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The Ten Most Useful Things I’ve Discovered While Working with Social Media


… by Betsy Aoki, Senior Program Manager Social Media, Bing

I was going to write something long-winded about social media applications and marketing and decided you all were worth more than that. Here’s a mix of practical and philosophical observations from my 15 years of working with online communities and building Web applications that support them.

  1. Many roads, if not all, lead to the customer profile…and the human it represents. If you are designing community software, the profile is a Rosetta stone to the whole design. People pay attention to privacy issues with a profile, but there are more elegant questions answered there as well. How does the commerce/forums/peer-to-peer client deal with the profile? Is the profile varying in how it interacts with other profiles? Can a user have more than one? Does the user control how their information is displayed or warned when they don’t? Will users get to express themselves? Does the profile support anonymity or accountability or a mix of both? Is the profile portable to other sites, or is it siloed?


  2. No matter how much is automated, you will always need manual moderation capabilities and customer support – if they can put it up, you need to be able to take it down. There will be areas of gray.  Some people have to be kicked out of the club house. This is true even if we are talking about a proprietary customer database that no one but you sees in your small business. Some of your clients, you may need to fire because their dramas or their flakiness costs you money. Others may need to have special notes next to their names about what they want out of your product so you can hand-hold.This sounds like I’m talking about software but it can also be time allocation or staff. You can’t put something interactive online without having a caretaker to look after it.  You might have to have a real in-person event.  You can’t have a humanizing influence on the Web without the manual/human touch.


  3. Haters can be revelation, sometimes. If a person writes you an angry post/tweet/email, assuming they aren’t threatening harm, it always helps to answer them back (and they may apologize instantly once they realize there’s a real human being in there). Your enemies, detractors, people who are deeply disappointed in you – they teach you more than the bootlickers. Don’t go into social apps or social marketing expecting to be loved by everyone – and really, you won’t learn anything if they do.


  4. Even non-game projects may be game-like –stay alert. Working on the “game” dynamics of Live QnA (i.e. a question answer service with leaderboards, reputation, star ratings, and plans for badges) that seemed more like the MSN crowd than the Bioshock crowd taught me stuff I needed in creating a platform for Xbox. Social projects, particularly where you capture data, will feed you for the next big thing, even when you think they are too boring or possibly not even “social enough.”


  5. First mover advantage is killer. Being one of the few women in tech in the 90s and working on Seattle Webgrrls – didn’t have to market the group.  Women in technology groups nowadays have to distinguish themselves from other choices. Doing what you love may not look so radical 5 or 10 years later – and will you be sorry if you haven’t done it? Love it? Do it.


  6. Metrics, metrics, metrics. Dude, Excel pivot tables hate me. But don’t tell me you are a social media guru unless you can show me the numbers. Quote me stuff like NPR’s fabulous survey on the differences between Facebook and Twitter NPR customers: “While we have over three million Twitter followers across multiple NPR accounts, they typically drive less than a fifth of the amount of referral traffic than our 1.25 million Facebook users do during any given month. So while Twitter may be an ideal way of getting headlines to our users, it doesn’t necessarily translate to the same amount of traffic as Facebook does.”


  7. Immeasurable also counts – community woo-woo practically always shows up. That miraculous conversion of hater to lover in bullet #1? That’s woo-woo. When community members petition Microsoft not to close an online property (Live QnA) because they felt the spark we had given them, and didn’t want to let it die – that’s woo-woo.  When people write us at bing.com/redu because they want to volunteer – (how many for-profit companies have volunteer requests?) that’s woo-woo. Be ready for people to surprise you in ways greater than the sum of all parts.


  8. It’s ok to be a shy person using social media – it’s all about other people anyway. If you are in social media to take from others or aggrandize yourself, well, people can tell. If you are in it for other people, people can tell. I will never be as smooth as my boss Stefan at a podium but I’ve created groups online and offline because what I wanted to do was bigger than I was. Frankly, everyone I have wanted to do is bigger than me – that’s where the fun isJ.  Like the Bene Gesserit, exist only to serve (but take vacations now and again).


  9. Yes, being a female in the social or tech space can at times feel like you’ve been kicked in the ovaries. Being present online and identifiable can bring out the crazies or just the nasties. Press on, but always make sure you feel safe. If you don’t feel safe, call the cops.  If you don’t want to check in online, don’t.  A lot of software is still built by guys who don’t give walking down the street alone in a strange city to their hotel room a second thought. You have the right to set boundaries in your physical and online life.

    If you are a guy reading this, well, just don’t be that guy that drives women off social media/the Interwebs. Be that guy that she wants to talk to or tweet at, instead.

    Note: It’s also true that being alertly present, technical, social media-minded and female can also mean you will be the recipient of admiration and supportive strength. Walk it and rock it.


  10. Don’t be dismayed by terminology and titles for yourself or other people. In fifteen years I’ve been an “online producer.” Also a “product manager” “director of community” “site manager” “community program manager” “blog queen” “senior program manager, social media” and most recently and accurately, “Stefan’s minion.” In most of those cases, there was a v.1 product or web site and I had to organize people, work with developers or content providers in order to make it happen. Sometimes I had to embarrass myself by talking to press in person or on video, sometimes I could create internal dismay conveniently online using “social tools.” Whatever. Remember #8?As long as the title doesn’t get in your way, ignore it. It won’t be on your tombstone. And if it is, you ain’t there to see it.And terminology always changes, so don’t be cowed by it. When you realize that the guys are just using jargon that has a definition and it’s not magic, you can rock on.  (How many of you have heard a developer actually spell out what API stands for? Thought so.)


  11. Ok, I said there were only 10, but this one is too important – to turn it up to 11, you really need to take the time to thank people.  At the launch of every project. When someone goes out of their way to save your butt or just on a normal day. When someone tweets their support after a hard day at the office.  It’s also getting toward Thanksgiving and as apt a time as any to think about how you can use social media to make sure that people know you appreciate them.To that end, thanks for reading all the way to the end  – and many thanks to the social computing geeks at Microsoft and elsewhere, men and women, whose conversations have inspired me.

Betsy Aoki is a 15-year veteran of Web technology and online community applications.  Recently Mary Jo Foley of CNET called her  a “Microsoft Woman to Watch” for her work in launching Microsoft’s corporate blogging platforms, the Live QnA consumer question-and-answer site, and the Xbox Live Indie Games platform.  Lured to the marketing side for Bing, she has devised its social media strategies and recently launched the education reform platform, http://bing.com/redu .

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