Thank You Authors

A wooden chair sits atop a stack of booksJust got an unexpected free hour & a half to myself and I haven’t had time to write here in a while; so now, what to write about?

I’m too far out in the back yard for my wireless connection to pull up all those myriad articles I’ve been saving to Evernote for just this moment of inspirational need.

So, I’ll go with something off the usual topic of social media. Nothing about the latest platform or new updates to the old ones. No content marketing, just commentary on content – the content of books to be precise.

You see this past week I had the chance to fly to San Francisco for a work event. (The results of which you can read here and here.) Even though many flights now come equipped with wi-fi and plenty of opportunity to keep working through the business day, when I fly I prefer to pretend I’m completely disconnected and use that time to read.

Occasionally, I’ll read something that might be career related, but most often I enjoy the opportunity to escape into a bit of fiction. This time, I’d forgotten my Kindle, so I went really old school. I picked up a paperback copy of “The Kite Runner” in the airport bookstore. I think everyone else probably read it 10 years ago, so you don’t really need my review, but I will say that it left a deep impression.

I’ve found myself referencing it several times since I’ve been back home. I’ve censored it a bit, especially when talking with my daughter, but I didn’t spare all the details of the tough times depicted in it. I’d like her to also benefit from the insight it gave to life in a country very different from ours.

But, I know my description of it to her will never take her there as vividly as reading the book would. And that is the amazing power of a well-written story. I admire those who can write such realistic pictures into my mind and bring out so much emotion through written words. (I was at a very sad point of the story when my plane was landing in SFO and I’m sure those around me wondered why I was so verklempt.)

I use the same basic words to communicate here, but my copy is more informational, less inspirational. Next week at the dinner table, no one is likely going to say “Oh, that reminds me of this blog post Laura Thomas wrote.” And I don’t say that to be self-depreciating. I just know that this short-form expository style of writing doesn’t have the same lasting impact long-form stories do.

I’m so happy that my daughter enjoys reading. I’ve learned so much from reading – and not just textbook type stuff. I know I’ve learned just as much, if not maybe even more, from fiction. Judy Blume taught me more about adolescence than my parents ever did. That high school phase of historical romance novels did include the historical element. Anne Rice’s vampires traveled through time and across continents that I’ve never stepped foot on, but I feel like I have.

And, this last book gave me new insight into a country I’ve heard about for years on the evening news. I now know a different side of Afghanistan. I learned more about the history and customs that shaped its people, and more importantly, I have a better understanding of them as fellow human beings trying to grow up and raise families of their own.

Sure it was fiction, but all good fiction has a basis in reality.

So, I guess this post is just a great big wet kiss to all the authors out there who work so hard to bring characters and locations to life for us. I know writing isn’t easy. It’s hard enough just to do the little bit I do here simply for the sake of exercising.

Thanks to a good book, I not only went to California last week, I also went to Afghanistan and made a side trip to Pakistan. Without great authors, I wouldn’t have been to nearly as many places as I’ve traveled through words and I do indeed thank them all for that.

Image via Creative Commons by cogdogblog.

Hashtags: Out at Pinterest, (Likely) In at Facebook

Geek Flashing Hashtag HandsignYou see them in tweets, you see them in print ads, you see them in television commercials. Last month, desperately-trying-to-stay-relevant Disney star Demi Lovato released a music video chock full of them.

I’m talking about the humble hashtag that started life as a simple tweet asking “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?” according to “The Short and Illustrious History of Twitter #Hashtags,” in GigaOm.

A user-led invention from the pre-search days of Twitter, what hashtags do is create a way to find information based on keywords or topics. They’re especially useful for events, even if sometimes confusing (should I be using #sxsw or #sxswi or the session-specific tag?).

And they’re not just for Twitter. That same hashtag works the same way on Tumblr, Instagram or Google+. But, that sort of cross-platform functionality seems to have recently taken one step forward and one step back.

Most of the attention paid to Pinterest’s recent redesign has been on the visual elements, but along with those they removed the functionality of hashtags. While touting “More Ways to Discover What You Love,” Pinterest actually took away the most egalitarian of ways to do that. The Verge feels that with this sort of backend change — and a much-anticipated API — it could set the stage for big changes in the months to come. The changes noted here certainly seem to indicate Pinterest is trying to take more control:

Features lost in the most recent Pinterest redesign

On the other side of the issue, the Wall Street Journal noted that Facebook was working on incorporating the hashtag into their platform, although, “the feature isn’t likely to be introduced imminently.” Presumably, doing so would allow Facebook users to filter updates around a topic of theme – if Facebook really does adopt the hashtag. They’re not officially commenting on it.

A Los Angeles Times headline proclaimed the very “idea of Facebook adding hashtags incites uproar,” based on a few users they interviewed that didn’t want Facebook to be more Twitter-like. Ironically enough, these users evidently took to Twitter to express their unhappiness.

Hashtags on Facebook have the potential to be useful to community managers who could gain another outlet for organic visibility for their page updates. And, ClickZ reports that “Marketers [are] Eager for Facebook Hashtags,” because, as one commented: “Visibility is the name of the game on social media and hashtags are going to increase that.”

But, a New York Times social media editor says in a Neiman Lab post that hashtags don’t attract an audience and are aesthetically damaging:

“I’ve heard before: What’s the harm? Why not at least try to include #SuperBowl if every little bit helps? Somewhat of a fair point. Using a hashtag does no harm in the same way wood paneling does no harm to your station wagon, or a misspelled tattoo does no harm to your bicep.”

I guess I fall in with the “what can it hurt” crowd. I love the grassroots origin of the hashtag as something users themselves wanted and didn’t wait for platforms to create for us. I think that more cross-platform usage of it broadens its acceptance and makes it that much more of a beneficial tool for users.

What about you? Are hashtags useful for organizing and discovery of content, or are they just visual trash taking up valuable characters?

Hashtag hand sign image via Creative Commons by Kenneth McFarland

I’m the Reason Google Killed Reader

Photo of my family burial plots in Bastrop, LouisianaRecently, Google rather unceremoniously announced as one bullet point in a post titled “A second spring of cleaning,” that it was shutting down Google Reader, one of the world’s most popular RSS readers, effective July 1, 2013.

It caused much more of an uproar in my social circles than the deprecation of Search API for Shopping or retirement of Google Building Maker that were also announced in the same post.

Mashable wondered “Will Killing Google Reader Increase Global Censorship?” and called it “A Blow to News Junkies.” And, The Economist noted that “Many websites which have come to depend on the service to power their news feeds now fret that Google’s decision will cost them millions of readers—and with that lots of advertising revenue.”

Back in October 2011, when Google announced the removal of Reader’s share features, Dave Winer – one of the early developers of RSS in the 90s – said it was scary to see so much of RSS use in one app and that “Google seems to have the power to either seriously injure RSS, or perhaps set it free.” At the time, The Atlantic surmised it was part of a Google push to get people using Google+ for following, friending and sharing links.

The official reason Google has given this time for completely ending the service is “usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products.” I believe them because I must confess “I am Sparticus”-style that I have killed Google Reader.

With the launch of Twitter seven years ago, the ever-increasing growth of Facebook, the use within my employer of Chatter, and even ye olde email, the number of links to interesting news shared with me on a daily basis has made the need to search out news in an RSS reader irrelevant.

Back in the early 2000s, I was an avid RSS fan. My first favorite platform for reading feeds was Bloglines. When it went through some uncertain times being sold, closed, re-sold and re-opened, I moved over to Google Reader. Like a custom online daily newspaper, reading feeds was once was the way I’d start my day. But now I honestly can’t remember the last time I actually looked at my Google Reader.

Now that Google has announced Reader’s sunset, Winer says “I don’t doubt that people will be well-served by a newly revitalized market for RSS products, now that the dominant product, the 800-pound gorilla, is withdrawing.”

And if you still have no idea what RSS even is… here’s a little slide deck I put together almost eight years ago when I was working on the team that first brought the technology to Dell.com – before Google Reader even existed:

It’s pretty funny to me to look back at that presentation and see how it mentions that Windows Vista “will have” support for RSS, since we’re two revisions of Windows OS past that now. Much like how operating systems continue to go on without a majority of people paying attention, I agree with Winer that RSS will go on. I suspect it will just get pushed further back than it already was from the purview of mainstream users.

However, if you are a Google Reader user looking for an alternative, lifehacker, emoderation, unclutterer and many others have compiled helpful lists of other platforms for managing and reading RSS feeds. Or, you could do like me and Don Reisinger and simply let Twitter be your RSS reader.

 Geoff Livingston sees it as an impetus to “shake things up by purging, and moving toward a new direction.

I see it as just the minor footnote Google played it to be when they combined its death knell with that of several other obsolete services.

How about you?

Pope Benedict XVI Truly Part of the Silent Generation

Why would someone who is adventurous enough to leverage new communication tools like Twitter, suddenly think they’re too old for their job?

That’s what I first wondered when I heard the news that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping down citing his age as the reason.

Perhaps it was others within the organization that pressed him into the new social media world, rather than his own embrace of it, though. Maybe it even played a part in his realization that he was just not able to perform his duties in the current world.

But, then CNN reported that the pope’s Twitter account would close when he left office and I thought maybe he really was a part of what I call the Digital Generation. In my mind, this refers not to the kids growing up in today’s digital world, but the people I’ve encountered of all ages embracing new technologies. They’re the grandmothers I met in Second Life and the moms who embraced blogging and Pinterest.

At a recent Social Media Breakfast Austin meeting on “How Different Generations Use Social Media,” someone called them outliers. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book of the same name to try to explain the careers of really successful people. At its more basic sense, though, the term describes something that is outside the norm – in this case, outside of the typical behavior of a certain generation.

Sherry Lowry, who represented the Silent Generation, on that SMB Austin panel, is part of my Digital Generation. But, she’s not necessarily an outlier in my opinion. As she described it that morning, her generation rebuilt the U.S. economy after World War II and did so by working together – transparently and collaboratively.

Key aspects of social media or social business have always been transparency and collaboration.

Sherry said the lack of that in the way generations that came after hers did business will lead her generation to one day leave their wealth not to their kids, but to their grandchildren or great grandchildren. They are of generations that also embrace collaboration and transparency and have never known a world without the ability to leave comments on a company’s Facebook page, write an online review of a restaurant, or tweet directly to the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict, it turns out, was probably not part of my envisioned all-ages Digital Generation, although he was a member of the Silent Generation. It was later clarified that the @Pontifex account would not be deleted; leading me to believe that it was indeed the organization, rather than the man, that embraced it. Since his departure, Vatican has deleted the individual tweets and archived them on their website; but the account remains live, “Sede Vacante,” waiting for the next pope to fill it with Instagram pics of communion wine.

And if the humor of that doesn’t offend you, you might also be interested in this mashup from Religion News Service of March Madness and the conclave of cardinal’s voting on the new pope:

Make your picks in the Vatican’s Sweet Sistine brackets!

Basketball Tournament-Style Brackets with Names of Cardinals that Might Be Pope

Real-Time Marketing and Facebook Drama Has Given Me Social Media Fatigue

I need to start this post with an apology to Ramon Ray, and a disclaimer that my penchant for being an early adopter may have led to, actually, a late adoption of the social media fatigue Gartner saw back at the beginning of 2011.

You see, Ramon was nice enough to send me an advance copy of his new book “The Facebook Guide to Small Business Marketing” so that I could review it. I’ve been reading it off & on for the past couple of weeks and I think it’s a terrific reference for small businesses. He’s got lots of great illustrations, tips and quotes from business owners who’ve been there themselves.

But, I’ve had the hardest time finishing it and writing a true review. Luckily for Ramon, others I know, like Gene Marks and Anita Campbell, have carried the ball I dropped. My slacking is no reflection on the quality of the writing or the content. It’s just that the girl who used these slides in 2010 to make my case for launching the Dell for Business Facebook page and who still manages content on the five-year-old Social Media for Business – Powered by Dell page is disillusioned with the platform.

I’m not saying I don’t think businesses should be there. I still think it can be a valuable part of your marketing mix. It’s just that after the EdgeRank algorithm change that reduced post reach, brought cries of extortion and even prompted Mark Cuban to tweet that he’d be moving his business to tumblr or MySpace back in September, was… followed up by adamant declarations that the launch of Promoted Posts had no impact on the news feed reach of the average Page and that poor reach was simply the fault of Page owners putting out poor content, Facebook now… makes a much less-hyped admission that a bug in Page Insights actually was responsible for a real change in reach, well… they’ve just lost credibility with me.

Like Cuban clarifying his statements, I’m not saying pull out of Facebook completely. I’m just saying it wouldn’t be top of my list of budget items. I have no trust that an investment in content creation and engagement will really show a return equal to the creative and human resources that takes. For a small, local business with a much closer customer base, there might still be opportunity and for them I would definitely recommend Ramon’s book. But, does it still make sense for large brands to invest in building up a fan base only to have to continue paying for sponsored posts to reach them post-acquisition?

Maybe that’s why Twitter is the new darling for them and the real-time marketing movement that leads me to my next jaded commentary.

As usually is the case, when something good happens, everyone wants to duplicate it. When your sports team wins a championship, you want them to keep winning. When I got FastCompany coverage for a lesser-known unit of my employer’s organization, managers of other teams immediately wanted me to do the same for them. When OREOS reached millions beyond their initial Twitter followers with funny images during the Super Bowl blackout, every other big brand wanted to do the same at the next big event.

And this brings us to the Academy Awards ceremony.

Tweet from @Owyang about Oscar Real Time Marketing

There were a lot of companies trying really hard to re-create a magic moment and a lot of marketing/advertising people debating the tactic in the same real-time it was being leveraged. AdWeek called it a “fingernails-on-the-chalkboard crescendo.” I mostly tuned it out.

Between my husband’s complaints about me watching the Super Bowl with Twitter rather than with him when he was in the room with me, and the excessive snarkiness in tweets about what people were wearing or saying (yes, I know we all do it, but some seemed really bad – although not all as bad as The Onion), I mostly kept my Twitter-addicted hands off my smartphone during the ceremony.

In his post titled “The Content Crash,” Mitch Joel asked what I think is a very prescient question: At what point do consumers push back, unfriend, unfollow, unplus and whatever else? Surely I’m not alone in feeling like I don’t really want to get tweets from the snacks I’m eating while watching an event.

Maybe I’m just part of the “Angry Mob Fun Run” pictured on this post about “Why the Content Marketing Backlash is Getting it Wrong.” The whole concept of – or maybe the hype of the concept of – content marketing just makes me tired. I have to wonder, then, if it’s true disenchantment or just temporary burnout that can be cured by a good vacation.

Well, I’ll be testing that out soon as I am getting ready to leave Austin at the exact time each spring when everyone else it seems comes to town. For the first time since 2007, I will not be attending SXSW Interactive. I will instead be trading the crowded panels and parties for long Spring Break lines at Disney World.

In the past, SXSW was actually the place to learn about those new technologies I crave, meet interesting people doing creative, crazy things and get inspired to apply the tech and the ideas to my work. But, I didn’t leave with that feeling last year, so I’m not terribly sad to miss it this year. And, there are only so many years left when my girl will actually be asking to take a family vacation.

So, SXSW will go on without me and we’ll just have to wait and see if that means I miss that next big thing that will take me from jaded to fresh, energized and enthusiastic.

LinkedIn’s Female Executives Beating Facebook

I’m not sayin’… but, I’m just sayin’…

Quick post to share two interesting articles that crossed my path today. First was one in Inc Magazine with the eye-catching headline “How LinkedIn Is Beating Facebook.” Primarily, this statement was based on looking at the two companies’ year to year growth.

Chart - Source: Facebook's 2012 10K, LinkedIn 4Q12 Press ReleaseSource: Inc.com, Facebook’s 2012 10K, LinkedIn 4Q12 Press Release

Why is LinkedIn doing so well? According to the column’s author, “… it comes down to business fundamentals. LinkedIn has a better business model, is less vulnerable to competition, and has better (i.e. smarter and more mature) management.”

But, could there be more to it?

Another story today from Forbes notes “LinkedIn Boasts Highest Ratio of Female Executives in Silicon Valley,” with the addition of their fourth female executive team member.

“It has often been said that ‘we cannot be what we cannot see.’ Today, LinkedIn shows us that even traditionally male-dominated tech companies can change the ratio at the highest level,” wrote contributor Leslie Bradshaw.

Jack Zengerand and Joseph Folkman drew a lot of attention on the Harvard Business Review blog last year when they asked “Are Women Better Leaders than Men?” Their study indicated women are rated higher in 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership. And later in the year, a Dow Jones VentureSource study suggested venture-backed companies with more females on their executive teams are more likely to be successful than companies with less female executive representation.

Girl power! 🙂

It makes me very optimistic for the success of my own employer since Dell made its debut among the Top 50 Companies for Executive Women by the National Association for Female Executives, which recognizes U.S. companies for commitment to female leadership!

Oh the Drama That is Girl Scout Cookie Time

National Girl Scout Cookie Day - February 8, 2012I don’t know why I’m feeling compelled today to defend something that I’m not unhappy to hear my daughter doesn’t want to do next year, but here I am about to do it.

A blog post came across my radar today about a Girl Scout, who after participating in a tweetchat to promote a website she’d created to raise funds to donate cookies to U.S. military troops, was told she couldn’t collect those donations through PayPal.

Using language like “@GirlScouts Crush [my emphasis] a Girl’s Social Good” and describing the Girl Scouts has having “utter ignorance to social media,” the post weaves a tale of overinvolved parents, jealousy, double-standards and backstabbing that could fit easily into a TV drama series.

Now, as I stated in my own comment on that post – one of more than 80 comments so far – I’m not going to say the whole Girl Scout cookie sales process is perfect. I’ve joked to friends that the mafia could probably learn a thing or two from Girl Scouts when it comes to controlling territory as tightly as booth locations and staffing are managed. And, there’s been drama aplenty in our own little troop when parents take it too much upon themselves to help their daughters succeed.

But, I feel compelled to come to the organization’s defense regarding their knowledge of social media. And, to point out that there are two different issues at play in this situation: online payments and competitive parents.  The first might be changing for the better and the second appears to be changing for the worse.

According to a Seattle Times story, while there have always been hard-to-please parents, some experts say parental micromanagement has gone mainstream: “Overinvolved parents and overscheduled children are the recommended ways to raise children these days,” said Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, co-author of ‘The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap.’ “And it’s really not to anyone’s good.”

“Some parents have a terrible fear that they won’t turn out to be good parents so they overcompensate by trying too hard. Some might be filling their own need to be as perfect in parenting as they are in other areas of their lives. These parents often find themselves competing with other parents out of a fear that their children will be less advanced than their peers, or even left behind, socially or academically,” said Dr. Alexandra Barzvi, Clinical Director of the Anxiety and Mood Disorders Institute at the NYU Child Study Center.

This type of competition can drive parents to get into fist fights at sporting events or to go overboard trying to make sure their daughter is the top cookie seller. This type of behavior is actively discouraged by the Girl Scout organization, though. When I witnessed it first-hand, I didn’t blame the Scouts, I blamed the parent.

Now the other issue involved in the story of the girl who couldn’t use PayPal is leveraging social media and new technologies. The blog author said “I for one will not support an organization that sells a product using methods that are so clearly out of date that it is in no way preparing their children members for the realities of the world today.”

I believe this statement itself is not made with a full picture of what Girl Scouts is doing to leverage technology, and more specifically, social media. You can find the Girl Scouts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Flickr and their own blog. Just today my local Council sent out a link through Facebook to new cover photo images that moms like me could add to their Facebook profiles to let our friends know we can connect them to a “cookie professional.”

Yes, there’s room for improvement because these were targeted primarily at moms while there are cookie dads out there, too; but, maybe some involved dads will point this out to them and they’ll add more. People may wonder if that conflicts with discouraging parents from selling and whether that illustrates that they aren’t encouraging the girls themselves to use social media. Well… if they’re under 13 years of age they’re not supposed to have a Facebook profile per the site’s Terms of Service. The reality is a much smaller percentage of girls stay in Girl Scouts as teenagers. And, there is one image that they could use because it doesn’t mention being a mom.

But, back to the blogger’s contention that Girl Scouts methods of selling are out-of-date because they don’t allow for individual girls to set up PayPal accounts to accept funds. While online payments are not currently allowed (and we’re all told this up front), Girl Scouts are now making credit card transactions possible through the use of smartphone technology. Some Councils are using Sage and seeing great results, while ours has leveraged North American Bancard to provide me with a “swiper” we can use whenever someone doesn’t have cash, or just prefers the convenience.

I don’t have all the inside information into why online payments aren’t currently allowed, but I can think of a couple of things to be considered before the organization goes there.

One is the fact that approximately 70 percent of cookie proceeds stay in the local Girl Scout council and with individual troops to provide a portion of the resources needed to support Girl Scouting in that area. The balance goes to the baker to pay for the cookies. Girl Scout councils do not provide any portion of their cookie revenue to Girl Scouts of the USA. While, yes, my daughter can sell cookies to my family in another state, if she were to open an online shop, it takes the out-of-region selling to a whole new level.

Another consideration is the girls’ own safety. Girl Scouts going online and potentially giving out personally identifying information such as full names, location, school name, troop number, etc., goes against the basics of online safety for kids. Something awareness of was trying to be increased by yesterday’s Safer Internet Day.

I sure hope the 11-year-old participating in that tweetchat had read Girl Scouts Tips for Girls for Social Media before going online, and perhaps had taken their Online Etiquette quiz, and signed the Girl Scout Internet Safety Pledge. And, hopefully her parents read Girl Scouts Tips for Parents for Social Media before letting her open a Twitter account – something that is also against Twitter’s Terms of Service.

And, if you want any more proof that Girl Scouts embrace social media and other modern marketing methods, just see what The New York Times’ Diner’s Journal shared about National Cookie Day activity in The Big Apple.

So, while one blog writer and a few of his commenters will be boycotting Girl Scouts and their cookie selling, I hope others will not follow suit. Not because my daughter wants to win an iPad for selling 1,000 cookies, or whatever; but, rather so she will continue to build her business skills and her troop will be able to enjoy an educational – and, yes, fun – overnight camp-out at Sea World.

Please download the Official Girl Scout Cookie Finder app (iOS or Android) and support your local “cookie professional’ this Friday on National Girl Scout Cookie Day and every other day!

Was the Super Bowl a Twitter Win or a Facebook Loss?

FootballI got a lot of retweets this morning when I tweeted a link to a Marketing Land article titled “Game Over: Twitter Mentioned in 50% Of Super Bowl Commercials, Facebook Only 8%, Google+ Shut Out.” The fact that these statistics are so different from last year’s, when Twitter and Facebook both tied with only eight mentions is, I think, why it grabbed so many people’s attention.

With 24.1 million tweets about the game and halftime show, and probably at least as many if not more about the advertisements, it’s easy to say Twitter won the game.

Then there’s also the fact that brand usage of Twitter beyond putting hashtags into commercials is getting a lot of attention. Like the way names such as OREO and Tide quickly moved to capitalize on the loss of power in the Superdome by tweeting witty commentary and images that joined the thousands of other jokes being made at the time. Or the fact that it only took four minutes into the blackout for names like Bud Light and Speed Stick to bid on ads for search terms such as “power outage.”

What it got me to wondering, though, is could the brand love for Twitter be a backlash to the EdgeRank changes at Facebook? As much as Facebook has denied holding page owner’s updates ransom for ad dollars, the fact remains that pages are still not reaching as many fans as they used to reach. I see this first-hand on the Social Media for Business page I manage where the reach to our 55,000+ fans certainly fluctuates, but with much lower lows and lower highs than it did back in September 2012. And I hear about it from small business owners like the one who recently reached out to me for advice because she noticed her status updates weren’t getting to her followers and she wondered what she might be doing wrong.

She isn’t doing anything wrong. She’s doing many things right. And while I can give her advice such as encouraging users to request notifications from her page, or giving more calls to action, the even the stock market analysts at Seeking Alpha were calling out what’s happening as recently as January 23:

“…revenues grew on the back of Facebook page owners having to pay twice to show their fans page content. After Facebook altered their algorithm for Fan page posts appearing in users’ news feeds, back in the last quarter of 2012, fan page administrators could not reach all of their acquired users with just a simple post. In order to reach their existing fans, brands had to pay for promoted posts in order to see more ‘viral’ reach. This also gave Facebook a boost in revenues.”

And this, I think, is one of the reasons Twitter won the Super Bowl. I think Facebook page owners from small mom & pop stores to large corporations are getting frustrated with Facebook’s still-mysterious-after-all-those-explanations algorithm for reaching the people who have obviously indicated they want their information by “liking” their page. Twitter feels so much more unfiltered.

Add to that the speed and agility of the platform – five minutes after the lights went out, the @superbowllights parody account was already up and tweeting – and Twitter becomes the place to be for events.

Image via Creative Commons courtesy Rosh Sillars.

Two to Tango: HowToPitch.me and Pitching Notes Want to Match Them

Dancers doing the tango in ArgentinaThe dance between public relations professionals and journalists has always been a bit of a tango – the two are linked in a close embrace, share a common axis and it can be rather volatile.

Recently two new services crossed my radar that attempt to help fill the dance cards of each of these groups with partners matched to their appropriate skills.

First was Pitching Notes, a U.S.-based, free service where members can share their reporter experiences with other PR professionals. Reporters are also encouraged to join so they can tell members how they prefer to be pitched, and what will most likely get a response from them.

In an Orlando Sentinel story last month, co-founder Jeannie Clary said it can be a challenge to convince public relations pros it’s ok to give negative feedback about a reporter, as well as the positive.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Clary said. “We sometimes have a fear of upsetting reporters in the industry with a bad review. But including those types of comments, without insulting anyone, helps keep reviews honest and everyone accountable.”

At the time that article was published, Clary’s team was still trying looking for ways to actually make money from the site. According to an email to members last week, however, they’ve begun experimenting with special levels of membership to address this.

Pitching Notes has created two classes of membership: “General” and “Club.” Only Club members will be able to access the pitching notes and reviews for each media professional. In addition to creating revenue, they hope that the change will help spark the growth of the database – limiting who has access and encouraging more people to submit notes, including those potentially negative ones.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, HowToPitch.me has launched with a very similar goal. Billing itself as a personal space for journalists and bloggers to state what they’re interested in and what they aren’t.

The creator of HowToPitch.me, Nicholas Holmes, told Journalism.co.uk:

“So much ink has been spilled on PR spam and how to stop it. Part of the problem is that access to journalists is still a bit of a walled garden. You have to pay for media databases – and I don’t see why that should be the case.”

A freelance travel writer himself, Holmes’ own profile provides a peek into the type of content he’s hoping more journos will provide.

Screenshot of HowToPitch.me Profile

I wish both services all the best because their shared goals can only help improve the dance.

Tango image via Creative Commons courtesy Bernardo Lopez

Israel and Palestine Bring Evolution, not Revolution, to Propaganda with Social Media

As the roar of the shells has died down, so too has all the talk of social media’s role in the most recent Israel-Palestine conflict. A WIRED UK headline earlier this month exclaimed Israel “loses social media war to Hamas,” but that’s about all I’ve seen on the topic since the new year started.

I actually began writing this post back in November, and my original headline was “Everything Old is New Again.”  Not because the conflict between these two is ancient – it is – but, because the use of propaganda is also ancient. Leveraging the new tools of social media is simply keeping up with the times, rather than revolutionizing the process.

Just how old is propaganda? Well, you could say it’s as old as the existence of stone monuments that described kings and even a female Pharaoh.

According to the Oxford Reference, the word propaganda is derived from the Vatican’s establishment of the Sacre Congregatio de Propaganda Fide in 1622. “Before 1914, propaganda was usually associated with religion and the implanting of ideas to be cultivated in support of existing beliefs and ‘faith’. Its wartime applications, in the Napoleonic or the American independence wars, were confined largely to calls to arms, lampooning the enemy, glorifying victory, and sustaining morale,” it notes.

Cover of the book Comic Art Propaganda  - by Fredrik Strömberg Munitions of the Mind traces propaganda back to even earlier times of warfare. From those stone monuments I mentioned to paintings, print, radio, television and computers, the scholarly book points out that “throughout history, propaganda has had access to ever more complex and versatile media.”

And, that’s all that happened when the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and Hamas’ Ezzedeen Al Qassam Brigades took to Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr and just about every other major social network to make their case to the world for why their side was right. Propaganda simply moved to the media of the current times.

Tweet of Hamas Comic ImageToday’s infographics are simply an electronic version of yesterday’s comics, rather than the “disconnect between that messaging and the bombing taking place in real life” that Alex Kantrowitz talked about in his Forbes piece that called the use of social media both “groundbreaking” and “bizarre.”

Spanish Civil Ware Propaganda FlyerAre hashtags really that much more radical than small leaflets in packets of cigarette paper sent by rocket over enemy lines during the Spanish Civil War in late 1938? Sure, the potential audience is larger, but then we get into the whole debate about broadcast messages versus targeted messages and which has the greater response rate or drives actual action and change.

What is new in this evolution of propaganda is the ability to know who the individual is behind it. It’s possible that the stone carvers, painters and comic artists creating monuments, murals and booklets were known by a small circle for their work, but it was much easier (and probably safer) to hide that involvement from most.

In today’s connected environment, the creator can become equally as known as what they create.

One Jewish publication, Tablet, highlighted “The ‘Kids’ Behind IDF’s Media” opening the curtain on what had to happen behind the scenes to convince military leadership that social media was indeed a powerful tool to be leveraged. It sounds very similar to the challenge anyone in a large corporation faces when seeking budget for new initiatives.

But, there is also the less-flattering side of being responsible for an organization’s presence in social media. Many have lost face, or even lost jobs, for their snafus. Military propagandists are not immune.

A photo posted by one member of the IDF new media team in September came back to haunt him months later as the military conflict and the social media propaganda heated up. An image of him at the Dead Sea’s mud baths with a controversial caption led to accusations of racism and led him to restrict public access to his Facebook profile.

It’s a good reminder to everyone, whether you work in social media communications or not, to not only check your privacy settings, but also always remember that anything you say or are photographed doing can and will be used against you.

“Its results may be beneficial or harmful. It can cause victory or death, and today it is a potent and highly influential instrument for the deliberate and purposeful leadership of peoples,“ a U.S. Navy publication said of the subject of its title: “Propaganda.”

The “today” they referred to was 1958, but it might as well be 2013.