours". Good for those of us who just left the womb. And then it spirals completely out of control, suggesting we shut off our air conditioners (are you mad?) and to avoid bathing. Bathing. But it is good to know that the human body does not act as a capacitor, holding the charge of the lighting that struck it. Yeah, that's in there, too.

But I get why they may think they have to say this stuff. Why they think this is good information to distribute. But it's not. Or rather, it's not written to be good info. Presenting information is an art form. A craft. Data-dumping isn't helpful. Organizing data is helpful. Concise explanations -- especially for things you know will sound odd to most people -- are helpful. Re-writing the information to make it flow on the page and be consumed easily is helpful. Do that.

The same applies to non-governmental entities, too. How does the information you've been dishing out for years stand up under scrutiny? Are you writing for readers or just following orders? And... does anyone care to read it?

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Social media and the grocery store

Whole Foods, on Ray Road in Chandler Arizona, is by far my favorite grocery store. That's not the same thing as my preferred grocery store. It's not the same thing as my closest grocery store. No, I used the word favorite, and I used that word on purpose.

Every employee I've encountered there has been fun, smart, personable and -- perhaps most importantly -- social.

The social activity of the Whole Foods Chandler employees is simply remarkable. And that's another interesting word. Wiser folks than me have said that advertising is a tax on the unremarkable, but I say it every chance I get. Whole Foods Chandler embodies this. So much, in fact, that I lead a group of 40+ of the most highly-engaged social media mavens from the east valley cities of Phoenix to my personal mecca the last Friday of every month. And nearly each time, a few new folks show up, often because of what they've heard about this place. But sometimes the word has bypassed them, but they leave as a convert, ready to carry the message forth.

And that's a good thing, because as remarkable as Whole Foods Chandler and their employees are... they're really only dabbling in the social media world. Only building whuffie at a fraction of the rate they could be. Yes, they are on Twitter... but sporadically. And with less engagement and action than they could be doing. Yes, they have a Facebook fan page, but they've yet to secure their custom URL, the "Info" section is devoid of critical information, and their engagement is lacking. Yes, they have a Flickr tag on their corporate Flickr account, but there are many times more pictures on Flickr taken by Whole Foods Chandler patrons than in the "official" account.

Their outreach method of choice? An email newsletter, usually sent out weekly that highlights the near-future in-store events. Don't get me wrong -- email can still be a valuable tool. Like any tool, it has specific uses and is appropriate for certain jobs, but not others. I'm skeptical that calendar updates fit that bill.

Social Media Triage for Whole Foods Chandler

Whole Foods MarketImage by evo_terra via Flickr

You knew I had a point to this, right? With a few subtle tweaks to their current social media presence, Whole Foods Chandler could see vast -- and measurable -- improvements. No, I've not sat down with anyone at Whole Foods and discussed the people, objective and strategy they have or should have in mind. All I can use are the tactics I've seen and some assumptions I'll make. So with that, here are some tweaks I feel they should make:

  1. Fully embrace Twitter. You are tweeting about the right things -- do more of it! And don't be shy about engaging with people. If you don't have a listening campaign in place -- start one! If there's too much for one person, give the keys out to others!

  2. Beef up Facebook. First, get that custom URL. Then fill out the info section. I want to know about the CHANDLER Whole Foods, so make sure it's locally relevant. Give us stuff about various departments. Post photos and videos. Let this be your outlet for ALL of your info. Don't worry about flooding people on Facebook... it's Facebook!

  3. Encourage the use of Flickr. Your store is beautiful. Your people are funky and engaging. Get that stuff captured in pictures! Have patrons bring their cameras to events. Give them the tags you want them to use. Tweet the images you find. Go nuts!

  4. Post your events EVERYWHERE. Upcoming? Yelp? Eventful? Make it a point to spread the news about your events beyond the mediums you have complete control over. Go!

  5. Host more groups. I can promise you that we have a blast when #evfn comes to town. Why not encourage more groups to use WFC as a meeting place? And then SHOUT about those meetings. Help them grow, too!

  6. Video is the way. Think events. Think fun stuff behind-the-scenes stuff like how you build those crazy display walls of product. Focus on a department. Let your employees' personalities shine. And yes, people on YouTube DO want to see fun stuff that happens at Whole Foods.

  7. Tap local indie media people for your events and guests. You should never have a beer tasting with out inviting Charlie The Beer Guy to interview the brewer. Sure, you're telling the big news outlets about it, but there's a much more involved indie community just waiting for the invite. Tap 'em!

  8. Send out multiple emails. Stick with the "this week at Whole Foods" for one, but also educate me with another. Not about new or on-sale products, but about environmental and social issues that you care about... that is likely tied to product. Send me "seasonal" updates, since I know I'm not supposed to be able to get everything all year round. And make ALL of them pretty. You've go a beautiful store -- use it!

  9. What else? What do you all think? While I'm giving out free advice (I need more clients, btw), I might as well open up the floor to my peers. What else should a store like Whole Foods Chandler be doing? What should they watch out for? Got any insight for a single location of very large chain? Your input in the comments section is appreciated.

Speaking of advice, this is a taste of my Social Media Triage service, of which the full treatment goes into much more depth.

Oh and if any of you at Whole Foods Chandler read this? Come by your Tapas & Wine bar between 6-8p Friday, July the 31st and say "hi". I love meeting new people genuinely interested in doing things differently!

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Man on a daily mission

If you haven't heard the news, I've had another life-altering July. More about that later.

Like many of you, I use the web for work. We even have a term for this: web worker. No, it's not the most poetic. But it does state the plain truth. Also like many of you, I use the web for fun. And we each have many different terms for this. The web is littered with fun and entertaining places. Some of them can become quite the time sink. I'm a sucker for a good site that wastes hours of my time.

I recently met a guy from Philadelphia. Eli likes to have fun and he wants you to have fun. But he doesn't want to waste a bunch of your time. Though you are free to do so if you like. Eli has created a site called Daily Mission. Daily Mission has a single aim: to get you and others collaborating on some good old fashion fun. Things like posting and commenting on silly pictures, caption contests and funny phrases. Yes, there are legions of sites like this on the web. But Daily Mission's aim is to get you in, get you contributing, and get you back out. In seconds, if at all possible.

Eli and I have been chatting about my joining his team. It's currently staffed by two developers and a UX person. They're looking to add someone who can provide strategy and guidance. A grizzled online veteran who still knows how to have fun. Someone... like me.

But if I join Eli, that means I'm going to be talking about Daily Mission. Quite often, in fact. And before I do that, I want to make sure that it's something worth talking about... something remarkable. I have limited exposure to sites like these though I understand their appeal. So I'm reaching out in the hopes that some of you will tell me what you think. I've spent some quality time with the site and have already given Eli some strategic and tactical advice.

But I'm just one guy. One guy who doesn't spend a lot of time on this stuff. I'm betting that some of you spend more time on sites like this. So I'm reaching out. Specifically, I'm looking for just for those who care or would care about a site like this. I'm looking for your honest evaluation of the site as it stands today. I'm not being compensated by Eli for this outreach. It's not part of a stunt. Right now, I just really want to know: what do you think of Daily Mission?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Debuting Social Media 101 at Social Media Club Phoenix

I've been a on-again and off-again attendee at Social Media Club Phoenix over the last year or so. But I've been asked to lead something new. So.. what the heck! Here's how the organizers of SMCPHX bill it:

Social Media 101 will start at 5:30, an hour before the normal time. Led by local podcaster and general social media sage, Evo Terra, is intended to address any of the general social media questions everyone has when they start working in this space. They tend to come up regularly, so we are looking at setting up a separate time to focus on them.

So load up your questions and come on out!

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