Social media has been a blessing and a curse for keeping track of contacts. On the one hand, we can know so much more about everyone we meet because it’s all shared all over the place: a little update about the job on LinkedIn, a picture of our weekend trip on Facebook, a quick question on Twitter, and so on.

On the other hand, our contacts and connections are spread willy-nilly. It’s as if someone came into our 1950s offices and spread parts and pieces of our Rolodex over three different desks on two floors of the office. Individuals and their content are spread about over several networks.

Social media has been a blessing and a curse for keeping track of contacts. On the one hand, we can know so much more about everyone we meet because it’s all shared all over the place: a little update about the job on LinkedIn, a picture of our weekend trip on Facebook, a quick question on Twitter, and so on.

On the other hand, our contacts and connections are spread willy-nilly. It’s as if someone came into our 1950s offices and spread parts and pieces of our Rolodex over three different desks on two floors of the office. Individuals and their content are spread about over several networks.

Enter Gist, a software tool made in Seattle. Currently in beta, Gist is part of a movement under way among makers of customer relationship management (CRM) tools to incorporate all of that social stuff into useful platforms.

The general idea goes like this: You’re already using Facebook and LinkedIn and your e-mail account to manage customer relationships — why not try to put some order into it? This is going to happen in a few phases:

  • Everyone enters in all sorts of data into a variety of social network sites (this is what we’re doing right now).
  • A socially aware CRM tool is able to aggregate and observe all of that social data and maybe allow for some rudimentary filtering (example: "Let me know whenever someone in any of my networks says ‘condo’ on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or their blog").
  • A socially capable CRM tool allows for applying business rules to all of that social data (example: "Identify someone as a prospect in my system when they’ve discussed housing topics, are well connected in my network and have had some sort of social network exchange with me").

Gist is sort of like the second step of this progression. You give it access to your Facebook, LinkedIn, e-mail, Twitter and anything else you can manually enter or upload as a CSV file. Then Gist consolidates all of those leads, creates a list of all the people in your network, and hunts down their social media content streams.

From that point on you can get a custom display of social media published by any of your contacts at any time. You also get a dashboard view of all the content created by all of your contacts. And you can share any of that content from one network to another. See something interesting from one of your Twitter contacts that would be useful for Facebook? Pass it along. See something from a vendor that would interest your work colleague? Push it via e-mail. …CONTINUED

The viewing and sharing of social media content is social-network agnostic. Instead of being focused on the social network you’re logged into, you’re focused on your contact. This is good.

Gist will also look at your contact patterns with everyone in your Gist database and make an assumption about their relative importance on a scale of one to 100. You can fine-tune this importance setting, which is useful to prevent the tool from getting bogged down with all of the people who you follow on Twitter.

So what can you do if you have access to all of the social content being put out by your connections? Here are a few ideas:

  • Engage your important connections regularly via the networks they like to use.
  • Share good content from one network to another.
  • Before a meeting with someone, review their social content to find out what’s on their mind.
  • Search the social content of all of your connections and see if anyone is talking about topics you can help with (or want to know more about).
  • Consolidate all of your social media connections, clean the data, and then export it to your own system.

Gist is, as noted, in beta. So some things could use a bit more polishing. For example, if you have a lot of contacts, going through and fine-tuning the importance setting is a hassle (though if you give Gist a good data source like your e-mail connections it’s pretty good at setting the Importance on its own).

But at first glance it moves a long way toward making social-media-connection management something that can be done quickly and efficiently.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors.

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