My social media journey

Last week, I spent some time with the risual Marketing team recording a short interview on “my social media journey”. The idea was that I have an established blog and I’m prolific on Twitter – what could colleagues pick up from my experience that might help them?

Then the team decided to put it out on YouTube! You can watch the video below but I apologise for the constant glancing at my Surface screen – I only had 20 minutes to prepare and we shot it all in one take!

For those without time to watch the video – these are the notes I prepared in advance for Jordan’s questions:

risual: First off, can you talk about what influenced/inspired you to start using social media/your blog?

Mark: I started blogging in about 2004. We didn’t even use the term “social media” then around about then having a “weblog” had started to become popular. I just wanted somewhere to store my notes and thought they might be useful to others too. 13 years later and there are around 2500 posts on there!

I’m pretty bad at remembering things – even today it surprises me when I search for an answer and my own site comes up in search results!

Twitter was a bit different. I really didn’t “get it” at first, then it clicked one day when I was watching a keynote video and saw the moderated tweets on the hashtag alongside. I could really see the value. I started tweeting soon afterwards (at a Microsoft event) and over time Twitter has become my main social media output.

risual: In terms of starting off, did you have a goal? How did you build up your follower count?

Mark: I didn’t really have a goal, but the site sort of took off – as I wrote more, more people read it. Then I put some ads on the pages and it started to make money. Then Google changed their algorithm and I started to lose money ;-). I’m not in it for the money though.

Actually, there was a time (around 2005) when I was double-blogging on my own site and my employer’s site – myself and Jamie Thomson [@jamiet] (who also went on to be an MVP) had a bit of an internal battle at as the company’s most prolific bloggers – me for infrastructure and him for data!

As for followers, I’m not too worried about the number of followers – more in the quality of those followers.

If you create good content the followers will come naturally.

risual: How much time do you spend updating your blog or using social media daily?

Mark: Not enough and too much at the same time! I would like to have more time to write blog posts but you do have to be in the right frame of mind. I have loads of part-written posts – and even set up a Kanban board in Office 365 Planner a few nights ago to try and sort out my blog post planning!

Twitter is a lot easier – you can tweet on the train, in gaps between meetings, etc. But it’s good to tweet at times when people are around (UK and US business hours) – all too often I find myself catching up on Twitter at bedtime when I should be sleeping. It’s not healthy!

risual: Do you think it’s helped you engage better with other tech professionals with the ability to keep up to date with what topics are “hot”?

Mark: Absolutely. My personal brand has been greatly enhanced with blogging and tweeting. It’s probably how I got my MVP Award and, even though I’m not an MVP anymore I’m still recognised by Microsoft as what their marketing folks call an “influencer”.

risual: What do you get out of it all personally? You’ve obviously got a very busy job and have no obligation to do it, but do, why?

Mark: Narcissism! No, not really. I think personal branding is important in our industry. It’s amazing how often I meet people in the real world that I know via social media. In fact, I once attended an interview where the interviewer told me he read my blog – that was a bit of a curved ball!

risual: It may seem like an obvious question, but what’s your own advice for those starting out on Twitter hoping to build a following?

Mark: Not obvious at all!

  1. Just dive in there and start RTing things you think are relevant.
  2. Tweet links to your own blog posts.
  3. The more you tweet the more followers you will get. It’s just the way it is. Having said that, quality is more important than quantity.
  4. Engage, reply – don’t just broadcast.
  5. Don’t just tweet things to advertise your company! People don’t want to be marketed to (at least not in an obvious way). I sometimes tweet risual posts that I’ve been involved in – or if it’s something that could really make a difference to people – like what we’re doing in Education. But I also mix it with lots of tweets from other people (not just Microsoft!) and about 10% personal stuff. People follow people, not brands!

I have about 43,000 tweets at the moment. Over an 8 year period that’s not many a day (<15 on average) although I have to admit a big chunk of my tweeting was when I was working in a role where it was actually a part of my job!

risual: How do you keep up to date with the latest technology news in order to talk about them when they’re still hot out of the oven?

Mark: I listen to podcasts (like the Microsoft Cloud Show and WB-40) and Twitter is my main news source. I’d like to read more blogs but don’t have the time.

Twitter is a bit of an echo chamber at times but I’ve created some lists of people who tweet interesting content (I have a CTO watchlist, a Microsoft watchlist and a risual list) and I try to keep up to date with them. I don’t actually read all of the tweets for all the people I follow – mostly just the ones on these lists!

Short takes: text editing; Windows Phone; and recovering deleted images…

More snippets from the life of a geek playing at being a manager in the IT industry…

Replacing text with a carriage return/line feed in Windows Notepad

It’s a long story but I needed to find out how many people are in our department, at a level above me.  My manager is on holiday, so I couldn’t ask him. Instead, I drafted an email to the whole department, expanded the distribution list and then counted the names…

Of course I didn’t quite do it like that… I pasted the list into a text file (which I thought I’d import to Excel as a CSV and then count the number of rows). That didn’t work out (I got 111 columns instead and I lost count shortly after AA, AB, AC, etc.) so I tried replacing the “; ” with line feeds in Notepad. Notepad can’t do that, but Word canCtrl+H will open the find and replace dialogue and using ^p as the string for the replacement will insert a new paragraph mark. 111 replacements were made (hence 111 names).

Changing the voicemail number on my Windows Phone

One of the issues with my iPhone is that I can’t change the voicemail number from 901 (O2 – the network my phone thinks it’s on) to 443 (Giffgaff – the MVNO that my account is actually with).  I’ve jailbroken and hacked around with config files but it doesn’t work on iOS 7.0.4.

Thankfully, my Nokia Lumia 625 (running Windows Phone 8) is a little more flexible.  When new, it asked me what the voicemail number I needed was.  In the absence of any information from my service provider (EE), I googled and found information that suggested it was +447953222222. My IT department later suggested I should use +447973100123 and changing it is as simple as hitting the ... in the phone app and entering settings, then changing the voicemail number.  As my messages are still intact, I guess that both numbers actually end up in the same location…

Turning off Twitter’s lock screen updates on Windows Phone

Talking of Windows Phone, when I installed the Twitter app it asked if I wanted to see selected tweets on my lock screen.  It seemed like a good idea at first, until I realised I couldn’t actually click on them.  Turning off the Twitter lock screen updates was difficult to hunt down – it’s not set via the Twitter app settings but in the lock screen settings, as Jamie Thomson (@jamiet) and Craig Hawker (@craighawker) highlighted to me.  Thanks guys.

Recovering deleted images from a camera flash drive

Of course, any of us who work in IT know that we automatically get to provide a family IT support service.  I shouldn’t complain because, after my parents in-law paid for someone to do some work on their PC I was horrified to see that he had removed Microsoft Security Essentials and added AVG (which I had removed because it kept nagging to upgrade to a paid version), installed a load of unnecessary software (Defraggler, Firefox, etc.).  My “keep it simple, stupid” approach to septuagenarian IT had been destroyed by someone who wanted to inflict his way of computing on others.

Anyway, back to the point…

…My Mother in-law was disappointed to find she was missing some images on her digital camera.  She swears the camera did it by itself (I suggest it was user error) but, critically, no new pictures had been taken since.  Following advice from PC Advisor, I used a free application called Recuva to restore the deleted files on the memory card (ironically, from the same software company that creates Defraggler, the tool I said was unnecessary a little earlier).  It was beautifully simple, although I was unable to get Windows to recognise the camera as a drive (it does depend on the camera) and had to mess around with card readers instead.

Adding Twitter’s RSS to Feedburner

I spent some time yesterday afternoon working my way through an article on SEO-ing Twitter profile pages.  Whilst I don’t agree with absolutely every point in the article (e.g. tinyurl.com is too many letters for a URL shortener – I like to use bit.ly with a custom domain), it does contains some good advice (who would have thought of naming their Twitter profile picture to include appropriate keywords?). One point that doesn’t work though, is feeding your Twitter RSS feed to Feedburner.

There is a workaround though. Following Michael Phipps’ advice, I created a page called twitterfeed.php with the following code:

<?php
$twitter_feed = file_get_contents('http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/56967616.rss');
echo $twitter_feed;
exit;
?>

I then fed the URL for this page into Feedburner. I’d prefer to use an address on my own domain though – and it’s simple enough to create an HTML page to redirect to the correct location (and to add information for browsers to recognise the RSS location):

<html>
<head>
  <title>@MarkWilsonIT on Twitter</title>
  <link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="@MarkWilsonIT on Twitter" href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/markwilsonit-twitter" />
  <meta http-equiv="refresh" content="0;url=http://feeds.feedburner.com/markwilsonit-twitter">
</head>
<body>
  <p>
   Redirecting to the @MarkWilsonIT Twitter RSS feed. If you're not redirected within a couple of seconds,
   try this link: <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/markwilsonit-twitter">@MarkWilsonIT on Twitter</a>
  </p>
</body>
</html>

The downside of this is that Outlook doesn’t like an RSS feed that’s redirected from HTML. Google Reader seems happy with the redirection although, because it does actually resolve to the Feedburner address, it won’t help me should I move the feed elsewhere in future…

In the end, I’m not sure what this achieves, but you can now subscribe to my tweets via RSS