Useful free tools for Twitter analytics

Twitter timeline activity

Last month Twitter quietly rolled out some very useful free analytics tools. I say quietly, because I’ve seen very little discussion of them online. Perhaps that’s because they have not been made available to everyone yet. Whatever the reason, they have been eye-opening for me, so I’m sharing my initial impressions here.

Here’s how to access Twitter’s new tools. You’ll find them on the Analytics menu on the Twitter Ads page, as shown in the above screenshot. This page requires you to turn off any ad-blocker you have running in order to load—fair enough!

If you see an Analytics menu (at the time of writing not everyone does) you’re in luck. There are two options: Timeline Activity and Followers. Pick the former and you’ll see something like the graphic above.

Timeline activity
The Timeline shows statistics about your last thirty days of tweets. What is most interesting to me is the number of clicks on any link included in a tweet. Traditionally, social media mavens tend to focus on how many times tweets are retweeted and mentioned, and obviously that’s important. But I had no idea how popular some of my tweets were in terms of people clicking on embedded links. Much of my content is narrowly niche-focused, so I generally don’t see a lot of retweets. But conferencesthatwork.com receives over two million page views a year, and those hits come from somewhere. What these Twitter analytics show me is that many people are clicking on my links, even if most of the time the associated tweets are not being subsequently retweeted. And, most important, I can now see which tweets were popular. This is valuable information!

Yes, these analytics has been available for some time via other mechanisms. All the URL shortening services provide similar statistics for individual shortened links. But in practice, you’d need to use a) a unique short URL for every tweet and b) only one shortening service. a) is cumbersome, and b) is impractical because some services that auto-generate tweets from posts, like LinkedIn and Google Plus, insist on using their own link shorteners, requiring manual amalgamation of clicks over multiple services.

The timeline of mentions, follows and unfollows at the top of the page provides a nice overview that can be helpful for noticing interest peaks, but I prefer to monitor this information using the excellent Birdbrain IOS app.

Followers
The Followers option displays a graph of follower growth plus some demographics on interests, location, and gender.

Twitter followers information

This is interesting but less useful to me, though you may find it valuable. It would be great to be able to drill down further into the location demographics so I could see my followers in, say, the Netherlands, and then be able to reach out to them when I was visiting.

Conclusion
For me the gold here is the clicks per tweet statistics. Although I don’t write blog posts based on what I think will be popular, this information gives me a much better picture than I’ve had before of how interesting specific tweets are to others. Over time it should help me understand better how my tweet content and timing affect what people read, allowing me to reach more people with better-marketed content. For free, what’s not to like about that?

Are these new tools of interest to you? How would you use them?

Should you self-publish your book?

Here’s the problem with self-publishing: no one cares about your book. That’s it in a nutshell. There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each. Your book won’t stand out. Hilary Clinton’s will. Yours won’t.

So self-publishing is an exercise in futility and obscurity. Of course, there are the stories of the writers who self-publish and magic happens and they sell millions of books, but those are the rare exceptions. How rare? Well, on the order of 1 or 2 per million.
Nick Morgan, Should You Self-Publish Your Book?

741941-book-signing-lineNick paints a realistic picture of the work required to become a “successful” self-published author—if you’re defining success purely in terms of book sales. But I think there are other perspectives to consider.

My first book, about participant-driven and participation-rich conferences, was published three years ago. I have only sold a few thousand copies (though sales per year continue to rise) and the money I’ve made from selling books translates into a few cents an hour for the four part-time years I took to write the book. Not successful by Nick’s terms, right?

But. During those three years I’ve moved from complete obscurity to become a fairly well known authority in the field of innovative event design. My blog had 2.25 million page views in 2012, I’m routinely presenting at industry conferences, and a typical consulting gig brings income that’s equivalent to selling five hundred books.

If you are writing non-fiction for a niche market and you have something important to say, your book can provide wonderful exposure and authority that may (no guarantees!) translate into significant income.

I considered going the traditional publishing route and I’m glad I didn’t for several reasons:

  • Traditional publishing typically adds another year before your book is published.
  • I had complete control over the look and content of my book. I hired the same professionals—editor, proofreader, book designer, cover designer, copywriter—that major publishers use (they are often freelancers these days) and worked with them directly without the publisher as an intermediary.
  • Although you’re very unlikely to make significant money from book sales, you receive significantly more money on each copy of the book.
  • I have been able to build relationships with many of my book buyers. Although the paperback version of my book is available everywhere, I sell the ebook myself. Most of my sales come directly from my website, perhaps because I offer 30 minutes free consulting to anyone who buys the book from me. This allows me to connect one-to-one with my readers, which translates into additional consulting/facilitation/presenting work while building up a list of people who are likely be interested in my next book, due to be published later this year.

I hope my experience and thoughts are helpful and perhaps encouraging for some who have been considering self-publishing.

Image attribution: Dianne Heath

Stop the Generation XYZ baloney!

Stop the Generation XYZ baloney!

Product/service developers and marketers—listen up!

Google “Generation X’ and you’ll get over 300 million results.

I think this way of thinking about people is nonsense. And so does Clay Shirky.

“One of the weakest notions in the entire pop culture canon is that of innate generational difference, the idea that today’s thirty-somethings are members of a class of people called Generation X, while twenty-somethings are part of Generation Y, and that both differ innately from each other and from the baby boomers. The conceptual appeal of these labels is enormous, but the idea’s explanatory value is almost worthless, a kind of astrology for decades instead of months.”
—Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Shirky goes on to say that those who like to dramatize these generational differences are making a fundamental attribution error; mistaking new behavior for some kind of change in human nature rather than a change in opportunity. Much of the “difference” between “generations” is in fact caused by a change in that generation’s environment or circumstances.

Stop the Generation XYZ baloney!

Rather than start with supposed generational differences, dig deeper into the causes for changes in behavior. Instead of marketing driven by statistical analyses of differences in behavior, concentrate on understanding why behaviors have changed. (Or haven’t.)

Then develop your products, services, and marketing around your understanding of relevant human behavior and the changing environment.

Remember, people don’t change that fast. But their environment and circumstances can.

That’s what you should focus on.


P.S. If you haven’t already, read Switch by the Heath brothers for a great practical approach to changing people’s behavior.

Content Is Marketing; Profits Come From Somewhere Else

Installed in 1982, the original solar collectors (built into the roof and snow covered in this picture) still heat the Segar homestead.

Here’s an important lesson I learned about marketing while running a solar business thirty years ago, forgot, and learned again after publishing my first book in 2009. With the rise of online, this lesson has never been more important than it is today.

Succeeding in business in a commodity market
In 1979 I was an owner of Solar Alternative, a Vermont solar manufacturing company. It was the height of the first “energy crisis”, and solar was, forgive me, hot. We manufactured solar hot water systems, which we retailed, wholesaled and installed all over New England. Solar hot water was a fairly easy business to enter in those days, and our small company, which employed about a dozen people, had plenty of competition, some of it providing equipment of questionable quality.

Apart from the solar collectors, which we manufactured using a few hand tools and our big investment, a ten foot sheet metal brake, all the other solar hot water system components could be purchased from any well-stocked plumbing wholesaler. We developed a reputation for supplying reliable systems that could stand the severe New England winters, but so did many of our competitors.

Our company needed a way to successfully differentiate itself from significant competition.

We noticed that our customers were unwilling to pay for information about how to correctly select and install solar hot water systems. There are many ways that these systems can fail or provide sub-optimum energy output, and we had learned how to avoid them. Our potential customers were willing to shell out big bucks for the systems themselves, but they did not want to pay separately for our hard-won knowledge.

So we gave away our expertise.

The one differentiator between Solar Alternative and our abundant competitors became our unique willingness to provide free, unlimited advice to the wholesalers and end-users who investigated and/or purchased our products.

We were happy to freely share our valuable content—how to build and install high quality, reliable solar hot water systems—to anyone who asked. We gave away our content for free. We made money from the mark-up on our products when our prospects trusted our expertise and decided to purchase.

The brutal economics of writing a book
There’s no question that writing my first book, which I began in 2005, cannot be described as a carefully thought out business decision. I was mission-driven to share what I had learned about participant-driven events since I began organizing them in 1992. It took four years of part-time work before Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love was published. Despite brisk sales over the last couple of years for what has to be described as a niche book, my hourly recompense for writing it currently stands at a few cents per hour.

This isn’t news, of course. Very few of the million book titles published globally each year ever make an author much money directly. So, was my decision to write a book one of the poorer financial choices of my life?

Well, no. (The worst was shorting Google’s IPO; it seemed like a good idea at the time.) Though the book provides a tiny income, the fact that I wrote it has led to numerous speaking, consulting, and conference design engagements, any one of which pays far more handsomely than selling a hundred books. Though the book isn’t free, its content sells for about one cent for every hundred words; a pretty minuscule amount. I make money from the apparent expertise and exposure that the book implies/conveys (your choice).

Content is Marketing; Profits Come From Somewhere Else
Get the connection between these two stories? For whatever reason, people are generally reluctant to pay much or anything for commodity or packaged information. But that doesn’t mean they don’t value good content. Often, they use the existence of high-quality information to cement their trust in the person or organization that provides it. From this perspective, content—whether it be advice on solar hot water systems, a fresh way of thinking about conferences, or accurate, timely, and useful information on any topic—can be seen as effective marketing for whatever you sell that makes money for you. I think this has never been truer than in today’s online world, where it’s never been easier to find pertinent content.

In 1985, my mentor, Jerry Weinberg, said it well: “Give away your best ideas“. It has worked for me; I believe it can work for you too.

Do you give away your best ideas? If so, how has doing so worked for you? If not, why not?

Post inspired by Publishing 2.0: Content Is Marketing, Profits Come From The Packaging