Tag Archive | "social media"

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#sorrynotsorry: How the CIA Could Think More Strategically About Their Twitter Content

This post was originally published on Huffington Post Tech. It was cited in a USA Today article, “Hey, CIA, #betterciatweets are pretty good” (7/15/2014).

The CIA launched a Twitter account about a month ago, and it has quickly attracted over 700,000 followers who re-tweet every item hundreds of times. However, the well of jokes poking fun at itself will quickly run dry, and it’s not clear what the long-term strategic communications plan is for the CIA’s social media. This isn’t a challenge confined to spy organizations or governments, but rather one for any high-profile organization wading taking social media seriously for the first time.

Here are three strategic-minded steps the CIA could take to shape its Twitter stream for the long-term, and presumably coax people to a more positive mindset about the agency:

(1) Think like a marketer and create content with the reader’s frame of reference in mind. The CIA’s global brand recognition is enormous, right up there with Nike and McDonald’s — even people in poor or remote areas of the world have heard of these organizations. Fair or not, in the case of the CIA, their opinions may not be that positive, for obvious reasons. While it’s fine to be proud of your organization, it’s a mistake to be too cavalier and assume “CIA” is a beloved brand and the audience are naive empty vessels yearning to be filled with puppies and candy. Disadvantages can be turned into advantages, however, and the CIA should consider how it can positively highlight itself from its underdog position, not unlike Avis’ classic 1960’s “We Try Harder” ads they (very successfully) ran as the number two car rental company behind Hertz.

(2) Consider how the overall CIA Twitter page content represents the brand. If you woke up this morning and visited the CIA’s Twitter account for the first time, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a new spinoff of The Onion. That’s because a lot of the recent content is a mixture of snarky/hip responses to questions using cute hashtags like #sorrynotsorry, and photos of spy planes from the 1950s to celebrate “U2 Week” (which is apparently a thing). Those kinds of tweets can be good in moderation (The tweet “No, we don’t know where Tupac is” was re-tweeted 160,000 times, well done), but this lowbrow content has been so overdone recently that the content mix of @CIA bears nearly no resemblance to current issues related to the actual Central Intelligence Agency. A simple search of Google News for “CIA” returns numerous current stories about the agency, and while great care should be taken with regard to commenting on various issues, never commenting on anything isn’t a meaningful long-term plan — most high-profile spokespeople have come to terms with this fact. I find it hard to imagine building trust with an organization whose social media channel content is almost entirely divorced from its own reality.

(3) Discuss things besides the CIA (aka you talk about yourself all the time). One of the biggest strategic mistakes organizations — particularly well-known brands — make with their content is focusing only on themselves. Unfortunately, the degree to which the audience cares about an organization’s content is one-tenth of what PR staff for the organization estimate it is (just a personal rule of thumb). People crave current news, thought leadership, entertainment, and variety in their content mix. With that in mind, the CIA could due with a bit less of the humdrum links to their homepage and less of the relatively frivolous spy plane photos and jokes and begin thinking holistically about a content plan and calendar that includes both highbrow and lowbrow material which represents the brand well and keeps things interesting, perhaps confining itself to only discussing the CIA proper 50% of the time. The remaining content might include answering select audience questions, linking to genuinely interesting third-party items like high-quality longreads or interesting interviews, and generally acting like a thought leader on global issues. It’s most likely too much to expect a level of openness whereby the CIA would link to The Intercept’s new story about U.S. government surveillance, but I see absolutely no reason why it couldn’t link to a story from Pacific Standard about the global black market for human organs, for example.

In the end, a social media channel is a representation of a brand’s public personality. Now that they seem to be be embracing social channels, the CIA has a huge opportunity to manage its reputation by creating world-class content, genuinely engaging people on issues related to their mission, and ultimately, (re)building trust.

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Twitter’s Nonsensical Onboarding Process Suggests Tech Companies Should Hire Some Professional Behaviorists

Owen Williams wrote an insightful post called “Signing up for a new Twitter account shows why the company is struggling to grow” that’s a must-read whether you’re a social media enthusiast, a digital marketer, or a tech startup investor. He breaks down the process of signing up for a new Twitter account on desktop and mobile in explicit detail, and in effect shows how ineffective or even somewhat bizarre some of the on-boarding choices are.

I won’t recap the process because Owen did such an awesome job — just read his article and check out the screenshots. But it’s clear that whatever all the employees of Twitter are doing, very few are thinking about the first experience a new user has with their brand.

Like Owen, I’ve been using Twitter since 2008. I have tweeted more than 50,000 times (!), gained over 30,000 followers, and overall I have gotten tremendous personal value from it in the form of new connections, readers, feedback, offers, new friends, and more. Twitter is unquestionably valuable if you go through the journey of reading about it, experimenting with it, optimizing it, and using it constantly. The people who gain the most from it are continuous learners with a lifehacking mentality.

Unfortunately for Twitter, it’s not just a cool “community service” for super-enthusiasts like Owen and I who want to find out where Gary Vaynerchuk is hanging out at SXSW anymore. It could have been. It could have become an open source resource. It could have become a non-profit to help the world communicate. It could have been any number of things.

But. Twitter’s leaders and investors made the decision to be a “real” company, to sell ads to major corporations and do major collaborations with entities like the World Cup and the White House, and to become a publicly-traded corporation that needs to grow and add value for shareholders. With those choices come new responsibilities, among them getting more people to join and use their platform and like it. But user growth isn’t nearly what it could be. And its greatest “innovations” like @ replies and #hashtags were invented by users, not Twitter employees.

The irony is that new accounts can actually have huge value to users very quickly if done right. For all my tweets and followers and consistency over six years, I am getting way, way less engagement on my @cheeky_geeky account than I used to in 2008 or 2009. (Around the end of 2008, I was one of the top 100 most-followed people on Twitter, and one of the top 50 most retweeted users.) Right now, I’m probably at an all time low. The community and its users have changed. The rules have changed. Now, I’m not running a business through my personal account and I’m happy with what it is. But people are finding things less, clicking through less, retweeting less.

But. But. I have another account. A semi-secret account. It’s only about one topic, a very niche topic, something I want to do more about with in the future. And what’s amazing about that account is that I follow and am followed by only people who are super-enthusiasts about this little topic and there’s a ton of engagement. I can leave and come back two weeks later with one tweet and I’ll see, say, 6 high-quality re-tweets and comments (I only have about 200 followers). These are the kind of people who would click through and read something at high rates, or participate in a Kickstarter on my niche topic, or buy something about the topic from me.

Because I’ve been using Twitter so long and work in tech and media and know a bunch about the space, I have some natural advantages when it comes up to launching a social media play on a niche topic. What Twitter needs to figure out is how to on-board a tech-naive high school kid, or a retiree, or a newly unemployed person to do the same thing.

As a person whose background is in the behavioral sciences, one thing that’s always surprised me is the lack of behaviorists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and the like at tech companies and consulting firms who claim to care about influence, user engagement, social interaction and so on. What do you think influence and social interaction and stuff is? It’s just people interacting with each other. It turns out there are lots of scientists who know a lot about that.

Sure, code is important. Designers are important. MBA’s are important. But it seems like if companies like Twitter that depend on positive user experiences, habitual use of product, and user interactions which add value want to grow and thrive, they might consider devoting more resources to actually studying the “human terrain” of people and how and why they behave the way they do.

Tangentially related: ‘A Dark Room’, the incredibly engaging, best-selling iPhone game that no one can entirely explain.

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Technology and Tragedy at the Boston Marathon

This post was originally published at Publicyte and by InTheCapital on April 16, 2013.

On 9/11, I was a grad student at UC-Irvine in California. I found out about the terrorist attacks from a professor on the elevator on the way up to my laboratory. I hadn’t watched TV that morning before heading to school. And remember, I was on the west coast, so at that time I was a couple hours behind the story. When I got to the lab, my labmate MIchelle and my advisor Tony were trying to get on CNN.com – they couldn’t. Everything was jammed. Tony and I took a monitor I was using to videotape (on VHS!) fruit fly behavior from the back room, moved it onto a table in the main lab, and rigged up an antenna made out of a metal coat hanger so we could watch the news. I think we had that monitor on NBC for about a week straight. We worked a little but mainly just stared at the TV.

I don’t even remember if I had a cell phone then. If I did, I sure don’t remember really using it. It was probably a basic Nokia model that made calls. I know it wasn’t a Blackberry or anything of the kind – I didn’t get one of those until I was living in Washington, DC years later – around 2008 or so. During 9/11, there were no apps, no social media, no mobile communications, nothing really that enabled regular people to take photos of something and share them in anything close to real time.

Yesterday, I was on a conference call around 3pm EST and I got a text from a family member in Boston. I grew up in Massachusetts and a lot of my family lives in Boston area. Turns out, two of my family members went to watch the Marathon yesterday. One of them runs marathons, and was supposed to be in the race, but for an injury about six months ago. He would have finished just a bit faster than the time on the clocks when the bombs went off, if he had been running full speed.

I stopped working after that conference call, got some junk food, and flipped between about seven different news channels. I mostly watched Fox Business and MSNBC and CNN because they seemed to have the best video and breaking news and interviewees. I heard CBS was great, too. I watched them this morning. Norah O’Donnell was in Boston near the scene, seemingly on the verge of tears for two hours. I can’t blame her.

I didn’t have my Twitter feed on 9/11, and neither did anyone else. I didn’t have Facebook either (it didn’t exist yet; Zuckerberg was in middle school or so), nor anything else that we today call social media. But yesterday I did, and I tweeted. I tweeted a lot.

Social media has gotten me a bit jaded lately, but I have to admit that I’d forgotten how many people cling to it for information about loved ones and loved things. I follow a lot of very solid people and sources on Twitter and Facebook, and combined with TV coverage, I sent about 20 tweets with heavily curated and interesting news and quotes during the afternoon and early evening. I got 200-300 retweets and comments or so. My friend Tommy asked me last night why people reach out to each other with social media during a crisis. I replied that people always reach out to each other in a crisis no matter what; it’s human nature. Social media scales human nature.

Technology played a big role in telling the story of the Boston Marathon bombing. The mainstream media, of course,broke news but also argued with itself in real time, the White House used Flickr to officially show that President Obama was meeting with homeland security advisers, and short video service Vine seems to have found purposein tragedy. My Facebook feed was nothing but Boston. Somebody set up a public Google Doc so people could offer their Boston homes to those who needed a place to stay. Boston.com used their “viral video” site to post the most horrific and accurate video I’ve seen of what happened; it’s all over TV this morning. The Reddit community is curating everything here.

The last thing I tweeted before I heard about the explosions in Boston was a link to “Photos from the MTV Music Awards photo booth.” I feel a little silly. But at least now because of innovative startup companies and new social media creations, I have the ability to look a little silly in hindsight. A decade or so ago, I couldn’t do anything but watch a rigged up TV in my lab and be quiet in my thoughts.

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5 Lessons About Social Media Engagement From the Embassy of Canada’s Inauguration Tailgate Party

This post originally appeared at the Microsoft blog Publicyte and on Huffington Post DC, January 30, 2013.

Seems like forever, but President Obama’s second inauguration was just a week or so ago. I was fortunate enough to spend most of Inauguration Day at the Embassy of Canada. If you’re not that familiar with the layout of Washington, D.C., there aren’t that many private buildings to have an inauguration party near the Capitol or White House or along the parade route. There are a few hotels, the Newseum, the Canadian Embassy, and a few residential apartment buildings. That’s it. Otherwise you’re on foot, in the cold, where there’s not a lot of food and drink to be had.

In true Canadian style, the embassy threw a tailgate party for about 1,000 guests. It was terrific fun. But they didn’t just engage their audience at the party in the real world; they also had a small team of people engaging the attendees and people who weren’t even there in the virtual world. Here are the five secrets to their success.

Step One: Throw a remarkable event to get the right people to engage with you in the first place.

In the planning stages, it’s possible to get so wrapped up in debates about decisions like “what software will we use to display hashtagged tweets with” that not enough attention is paid to real-life aspects of an event to make the overall engagement remarkable (in the Seth Godin sense of the word). That wasn’t a problem at the Canadian Embassy tailgate party. There were friendly staff, quick check-ins, free mittens, hot coffee and cider, hot dogs and hamburgers and pastries and soup, Crown Royal and Molson and wine and soda, Mounties posing for photos, heat lamps, Blackberry giveaways, special messages from Ambassador Gary Doer, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, astronaut Chris Hadfield (the first Canadian to walk in space) videoconferencing from the International Space Station, and more. It was simply an outstanding party, the right kinds of people showed up, and wanted to stay all day.

Step Two: Create and utilize a memorable hashtag that lives beyond the initial event.

When I produce charity fashion shows for Microsoft and Bloomingdale’s, we use the hashtag #Geek2Chic. It’s short, it’s catchy, and it is not strictly tied to a certain day, location, or even event. It has a meaning beyond the Geek 2 Chic event proper. Likewise, the Embassy of Canada used the hashtag #ViewFrom501 to conjure up feelings about watching the inauguration, and especially the parade, from their building (the address of the Embassy of Canada is 501 Pennsylvania Ave., about five blocks from the Capitol and 11 from the White House). “View from 501″ is elegant, easy to remember, in the active voice, and can be used for pretty much any future event at the embassy. When somewhat forgettable embassy events in a capitol city are a dime a dozen, the Canadian Embassy is in a position to launch “View from 501 Hockey Happy Hours,” or any similar such thing and have the idea stick in people’s heads.

Step Three: Use a dedicated staff to curate and deploy social media from official and audience sources.

Staff at the Canadian Embassy left little to chance with social media, leveraging their existing Connect 2 Canada (”Canada’s network in the United States”) team to watch what people at their event were tweeting, find the best remarks and photos, and then curate that into a stream that was not only online but also on a very large screen set up at the tailgate. This didn’t surprise me — I wrote about C2C using social media for “public diplomacy” in an Oct. 2009 article for Washington Life — but it’s great to see them implementing better than ever. Attendees could watch CNN coverage with sound on one jumbotron, and simultaneously look at people’s quips and pictures on another one, adding an entire other dimension to the event. To my eye, the C2C team seemed to choose a lot of tweets with photos, which made the content more visually appealing. At one point, CNN began showing viewers’ Instagrams taken from the National Mall and tagged with #CNN next to the C2C-curated tweets. It all got very meta. Particularly on a day when phone and wi-fi connectivity was sometimes hard to come by, embassy staff using old-fashioned computers and large screens for this work was a very wise choice.

Having a decent hashtag and tweets displayed in near real-time on a screen is not unprecedented, of course. However, diplomats don’t necessarily have a reputation as adventurous technology and social media users, either. I reached out to the embassy to get a sense of what their social media strategy was at the tailgate event. Alexandra Vachon White, the Canadian Embassy’s deputy spokesperson related by email, “As the Embassy offers a unique vantage point to Inauguration festivities, we thought social media would be a great vehicle to provide access to our C2C followers on Twitter and Facebook who were not in attendance. Secondly, the screen featured at the tailgate party provided a vehicle for attendees to share their experiences in real-time. We also thought it was a great way to encourage guests to take full advantage of the activities and offerings of the event.” To briefly summarize that: Engage in-person attendees, share valuable information, and spread the story to a wider audience.

Step Four: Identify and interact with influential people engaged with the event

The tailgating party had a “main event” on the ground floor and in the expansive courtyard, and then a smaller VIP event hosted by Amb. Doer on a high floor of the embassy. Both portions had people of note walking around and enjoying themselves. Not only did the C2C team curate a lot of content from “average people,” but they also had some more specific goals in mind. It was not lost on them that numerous media reporters and editors were invited to the event. Thus, when they noticed tweets from, for example, Steve Chenevey of ABC 7, Brian Bolter of FOX 5, and Garrett Graff of Washingtonian magazine, they retweeted them, interacted with these relatively influential people, and amplified the fact that they had “VIPs” at the party to a wider audience paying attention from elsewhere.

I had drinks with public affairs officer Alexi Drucker, a longtime member of the C2C team, after the event. I asked her how they kept track of the most pertinent information in real time during what must have been a hectic day for the embassy staff. She told me, “In advance of the event, we identified Twitter handles for all confirmed partners, guests and participating media and actively followed their tweets throughout the day. The feed displayed on the screen in the courtyard was curated to showcase a diverse range of content from a variety of sources. We aimed for a healthy mix of images, Canada-U.S. trivia and guest feedback.” Most interesting to me was what must have been a lot of preparatory work prior to the event — Studying attendee and vendor lists, searching for, confirming, and saving people’s public social media accounts, using software to track social sharing, and then using that knowledge to execute a plan in real-time during a six-hour window. No doubt, the work in the week or two before the event saved a lot of time on the day off and removed some of the ambiguity and confusion that social media can contribute to.

Step Five: Promote the brands of your partners and friends in a fun way

Go figure: A lot of the food and drink at the tailgate party was Canadian in origin. But if you’re not Canadian, there’s probably a lot you don’t know about the history of various companies — perhaps how they’ve made inroads into the United States (most people at the party were American). After all, a primary goal of embassy outreach is to inform the locals about their country back home. So, we were treated to bits of info about Blackberry (Research in Motion’s CEO was apparently in attendance; I didn’t meet him), TD Bank (I think there’s a TD Bank pen in my swag bag, too), Molson (and I can neither confirm nor deny that I had two to three delicious Molson beers at the party), and Tim Horton’s, the beloved donut maker (who also provided warm coffee for attendees). This style of content + “advertising” makes both the main communications team (”stay on message”) and the sponsors (”thanks for the shoutout!”) happy, without being annoying to the audience that, let’s face it, mainly came to the event to stuff their faces with free poutine.

Cross-posted from Publicyte, a blog about technology, entrepreneurship and culture impacting the public good.

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4 Tech, Social Innovations at the RNC — And One Clever Tweet

This post was originally published by PBS MediaShift on September 4, 2012. I served as their correspondent on the ground at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL.

TAMPA, Fla. — For those who haven’t experienced it, a national political convention in America is something like a post-apocalyptic police state crossed with the Super Bowl and an Academy Awards red carpet.

Here at the site of this year’s Republican National Convention, bomb-sniffing dogs, Secret Service agents, and a tropical storm all made it hard for people to connect with each other. But social media probably made people feel more connected than ever. Twitter confirmed that more than 4 million tweets were sent during the GOP event — a one-day record for political conventions.

But we’re somewhat past the era during which merely using a social media platform is considered interesting. Whether it be Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Foursquare or any number of other platforms or apps, people are using them. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents can agree that they like social media.

Guests in Tampa were immediately greeted by a gigantic sign that boldly stated the official hashtag: #GOP2012. Times have changed since the John McCain/Sarah Palin campaign of 2008.

The convention officials themselves were using social media: conducting interviews with media via Skype, monitoring the hashtag. But this is what we have come to expect. It’s not particularly interesting.

(Note: Skype is now owned by Microsoft, my employer.)

Innovation in the shadows

Here’s what I did notice was standing out a bit at the GOP’s big event: collaborations between some unlikely bedfellows, overtly or presumably serving to show both partners in different lights. This took place in what one might call the “shadow convention,” the space outside the official proceedings with delegates and votes and state delegation breakfast meetings, where a melange of media and tech companies hold policy briefings, interact with convention VIPs, and underwrite after-hours parties. The shadow convention with its corporate stalwarts got fairly innovative in comparison to the convention proper.


Here’s a rundown of some innovations I saw:

1. CNN had a “CNN Grill” at the convention, as they typically do at large events like the conventions or SXSW. It serves as a combination working space for staff and full-service restaurant. Because you need a special pass to even get into the CNN Grill for one day, it’s a popular place to hang out. But CNN was also using social technology in the midst of all the hamburgers and beer. Deploying Skype, they created what they call Delegate Cam, and enabled people following from home to be able to talk to their delegate representative casting their vote inside the security perimeter.

2. Time partnered up with social location service and fellow New York-based company Foursquare on an interactive map that helped conventioneers find each other. I asked Time about why they thought this was an interesting experiment to deploy in Tampa. Time.com managing editor Catherine Sharick told me, “Time partnered with FourSquare for the political conventions in order to help solve a common problem: Where are people and what is happening?” Writing elsewhere, I gave it a “B” for usefulness (if I know where Time writer Mark Halpirin is, what exactly should I do with that information?), but an “A” for creativity.

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3. Mobile short video service Tout collaborated with the Wall Street Journal to launch WSJ Worldstream, an effort by more than 2,000 global reporters who post vetted real-time videos from a special Tout iPhone app. The new video channel was launched in conjunction with the RNC. Reporters posted video interviews with delegates, protesters, and so on. Some of the videos will also be incorporated within longer online written pieces.

4. Microsoft (my employer), for its part, allowed me to use Pinterest to post real-time photos of the behind-the-scenes efforts of my colleagues. That included powering the IT infrastructure of the convention, conducting cyber-security monitoring, running Skype Studios for media and VIPs to conduct HD video interviews, and live-streaming the event on Xbox Live. Interestingly, Pinterest as far as I can tell, was not a popular medium during the GOP convention. I’m not sure if that’s significant, but I couldn’t easily find many pins from the convention.

Toward the end of the convention, social media watchers knew that the Republicans had a success by the numbers — millions of tweets and countless uses of the hashtags, photos uploaded, YouTube views of individual speeches, etc. But that’s expected now. One thing that was missing? A truly creative use of social media that involved more wittiness than brute force.

One Clever Tweet

There were a couple of clever uses of social media by a prominent politician during the Republican convention. That politician just happens to be a Democrat by the name of Barack Obama.

The most popular tweet during the Republican National Convention wasn’t tweeted by a Republican. In a reference to the now-infamous Clint Eastwood “talking to an empty chair” speech, Obama’s account tweeted three simple words: “This chair’s taken.” It was retweeted more than 50,000 times and favorited more than 20,000 times. More importantly, it’s smart, it’s art, and it’s memorable.

Obama also hopped on the somewhat-edgy, somewhat-underground “front page of the Internet” Reddit to do something Redditors (as they’re dubbed) call “Ask Me Anything.” In a half-hour chat, the president took on all comers in a broad Q&A.

Heading into the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., I’m curious to see how it compares. I’ll be Pinteresting, CNN will be Skyping while they’re grilling, and the WSJ will be posting short videos. What’ll be the surprise there, if anything?

Mark Drapeau is the the director of innovative engagement for Microsoft’s public and civic sector business headquartered in D.C. He tweets @cheeky_geeky.

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The Five Features I Wish Twitter Would Give Me

This post was originally published on Huffington Post Tech on July 19, 2012. Two years later, Twitter has gone public, but I’m still waiting for most of these features.

After six years or so, Twitter hasn’t changed much.

The core user experience of Twitter was, and is, the following: Put cursor in box, type 140 characters or less, push send. It’s a brief way of expressing yourself.

Sure, there have been some innovations. But the really great stuff everyone commonly knows about was invented by users, not by the company:

  1. The origin of replies using the format @[username] came about through experimentation by users working for Yahoo in the UK during late 2006.
  2. Hashtags on Twitter were invented by Chris Messina in late 2007.
  3. URL shortening (which was necessary to stay within 140 character limits) actually predates Twitter by a few years, and got a huge boost because of it (think: TinyURL and Bit.ly).

It’s true that one can do more sophisticated things with Twitter, but for most users, this is what they use and see, whether they fill in the Twitter box on a desktop, a tablet, or a phone. You can even tweet via text messages.

This simplicity is a blessing and a curse. Typing @[username] might make sense to some people, but it’s kinda nerdy. The concept of hashtagging your comment about a TV show with metadata may or may not go completely mainstream. It works, but it’s kind of like using DOS. It was great when it came out, but the desktop platform evolved. Where’s the “Windows” evolution of my real-time information platform?

Twitter is in the process of defining themselves as a company. It seems to the outside world that they want to monetize themselves mainly through advertising, a choice that may run counter to providing the best features for users and incentives for a robust developer ecosystem. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Unlike Facebook, which seemingly launches a new feature or tweak every week or so, and Tumblr and Pinterest, which are extremely simple, visual, and user-friendly, Twitter’s changes over the years have not made me feel more powerful, reach more people, understand more information, and get more done. And I say this as a huge fan of Twitter who’s tweeted about 10 times a day consistently for the last four years or so.

I’d like some new features. They’re not even that complicated. But they are user-centric and along the lines of what a more “open” Twitter information ecosystem would look like.

As a long-time, frequent “customer” of Twitter, here are the five features I wish Twitter would give me:

1. Make 100% of my tweets, dating back to my first one regardless of when I started, easily available, searchable, and exportable in multiple formats. (This is too geeky.)

2. Give me a simple but powerful analytics tool so I can better understand things like day of week I tweet most, who retweets me the most, who my influential followers are, click through rates on my links, and so on. I would be happy to pay a monthly fee for this. (Seems like this is coming someday, but I have no idea when.)

3. Allow me to do anything I want with accounts I’m following or who follow me: mass unfollowing, sorting, exporting, and other things to understand my personal Twitter community. (It shouldn’t be this hard.)

4. Provide me with a consistent, fully functional user experience across all form factors and operating systems. It’s not uncommon for someone to use, say, a Windows 7 PC, an iPad, and a Blackberry in the same day. (The experience is currently inconsistent.)

5. I would like to see more speed and more visual options to help me look at real-time streams, follow multiple hashtags or people at once, set tweets in different layouts, and other things. (TweetGrid has been doing a lot of this for years, for free; I use it all the time.)

I have one final request.

It isn’t a feature, but in some ways it’s more important than anything I wrote above. As a regular, consistent Twitter user for years, I’d like a clear mission statement from the company, and technology that reflects it. According to their website, Twitter is:

a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting. Simply find the accounts you find most compelling and follow the conversations.

I think that’s great. Help me do it better, Twitter.

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How HBO’s ‘Girls’ Missed the Social Media Marketing Boat

This post was originally published on Huffington Post TV on May 7, 2012. It caused quite a bit of discussion amongst ‘Girls’ fans.

Despite all the hype about social media, apps, and other technologies that are changing the world around us, the media and entertainment industries are still fairly traditional.

Take HBO’s new and controversial show Girls. Yes, I watch it. I’ll leave it to others to decide if it’s “good” or “biased” or “realistic” — but I think it’s significant.

For background, the show follows four young 20-something girls as they struggle with their lives in New York City. They deal with jobs, boys, their weight, and other issues in a very frank manner.

In the show, the lead character Hannah Horvath (played by the show’s creator, Lena Dunham) tweets raw thoughts about what’s happening in her life and what she’s feeling. On screen, you can see her previous tweets — they’re intriguing. She’s baring her soul.

Those tweets appear to be confined to the 30 minutes of camera time the show gets every week. The first thing I did when I saw her “Twitter account” on the show was look up the character on Twitter. Unfortunately, she doesn’t exist.

There is a dormant Hannah Horvath account. (If HBO is smart, they control it.) There’s also a nonaffiliated Hannah account, which mainly repeats stuff from the show; most likely it’s controlled by a fan.

When there are so many young women talking about how realistically Girls depicts their lives (Emily Note has a wonderful blog about this here), what a shame that HBO and Lena Dunham — with her apparent insight into young women’s lives — didn’t take advantage of this and expand the Girls universe beyond the show and into the digital space.

Here’s what I would have done if I was planning marketing for Girls. I would have had an official Hannah Horvath account, tweeting in character. First, her tweets would appear in real time with any tweets in the show — In other words, during the show, the character would tweet about what’s happening to her. This extends the experience of watching the show live with friends. Fans could even tweet back to the character with support, criticism, or other comments.

Then, in the 10,050 minutes per week that Girls is not on television, Hannah would continue to tweet in character. Not as a marketing campaign (”Are you ready to tune into Girls tonight? Live tweet us your thoughts at @GirlsHBO!”), but as the character. Is she having a good day today? Did she have another bad job interview? What does she think of a fellow character, like her repugnant mother who cut off her financial support? Did she finish a chapter in the book she’s writing? This would extend the character beyond the actual show.

Sound weird? Not really. Star Wars, for example, has done this for years with innumerable paperback books which are all controlled and internally consistent, but which extend the universe far beyond the six films that were made. For example, someone might write an entire book about how the Millennium Falcon was constructed; another book might be about Princess Leia’s home and what she’s doing post-Return of the Jedi.

But we can take this further still. There surely are millions of 20-something girls who have questions about their lives. This includes girls who don’t even watch the show. Why can’t Hannah, in character on Twitter, have a hashtag like #BrooklynGirlProbs and reply to girls with their questions? Why couldn’t HBO build a private discussion board or social network to convene girls around the issues on the show and allow them to support each other?

Finally, in the offseason (Girls will be renewed, so there will be time between seasons one and two), the character could still be active. Everything’s controlled by the show, so nothing that shouldn’t be given away would be, but why couldn’t Lena Dunham and her team write light material which keeps you engaged in the Hannah character while you anticipate the next season? The answer is, they easily could.

This isn’t just true of Hannah of course — I’d love to see something similar with, say, Barney from How I Met Your Mother. But this really works well for Girls because of its realism; young people probably identify more with Hannah and her friends and their problems than say, Blair Waldorf and hers or Barney and his.

There are of course other ways for HBO and Lena Dunham to leverage social media to expand the Girls universe. I’m curious to know what kind of phones the characters use. If they all have iPhones for example, why couldn’t the girls have a private Path network among just the four of them (which only 146 fans can also join at any one time)? Do you realize what a FRENZY that would create? What a great contest to run through their Facebook page.

I’d also love to see a Pinterest account for each of the girls, reflecting what they’re thinking about, fantasizing about, and so forth. Maybe Allison Williams’ character is fantasizing about that sexy older artist she met, for example. Would she pin photos of him, or examples of his art, or quotes about how he makes her feel inside? I don’t know, but I have to admit I’m curious, and I’m just some 30-something guy drinking a cup of coffee and blogging in my pajamas.

Presently, there’s a gigantic gap between the cutting edge possibilities for leveraging social media for storytelling and the professionals actually in charge of telling the bulk of mainstream stories — Hollywood and the entertainment industry. It’s a conservative place. But I see great opportunity for those who want to disrupt their status quo.

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Pinterest for Politics

This post was originally published on Huffington Post Tech on February 13, 2012. I ended up getting a call from CNN and appearing on The Situation Room to discuss the topic.

If you were living in a cave during the last quarter of 2011, you may have missed out on hearing about Pinterest — the hottest new social platform to hit the tech scene in some time. Judged by leading tech blog TechCrunch as the best startup of 2011, Pinterest is smoking hot and gaining momentum. This is all the more amazing since it is still an invite-only “beta” platform, which by definition restricts its growth.

What is Pinterest? Basically, it’s a social networking platform with a highly visual “virtual pinboard” interface. Users post photos (and sometimes rarely, videos) and link to related websites on their pinboards. Users can also follow the pinboards of other people.

But Pinterest is far from universally loved. It has some quirks. One is that because by its visually-pleasing nature, it has appealed heavily to people and businesses in visual industries like fashion and industrial design. Another is that the platform is highly biased towards female users; by one estimate, up to 97% of Pinterest users are women.

Nevertheless, many people in the tech, business, marketing, and social media industries are falling head over heels to figure out how to leverage Pinterest for fun and profit. A lot of these ideas are pretty standard — integrating Pinterest content with your Facebook wall, using links to drive retail sales. But I strongly suspect that as more and more vertical industries get interested in Pinterest, we’ll see more specific tactics being used in each to some degree.

Very recently, some parts of the U.S. military have taken a liking to Pinterest. Fedscoop reported that U.S. Army, Navy and National Guard have all established official profiles at the online sharing platform.

I suspect that over time Pinterest will become increasingly popular in the public sector as people find unique (i.e., different than Twitter, Facebook, etc.) ways to apply it to public communications. Heck, the President himself (as his 2012 re-election campaign) is already using the popular iPhone app Instagram; if a new social platform has real value, adoption even by the most conservative groups is only a matter of time (whether they use it well is another topic entirely).

Speaking of the President, we’re obviously in the middle of a fiercely contested Republican primary season at the national level, to be followed by a fiercely contested battle between that eventual winner and President Obama. The U.S. will also see hundreds of Members of Congress and their challengers running for office, not to mention many governors and thousands of state and local government officials.

If you’re a campaign consultant or in a related profession (fundraising bundler, television commercial director, soulless pundit), you’re probably asking yourself: Is Pinterest relevant for my candidate?

It may very well be. Here are six ways that Pinterest might be helpful in political campaigns during the 2012 election cycle.

1. Behaving more real-time and mobile. The bar is set fairly low for the average political candidate to be perceived as hip and real-time and transparent with constituents or voters. The mere use of some cutting edge technology to make a campaign more transparent and open about communicating in semi-controlled ways could be great for the image of a candidate looking to be seen as younger/hipper/more tech savvy, etc. Plus, who knows, maybe some of that new openness and conversation will lead to some valuable feedback about what the voters think and want and need.

2. Creating issue-specific boards. When candidates speak in stump speeches, debates, or interviews, you often hear a laundry list of issues, as in, “We need to tackle the real problems, like jobs, the economy, education, the environment…” — but then it can be hard for the casual listener to find the follow up. And if there is some follow up, who wants to read a long, unemotional policy statement on the candidate’s website? Pinterest could be a more visual, emotional way to communicate about issues. Why not have a board all about, say, what the environment looks and feels like in the state you’re campaigning in?

3. Exclusive behind-the-scenes content. Whether it’s the media or the average voter, lots of people enjoy peeking at exclusive content (just witness the success of TMZ). If you’re running the campaign, you have access to all of it. Why not systematically ‘leak’ some out? If you’re a national candidate you could have a board for each state. If you’re more local, one for each city or region or neighborhood. You can publicize whatever you think is missing — behind the scenes at policy meetings, humor with staff, candidate with the family. Just like with Twitter pics, the press will eventually start running photos from Pinterest on the news when they’re worthy.

4. Reaching female voters. Some candidates might be naturally attractive (in the broad sense) to female voters; some may not. Maybe it’s looks, maybe it’s their stand on certain issues. Regardless, data from Google suggests that Pinterest is largely popular with females aged 18-34, with an income of $25-75k. Even a modest effort to use an emerging social platform with a large female user base could help; a great Pinterest board that women really engage with could potentially go a long way.

5. Fundraising. One trait that people have noticed about Pinterest is that it is referring more traffic to other websites than nearly anything else out there (except Facebook, Google, StumbleUpon, and Twitter) — really, quite a phenomenal feat. And because the links associated with Pinterest photos can be pointed anywhere, they can certainly be pointed to not only more information about an issue or about the candidate, but also to specific sites where people are asked for donations. Ideally in most cases, the Pinterest photo would be related to the pitch for the donation (i.e., a photo of an eroding California coast would point to a donation site which says, “Do you care about saving the Santa Barbara coast? Donate here to make Mark Drapeau your next Governor.”). Technically, however, the link doesn’t have to have anything to do with the original photo, if that’s useful (i.e., a pinned photo of Mitt Romney leads to a donation site for Newt Gingrich.)

6. Identity control. Even if the previous five ideas didn’t whet your whistle, there is the issue of identity control. Early on with Twitter, famous people would be impersonated and lead to a lot of confusion. In other cases, there may be, say, two Steve Hendersons who each have claim to a particular name, and one ended up being @SteveHenderson and the other @RealSteveHenderson or something. Now that Pinterest has 10 million users and quickly growing, the same is true. There is already a phony Mitt Romney account, and Newsweek is running a Rick Santorum “sweater vest” Pinterest board. If nothing else, lock down your candidate’s name and likeness so no one else gets it, and in case it becomes useful in the future.

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Social Networks for Scientists Won’t Work

This post was originally published on Huffington Post Science on February 8, 2012.

A “Facebook for Scientists”? It may sound silly, or redundant, but it’s becoming more of a reality. Maybe.

A new startup based in Germany named ResearchGate has already convinced roughly 1.4 million researchers to become members and begin sharing. On it, you can search your email accounts to find people you know, read PDF documents of research papers, and chat with others about why a particular lab technique isn’t working for you. Reportedly, the service is appealing to young researchers in their 20’s.

None of this is particularly original. There have long been scientists on Facebook and LinkedIn and connecting via other websites like Scienceblogs. There have long been stores of PDF documents online, and searchable databases of them (particularly if you work at a university). There have long been job boards where you might find your next gig. And there have long been discussion boards or similar places where you could ask questions about lab techniques or which conference to attend this year.

The Economist writes about ResearchGate as if it’s the only social network for scientists out there, but that’s far from the case. Others have come before, and some are already gone. One that sounds somewhat similar was called Labmeeting; here, it’s highlighted in a June 2008 post in TechCrunch, with a vast vision (co-founder Mark Kaganovich: “What we are trying to do is change the way information in biomedical research and the medical community is distributed and retrieved.”) and a $500,000 seed round of funding from Peter Thiel and others. But Labmeeting.com no longer directs anywhere, and Crunchbase lists the fledgling company as in the “deadpool” as of 1/1/11.

It’s not really clear what ResearchGate is doing that’s fundamentally different than Labmeeting.

But the ecosystem seems even worse, because many others have tried and failed, or tried and not necessarily caught on, or tried and are much more like “science publication management software” than a social network where people openly share. They have names like Academia.edu, Laboratree, Mendeley, myExperiment, and Epernicus. Scitable.com was launched by the Nature Publishing Group in 2009 as “a social network for scientists and scholars” but it currently looks like… a very nice website, or extremely fancy blog — which is fine in itself, but it’s not a social network, not really. The National Institutes of Health was reportedly funding yet another social network for scientists; I’m not sure if it ever happened.

It’s easy to measure total users or total PDF’s uploaded or other metrics and claim some success. And we’re not really picking on any particular social network effort here. But why haven’t any of these platforms truly caught on in the scientific community? Fundamentally, it’s because they are add-ons to “the way things get done” and not replacements for the way scientists work day-to-day or how their careers are judged (i.e., you don’t get promoted for great science tweeting).

This story about Science 2.0 reminds me of a slightly older debate about Intelligence 2.0, whereby the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) built Intellipedia and other social tools with which analysts could collaborate in real time around information, data, breaking news across agencies and job descriptions. It sounds great, and there were users, mainly younger ones passionate about innovative tools and approaches. Here’s a great video about “Living Intelligence,” also known as Purple Intelligence (i.e., mixing red and blue) — It’s a great video, a vision of how intelligence analysis could be.

But at the end of the day, living intelligence is not the vision by which the IC operates, for the most part. The way that analysts are measured is not by how many edits they made on the wiki page for a town in Iraq, but rather by writing old-fashioned reports for their agency or other traditional tasks. The problem is that Intellipedia was an add-on to what their job was; not the way they did their primary job. That negative feedback loop is enough to ensure that the innovation of Intellipedia never really makes it past the “chasm of death.”

The same is true of science, which I have some firsthand experience with (I have a Ph.D. in animal behavior genetics and did academic biology research for about a decade). The scientific community fundamentally operates under the notion that a peer-reviewed research paper published in a traditional research journal is the discrete end-product of a series of experiments aimed at testing one or more hypotheses. Anyone who has actually been a laboratory scientist knows that this is a complete farse; I need not even elaborate on why. Nevertheless, publishing such papers is the primary yardstick by which you are judged as a grad student, postdoctoral fellow, and professor, even at the more senior levels. On top of that, the same exact research published in a “good” journal vs. an “okay” journal is somehow emotionally different to the reader. The only reason why is perceived prestige of some publications vs. others regardless of actual long-term value of the research.

Social networks for scientists will face precisely the same challenges as those within the IC. These are two-fold. One, a culture of secrecy whereby the more “secret” information (vs. community / shared information) is perceived as more valuable. Two, a culture of discrete publications (vs. living knowledge and data sets) whereby people are primarily judged by traditional processes dating back, in the case of science, a couple hundred years. And while there are some well-intentioned, smart people discussing Science 2.0 and what it would take for that to happen, it is in my opinion extremely unlikely that the entire system of how academic science operates in the U.S. will change within the venture capital-backed funding cycle of one of the science social networking companies like ResearchGate.

From what people tell me, the IC is slowly changing. Certain individuals over a period of years have fought the good fight to change the workflow of intelligence analysts, leveraging new social technologies and making the work and the products more agile and indeed, “living.” The full story is for another time, but the point is that it can happen. I know some of the individuals involved in the IC story, and their road has not been easy. The roadblocks thrown in their path have been significant. They traveled a very long, complicated path because they believed in a vision, a better way of doing things. But most importantly, they didn’t just talk amongst themselves, but rather took the fight to the middle management of intelligence agencies, and to the senior leadership.

There are some voices like this in science, to some degree or another. Will they persevere against the system?

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7 lessons worth learning from the Navy Social Media Handbook

This post was originally published in Federal Computer Week on November 29, 2010, and it was written with Kristin Bockius of Microsoft.

Kristin Bockius is relationship and social media marketing manager at Microsoft’s U.S. state and local government business. Mark Drapeau is director of public-sector social engagement at Microsoft. The opinions expressed in this article are their own and do not reflect the official position of Microsoft.

The Navy’s recently published Social Media Handbook has some good lessons for everyone.

Geared toward Navy commanders, the handbook is intended to encourage the use of social media and provide some guidance on matters of online etiquette, privacy, security and related issues. However, although the handbook is Navy-centric, many of its ideas and best practices apply across the government.

Here are some of the takeaways we found, along with insights we gathered in developing a similar guide for Microsoft’s public-sector customers.

Get guidance from the top. Rear Adm. Dennis Moynihan, the Navy’s chief of information, clearly supports the Navy’s use of social media. Such senior-level support is necessary for any corporation, agency or institution that plans to engage in social media conversations. Employees should not be confused and wondering if they may or may not use social media or how they may use it. Now more than ever, they need some structure and guidance.

Keep an ear to the ground. The handbook points out that social media provides a great way to learn about your employees’ thoughts and concerns. That is incredibly insightful. Social media can indeed be a great indicator of things going right or wrong at your organization.

Protect your brand. The Navy’s handbook points out that service members and employees who use social media are always brand ambassadors and should act accordingly. We take it one step further: Your actions and reactions online affect not only your reputation but also your professional affiliation. Thus you must act in a way that is proper for yourself and your employer.

Keep the brands simple. For our work in state and local government, we use two big brands — @Microsoft_Gov and Bright Side of Government — rather than breaking up our content by solutions, such as e-mail or cloud computing, or audience, such as states, cities and counties. In many cases, we feel that such divisions unnecessarily dilute a brand and make it harder to engage in consistent online conversations.

Centralize brand management. The manual reminds people that anyone who is establishing a social media presence must register that outlet with the Defense Department’s public affairs office. That makes it possible to roll up all the activity into a master online directory. Our own company could do a better job of this, considering the many brands and social media accounts that we have.

Have a response plan ready. For an organization such as the Navy, having a crisis communications plan is somewhat of a no-brainer. But that is true of all kinds of organizations. Your public relations team should have a crisis plan in place — for before, during and after conversations — so you can manage any crisis or rumor that arises. All brands are increasingly at risk for public criticism. Acknowledge that and plan accordingly.

Save your work. The Navy’s handbook suggests that people should selectively choose what to archive and even use screen shots to do it. But these days, you can find cheap or free tools to help you archive everything automatically. For example, many government agencies already use SharePoint to share enterprise content. You can now get a free, open-source SharePoint plug-in that can help you manage archiving.

Overall, we think the Navy’s social media guide — like the Air Force’s flowchart for online rules of engagement that preceded it — will provide valuable information about social media not only for the military services but also for agencies across the federal government and beyond.

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