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Blowing Peter Shankman's Mind

Peter Shankman came down to central Jersey last night to speak to the Princeton chapters of the ACM / IEEE Computer Society -- and we blew his mind!

Peter is a social media pundit, always on the go, swapping between phone and PDA, and laptop. He teaches business execs -- and NASA -- how to adapt to social media, and debates PR issues on the O’Reilly Factor (most recently on Kellogg’s firing of swimmer Michael Phelps -- see on YouTube). He kindly came down from Manhattan to visit us on only the promise of a free dinner. And here he is taking advantage of the train ride back to the city to record his daily What’s Hot on HARO video, live from N.J. Transit.

Peter came to talk about social media (see previous post). -- He's the exemplar of how to use Twitter (he's skydiver), not just updating his adventures and travels, and spouting pundit-isms, but also using it for immediate distribution of urgent queries from reporters on his HARO (Help a Reporter Out) service. He has some 30,000 followers on Twitter, and over 50,000 sources receiving the full HARO posts three times daily.

From mingling before the meeting, Peter already understood that we were not his typical audience, as he faced 80-some mostly techies -- a core of computer / software types (ACM) and engineers (IEEE), plus some other groups (we actually mix worlds here) like video production pros and marketing / PR folks, and even some students.

But it was Peter's first question that really reset his expectations. He was discussing the development of "citizen journalism" with the proliferation of camera phones (as demonstrated by the first picture of the U.S. Air plane landing in the Hudson River in New York City). So Peter asked how many people in the audience did NOT have a camera in their phone -- and almost half the audience held up their (camera-less) hands. Yikes -- The group is techies, but also Luddites, with not much interest in messing with crummy camera-phone photographs.

But the ultimate moment came when Peter was demonstrating how to use social networks to keep in touch with contacts, for example by using the birthday information from Facebook to send out best wishes. So he asked what information Facebook displayed in the top right corner of your home page, and got an instant, and quite literal answer -- "the sign out button." Okay, yes, but ...

Peter is big on Facebook. He is insistent that you can't separate your professional and personal lives (although you do need to manage them carefully online). Around half of our audience was on LinkedIn, and maybe a quarter on Facebook, and the group seemed to agree with the perception that "LinkedIn is for business" -- but when Peter asked how many people who had actually gotten business though LinkedIn, only two hands went up. Point taken --it's not about "hiring resumes" anymore.

This was Peter's message -- managing your online persona by finding an audience and being relevant, keeping your audience's attention by being brief, and then using your social network not to send out resumes, but by keeping "top of mind presence" -- just keeping in touch, maintaining connections without always expecting something in return. It's not about making money from Twitter, it's about building a reputation and credibility in your niche, developing your brand, which then can grow into clients and business.

Interesting, Peter ended with a techie vision -- predicting that all these different social media networks will consolidate into one network, but will also develop the intelligence to distinguish between close and casual contacts, so you can stay more closely connected to the people more important to you. The network should understand who's more important to you, who you're communicating the most with, and help keep you connected and updated with them as appropriate. It would be nice to have social networks that understand overlapping types of connections to your contacts, so no more having to reject friend requests, or keeping requestors in purgatory.

Of course, this tediously long post to tell these stories breaks all of Peter's rules for focusing on brevity in this 140-character Twitter world. His summary of the event on Twitter:

Just gave a talk on social networking to members of ACM and IEEE in Princeton. Imagine talking to male cast of "Big Bang Theory." :-)

Ouch!

See the meeting preview, Social Networking: Perils and Promise, in the U.S. 1 Newspaper, February 18, 2009

UPDATE: Dennis Mancl took extensive notes on Peter's talk, posted on the chapter website.

Peter's book, Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work -- And Why Your Company Needs Them, preaches related lessons of being creative and taking risks, starting by shaking yourself out of complacency and ruts.

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This entry posted on February 20, 2009.

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