Protect your Twitter account from Hackers, Twerps, Twolls & Twats

Good v Bad Twitter Followers
Good v Bad Twitter Followers

In a previous post I mentioned my Twop Twitter Twips for Tweeps. In this post, I’m going to make some recommendations for how to protect your Twitter account from Hackers, Twerps, Twolls & Twats.

Sooner of later, successful Twitter accounts become victims of their own popularity. When you stick your head above the parapet someone will try and shoot you. The same applies to social media. The more popular you become the more followers you attract. This makes you more visible and tempting to potential hackers, spammers, trolls and the downright twatty.

These anti-social media accounts can be all sorts of varying degrees of annoying and nasty, varying from the mildly time-consuming and distracting troll or hater, to the out-and-out nefarious hacker. Dealing with them can become a ball-ache of Buster Gonad-sized proportions, unless you take some sensible precautions.

Basic steps to protect your Twitter account

Basic steps to protect your Twitter account include:

  1. Create Strong Passwords
  2. Use Login Verifications
  3. Watch Out for Phishing
  4. Be Wary of 3rd-Party Apps & Websites
  5. Protect Your Phone

This is a “Def Con 3” level of alertness. Follow these steps and you might be lucky enough to avoid being hacked or becoming the victim of other security breeches. Don’t get complacent though.

Intermediate steps to protect your Twitter account

The next level of protection and alertness – “Def Con 2” – is to closely monitor who follows you and exercise due diligence.

There are several factors that help to identify the bad follower from the bona fide. These include, singly or in combination:

  1. No profile picture
  2. No header picture (although this in itself isn’t necessarily a sign of dodgyness, just laziness of the lack of a suitably large/hi-res picture)
  3. A header picture that is a stitched together collage of 5 or 5 photos “scraped” from another social media profile
  4. The username and profile name are a random string of letters and numbers and/or bear no correlation to each other
  5. Male profile picture and female username/profile name
  6. Profile picture is of a celebrity
  7. Profile picture is of an unfeasibly attractive individual
  8. The profile bio reads like the stream of consciousness rantings of someone mentally ill/a religious zealot or fanatic/someone with massively diverse and divergent interests
  9. The Twitter account only ever retweets/tweets randomness/tweets auto-generated quotes and nothing else/tweets crap
  10. They make no attempt to disguise the fact that they are dodgy by blatantly advertising that they can sell you 10,000 followers
  11. They have an unfeasibly large number of followers and/or they are following an unfeasibly large number themselves
  12. The following/follower numbers are the same

Etc. etc. You develop a spider sense that tingles in time with a bit of experience and knowledge. The follower might look kosher on the surface, but something might not ring true upon further investigation.

Anatomy of a Twitter Spammer
Anatomy of a Twitter Spammer

Don’t become a victim of vanity and assume that all followers are good followers because they increase your numbers.

Ask yourself:

  1. Why would this person follow me?
  2. Are they the sort of account I want to follow back?
  3. Do they potentially bring my account into disrepute or potentially put other legitimate followers off by appearing on my follower list?

Be cynical. Be cautious. Be suspicious. Be diligent.

Remember, yes, you do indeed get notifications when new followers follow you, but some slip through the net and you won’t be informed. Check your follower list periodically to make sure no nefarious nerks have followed you under your radar.

Advanced steps to protect your Twitter account

The next level of protection and alertness – “Def Con 1” – takes things to the maximum level of alert. Do this if you’ve already had your fingers burnt or it’s becoming too onerous and time-consuming to weed the bad followers out.

Def Con 1
Def Con 1

Lock your Twitter account down through the settings

  1. On your Twitter account home page, click the gear icon to see your Settings.
  2. On your Settings page, go to ‘Security and Privacy’ to view a wide range of options available.
  3. To enable protected Tweets and make your account private, tick ‘Protect My Tweets’.
  4. You’ll be asked to enter your Twitter password, just to double-check it’s definitely you making your account private, or public, if you’re unticking.
How to protect your twitter account
How to protect your twitter account

This means that all new followers have to request access to you and your tweets, and you can approve or reject follow requests on an individual basis. Allow the ones you want, reject those that you don’t.

What happens when I protect my Tweets?

  • When you protect your Tweets and make your Twitter account private, only your current followers will be able to see your Tweets.
  • Accounts with protected Tweets require each user to request to follow. You are able to manually approve and select who is able to see your Tweets.
  • The retweet function is disabled on Tweets you post, so anything you post remains entirely within your account. Your followers are NOT able to share your content, they can only favorite it. You are still able to retweet other public users though.
  • Protected Tweets do not appear in search engines like Google and third party sites, like Favstar, are not able to archive them. Protected Tweets are only searchable by you, the owner of the Twitter account, and your followers. Previously posted public Tweets will still be searchable in Google.
  • Unless the user in question follows you too, mentions (i.e. @KatyPerry I love you!!!) will not be seen by the user in question because they do not have permission to see your Tweets.

What to do if you get bad followers

Use “Block” and “Report” judiciously.

Click on the offender’s name. You can do so from your Twitter feed or from your Followers page. Their account will come up. Go to the “cog” icon for “More User Actions”, and click on “Block” and/or “Report”. The offending person won’t be able to see your tweets on his or her timeline, nor will you be able to see theirs; plus Twitter should look into the validity of the account if you report them and ultimately shut them down.

You could also consider installing an app to vet your followers, there are various ones out there, but look into it first and use your best judgement on whether it’s something you definitely want to do.

Still unsure whether or not to protect your Twitter account?

Still unsure whether or not to protect your Twitter account? Need more information or convincing further? See this article on PC World – Should I protect my Tweets.

The Sitting Disease – is sitting the new smoking

the Sitting Disease
the Sitting Disease

As a self-employed freelancer who works from home on a laptop, I sit down – a lot. Doing the school run twice a day on foot, and trips to the kitchen to make cups of tea and to the bathroom notwithstanding, I’m sat down for most of my working day. This makes me prone to “the sitting disease”.

Now, one of my wife’s clients is the Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners (AOHNP) UK, and I do work for Phoenix Occupational Health myself. Through doing that work, I’ve come across the term “the sitting disease” and lots of articles about it.

What is the sitting disease?

In case you’re unaware of it, Googling “sitting disease” brings back this definition:

“The term “Sitting Disease” has been coined by the scientific community and is commonly used when referring to metabolic syndrome and the ill-effects of an overly sedentary lifestyle. However, the medical community does not recognize Sitting Disease as a diagnosable disease at this time.”

It’s a really hot topic within Occupational Health and other health-related spheres at the moment. In fact, for some people, sitting is being described as “the new smoking”.

Sitting is the new smoking
Sitting is the new smoking

Cheery thought, isn’t it?!? The job we do to provide for our kids and spouse is actually making us 40% more likely to die within 15 years!

Are you sitting too much?

Sarah Brealey states, in her article on sitting disease for the British Heart Foundation website, Are you sitting too much?

“Most of us know that being active is good for our health. But more evidence is emerging that even if you exercise regularly, spending a lot of time sitting down can be bad for you. Professor Stuart Biddle, Professor of Physical Activity and Health, based until recently at the BHF National Centre in Loughborough, explains:

“We sit too much, and research suggests that this is not very good for you. The poor health effects from too much sitting are separate from whether you are physically active or not. They are separate behaviours in the same way that smoking is different from diet.”

“People who spend long periods of time sitting have been found to have higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death from all causes. This was originally thought to be because those people were more likely to be obese. But there is now evidence that even if you’re not overweight, sedentary behaviour (see definition, below) can still put you at greater risk.

The poor health effects from too much sitting are separate from whether you are physically active or not

“Sitting for long periods is also associated with poor mental health, such as depression (although it can be difficult to separate cause and effect), and that people feel their minds are working better when they sit less.

“Sedentary behaviour is increasingly common in a society where many of us do desk jobs, travel in motor vehicles and spend leisure time in front of computers and televisions. It also increases with age, particularly when ill health is a factor. Research into current levels of sedentary behaviour is limited, but we know that adults of working age in England average about 9.5 hours per day of sedentary time.”

Sitting is killing you
Sitting is killing you

Sitting Disease – an occupational hazard?

I’m already starting to feel the effects of being sedentary – knee pain and numbness, stiff neck and sore back, loss of muscle tone, poor circulation and cold feet… It’s a litany of symptoms related to sitting for too long, and I’m also being told in articles that I’m storing up more health problems for later life. Great.

But, I’m freelance self-employed. My job constitutes sitting at my laptop for long periods of time. ALL my work is done on my laptop, and if I don’t work then I don’t get paid. Sitting disease is an occupational hazard, and trade-off for having the flexibility that WFH brings, isn’t it? If I was an employee at a large corporate with an Occupational Health department and an understanding boss, there might be an office-wide initiative to alleviate sitting for long periods of time, and I might be provided with a swanky new sit stand desk like the one in the picture below.

Sit Stand Desk
Sit Stand Desk

But, as a humble freelancer with limited resources, what can I can do about it?

The British Heart Foundation again gives us some tips:

1. Try to take regular breaks from looking at a screen

If watching television, get up in every ad break. At work, walk away from your computer screen at regular intervals.

2. Stand instead of sitting when you can

Try it for short periods while watching television, in meetings, at your desk or while on the phone.

3. Stand up at work

Walk over to colleagues instead of emailing or phoning them.

4. Plan in some active time when you are usually sedentary

For example, in the evenings, consider an exercise class, going for a walk or cooking a healthy meal from scratch, instead of heating a ready meal.

5. Set time limits on sedentary behaviour

It might be that you limit television to an hour in the evening or that you ban yourself from reading emails or using the internet for a certain period in the day. If you have a family, it’s great for everyone to follow these limits.

To that, for those of you who WFH like me, I would add:

  1. Go and make tea or coffee in the morning and then again in the afternoon
  2. Get up, walk to the bathroom and have a pee at some point after drinking the tea or coffee that you made earlier!
  3. If your significant other is also at home at the same time, go and give him or her a peck on the cheek and a back rub – you never know where it might lead!
  4. Put a wash on and then hang it to dry – exercise and brownie points!
  5. Instead of driving to a massive supermarket and doing a weekly Big Shop, walk to your local store and do smaller shops a couple of times a week
  6. If you’ve got Primary School age kids, walk them to and from school
  7. Always take a lunch break round about half way through your working day, and divide the half day sessions into chunks whereby you get up at least once every hour or so…
  8. Get up, walk over to your hi-fi separates and put on your CD or Vinyl copy of Green by REM, and listen to the prophetic words of Michael Stipe, when he sings:

    Stand in the place where you live
    Now face north
    Think about direction
    Wonder why you haven’t before

    Now stand in the place where you work
    Now face west
    Think about the place where you live
    Wonder why you haven’t before

    on track 2 – and Stand…

…anything that gets you up on your feet and breaks your day up, really.

Your body and your family will thank you for it in the long run. Remember, 15 years is a long time dead.

Blogs: what to blog about and why

I like writing and blogging in general, but, like many individuals and businesses, I often struggle to find things to write about in my blogs. I started off on here with a few ideas and my blogs flowed from there. I also found some guest bloggers to write posts for me. But then I ran out of steam. Keeping your blogs updated when you’ve started one is important, but what to blog about on your blogs when you don’t know what to blog about?!?

It’s a perennial problem with blogs… so what’s the answer?

blogs
blogs and blogging

Why blog in 2016

My friends over at Word Nerds have blogged on why you should blog in 2016.

They say:

Blogging is a bit like healthy eating and exercise: we all know we should be doing it — or more of it at least — but it all seems like a bit too much hassle. And anyway, you can always start on Monday, right? Or maybe the Monday after that…

But, like a healthy lifestyle, the long term benefits of blogging for your business are really worth investing some time and effort in. And the sooner you get started and established the better.

Why?

Because a healthy blog goes a long way towards a healthy business.

It tells your prospects your business is alive and kicking; it demonstrates your knowledge, your enthusiasm and your productivity. A blog is also cost effective and relatively easy — the only thing it will really cost you is your time. So, take control of your online presence in 2016 and see the benefits to your business.

What to blog about in your blogs

There are plenty of sites out there to give you advice on what to blog about in blogs, like this post from Dummies.

Blog Tyrant state, in their post on the issue of finding blog topics:

Let’s start off with people who already have a blog and are experiencing a bit of writer’s block or are perhaps regularly running out of ideas.

    • Remember your strategy
      The first thing you really want to do is remember your strategy. Every blog post that you do should be something that helps to fulfil one of your strategic goals. Never post just for the sake of adding a new article or driving a little bit of traffic.
    • Make a strategy
      If you don’t have a strategy then you really need to make one! It’s something that I talk about a lot but I really can’t stress enough how important it is to know why you are blogging.
    • Spy on the competition
      Everyone has a blog in their niche that they are a bit envious of. It’s important to regularly look at the content that they are producing and see how you can either do it better or re-do it in a significantly more distinctive way.
    • Remember your problems
      One of the most powerful writing strategies that I’d found is to think back to the problems that you’ve had in the past and write about how you solved them. If you haven’t quite solved them then talk about your mistakes and how they affected you. These 52 Headline Ideas can help you phrase those issues nicely.
    • Miniaturise your topics
      Imagine you have an idea for a blog article called How to Become an Expert at Karate. Well, think about the contents of that article: punching, kicking, blocking, etc. Now think about just the punching topic: making a fist, twisting your hips, target areas, etc. The more you can break down your topics the more you have to write about and the more likely they are to be long term evergreen successes.
    • Ask and keep asking
      At the start of the year I did a big post about all the things you’ll need to know about blogging in 2014. At the end I asked what people still feel like they needed to know and the result was 100 comments filled with content ideas for the year.

Try something different
I like to go and work somewhere new to get a different perspective on my surroundings but you might also try something like this Content Idea Generator just to see if it sparks any brainwaves.

Good advice.

I’m off to put it into practice. Catch you on the next blog post.

Guest blogging

By the way, if anyone would like to submit a guest blog post to this site, or ask me to write a guest blog for them, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

Have a cow, man

have a cow man
Have a cow, man

I’ve been fielding (pun intended) a lot of questions recently about why cows feature so much in my Tweets and visual identity. People seem genuinely baffled by it, until I refer them to my surname, which is Metcalfe. You know, Met -CALF-e? See what I did there? This blog post is a musing on visual identity and whether you can be too subtle, plus the origins of my surname.

In my previous blog post, Twop Twitter Twips for Tweeps, I said that:

Everyone needs a “gimmick” to stand out from the Twitter crowd (or should that be herd). My gimmick is the cow theme that runs through my Twitter and other social media channels, both visually and through puns and emojis. My surname is Metcalfe. Geddit?

Whilst this might not be to everyone’s taste, feedback given so far has been positive, and it gives another dimension to my Tweets and acts as a visual shorthand for brand recognition.

Whilst it seems obvious to me why I have cows as my visual identity – my logo is a stylised, minimalistic, almost tribal, cow graphic (which would make a cracking tattoo):

Giles Metcalfe Digital Cow Logo
Giles Metcalfe Digital Cow Logo

and I pepper my Tweets with pictures of and visual references to cows – the number of people who’ve asked me why recently has led me to think on.

Am I being too subtle with it? Am I being too obvious? Am I overdoing the cow references? Does it help or hinder my business? Do people like it or hate it? Is it me, or them?

Being prone to excoriating self-analysis, this sort of thing keeps me awake at night.

Feedback I’ve received so far has been positive though:

  • People like cows
  • People like the fact that I use cow imagery
  • People like me and my business
  • People say keep doing what you’re doing

All good. Validation from people really helps. Everyone needs some encouragement every now and then.

When individuals engage me in face-to-face conversation about it, I explain where the name “Metcalfe” comes from and the cow/calf connection. The story may be apocryphal, but it goes a little something like this. I quote at length from a great article on the legends and traditions of Yorkshire:

Take, for example, the story which explains the meaning of the name of Metcalf*, one of the oldest families of Yorkshire, of whose more ancient members it is recorded that one was High Forester of Wensleydale in the time of Richard I., that another fought at Agincourt, and that a third, when High Sheriff in the time of Queen Mary, met her judges at York with a cavalcade of three hundred attendants of his own name all mounted upon white horses of the Wensleydale breed.

In the Saxon time, when Wensleydale was a large forest, the dales- men of Rydale were thrown into a perfect panic by the hearing of strange sounds in a wood not far off, and the seeing of what seemed to be strange animals in the twilight.

In this emergency, a meeting of dalesmen was held, when the sug- gestion was made that two of their number should proceed to the wood and unravel the mystery. Oswald, an unmarried man of some position, volunteered for the service, and after a little hesitation, Wilfrid, another landowner, consented to join him.

Armed with boar-spears, the two men started on what seemed a perilous mission. By-and-by a sound was heard, which Wilfrid affirmed to be the roar of a lion, and finally an animal was seen moving slowly towards them.

Exclaiming ” It is a lion ! ” Wilfrid threw down his hunting-spear, fled through the wood, and on reaching the village, informed his fellow- dalesmen that he had seen an enormous lion, which was doubtless devouring Oswald by that time.

Oswald, however, proceeded cautiously forward, spear in position. ” e went on—it came on—and he met—what ! a calf ! a black, or, as some authorities say, a red calf !

From that time the courageous Oswald was known as Oswald Met-Calf, and the harmless animal, so boldly met, was given a place upon his armorial shield ; and, in like manner, the cowardly Wilfrid ever after bore about with him the token of his ignominious flight, in the name of Wilfrid Lightfoot.”

It would obviously be a great pity to disturb so delightfully childish a story as this,—to suggest that the name accounts for the story, and not the story for the name.

Indeed so. Always print the legend (you can read the article in full here).

*NB. The “e” at the end of Metcalf is interchangeable, and Medcalf, Medcalfe, Midcalfe, Midcalf and Mitcalf are also variants, depending on the spelling, the mood and the hearing of whoever wrote out the birth certificates.

My family directly descends from those original Yorkshire Metcalfs, and my ancestor is Jack Metcalf – ‘Blind Jack of Knaresborough‘, who was a notable Civil Engineer. He constructed roads all across the North of England, not just in Yorkshire, and was famed for the straightness of them and his mastery of Quantity Surveying, despite being blind.

There is a Barbara Asquith statue of him sitting on a bench in Knaresborough Market Place, across from the Blind Jack pub.

Blind Jack Metcalf statue
Blind Jack Metcalf statue

The aforementioned Metcalf/Metcalfe coat of arms shows three black cows, and – though it’s been enhanced over the years – looks like this.

Metcalfe Coat of Arms
Metcalfe Coat of Arms

There’s even a Metcalfe Society, with a Facebook page.

So there you have it. Still confused as to why I use cows? It really is as simple and basic as the fact that my surname is Metcalfe, I like them, and it makes me stand out. It’s become almost like visual shorthand.

Bart Simpson says “Don’t have a cow, man!” I disagree. I say have as many as you want.

don't have a man, cow
Don’t have a man, cow

Please tweet me at @GilesMDigital with your thoughts on this, and feel free to use the hashtag “#cowarmy”. Hopefully we’ll get it trending. I’d be really interested to get your opinion on the points raised here. Thank you.

Twop Twitter Twips for Tweeps

top tips for Tweeps
Twop Twips for Tweeps

There are no end of guides on how best to use Twitter out there. I’m going to reference some of them in this blog post, but I’m also going to tell you a few things that I do myself. I’m not saying that what I do is definitive best practice, but it seems to work for me and it might for you too.

Attracting Followers

My work Twitter account – @GilesMDigital – has been up and running for just over a month now and I surpassed the 500 Follower mark today (21/10/2015). Not bad going, huh?

How have I attracted such a large amount of genuine, organic followers in such a relatively short amount of time? An excellent question, and thanks for asking. The answer is hard work and dedication. As Roy Castle used to say, “dedication’s what you need” (ask your parents if you’re reading this and you’re under 30). OK, he meant if you want to be a Record Breaker, but, you know, the principle still applies. You don’t get 500+ followers overnight – well, unless you buy them, and you really don’t want to be doing that, for all sorts of reasons.

I’ve put the hours in during the day and in the evening for the many and varied #Hours I take part in, and I’ve just been talking to people. No cheating, no short cuts, no big secret. There are some quick and easy tips that you can follow in order to achieve this too.

Diana Urban (@) says in her excellent and informative blog post ‘50 Tweetable Twitter Tips You Wish You Knew Years Ago‘:

Measure your Twitter success not by your number of followers, but by the quality and level of engagement.

Follow twenty people with similar interests per day. That’s not overwhelming, and reciprocal followers will add up quickly.

Don’t follow more than a couple hundred people per day. Twitter might mistake you for a spam bot and suspend your account!

Giving Tweeps what they want

Another tip I can pass on is give people something they want. This might be aggregating useful content from disparate sources into one Twitter feed, deals and discounts, or handy hints and tips. Twitter is many things to many people. Mat Fitzgerald states in his blog post ‘Why Do People Use Twitter‘:

For small and large businesses to use Twitter as a marketing tool they really need to get away from the idea that it is an advertising platform. The default position is to broadcast, announce and basically shout at people “buy my product because it is great”. With content marketing becoming the new wave (for good reason), the shift has turned from “BUY MY PRODUCT” to “READ MY BLOG”.

While this shows a steady improvement in the overall marketing IQ of the small business world it still misses the point and is still far too business focused rather than user focused. If you want to be noticed, if you want to engage people and if you want to be remembered you need to take a ‘helping mindset’ to everything you do. In order to help people you need to know what they do and why they do it, so if Twitter is your tool, consider the following:

Twitter is a news feed

Twitter is a way of socializing with friends

Twitter is a way of keeping up to date with events

People use Twitter to gather recommendations

People use Twitter as a distraction and a time filler

People use Twitter to feel good

The rest of Mat’s post is well worth reading, as it raises some interesting points around the above. He concludes with:

The real take away from [his] blog is that mindless broadcast and promotion via Twitter has absolutely zero alignment with what people (real people) are on Twitter for. If you can tie in your twitter marketing effort with what people are already doing your results will improve dramatically.

I provide a service to people. I want people to hire me to do their digital marketing and PPC advertising for them. I could bang out the same old hard sell messages via Twitter to convince them to hire me, but, that’s giving people what I want, not what they want. Sure, the odd self-promotional tweet here and there doesn’t go amiss, especially if someone is actually interested in the product or service you’re offering, but too much of it and your following will haemorrhage.

There are rules for this sort of thing. You know, the 4-1-1 rule, which states:

For every one self-serving tweet, you should re-tweet one relevant tweet and most importantly share four pieces of relevant content written by others.

It’s not a bad rule as rules go. Rules are all well and good, but rules are there to be broken. You just need to know when to do it. Having a hard and fast Twitter strategy that follows the 4-1-1 might work for you, but I prefer to be a bit looser about how I go about things, for my own Twitter account anyway.

Diana Urban again, with some do’s and don’t’s of Twitter Engagement:

Engage with others and show appreciation for their tweets by using the favorite button as a “like.”

Be responsive on Twitter, not a robot. If someone asks you a question on Twitter, answer it!

If you retweet every single tweet you’re mentioned in, followers will think you crave attention.

If someone regularly retweets or replies to you, add them to a list so you can return the favour.

Twitter is a two-way conversation. Tweet questions to encourage your followers to interact with you.

Nobody HAS to share your content on Twitter. So if someone authoritative retweets you, thank them.

Run Twitter contests using hashtags to increase engagement quickly. It’s gratifying to win!

I’d also add to this that it’s nice to be nice. Take the time to talk to people, and if it’s not appropriate to Tweet a particular conversation then use Direct Messages (DMs) instead. Be mindful of people’s feelings and privacy. Some people call it ‘Soft Skills’. I’d call it being social and considerate.

The Personal Touch

Scheduling and Tweet management tools such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social definitely have their uses. I use them to schedule tweets in advance where appropriate, and you should use them too because they’re a great time saver. However, I’m really not a fan of the automated response message. If I’ve just followed you, I don’t want my smartphone to light up like a pinball machine (ask your parents if you’re reading this and you’re under 30) with 3 different notifications for the same annoying automated response message telling me to “Like” you on Facebook as well.

Granted, I respond to new followers with a Tweet detailing what I can do for them, but the difference is that I type it out manually and tailor it to each individual follower. I don’t use automation. Sometimes I don’t even mention my services to people if it’s not appropriate to do so – I just thank them for following.

This is the personal touch, and shows people that you’re a human (or, in my case, a Cow) rather than a robot.

happy cow
Everyone needs a gimmick

I can do this because I choose to do it and can just about find enough hours in the day to do so. It’s a good habit to get into when you’re new to Twitter, but I fully appreciate that not everyone has the time to do this (even if they’ve got the inclination) once activity gets beyond a certain level.

in his blog post, ‘Twitter Tips for Beginners‘, says:

Those who are longtime Twitter users with big followings might not be able to handle this volume of responses, but for us newbies? Responding to anyone and anything is a huge part of being engaged in Twitter and growing your connections.

When someone retweets you, mentions you in a tweet, or favourites one of your tweets, they are seeking a connection with you. From a certain perspective, this is a truly humbling event. Someone has valued you and your profile enough that they want to connect. It’s kind of an honour.

Everyone needs a gimmick

Lastly, here’s something I’m going to throw into the mix. Everyone needs a “gimmick” to stand out from the Twitter crowd (or should that be herd). My gimmick is the cow theme that runs through my Twitter and other social media channels, both visually and through puns and emojis. My surname is Metcalfe. Geddit?

Whilst this might not be to everyone’s taste, feedback given so far has been positive, and it gives another dimension to my Tweets and acts as a visual shorthand for brand recognition.

Other people’s gimmicks (I don’t mean this pejoratively) I’ve come across might be Superheroes (@DigitalEyes_M), or Robots ()… What’s yours? What differentiates you from your peers and competitors who are putting out the same messages or selling the same services? If you haven’t got one then you risk being lost in all the Twitter noise and chaos.

What’s your Twitter gimmick? Tweet me with it at @GilesMDigital and I’ll retweet you.

Useful Resources

I’ve already mentioned two useful resources above, but you might also like to check out PC Mag’s post on Twitter – ‘The 15 Absolute Best Tips for Twitter‘, and this great infographic – ‘The Art of Getting Retweets‘.

If all else fails, hire a Pro

If you still can’t face Tweeting yourself, or you simply don’t have the time to do it properly, then hire a Pro. Did I mention that I can manage your social media accounts for you? Contact me to find out more.

5 Top Tips for written communication

fountain pen and letter
This is a fountain pen, folks

In these days of instant communication via social media and texts, written communication, formal letters and “snail mail” seems a bit quaint… You know, a bit 20th Century… And as for the price of stamps these days – jeez! However, sometimes it’s still necessary to write or type out an old skool missive and if you’re new to letter writing or out of practice it’s easy to get the conventions wrong.

Heather from my good friends We Are Word Nerds has kindly done this guest blog post on how to craft the perfect letter. Thank you, Heather. You can follow Heather on Twitter @wordnerds_lomax

Have you ever needed to send an email or letter to a colleague? A potential client? Or perhaps another business? If so, written communication is needed in your workplace. This blog post will introduce you to the basics of formal letter writing (this includes both printed and electronic). Unfortunately, this blog will not be able to help you with those little post-it notes around the office, requesting that people don’t use your milk when making tea or eat your cake. You’ll have to tackle that problem without me. Different kind of business communication. Sorry.

Does anybody write letters anymore
Does anybody write (proper) letters any more?

Below, you’ll find my top 5 tips for writing formal letters and written communication in general. At the bottom, there’s also a basic letter template to give you a hand and get you started in the right way.

1) Written communication format:

How do you want your reader to respond? This is an easier task with email when the reader can simply click ‘Reply’, but even then you may still want them to respond using another method. It’s useless writing to someone if they’re unable to reply. I received a letter when I was around 14 years old from a girl in France. As much as I wanted to send her a letter in return, I couldn’t. Why? She hadn’t included her home address. No email. No telephone number. Nothing. Obvious to say, Giselle did not become my penpal. Be sure to use the correct format for formal letters when providing your contact information.

Want them to pick up the phone? Include a telephone number. Want them to reply via snail mail? Give your address. Your address should be at the top left of the page, underneath your full name (with the correct title, e.g. Mr, Miss, Mrs). Follow this by the date, leaving one line blank.

Where do you want the letter to go? Leave another blank line after your address and date, and write your reader’s full name and address on the right.

2) Greetings:

Start off the letter itself with ‘Dear’ or ‘To.’ ‘Dear’ is typically used in formal communication but ‘To’ works as well. If you’re writing an email and you know that your reader is currently online, you could start your message with ‘Good morning/afternoon’ instead. Follow this by who the reader is, using their full name if you know it. If not, ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ works OK but this is pretty impersonal. The more specific the greeting is, the better. Maybe do a bit of research and find out the job title of whoever the message is addressed to. Whenever possible, avoid using ‘To whom it may concern.’ If you don’t know anything about your reader, why should they want to read what you have to say? In fact, do this and your message may just be considered spam and end up in the reader’s literal/cyber waste-paper basket.

Also, no offence intended here… but who exactly are you? If the reader doesn’t know who you are, give a brief introduction.

3) Making your point clear:

Why are you contacting them? What do you want them to do? Fail to answer these questions in your correspondence, and you may as well join Giselle and never receive a reply. Explain the reason of your communication and what you hope to happen next. Clear calls to action (CTAs) are good.

4) What to be:

Writing a complaint letter? Be polite but firm. Asking someone to do something? Be polite and respectful. Trying to persuade them to buy what you have to offer? Be polite but don’t overdo the hard selling techniques. This is a good lesson for life in general, really.

Consistency is important too. You may have been taught old skool grammar at school, such as it’s the done thing to separate paragraphs by indenting them or leaving a blank line. Generally speaking, if you’re typing your message, leave a blank line. If you’re writing your message by hand, you may want to indent each paragraph. Whatever you do, be consistent throughout.

Attention to detail is key as well. I’m pretty sure we’ve all done it, but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t say ‘Please find documents attached…’ and forget to attach these in the email. It’s infuriating for you when you realise, and it also looks unprofessional on your part.

Note: If it’s an email, you attach documents. If it’s a letter, you enclose them, [and put ‘Enc.’ underneath your signature and printed name at the bottom, GM].

5) Signing off at the end:

Did you use their name in their address and the greeting? If so, use ‘Yours sincerely.’ If not (e.g. ‘Dear Manager’ or ‘Dear Finance Department’), end the letter with ‘Yours faithfully.’ Think you might get those mixed up? No problem; ‘Kind regards’ will work instead whatever the case. Leave one line blank and then give your name. You may want to include room for your signature if this is snail mail. Brief contact details would be handy here too.

Follow this advice, and your letter/written communication should look something like this (disregard the addresses and date if it’s an email):

Miss Heather Lomax

Giles Metcalfe Digital

62 Baddeley Green Lane

Baddeley Green

Stoke

Stoke-on-Trent

ST2 7HB

31st August 2015

 

Mr Joe Bloggs

Business Name

Street

Town

County

Postcode

 

Dear Joe Bloggs,

My name is Heather Lomax and I am contacting you on behalf of Giles Metcalfe Digital.

Information goes here. Information goes here. Information goes here. Information goes here. Information goes here. Information goes here. Information goes here. Information goes here. Information goes here. Information goes here. Information goes here. Isn’t copy and paste an amazing function? Information goes here. Information goes here.

More information might go here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. Is anyone actually reading this part? More information goes here too. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And don’t forget here. Copy and paste really is fantastic. More information goes here! How exciting!

I hope to hear from you soon. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions for requests for further information.

Yours sincerely,

Signature (if traditional letter)

Heather Lomax

Enc. (if traditional letter and a document is enclosed)

Giles Metcalfe Digital

07577771964

Has this blog post been helpful? Please give your feedback and share any letter writing stories via Twitter – @wordnerds_lomax & @GilesMDigital – or Facebook – Giles Metcalfe Digital & We Are Word Nerds.

Heather.

Being social at a distance

Being social from a distance
Being social from a distance

Social situations have always been problematic for me (see previous blog post – Social Anxiety & The Networking Event), not least in a business context, so it was with some trepidation that I set out for my marketing referral event on Wednesday the 14th. As things turned out, everything went well on the day and I even learnt something very interesting – that I was by no means the only one in the room who was nervous about these sort of business events.

A fellow attendee said that it was a massive effort for her to come to them too, even though the particular event is fortnightly and she’s been to loads of them. She went on to say that it’s even harder to find the motivation to attend for someone who’s a reluctant networker AND self-employed as there isn’t a Manager or boss to compel you to go! I was surprised to hear this coming from someone who outwardly seemed very confident in that environment, but also heartened by the fact that I was by no means alone in my unease about having to actually talk to people.

Aspergers & social anxiety

As an Aspergers (Aspie) male, I often find social situations very difficult. I’m not alone in this. Fellow Aspie and Staffordshire resident Paddy Considine used to stay in bed rather than face the day, and hide under the table when there was a knock on the door. Speaking to people was all too much.

There are many unwritten social rules that people without an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) seem to learn and put into practice instinctively. As these rules are unwritten, people with an ASD often have to work hard at learning them, and they can be confusing. Add in an Aspie’s fear of being anything less than perfect, worries about being judged negatively by others, and the feeling of dread about having to step outside our comfort zone into the mix too, all making the perceived lack of social skills and the inability to “fit in” and “mingle” a cause of much anxiety. Sometimes it’s an achievement to even get out of the door! Even if an Aspie appears to be doing well in a social situation, it could be that it’s taking so much effort on their part that they are eventually and inevitably going to crash. Hopefully this will be behind closed doors once they’re home and are able to “decompress”, but sometimes spectacular ‘meltdowns’ happen in public.

Networking for people who hate networking – business situations & social anxiety

Meltdowns are bad for all concerned at the best of times, but especially so when it happens in front of your work colleagues or potential clients.

I’ve shown my face at work functions only to flit ghost-like around the room, not say a word to anybody or be noticed by anyone, make for the door and then beat a hasty retreat to the sanctuary of my hotel room. The fact that I wasn’t missed as all of the extrovert Neurologically Typical (NTs) “had fun” spoke volumes.

I mentioned ‘Networking for People Who Hate Networking’ by Devora Zack (Berrett-Koehler, 2010) in my previous blog post, Social Anxiety & The Networking Event, and that book could just as well have been called ‘Networking for Aspies’. In fact, there are many other books on Aspies and business, as a quick Google search on the topic shows. We’re a niche and captive market. Such business luminaries as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are (suspected to be) Aspie too.

Why is it that Aspies fear social situations yet often excel at social media? Being social at a distance

All this leads me to ponder the key question at the heart of this blog post – why is it that Aspies fear and loathe social situations so much yet often excel at and revel in social media? In other words, being social at a distance.

Sherri Schultz, AKA Pensive Aspie, says in her blog post on Aspies and Social Media:

Online communities allow Aspies to make friends – real friends – for maybe the first time in their lives without the stress of being socially correct.  Being online removes the stress of eye contact, correct posture, correct tone and appearance.  You can sit in your favourite ratty pyjamas and make a friend without ever having to brush your hair or put on shoes… No painful conversations trying to find some mutual connection. No internal dialogue about remembering eye contact or not standing with your arms [folded]. There is safety behind the screen.

This also applies to the business sphere. In other words, you can just be you without having to concentrate on being you (or the more business-y version of you), whilst working from home wearing an old, comfy sweatshirt and joggers or remain safely ensconced in your bullpen cubicle in the far back corner of your open plan office floor.

In real life social situations, the back and forth of conversation doesn’t give you much time to process what someone has said to you and formulate an answer. If I pause during conversation to think about what I’m going to say next someone else often jumps in and fills the gap. It’s not an awkward silence, and I’m not lost for words, I’m thinking what I’m going to say next! I find it really irritating when I’m not allowed to finish what I’m trying to say, and I often come away from those sort of one-sided conversations feeling angry and frustrated.

You don’t have to react and reply instantaneously with social media. You have time to read someone’s Tweet or Facebook post, absorb and process it, then come up with a well-honed reply. We’re usually good with the written word you see, and we can delete and re-write our Tweets or posts before we hit the Enter button. You can’t rewind and re-phrase an actual verbal conversation.

Is social media killing the art of conversation?

However, some people think that Social Media is actually killing the art of conversation.

bunnies rabbiting
Social Media is killing the art of conversation

If you use Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, everybody already knows everything there is to know about you. That sailing trip you took? Liked. Breaking up with your girlfriend? Replied to on Twitter. All these over-sharing, always-on social networks create situations where there’s nothing left to talk about! [Shoebox Blog via Neatorama]

So, what’s the answer? Perhaps there’s a third way. If you know it, feel free to Tweet it to me; or, alternatively, arrange a 1-2-1 and we’ll have an actual real life, face-to-face chat. If I can make it out of the front door, that is.

7 Steps to building a brilliant brand

branding
Branding

In the first of what I hope will be a regular series of posts from different Guest Bloggers, please welcome Charlotte from F&R Designs. Charlotte lives in North Dorset, and is studying for BA (Hons) in Graphic Design as well as running her design business. Connect with her on her WebsiteFacebook page or Tweet her! Here are her 7 steps for building a brilliant brand.

Step One

Tag Line – A memorable, meaningful and concise statement that captures the essence of your brand. I believe this is a good place to start. You can brainstorm from here, and you already have your company name but you will need something that will run alongside your logo. A world famous brand like Coca-Cola has had a few over the years, but probably the most well known one is ‘The Original’ (Coke think that there are lots of imitation colas). Ask yourself – how do you want prospective clients to remember you?

Step Two

Colour pallet – When thinking about colour you may have a definite pallet in mind but really you need to research it as different colours mean different things to different people and in different cultures. Have a read through colour theory as we tend to associate colours with feelings. Color Matters has some great information on this. Once you have chosen your colour scheme you can apply it to a logo when you have one, which leads nicely on to step three.

Step Three

Logo – You’ve got your company name, but do you have any ideas for an appropriate and clever logo? Work with a designer as this could be the make or break of how you are seen and remembered. There are lots of graphics applications online that you can use to build a logo, but I think this is one area where you can’t afford to cut corners! I wrote a detailed blog post on logos – check it out.

Step four

Voice – Is your brand friendly? Be conversational. Is it ritzy? Be more formal. How do you want your customers to ‘hear’ you? This needs to be taken into account when presenting yourself, be it in person or online. Pictures also need to be taken into consideration as well, just remember to use the same tone throughout. Consistency is key.

Step five

Social media – You know your own product best, but who will it attract? Who’s your audience? Where do they hang out? If you can’t answer these questions, you could speak to Giles regarding social media marketing and advertising. He will identify your social media “tribe” on all of the different social media channels and promote your services or products to them. It’s not all sell, sell, sell though. It is vitally important to have conversations with people – it is called social media after all. Remember the 4-1-1 rule for Twitter – “For every one self-serving tweet, you should re-tweet one relevant tweet and most importantly share four pieces of relevant content written by others.”

Step six

Integrity – Now you’ve got everything in place and your product is out there, you need to be true to what you’ve promised in your tag line. Integrity is how all the great brands became great! It’s a truism that word of mouth is the best form of advertising, and it’s a real compliment when I’m recommended by someone else. These people are not just satisfied clients, they’re Brand Ambassadors, and your biggest reputational assest. Testimonials from real people help build integrity and trust. Consider using online reviews for transparency and building trust, if it’s appropriate to your business.

Step seven

Don’t stress – Now this is a big one. Everyone talks about numbers and followers on social media like it’s the be-all and end-all, but raw numbers mean nothing. It’s really all about quality not quantity. Why have followers who are’nt your target audience, unless they actually enhance your business in some other way (a business guru who is a major influencer, for instance)? Chances are they won’t actually interact with you, and it’s far better to have less followers that do actually comment and react to your product or services for real, rather than have 1000s of followers who never mention you. Don’t be tempted to buy followers, ever. It harms your brand perception, destroys integrity, and exposes your business to some very dodgy people whom you really don’t want to give your credit card details to! Plus, don’t sweat the metrics. Your domain authority (DA) or your Klout score really isn’t all that important to your bottom line – just get the fundamentals right and enjoy it!

I hope that these 7 steps to building a brilliant brand have been a help when considering your brand initially, or with re-branding. Please visit me for your graphic design needs in the South West.

signiture

 

www.fandrdesigns.co.uk

@fresh_rosy

charlotte@fandrdesigns.co.uk

Social Anxiety & the Networking Event

Networking
Business Networking – blah blah blah

I hate networking. There, I’ve said it.Perhaps you love it? Good for you. Can’t say the same. Perhaps you hate it too? In which case, welcome brother, welcome sister. We’re all friends here. Read on.

Aspergers, Social Anxiety, Business & the need for Networking

I have Aspergers Syndrome, and the Social Anxiety that goes with it. I’m fine with social media interaction, quite good at it in fact (even if I do say so myself). But, I find it hard to make small-talk in real life with people I don’t know.  I can handle 1-2-1s and small groups where I can hear myself think. I’m able to process what’s being said and formulate an answer with no problem at all. However, a large room full of extroverts is my idea of hell. I hate the noise levels, how far out of my comfort zone I feel, and I’m envious of the way extroverts make it look so easy.

I’m also freelance self-employed, with the need to attract new business and keep clients onboard. Given the need to actually sell my professional services to other people (so to speak) participating in networking and related events is a necessary evil. But how do I reconcile the business need to do it with my fear of social situations, especially networking events?

Events & the ‘6 P’s’

I’ve been invited to a popular Staffordshire-based marketing referral event on Wednesday. It’s not networking as such, but, you know, same ballpark. I’ve ordered 250 spot laminated business card to hand out whilst I’m there and I’ve paid in advance for my lunch and refreshments. How I’m going to manage to eat as well as interact with people I don’t quite know but I’ll get back to you on that one (update: with difficulty. Hint: you might want to get your money’s worth, but don’t overload your plate with food if you plan on talking to people as well)!

On top of the effort of actually attending an event where I’ve got to speak to people, I’m expected to stand up and give a 60 second presentation to a room full of people I don’t know about myself and my business. Horror of horrors!

The Scream - fear of the networking event
The Scream – fear of the networking event

Now, I’m very aware of the ‘6 Ps’:

Prior Preparation Prevents P**s Poor Performance

and that “failure to prepare is preparing to fail” so I’m going to do all I can over the next few days to get my presentation nailed down. Plus, you know, it could be worse… I could have to talk about myself for 2 minutes, or 5 minutes…

The third thing I did after booking my ticket for the event (1), and designing and ordering my 250 business cards (2), was to head for the bookcase and dig out my copy of ‘Networking for People Who Hate Networking‘ by Devora Zack (Berrett-Koehler, 2010). I interviewed Devora on the topic of her book and advice for introverts in business around the time that the book was published. The interview is still available here – albeit a subscription is required.

What does a book about networking & the film Kung Fu Panda have in common?

Just as the Dragon Scroll in Kung Fu Panda contains the secret to “limitless power”

You will never be the Dragon Warrior until you have learned the secret of the Dragon Scroll

– the book seems to hold the key to networking for the introverted, the overwhelmed and the under-connected. In fact, (spoiler alert) just as the Dragon Scroll is actually blank – very Zen

Kung Fu Panda Dragon Scroll
The secret of the Dragon Scroll

– the book tries to equip the reader with the tools he or she needs to navigate the networking minefield. There is no secret, no magical formula, just you yourself with hopefully a better understanding of introverts and extroverts once you’ve reached the end of the book. Lest you think that the book promises much but delivers little, it really doesn’t. There are many useful and practical networking hints and tips contained within it, I refer you back to the ‘6 Ps’, and it also offers a valuable insight into Devora’s own personality – one that as an Aspie I can readily identify with.

Devora states, towards the end of the book:

A sure way to fail is to pretend to be someone you are not. This sounds obvious, yet it is a path many of us attempt in vain. An enormous factor in successful networking is being comfortable with who you are and putting your best self out there.

And there’s the rub. Once you understand this you will become the Dragon Warrior of networking.

More Networking tips – 9, to be exact

Lydia Ramsey covers a lot of the same ground as Devora and gives us a fair few handy tips in her blog post on the same subject:

Here are a few tips to help you deal with the fear of networking and turn each one of these events into a profitable experience.

  1. Understand what networking is not. It is not about seeing how many hands you can shake or how many business cards you can collect.
  2. Understand what networking is. It is an opportunity to connect with people and build your business relationships.
  3. To be a successful networker, you need to know who will be attending the event. If you can’t get names, at least know which organizations will be represented.
  4. Plan in advance what you will talk about. Have specific topics in mind for those people whom you plan to see.
  5. Be prepared with a least three subjects you can discuss with anyone, whether they are strangers or people whom you already know. The best way to do this is to be up to date on current events. If you can’t make conversation, you can’t make connections.
  6. Listen more than you talk. People enjoy talking about themselves so give them the opportunity. You will learn more by listening, and the people you meet will think you are a great conversationalist.
  7. Arrive on time so you can become comfortable with the venue and be able to meet people as they arrive. If you join an event already underway, it will be more difficult to join conversations.
  8. Have plenty of your business cards with you and have them readily accessible. The person who has to fumble for a business card appears unprepared and unprofessional.
  9. Have a follow up plan for those people with whom you’d like to create or maintain a business relationship. As soon as you get back to your office, look at those business cards and decide whether you want to call someone, send an email or invite a person to lunch.

The successful networkers always attend events with confidence and assurance. They have a plan of action and a goal of growing their business by connecting with people face to face. Social media is no substitute for a personal encounter.

So, there you have it. I’m going back to preparing for Wednesday now. I’ll post on how it went at the tail end of next week. ‘Til then, happy networking.

Update: the follow-up blog post is now live – Being social from a distance