Online Media: Relationships and Finding Signal In the Noise

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When I first started using Twitter in the fall of 2006, I was one of only a few thousand people using this weird new service. It was fun because my friends were there. I’m an early adopter when it comes to technology so it’s not all that uncommon to find me on some new online tool kicking the tires.

Back in those days, there was a small enough pool of users that, hey, if someone followed you, you followed them back. It was just that simple. Many of us set up scripts that would automatically follow anyone who followed us. It was karma. It was social. It was how the changing face of the Internet made “us” better than “them”.

As all things go, however, Twitter began to jump the shark. People started using Twitter to push their products and agendas instead of simply communicating. We were like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot of water, many of us not realizing until it was too late, that the reciprocity approach simply wasn’t scaleable. We concocted formulas to rationalize our efforts. We chose not to follow people who had an unbalanced follower to following ratio. We called them spammers. We labeled them as people unable to engage in conversation. We rationalized our own existence on Twitter, all the while boiling ourselves in hot water to the point that our worlds were nothing but noise, and our effectiveness as professionals became nil.

Around the time I had 2000 followers (also roughly 2000 people following), I stopped following everyone back. This was almost two years ago. Organically, I grew to 8500+ people following me in return simply because I was interesting and people wanted to follow interesting people. The concept of equivalency was tossed out the window by most people while the “influencers” kept talking up the idea of equivalency. I only followed people I had actually met.

Still, the noise became too much. There was no real way to come back from the brink. I had long ago reached the point where tweets in a tweetstream were at full force. I called it Twitter Terminal Velocity – the point where a tweetstream could not perceptibly travel any faster. And the content was not relevant to my personal or professional life.

Good people. Irrelevant content. Too much noise. This was the problem.

About two weeks ago, I made a drastic move that has improved my life in immesaurable ways. I culled the people I was following from 2800 down to 492 (that number has organically grown since). I had a number of criteria for who I kept – people in Austin (gotta keep my new city close, right?), people in tech (not tech news, not social media… tech!), people in the WordPress community, and real friends.

These are the people that matter to me on a daily basis. They make my life worth it on a personal and professional level. I see all their tweets now.

This is not to offend anyone that got cut. If you talk to me (via a mention), I still see those tweets and most of the time I will engage. I also have keyword searches so relevant conversation surrounding topics of interest are also seen, whether they are directed to me or not. However, in my day to day content consumption, I have made my Twitter experience a much more pure experience.

Today, I find myself more engaged with the people I care about. It’s not about me and my existence and importance. It’s about the people I care about engaging in my world and me in theirs. For instance, I would have never been able to encourage a friend about her father’s deployment to Afghanistan if I had 2800 people I was following. It doesn’t scale. It’s not personal. It’s not real relationships.

In closing, let me give on zing to the social media marketers and networkers. Relationships aren’t about what you do or if your customers care. Relationships aren’t about ROI. Sometimes in relationships, you get nothing in return. But real relationships actually make a difference to ROI and customer care. Just don’t mistake the two for the same thing. They are very far from the same thing.

First Mariner Bank: A New Shining Star in Social Media PR

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For all the fuss that has been made about Dell, Zappos, Comcast, JetBlue and a whole host of other big names utilizing Twitter and other forms of social media for their messaging and client support, there is one that stands out to me as the most impressive. I say this because of my own personal experience in the past few days. These encounters with my bank, 1st Mariner Bank, are fresh in my mind and, to me, demonstrate a truly productive means of “doing the job” with social media tools.

As an independent, self employed consultant, times can sometimes be tough. In fact, in many way, it’s a feast or famine game. You go through spells where clients don’t pay, they pay late, or you just can’t get the business going enough to generate the income needed to run the business, and sadly, sometimes to pay the bills. So bank runs are important. They are pivotal moments where you might go from pennies in the account to plenty of money to fill the reserves. Those bank runs are always personally fulfilling because it’s a statement that, hey, I don’t have to go find a “real” job now… I can continue to press forward pursuing the dreams I’ve tried to find on my own for these past years. That deposit of some check is a rewarding thing that, honestly, sometimes makes the difference between having the will to go on or just quitting outright.

On Wednesday, I finally received one of these very important checks that was long overdue from a client. With a diminishing bank account, I jumped in the car late in the day and trucked the 45 minutes through rush hour traffic just to get to the bank and find they were closed. When I called their customer service toll free number, I was informed (inaccurately, as I later discovered) that the drive through was still open. Since there was a problem with my Visa debit card, I couldn’t simply make the deposit at the ATM machine so I thanked the representative and tried the drive thru. As I said, I discovered it was closed as well.

Irritated, I jumped on Twitter and went ballistic, venting about how I was going to close my account and find a bank that was closer. I was livid and was letting the world know. These bank runs are not small things for me. They take gas and money and time away from my book. I have kept this account because I always valued the 1st Mariner Bank Customer Service, though, but even that wasn’t going to be enough to keep me banking 45 mins away from home.

@FirstMarinerBank contacted me on Twitter late on Wednesday and commiserated a bit, but did little to actually help my problem. I didn’t expect that he (or she) could, but it was nice to talk to someone nonetheless.

Thursday morning, I got back in my car and drove from Bethesda back to Columbia, Md. where I made the deposit into my account and had one of those personal victory celebrations in my head. I could breathe easier. About an hour afterwards, without prompting by me, I recieved a DM from @FMBCustServ (who might also be @FirstMarinerBank – I don’t know) notifying me that he (his name is Matt Sparks) had saw the deposit go into my account and would work hard to get it cleared for me by the weekend.

Fascinating.

I received another check yesterday as well (but sadly, not before I made my bank run) and thanked Matt, telling him I’d be making another deposit today (Friday) and thanking him for his efforts. And I did. Today, I went back to the bank (that’s the third bank run in three days, if you’re keeping track at home) to make a deposit and, convinced that I’d be stupid to leave the bank after their exceptional show of support, not only made the deposit and didn’t close my personal checking account, but also opened up a new business account for my company.

About an hour after this process, I received another DM from Matt letting me know that he also saw that deposit and noting I’d be able to have money for the weekend. I already did, but it was a nice personal touch.

This is the way customer service should be. As a customer, I may not know what I want or need. Going the extra mile (not wearing the minimum amount of flair, if you will) is what keeps customers around. If we, as customers, feel valued then we are going to value you even more.

It’s the economy of trust.

Well done, Matt Sparks and 1st Mariner Bank. If you’re local to Baltimore, this is the bank you should be doing business with because they get it. If you’re in Suburban DC, as I have been since October, it might even be worth the extra drive to do business with these guys.

This post and DMs shared with permission.

HP Gives Consumer the Middle Finger

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Update: While the below entry will remain for archival purposes, HP has answered the call and the computer will be recieved on Friday – early enough for Thomas’ trip.

I’ve always recommended HP as a manufacturer of great laptops. They generally work well and are durable and compared with the competition, they have always been reliable computers that stand up against time. However, their customer service is abysmal and the story that has been related to me by Thomas confirms, and even enhances that statement.

Thomas is a business consumer. He works for a small organization, a non profit, and travels a fair bit. He has a lot of influence in his sphere and has been a long time consumer of laptop computers. He asked me a few years ago about recommendations for computers, and I turned him on to HP.

Recently, that laptop, had a freak accident and the power socket that is connected to the motherboard stopped receiving a charge to the battery. The only option without spending $500 for a motherboard repair was to purchase a new computer as the old one was out of warranty. On February 17th, Thomas ordered a new HP Pavilion dv2000t. [Read more...]