What’s Your City’s Icebreaker Question?

Each city has one. The get to know you question that EVERYONE seems to ask. Be it baby shower or a business networking event, you’re bound to hear it from someone.

In DC, be prepared to answer “What do you do?”

Some people find this a materialistic and status probing question. I did too at first. There’s something a little intimidating that automatically rouses your defenses when you feel like you’re being judged. But after years of living in the city, I found myself asking this question not because I was curious of someone’s occupation, but rather their activities.

Washingtonians are renowned for their go-go-go (when they’re not in traffic) mentality. I think this question is more a reflection on the active nature of the culture, rather than a direct inquiry about someone’s professional life. Often, I would receive a reply of hobbies that would segue and blossom into a conversation about common interests.

“What do you do?”

“You know, recently I’ve been really into Salsa dancing. I’ve been going on Monday nights to the Clarendon Grille and met some really great people!”

“Really? I love salsa dancing. I’ve been to the Salsa Room, but never the Clarendon Grille. What time do lessons start?”

When I moved to Richmond last November, one of the first things I noticed was the complete lack of  “What do you do?” In fact, if I asked it, people seemed insulted, and it took me a while to navigate the icebreaking etiquette of this smaller southern town.

In Richmond, you’ll be asked “Are you from here?”

Richmonders are all about a sense of history and roots. Growing up 20 minutes north of the city, I remember not being considered “from here” because my parents moved here when I was 10 months old. Most of my classmates had generations anchoring them to this region, while I wasn’t even born here.

I think another reason it’s a popular question is that so many people (like me) grow up here, move away, and then move back. If you grew up in the area, there’s an immediate sense of camaraderie and more detailed questions that follow (i.e. “What high school did you go to?”)

If you grew up outside of Richmond, the standard follow-up seems to be “So, what brought you to Richmond?” I ask this often because I’m amused at why people settle in such a seemingly obscure place.

So, what’s the icebreaking question in your town? Have you noticed a trend in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Boston, or another metropolis? What about across the pond? Do Europeans have an opening question? Eager minds want to know and would be thrilled if you left a comment below. 🙂

Twitter Translated from Geek Into English

twitter_logoTwo years ago I posted how twitter was a “complete waste of my time”. No one I knew used it. Searching was clunky. They didn’t even have a model to generate revenue (still don’t).

But the tipping point has arrived. It caught my eye in the form of an article from ClickZ titled “Twitter Surpasses Facebook as Top Link in Email.” Really? What! That silly little tweeting thing actually has value?

Indeed. That same article linked to a report that linked deep social engagement to revenue and profit. A big part of that “deep” social engagement is Twitter. All 4 case studies in the report (Starbucks, Toyota, SAP, and Dell) use Twitter as a key piece of their media strategy.

So it’s clear — there’s a benefit. But now what? What are some ways the average Joe/Jane can use Twitter…without feeling overwhelmed? As a self-professed “non-techie”, here are some ideas and resources for you, along with answers questions you probably have.

How does Twitter work?
You have 140 characters to answer the question “What are you doing right now?” Your response is called a “tweet.” If you provide interesting content, people will want to “follow” you. This means that whatever you post shows up on their homepage. Getting followers is a good thing.

What makes my content interesting?
Genuine content = interesting content. Being authentic = intriguing. If you’re too self promotional (or heaven forbid, a spammer) no one will want to follow you. In fact, you’ll be shunned. I find interesting content to be: 1) a link to an article or blog post (tinyurl.com will be your friend) , or 2) a peek into your expertise or personal life

Why do people care what I’m doing?
Two reasons. 1) Connection. People gravitate towards people who are like minded. Having stuff in common is the first step towards forming a connection.  2) Curiosity. It’s like when you’re traveling through a neighborhood and people have their windows open. You look. Not because it’s creepy but because you’re curious. Plus, the open window invites you. It gives you permission to glance, but not stalk.

Isn’t it just a bunch of nonsense and noise?
Nope. It’s a way to meet people who you might actually like, enjoy, do business with, get a job from, be entertained by, or gather information from.

Here’s an example:

My brother Brian (@GouletPens) makes Pens for a living. He went to a directory of twitter users called wefollow.com and typed “pens” to find people who were also passionate about pens. He started following @Dowdyism, a “pen addict extraordinaire”. @Dowdyism noticed Brian and started following him.

Now, you would think that these two pen fanatics would bond over their writing instrument obsession, but that’s just what got them in the door. They corresponded over Wii. Here are the screenshots:

Brian posted this to Twitter

Brian posted this to Twitter

and then, a few minutes later…

...and dowdyism (a potenital influencer for Brian) responded

...and dowdyism (a potenital influencer for Brian) responded

It’s a connection that probably wouldn’t have occurred if Brian had used DM, email, TV, radio, or another traditional marketing channel. But now, looks like he’s in.

What are all those crazy RT, @, and # things all over the page?

RT – This is a Retweet. It’s something that someone found on another twitter page. Let’s say Amy posts a really useful article. Ben sees it and knows his followers would really enjoy reading it, too. Ben copies the tweet, but inserts RT @Amy (or whatever her Twitter name is). Why do this? 1) It’s polite. It also shows transparency (which is a very good thing in social media). 2) It let’s Amy know her tweet was helpful to you so she is a) more likely to tweet more about that and b) sees who her biggest fans are.

@ – This links a twitter screen name.  If you start your post with @soandso, the person who has the screen name “soandso” will see your message, and it will show up as a tweet on your home page (but not on all your followers). You can also send someone a direct message (if you follow each other), which is kind of like a shortened form of email.

# – This is a hash tag. It’s sort of like a keyword so you can sort by categories. This helps you organize and find information more easily. According to Wild Apricot,

Hashtag etiquette is still evolving, so let good social manners be your guide. It is a rare “tweet” that deserves a hashtag, so tag only those updates that you feel will add significant value to the conversation. One hashtag is best — two are permissable — but three hashtags seem to be the absolute maximum, and risk raising the ire of the community. Tag sparingly, and with careful discretion.

How do I find people to follow?

Here are several ways:

  1. When you sign up for Twitter, it can automatically port your contacts from Gmail, Yahoo! or AOL. Mighty convenient and worth taking the extra 20 seconds during setup.
  2. You can also click “Find People” in the top right corner when you’re signed into twitter.
  3. Check out a twitter directory. There are several. If you need to find some, just google “twitter directory”. The best (to date) is wefollow.com.
  4. Click on who’s following you — right under your picture in the top right of the sidebar. Is there someone interesting?
  5. Click the @yourscreenname link just below that. This will show you tweeters who have mentioned you in one of their tweets.

Yikes, people I don’t know are following me….what should I do?

Step 1: Don’t freak out. You don’t have to “open the window” any more than you’re comfortable. If you don’t feel okay sharing something on Twitter, then don’t. It’s that simple.

Step 2: Remember your role. You’re publishing and sharing content for people to read. If you wrote for a magazine, people who you didn’t know would read your article and maybe write a letter to connect with you. Twitter lets you do the same thing. You publish content that you find valuable, and people who find it interesting read it, subscribe so they can read more, and might even contact you to comment on it.

Step 3: Adjust your privacy settings. If you don’t want people who you don’t know to follow you, go to Settings and click “Protect My Tweets”.

Step 4: Block spammers. If someone is spamming you, or you don’t want them to follow you, block them. Show ’em who’s boss.

How often should I tweet?
Tweet when you have something you want to share or say. Don’t just tweet to hear yourself type. Remember, this about connecting with people, not shouting about how great you are. You can ask a question, link to an article, or type a musing…it’s up to you. Expert tweeters post anywhere from 1 – 20 times per day. More than that, and you’ll start clogging your followers feeds. That annoys them.

Resources:

Here are some places I went to learn what I posted here  (thanks Sean, Carmen & Marvin for helping me find these!):

http://business.twitter.com/twitter101

http://www.businesspundit.com/10-essential-twitter-tools-for-business/

http://www.cio.com/article/492019/Twitter_Bible_Everything_You_Need_To_Know_About_Twitter

http://followontwitterlists.com/

Happy tweeting!

Oh, you can follow me if you’d like. @andreagoulet