Friday, February 13, 2009

Putting the Personal in Social Media

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the online chatting service meebo. Just look to your left for confirmation of this.

What meebo does well is host other chat services within their own portal, so you can open one window or tab and run MSN, Yahoo, AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, even Facebook all in one place.

You don't need to download any software, you don't need a standalone chat service hogging up your RAM, you don't need to open a new tab for each of your chats. Plus, they also offer video chatting and meebo rooms so you can gather a group of friends together for a conversation instead of just a dialogue.

But one of the things I think meebo does particularly well is engage their audience. They could just provide the service, throw some ads on to the page, and be done with it. But instead, the company hosts little quizzes when you sign in (which you're free to ignore) and they also occasionally pop up little chat boxes that feature news about meebo or something cool online and sometimes they post things completely unrelated to their service.

This is exactly the strategy employed by companies that are successes in social networking and social media. Blogs, like Twittering or any other host of social media services, are about conversation, and nothing kills conversation and turns it dull quite like a 24/7 parade of shoptalk.

Social media, when it's at its most effective, is about having fun and being engaged. If you're talking to a person at a party and they make you laugh, they make you think, they take an interest in who you are and what you think, you'll want to talk to that person again and again. On the other hand, get cornered by a bore who drones on and on about his pet topic and you can't get away fast enough.

Having tooted that horn long enough, below is a huge excerpt from the meebo blog that popped up when I logged in this morning. It's a great story, part of the conversation, something that would amuse me to no end if I heard it at a party. What does it have to do with online chatting? Nothing.

And everything

My cat, Miles, was not what you would call "active." A very rotund fella, he peaked out around 25 pounds (before he went on a strict diet and exercise regimen), and his favorite activity was lying on his back doing nothing while people rubbed his belly. So I never thought he was particularly bright.


But when properly motivated, he turned into a problem-solver extraordinaire.

I typically fed Miles right after I woke up, so he developed quite an assortment of tricks to get me out of bed in the morning. I had countermeasures for pretty much all of them.


But one time, Miles did something I did not think a cat could have figured out.

One early morning I woke up because my phone was ringing, but when I picked up the cordless receiver next to my bed, there was nobody there. Mildly annoyed, but now awake, I started my morning routine.

Strangely, the next morning the same thing happened. Early morning prank calls were too juvenile, even for my friends, so I assumed someone was calling the wrong number and was too embarrassed to acknowledge it. Not being a morning person, I wasn't pleased.

When the same thing happened the following morning, I was so frustrated that I decided to walk over to the phone and unplug the darn thing. That's when I noticed Miles, standing on top of the base unit and, apparently, pressing the "page" button.

Coincidence, you say? He just happened to step on the phone and it woke me up, but it was an accident? I thought so too. So I tested it out.

I didn't unplug the phone, and the next morning I heard the ringing again. But this time I didn't move. I peeked out from under the covers silently observing as Miles patiently manned his post, perched on top of my phone, for no less than a full half hour. Exasperated and awed, I finally gave in and sat up in bed. Then, as nimbly and matter-of-factly as could be expected from a 20-something-pound cat, he hopped over to my bed and gave me a look that was part "feed me" and part "I gotcha!"

I promptly dug through my closet, found the extra hardware that came with the phone, and mounted it on my wall.

Do you have any pets who do crazy things? Feel free to share. I always like a good pet story.

And there you have it in its essence. A personal story, told well, almost universally relatable, and an invitation to join the conversation.

That, ladies and gentleman, is how it's done.

(For the record, in case anyone needed further proof, as of this posting, this particular blog entry on meebo's blog had 535 comments.)

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