Hints for creating small business and non-profit Twitter Lists

[Notes: You can view all my “Thoughts on Twitter” posts displayed chronologically here: http://www.RexBlog.com/thoughts-on-twitter.]

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During the past few weeks, I’ve been spending a few minutes each day creating Twitter Lists as part of a set of directories on SmallBusiness.com (a wiki) called the Small Business Twitter Lists Project.

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Currently, the project involves creating (or finding) local lists of merchants, cafes and other consumer-oriented small businesses who are actively using Twitter to communicate with their customers. (Later, we’ll be adding lists of professional services, personal services, business services, consultants, etc., but now, we’re focusing limited bandwidth on doing lists of small businesses that are consumer-focused.)

Our plans are to create good models of lists and then to encourage others to create such lists they can add to the directory.

Even though I spend just a few minutes each day on it, the project has led me to realize what a great potential service Twitter Lists are, but how there needs to be some guidance or suggestions for what makes a good list. (And yes, I realize the irony that the lists created under the @r Twitter account do not follow these suggestions yet.)

So, here are the top hints for creating and curating Twitter Lists I’ve learned (so-far) from the SmallBusiness.com Twitter Lists Project:

1. Know the difference in “following” and “listing”: On Twitter, “following” is like adding a Twitter user to your iTunes Library. “Listing” is like creating a play list.

2. You don’t have to “follow” a Twitter account to “list” it, so that iTunes metaphor in #1 is a little inaccurate. Another kink in the metaphor: At this point, you can only create 20 lists. (Warning: see hint #8)

3. Lists are incredibly helpful to people who look to you for expertise on a topic. A list titled “Boise stores where I shop” can be a great service to those who consider you a retail maven in Boise.

4. Another way to explain #3: If you have more than 100 Twitter users you follow, new Twitter users may look at the list of those you follow hoping to find people they should follow — a Twitter List would be a lot more helpful to them.

5. Name your list in a search friendly way. Twitter has not yet integrated Lists as a filter (operator) to Search.twitter.com and is even promoting a third-party list directory called Listorious (obvious acquisition possibility for Twitter), so it is important that you name a list so that it can be found by those using Google to find lists. (Here’s an example of the Google search engine results page if someone is looking for a Twitter List of small businesses in Austin and uses the query: Austin small business twitter list)

6. Keep your lists “narrow” in focus. Think niche. Twitter Lists are like tagging. They can be categorized any way you like, and using any term, and can include hundreds of accounts. However, I’ve found that for me, personally, the most helpful lists are narrow in focus, and very limited in number. For example, with our SmallBusiness.com project, I feel certain we will end up with lists of coffee shops, lists of bars, etc., in a certain city — rather than lists that are broad.

7. Use the “description” field to explain what your list is about. This is a recently added feature, so if you’ve created a list, go back and add it. Again, this will help Google find the list, and make it easier for readers to understand what you intend the list to be about.

8. The best Twitter List to experiment with is a cause about which you are passionate. In fact, here’s your first Twitter List trail run. Create a Twitter List with the name of your hometown as the first word followed by “___________ non-profit organizations I admire”

9. (A cautionary hint related to #2) You can create “private” Twitter Lists that only you can see, but those on the list can see they’re on such a list — so don’t name a private lists “idiots worth monitoring” or anything like that.

10. If you create or run across a good list of your hometown merchants, bars, restaurants and cafes using Twitter to promote their businesses (i.e., *not* a list of social media experts and marketing consultants – yet), please email me a link to it: rex@smallbusiness.com.

An important lesson in business success: Use your product

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[Note: I am going to start doing more small business related posts here. When I do, I’m going to add relevant links to the wiki-model resource SmallBusiness.com, which, as a matter of disclosure, is owned by Hammock Inc.]

TechCrunch posted a Q&A transcript in which Twitter founder Biz Stone said the following:

Q: What was the original motivation behind Twitter?

Biz: We should start with Odeo. We were working at Odeo, we weren’t as passionate about the podcasting service as we should have been. We weren’t using it, and that was a problem. Twitter got started because Ev gave us some freedom to think along different lines.

In one of my occasional posts called, “Thoughts on Twitter“, I wrote an essay called “If the creators of Twitter don’t always get Twitter, why should you?” In it, I wrote the following:

“They simply set up (Twitter). And this time, they actually started playing around with it themselves. Unlike their apparent disinterest in podcasting (with Odeo), they seemed to enjoy tweeting.”

As an observer of (and participant in) a constant flow of business startups, product launches, marketing efforts, etc., I have discovered something that’s a universal truth:

1. If you aren’t actually passionate — on a personal level — about your product (or new feature, new marketing program, new blog you’ve launched), it will fail.

In a later post, I’ll explain why such failure is probably a good thing, but in the mean time, read that earlier post post about the creators of Twitter not getting Twitter.


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Help create the web’s largest wiki-model free small business resource. If you know something about Twitter, add it here.


A fun Google Maps experimental tourist tool that could grow up to be a valuable work tool

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The best feature of the experimental Google Maps City Tours may now
be the “remove” button. But with some time and tweaks,
this could be a great sight seeing — or business planning — tool.

Via Seach Engine Land and Steve Rubel comes word of a new Google Labs experimental project called City Tours (http://citytours.googlelabs.com/search). And by “experimental,” Google Labs really means experimental, as in it’s not ready for prime time and it may not become a real product. As I’ve written before, Google tries things all the time that don’t work and which they then discard — that’s a big part of why they are so successful.

Given some time to let the features evolve, I believe this could be an incredibly helpful tool — and not just for sight-seeing, but as a valuable logistics tool for certain kinds of businesses.

In essence, it mashes up several features already found in Google Maps: Google Maps advanced search features that most people never discover (i.e., map search queries like “category:”Museums” loc: Nashville), the personalization of “my maps,” the ability to override Google maps’ suggested directions by moving push-pins, data from walking directions and ratings and review data. City Tour takes all those mashed up features and presents them in a metaphor that results in what could be a helpful way to plan an itinerary of a multi-day of sight-seeing in any city. You start by merely typing in the name of a city or you can search for a specific address.

Because my hometown of Nashville is a tourist destination for many (locals, however, consider it a badge of honor to claim they’ve never visited many of the places tourists come to see), I decided I’d check out the default suggestions of a search of Nashville. Other than jumping in the car to drive out to something near the Opryland Hotel called the Willie Nelson and Friends General Store and Museum, I can understand why the default locations were selected. However, there is a means to override anything the map suggests (Add/Remove sights), so the default sites are merely placeholders. (I assume the sites recommended may change as the ratings data users contribute “vote up” or “vote down” specific locations.)

But this is a work in progress — early in the work’s progress: the “experimental”-ness of City Tours can be seen if you try to add a visit to one of Nashville’s museums that’s actually worth a visit — the Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson, the map assumes you’re referring to the Hermitage Hotel, home of the best restroom in America. (Hint: search for Hermitage Museum to get the real Hermitage.)

More importantly, by changing some metaphors related to what one can use a map like this for — in this case, it’s a vacation planning tool — this type of tool could evolve into a delivery planning tool for business that could provide a low cost (or free) alternative to super-expensive logistics systems certain delivery-intensive businesses need. Take some of the same set of features and call it “small business delivery planning map” and you’d have a hacked (but obviously, greatly simplified) version of the routing instructions a UPS delivery person is handed each day (actually, it’s on a computer in the truck) that, reportedly, is so efficient, it minimizes left hand turns in order to save gas and drive-time.

With a few tweaks, this could be an incredibly helpful — and extremely valuable (time=money) tool for helping small service businesses that dispatch workers (i.e., repair service companies, deliveries) plan their workers intenerary. It won’t challenge UPS and others who sell high-end systems for certain types of companies, but it could be a killer application for a fleet of 3-4 trucks — or larger.

In the mean time, the experimental version could be fun to play with in planning a trip — and even more fun for locals to criticize for what the default version suggests, or doesn’t.

Dell joins Facebook to friend small businesses

Today, Dell’s Small & Media Business (SMB) online marketing group launched a Facebook “community and guide” (translation: page) designed to help educate small business owners on “how to harness the power of social media to reach and serve their customers.” Dell is calling the Facebook “community and guide” Social Media for Small Business.

 

According to Dell, the Facebook group/community/page will include:

Guides on how to use blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
Screencast introductions to social-media tools
A discussion board
Best-practice sharing including a featured small or medium business of the week
Deals and news from Dell Small and Medium Business

According to this post by J.J. Davis, “early adopters” — I guess that means fans — will receive $100 in Facebook ad credits.

Earlier this year, Visa launched the Visa Business Network application on Facebook.

[Note: Dell is an advertiser in a magazine published by Hammock Inc., however, I discovered this news via, well, Twitter. How else?]

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Is Google a black hole for companies it acqhires?

On May 11, 2005, I first used the term “acqhire” and was so amused with myself that I appended the post to define it: “When a large company ‘purchases’ a small company with no employees other than its founders, typically to obtain some special talent or a cool concept.” That post was about Google, then a mere $64 billion company, purchasing the two-person company, Dodgeball.com. (Ever heard of it? Didn’t think so.)

Earlier this week, Slate ran a story that picked up a theme written about often — that small companies Google acqhires often end up in a black hole. I have no personal insight into what happens at Google and I can’t say I agree 100% with him, but Jason Fried — whose company, 37 Signals, has probably had plenty of opportunities to be acquired — has a great quote in the article that is worth repeating:

“You take great talents and you put them in this big company and they get drowned out by all this policy stuff,” Fried argues. “Putting a small company in a big company kills what was good about the small company.”

Here’s a MyBusiness magazine story I wrote about Jason in 2006 that explored his preference for keeping his company independent. From the time I spent interviewing him for the story and from being a user of his company’s products ever since, I’m glad he provides a balancing point of view to the notion that the only reason to start a business is to flip it. In the narrow niche that is covered by the tech blogosphere, that may be the goal, but for most small businesses in the real world, the magnet is independence and the opportunity to see an idea realized.

There will be no pity from me for those who have sold their startup to Google, only to see it sucked into a blackhole. Their product dreams may have been dashed, but they left with a lifetime’s worth of parting prizes. Next time, they’ll know better what matters.