3 Reasons to Love Instagram

While I appreciate mainstream web publications, I sometimes learn about hidden technology gems through lesser known publications and blogs. This is one of those times, and I was fortunate to learn about Instagram–the latest photography application for the iPhone.

Developed by Burbn, Inc., Instagram
is one of the top rated photography apps and is quickly becoming a favorite tool of many. I’m no exception and I can think of many reasons why, but for now I’ll limit myself to three reasons to love this app:

1. Easy to use. Grab pictures from your photo library or take a new picture. You can also turn things around for an impromptu self-portait. With 14 photo filters that range from a simple black and white (Inkwell) to a grainy technicolor look (1977) it’s easy to enhance your favorite pictures. There’s also a flash adjuster which comes in handy with filters like Gotham.

2. Encourages sharing. Post your pictures to the public feed, add tags and share through the app, email, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and more–all with a few fingertip swipes. You can also find and follow friends from your phone contacts, Facebook and Twitter to see, like and comment on the pictures they’re posting. Think Twitter meets Foursquare–the ability to see what friends are doing through the eyes of their camera lens.

3. It’s free–but it shouldn’t be. Enjoy this while it lasts. Instagram is hands down one of the best photo apps on the market, free or paid. This means the developers could have charged or maybe they’re hoping Instagram will do for photo sharing what Foursquare has done for location sharing–make it more popular to share these aspects of our lives with the world than to keep them private.

Whatever the case may be the world is more beautiful and more interesting through the eyes of friends and strangers all sharing their lives in photo. Instagram has made it all possible by turning even an amateur into an iPhone-wielding professional photographer.

5 Ways Brands Can and Should Use Twitter

A snowy Tuesday evening and the eve of the great blizzard of 2011 and I’m perusing the chatter on Twitter. As I do I see a number of my favorite brands–some local Chicago businesses, others national brands, all doing interesting and innovative things on the platform.

I’m inspired to write this blog because I don’t think enough credit goes to marketers and conversationalists who are using Twitter and increasing brand awareness without the aide of billion dollar marketing budgets.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned from them about how brands can and should use Twitter.

1. Start the conversation. @Huggies does a good job of asking a question that really gets you thinking and is easy to respond to in 140 characters. Even better, they often RT your reply which makes the user feel heard and recognized.

2. Join conversations about your brand. I can’t stress enough the close ties between pop culture and Twitter for consumer brands. Therefore, your brand has to have a full-time voice, and eyes and ears, to remain aware of what influencers are tweeting and saying offline that could lead to tweeting. This could be an opportunity to engage a very powerful brand advocate.

3. Tie into the trends. Twitter had made it incredibly easy to see what people are talking about. Go the extra mile and tie your brand to one of these conversation topics. This is great way to be relevant and spark up a conversation. Retailers like @bluelgcrew and @homedepot are doing this as we speak, tweeting about tips, tools and sales to help those in the Midwest battle the snow.

4. Connect across channels to reach more of your audience. @JimmyFallon is a great example. This afternoon Fallon tweeted to followers to play the hashish game by sending him your worst pickup lines with #worstpickuplines. Stay tuned to Jimmy Fallon Live tomorrow night and he’ll show his favorites. An awesome way to drive his audience from Twitter to TV by offering someone 15 seconds of fame.

5. Engage followers around your brand with a regular event. Whether it’s a regular Twitter conversation like the weekly deal chat hosted by @Frugalista or the daily trending topic shared by hosts if BET’s @106andPark. The topic is posted every evening on their show and leads to hundreds of tweets by their viewers and followers.

These ideas may not be driving ROI or winning a Shorty, but they’re creative, engaging and fun. At the end of the day that’s one of the primary reasons social consumers respond to and remember brands.

Comment. Subscribe. Follow me @JenPolk1 for more.

60 Minutes and 140 Characters: How Social Media is Affecting Politics and Vice Versa

It’s nearly 10 pm on January 25, 2011 and I’m inspired and in awe. The State of the Union Address (#satu) is coming to a close, but the post-address commentary is just beginning. What amazes me is that I’m not watching it or the address on TV. Instead I’m following President Barack Obama (or the members of his staff who handle tweets) and between him and a handful of others getting a real time feed of the best of the State of the Union Address.

Let me be honest. In a household with two working adults and two kids, including a new baby, we just don’t have time to sit glued to the TV for an hour or more. We’re lucky if we can watch a thirty minute sitcom. Most TV gets recorded and watched later which just doesn’t cut it when history is in the making. So I turn to Twitter and am able to keep up with the theme and highlights, including a healthy dose of political satire.

Earlier today I learned of a major change in the Chicago mayoral election, followed one of the candidates and retweeted one of his posts to show my agreement and support though I live in the burbs. Not only has social media and Twitter in particular given me a window into politics, but it’s also amplified my political voice beyond the ballot.

It all seems to have started with the 2008 Presidential election and then-candidate Barack Obama using social networks to reach young voters. It’s turned into the way my generation talks politics and debates the issues that are most prevalent in our global society. We are journalists, bloggers, entertainers, mothers and more and we’re connecting to voice our opinions and exchange ideas with the fervor of a 60 Minutes broadcast and the pithy wit that comes with only having 140 characters.

Follow me on @jenpolk1 for more.

What Is Your Social Purpose?

I’ve been thinking about how different people and organizations approach social media and it’s let me to ponder the meaning of life, or at least second life. How you approach social media should be grounded in why you’re using social media to begin with. First of all, there are no wrong answers to this question, accept the ones that don’t fit with the way you’re allocating time, effort and resources (this primarily applies to businesses). That being said, it is an important question to answer before you head down the prim rose path of “getting social”.

Are you interested in connecting with old friends and relatives? Are you simply exploring to see who and what is out there? Are you a brand hoping to tap into an underground fan club? Or a small company looking to spread the word about what makes you great? While these seem like simplistic questions, answering them upfront and honestly can help you focus your efforts and avoid many misguided attempts to “get social” without even knowing why that matters to you or your organization.

Let’s start with the individual who says they just want to find their high school sweetheart, but is perhaps a budding entrepreneur looking to spread the seeds of their business venture. Social media was made for you. You can start with allies–friends, family and other supporters and get them to advocate you to their network, usually on Facebook or a Ning community. Follow up with other professionals and individuals who share a common interest–these folks are easy to find and connect with on LinkedIn or Twitter using WeFollow.

What about the business that claims they just want to know what people are saying about them? Is this true or are they really after tangible results such as ROI, ROE and Share of Voice? Being honest about our intentions in the beginning can help craft a more meaningful and appropriate strategy and define the resources you’ll need to successfully execute that strategy. Let’s just assume they really just want to stick a toe, or rather ear, in the social waters to hear what is being said. Simple search tools such as Radian 6 can enable this type of research with little investment.

Once you know what’s being said, on which platforms and by whom, you can then determine what you want to do about it. So you’re a business and you learn that compared to your top 3 competitors you have substantially lower social share of voice, comments about you are predominantly negative and related to poor customer service. This a huge opportunity and great directional input. This should be the cornerstone of defining your social purpose, especially if you can connect what you’ve learned with customer behavior such as sales and complaints.

Once you make that connection, the next steps are easy. So sales have been declining, call center traffic has been increasing and you’ve been losing market share to those top 3 competitors. While social media isn’t to blame it is helping to diagnose some of the symptoms. Your initial social purpose should be LISTENING, finding out what people are complaining about, what they dislike about you and like about your competition and how this compares to information you’re getting through other channels, such as your customer service call center.

By defining your initial social purpose as listening, you can focus on (1) improving in the areas that are surfacing on social platforms; (2) entering those social platforms cautiously to engage in proactive listening and problem solving; (3) building customer relationships and brand advocates by creating value for your customers in the form of genuine concern and desire to improve, followed by actual scalable improvement. See the value of this approach versus diving head first into a Facebook fan page only to have your wall filled with complaint you’re unprepared to address.

Follow me on http://www.twitter.com/jpolk122907 to get more tips on defining your social purpose.