Best Buy & Radio Shack: Who Failed w/Twitter Support?

TWITTERBIRDEver since companies like Comcast used Twitter (e.g., @ComcastCares, see BusinessWeek article) for timely response to customer inquiries or issues — before those issues blew up and hurt their brand or as ways to build goodwill with the influencers and early adopters — other organizations looked to this effort and undoubtedly saw the benefits.

Best Buy rolled out something called “Twelpforce” as a way to leverage employee assistance with customer inquiries (see Techcrunch article). Unbeknownst to me, Radio Shack has done the same thing with “The_Shack“, a Twitter account clearly monitored for keywords as you ‘ll see in a moment.

I’ve been skeptical from the get-go on these efforts, since it’s extremely difficult to explain anything but the most basic questions when one has only 140 characters with which to ask it. Like instant messaging, frustration grows quickly when several messages have to go back-n-forth in order to clearly communicate the essence of the request, and this is the #1 reason I expect most Twitter “help” efforts (like Twelpforce and The_Shack) to fail unless steps are taken to move an initial query offline, or be able to add audio or video to the clarification.

On Friday I did a podcast recording with the Blue Mikey, a microphone that connects to the bottom of my iPhone and works great, but realized that my shotgun microphone at the office (with its 3.5mm plug) would’ve been 5x better with so many people standing in a circle as part of the podcast. While I completely understand separate microphone use in the headphone connector on the iPhone is not supported, several people have taken apart cables and created their own connector to allow the use of these 3rd party microphones.

So I went to Best Buy in Eden Prairie, MN to explain the need and see if they could help. Complete cluelessness and only one blueshirt had any interest in helping out. So I jumped in my car and started to head for home, but pulled over and did the audioBoo recording on my iPhone below. Lo-and-behold, Radio Shack’s The_Shack sent me an @ reply asking if they could help.

   Direct link to the mp3

So I thought I’d do an experiment: ask the same question to both Twelpforce and The_Shack and see how fast they respond AND to see who “gets” the essence of what I was asking for and exhibits a willingness to help. To say I was disappointed in one of them would be an understatement.

After the jump, you’ll see the chronology of how this went down and see who — Best Buy or Radio Shack — ultimately prevailed by at least giving me an accurate answer, though not a solution (which I’m still working on). It points out how and why Twitter help is fraught with issues and may very well cause more frustration and problems than it alleviates.  Read More

Personal & Professional Hubs for Your Digital Life

1.002The Minneapolis/St. Paul Social Media Breakfast is a surprisingly strong group of creatives, PR, marketing and interactive media enthusiasts, so much so that it’s possible that the Twin Cities could be the social media capital of the world! Thinking back on my days at Apple — and knowing that the base of creative talent in Minnesota made it one of the strongest markets for the company — it probably shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise.

On June 26, 2009 I was privileged to give a talk to, what turned out to be, the largest SMBMSP yet at 300+ participants. Several people emailed me about adding a voiceover to the PDF of the presentation I’d provided and did so. I’ve created it’s own page for the video here so you can view it in HD resolution.

Let me know what you think!

Farting and Social Media

Appalled that one of the top apps on the Apple iPhone app store was a $.99 app called “Bunny Farts” (iTunes link), I did the tweet you see in the image at left.

Is it just me, or does that tweet not come across as satirical?

Much to my amusement, I received this email today from a company that makes a competing “fart app” for the iPhone hoping I’d go look at their app and do a review:

Mon, Jun 1, 2009 at 12:55 AM To: steve (at)


I’d appreciate if you can give me some feedback on our iphone app iLightFarts

I realize that you are iphone app guru :) It’d be swell if you can place an honest review of our app.

Thank you,

Besides being incredibly flattered to be seen as an “iphone app guru”, I realized that I’d have to buy this app, try it out, and then do a review. Or perhaps do a review without buying the app and do a positive one since ModStylez actually reached out to me and sees me as a farting expert.

No question I’m a big fan of comedy and even of flashlight apps for the iPhone, but how many does the world need? Do we also need competitive social media strategies when it comes to better farting capability with our mobile devices?

This sort of random Twitter harvesting (and subsequent emailing) is spam…plain-n-simple. ModStylez (a company who hosts with a Melbourne, Australia ISP so I assume they speak English and further assume they appreciate the satirical) is undoubtedly harvesting any-and-all tweets that mention “fart” apps, but if they’d actually read mine — and had any sense of the ironic — “Pam” would’ve understood that I think these sorts of apps are a complete waste of time.

These and other fart app creators need to do something useful or at least get better at authentically using social media when they reach out to people.

Facts About The Digital Economy

Having information and facts at-your-fingertips about the internet and web is absolutely critical whether you’re a startup needing content for your pitch, a marketer needing to understand a 40,000 foot view of trends, a corporate user needing to understand mobile access to the ‘net or international usage, or if you’re just someone like me: an info-junkie who needs a constant data fix in order to constantly track what’s hot and what’s not.

This report is put out by the Progress and Freedom Foundation, an organization that is a “…market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. Its mission is to educate policymakers, opinion leaders, and the public about issues associated with technological change, based on a philosophy of limited government, free markets, and individual sovereignty.

PFF’s research combines academic analysis with a practical understanding of how public policy is made. Its senior fellows and other scholars are leading experts in their fields, with distinguished careers in government, business, academia and public policy. Its research is substantive, scholarly, and unbiased.

Covered in the report are these key areas:

  1. The Growth of the Internet
  2. The Hardware Sector
  3. The Communications Sector
  4. Digital Media
  5. Electronic Commerce
  6. Threats to the Digital Economy
  7. The Worldwide Digital Economy

One of the best parts are the active links in each chapter’s EndNotes which allow you to drill down into many areas covered within this report.

Here is the download page and a direct link (PDF).

URL Shorteners: Is a Custom One the Solution?

When I wrote this story about a Minnesota company, TinyURL, I mentioned some concerns about URL shortening services.

URL shortening, if you’re not aware, is a service that takes a looooooooong URL (e.g., like a huge one from Google Maps) and turns it into a short one such as

Now that Twitter is becoming so widely adopted — though has its 140 character message limit — the only way to author a good message and deliver a URL is usually with a shortened one.

Here’s the problem. Already I’ve found dead links from shortened URLs. Spammers are getting wise to using them to mask the end site they’re trying to get you to view. In addition, I went to a resource site this week which had every single link a shortened URL!

Concerns have been raised by many people that shortened URLs are weak links that are undermining the integrity of the Web itself (e.g., here and here). To illustrate how pervasive these services have become, well over a year ago Mashable published this post on 90+ URL shortening services! This shortening of URLs process has become laughingly easy for all of us and there are too many uses (again, Twitter, SMS, etc.) where it’s a lot easier to use a shortened URL than a long one…so we all do it.

When voicing my concern about this to Kevin Gilbertson (creator of TinyURL), he assured me that these temporary and ethereal pointers to ‘real’ URLs were not going to “break the Web” but instead were providing a useful service (e.g., to email or Twitter users) where long URLs were a barrier and obstacle to providing others with links. He also pointed out that any publisher, creator of resources online, or those delivering high value which they wish to remain permanently available, are being imprudent if they don’t use the original URLs.

Good point. But is there even a better solution? How about a custom one?

Many URL shortening services are able to create custom ones for companies, media publishers and others. My friend, Garrick Van Buren, has a service called “Cullect” and he recently delivered a customized URL shortener for an online news organization, MinnPost, so I’ve observed how this can be a positive and be within the ultimate control of the organization itself.  They ‘own’ both the original URL and the shortened one so they can maintain the integrity of the linking (disclaimer: another blog I participate in, Minnov8, is the technology contributor to MinnPost).

My recommendation to individual participants is to go ahead and use the URL shortening services, keeping in mind to link to the original URL (not use the shortened one) when creating more permanent pointers on a website, blog or social network. My advice to clients, especially those that have a need to deliver many links in a Twitter stream or through other means, to have a custom URL shortening service created for them so they own, maintain and ensure the integrity of the linking so the Web is not, as many fear, in jeopardy of being ripped apart.

Why Empowered Customer Service Reps Matter

Just had an experience that could have gone awry if not for an empowered customer service rep who took action and turned a negative into something positive by listening to me and having the authority to do the right thing.

For a couple of years I’ve been enjoying Parallels, the virtual machine to run Windows on Mac. Though I didn’t immediately upgrade to 4.0 — since booting into Windows via Boot Camp was meeting my needs at the time — recent client requirements compelled me to leverage my Mac tools and Windows simultaneously making rebooting not a viable option.

Parallels continued emailing finally met my need and it was pretty painless to upgrade rather than move to their competitor VMWare Fusion (and climb a new learning curve to boot) even though I’ve got some buddies who swear by it and tried to convince me to buy it instead.

Over lunch today I went to the Parallels site, purchased and downloaded the upgrade. Installing it I was asked for my previous version key which I cut-n-pasted from an email. OH NO! It turned out that my previous key was the 3.0 upgrade from 2.0 key…and I needed the original 2.0 key!

After spending a half hour digging through my office closet in search of my original box with the key on the CD jacket, I confirmed my nagging suspicion that I’d tossed it out since I’d written the new key down in my archive as well as emailing it to myself (my way of ensuring it’s at my fingertips and safe).

Getting on the phone with customer service licensing, the young woman Amy let me know that I’d need to contact their distribution partner, Nova Development, in order to obtain my original key! Having been through this key dependency problem with Adobe — until they figured out that a successful upgrade requiring a previous key was sufficient anti-piracy measure — I knew I faced nearly an hour of “key chasing” in order to use the product I’d purchased, downloaded and was in the midst of installing.

I asked Amy, “Before we get off the phone, may I rant just a bit?” in my nicest voice, concealing my agitation. Pointing out how Adobe had made a policy change to cease pissing off their customers through this key dependency problem, our conversation eventually got around to her emailing me an original 2.0 key so I could upgrade! Problem solved, customer delighted, and so much so he does a blog post about this atypical-but-very-important service empowerment.

Smart move by Parallels management to not so tightly restrict a licensing rep so s/he can’t make a judgement call.

Lessons From Our First “Social Media” President

The enormity of the shift that occurred last night is still sinking in. Feeling the spirit of millions that have been moved and are primed to tap into vision and get behind this new leader was certainly profound. Ironically, it wasn’t until I saw a man in a live TV shot last night whom I’ve had zero affinity for in the past — the Reverend Jesse Jackson — shedding tears in Chicago’s Grant Park in the midst of tens of thousands of others, did it sink in how amazing this was for the African-American community.

Not that I’ve been unaware of Obama’s black 50%, but it’s been totally irrelevant since I, like more of us than ever before, realize that we’re all connected and in this together. What’s mattered to me is his vision, my belief in his intention for change, his certain inclusion of everyone, a refreshing intelligence, and the world-class thought leaders he’s already brought close to him as he crafts strategy.

What will be hyper-analyzed over the next several months, however, is that the Obama campaign leveraged the internet, tapped into the social media zeitgeist, and engaged with people in ways never before possible (and because so many of us are already connected with social media), and there are key lessons here for every company, organization, movement or individual wanting to sell, build brands, move an agenda forward, or build an ecosystem.

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HiDef Conferencing – Free until the end of 2008

For my other blog, Minnov8, we’ve been recording our Minnov8 Gang podcast using the HiDefConferencing service. Our interviewees and my fellow gang members can call in via Skype or a telephone, and as the main host have web controls, a backup mp3 recording and, most importantly, easy call-in for any participants. All for the up-to-10-participant $30 per month.

Then imagine my delight when I got this email below just now. Very smart marketing, good customer service and goodwill builder during this time where we’re all hunkered down watching our nickels-n-dimes.

To all of our valued customers:

We at know that these economic times create anxiety and uncertainty for many of you.  We want you to know that is on solid ground financially and is continuing to grow our user base at an exciting rate.

As our way of saying thanks we will not be charging you any fees for your account plans or any of your usage through the rest of this year, 2008  You will also continue to enjoy the same level of service and support that you have become accustomed to from but without any of the monthly charges that you have been paying.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • You will be able to use Skype and regular telephones
  • US Toll Free Service will remain subject to the same minute allocations as before
  • International Toll Free service unfortunately will have to remain inactive until January, 2009
  • The US local numbers will be available at no extra charge through the end of 2008.

In these uncertain times, we want to thank you for supporting and do our small part to help you out.  However, you can expect us to begin charging you around January 1, 2009.

If you have any questions, please contact us.

Ben Lilienthal, CEO

“Collaboration Now!” on CNBC Oct. 12th

Donny Deutsch, host

When a topic is worthy of a television show, you know it’s hit the mainstream of business consciousness and is one you should sit up and take notice of right away.

Collaboration Now! is a new show on the business channel, CNBC, hosted by Donny Deutsch. This is a successful advertising guy I’ve come to admire through one of the most positive, uplifting and motivating entrepreneurial shows on television he hosts, The Big Idea, and this new show looks to be just as instructive, informative and intriguing.

Here’s the premise:

Collaboration is essential to compete in the global arena. In order to stay ahead of the curve, organizations need to redefine the rules of collaboration, build trust in new ways, collaborate in virtual environments and partner with those who help make it happen.

Find out how Boeing’s global partners are building the airplanes of the future, Cisco is helping companies collaborate from remote locations in real time and how NFTRA is working together to enhance trade, not restrict it.

Does your collaboration have the right ingredients to succeed?

With upcoming shows about collaborating in human resources, social responsibility, the future of tools, technologies and approaches, Collaboration Now! will undoubtedly be one that you will want to set to record on your DVR like I did last evening.

In my talks, attending conferences and interacting with my client executives, there seems to be a surprising leadership reluctance to focus resources on collaboration (or, by extension, any crowdsourcing initiatives) and too strong a need to have teams create elaborate business and use-cases in order to justify collaboration software or services within a company.

Sadly in this time of high oil prices, collapsing financial markets and a near capital lending freeze — all making collaboration software, services and training more imperative and yet tougher to invest in and move forward on — there seems to be a new openness to embrace it as the recognition sinks in that we’re living in a time of the greatest shift in human connection ever and finding ways to collaborate with one another is already a critical success factor.

If nothing else this show will certainly provide strong evidence — and do it with well produced, slick and entertaining segments — that you can use to help justify having collaboration be a much higher priority and worthy of investment.

If you’re a leader in your company, an entrepreneur delivering any kind of web applications or social media, or just a frustrated functional area leader who sees the need for more impactful collaboration, then you’ll certainly absorb some key ideas from the topics they cover and the guests they invite on.

Social Publishing Systems: What about We, the Participants?

We’re living in a time of the greatest shift in human (and machine) connection and communication any of us over 30 years old will experience in our lifetimes. Social media is proliferating, networks of people exploding, self-publishing, microblogging and new communications channels like Twitter emerging, and for the most part, the enterprise isn’t playing in most of these areas.

As a former content management systems (CMS) guy (was with Vignette during the dotcom heyday), I’m in an interesting spot between grassroots social media use by individuals, non-profits and small business and my enterprise clients trying to determine how to play in this shifting landscape. These clients are trying to figure out how to engage all of us connecting and communicating, and just finding more efficient ways of publishing content with a CMS or portal isn’t cutting it.

Social publishing systems are needed.

This morning I read Jeremiah Owyang (Sr Analyst at Forrester Research: Social Computing) who had this post entitled, “Social Software: Here Come The CMS Vendors.” He begins by discussing his oft-repeated theme of the volume of white label social networking providers, and ends with a premise about the major CMS vendors, “I’ve started to notice more of the ‘traditional’ CMS and Portal players that already have deep footprints into the corporate web teams that are inching into this space.

What are the trends, what are CMS vendors likely to do and what should be offered?

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