My Tweet-Up Experience at #MDSocial

No doubt I’m not a social creature. After all, I’m a techie who would expect anything but anti-social behavior. Recently I took the plunge into online social networking thinking it would be safe, completely lacking any real human connection. To my surprise, I found myself making real connections within only a few days. I was communicating with someone, rather than just machines. Conversations with real people, with real opinions, from all over the world streamed down my screen.

My favorite Social Networking tool was Twitter. With a 140 character message limitation, it delivers information in a format that worked well with my ADD based personality. As time passed I was tweeting up a storm, completely comfortable in my online relationships. That’s when it happened, The Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants sent out a “Tweet-up Invitation”.

I’d been on Twitter long enough to know that these “Tweet-ups” where an opportunity for Twitter users to gather in “real life” and network. Just the thought of attending brought back memories of hiding under the bleachers at my middle school dance. “I’ll just ignore it, nobody will notice if I don’t respond” I thought to myself.

With the date for the Tweet-up rapidly approaching, and no further mention of it, I believed I’d dodged the bullet. Of course just when I was comfortable, the invite came again, then hit a ReTweet stream, then DM’s with questions from friends about my attendance. What was I to do? I caved and decided to toughen up and make an appearance.

Wow, is about all I can say. The MACPA Tweet-up wasn’t painful like some of the other networking events I’ve attended. People who arrived had something in common, we all utilized online social networking. Not everyone in attendance was connected on Twitter, some folks didn’t even use Twitter. Several people in attendance found the Tweet-up via a Facebook posting, others were hauled in by spouses. The MACPA did a wonderful job at hosting, providing food, beverages, and nametags with our online names as well as our real names. TweetChat was used to allow those who couldn’t attend to join the discussion.

Discussions were a mix between personal and professional topics, just like those you find within the on-line community. At one point Tom Hood, with the MACPA started a round of introductions where we all shared our names, organization, use of Twitter, and our best Twitter stories. What I found most interesting about the introductions, were the different use of the tool. Among the 20-30 attendees answers included collecting information, communication, public relations, crowd sourcing, intelligence and more. My mind was spinning, this one simple tool I used for knowledge collection had so many unique uses!

The discussion continued with Twitter client discussions, how-to information, best practices, and other related topics. Francine McKenna (@retheauditors), Rick Telberg (@CPA_Trendlines) and I discussed the importance of your Twitter name, renaming, squatters and alter egos. Jeff De Cagna (@pinnovation) discussed a new BlackBerry client he was using called Social Scope. Several people discussed how Twitter had been discussed on and utilized in mainstream media as well as strategies for presenting your message properly. So much information was exchanged during the two hours it’s impossible for me to document everything I’ve learned.

“Extremely valuable”, is how I’d sum it up. While I have a hard time doing it justice in words, I’ve had an experience I won’t soon forget. Perhaps @BillSheridan will do a better job of reporting the details. My best advice would be next time you see that Tweet-Up invite you your stream jump on it. It’s fun, informative, and valuable!

While @kvitartas will cringe, I’ve made this post without the Editors “net” at the request of @dahowlett. Spelling and Grammatical errors are all mine in this one RE: dahowlett@chris_jenkins I’ll take whatever YOU choose to share. YOUR gig, YOUR terms etc. Make me want more.

Social media, find your voice

Remember when a Yellow Page ad was enough to promote your business? How about the days of broadcast faxing, or starting up a website (and if you didn’t you were obsolete)? Technology has a way of shifting and knocking us off our feet. The social web is just another such shift.

Just as organizations scrambled to build a web presence in the 90s, they are quickly adopting to the social web. Those who do it well see a huge shift in business, those who do it poorly are frustrated, and those who ignore it are becoming obsolete. Social is here and it’s changed the way people think, work, advertise, and purchase. It’s no longer good enough for an organization to have and publish a story. Now you need others to verify and restate your story.

Those of us who have been around this tech stuff for a while will remember the popularity of the BBS (bulletin board systems). These systems pre-date the Internet and were a great way to mine information and make friends online. Many organizations had bulletin board systems, and when the Internet came along they joined the Internet rather than attempting to build a new one. The same concept applies to social communities: I suggest organizations join existing communities rather than attempting to build new ones. I understand the concern of building external, publicly accessible sites where customers congregate. The "what ifs" seem endless and the risks may seem insurmountable. Trust me; inaction is far worse than any risk you can come up with.

Take every "what if" you can muster, then ask yourself, "Is someone else already taking this risk in my space?" Most likely they are, most likely they are successful, and most likely they have the opportunity to become a competitor. So hold your breath, close your eyes and jump in!

Unlike the rush to build websites, "Social" is more than a presence: it’s a relationship, or several relationships. It’s about building a personality for yourself and your organization, and maintaining a voice. Just as you might go to a cocktail party and share experiences while listening to others, you will need to build the ability to electronically mingle and become "charming" via text. It’s amazing that the same people who are so charming in person, can work the crowd, and value in-person social events often struggle with social technology. It’s actually as simple as going to a networking or social event, you blur the lines between professional and personal. You listen, share, add and learn.

Technology based "cocktail parties" are happening right now on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. You’ve all been invited. Are you attending or just shunning your customers? Perhaps you’re that uncomfortable guy in the corner just waiting for someone to engage you in conversation. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be the life of the party, you can make it through this.

First find your comfort zone, find those folks you know and trust and tag around with them. If you don’t feel that you have anything interesting to say, just listen. If you find topics you have an opinion about, it’s a great opportunity to strike up a conversation. Perhaps you find something so interesting you want to share it with others – which is encouraged. Perhaps you think it’s stupid that people are reporting they’re attending a sporting event, or catching a plane. But how many cocktail parties have you gone to where everyone is completely focused on work? Remember this is social, and you won’t offend anyone by posting your activities. In fact, it shows you’re a real person and spurs additional interest. So what do I post, "I’m sitting on my porch and two deer just ran by, nobody cares!"? Yes, exactly, comments like this combined with professional conversation allow people to know you’re real.

You have to build your voice – you can’t be automated and business only, people in the social world recommend others based on relationships. You can’t automate a relationship. You can’t build a relationship with a website, marketing brochure, or product. Building relationships isn’t easy but the loyalty and word of mouth (in this case) is well worth it.

If you’re a CPA firm, association or non-profit who needs help finding your voice and building a social strategy, DM me on twitter, or message me on Facebook and we can discuss strategies at no cost to you.

Do you have a Security Awareness Program?

I’d hazard to bet that computer security is listed someplace on every "Top 10" technology priority/concern list on the Internet. Ask anyone who built those lists and the thought of sitting through a technology best practices presentation isn’t a "Top 10" experience. Understand that I’m not advocating skipping security sessions; I just have a grip on reality, and realize the stuff can be extremely boring.

So while we all realize technology security is a priority, nobody has a want to really understand it. What do we do? First off let’s take a simple approach and hit low-hanging fruit with a general security awareness program. Security awareness programs are built to share technology information to the masses without the brain meltdown you often find in detailed security sessions.

Who: Everyone is a potential victim and you’re only as strong as your weakest link. It just goes to reason that everyone should be included in your security awareness sessions. You might be surprised what people bring to the table.

What: Security awareness sessions aren’t meant to be all-inclusive technology security programs. They’re designed to distribute easy to understand security best practices. They should allow attendees to gain knowledge about current threats, share experiences, and ask questions about best practices.

This isn’t a way to beat security terms and acronyms into attendees’ heads; it’s a way to share the basics. Topics like firewall and antivirus configurations are off limits. Examples of topics that should be discussed include but are not limited to phishing schemes, social engineering, and identifying malware.

When: New security threats appear daily. It’s just not practical to hold awareness sessions every time a new threat appears, however, a good technology awareness program does have a recurring schedule. Depending on your industry, you might consider monthly or quarterly security awareness meetings.

Where: Sessions should be held live to allow discussion. Keep in mind that this isn’t a news push, and it needs to be a discussion. If you can’t meet live, you should use online tools that allow two-way communications.

Why: The majority of security breaches occur through simple vulnerabilities and/or internal threats. Educating staff about identifying and combating simple threats will have a larger impact on your technology security than any hardware, software, or consulting plan ever will.

Security awareness programs are a simple, inexpensive, and effective way to combat the majority of security threats. If you don’t have one, you should.

If you would like more information on building a security awareness program come see me at OSCPA Accounting Shows, or at OSAE sessions. Do you work in a CPA firm, association or non-profit organization? Contact me about how I can help you build your plan at no cost to you

ASUS Eee PC 1000

With the popularity of a new generation of low-cost laptops known as netbooks on the rise, we decided to procure one to see if they live up to all the hype. First we started with researching the many models available (over the last year a multitude of devices have landed on the market). In our research we found many worthwhile candidates for our needs. We settled on the ASUS Eee PC 1000 because of positive reviews, and two important factors: 40GB of SSD storage (sometimes faster than standard rotating HDDs, and definitely more resilient to getting banged around) and a track history of people having successfully installed beta versions of Windows 7.

Unboxing – the Eee came in a rather small box, holding the netbook, manuals, power supply and carrying case. Physically the power supply is the smallest that I have ever seen on a laptop – but then the Eee uses far less power than most laptops. Turning it on, the Eee came preloaded with a Linux distribution – simple, easy to use… not at all what we wanted.

Windows 7 beta – loading Windows 7 turned out a bit of a trick. First thing, to save size and money the Eee has no CD/DVD drive, so an external USB drive was required. Then the 40GB SSD in the Eee 1000 turns out to actually be a 8GB and a 32GB SSD – with the 8GB drive as primary. On my first attempt I tried to install Windows 7 on 32GB drive – the Windows 7 installation failed on several attempts.

I began reading up on what those who were successful did to get Windows 7 installed. It turns out that they had been installing Windows 7 on the 8GB drive. At first I was skeptical that I could get anything worthwhile to fit in only 8GB, but I attempted the process anyway. Turns out the install of Windows 7 would fit, the install actually being smaller than Windows Vista. Yet this solution is not optimal – you have to jump through quite a few hoops to get Program Files, the pagefile and user files off of the 8GB drive and onto the larger 32GB drive. Even then space was low on the 8GB drive, and after installation of Windows Updates I realized that the solution was just sub-optimal.

I decided to find a way to install Windows 7 on the Primary 32GB drive. It took a while, but after some fooling around I was able to get some required system files only on the 8GB drive continue with the Windows install on the 32GB drive. Finally I had the install that I wanted.

Windows 7 it turns out does run on an Eee netbook – but I wouldn’t say that it runs well…. at least not without some tweaking to turn off some of the flashier features of the system. But it does run, and it boots up rather quickly (likely due to the SSD drive). However, when you install Microsoft Office you start to see the shortcomings of the low-powered Intel Atom processor in the Eee – after opening just a single Office product, the system starts to slow down significantly, open two Office programs and it slows to a crawl. Stay away from Microsoft Office and the Eee performs decently.

There are lots of reviews about the netbooks being the future of inexpensive ultra-portable computing – and the Eee PC 1000 shows that netbooks are clearly on the way. Other more powerful, newer machines are already on the way – and may just do what this Eee just doesn’t quite do yet. I do, however, believe that the Eee as designed (with Linux on it) does do what they designed it for – it just wasn’t designed to do what we wanted to do with it.

Twitter 101

So you’re thinking of taking the leap to see just what it is that has everyone so fired up about Twitter. But you have just one question: What is Twitter?

Twitter is a micro-blogging service that started out by users answering one question: “What are you doing?” While people still post what they’re doing in the 140 characters that’s allotted for updates, Tweeters may find themselves building professional and personal relationships with their followers, therefore carrying on full conversations via Tweets. And yes, while everyone who is following you will see these conversations, there is a certain personalization associated with it that people find fascinating, and often times useful.

The best way to start using Twitter is to just dive in and start Tweeting. But first, you need to be schooled with a little Twitter 101.

Followers/Following

Following somebody means that you have elected to add that person to your list of updates. In turn – those you’re following may follow you. The notion that just about anybody on Twitter can follow you makes some people uneasy. To put your mind at ease there are a few things you can do:

  1. You can make your updates protected, meaning that only those following you are able to view what you post. The downside to doing this though, is that not many people at all will be seeing your updates. People will have to request to follow you, and this makes it difficult for networking purposes.
  2. If you keep your updates open to where anybody with a Twitter account can follow you, there is an option to block people. Use this selectively, and don’t go about blocking everyone following you just because you don’t know them.

Your profile

Your profile page is where you and others can go to see what you’ve been Tweeting about. If people find your Tweets interesting enough, they just might follow you. Your profile page is also where your one-line bio (in 160 characters or less), and website is displayed. This may be just me, but I am more likely to follow somebody if they have their bio filled out, and it’s interesting.

Your home page

Your Twitter home page displays a timeline of Tweets from those you are following. You are the only one who sees this page (your followers will see your profile page, not your home page). This is also the page where you can make your updates, and “@reply” to, or retweet someone. (See below for @replies and retweets.)

@replies

The easiest way to explain @replies is from Twitter’s support site itself:

“An @reply is a public message sent from one person to another, distinguished from normal updates by the @username prefix. If a message begins with @username, we collect it as a reply and post it in the replies tab. Reply publicly to any update on Twitter by using the @username format. Following is not necessary to reply to someone, and all of your replies are visible in the replies tab of your home page sidebar.”

Example of an @reply:
@Chris_Jenkins Wow. When I look at my Twitter home page all I see is your face. So glad I still get to see you even when you’re not here! :)

@reply settings

This is an important one. Again, the easiest way to explain this is from Twitter’s support:

“You follow Shelia and Ace. Sheila follows you, Ace and Dutch. You love reading and replying to Ace and Sheila’s updates but you don’t know Dutch, so you don’t want to see Sheila’s replies to him. You don’t want to stop following Sheila, nor do you want to follow Dutch. What to do?

Twitter offers @reply timeline settings to control the display of replies between people you follow on your homepage. These settings are like filters for the replies posted by your followers. There are three settings:

  1. @replies to the people I’m following: see @replies posted by people you follow to other people that you also follow. In this case, you would always see replies between Sheila and Ace because you follow both of them, but never between Sheila and Dutch, because you don’t follow Dutch. (This is the default setting.)
  2. All @replies: see all @replies posted by people you follow, whether or not you follow the person to whom the reply is directed. In this case, you would see all of Sheila’s replies to Dutch and anyone else she replied to, regardless of whether you follow them or not.
  3. No @replies: never see any @replies in your timeline, ever. In this case, you would not see a reply from anyone, regardless of follow state, including replies between Sheila and Ace, Dutch, or anyone else.”

Confused? I would recommend going with the first option, so as not to get overwhelmed with @replies by selecting all, or run the risk of not seeing any by selecting none.

Retweets

Twitter users retweet, or RT, other people’s updates for different reasons. Someone might just like what you posted, or think it’s funny enough to share with their followers. Others RT for networking purposes, or to share a good article that someone read.

In the end, having someone RT something you posted, is a great way to gain more followers, as that person’s followers will see your username in their RT. It’s important to always give credit where it’s due when retweeting an update.

Example of a RT:
RT @BillSheridan Reading “Stimulus won’t affect small businesses much” from MSNBC. http://twurl.nl/zat7o7

Direct Messages

Direct messaging through Twitter works much like an Instant Message conversation between two people. By direct messaging (DM) someone via Twitter, only that person will receive the message, and can in turn, DM you back. It’s important to realize that only those following each other can DM. If someone I am following is not following me, then we cannot DM each other.

Favorites

Beside each Tweet from those you’re following in your timeline, is the outline of a star (if you roll your mouse curser to the right of the box, it should appear). Simply click on this star to mark a Tweet as a favorite. Anybody is able to view your favorite Tweets.

Everyone

Clicking the “everyone” tab will bring up a list of current Tweets around Twitter. These Tweets include updates from followers and non-followers.

Device and e-mail updates

Know who your new followers are by signing up to receive new follower e-mail notifications. You can also opt-in to receive e-mail notifications when someone sends you a direct message.

Twitter also allows you to keep updated through various mobile phone applications. The easiest way to ease into updating Twitter by phone though is through SMS. You can set it up so you will receive text messages when selected people make updates. You can also update to Twitter via SMS by texting your update to 40404.

And just to show you how willing your “Tweeple” can be when needed: One of my followers offered up this suggestion when I called upon them for their own Twitter 101 tips:

Jaye_Valentine @kvitartas “Friends don’t let friends Twitter drunk.”

Cool people to follow on Twitter:

Twitter resources:

  • Twitter? It’s What You Make It
    The New York Times
  • Twtbase
    Twitter application database
  • Tweepler
    Organize your Tweeps
  • BigTweet
    A repository for all sorts of manglings of the English language as used on Twitter.
  • Twictionary
    A repository for all sorts of manglings of the English language as used on Twitter.
  • Twuffer
    Twuffer allows the Twitter user to compose a list of future tweets, and schedule their release.
  • TweetDeck
    TweetDeck is an Adobe Air desktop application that groups together your Twitter feeds into more manageable bite sized pieces.
  • Mrtweet
    Mr. Tweet looks through your extended network to help you build effective relationships on Twitter, by asking: “Which of my followers I should be following in return?” and “Who are the influential people I should be following?”
  • Twollow
    Auto-follow people on Twitter based on key words.
  • Twistory
    Twitter + history = Twistory. Add your Twitter feed to your favorite calendar application and browse through your personal Twitter history.
  • TweetBeep
    Keep track of conversations that mention you, your products, your company, or anything else that comes to mind.
  • Twitzu
    Create events to promote through Twitter

Did I eat a poison Apple? Revisiting the iPhone

Turns out I might be a bit of a Microsoft fan. It’s even possible that from time to time I make some rushed decisions due to my loyalty. Hey, we’re all human, and Apple hasn’t held back on the misleading marketing campaigns. The important thing is that I can listen and re-evaluate my opinion when necessary.

clip_image001So I’ll swallow my pride, give Tom Hood and the other iPhone addicts some credit, and admit that this iPhone has grown into a rather functional device. Don’t get me wrong, I still maintain my position that it didn’t live up to the marketing hype when it was released. I still think Apple is evil, and I’m not buying a MAC. I’m simply stating that the iPhone has grown up and it shows.

So what made a Microsoft fan change his tune? It’s very simple, MS Exchange connectivity, the application store, and the incredible number of social apps available. None of these are unique to the iPhone but when combined with speed and ease of use it’s a killer combo.

Microsoft Exchange connectivity is what you would expect from a non-Windows Mobile device. I’d call it incomplete, others might call it functional. In the grand scheme of things it works well enough for the average user. It pushes my e-mail, folders, and calendar and allows me to get my day to day work done. After a few days, the only feature I really missed from Windows Mobile was the ability to flag messages for follow-up.

Handango works fine as an application store for both Windows Mobile and BlackBerry, so Apple’s hype about their application store didn’t impress me much. This is one of those times when you just have to experience something to understand the difference. Apple kicked everyone’s butt with this one. Both finding and loading applications is almost effortless. This is one I have to admit I was plain wrong on, and nothing can compare to it.

We’re all aware that Social Networking is here to stay. I’m a huge fan of Twitter (some might call it an addiction) and I’ve used multiple clients on multiple devices. iPhone clients are hands down the best. Pick your poison: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or FriendFeed and you’ll find one or more clients in the Apple application store.

And to add to the pain, even the 1st generation iPhone is faster than any of my Windows Mobile devices. The battery life exceeded my expectations, I didn’t have a single lock-up all week and I didn’t have to rebuild it. While this might sound like blasphemy coming from a hard core Microsoft guy, I really like this device.

Now of course you knew I wasn’t just going to lie down with the evil Apple Empire and drink the Kool-Aid. The iPhone experience isn’t perfect. I mentioned before, I’d call the MS Exchange connectivity incomplete compared to Windows Mobile. I miss not having the presence of Office Communicator available. I still can’t get the speed I’d like from the keyboard, and I hate iTunes.

Like all mobile devices you have to take the good with the bad. In this case, the iPhone has grown well enough to get some praise, even from this stubborn MS guy.

Thanks Twitter Friends

I thought I’d take some time out to thank all of my Twitter friends. Thanks to all of you for offering me a constant stream of knowledge and entertainment!

Get your twitter mosaic here.

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