Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How NOT to use LinkedIn and Facebook to promote your business

I received several messages this week in my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts from friends who were promoting some service or another. The messages were basically spam: mass-mailed, impersonal, email advertisements offering little or no value to the recipient. They were perfect examples of What Not To Do.

Facebook and LinkedIn derive their value from being “networks of trust”. The whole point of personal networks like LinkedIn and Facebook is that they’re personal. We expect that a certain amount of the regular email we get to be spam, because such email is “public”. Anyone and everyone can (and does) email us that way. LinkedIn and Facebook are far more restricted. It is possible to send a message to someone who is not a contact, but it’s difficult, and you can only send one such message at a time. Your friends, however, have given you permission to include them on mass emails, because they trust you not to spam them. The value of your network is directly proportional to this level of trust.

Social Media is about reputations. Even if someone chooses to remain anonymous (and on LinkedIn, they never do), they're still identifiable by their relationships with other people and can be held accountable for their actions. This accountability is part of the reason why social media is such a popular venue for finding employees and service providers: usually you know someone who knows the person (or knows someone who or knows someone who knows the person) and can advise you about them. Also, as in the case of real life, reputations are contagious. A person who is connected to someone who is very trustworthy or influential (for example) is a more valuable contact than someone who is not.

Also worth noting is that Facebook and LinkedIn (especially Facebook) have "network update areas" for alerting your friends about your activities, and this is generally used for keeping abreast instead of email. If you send email to someone through either of these services, it's assumed you have something personal and urgent to say to them. This makes mass-mailings especially sketchy.

In general, the ideal LinkedIn or Facebook email should have the following qualities:
  • Appropriate – Your message should be suited to whomever it is you are writing to.

  • Useful – Your message should provide significant value. An opportunity to take your new seminar (for only $299.99!) is NOT “significant value”.

  • Altruistic – Network membership is about being a team player. It’s okay to ask for favors for yourself sometimes, especially, if they’re the sort of favors that network is meant for and your friends can reasonably expect you’ll reciprocate someday. (“Help me find a job” on LinkedIn, for example.) But in general, it’s best to avoid sending emails that are obviously only for the benefit of yourself. People are not stupid, they tend to be more trusting of people who exhibit altruistic behavior.
For Example: Another friend of mine sent me a job posting for a web developer. I am not a web developer, and I already have a “job”, but I’m in the Web industry and can be expected to know unemployed web developers. Jobs are badly needed right now, so my friend knew this email would probably be helpful – either by providing a job opportunity, by providing the opportunity to enhance my reputation by finding a job for one of my other friends. Furthermore, this friend was not sending the email solely for his own benefit. He was doing a favor for his employer, and (by doing so) demonstrating that he's willing to maybe do favors for someone else.

In conclusion: Social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook are more personal than email and should be treated as such. In general, it's helpful to think of these sites as a private cocktail party. We have all had the experience of attending a party where someone took advantage of the cozy environment to push their pet charity, business, or fund raiser. Don't be that person! If you abuse the trust of your network, not only will you earn a bad reputation, but you will make yourself a liability to the reputations of the people who have vouched for your character by choosing to be connected to you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Macworld 2009

Macworld is happening this week, and I went because (a) Vista sucks and since I no longer need it for pimping my mad SharePoint/TeamFoundation/etc. skills, I am totally switching to Apple now; (b) As a microbusiness technology consultant it is my job to go to expos and see if there might be any useful information (which there was); and (c) I never pass up a chance to geek out with my brother, especially if there might be drinking involved.

Here is a picture of my brother standing in front of the car from Back To The Future. For some of you, this will be reason enough to attend MacWorld, so I’m putting it first.

One of the best things about this expo was the profusion of comfortable places to sit down. Here is a picture of the W hotel lounge area. You can’t see it from here, but in addition to the couches they have cool-looking board games and puzzles to entertain yourself with.

Here is a picture of me with my amazingly tasty FREE blueberry cocktail from Viximo. Seriously, even though it was warm and served in plastic, this was one of the best cocktails I’ve had in the past three months. They had an ostentatious booth with a trestle full of iPhones showing off their new flirting application and the drinks were there to loosen inhibitions. Unfortunately, somebody at Viximo didn't allocate enough resources to QA and UE, so the application is too difficult to navigate and I doubt they're going to get the response they are hoping for.

I came away with a plastic Nikon-emblazoned swag bag with a bunch of software and flyers in it. (I deliberately skip the tshirts and keychains, as I have way too much of that stuff already). When I got home, I sorted through it, looking for information that you, dear readers (all ten of you) might find helpful. Here are the highlights:
  • MyVu personal media viewer – The eyeball equivalent of headphones, plus headphones. Plug it into your video ipod and watch a movie.

    This is probably the most seriously cool gadget I saw all day. They work. They look good. They’re relatively inexpensive (about $130). Unfortunately donning the device required that I remove my glasses and since I'm ridiculously nearsighted, it wasn’t as nearly as much fun as it should have been. But if you wear contact lenses (or have normal vision) this should be totally awesome.

  • Host a meeting from your iPhone - during the past five years or so, I’ve worked for startups and/or with distributed teams and we had a lot of virtual meetings. Mostly, we use one of those conference services where you call in. But it is really helpful to have some sort of visual console, and carting around a laptop can be kind of inconvenient. Fuze makes a little application/service that lets you do this from your iPhone.

  • “Mac Mingle” Free afterparty tomorrow 7-midnight at Jillians – For those who do their best networking while under the influence of alcohol. Free nibbles and a no-host bar. I’m posting this for those of you who want to mix with this crowd but can’t get a badge, because it seems like the sort of thing you’d probably be able to talk your way into. Or (if you are not socially fluent) just show up before they start carding. Jillians is a public space located in the Metreon near the Moscone Center complex.

  • Free and Discount Passes to MacWorld – I don’t know if any of these actually work because I have my badge already. But there are links here , here, and here if you need one. You’re welcome.

  • Where to Find Everything From Cable Shows to an Oxford Education Free in the iTunes Store and Beyond – I might go back to Macworld on Thursday just to attend this class. O’Reilly has an impressive list of free lectures that had their booth packed to overflowing every time I strolled by it.
That's it! I also went to Bill Ayers' event and met the 30-Day Challenge guy. But that's a topic for another post.

I might return to Macworld on Thursday or Friday daytime. If you want to meet up, ping me on Twitter.