Erudite Expressions (Prints)

My Favorites on Erudite Expressions in 2010

Below are my favorite twenty-five images I have posted on Erudite Expressions in 2010, presented in reverse chronological order. Do click on the image to be taken to the respective photoblog entry if you want to read more about the photograph (where it was taken, why I took the photo, a description of post-processing technique, etc.).

1. Hungary’s Heroes:

2. Moon over Seville:

3. Aral Station:

4. City on a Hill:

5.  Escape into Azure:

6. Happy Summer:

7. Bird Eat Bird (read the story behind this photograph):

8. The Grand Door:

9. Recharge:

10. The High Line City:

11. Privat:

12. Memorial Day 2010:

13. Gotham City:

14. Cruise Party:

15. Waiting for a Tourist:

16. Vintage Prague:

17. Prague Corner:

18. The Veiled Bride:

19. Lilac Bloom:

20. Motion, Storm:

21. Moda (this one has a caption contest):

22. The Art of the Wait:

23. A Study in Light:

24. A Row, a Pasture:

25. Handle on Blue:

Thanks for looking!

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If you want to support my photography, you can purchase a print of any of the images above directly from Erudite Expressions. I still have quite a few 50% off coupons available (see the details in this post).

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July 19, 2010 Posted by | other, prints | 1 Comment

This Is How You Should Do Follow Friday (#FF)

I have been using Twitter for close to two years now, but I have been paying attention to it much more closely over the last six months or so. What follows below are my personal thoughts, but I always encourage discussion.

Every Friday on Twitter, I read wonderful tweets, but lately, my experience has been overshadowed with great distress. Why? Because every Friday is #FollowFriday or #FF on Twitter. In case you’re not familiar with #FollowFriday, it is a fun, engaging way to recommend Twitter users you follow to others who may not be following the user you’re recommending. #FollowFriday was started by Micah Baldwin (@micah) in January 2009, and of course, the trend has gone viral. So why do I say that Fridays cause me great distress? Because people are doing #FF wrong. In fact, I think #FollowFriday has become Twitter spam, and I hope that this post enlightens you on how to make #FollowFriday pleasant for us all.

#FollowFriday as Spam

So what do I mean by saying that #FF has become spam? It happens when a Twitter user places a bunch of Twitter handles in a single tweet, and tags the tweet with either #FF or #FollowFriday.You can do a Twitter search right now and find that you’ll find a lot of #FF tweets that look like this:

Is anyone really going to follow

If I saw this is in my Twitter timeline, I'd cringe...and unfollow

Now, honestly, do you really think that doing a #FF this way is useful? To me, seeing such #FF tweets is an absolute abomination. If I saw someone tweeting this way, my immediate thought would be: “Stop spamming my Twitter timeline.” How is seeing a bunch of Twitter handles in a single tweet useful in making me try to follow someone? Do you expect me to click on each user’s handle and press the “Follow” button? More likely, I will just gloss over those #FF tweets and follow NO ONE. While you think you’re coming across as helpful, in fact, when you recommend dozens of accounts at once, you come across as insincere, perhaps even robotic.

And even worse news if you’re doing a #FF this way? Because you’re effectively spamming my Twitter timeline, I will look at you as a candidate to be unfollowed. In fact, one of my “Twitter rules” is unfollowing someone who blatantly abuses the #FF hashtag by sending out multiple tweets in that fashion. It’s absolute garbage. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others out there who unfollow users who provide these shallow, worthless #FF recommendations. Which brings us to…

How You Should Do #FF Instead

So how should you do a #FF instead? I’ve been advocating this method for months: recommend JUST ONE person in your #FF tweet. Not ten, not five, not even two. JUST ONE person/account. And in your tweet, briefly explain your recommendation. One of the best Twitterers that gets this approach is @pourmecoffee (who gets my #FF recommendation this week for doing the #FF right). Here is one of @pourmecoffee’s #FF tweets:

One recommendation per tweet, with an explanation

Notice how only account was recommended? In this case, it’s @atlasobscura, and the explanation is succinct (odd, macabre) and absolutely noteworthy. After I saw that tweet on June 4, I went to @atlasobscura’s timeline, checked out a few recent tweets, and then hit that follow button. Simple, but effective.

Imagine what would have happened if @atlasobscura was recommended alongside a bunch of other handles? It would have been lost in the crowd. In case you are wondering, @atlasobscura gathered dozens of new followers following the #FF recommendation from @pourmecoffee:

After a worthy #FF recommendation, @atlasobscura gets dozens of new followers

Now, one could argue that @pourmecoffee is a “power” Twitter user, with great influence, and so anything he says will carry greater weight than any of your #FF recommendations. But my point still stands: the recommendation was worthy because it was stand-alone and it was well-explained. In fact, I’d like to argue that because you have less influence than “power users,” by doing a spammy #FF recommendations, NO ONE will be paying attention (in other words, if @pourmecoffee was recommending a bunch of users in a single tweet, some people would be paying attention and choose to follow; when you take this approach, you are just ignored). If you change it to recommending ONE person in a tweet, your #FF will carry so much more weight and influence.

My Strategy and Recommendations

I’ve been using this #FF strategy for over six months now. On Fridays, I recommend one—and only one—account to follow for the #FF. If I can’t think of anyone to recommend, I don’t send out any #FF tweets. Over the six months I have been doing #FF this way, I have kept a list of everyone that I have recommend. Months in the making, there are only fifteen accounts in my #FollowFriday list. You can be sure that for each #FF, I had a well thought-out reason for my recommendation.

What should you incorporate in your #FF tweet? You’re free to be creative here, of course, and that’s the beauty. But here are my recommendations:

  1. Be sincere (and thoughtful) in your recommendation. Don’t just say “#FF @username because his tweets are awesome.”
  2. If you’re recommending someone funny, find one or two of their funniest tweets and link to them in the #FF.
  3. If you’re recommending someone who has a great blog, provide the link to the blog in the #FF. If there is a particular blog post that has especially inspired you, link to that blog post in the tweet.

What About You?

I mentioned that I recommend only ONE account on a given Friday (or none, if I can’t think of a clever reason for a worthy recommendation). Below is an example of one of my #FF recommendations:

My #FF recommendation for @bencasnocha

However, you can change the mileage here by sending out multiple (my rule of thumb: no more than five) #FF messages per day (and don’t do it all at once; intersperse the #FF tweets throughout the day). Just make sure to only recommend ONE person/account per tweet; otherwise the whole point of your recommendation gets lost (note: you may recommend two accounts in your #FF tweet if they are highly related; for instance, if two journalists are reporting about the BP oil spill in the Gulf and you feel inclined to recommend both of them).

I’m sure others will chime in and say: Twitter is personal, and we should be free to use it any way we please. You’re probably right there (this is a topic for great discussion: who is doing Twitter wrong?). But what I have outlined in this post will make for a more wonderful experience, but only if others get this message and adopt it. I know a few users, who after reading a #FF recommendation with their name, immediately fire off a tweet to the likeness of “Thanks for the #FF @username! Right back at you!” It took me a few weeks to restrain myself from sending out such tweets, because they’re also spammy (if you want to thank someone, why not just send them a thank you by DM or an @-reply?). At the very least, the act of thinking about why you’re recommending someone for #FF is worth the effort; spewing out a bunch of Twitter handles is both mindless and, as I outlined above, ultimately unhelpful (and often worthless).

Final Thoughts

I hope this post has been elucidating (at the very least, I hope it got you thinking). I hope that your attitude toward #FF recommendations has changed toward the recommendation in my post. If your stance on #FF has changed (and you adopt this one-person per tweet #FF strategy), I want to hear back from you (feel free to leave a comment below). And I would appreciate it if you spread the word on Twitter on how your friends/followers should be doing #FollowFriday. Thanks for reading.

June 25, 2010 Posted by | other | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Five (5) Ways to Run an Effective Twitter Contest

Last week, I wrote a blog post “Five (5) Ways of How NOT to Run a Twitter Contest.” Today, I saw Smashing Magazine run a Twitter contest where they were giving away Google Wave invites. They posted a message on Twitter:

Win one of 25 Google Wave invites – to get one, just follow @smashingmag and retweet this msg! #smwave

Smashing Magazine and their Twitter Contest

So what’s wrong with running a contest this way? First, it’s a cheap way to gain followers, as I outlined in point #2 in my previous post. Second, Smashing Magazine was soliciting other users for their Google Wave invites. As one Twitter user (@DavidYell) pointed out, it appeared as though Smashing Magazine was “taking people’s google wave invites to get more follows.” While this may not necessarily be the case, the intentions of Smashing Magazine may certainly be misconstrued. And because there’s an invitation for speculation, I argue that it’s not a good way to run a Twitter contest.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. Here are 5 things you can do to run an effective (and fun!) contest on Twitter:

1) Ask for an Opinion. Do you realize that making people retweet a certain message is not only trite, but painfully boring? The propensity to run a contest this way is unoriginal. So what can you do instead? Focus on this word: engagement. For example, rather than make people retweet the same message, ask a question instead. For example, one thing that Smashing Magazine could have done is by asking readers to come up with an answer to this question: “Why do you want a Google Wave Invite? The most interesting or clever answer gets an invite!” When you’re asking a question or opinion, it allows Twitter users to come up with creative answers. And it’s so much more interesting to read through interesting responses than a barage of monotonous retweets.

2) The Trivia Contest. I think this idea has the most potential to interact with your audience. A simple approach would be to ask a trivia question on Twitter, and allow Twitter users to @reply with their answers. However, I think this approach can quickly lead to people scanning the Twitter search timeline and finding the correct results (and cheating isn’t fun; the cheaters will also dilute the whole purpose of the contest for others). So here’s a better way to engage with your audience. Ask the trivia question on Twitter, but motion users to reply with the answer on your blog. For example, a contest I held on Erudite Expressions could have been proposed on Twitter (example trivia question: Name the work in which Ernest Hemingway wrote “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour;” the answer is here), with an invitation for users to respond with their answers on the blog post. If you think that people will be able to cheat by scanning comments left by other users, do this instead: ask users to leave a comment on a blog post of their choice which doesn’t contain the answer to the trivia question. If your blog doesn’t contain a timeline of recent comments (you could turn them off temporarily if you do have this feature enabled), it may lead to a great interactive experience (and your readers may find some other interesting content you have to offer in the process as well!). The contest winner would be chosen randomly from all submissions where the correct answer to the trivia contest was provided.

3) Hashtag Frenzy. The idea here is simple. Create a unique hashtag and allow people to incorporate it in any tweet of their choice. One company that ran with this idea was Moonfruit. Another company that went with this contest idea was SquareSpace. The upside potential is huge, as the contest may go viral. The contestants don’t have to retweet a boring message, they don’t have to follow you, and they can have fun in the process. The downside of this contest idea is that if it grows viral, it can lead to spam (i.e., spammers will start using this hashtag to promote themselves, their website, or their product). My only caveat for choosing to run a contest this way: don’t let contestants get multiple “entries” by using the hashtag multiple times (because it may upset other Twitter users and/or appear as spam-like). SquareSpace did a great job and realized about this issue about halfway into their contest, and they chose to make a disclaimer that using the hashtag multiple times would not increase your chances of winning).

4) Short Timeline (and Multiple Contests). If you’re running a Twitter contest, don’t make it last more than one week. For one, people could get bored waiting that long, and two, they might forget about the contest in the first place. This is definitely a personal choice, but a shorter time-frame allows you to better manage the influx of entries for your contest. Additionally, if you find that your contest has been successful, it opens up doors to run another contest in the future. If you can repeat the contest multiple times, it also allows you increased exposure, as people will try to enter a second time if they didn’t win. SquareSpace did exactly that: they picked a winner every 24 hours.

5) Validation of Results. I see too many Twitter contests in which the winners are chosen, but I have no idea what tools the organizers of the contest used to select the winner. If I enter a contest, I want to be certain that my submission did not go in vain. In other words, I want to see a validation of the contest. Check out sites like Tweetaways, TweetsWin, and Twtaway. If you’re running a contest where #hashtags are involved, check out these tools to help in your search:  CoTweet, PubliciTweet, TweetGrid, and Monitter. I personally don’t recommend using Twitter Search because it often is unreliable and/or doesn’t find tweets that are more than a few days old (but if your contest is short, as per #4 above, Twitter Search may be a good choice).

However, I want to bring the focus to what to do with the tracking. Whether you run a contest based on a trivia question, an invitation with the use of a hashtag, or something else, the validation process is critical. How do I know that I was entered into the contest? That my submission was both received and counted? This is where Random.org comes into play. From the site:

People use RANDOM.ORG for holding drawings, lotteries and sweepstakes, to drive games and gambling sites, for scientific applications and for art and music. The service has existed since 1998…

Random.org insists that it relies on true randomness (based on atmospheric patterns), and you can read more about that here (it is a fascinating read). Why do I recommend using Random.org? Because it allows you (the contest organizer) to input all valid participants into their engine, which will output a random winner (it can select multiple winners as well, if your contest is structured that way). The most appealing part is that Random.org functions as a perfect validation tool: the participants can log in (to a unique website which will be generated by Random.org for you) and see if they were entered into the contest. The unique identifier could be the participant’s email address, their twitter handle, or whatever you choose. The best part? Random.org guarantees privacy because they will not reveal people’s email address or Twitter IDs. For the purposes of running a contest on Twitter, the optimal choice is the entrant-accessible drawing in which privacy is ensured and those who want to verify their entrance into the contest can easily do so. For more information, I highly recommend checking out this video which explains the entire process.

Conclusion

This was a follow-up post on things NOT to do when running a Twitter contest. I hope this post gives you some great ideas on what you can do to run a great contest on Twitter (i.e., don’t do what Smashing Magazine did!). If there is one element I would recommend above any other in advancing an effective contest on Twitter, it’s my insistence on relying on the validation tool, such as that offered by Random.org. Yes, it does cost $4.99 to use their service, but if you’re running a contest with hundreds or thousands of entries, it’s a small price to pay to ensure fairness.

If you have some other ideas on how to run an awesome contest on Twitter, feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments. And if you see other contests on Twitter where the organizers are making users retweet a boring message, please point them to this post.

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Other helpful resources:
1) The official Guidelines for Running a Contest on Twitter (note the policy on multiple tweets; my addendum is rule #2 here)
2) Five Helpful Tips for a Rockin’ Twitter Contest (hat tip for the apps that track hashtags)

November 16, 2009 Posted by | other | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Five (5) Ways of How NOT to Run a Twitter Contest

I’ve been thinking about how to promote some of my prints and services via Twitter. Based on what I’ve seen and observed so far, I provide some of my thoughts below.

First, if you’re not familiar with Twitter, check out this easy 10 Step Guide to get started. If you’re familiar with Twitter, you know that Twitter has incredible potential for reaching out to customers, promoting products, etc. I am going to focus on holding contests on Twitter. This post highlights five ineffective ways to hold a contest via Twitter, whereas my subsequent post will give you some ideas on what I think is a good or effective way to hold a contest.

Here are five ways of how NOT to run a Twitter contest:

1) Do NOT create an account which simply advertises or promotes your contest. You will come across as spammy and people don’t want to follow spammers.

2) Do NOT make people retweet (RT) a certain message so that they enter the contest. It may be an easy thing to ask of your participants, but I think it’s a fairly cheap and non-genuine way to interact with your followers. For example: I am not a fan of contests where you have to do something like this:

RT @SomeContest: I’ve just entered my name on http://www.example.com for a chance to win a super-duper prize! Yay me!

3) Do NOT require people to follow you (or your brand) as a way of entering the contest. You know how most official contests have a guideline that no purchase is necessary (this is actually an FTC rule; more info here) to enter a sweepstakes? Same with the following. It’s not necessary. I think it’s an artificial way to bring up a following count. If people are genuinely interested in what you have to offer, they will follow you without you asking.

4) Do NOT create a contest where the winner of a contest will be an Xth follower (i.e, a follower milestone). For example, don’t declare that the contest winner will be “my 1,000th follower.” I’ve had personal experience with running a contest this way, and it doesn’t work for a few reasons.

  • First, those that follow you may not necessarily be aware that you are holding a contest. So someone may follow you but may not care for the prize of your contest. This happened to me with my 600th follower, who was some kind of big-time CEO who didn’t much care for a free print.
  • Second, there are spammers out there. This happened with my 500th follower, who turned out to be a spammer. I had to unfollow the spammer, then wait for a legitimate 500th follower (who also had to be aware and interested in my contest). Luckily, that turned out to be the case, but it’s not something that I want to deal with in the future.
  • Third, if you have a large following base, and you declare a prize for an Xth follower, you’ll see a gradual increase in number of followers, but expect a huge spike around the Xth follower. It might be a challenge figuring out who the legitimate follower was. Do you really want to deal with that issue?

5) Do NOT make a twitter user disclose any personal information. This last point is fairly obvious, but it bears repeating: all personal details should be dealt away from Twitter (an email exhchange is ideal, though a communication via direct message is suitable as well).

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I’ve outlined five ways of how NOT to run a contest on Twitter. Tune in to my next post (in about a week) to gain some insight into what I think would make for holding an awesome contest via Twitter.

November 10, 2009 Posted by | other | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments