Understanding the Power of Twitter Chats at USAID #KMWorld

kmworld-socialSpeakers: Zachary Baquet, Knowledge Management Specialist, US Agency for International Development (USAID); Maciej Chmielewski, Communications Specialist & Digital Media Producer, Insight Systems Corporation

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2014 Conference. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

Session Description: For the past year and a half, USAID Bureau for Food Security has experimented with #AskAg Twitter Chats to drive engagement and knowledge exchange inside and outside of its Agrilinks.org community. Part of Twitter’s value lies in its ability to foster global, multidirectional communications between users that can lead to real and meaningful knowledge exchange. The #AskAg Chats have moved from one-way, ask-the-expert type events to lively conversations in which participants share their experiences with the experts as well as each other. Speakers describe the process for implementing the chats and how it has changed, other products developed from the Twitter Chats, metrics used, and more.


  • Challenge: how to distribute knowledge housed in the organization to all the field staff and affiliates around the world.
  • History: They had a very elegant “Ask the Experts” system in place. However, those experts didn’t have the bandwidth or incentives to engage with everyone in the field who had a question.
  • Why Twitter Chats: they are quick, easy and globally distributed. By doing an 60-90 minute Twitter chat, they were able to concentrate the focus of the experts and the field staff.
  • Method: The chats have a structure to help people understand what the conversation is about and how it will proceed. They are conceived as a highly controlled Q&A session where it is ok to say no. Behind the questions is a Google Docs spreadsheet for each chat. That spreadsheet contains the themes that will be asked during the chat. These themes are then translated into 4 guiding questions. The experts can type their answers into the spreadsheet before the chat. Then a guiding question and the related answers are released every 15 minutes. This eliminates dead space on the chat. After each chats, the gather the tweets via Storify. Storify provides a recap of guiding questions. Further, it might also include a specially written synthesis plus an aggregated list of links and resources that were shared during the chat.
  • Roles & Responsibilities: They work with approximately 100 experts who are the chat players. There are also chat operators: 3 individuals to run a particular chat:
    • Curator
    • Controller
    • Director
  • Lessons Learned: 
    • Encourage a conversation. You need to show participants how to participate and gain value. (The structure helps — especially for newcomers to Twitter)
    • Have a framework so people know what the conversation is about. This helps them find order in the chaos of Twitter
    • Summarize and curate the knowledge shared.
  • What value emerged? After their first 12 Twitter chats, they prepared a chat report tat desceibed the process, metrics, feedback and recommendations. Their spreadsheet for each chat is available in Google Docs for others who want to use it.  Finally, they gave their experts a guidance document that explained roles, respsonsibilities and expectations. You can find these resources at Agrilinks.org/TwitterChats

To the Barricades! Social Media versus Time Warner

Oxymoron In the middle of an otherwise unremarkable neighborhood association meeting this evening, my neighbor declared that he had to create a Twitter account right away.  What stunned all of us was the fact that this neighbor celebrated his 80th birthday several years ago. He is not exactly in the age bracket that you would normally expect to see flocking to social media.

What changed?

He was facing a situation that made him so boiling mad that he was willing to push out of his comfort zone to solve the problem. And what exactly was his problem? He was furious because he believed that he was paying an exhorbitant amount for his cable, internet and telephone service. To make matters worse, he was deeply disappointed by the quality of the service provided. And who is his provider? Time Warner Cable.

Another neighbor (in his late 50s) told us that when his teenage son had seen the family’s Time Warner bill, he uttered an expletive and then immediately set up a Twitter account for his father. Using that new account, the son posted a pithy tweet addressed to Time Warner (@TCW), complaining about the poor quality of the service and what he considered to be its outrageous price.

Now here’s the part that caught the attention of my 80-something neighbor (and the rest of us at the meeting, to be honest):  shortly after the teenager tweeted his upset with Time Warner, the company’s customer service department called them with an offer to make the situation better. Consequently, the neighbor with the tweeting teenager was able to report an improvement in service AND a substantial reduction in his monthly bill.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about a couple of dollars here or there. Rather, we’re talking about prices so high that Craig Moffet, an analyst at the Wall Street firm Bernstein Research, felt completely justified in making the following observation:

The cable distribution giants like Time Warner Cable and Comcast are already making a 97 percent margin on their `almost comically profitable’ Internet services.

Clearly, I’m in the wrong business.

That said, the reaction of my neighbors provides an important reminder to us all. Social media enables an extraordinary amount of direct communication. It has an immediacy and effectiveness that my 80-something neighbor had been unable to match using the traditional methods of letters of complaint or long calls to scripted customer service representatives. Social media also provide a very public way of communicating your concerns. My neighbor’s complaint letters are undoubtedly sitting in a circular file somewhere, never to see the light of day. By contrast, a tweet can be retweeted many times over and every iteration is recorded by the Library of Congress or one of the many search engines. If a complaint publicized via social media goes viral, then a company has a major public relations disaster on its hands. If you don’t believe me, just ask United Airlines about guitars (nearly 13 million views on YouTube)!

Thanks to social media, David once again has a chance against Goliath. Thanks to social media, the public can erect public barricades to attract the attention of companies that are much larger and more powerful. Thanks to social media, we have a shot at leveling the playing field.

Earlier this evening, I posted a tweet directed at Time Warner Cable. I’ll let you know what Goliath says.


[Photo Credit: Lyman Green]





Posterity and Me

We have a friend who has great musical talent. So we were delighted but not surprised when we heard that one of his compositions had been selected to be added to a special collection at the Library of Congress. After all, his piece truly was beautiful enough to merit saving it for posterity.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can say with honesty (or a straight face) that any of my 8000 tweets deserve the same treatment.  Nevertheless, the Library of Congress in its wisdom has decided that my tweets (as well as all the tweets of every other Twitter user) are to be saved for posterity.  My initial reaction was that this had to be an April Fool’s day joke.  But, apparently not:

Picture 5

According to Nate Anderson, the reasons for preserving these bits of ephemera reflect modern trends in scholarship:

There’s been a turn toward historicism in academic circles over the last few decades, a turn that emphasizes not just official histories and novels but the diaries of women who never wrote for publication, or the oral histories of soldiers from the Civil War, or the letters written by a sawmill owner. The idea is to better understand the context of a time and place, to understand the way that all kinds of people thought and lived, and to get away from an older scholarship that privileged the productions of (usually) elite males.

The LoC’s Twitter archive will provide a similar service, offering a social history of hipsters, geeks, nerds, and whatever Ashton Kutcher is. As Twitter continues its march into the mainstream, the service really will offer a real-time, unvarnished look at what’s on people’s minds.

But will the knowledge that our words are being saved forever lead us to change the way we tweet?  Will our 140-character blurts, verbal gaffes and inanities now be transformed into pearls of wisdom?  Probably not in my lifetime.  However, I will try to remember to be a bit more circumspect.  What about you?

[Photo Credit: Wilson Loo]


Twitter’s Noisy Followers

Is there such a word as Twitternut? Twitterphile? If so, that’s me.  I’ve found Twitter to be a game changer. I’ve loved the ability to connect and converse with a diverse range of interesting folks around the world. They regularly provoke me to laughter and always make me think a little harder about the topic du jour. Best of all, since Twitter is an ever-flowing stream, I can just dip in and out of it when my schedule permits.  It doesn’t interrupt.  Rather, it invites.

That’s key — I do it when I want to.  Unlike e-mail, which tends to interrupt me at the whim of the sender, there is no expectation on Twitter that you will immediately read and respond.  I’ve discovered that there’s great freedom in that mode of communication.

All of that changes on Thursday, September 17, when folks can start phoning people in their Twitterverse for free courtesy of the Jajah@call program offered by Jajah, a VOIP company.  According to The Next Web, here’s how it works:

You’ll be able to make phone calls via Twitter free of charge to anyone in the world, so long as they follow you back and have JAJAH accounts.

@calls are made without revealing your number and without needing to know the number of the person you wish to call – all you need is their Twitter username.

The beauty of JAJAH is that it uses the Internet to connect two standard phones, thus implementing both the advantage of the Internet as a low-cost service and the comfort of using a regular telephone device.

Suddenly, all those folks you followed back just to be nice can start phoning you.  24/7.  For free.  Are you ready?  If you’ve been playing any of those foolish games to pump up your follower numbers, you’re about to win the booby prize.

It’ll be interesting to see if the advent of free Twitter calls changes the way people approach the whole issue of following/followers.  Will the net result be a shrinking of each participant’s Twitterverse?  I’m reserving judgment on this until I see how it plays out.  However, I’m not sure I’ll be rushing out to facilitate phone calls just yet.  Will you?

[Photo Credit:  jiruan]


Almost Live Blogging from LegalTech

It was a generous invitation — free passes to all bloggers who wanted to attend LegalTech 2009.  And an offer of reserved seating at the front of the room (with outlets) so we could live blog the sessions.  I accepted the invitation, came armed with my netbook, and was looking forward to participating.

Unfortunately, we soon discovered that there was no WiFi in the room.  (I was later told that the only room with WiFi initially was the ballroom.)  As a result,  I took my notes offline and will move them to a blog post when I get the chance.  No live blogging for me.

By contrast, some bloggers attended the Twitter session at LegalTech (in a ballroom with WiFi)and decided to tweet the various presentations.  What a blast!  Although readers around the world were getting multiple 140 character sound bites in duplicate (and triplicate) and were slightly reeling from the impact, I do think the medium somehow conveyed the energy of the session in a way that a blog simply cannot.  We were frantic and frenetic, and we were clearly having a great time.  A quick look at the feedback received shows that our friends online enjoyed the tweets and participated via Twitter by commenting and posting their questions.

In a single day we got to experience two different ways of communicating information and dealing with technology.   Social media tools like blogging and micromessaging via Twitter are wonderful and powerful.   Several of my readers said they had so much fun reading our updates that they wished they had been in the room with us.  That said, they acknowledged we’d delivered the next best thing.  If they can, they’ll find the cash to come to LegalTech next year.  I’ve got to believe this is something the conference organizers would like to encourage.

So, about that WiFi…

[Photo Credit:  vkdir, Creative Commons license]


KM Core Values

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, wrote a great endorsement of Twitter in his recent post, How Twitter Can Make You A Better (and Happier) Person. For him, Twitter was instrumental in the following four areas:

  1. Transparency & Values: Twitter constantly reminds me of who I want to be, and what I want Zappos to stand for
  2. Reframing Reality: Twitter encourages me to search for ways to view reality in a funnier and/or more positive way
  3. Helping Others: Twitter makes me think about how to make a positive impact on other people’s lives
  4. Gratitude: Twitter helps me notice and appreciate the little things in life

I’ll let you read his post to find out exactly what makes Twitter so wonderful for him.  However, for our purposes, I wanted to take a closer look at his discussion of values.  In his post he explains that living life in a public forum like Twitter means that there is a constant spotlight on him and on how he embodies his company’s core values in his daily life and his daily tweets.

The Zappos core values were created by the employees of Zappos working together to explain what mattered to them. Here are the values they identified as their “core values”:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Now, take another look at this list and tell if you don’t think it would be a great statement of knowledge management’s core values?  We may not be delivering shoes and clothing, but these core values speak to our work as service providers and midwives to change.  In fairness, there are few businesses that could not be improved by following these core values so, in that respect, there isn’t much that is particular to KM in this list.  Nonetheless, I’d suggest that we haven’t always done a great job of embodying these values and that failure is reflected in our spotty results as a discipline.  As the economic news gets grimmer, it might be timely to think harder about what our core values are and how we live them out in our workplaces.  And then, we need to commit.

I’ll give the last word to Tony Hsieh, from his post Your Culture Is Your Brand:

We believe that it’s really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you’re willing to hire and fire based on them.

[Photo credit: bluedharma, Creative Commons license]


Shall I Tell You Where to Go?

Do you know where you’re going to?* That’s the critical question Mark Gould asks in his recent post on social media, in which he makes the fair point that there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all social media strategy. Each person and each organization has to figure it out for themselves. And it all begins with knowing what you’re trying to achieve. Then you choose the tools that will get you to your goal.

That said, I know folks are always looking for the silver bullet, the one sure-fire way of achieving success. Putting to one side the fact that I don’t know how you define success, let me make a suggestion: Go where the conversation is. In the brief time I’ve been using social media tools, I’ve been struck by how well they facilitate conversations that cut across status, age and geography. Above all, I’ve been impressed by the richness of those conversations. But don’t be fooled by the fact that they can be brief, casual and, on occasion, banal. The reality is that these online conversations build relationships, and those relationships enrich your life. In fact, they can even be profitable in your professional life.

There was a time when the critical business conversations happened on the golf course or in particular private clubs. Increasingly, they are happening online. So if you want to participate, find a social media tool that works for you** and then use it to go where the conversation is.

[*When I first saw the blog title, “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” I thought Mark was joining me in my series of blog posts based on popular songs. Unfortunately, it was not the case. However, for those of you who don’t mind a trip down memory lane, here’s the song I had in mind.]

[**And, for those of you who have read this far, here’s a small bit of advice: try using Twitter for three weeks and then let me know what you think. There are great conversations to be enjoyed there. If you wish, you can find me on Twitter using the tag @VMaryAbraham.]


The Metrics Mess

I recently saw the perfect illustration of how we can get ourselves completely tangled up in unproductive activity by measuring the wrong thing. In this case, it was someone on Twitter who thought they had hit the jackpot because they had hundreds of followers. Further, this person was offering advice on how to increase the number of followers his readers had. This struck me as misguided at best. To be honest, there are folks I follow whom I’m sure don’t realize I exist. Equally, there are folks who follow me, but I’m largely oblivious to them because our paths don’t cross very often. So the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story and may, in fact, tell a misleading story.

The real issue isn’t size of following as much as it is scope of impact. How many of these folks are really paying attention to you? How many do you actually affect? Unless you know this, you don’t have a good understanding of your interaction with Twitter. Admittedly, there are Twitter stars whom everyone likes to follow. And, assuming we follow because of their established reputations, we’re more likely to pay attention to what those Twitter stars say. For the rest of us in the Twitter mob, however, the number of our followers is a poor (and possibly inaccurate) proxy for our impact.

Coming back to law firm knowledge management, take a moment to consider whether your efforts to measure the wrong thing are leading you into unproductive activity. Don’t focus on bulk — focus on impact. For example, counting how many times a particular document is opened via your portal or document management system may be interesting but not helpful. What you really want to know is how many times was it opened and actually used? And, how often was it exactly the thing the user was searching for? In the latter two cases, you learn much more about the quality of your content and the quality of your search engine.

Consider the following: a document was opened 10 times and used each time, but then opened 20 times and discarded because it was not on point. For someone looking at bulk alone, they’d say, the document was opened 30 times, declare victory and go home. However, someone measuring impact would say it was used 10 times not 3o, and then would ask why. When you ask that question you create the possibility of learning and insight. That’s when you know you’re on the path to using metrics intelligently.

[permission to use granted under a creative commons license]