The Washington Redskins Crowd-sourcing Their Games

A week before the start of the NFL 2009 season, Cincinnati Bengals Wide Reciever-turned-parttime-kicker, Chad Ochocino, tweeted to his fans that he was going to delete his Twitter account due to strict NFL rules. Of course he didn’t, and Ochocinco, always a showman, used it to deliver more buzz around his ego.

However, the NFL rules around social media are draconian and many inside the league know this. Earlier this month, they released an updated policy that bars players and their agents from tweeting up to 90 minutes before or after a game. Members of the press are not allowed to tweet during the game either or risk having their credentials revoked.

This is the landscape in the most popular sporting league in the nation. The NFL has enjoyed widespread success through control mechanisms like blackout rules that prevent a team from having home games aired in local television markets if the game isn’t sold out 72 hours before gametime. Though most home games league-wide are sold out, the recession has caused some teams, like the Jacksonville Jaguars, to not be able to sell out.

2897040936_c9546b9679This is what the Washington Redskins face who, on Sunday, will open their first home game at FedEx Field and will be encouraging fans to tweet during the game. The new effort comes as part of a renovation of the Club Level and embracing of social media, Redskins VP of eCommerce and Web Strategy, Shripal Shah, tells me. In this new club level will be the game on massive HD televisions surrounded by live-streams of Redskin fan reaction to the game, but reactions will also be online for fans not in the club level.

The Redskins hope to get reaction from all fans through a new site called Redskins Twackle that does more than just pull tweets having a #redskins hash tag. In addition, they are pushing an iPhone App that will help crowdsource this data into the Redskins Twackle site.

Twackle is not a Redskins technology. Twackle is a product of XTreme Labs and is billed as “Your sports bar in the Twittersphere”.

While it’s not entirely clear what this play will do for new media in the NFL, it will be interesting to see how the League reacts.

* Image Credit: Mad_African78 on Flickr

Update:
The Twackle app in the iTunes store is not an official Redskins Twackle app. It is a generic app released by Octagon, not Xtreme Labs. Commenter Lahne notes that the NFL social media policy is slightly different than what I listed here. For the breakdown, see Tailgate365.

Twitter is Dead, Long Live Twitter

A year ago today, Twitter was something that many communicators were just trying to wrap their heads around. It was a new form of communication that was threatening to upset the precious fiefdom that they had built up over years and that had been taught in universities.

A year ago today, Twitter was something that a fringe of the greater population used regularly to discuss the election and monitor debates and campaign stops. It was something used for grass roots organizing and the biggest name was @BarackObama.

A year ago today, a handful of major media outlets were using Twitter. @ricksanchezcnn adopting Twitter on air at CNN and using it to monitor conversations around stories he was reporting on was a major coup de grace for stalwart journalism types who refused to adopt this new form of communication.
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Contrast these three scenarios with todays world. White House staffers are using Twitter as a regular routine. Sports fans follow @QBKILLA (aka Warren Sapp) and @THE_REAL_SHAQ (aka Shaquille O’Neal) – and yes, your observation of sports figures typing in all CAPS is not unshared. Musicians like @johncmayer – John Mayer – and @davejmatthews – Dave Matthews – are also using Twitter and talking to fans.

With this massive uptake of Twitter, it’s easy to think that the platform has arrived. And it has. It is as mainstream as any social service could hope to be. At the same time, Twitter is dead.

I don’t mean Twitter is going away. In fact, I don’t think it will ever go away. In fact, I think it is part of the future of online communications, much like email was back in the 1990s. Back then, it was somewhat rare for people to have email addresses. Clearly, this changed toward the end of the decade, but for most of the decades, the fad of having email was clearly seen in the resurrection of the old chain letter. We would find funny things online and forward them to all our friends like email was going out of style. Those of us who had an email address were considered the rare few.

Over time, email revolutionized the workplace to the point where, at the start of this decade, it was unusual for people not to have email and businesses began to rely on it as a necessity for internal and external communication.

Spamming picked up on the email service as it became easy to assume someone was attached to an email address somewhere.

Since 2006, Twitter has been like email of yore. Relatively few (in the grand scheme of things) had a Twitter ID. It was seen as somewhat geeky and was dominated by early adopters (from true early adopters early on to earlier-but-not-quite-early adopters joining in late 2007 and 2008. We developed exclusive little circles that we gave cutesy names like “tweetup” to – a mashup of the words Twitter and meetup. We developed our own lexicon for the efficiency of 140 characters. Words like “failwhale” and “hashtag”. We would “at” people and “DM” and we all knew what we were talking about. It was our little secret that would cause innocent bystanders to scratch their heads in collective confusion.

Sometime last year or early this year, perhaps with the election or the sudden rate of adoption thanks to celebrities such as Oprah and Ashtun Kutcher joining the rank and file, Twitter became mainstream. It happened while we were asleep and we all revelled in the fact that these well known names were becoming part of us. Until it happened without our notice and we became part of them.

See they used our tool to assimilate our culture into theirs – the same way they used tabloids and celebrity blogs to draw more attention to their worlds. More power to them. Twitter is not something that can be assigned rules of behavior or communication.

Excuse the long winded article as I come into land with my point.

Historically, tools come and go – whether email or Twitter, the sex appeal of a service inevitably gives way to the practicality of being. Much like a marriage where (and I’ve been through this), a couple meets, dates, has fun, gets butterflies but eventually settles into a more mature state of existence with their partner, platforms evolve into a mature offering that is critical to communications. It becomes the norm to have the tool and the conversation evolves from the topic of conversation to the catalyst for conversation. The platform ceases to be the focus and just “becomes”.

This is where we are at now, or rather, where we should be now. We are not and this needs to change. Twitter as a business offers much fodder for discussion, but Twitter as a tool needs to become that tool and not the topic of conversation. When we get together we need to stop having tweetups and start getting together. We need to put down our iPhones and BlackBerrys and sending 140 character messages on to our friends in the ether. Instead of talking to them, get back to communications with the people sitting across the table from you.

Instead of worrying about how to use Twitter, we need to just use it. Instead of having panels at conferences about Twitter, we should be having panels about the topics people are talking about on Twitter. Instead of worrying about whats the best way to use Twitter, we need to get back to our roots (whether in journalism or communications or customer service) and start doing the jobs we are meant to do and using Twitter to make our performances better.

Twitter is dead as a topic of conversation. It is dead as fodder for blogs. It is dead as a startup that is revolutionizing our way of lives. It already has revolutionized our lives and now we run the danger of over-committing to a way of life that will keep us in one place instead of looking forward to the next big thing. Twitter is important to help us get to that point but, like Twitter founder Biz Stone says, it should be the pulse of the planet. And that’s it.

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

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.

It's Really Simple; Be Valuable and You Will Be Valued

Despite the crazy title of this post, it is not about personal brand. That’s a conversation that is happening elsewhere in the blogosphere and, though I’ve talked about it on this blog, it is not relevant to this post.

What is relevant is value. Actual value versus “perceived” value.

Late last night, around 2am, I was plugging away on a client project. Blinded by blurry eyes caused by hours of intense concentration, and creeping exhaustion, I switched over to check on an email that had just rolled in. It was from an editor at a well known financial publication. He was working on a story that asked the question, “What would I do if I lost my job today?” and he was soliciting feedback on a portion of the article dedicated to Twitter.

The portion of the article I read was very good, except that it missed something. It missed, what I call, the “secret sauce”. It described how Twitter worked, how to get followers and made the connection between number of followers and the ability to get a job.

My response to him was that he needed to include the secret sauce in the ingredients. Clearly, the secret sauce wouldn’t be secret if I told the world, so instead, I’ll share it with you as long as you only tell someone else if you find value in it. ;-)

The secret sauce is this: Be valuable.

Recently, as the economy has soured even more, and layoffs continue to happen around us, many people who have benefited from great jobs have found themselves looking for work. Folks who have cultivated massive numbers of followers on Twitter are on the street looking for work and finding it hard to drum up anything. They’ve discovered that despite their social media popularity, they are not necessarily valuable to employers.

Employers are looking for the people that stand up above the crowd. They stick out, not obnoxiously so, but in a smart and efficient way. They are not looking for marketers or personal brand evangelists. They are not looking for celebrities. Indeed, these people might cost them too much anyway.

They are looking for the people who don’t just talk about Health 2.0, for instance, but who clearly demonstrate through their own conversations, writings and actions, that they are valuable!

Marks of value are demonstrated when someone shares their knowledge with someone else who is asking questions. Value can be shown in the ongoing conversation around a topic (It is obvious when someone is simply repeating talking points, and when they know their field). Value is on display in quiet genius, not simply frequency (or loudness) of messages. Someone is clearly valuable when the content they are discussing, respectfully (as a key identifier), is put into action through their careers, thought leadership and social interaction.

Clearly, value is not simply being a subject matter expert, but it is also in the conversational and socially interactive approach that the person assumes. Identifying a valuable person is much easier when they are in their own element and not looking for work or otherwise performing. How they behave among their peers and the respect and authority bestowed on him by his peers is a clear indicator of value, not in a celebrity way, but in an influencer kind of way.

The principles behind the secret sauce on Twitter are the same principles that apply in real life. When former HP CEO Carly Fiorina was forced to resign, the HP Board didn’t put out a job requisition for a new CEO. They identified Mark Hurd, the then CEO of NCR who demonstrated amazing ability in turning NCR around, as the guy they wanted to run Hewlett Packard. It wasn’t because Mark had the right salary requirements, or was out there cultivating his brand on NCRs dollar. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. He was demonstrating his value to NCR so HP went after him.

Value is one of those things that is subjective and hard to achieve. But understanding of the community, the social aspects of people and cultivating a subject matter expertise does begin a person down the road to being valuable. Certainly, there is more that can be said, but probably enough to chew on for now. :)

Twitter is Life

Everyone loves Twitter. Some research reports seem to indicate that it was the number one most often used word on Twitter last year. That would be 1 in every 3 words written on Twitter are about Twitter. A sampling of these tweets would be:

  • Listen to our podcast about Twitter
  • 10 Reasons I Love Twitter
  • Twitter is my girlfriend
  • The only thing better than Twittering from my iPhone is Twittering from my iPhone while taking a crap
  • Twitter helped me make money
  • Twitter helped me find God
  • Twitter helped me find a #blinddate
  • Did you know Shaq was on Twitter?
  • We don’t talk to each other, even though we are in the same room. We twitter back and forth
  • Twitter is down! FAIL
  • Barack Obama is on Twitter, did you know that? Huh?
  • Tweetup!
  • Let’s talk about Twitter
  • Twitter me this, Twitter me that
  • Business are on Twitter too
  • How is Twitter making money anyway?
  • Twitter is bigger than FriendFeed

Friendfeed? Huh?

Anyways, my point is this. The most important thing on earth, if you want to tap into the collective conscience of the webgeeks is Twitter. It’s clear why. With so many mainstream people like Rick Sanchez of CNN, Shaq, Ashton Kutcher and of course, ROBERT SCOBLE (pant, pant, pant), it is clearly The Important Thing™ to be talking about.

Are you talking about Twitter? If not, you should be. It’s rewarding.

Proper Form Applies In 140 Characters or Less As Well

Twitter is often written about, often used and as often abused. Everyday, thousands of tweets fly by me at break neck speed due to the volume of people I follow. Many of these short form messages in 140 characters or less are eloquent and precise. Others constitute butchered English short form that demonstrates a lack of attention to detail.

The rule of “Say it in 140″ is critical. If you cannot convey your thought in 140 characters or less the first time, chances are your audience will miss the next tweet that continues the thought. Clearly, there are exceptions to every rule and often entire dialogues will erupt between two ore more twitter users. However, in general, a thought should be expressed clearly, concisely and entirely in a single tweet. It’s good form and it’s also good practice.

I’ve noticed that, since my adoption of Twitter in November of 2006, I have gotten much better at formulating these thoughts. Let me say, for the record, it’s hard! Very involved concepts take utmost care and effort to convey in short form.

As difficult as it is, especially when it comes down to cutting and trimming words, to not butcher the English language. Like prose, journalism or poetry, lack of attention to these details may earn the tweeter a bad reputation, and could be seen as unprofessional.

Does that mean that perfect sentence structure is required? Hardly. Shortened sentences are perfectly fine. However, choppy thoughts that are merely chopped to cram – maybe not so much.

Other areas of concern for me, as a Twitter reader, are:

  • Automatically pushed messages that simply consume an RSS feed and push tweets out into the ether. Generally, these are not well formed (being formed for a Blog post and not a tweet, and are cut off. Incomplete thought = FAIL.
  • Multiple streams of thought in a single tweet. Usually, with the intention of efficiency, someone might respond to two tweets at once. Though I suggest eliminating multiple tweets above, that rule applies to tweets around a single thought. If you have two thoughts you want to respond to, send two tweets. It’s a commodity.
  • Retweets are awesome. They are tweets from someone else that you think are valuable enough to “REtweet” to your own followers. Usually, retweets are indicated with a preceding “RT”. The area of concern here, as it applies to format, surrounds multiple retweets. Example: “RT @UTexasMcCombs: RT @statesman The House passed the $787 billion stimulus bill 246-183″. Retweets should be limited to the original poster. Everything else is simply noise and unnecessary. Plus, it removes available characterage.
  • Prolific use of “U” and other shorthand. The shortened form of “You” came from text messaging where it was more difficult to actually type a word out. Thus, we have tragic sentences like, “OMG WTF R U asking?” – Folks, we’re talking two additional characters. For the love of all that is good and right in this world, type the word out and make a statement about your intelligence.

I write this post because there is a new book coming out entitled “140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form” which seeks to help people understand this concept of form and style. It’s written by veteran Twitter users @dom and @adamjackson and thus comes from actual experience. Hat tip, by the way, to Jenna Wortham who covered this over at the New York Times Bits blog.

What are some of your Twitter form suggestions?

Twitter Helping Twitter Find Jobs

Late last night, the #rtjobs hashtag showed up on my radar over on Twitter. It was being championed by @You2Gov as a mechanism to help connect those looking to fill positions with those looking for work. Naturally, I fall into this last group but I often hear about jobs that I am not able to consider, whether because of skill set or geography.

So while the #rtjobs project is developing over on Twitter, I slapped up a site that would help organize that information. Using WordPress and the Twitter Search API, I put together a site that I hope is both useful and productive.

It’s all about helping people find open opportunities and get placed. If you are on Twitter, you can help by passing along any info on open opportunities. Use the hashtag #rtjobs. If you have a position open, post it to Twitter using the same hashtag.

And of course, we could use some publicity on this. It’s only as good as the number of people who are aware. So if you’re a blogger, blog it. If you use social tools like Digg, StumbleUpon or Facebook, share this post with your network of people. Let the good karma flow in this really bad economy.

Twitter Phishing: Protecting Yourself

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Or at least, a funny thing happened over the weekend with regards to Twitter, spam and phishing (from Chris Pirillo). I really had no plans to outline my thoughts on the scam, because it is already being covered ad nauseum. However, I feel like I have to anyway.

The scam operates like any typical Windows worm and begins with a DM from a victimized Twitter follower. That direct message contains a link to a malicious (and unnamed) domain that screams “password stealing”. Nevertheless, gullible Twitter users click on the link and enter a page that looks an awful lot like the Twitter.com login screen (okay, it looks identical). The user enters login information thinking they are logging into Twitter and, in the blink of the eye, a malicious site has access to your Twitter account information.

215693116_8e4a24d11c_mThis is a very important concept to get. The user inadvertently gives Twitter account login information to a malicious site. I will rail more on this concept in a bit. Keep it in your mind.

The malicious site then proceeds to send DMs with the infectious link on behalf of the user. I have gotten seven of these in the past 24 hours.

Folks, Twitter is like email. You can be infected by the innocence of friends, Please be careful. You really don’t want a malicious sites having access to confidential business ideas, your common and unchanging password that you use everywhere, or intoxicatingly passionate messages to your lover. Be wary of this scam and tread lightly. If you get a message like this, contact the sender and advise them to change their password immediately. Unlike email worms, you cannot be affected by merely looking at the DM – only by clicking the link.

There are several problems here, as there are with most internet security problems. One is the technical problem (site can login and perform actions on your behalf). The other is a psychological problem (Twitter users giving away their username and password to untested, unvetted and untrusted third parties).

Twitter promises that they are working on a solution to the technical problem and that it will look like some form of OAuth, an authentication protocol similar to OpenID for application to application authentication. OAuth, when instituted, promises to provide a passwordless trust and authentication framework that should solve the problem that requires third party Twitter apps to request a users login information. However, for all their promises and the urgency that is increasing among developers, Twitter does not seem to be in a hurry to provide this protocol.

Additionally, computer users have been relentlessly brainwashed by anti-virus companies, corporate computing policies and other persistent reminders, to adhere to basic security practices. Don’t open attachments from unknown users. Run anti-virus. Use hard to guess passwords and change them often. And so on. And so forth. Folks, these concepts are basic life-guiding principles and apply on the web too. Don’t give away your username and password to anyone. Ever. Unless they are vetted and trusted by you and you understand what the ramifications are.

In the absence of an OAuth-style technical release from Twitter, and the lack of consistent user discipline, it is my recommendation that Twitter users no longer provide third party apps with their login information, regardless of how compelling the app is. It is not safe and it is an unwise security practice that flies in the face of everything you have been learning for years when it comes to your own personal computing practices. Twitter apps are defined as anything Twitter related that is not directly on the twitter.com domain.

Maybe Twitter will get serious about their security here.

Photo Credit: dinobirdo

Tech Predictions for 2009

As we gear up for 2009, there remains many questions about the economy and the growth curve of the technology industry. As a team, we have come up with predictions for 2009. Ray Capece, Venture Files editor for Technosailor.com and I make our predictions.

As always, these are predictions. Last year, we were dangerously accurate with our predictions and would like to think that we have a good understanding of the business and technology marketplace in 2009.

Ray’s Predictions

  1. By now, all VC firms have had the ‘triage’ partners meeting — where they decide, whether existing portfolio companies will 1) receive additional funding, because they’re generating revenue and have the prospect of getting cash-flow positive; 2) be shut down (and recapture any remaining cash); and 3) receive no additional funding, but be left to their own devices (to get funding however they might on their own). In 2000, there were a good many in category #2, since dot.com rounds were in the $10s of millions; now, with social-networking investments averaging around $1M, there will be little cash if any to recover. But I predict there will be many in category #3 (also known as ‘the walking dead,’ since they’re burning their cash, no matter how slowly, till it’s gone.)
  2. Online advertising revenues in 2009 will continue to fall, as inventory outpaces demand. I *don’t* see the $$ flowing from other media to online offsetting this downward trend.
  3. Consumers have discretionary (albeit small) $$$ to spend. In times of bleak economy, they seek distractions (gaming and feel-good entertainment), and will happily pay $0.99 for iFart. The hope for developers in the social networking space will potentially lie with commerce in real and virtual goods. Facebook and the others need to make this extremely easy for third parties, and it will most certainly happen in 2009. (Yes, despite what others are saying about FB’s party line.)
  4. Consolidation always picks up in down times . . . good, small apps facing a difficult fund-raising environment reset their valuations lower, and robust companies with solid funding swoop in to pick up the team and technology on the cheap. It began in the fourth quarter with Pownce and others, will continue throughout 2009.
  5. As an extension to this prediction — we’ll see more Intellectual Property for sale on eBay.
  6. Apple will continue to grow its mobile share as others fumble about. Watch for new BlackBerry Curve to become the defacto standard for ‘button lovers.’

Aaron’s Take: While I agree with most of Ray’s predictions, I’m more bullish on early round VC. Even though we won’t see as much investment as we have, I believe it will still happen and companies that have already been funded will probably continue to receive investment funds, even if on down valuations, as long as they are somewhat viable. The reason is that most funds are long-haul investments of about 10 years.

Aaron’s Predictions

  1. Consolidations will occur en masse this year. Small companies with angel funding or Series A funding will be lumped into bigger conglomerates as the acquisition threshold is low.
  2. Brightkite will be acquired by Facebook, as poignantly pointed out by a commenter over at Read Write Web.
  3. The second Google Android-powered G2 phone will be released to T-Mobile in Q1. As the first one was a proof of concept that had little impact, the second iteration will be an essential release to prove the Android platform. No other carriers will take the platform until the concept is proven, but T-Mobile is already there and will be the victim for the second release.
  4. Twitter will *not* be acquired, but an advertising/partnership business model will emerge in Q2.
  5. Apple will release 3 new products this year. That is it. Their growth will continue upward but will see a decline over growth patterns of previous years.
  6. Net Neutrality will take a massive hit in 2009 with governments and companies looking to defend themselves in a down economy. The result will be regulations that will allow the big telecoms survive. Too big to Fail. Unless it’s the general public.
  7. No clear winner in the “single identity” space. OpenID fades, fbConnect gets fleshed out and adopted by many while Google Friend Connect makes significant inroads with others. An emerging war akin to Bluray vs. HD-DVD emerges between Facebook and Google with the internet world divided evenly among the two. Blogs and social networks will tend toward Facebook while bigger sites and services, possibly including newspaper walled gardens, trending toward Google.

Ray’s Take: Aaron’s crystal ball looks pretty good to me . . . except that, like Jonah in the whale’s belly, Twitter will be devoured.