Geek is a Global Language - But Twitter is Not (yet)
During the blogger embark on the USS Nimitz this past May, I enjoyed learning how social media is being used aboard an aircraft carrier at sea. Similarly, when I was invited to join the Traveling Geeks trip to Paris, I looked forward to experiencing social media in France first hand. Especially with - as fellow Geek Matthew Buckland referred to - a "top secret, Illuminati-type organization". Except we were not secret about anything as we all share openly our thoughts online.
True to expectations, only moments into the first Traveling Geeks French start-ups meetings and LeWeb discussions, the similarities and differences of social media around the globe quickly came to light. Similarities were easy to see in the programming and features of application development, which quickly proved to a be a global language. As for differences, they fell primarily into three buckets (with comedy insight provided by a Current TV video on the bottom of this post):
1. Where are the girl geeks in Paris? I know there are girl geeks in Paris; I found a link to my favorite Girl Geek Dinner organization in Paris. I did enjoy talking with Anne-Celine Jeanneau from Zoomorama (pictured, right) at the Paris Digital Content Companies Incubator. While fellow Traveling Geek Eliane Fiolet lives in the US now, she was born in France and is one of the most knowledgeable geeks I know! I was thrilled to see Geraldine Le Meur on the LeWeb stage, someone who ranks TOPS in my Tech Mom Twitter list.
When I visit different countries, I don't keep track of how many women versus men I am meeting with. But I do enjoy seeing women globally communicate their strong, social media voice. In Silicon Valley, I connect with girl geeks through BlogHer, She's Geeky, Anita Borg Institure, Women 2.0, Girl Geek Dinners and Girls in Tech (and more). While I don't expect every area to have so many groups, I do enjoy meeting with local girl geek organizations while I am traveling and sharing ideas. Renee Blodgett and Eliane Fiolet worked hard to have diversity in the Traveling Geeks crew. Back in the US, BlogHer is researching into how women use social media: "BlogHer Team to Bring Research and Insights About How Women Use Social Media, Blogs to the White House and Republican Leadership".
2. European Geeks Out Style Silicon Valley Geeks: While Silicon Valley geeks put on a clean tee shirt for tech conferences, European geeks take it up a notch. Here is a random geek waiting in line for LeWeb. I told him I was chronicling European Geek Chic. He looked confused but smiled for the camera. To top it off, he and many other Euro-geeks paired the geek uniform of jeans with a nice pair of (non-sneaker) shoes.
Just to keep up with the style, I put on every black and stylish piece of clothing I had. If I had time, I would of shopped from the assortment of beautiful french scarves to take my outfit up a notch. Luckily I am back home in my gym clothes, which is my preferred blogging uniform.
3. Where are the conversations? Person to Person or Twitter to Twitter?: In Silicon Valley, online social networking ID names rival business cards as a means for introduction and maintaining contact; I introduce myself as "TechMama on Twitter". My perspective is that Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are required applications for global business interaction, especially for those wanting to do business in the US. These applications are becoming the center of the conversation, with complimentary applications being built around them.
Because I was using Twitter to microblog the Traveling Geeks trip to Paris, the first thing I requested from any startup/business person I met was their Twitter ID. I also wanted to add people to my International tech Twitter list. But not everyone had Twitter ID's. I finally got up the courage to ask Jean-Baptiste Soufron, a tech savvy Lawyer and tech entrepreneur in Paris , "Why aren't more French entrepreneurs on Twitter?". Soufron then gave an answer that hit the nail on the head: "Maybe they will use Twitter later, but today Twitter is not big enough outside of the US to be used by businesses". He later told me that Facebook in France is mostly used for online social interaction. Or as he said with a charming french accent "Facebook is for flirting".
I found that websites, email and personal phone calls are popular in Paris for Business to Consumer and Consumer to Business communication. The business culture of Paris favors person to person conversations, a natural priority which I found impressive. The French entrepreneurs on Twitter were power users who not only had their own Twitter ID's but also were following the Traveling Geeks conversation in real time.
My epiphany from this trip was that I exist in a high-tech, Silicon Valley bubble surrounded by blogger, geek, and social media contacts who are not only on Twitter but also actively using it to harness the power of a global community and interact with business brands. The Traveling Geeks themselves are global and all plugged in. As the lively, witty and Scottish Ewan said in his post, "the group also had Belgium, South Africa, France and Morocco represented ". Traveling Geeks are pictured below: (front row starting from left) Ewan Spence, Olivier Ezratty , Eliane Fiolet, Amanda Coolong, Beth Blecherman, Renee Blodgett, Rodrigo Sepulveda Schulz, Matthew Buckland, Kim-Mai Cutler. Back row (starting from left): Jerome Tranié, Sky Schuyler, Tom Foremski , Robin Wauters, Frederic Lardinois, David Spark.
But not everyone in the group was surprised about the different social media adaption rates that exist across the globe. It seemed as though the Silicon Valley Geeks may have been most shocked (See posts by Robert Scoble , David Spark's, Olivier Ezratty and others on Traveling Geeks Website). Social media adaption rates vary not only by community within the United States, but also globally. Looking back at my B to C communication in the US, I also realized that many of my friends (power consumers) don't use Twitter as well and are just starting to use Facebook.
The challenge for global companies that may not have a high percentage of local customers using social media is "when should they set up a flag on social media sites like Twitter"? Setting up social media for businesses is a commitment: when a company sets up an ID on any social network, they need to have a monitoring, messaging and engagement policy to support it.
Is online social media use in Silicon Valley really that different from that in France or globally?The website Global Web Index created a handy graphic (below) posted November 26, 2009 about global social web involvement. This chart backs up my observations that globally only a small percentage of early adopters are involved in online social media. I found the chart via a Mashable post by Adam Ostrow written on Dec. 4th. Click Here to see the PDF version.
Some key figures from the Global Web Index for France and the United States are listed below:
France: 9.5% have written their their own blog and 3.8% use a micro-blogging service.
United States: 12.8% have written their own blog while 7.0% use a micro-blogging service.
So while the United States is slightly ahead in micro-blogging and blogging, the figures show that global adoption of social media is in the early stages.
So how should global companies participate in online social media, keeping in mind that not all their customers will be there?
1. Social Media Engagement Plan: Global conversations are taking place on social media, so even if a companies' customers are not on social media yet - at some point they will join in the conversation. But each business, no matter how big or small, should have an overall social media engagement plan that includes a way to "monitor" the feedback and "engage" back in the conversation. There are many examples of mistakes that have been made by employees inappropriately using social media on the job, so the employee policies and social media training are key. But the first step for any social media engagement plan would be to determine which social media platforms (i.e. Twitter, Facebook Page etc), how to monitor/share (i.e. Seesmic, HootSuite, Radian6 etc) and customer feedback (i.e Get Satisfaction).
There are many subject matter experts globally that share their knowledge. The fearless leaders of the Traveling Geeks have global experience with social media: Renee Blodgett of Magic Sauce Media, Eliane Fiolet of the global Ubergizmo, Phil Jeudy and Sky led the Traveling Geeks through the tour. I have gained valuable social media insight from following Renee Blodgett and gadget insight from Eliane Fiolet. But the first place I would start when looking for individuals to provide social media insight is the Traveling Geeks "Meet the Geeks" web page. Click here to read posts on the Traveling Geeks Website.
Chris Heuer and Kristie Wells from the Social Media Club had a house filled with bloggers covering LeWeb. Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, who were also at LeWeb, have a book titled "Trust Agents" that discusses using the web to build influence and trust. Tara Hunt was also at LeWeb; Her book Whuffie Factor discusses using the power of social networks to build your business Brian Solis has books on Public Relations but also wrote a post about "Twitter 101 for Business". Jeremiah Owyiang from Altimeter Group spoke at LeWeb on the subject of "Real Time Web is Not Fast Enough". The Money Roundtable at LeWeb was moderated by Dave McClure and had a interesting set of panelists including David Hornik and Dan’l Lewin. A full list of LeWeb speakers can be found here.
Back in Silicon Valley, Charlene Li, co-author of Groundswell and Founder of Altimeter Group, just recently posted "New study: Deep brand engagement correlates with financial performance" . Just recently Charlene helped provide insight to me on ways to monitor Twitter hashtags. Guy Kawaski always has insight to share on social media through his website, multiple books and Alltop subject areas. Robert Scoble provides candid social media input across multiple platforms. I have gained insight on the Far East social media markets from Christine Lu, Rebecca A. Fannin and Kaiser Kuo. Neenz is one of the social media pulses of Hawaii. But when it comes to mom bloggers, I gain insight from my fellow Silicon Valley Moms Group bloggers.
2. Language interfaces and translation applications can help unify adaption of social media globally: Rebecca Fannin's post about local language search in China brings to light the issue of language as the challenge for global social media and search applications. To enable social media applications to be used globally, language interfaces such as the one Microsoft built for aboriginal communities can be used. Twitter is starting to offer support in different languages and Twitter translation applications are being written, such as Twanslate that uses Google AJAX Language API.
3. Global conversations are different, even if they take place in the same social media application: This experience has helped me understand that global conversations styles are different; I suggest that all social media travelers be sensitive and spend time listening first then sharing recommendations. Those immersed in social media need to understand that they are part of a small but influential group of early adopters. On the other hand - if foreign companies want to meet with bloggers or social media journalists then it's important to understand their world - which is very online social media centric. Understand that many of us are connected through multiple social media outlets including Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other online applications - and are looking to use those channels to connect and share information with our followers about companies we meet. We prepare for meetings by locating social media IDs for each meeting attendee and researching before the meeting - or first thing when we sit down. .
Many technologists and entrepreneurs are still are not clear on the value proposition of online social networking; confusion which is best captured by this video from Current TV titled: "The Twouble With Twitter":
4. The Kids will Inherit The Earth: Current TV's "The Twouble With Twitter" video leads me to my third point. My 10 year old son found this video while searching around on iTunes for fun podcasts and videos. He was on iTunes because he was taking a break from editing a video he filmed using a point & shoot digital camera. He saw the word Twitter on the video name and decided to show it to his Twitter addicted Mother.
I'm a mother of three young boys who interact and experiment every day with technology. Watching them explore, it's obvious to me that the future is online as kids naturally engage with technology. While we see social media involvement percentages that may be lower than geeks like me would hope for, these numbers apply to a generation that was raised either without computers (eek - they actually used Typewriters) or used computers when they were older. As the new generation of kids/teens/college kids enter the workforce, we will see the online social media involvement percentages increase and increase.
This post is written by Beth Blecherman of TechMamas.com. Reproduction of this article with permission only. This was a sponsored trip organized by the Traveling Geeks. Disclosure policy can be found on the Traveling Geeks website. Bitly short URL for this post is http://bit.ly/8IHFbC.