SitePoint Podcast #180: Face2Face with David Lee King

Episode 180 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week Patrick O’Keefe (@ifroggy) interviews David Lee King (@davidleeking) about digital media in a modern library and also his book Face2Face – Using Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Tools to Create Great Customer Connections.

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Episode Summary

Patrick and David discuss the challenges of digital media for a modern library, like eBook pricing and serving your customers through digital pathways. THey also discuss his book Face2Face and not only how this relates to libraries connecting in a ‘human’ manner with customers, but how this can apply to all businesses.

Browse the full list of links referenced in the show at http://delicious.com/sitepointpodcast/180.

Interview Transcript

Patrick: Hello and welcome back to another edition of The Site Point Podcast. My name is Patrick O’Keefe. And we have an interview today with David Lee King. David is a friend of mine. He is the Digital Services Director at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in Topeka Kansas. He is a constant, prominent voice regarding digital innovation in libraries. In 2008, he released “Designing the Digital Experience, How to Use Experience, Design Tools and Techniques to Build Web Sites Customers Love.” He has now followed that up with a brand new book, “Face2Face, Using Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Tools to Create Great Customer Connections.” David, it’s great to have you on.

David: Hey, thanks. Thanks, Patrick.

Patrick: We met, I want to say . . . I know we met in person first at South by Southwest, probably three or four years ago. I don’t know if that was the first time that we met, or if we had talked online before that. It’s hard to keep track.

David: We did talk online before that.

Patrick: Okay.

David: Because of your book.

Patrick: Oh, I applaud your memory.

David: I think I had a question or something. I was like, I think I’m going to email the author, or something like that.

Patrick: Excellent. Well, I applaud your memory, then. But, since then, we’ve kept in touch. I’ve read both your books, and provided advance praise, and like what you’re doing. You were kind enough to have me out to speak at Pod Camp Topeka 2010 . . .

David: Right.

Patrick: . . . which is a great event. A great un-conference. It’s happening again this year.

David: Yes, it is.

Patrick: We’ll talk about that a little later. But for now I want to jump in to, kind of, your background, a little bit. You know, looking at your LinkedIn profile, I’ve picked up a few details. Doing some stalking, some Googling.

David: Sure.

Patrick: But you were the acting Director at the Kansas City Public Library for seven years. And then you became the Digital Branch and Services Manager at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library for about six years, before you were promoted to Digital Services Director. Or at least a title change, I noticed.

David: Title change, yes.

Patrick: Come, on, promotion. Beef it up a little bit. No, but the question I have is libraries are a constant in your background. Were libraries a specific choice? Or were you just an IT guy who the job was at the library and then you developed into that space? Or was it always, libraries something that you wanted to do?

David: It was neither of those things, actually.

Patrick: Okay.

David: I learned how to use computers in college, honestly, because way back when, I could get, like, 10% extra credit if I typed my paper out on a computer.

Patrick: Right.

David: And I needed that 10 extra credit. So, I used it. My future wife showed me how to do it. I was like, hey, this is pretty easy. And then I got out of college. Like many people do, didn’t really know what I wanted to do, you know.

Patrick: Okay.

David: Kicked out of the door and like, oh, shoot, what should I do? I had tried a few things. I worked in the financial industry for awhile as a customer service rep, a phone rep type thing. Didn’t much care for that.
I have a music background so I decided, hey, I’ll try my hand at being a musician or recording engineer, that kind of stuff. Eventually moved to Nashville, and did that for a couple of years, realized that it was fun, but I wasn’t really making money in it. Not enough to support a family. So, realized, okay, I need to actually do something to make a full-time salary.
I started researching a little bit and figuring what it was I liked to do. And I remembered way back in college, not so much the writing of the papers, but the researching, I really actually quite enjoyed. You know, finding those little tidbits of knowledge in books and stuff. And then a light bulb went off, and I said, hey, I could do that for a job. That would be pretty cool.
I started looking into libraries. That required a graduate degree, which was cool. I went to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, got my graduate degree in Library and Information Science, right around the time the web hit. I graduated in ’94, ’95. My first job out of library school, I was the Electronics Services Librarian, which meant putting CD ROM’s into the computer so people could get to the databases back then.
The library said, “Hey, we want a web site.” And everybody else sort of stepped back a step, and said, “He’s the young guy, let him do it.” And I was like, sure, that sounds like fun. I learned just like everybody else did back then. I learned the 20 different tags that you needed to make a site.

Patrick: Right.

David: And I’ve been doing that kind of stuff since then. It’s morphed into IT manager jobs and web master jobs, and now a digital branch manager job, where I don’t really code so much anymore. But I hire coders, and do more long range planning and direction for web sites. I work a lot with staff on conversations. You know, on how to get that conversation going in a blog post, how to write consistently, how to use Twitter or Facebook for an organization rather than, you know, for me talking to my mom. That kind of stuff. And it’s been really a fun gig so far. I’ll say it that way.

Patrick: Very cool. And you know, you mentioned extra credit for using the computer. There was a time when you had to be motivated to use the laptop or the computer. But now, obviously, that’s . . . I don’t even think that if you gave students extra credit for handwriting the paper, they would bother to do it.

David: No. I can’t imagine writing a paper by hand. That would be horrible.

Patrick: So as I mentioned, you were at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. And, like I said I had the good fortune to come there in 2010. And, I have to say, I think the library that stands out most in my mind, from my childhood is the Nashua Public Library in Nashua, New Hampshire. Because I lived around that area for about 10 years, and spent a good amount of time at the library there.
I’ve got to say, my experience was that it was dark, and there was mean ladies there. As a kid, those were two of the prominent things there. But I came to your library, and it was bright, and the people were nice. Not to slander the Nashua Public Library.

David: Oh, that’s an interesting comment.

Patrick: I’m sure they’ve changed now. I’m sure they’re different.

David: Yeah, probably.

Patrick: But, it was funny to see that. I guess, take that as a compliment, but you had a nice library there. I enjoyed it.

David: Oh, good. Thanks. I’m glad you noticed. No mean ladies here.

Patrick: I didn’t see anybody scowling at me. I was like, what? Am I in a library? What?

David: Oh, gosh.

Patrick: No, am I expected to tip? No, okay. I want to get into the library a little bit and especially the library website. You know, I noticed a few things about the website that I want to bring attention to and ask you about.
I noticed that you not only encourage people to call you, but you also encourage them to text you and chat with you via a website or web- based chat. That’s the first time I’ve seen that, I think. I’ve never seen anybody encourage me to text them, first of all, I don’t think. I’ve rarely ever seen that, business or otherwise.

David: Yeah.

Patrick: But, it’s certainly the first time I’ve seen a library do that.

David: Okay.

Patrick: You know this space well. Is that something that you see a lot? Is it growing, that sort of text and chat communication with libraries?

David: Yeah, it’s a growing service, I’d say. I think a lot of libraries would really like to do that nowadays. I just saw a statistic that said that almost half of all adults in the United States are carrying around smart phones now. So, obviously they have that capability. And it’s 60%, 70% with younger people.
People, customers for the library are wanting to ask us questions, but they’re not always in the library, physically. You know, the bright library with the smiling people, like you said, from my library. They’re, unfortunately, in their cars, hopefully parked. They’re at work, in a meeting, they have a question. Texting provides them a really easy, quick way to ask us a question. Yeah. So, more and more libraries are doing that. It’s a little harder to get the technology. My library, we can futz stuff on our own and figure it out. Other libraries actually have to buy a service that works. So, yeah.

Patrick: So you’re able to mess with different things because you have people on staff who are more technically minded. Is that the primary reason?

David: Right. I’ve got a staff of eight in my IT department.

Patrick: Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever sat down and calculated this stuff, but do you know the volume of the chat and text-based services versus, for example, the phone, and how active it really is with people.

David: To a point. I don’t know, I didn’t bring up the numbers of, like, how many walk in questions we get, how many phone-based questions we get.

Patrick: Right. Well, I wouldn’t ask you to quantify walk-in questions.

David: We have those, though. We have those. We keep stats. For example, in August, chat-based services, we had 346 questions that came through just for one month. That would be . . .

Patrick: And that’s just the web-based chat. Or is that both text and chat?

David: That’s both text and chat.

Patrick: Okay.

David: We sort of lump them both together into the same service, so it just counts, whatever it is , as one thing. That’s quite a few. And they can be really quick questions, like, how do you spell this word? Or they can be, sort of, involved, you know, I’m looking for this, help me do this research kind of stuff. That’s good.

Patrick: Do people actually text you for spelling?

David: Sometimes.

Patrick: Oh, come on.

David: Well, you know, they’re in their our catalog. They can’t find the hobbit because they spelled it wrong, or whatever. You know.

Patrick: Okay. Yeah, I got it.

David: It’s that kind of stuff. Sure.

Patrick: Yeah, I see. I was curious how you facilitate that. You mentioned that you mess around with different methods, especially the texting. Because I have a decent understanding of web-based chat services and, you know. But as far as texting, is there a specific service or is just sort of a library phone, or how does that work?

David: Yeah, some libraries do that. I know at least one library that just bought an iPhone for that service. That’s a really easy way to do it. It sits at the reference desk. We’re a bit more involved than that. You’ve been in our library. It’s pretty big. We have 220 something staff.

Patrick: Wow.

David: Total. So what we do . . . we started off, when I first started working at the library, we didn’t have a service like that. So we easily turned something on using NEBO. Easy, problem solved, David could check that off his list.
After a while, we sort of outgrew that service. Long before it shut down. Then we moved to a library-based service, called Library H3lp. The ‘e’ in help is a 3, if somebody’s interested in looking it up. It had a few more services. But it was a free service for awhile, and then the company started wanting us to pay for it. We didn’t want to do that. Nothing wrong with the company. We were just, like, I think we can do this on our own.
So we have moved to an open source product, igniterealtime.org is the company’s name. It’s a product called Spark. It’s basically an open sourced, I guess you could say, corporate communications type thing. And it allows us to have that chat and text service, and then also gives all of our employees a way to have a chat service just amongst each other, too.
So if we have 30 people logged in, say, to the public side of our chat reference service, if you ask me a question, and I didn’t know the answer, I could forward that question on to somebody who would be able the question. And it would be seamless on that end, so you wouldn’t really see that happening as a customer, but you’d get your question answered. Then on the back end, for the text based part of that, we’re using Google Talk as a gateway. So that’s how we’re doing the text part of it, just using a Google phone number, basically. Yeah. It’s working pretty well. We’re happy with it so far.

Patrick: Another thing I noticed on the library site was the, and this is probably going to sound like a lame bunch of . . . the form to fill out to get a library card. And I mean, oh, yeah. I noticed that and I said, that’s pretty cool. Because I’ve checked my local library, and I couldn’t do it. I could not do it here. I’m on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. And our library system is the Albemarle Library System. You can look it up. Anyway, they have a library website, of course. But you can’t sign up for a library card. They have an FAQ page where it says you need to come in, basically it’s like a two sentence answer, you need to come in and see us.
So, I kind of like, you have a form there. People can get the form side out of the way instead of sitting at the library, you know, like at the doctor’s office, with a clipboard and a pen. But, I was curious about how much people use that versus the paper forms, which I’m sure you still have to give people. Is it a lot of people? Is it reducing a lot of the paper, what do you want to call it, like, for the environment, so to speak?

David: Not yet. For example, last month we got over a 1,000 people who were new card holders at the library, which is actually pretty good. I looked that up just for you.

Patrick: Thank you.

David: And I thought, wow, that’s cool. Then I asked somebody in my department to look up how many people we had sign up online, and it was 88.

Patrick: Okay.

David: So, not a lot. But, the cool thing about that service is they get their library card number immediately, so they can put stuff on hold without actually having to come into the library. Or if they want to use one of our databases, like, to look up an article, magazine article or something, you have to have a library card number to do that. So that gives them that number just like that, automatically. So for those 88 people, it was pretty big help.

Patrick: Yeah, I can see that as a really good thing, for obvious reasons. But also, it’s probably the type of thing that people have to get used to.

David: Well, yeah.

Patrick: Because I think we’ve been taught throughout our lives that when you get a library card, you go to the library, you, maybe, bring them a piece of mail or something. And then you fill in the form. You don’t go onto the website. That’s just not done.

David: Right. Exactly. Exactly. We’re trying to do it different.

Patrick: Right, you’re at the forefront. You mentioned your web team a little earlier. And I was curious to know what that web team looks like, as far as the number of people and how . . .

David: Yeah, yeah.

Patrick: Not hard numbers, but just a general sense of the team, and do you have in-house developers, do you hire out when you need something done? How does that all work within your team?

David: That’s always a hard question to answer because it’s not just, “Oh, we have three.” Because, we’ve got me. I’m sort of in charge of all of that part of what we do at the library. So I do long-range planning. I’ll test out a new tool and then get a group together to start figuring out how to use it, maybe in a pilot project. Just, generally, be the leader for that.
We’ve got one full-time web developer, who does all the hardcore coding type stuff. We’ve got one person who is our designer. Used to be, well, still is, not used to be, still is an artist. So that’s why, at least in my opinion, our website looks pretty attractive.

Patrick: Right. I agree.

David: So we’ve got those two guys that are sort of working on the back end, designing it, developing it, maintaining. Then we’ve got what we call our creative group, which is our marketing department and our web guys all together. We get together weekly and just meet. We talk about marketing stuff and brochures, but we also talk about the website. Figure out how better to do things. We’ll frequently visit a part of our website and try to make it better. You know, that kind of stuff.
Then we get to the content. You know, we’ve got a lot of content on our website. We’ve got, probably 15 blogs. We’ve got Facebook and Twitter, and that kind of stuff. Those are all done by different people in our library. So, we might have a team of two or three that are just in charge of one blog. They write the posts. Actually, I work with them to schedule it out. So they’ll tell me, I want to do it two times a week. And so I’ll say, okay, you get Tuesdays at noon and Fridays 6:00 am, so when people wake up, there’s content there.
We do the same thing for our Facebook page. We’ve got a team of maybe 12 to 15 people now that are focused on writing content and trying to engage people. So that’s sort of how we break that part of it up. It’s not centralized at all. It’s sort of spread out throughout the organization with leadership involved.

Patrick: Cool. I appreciate you taking us through that. So we talked a bit about your library. I’d like to talk a bit about libraries in general now. And specifically an issue that I’ve seen you writing about and something that you’re passionate about, which is making e- books more accessible for libraries. I know it’s probably not the easiest issue to drum down into a sentence or two, but what are the primary issues that are facing you right now?

David: Yeah. Well, it’s actually pretty easy. There are thousands and thousands of publishers out there. But the stuff that most people want to check out, at least from a public library, they’re published by six publishers.
They’re generally called the big six publishers. They’re, like, Random House, Penguin. You know, those names that most people would probably recognize. Out of those six, two don’t sell to libraries at all. Two of them haven’t, but they’re starting little bitty pilot projects with, like, a single library to test the waters. One of them sells to libraries, but then after it’s checked out 26 times, they make you buy it again. And one has always sold to libraries, but they recently jacked the prices up to three or four times the price of the book, which isn’t really a good model, good sustainable model going forward for libraries.
Out of those six, most of them don’t sell the stuff that our customers are actually wanting to check out. It’s a big problem. We have an e-book service and I just heard yesterday that we’re running out of stuff to buy. Really. Because we’re looking at this huge list of books and going, ah, there’s nothing there our customers actually are interested in. What are we going to do?

Patrick: Yeah, you’re like “Managing Online Forms?” Oh, crap. No one’s interested in that. Who’s going to read that stuff.

David: Oh, boy.

Patrick: Well, I noticed that you shared a link on Twitter recently. And it was via Sara Houghton, on Twitter. And it was published by the American Libraries Magazine. And what it is is a price comparison of the cost of e-books for libraries and for consumers, as of September 5th, 2012. So, very recent.
I wanted to ask you about this and what this chart actually means. For example, I see “50 Shades of Gray.” Not a piece of literature I have yet enjoyed. But it costs $47.85 for libraries via, the service is Overdrive in 3M. That’s the price for the e-book. And then there’s a consumer pricing, which is unsurprisingly, $9.99 for Amazon or general retailers. Where you buy e-books they tend to be priced in that realm.
So, what does the difference mean? What does that mean to libraries?

David: Well, it’s highly irritating to libraries, honestly. Because any of us could go out and buy that “50 Shades of Grey” book from Amazon, from Barnes and Noble, pretty easily. Put it on our Kindle or whatnot.
But for a library to do that, it costs four or five times as much. If we buy it from, say, Overdrive. They’re the most popular e-book service out there. We’re not actually buying the book. We’re renting it, so to speak. If we decide to move away from Overdrive, that 50 bucks is just gone, and we don’t get the book, which is pretty irritating. So, we’ve paid four or five times the price, just for access.
I can understand an online company that’s giving us access to content, you’re paying for a service, not just the book. But, we’re paying for the book, but we’re also paying an annual maintenance fee for that service already. Why is the price jacked up? Mainly for the publishers because they don’t quite trust libraries. They’re looking at the traditional public library, “I can get stuff for free there”. Right?

Patrick: Right. Yes.

David: But what they’re not seeing, actually what they’re starting to notice, is that we’re free marketing places. In Topeka, there is one book store, Barnes and Noble. And there’s us. We’re bigger. We have more stuff, we’ve got friendly people, like you said. We’ve got a coffee shop. We’re centrally located. That sort of looks like a book store with big displays of publishers’ stuff. Right?

Patrick: Right.

David: And, unlike Barnes and Noble, we have the backlog of all the other stuff those authors have written. Whereas, Barnes and Noble, they’ll have the newest stuff, if it’s popular. You know, like Stephen King, they’ll have more of his things. Not everything. We have that. So, we can sell the backlog for free. But then we’ve got statistics, and publishers are starting to get statistics, too, that show people who use libraries to check out either print books or e-books, most likely will buy their next book.
Which makes sense because if you start a series, you get number 1 here, number two is checked. So what are you going to do if you want to get it? Right? You’re going to go buy it. You’re going to get your Kindle out, click that easy one click button and continue reading. And then maybe check out the third one. They’re starting to realize we’re not that scary, but it’s not there yet. So, they’re saying, let’s make this pricing point higher, so we make a profit. I’m not sure that makes sense.

Patrick: Just to dive into that pricing a little bit, $47.85, you’re essentially licensing the work, from what I gather.

David: Right.

Patrick: Is that per year or is that one-time fee for as long as you maintain your maintenance fee as part of the service. Or how often do you have to pay that $47.85?

David: For most of those publishers, it’s a one-time fee, except for Harper Collins. I’m pretty sure it’s Harper Collins. They’re the 26 uses thing, so after that book is checked out 26 times, then we’d have to pay that fee again to access the book.

Patrick: One of the trick issues here is the nature of e-books and how someone could duplicate them, right? And they’re easily duplicated. When you have the print book, you have the print book. You take that out and no one else can have it. So, one of the things I was curious about with this pricing, and how e-books pricing works with libraries, is are you limited by the number of copies you can lend out at a certain time.

David: Uh-huh.

Patrick: For example, when you pay that price, can you send out as many copies as you want, 10 copies? Or, as versus the print, you can only do one. How does that work as far as the number of people who can check it out?

David: That’s one person at a time. We’d have to pay that 50 bucks twice for two people to. Then, that sort of varies, you can pay for an all inclusive license on certain books, that sort of thing, so anybody can access it. Costs more, you know.

Patrick: Well, that’s was my one way to justify that pricing for publishers. Sorry.

David: Yeah, not so much.

Patrick: I still had to ask the question. In fairness, to say, that if it’s treated as a license and you can be allowed ten copies, okay. But if it’s just one, and it’s actually reasonably verifiable as one, then obviously the pricing doesn’t match up.

David: Not so much. I was going to say, you’d mentioned it’s sort of hard to copy that print book. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, with my first book, every week I can click on a link in Twitter or something like that through my vanity feed, and find a pdf copy of my first book out there. I’ve downloaded an illegal copy of my book.

Patrick: Yeah, I actually have a Google alert set up for that also. And I’m fairly well schooled on the old DMC. I notice it a lot.

David: Yeah. Yeah, right.

Patrick: It tends for me to be the pdf e-book version that was put out, and it’s not like a scanned version. Is yours a scanned version, like they put it in a copier?

David: I think it is.

Patrick: That’s interesting so . . . But that’s a different sort of issue.

David: Yeah, it is.

Patrick: I have had to take down a number of different copies. Not as much as, I’m sure, Harry Potter deals with. So that was an interesting discussion. I definitely learned some things about e-book pricing. I was not aware of that. And I honestly don’t know how my publisher handles it because I’m pretty sure they fall outside of the big six.
At least in the U.S. Internationally, I’m distributed by McGraw Hill, but in this country I’m not. It’s AMACOM, the American Management Association. So I’ll have to look into that and see what they’re a part of and what they’re charging. Because I’m definitely curious now.

David: Yeah. Definitely.

Patrick: I just want to throw a kind of, random question out there, that occurred to me. And really, what brought it up was your latest blog post. Or at least, your latest blog post as of last night. You were talking about Starbucks cards.

David: Oh, yeah.

Patrick: And how you go to the library all the time, but now you’re going to Starbucks. You’re in Starbucks getting coffee, and you notice these cards, on the counter presumably, that were offering you a free song, the Zack Brown Band, and also . . . What was the other card?

David: It was a Yoga app from iTunes or something like that.

Patrick: A free app. So, you were talking about how this was good, and how it exposes you to different apps, different songs, and there’s value created for Starbucks, for the artist, for you as the customer, and how the libraries could take advantage of this.
That was the point of the post, is to ask people to think about how can you benefit as libraries, since that’s the heavy part of your readership, by this strategy. And, I skipped that discussion totally . . .

David: Okay.

Patrick: . . . as I sometimes do. And just thought, why aren’t there more Starbucks in libraries? Because, I’ve thought of this before. I’ve seen it before, very rarely. I’ve heard about it. But, it seems to make a lot of sense. Because you go to Barnes and Noble and you see people sitting in Starbucks reading books they don’t buy. And at libraries, you’re supposed to read books you don’t buy. Except if you leave later and buy them at a later date, as you talked about. Libraries can drive sales. So I don’t mean it like that.
But, it seems like it makes so much sense, Starbucks to cut in the library, give them a little piece of that, which helps the whole system work, and raises our boat, so to speak. Why is that not so? Is there a competitive business reason why that’s not so. Have you heard much discussion about this?

David: That’s a good question. I know in larger libraries, they don’t usually have a Starbucks. But they will have a coffee shop of some type. Even a small library I’ve been in has. So, some do have that kind of stuff. It’s usually more of a franchise, or a ‘I’m a librarian, do I really want to figure out how to run a restaurant’ problem. Because it’s a completely different business.
For our library, we actually rent the space out to a guy who knows how to do restaurants. And them, we’ve got a deal going there somewhere. Because we don’t know how to do that. Right? I know how to buy a coffee, I don’t know how to sell it 50 times a day. I think it’s mainly that, probably.

Patrick: Yeah, and you know, the thing I was thinking of is not necessarily on the libraries. Though I think it would be a good strategy for libraries to go out there and say, hey, we would have a Starbucks. But I think it would be an interesting strategy if Starbucks went out there. And I’m sure you can make contact with libraries, trade publications, mailing lists, and what have you, and say, “Hey, we want to start populating libraries with Starbucks coffee shops. And we’ll give you X percent of the profit.” And I bet a number of libraries would probably jump at that if they could.

David: Oh, they probably would. I mean, there’s hundreds of thousands of libraries in the United States alone, waiting for Starbucks to come in.

Patrick: Waiting. I suggest this as someone who doesn’t even drink coffee.

David: Yeah, there you go.

Patrick: All right. Starbucks, libraries aside. I want to talk about the book a little bit. “Face to Face” is the name of the book. ‘Using Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Tools to Create Great Customer Connections.’ We’ve kind of talked about that already. That was sort of my goal was to talk about how you’re doing that for the library, through different features and functionality. And I think we’ve done that.
But to get a little more specific, your book talks a lot about being human. And for companies and organizations to be human is kind of the overriding theme. Who are some of your favorite human companies on the web?

David: Yeah. Well, obviously, the big company that’s usually mentioned here would be Zappos. And they really do a good job. It’s fun to just see what they’re doing, and how they’re connecting to customers.
But a smaller company that I know about just from my audio and video stuff, is Rhode Microphones. They make that video mike that you can stick on top of cameras, among other things. They do an amazing job of connecting with customers. For this interview I was actually looking back through some of their tweets and their Facebook account. They do some really cool stuff. They do very direct, short and sweet customer support and service, through Twitter.
They’ll say, oh, my gosh, here’s the link to that thing you need. Or, here’s my phone number, give me a call, let’s figure it out. They do really human sounding stuff there, which is cool to see.
On their Facebook account, they do that kind of stuff, too. They run contests. But they’ll also do visual stuff. Like show customers using their product out in the wild. Not so a, oh, look, 20 people are using my thing. But to me anyway, it’s sort of cool to see how customers are using these microphones. Because I get idea from that. You know? And say, “Oh, I never thought about using it that way.” And that’s what they’re sharing. They love their product, they’re sharing ways to use their product, through social media.
I find that to be a very human type thing. It’s like you saying, David, have you thought about this? Oh, that’s cool. That’s what the company is doing, organizationally.

Patrick: That is cool. And what of my favorites is Think Geek. You’re probably familiar with them, as a geek who thinks. They have this great Twitter feed. And just a kind of great overarching strategy of how they communicate with customers via all means, right? The website, email. Social media, though, is kind of, the topic today. On any given day, you can see them tweeting about some exciting product. You can see them tweeting about someone using their product, some sort of geek humor.
The Wreck-it Ralph trailer they just tweeted out, it’s amazing. They say the licensing coup, alone, is amazing. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that movie, but they’ve got all these video game characters licenses from numerous companies into one film.
Anyway, so they just share all of this crazy stuff. I’m just looking at it, just looking at it here without any preparation. Just looking at the feed. “Happy programmers day. It’s the 256th day of the year, aka, two, upper arrow, eight, or pound a values of an eight bit byte. Hug a dev you love.” I have no idea what that mean because I’m not a programmer, but you know programmers know what that means.
And that’s the kind of stuff that they tweet out. And they tweet it out like data cupcakes, kids, just different kinds of stuff and products, and geeky references. You stroll through it and there’s just such a personality that comes through the feed, and that’s what I love.
I’m not even looking at the replies. Because the replies are also great. I don’t know how much of this I can read. But it’s just so funny, it’s topical, they talk about things with different people. But you mentioned something very important.
And that is that Zappos helps people on the space that they’re asking the question. And I think that’s really important. Because there are private things in a transaction that you can’t say out there in public. And there’s perfectly legitimate reasons to take something to email, or take something to the phone.

David: Yeah, definitely.

Patrick: But, I think one of the ways people make a big difference is when they don’t throw every inquiry in that basket. Not every response is, call 1-800-this. You can confirm basic fact. You can say, oh, your package will be there on Friday. The stuff that isn’t your Social Security Number or your credit card or your name or address, I think that’s really important. That’s how a lot of people are setting themselves apart, is by helping people in the space where they felt comfortable to ask the question.

David: Right. I often will tell people, for libraries, and this works well for other businesses, too. Just go where people gather. You do that physically, why not do that online, too. So if your customers happen to be gathering in Foursquare or in Twitter or LinkedIn, or whatever, you should probably be there having conversations with them. I think it’s really important. It’s free, you know.

Patrick: Yeah, people. Just people. Power. The power of people.

David: That’s right, it’s just people.

Patrick: Yeah. Just to close out this Think Geek example because I love mentioning this. But they have also a feed at think geek spam on Twitter. And what that is is their product announcements. They don’t make their product announcements on their main feed. They have think geek spam, and “All new think geek products all the time. Follow Think Geek,” the main account, “for contest freebies and warm, human fuzzies.”

David: That’s cool.

Patrick: And they actually have, this is the Think Geek spam, because their mascot is a monkey. And the Think Geek spam account is a robot monkey. And in the Twitter background, they have the robot monkey and the regular monkey fighting.

David: Oh, my. That’s pretty funny.

Patrick: It’s acknowledging the fact that they sell stuff. But they also have a sense of humor about it. Now, I guess today, how they interview their social media candidates, is, today they do an interview on Twitter with people, just send the person questions, @thinkgeeknewb, and the person answers questions. I mean there’s just so many . . . Think Geek is just . . . I love them.

David: Yeah, they have a good time, don’t they?

Patrick: They do. They definitely do. I always say if I hit the lottery, I just going to back up just a truck full of money at the Think Geek offices and just buy everything they have.

David: There you go.

Patrick: Moving on a little bit. A lot of people, I think, ask where do you start with things like this, and “Being human.” And it’s kind of a generic question, so it’s hard to specifically quantify because there’s so much you can do. But, let’s say you’re starting a new small business. You have no established history as a company. So it’s not like you were some 100-year-old company that is now just getting online, and you have all that history and that story to pull from.
How do you start being human? Pick any business you want, I guess. It can be a restaurant, it could be a furniture store, it could be, whatever. Where do you start?

David: You know, I think in general, and for almost any organization-I took some notes from what you sent me-I was thinking there’s at least four things you can do, sort of universal truths of being human online, so to speak. The first one would be just to be informal and conversational. Have that informal, conversational tone in everything you do online. Whether it’s a video or a blog post or a product review, whatnot, be informal and conversational. Because that’s the way people talk with that conversational tone, so that will pull people into that quote, unquote conversation, even if that conversation is one they’re reading. They’ll fell that the communication has a two way aspect to it, just by that tone.
Also, be short and sweet because people don’t want to hear you talk forever, right?

Patrick: Right.

David: It’s not a Shakespeare’s play. They want, give it to me because I’ve got two minutes.
Ask questions, all the time. People like Chris Brogan have taught us that already in Blog Post. Don’t finish the post, so to speak. Say, what do you think? Let me know.
We do that at the library. You can do that with pretty much anything. On Twitter, ask, “Hey, we put out this new product. You guys are starting to buy it. Let me know what’s working and what’s not, so we can fix it.” People love that kind of stuff because they can be part of the story, so to speak. And they can help fix something and make it better. Or even help 20 other customers with a problem they’re having, just because they know the little tidbit that somebody else doesn’t, and the company has facilitated that.
Then finally, just be friendly. Sounds sort of weird that you’d have to work at that, but I think oftentimes when you let your marketing department get a hold of something, pretty much anything, unless they’re really good, they remove informality, conversational tones, that friendly thing, the friendly vibe going on, and make it professional sounding. And that sucks the life out of conversations. I think if a company or an organization or a nonprofit follows those four ideas, they’ll be well on their way to having that human voice online.

Patrick: Cool. Diving into that a little deeper, and speaking of platforms, because there’s lots of platforms. There’s your own website, certainly, and whatever you can do with that, so many different things. The sky’s the limit, if you have programmers.
And if not, there’s plenty of platforms out there that you can simply install, whether it be WordPress or something else. And then, outside platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Foursquare, and other ones. Numerous ones, a limitless number, and always growing.
As far as choosing a platform, or making the first kind of inroads onto doing something, because once you have the understanding of how you need to speak, how you need to participate, where do you go? How should people make that decision?

David: I think it goes back to what I said earlier about going where people are gathering, especially if you’re talking about social media platforms. Just go where your customer base is. What I do, and I tell libraries to do this all the time.
In Topeka, when I go to a restaurant or a store, I’ll notice the stickers by the door that say, we’re on Twitter or we’re on Facebook, we’re on some new social media thing that I never heard of, whatever, which probably isn’t true. But if it did exist, and I saw the sticker, I’d be like, ah, maybe I’d better check that out.
That’s what I tell people to do. I say, if you see those up, make sure you are in those, because your customers know about that. If you’re listening to the radio, and the disc jockey is saying, hey, tweet me your questions, tweet me your requests. That means people in my area are actually using that so maybe I should be there, too. That’s how I decide whether one platform is better than the other.
For example, we are on Foursquare here at the library. We don’t get a lot of use on that, so we’re not spending a lot of time there right now. Whereas, maybe a coffee shop who’s giving a 10% discount to the mayor, maybe they’re getting more use out of that. So, it would work really well for them. Maybe not so much for a furniture store, or something. It depends. Find out where your customers are and then go there.

Patrick: So, when talking about those third-party platforms, those platforms you don’t control, that other people control, how important is your home base? Your own website, in the whole grand scheme of going out there and participating on these surfaces like Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else?

David: In my mind, your home base is pretty important. If you’re a business, that’s sort of your stuff. Thinking physically for a second, that is your building, and that’s where all of your couches are that you’re selling. Online, it’s sort of the same thing because that’s where your catalog is, right?
If you go into the Disney Store, they actually . . . I love going into the Disney Store because they have these signs all over the place that say, our full store is at Disney.com, or Disneystore.com, whatever. And that makes sense.
Because it works sort of that way for a library, too. Because we’ve got our library catalog of books that has everything we own. And then if you come into the library, half our stuff is checked out. If you want the full thing, that would be our website.
So, in my mind, home base is really important because that’s where our stuff and our staff are. The other platforms, I see those as conversations about our stuff. If you want the stuff, you go to the home base. If you want to have a conversation about that, that can be in any number of places.

Patrick: What is your reaction when you see someone who advertises- and, I don’t know, I’ve seen it in different ways, it could be locally, it could be in this restaurant in the store, it could be a national ad campaign- when all they advertise is Facebook.com/them, and there’s nothing else there.
I don’t know, I can see a lot of ways to look at that. I mean, if you have the domain name, Ford is Ford is Ford. They’re going to go to ford.com, they’re going to Google Ford, they’re going to get Ford. Not that Ford has done that, just a kind of random, well-known brand. Not everyone, most people cannot tap into that well known brand loyalty. What do you think when you see an ad campaign that only has Facebook.com/them, or Twitter.com/them, and nothing else?

David: Honestly, I think back to statistics. Right now, I think the latest statistic I’ve seen is that a little over 50% of all people aged 13 and up in America have Facebook accounts. So, if I see somebody really focusing just on Facebook, hopefully they know their customer base really, really well. Otherwise, they’re leaving about half of them out at any given time. Twitter, that’s like 12% of people in America.
So, if they’re focusing on persona’s or a certain market segment, that works really well. If they’re not, that’s sort of a mistake because they’re leaving out everybody. It would make more sense to me, probably, to send everybody to a special website, and then, have all of those social media places there to continue the conversation, right?

Patrick: Yeah. I pretty much concur with you. But, others may disagree and they may be good. I don’t know. Who know? But, the last question about the book I wanted to ask you because I’ve written two books, now, you’ve written two books now. We want it to be applicable to as many people as possible, right?

David: Yes, yes.

Patrick: And you want it to reach as many people as possible. But when you write a book, you do have an audience in mind. When you wrote “Face to Face,” who was it that you had in mind?

David: Well, I was really focusing on organizations that, maybe, have a website, have some social media presence already, but they’re just not there yet. It’s obvious they don’t quite know what to do with it. When you go visit their Facebook page, it’s obvious they’re not having conversations yet, there.
There are a lot of small businesses, mom and pop shops, libraries, nonprofits, that are in that place right now. They have all the stuff, but they don’t know how to use it. When I was thinking about that, before I started writing the book, I was like, well, I’m a librarian. I read a lot of books. And, I tend to read books about websites and social media. There are a ton of books out there that say, yes you should have these things. But they don’t really go into the practical next step so much, of in that status update box, here’s how you connect to people. Just that, what can I start doing this afternoon after I read this chapter type stuff.
And so I thought, well, I’ll try to provide that. Because Ford, they don’t need that. The little donut shop down the street, they probably do. And so, that’s who I was focusing on with it. Here’s some practical tips and pointers, and any organization that needs that kind of stuff, have fun and buy my book, please.

Patrick: Excellent. I think that brings us to the end of our interview. One thing I wanted to mention is that if you wanted to meet David in person, Pod Cam Topeka is October 13th at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. Podcamtopeka.org is the website. It’s $10. Having attended one and spoke at one, it was a great event and well worth, certainly $10. Much, much more.

David: Yes.

Patrick: It was a tremendous event. David’s book is “Face to Face, Using Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Tools to Create Great Customer Connections.” You can pick it up wherever fine books are sold, Amazon.com, certainly in Barnes and Nobles, and everywhere else. And David, where can people find you online?

David: davidleeking.com is my website. And then on Twitter, or pretty much any other social media tool, it’ll be just davidleeking, all one work.

Patrick: You’ve got the brand locked down.

David: Yes, I do.

Patrick: Well, thank you for joining us today, David.

David: Yeah, thanks so much. this has been fun conversation.

Patrick: Definitely. And, I am Patrick O’Keefe for the iFroggy network. You can follow me on Twitter at @iFroggy, and I blog at managingcommunities.com.
You can visit us at sitepoint.com/podcast to leave comments on this show, and to subscribe to us to receive every show automatically. Email podcast@sitepoint.com with your questions for us. We’d love to read them out on the show, and give you our advice. The Sitepoint podcast is produced by Karn Broad. Thank you for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

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