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7 Life Lessons and Professional Pointers You can Learn from Twitter

I’ll admit, I’m a relative rookie when it comes to Twitter. I just started really participating and engaging a few weeks ago. But, in that short amount of time, I feel like I’ve learned as much or more than I have during entire college courses. Or, even some of my post-grad classes for that matter. Hey, Chris Brogan said it best–maybe you don’t have to go back to school to hone certain key skills you need for your dream job today.

Since my primary MO is sharing, collaborating and connecting on- and off-line, I thought I’d share with you the life lessons and professional practices you can learn–as I have this last month–by engaging with others using this tool:

1–Twitter will make you a better writer. Writing in 140-word chunks forces you to communicate more efficiently and effectively. It makes you a great headline writer, which is only going to become more important as brevity is stressed more and more in the online–and offline–communications world. Twitter also forces you to write interesting, engaging copy–you know the kind you should be writing for your clients and organizations? If your tweets aren’t engaging and interesting, people simply won’t read them and engage with you. Wow, seems like I’ve heard that before somewhere…
2–Connect and collaborate with today’s great minds. You would be so lucky to have the opportunity to collaborate and learn from great minds like Chris Brogan, Shel Holtz, Jason Falls and Geoff Livingston. And those are just a few of the luminaries in the social media/communications industry. What about finance? Or, health care? Or, technology? They’re out there folks. On Twitter, you can connect with these thought leaders instantly in 140 characters. Believe me, these people are more approachable and open to conversation than you might think. Try them.
3–Be a sponge. A big, fat, ready-to-take on the world, kinda sponge. Soak in information as fast as you can take it in. I participated in Sarah Evans’ remarkable and wildly successful Journcat last night. With a non-stop stream of tweets running by at warp speed, it was tough to keep up. But, I tried to gather and learn what I could, connect with a few folks, throw in my two cents and move on (One of my lame tweets even landed on her “Top Tweets” list–Sarah, I’m blushing now…) Always remember: Do more listening and learning and less shouting and preaching and you’ll do fine.
4–Twitter can make you a happier person. Yes, psychology majors, you read that right. OK, so I may be over-stating it a little, but I find myself laughing at many tweets throughout the day. Just follow @ambercadabra, @darthvader or @skydiver for a while–you’ll laugh. Trust me. Doesn’t laughing make you happier? I’ve also met a boatload of people from everywhere from New Hampshire to Australia to Utah on Twitter. Doesn’t connecting with new people and building those relationships make you happy? Or, use Twitter to help others. Just look what @armano did last night on Twitter–helped raise more than 4K in two hours (running total is now around 11K, I hear) for a family in desperate need. Amazing.
5–Twitter will help you hone your “pitch” skills. If you’re in the media relations game, you know what I mean. When you pitch a reporter or blogger on a story idea you have to do a little research before crafting your pitch, right? You need to find out what makes the reporter tick. What he or she writes about. What they’re interested in. Twitter’s the same way. Before connecting with others on Twitter, take a few minutes to review their profile and read their blog. Find out where they went to school and if they have any special interests. Mention some of those things in your tweet. It’s the same skills–different arena. One more thing: reporters appreciate it when you send them a personal note after they’ve written a great story, right? Again, same principle holds true in Twitterville. Retweet a follower’s recent post. Or, just send them a nice tweet saying how much you’ve enjoyed connecting with them. Makes all the difference in the world.
6–Twitter: The new post-grad degree. Of course, it’s not all about Twitter. It’s about the conversations you have, the connections you build, the stories you share. It’s also about what you put into it–blog posts you write, comments you provide on other blogs, videos and podcasts you develop. Think you can learn all that in a classroom right now and in the next six months to a year? I’m not saying post-secondary education isn’t useful or a smart thing to do. I’m just saying tools like Twitter now give YOU the keys to your future. Take it. Run with it. You might like where you go.
7–Be yourself on Twitter. Isn’t that the first rule of dating? C’mon ladies, help me out here. I know it’s been a while since I’ve been in the dating game, but I’ve always followed this mantra. Applies on Twitter, too. Be funny. Smart. Irreverent. Whatever. Just be who you are. People see right through the folks who are trying to be someone they’re not–just like in the real world.
OK–your turn. What have you learned on Twitter? Any life lessons or professional tips you’d like to share?

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Minnesota PR/Communications Pros online

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been informally compiling a list of Minnesota-based PR and communications professionals who author blogs or are engaging on Twitter. Lately, I’ve found myself asking “Gee, I wonder if X is on Twitter.” Or, “What other MN-based blogs can I link to or follow and learn from?” 

After a handful of searches for a definitive resource/list, I continue to come up empty. So darn it anyway, I’m starting one myself. 
This is by no means meant to be an end-all-be-all list. Instead, it’s merely a starting point. So please, if you know someone I’ve missed, please leave a comment below or DM and I’ll add it to the list. My plan is to update this list and re-publish every month so we have a definitive, running online catalog of all MN PR/communications blogs and Twittizens. 
www.beehivepr.biz (Waxings–authored by various Beehive staffers)
www.marketingpie.risdall.com (authored by various RMPR staffers)
www.fasthorseinc.com (authored by various FH staffers)
www.getfreshminds.com (authored by Katie Konrath)
@graemethickins (GTA Marketing)
@jenkaneco (Jennifer Kane–Kane Consulting)
@stephaniesnyder (Padilla Speer Beardsley)
@annehendricks (Fairview)
@patrickstrother (Strother Communications Group)
@timotis (Axiom Communications)
@aprilnel (April Nelson–Weber Shandwick)
@mjkeliher (Mike Keliher–Provident Partners)
@jeffshelman (Augsburg College)
@albertmaruggi (Provident Partners)
@karyd (Kary Delaria–KD Public Relations)
@asdeos (Anthony Deos–Target)
@leeodden (TopRank Online Marketing)
@cbensen (Connie Bensen–Techrigy)
@reinan (John Reinan–FastHorse)
@bskogrand (Brant Skogrand–Risdall McKinney Public Relations)
@bmjewell (Bridget Jewell–Mall of America)
@jasonsprenger (Xiotech)
@saramasters (Minneapolis Synod)
@rebeccamartin (Beehive PR)
@curtisrsmith (Carmichael Lynch)
@sleepnumbersara (Sara Ryder–Select Comfort)
@prchck123 (Heather Schwartz–Weber Shandwick)
@evakeiser (Risdall McKinney Public Relations)
@ekdao (Erika Dao–Mall of America)
@uptowngirlmpls (LeeAnn Rasachak–Select Comfort)
@knegs (Keith Negrin)
@terrijellman (Tastefully Simple)
@kellygroehler (Best Buy)
@azemke (Ayme Zemke–Beehive PR)
@perfectporridge (Greg Swan–Weber Shandwick)
@joel22882 (Joel Swanson–Risdall McKinney Public Relations)
@laskaroy (Jared Roy-Risdall)
@mnpr (Ryan May)

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Don’t ignore your “offline” networks

The other day I got a quick, early morning workout in at our neighborhood YMCA. I was a little surprised when I noticed nearly 80 percent of those working out were 70 or older. It was like a scene straight out of the 1980s hit “Cocoon” (OK, I’m dating myself now). Then, I started to notice the elderly gentleman working out on the treadmill next to me had a steady stream of visitors. The guy knew virtually every person who walked by. I immediately and affectionately dubbed him “the mayor.”
Where am I going with this story?
This guy clearly has a very large social network. If he knows this many folks at the Y–how many do you think he knows at his local church? How big is his network of friends, former coworkers and extended family? I’m guessing it’s huge. Remember, he’s the “mayor.” 
Point is, as we invest significant time and energy in online networks and tools like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, it’s wise not to forget the personal, “offline” networks we’ve built over the years. It’s incredible to be able to connect with people like Danny Brown, Mack Collier and Sarah Evans in Twitterville. But, the lunches I had last week with my good friends Sara Masters and Brie Gunderson were just as important. 
It’s the same principles, but that face time makes all the difference. It’s irreplaceable. It’s no wonder you see Twitter relationships blossom after people meet at TweetUps or at conferences. I’ve noticed a few instances of this online recently–Shannon Paul, Amber Naslund, Liz Strauss and others connecting in Chicago. Mack Collier and other “tweeting up” in Hunstville. Once these folks meet in person, it cements the relationship. They’re instantly more likely to provide advice. To point out interesting articles. And to help each other along the way. 
So tonight, instead of spending an extra 30 minutes on Twitter or 20 minutes updating your Facebook status and sharing photos, try one of the following:
* Reach out to a former colleague, ask them to lunch and see what’s new in their world. 
* Call a member of your professional organization whom you’ve fallen out of touch with and find out how you can help them. 
* Send a personal, handwritten note to a former manager and tell them how they made a difference in your professional life.
* Meet someone new by asking one of your current colleagues or partners to introduce you to a person in their network whom they think you may share common interests. Great way to expand and diversify your network.
* Always wanted to connect with someone at Google, Nike or Best Buy? Ask your people in your personal network if they know folks at these organizations. And if they do, would they mind brokering an introduction?
Building and nurturing these personal relationships will complement your online networks nicely and give you additional opportunities to learn, collaborate and share in 2009. And, in an economy like the one we’re mired in now, that’s more important than ever.
What about you? What will you do in the weeks ahead to solidify your offline networks? Any other tips to share?

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Cast your vote for the best Twitter avatar

How did you choose the pic for your avatar? Did you struggle with your choice? Did you go with a straight head shot? A cartoon? Or, maybe a random graphic? 

Whatever the case, our avatars are a big part of our online persona on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites. You make first impressions of people you meet face to face within a few minutes based largely on their physical appearance, right? Online, people base those same first impressions on your avatar–the only visual they may have at the time. 
So, I thought we’d have some fun with this and find out who really does have the best Twitter avatar–at least, according to the Tweeple. 
Here’s the deal. Cast your vote by sending me a DM at www.twitter.com/arikhanson before midnight, CST, Saturday, Jan. 3.

As you consider your choices and cast your vote, there really are no hard-and-fast criteria. But, think about the creativity of the avatar. Does it make you laugh? Does it pique your interest? Is it mysterious? Does it make you want to follow that person and engage them in conversation?
That’s it, really. Again, vote now by sending a DM to me at www.twitter.com/arikhanson. Deadline is midnight, Saturday, Jan. 3. I’ll announce the winner on Sunday afternoon. 
To get you started, here’s a few avatars that have piqued my interest over the last few weeks:
* @armano–Anyone who wears a yellow cowboy hat is OK in my book. 
* @darthvader–Classic. Vintage. Pure evil.
* @skydiver–How did he get that pic anyway?
* @chrisbrogan–Changed his avatar a few times lately. I like clean-shaven Chris a little better, myself.
* @mackcollier–Much debate lately about the hand on Mack’s shoulder. Did we ever find out whose hand it was?
* @perfectporridge–Tip of the cap to one of the Twin Cities social media gurus. Creative execution.
* @prsarahevans–She just looks like the kind of person you want to be friends with, doesn’t she?
* @tedmurphy–I’m both intrigued and a little frightened.

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Four reasons Peter Shankman is a genius

It’s ridiculous to even infer that there is any limit to Peter Shankman’s brilliance. For full disclosure, not he’s not paying me. I’m not a long-lost relative. And I’m not a personal friend.

But I am a fan. A big fan.

For those of you who were online late last week, you know @skydiver held giveways literally every 10 minutes for those unfortunate souls stuck in the office on Christmas and the day after Christmas. Genius idea. Great for Shankman (he got to de-clutter his desk) and key to HARO’s future success. Why?

1–He catered to his key audience. @skydiver now has 19,000-plus followers on Twitter. How many do you think were working Thurs/Fri? I’m guessing more than a few. How many of those folks work in media relations/PR? I can’t speak for the media folks, but we PR peeps need all the free stuff we can get. Most importantly, he knew his audience of Tweeple would all be experiencing a slow work day so he’d have their undivided attention. He knew his audience, understood their frustrations (working on Christmas-big bummer) and needs (free stuff) and what would pique their interest. Hmmm…media relations colleagues, sound familiar?

2–He created a whole new legion of HARO followers, believers and advocates. If you visit shankman.com you’ll see his first-hand account of his original plan for the giveaway and the initial reaction. After his announcement on Christmas Eve, he suddenly had 400 new Twitter followers. That’s 400 more people to help spread the HARO message and further the HARO–and Shankman–brand. Pretty stellar result for someone who was just trying to de-clutter his desk by giving away some SWAG on a holiday.

3–He knows the word-of-mouth game. The brilliance behind this idea: the bulk of the folks who won those giveaways last week were media/PR types, right? Guess what the lion’s share of media/PR types like to do? Communicate. Especially about products, services and experiences they’ve won recently. You’re telling me whoever won that trip to Tahoe or those blacksmithing lessons isn’t going to be talking about that to their friends, family and colleagues for the next six months. Great way to introduce the brands of the companies who donated items to the Tweeple masses and Shankman followers–creating a whole new slew of brand champions for these organizations.

4–He’s not afraid to try new things. For a day-and-a-half, Peter held the giveaway all on Twitter. Enter @brianshaler. Suddenly, we had a live stream of “two guys and a couch” (if you followed, you understand that reference). For those of you who know or have met @skydiver, he’s an engaging fellow, which is why the video was so powerful. In a matter of minutes, it went from online giveaway to interactive entertainment experience. Not all of it was riveting. But it was funny, human (you could actually see him realizing he messed up with the final answer) and honest (can’t hide from the camera). In any case, the real lesson here is he wasn’t afraid to try something new on the fly (fairly sure he wasn’t planning to do that–then again, I could be wrong). As companies navigate this unsettled economy, they may start implementing strategies and tactics they once thought to be impossible, ineffective or risky to build their brands or jump-start revenues. Like Shankman, these organizations are going to take risks and try new approaches to reach their key audiences.

What do you think? Smart move by @skydiver? Lame self-promotional stunt? Typical Shankman? Or pure genius?

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