You totally CAN Twitter in China! Google, not so much.

I was having a mild case of separation anxiety on my flight over from Sydney to Hong Kong because I knew that Twitter was not allowed in China. My short stopover in Hong Kong on my way to Beijing was to be the last time I got to tweet for a week. *gasp*

Then when I did check Twitter in Hong Kong, a good Samaritan came to the rescue. @RichardMabey recommended I try CoTweet, which is essentially the same thing as Tweetfunnel (I feel a comparative blog coming on!). Duh!Β  Both must be set up before you leave for China, both post to Twitter and both can be used in China. Awesome! (Apologies if one of the 100,000 Chinese government web monitor people pick up this blog and start blocking CoTweet and Tweetfunnel. That would suck.)

Here’s the low-down on using Twitter in China:

Using a proxy – Tried that, didn’t work well. It was fine for about 5 minutes and then totally messed up my browser. Not sure if it’s just the one I tried (hot spot shield) but I didn’t like it.

Express VPN – @mmmichaelfox is also currently in China and told me about Express VPN. It’s $12.95 per month to use, but at least he’s happy with it (unlike me with my failed proxy attempt…). There’s a 30-day money back guarantee, so I guess you can’t go wrong!

Tweet Deck – Kinda works, but very slowly. It takes a good 5 minutes to post a tweet. Oh, and it just died as I’m typing this so I guess it’s not reliable. I hope it comes back to life because that how I’ve been reading tweets until now…

Tweetfunnel – Great to post to Twitter especially since it auto-shortens URLs, which is helpful because you can’t get to without a proxy. The downside is that I seem to only be able to view the last 30 tweets from others.

Set up before you go – Whether you use Tweetfunnel or Cotweet or some other similar tool, set up before you go. All those tools redirect you to Twitter to authenticate so you won’t be able to do that in China.

Now Google is a whole different story. You can view all Google services if you’re on a proxy, but if a proxy’s not an option for you, you’ll be as confused with Google sites as I am right now. Here’s the Google story in China:

Gmail – Seems to be working just fine, all the time. No complaints here. Chat works well too.

Analytics/AdWords/Webmaster Tools – Also work, but slower than I’m used to.

Reader – Totally random! I can’t figure it out. A couple times I’ve logged on and Reader refreshed. Other times, I get an error inside Reader. Other times still I get a “connection lost” error. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. Either way, I’m probably 800 blog posts behind in reading.

News – Now this is funny! Google News technically isn’t blocked because I was able to view it, search it and refresh it a few times. Then yesterday the headline story was on Obama’s visit to China. The page loaded and just as it finished, I got a “connection reset” error in my browser. This happened until another story replaced the Obama visit one. Coincidence? I think not!

All it all, it’s not as bad as I thought. I can still do 90% of the things I would normally do online. πŸ™‚

Engage your staff with Tweetfunnel

Have you ever wondered how you could engage your staff on Twitter? Have you ever wanted to give multiple users access to your company’s Twitter account but you were scared of what they could potentially put on there? Have you asked users to email you their tweets so that you could copy and paste them in a tweet yourself? If you answered yes to any of these questions, Tweetfunnel is the tool for you. I’ve been using it for almost two months now at Real Insurance and I absolutely love it. It’s a great tool for the corporate Twitter user.

What is Tweetfunnel

tweetfunnel logoTweetfunnel is a Twitter tool for team tweeting – one of those “why didn’t someone do this sooner” tools that make your tweeting life easier. It’s a web based tool which allows you to manage multiple users, tweets and Twitter accounts all in one interface. It’s like a work flow manager for your company’s Twitter accounts. It has definitely made my company’s Twitter use easier and more efficient.

How Tweetfunnel works & its best features

Manage multiple users with various roles – With Tweetfunnel, you can give multiple users access to publish tweets to a single Twitter account. This is great for companies who get a lot of feedback from customers on Twitter or whose brand receives a lot of mentions and thus is quite active on Twitter. There are user roles as well so you can have certain users who can only submit tweets while others who have editing and publishing power.

Edit posts before they’re published – Let’s say you you have a some users whose grammar isn’t stellar. With Tweetfunnel, you can set their permissions such that someone with good grammar can edit their tweets before they are published. No matter what the reason for it, you can edit all posts before they go live on Twitter.

Schedule posts for later – Sometimes you have a lot to say in a short period of time, but your followers may not be thrilled to receive 10 tweets in a row from you. With Tweetfunnel, you can schedule tweets at regular intervals on either weekdays or every day. A new feature coming next month will let users define multiple windows for scheduling tweets to further customise what you want to say and when.

Links shortened automatically – All your links are shortened automatically using What’s even better is that you can automatically track clicks from within Tweetfunnel.

Tweet via email or SMS – This function is not rolled out yet either, but in the future you will be able to send tweets via SMS or email.

Holding tweets – Do you ever have a gem of a tweet and you forget to write it down and when you want to reference it you can’t seem to find it in your Twitter stream? That’s what the “hold” feature is for. Hold any tweets you think you might want to look at later.

Get started right away

Tweetfunnel is a free tool. It’s currently in Beta so there are a few kinks to iron out (we’ve had a few instances where we’d edit a tweet and it would still publish the original), but it’s really awesome already. There are some tutorials on the Tweefunnel site, but the tool is very intuitive so I don’t think you’ll even need them. Also, if you check out their homepage, they’ve just announced a few very exciting new features, some of which I mentioned above.

Tweetfunnel was a godsend to me. One day we were brainstorming how else we can use social media in our company and the next day I read about Tweetfunnel on Tech Crunch. I love it and so will you.

P.S. No, I’m not a shareholder nor am I involved with Tweetfunnel in any other way. Thought I’d mention that in case anyone doubted why I’m raving about it. πŸ™‚

Navigating the social media landscape

As a company, what can you do with social media? How do you get started? How do you even know what your options are? I’ve gone through that confusion. Believe me, I know how you feel. Through the course of my blog I hope that I will help fellow web professionals answer those questions for their companies. For now, I offer you one of the best visual social media devices I’ve come across. I hope it will get you started in outlining what your options media landscape

As I prepare for adtech Beijing, I’ve been looking for some good images to use in my presentation and I came across one of my favourite representations of social media (above). Although it’s incomplete, it neatly categorizes the main types of activities that are possible in the social web world.

Social media landscape

The main activities the graphic outlines that companies can engage in are to: publish, share, discuss, network, microblog, live-stream, livecast, live in a virtual world, participate in or create social and MMO games. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, what industry you’re in and what your company culture is, you may do any combination of these activities. Because there are so many potential ways for a customer to engage with your brand/company, it’s extremely important to set a clear social media strategy and not just write off social media as a fluffy trend the tech companies are doing. Literally every company can go social. Knowing how to get started can be a little confusing, though.

What Real Insurance does with social media

(I wrote this post when I was Head of eCommerce at Real Insurance)

As an insurance company with a transparent and honest (but somewhat laid-back) culture, at Real Insurance we focus mainly on the “share” and “microblog” aspects of the social media landscape wheel. Why? Because our primary objectives are to manage our brand reputation and engage our customers (with a secondary objective of lead generation). All else is just icing on the cake.

We actively monitor what’s being said about Real via tools like SocialMention and we respond to feedback on our brands, be it good or bad. Where we can’t respond because the site doesn’t allow it, we use Sidewiki to comment. If the feedback is good, we’ll thank you. If it’s bad, we’ll admit if we’re wrong and we’ll do our best to rectify the situation. That’s why we have clear work flows internally for following up on any complaints that we see in the social world. The end result? Having as much control as possible over our brand, customers who know they are being heard and staff empowered to help customers.

How you can get started with your social media strategy

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It’s an ancient Chinese proverb which rings true in the case of social media strategy as well. Start small. Set up a blog. If you can, get your CEO to blog. After all, he/she is the expert on your company. Set up a Twitter account. Then use Twitterfeed to automatically tweet new posts to Twitter. There, you’re already social! After that, check out the many resources on social media on Mashable to start learning.

Get your feet wet with Twitter and absorb everything you read. Think it through and outline a strategy that makes sense for your company. Then slowly add channels as appropriate. Remember another Chinese proverb: “Don’t be afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still.”

Good luck with your social media activities. It’s a very exciting space where brands can really get close to their customers and create positive interactions between the commercial and “real” world. I, for one, can’t wait to see what cool new tool or networks comes out next.

Social networks and insurance risk

Can your status update change the amount of money you pay for your home or car insurance? Not yet, but I think that’s where the industry’s going in the near future. Modern technologies and resulting behaviours are impacting your risk profile so don’t be surprised if you’ll have to provide your Twitter login when you get an insurance quote in a few years time.

Take the recent study by UK insurer Legal & General which found that burglars are finding targets by searching social media sites to see a potential target’s whereabouts. The obvious way to do this is simply by searching someone’s Twitter updates to see if they’re heading out of the house or going away on holidays. A bit more Googling later and you can pretty much find all the other information you need to locate that person’s house and break in while they’re away. In other cases, the user doesn’t even need to say they’re leaving the house if they have GPS enabled on Twitter. Twitter will then automatically update your exact location with every Tweet you send from your phone. If you’re making it easy for a burglar to track your whereabouts, why should you not get penalized for that with a higher home insurance premium?

In the case of car insurance, the GPS locator as well as text of one’s Tweets could impact not only your risk evaluation but your claims process. For example, SMS-ing or using your phone is illegal in many places. If there is evidence of someone sending a Tweet (which, remember, is location stamped) while they’re supposed to be driving, then should this person not be punished with a higher premium? A recent study found that texting while driving increases crash risk 23-fold. I’m sure the same applies to posting on Twitter or Facebook while driving.

How about if someone gets into an accident and tweets something like “I just crashed into another car. Crap.” and then try to tell their insurer the accident was not their fault, should their Tweet not be used against them?

Health or life insurance premiums can also be affected by our online behaviour. Many people are using online help and support programs to lose weight or quit smoking. Both factors are quite important in health and life insurance. There’s an opportunity for health and life insurance companies to monitor their customers’ health by partnering with those websites. They could reduce premiums if they see their customers meeting their weight loss goals, for example.

Or what about pet insurance? Why not partner with major online pet pharmacies to track whether owners are filling their pets’ heartworm prescriptions regularly, or buying healthy dog food.

Travel insurers could match their premiums to the airline safety record that the passenger is taking, the crime rate of the area where their hotel is located and even the baggage replacement policy of the airline. The “safer” your trip, the less you would pay.

As we become more sophisticated in profiling customer (and user) behaviour, I think it would be very smart of insurance companies to take more than just the traditional, broad characteristics into the mix when underwriting and pricing a risk. Does it not matter more HOW someone drives versus WHAT they drive when evaluating their likelihood of getting into a car crash? I think it makes common sense. With the applications of new media, social networks and the resulting customer behaviour, I think there’s a lot of opportunities for insurance companies to be a bit innovative and create new products and be more profitable by being better at writing risks, and for consumers to pay a fair price for the insurance they specifically need.

UK teens and media consumption

I came across this article via a friend’s post on Twitter. (Apparently, that makes me old. Oh, well. I did turn 30-1 the other day…) It’s a really interesting summary on how teenagers (at least geeky ones in UK who have access to all sorts of modern technology) consume media. It was written by Matthew Robson, a 15-year-old kid on work experience at Morgan Stanley and is getting huge publicity around the world.

The following is an excerpt of Matt’s conclusions as described in one article published about his original paper. I’ve added my two cents in italics after a few of these…


Radio With online sites streaming music for free they do not bother, as services such as do this advert free and users can choose the songs they want instead of listening to what the radio presenter/DJ chooses. I don’t think this is a sign that the next generation of adults won’t consume traditional radio. I think that this behaviour changes when you start driving. Through tapes, CDs and now MP3s we’ve had the power to make our own soundtrack in our cars for decades, yet most people still prefer to listen to the radio while driving.

Newspapers No teenager that I know of regularly reads a newspaper, as most do not have the time and cannot be bothered to read pages and pages of text while they could watch the news summarised on the internet or on TV. This one, along with rumours that books are going to fade away, scares me a bit. I think there’s something so special about picking up a newspaper on Saturday morning, sitting at the local coffee shop and going through the whole weekend paper cover to cover. You can touch it and smell it and use it as an umbrella in case of a freak rain shower. What’s not to love? I hope newspapers and books stick around.

Internet Facebook is the most common, with nearly everyone with an internet connection registered. On the other hand, teenagers do not use Twitter. The other argument Matt used was that it’s too expensive to send a Tweet vs. sending a text message.

Music They are very reluctant to pay for it (most having never bought a CD) Teenagers from higher income families use iPods and those from lower income families use mobile phones.

Directories Real directories contain listings for builders and florists, which are services teenagers do not require. They can get the information free on the internet. Seriously, if you read this blog and you use a directory then you must post a comment here. I struggle to understand who would use them outside of people who live in remote areas and have no other alternatives for finding information.

Viral/Outdoor Marketing β€œMost teenagers enjoy and support viral marketing… Teenagers see adverts on websites (pop-ups, banner ads) as extremely annoying and pointless…they are portrayed in such a negative light that no one follows them.”

Cinema Teenagers visit the cinema more often when they are in the lower end of teendom but as they approach 15 they go to the cinema a lot less. This is because of the pricing; at 15 they have to pay the adult price. Also it is possible to buy a pirated DVD of the film at the time of release, and these cost much less than a cinema ticket.

Mobile phones The general view is that Sony Ericsson phones are superior, because of their long list of features, built-in Walkman capacity and value. He also mentions that boys don’t talk to each other using phones but rather via the internet while gaming.

There you have it. The secret media life of teenagers.