Rob’s blog

Rob on what 2010 will bring for social media

I missed passing this along when it first came out, because I didn’t know those nice CBC people had put it on YouTube. It’s their segment on what to expect in 2010 for social media, based on an interview they did with me in their stunning new Vancouver studios.

The key point for me is that I’m finding people are becoming more deliberate and discerning about where they direct their attention, whether it’s in who they friend, what they watch or which applications they install on Facebook. (That doesn’t mean I’ll always agree with the choices they make: witness the rise of FarmVille. [shudder])

And in the background, yes, you’ll see VanTrash on my screen.

Enjoy… and see what you think of how my predictions are turning out one month in.

read more

Six tools for trying social media on for size

Last week, I mentioned BC Hydro’s Deb LeRose, and the brilliant opening slide in her social media presentation: the one that shows a free puppy and a baby. Her point is that, like many social media presences, each is supposedly “free”. But you have to look at the long-term cost, whether it’s feeding your dog… clothing and educating your child… or maintaining an effective, engaging social media presence.

So what if you’re not sure you’re ready yet?

The good news is that – just as you can babysit a niece or nephew, or volunteer to take your neighbour’s Shih Tzu for the weekend – you can get your feet wet in social media without diving in over your head. You’ll get at least a sense of the kind of time and attention various tools demand, and that can help you start planning your organization’s first public foray.

Here are six ways to try social media on for size – midnight feedings, shedding, dirty diapers and all – before you commit your organization to taking the leap.


Been resisting the siren song of Facebook? Its flaws are undeniable and well-documented… but you won’t understand why people stay involved with it until you jump in yourself. Create a personal profile, and use the privacy settings to keep your cards as close to your vest as possible… then start exploring.

Join a few groups, fan a few pages, install a few applications… but go easy at first, especially with expanding your herd of “friends”. (At least, until you get a good feeling for the difference between “friends” and friends.) Get to know how people interact, and then ramp up: from leaving comments on walls to sharing photos, videos and anything else you want to. And be sure to check out how organizations like yours are engaging with Facebook – especially what works and what doesn’t.

Google profile

Before you go much further (you’re still only toe-deep), you’ll want to create some kind of identity on the web: a home base where people who meet you can go to find out who you really are. One handy way to do that is to create a Google profile. (Here’s mine.)

Start with the basic information: you name, a (non-embarrassing) photo, a brief bio and whatever contact information you feel comfortable sharing. In time, you’ll be able to add pointers to your other social media presences – a blog, a LinkedIn account, Facebook, what have you – but for now keep it simple. Your goal initially is just to have a landing page with some basic information.


Nearly four years ago, Alex introduced Social Signal’s readers to the beauty of Delicious and social bookmarking. The elevator pitch: store your bookmarks in the cloud instead of on your computer, and you can use them with any browser on any device, discover similar sites, sort by tags instead of strict hierarchies (although some browsers are finally getting wise to this, too), share with others, and discover people with similar interests.

Here’s what makes this a great way to sample the social media world: it’s completely scalable. At first, you can store bookmarks in complete privacy; screw up, say something dumb, and nobody need ever know. Take the time to add a few notes about them, then get the hang of tagging (re-read Alex’s post), and then start checking out bookmarks with similar tags from other people.

Once you’re ready to lay out the welcome mat, you can start saving your bookmarks publicly – and even then, you’ll discover that Delicious makes next to no social demands on you. (Handy hint: be sure to snag the bookmarklet that lets you bookmark any site with a mouse click.)


Now it’s time to take your first big step: expressing an opinion, tied to your identity. Yes, you could comment anonymously… but if you’re going to be responsible for an organization’s social media presence – and reputation – you need to get used to the idea that anonymity is often illusory. Better for an organization to stand behind their content than to be accused of sock-puppeting or astroturfing.

Pick a blog you like, and follow it for a while, reading not only the posts but the comments. Get a feel for the local culture. And then find an opportunity to weigh in with a comment that adds something to the conversation: a new point of view, some pertinent information, a useful link.

Lean more toward conversational than provocative, and keep your comment relatively brief (again, keeping in mind the typical comments on the blog). Then keep watching the blog for responses to your comment; where appropriate, respond to them, and build a conversation.


Let’s combine the skills you picked up on Delicious with your commenting chops. Head on over to Posterous (or Tumblr, or any of a number of other similar sites) and set up an account.

For all intents and purposes, you’ve just created a blog. Deep breaths – and relax: this is a surprisingly easy blog to maintain. What you’ll be doing here is logging the interesting things you find online, just as you did with Delicious. (And here, too, the bookmarklet is your friend.) But you get to choose an excerpt to include, and add your comment about the page, video or image you found.

You can also check out other users, subscribe to their feeds, comment on their posts and, yes, do a little social networking. But at first, be conservative about how visible you are. That helps to keep the stakes low until you decide whether you’re in this for the long haul, and want to invest the time and social capital in building a more networked presence.


Got a particular area of expertise? Chances are there’s a blog out there on that topic… with an author who wouldn’t mind running a few posts of yours. Your best bet is someone in your personal network, or a friend of a friend who can vouch for you; you may have to knock on a few virtual doors before you find someone who’s willing to take you on.

Talk over expectations and possible topics, agree on a schedule of posts, and then stick to it (to get used to the idea of a steady rhythm of content creation). Respect the tone and voice of the blog’s author (although you don’t have to imitate it). Talk up your posts in your other online presences, and engage whatever conversation emerges in the blog’s comments and on other blogs. Finish off with a thank-you post mentioning both the author and the blog’s community for having you, and ride off into the sunset… until your next guest-blogging stint.

Ready to bring that puppy home?

Now you’ve had a real taste of the world of social media, what was it like? Were the time demands onerous, or were you able to manage them? Did you find that words came easily to you, or was it like pulling teeth? (And did you find yourself resorting to clichés like “pulling teeth”?)

What you’ve learned in this six-city tour of social media is only the beginning. (We barely even touched video, audio or photography.) But now you have a first-hand sense of the time required and the degree of public exposure it can involve.

What’s more, hopefully you’ve done more than just clean up dog poop and change baby diapers. You’ve also had a glimpse of the more rewarding side of the social web – the shared ideas and relationships that can be so powerful both for individuals and for organizations.

So now you get to decide: is your organization ready for a puppy of its very own?

read more

Alex and Rob teaching Fundamentals of Social Media at UBC in March

Ready to dive into social media, but not sure where to start? Alex and I will be teaching Fundamentals of Social Media at UBC Continuing Studies in March – a more in-depth version of the course we taught last fall. (Which, by the way, we enjoyed tremendously – thanks to everyone who took part!)

The four three-hour evening sessions start on March 24 at Robson Square in downtown Vancouver, and the course fees are $425. Here are the details:

This introductory course provides an overview of social media: its history, theories and the principles behind online communication including the power and impact of web 2.0 . Starting with a definition of “online community”, yo explore the range of social media technologies and applications, including such tools as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, RSS, wikis and social bookmarking, and how they apply to a variety of goals and strategies. You’ll explore real-world cases and discover emerging “best practices” for this rapidly-changing field, and how it is shaping communication in everyday business today.

Register here.

Even cooler news: that course can help you earn UBC Continuing Studies’ new Award of Achievement in Social Media. And to follow on from our Fundamentals course, the award program also includes courses in Social Media Monetization and Social Media Strategy and Marketing taught by friend-of-the-show Rochelle Grayson.

Register now to be sure you get your space!

read more

One way or another, organizations have to pay for their social media presence

One of the great things about the clients I’ve been lucky enough to work with is how smart they are. Case in point: BC Hydro’s Deb LeRose, who – among many other things – helps the company’s many departments and business units understand social media.

She likes to start presentations off with a slide showing a free puppy and a baby. Both of them, she says, come without a price tag. So does a Twitter account, Facebook profile or blog… but don’t kid yourself. You’d better know what you’re getting into before you click on the “submit” button. (Or take hold of the leash. Or make a baby.)

She’s right. Price tag or no price tag, you’ll be paying: in time, attention and energy. (Mercifully, nobody’s come up with a social media presence that requires you to take it to the vet to get neutered.)

You’ll need to…

  • Plan before you launch: You need to know just what you’re hoping to accomplish. Just want to learn a little about YouTube? Hoping to create a new channel for customer service on Twitter? Whether your ambitions are modest or audacious, taking the time to clarify your goals and exactly how you plan to achieve them is critical to social media success.
  • Keep posting regularly: Status updates for Twitter, posts for your blog, photos, videos, notes or links for Facebook… it all adds up quickly.
  • Respond to comments: Social media is conversational, and you’ll want to stay engaged in the discussions you spark – both on your own presence and out in the larger web.
  • Tend to your community: As your online community grows, you’ll want to encourage participation, make introductions, extinguish flame wars and keep things moving productively.
  • Promote your presence: You don’t want to go to the effort of creating and maintaining a social media presence without having it count for something, right? So you’ll want to let the world know about it – which can involve everything from advertising to guest-blogging.
  • Monitor the social web: You need to know what’s being said about your organization and the issues that matter to you. That can be as simple as searches set up on a tool like Technorati or Google Blog Search, or as sophisticated as commercial tools.
  • Track metrics: Since you’re investing this much effort, you want to make sure it’s giving your organization some benefit. Actually measuring those results can become more or less automated, but analyzing them and deciding on actions to take: that requires time and energy.

Organizations that have had social media success will tell you it involved real effort, but yielded great results — just as dog owners and parents know it’s sometimes tough work but tremendously rewarding. You end up with someone who, yes, chews up your most prized possessions and covers you with slobber, but is also a loyal, loving friend. (And with children, they grow out of the chewing and slobbering phase. I’m told.)

So what if you don’t know whether you’re ready for the responsibilities of raising a child, owning a dog or tending a wiki? That’s next week’s post.

read more

2009: a social media retrospective in cartoons

Here’s a New Year’s treat from Noise to Signal: the past year’s social media high- (and low-) lights in cartoon form. Enjoy!

(You can find the individual cartoons at Noise to Signal’s new home. And not to worry – we’ll keep posting the most social-media-y of Noise to Signal here on

To all of our friends, family and supporters out there, happy holidays and a spectacular, successful and peaceful new year.

read more

A new home for Noise to Signal

Amigas and amigos, Noise to Signal finally has its very own home. And in lieu of a 55-inch LED TV, there's a brand new Noise to Signal video front and centre. And now the details. I've wanted to do this for a long time, and the holidays (plus huge assists from Mike...

read more

Friends with benefits

The debate rages on over whether social networks (and Twitter, and YouTube, and, and, and) have any legitimacy in the workplace, fueled in no small part by people who sell tools to block them. But employers who turn their noses up at Facebook et al. may well discover...

read more

Lessons from cartoon-blogging at the Real-Time Web Summit

October's cartoon-blogging at the Real-Time Web Summit was a well-received experiment in innovative event coverage. The response was overwhelmingly positive, the Twitter stream showed people appreciated the added dimension to the event, and the organizers were more...

read more

Lessons from cartoon-blogging at the Real-time Web Summit

October’s cartoon-blogging at the Real-Time Web Summit was a well-received experiment in innovative event coverage. The response was overwhelmingly positive, the Twitter stream showed people appreciated the added dimension to the event, and the organizers were more than pleased.

Now, two things:

First, the ReadWriteWeb report, The Real-Time Web and its Future, is now on sale. Edited by Marshall Kirkpatrick – one of the smartest guys I know – the report sells for $300, and distills interviews with more than 50 real-time web honchos along with insights from the over 300 folks who attended the summit. Plus there are 10 case studies, 20 profiles of leaders in the field… and a package deal on the report plus RWW’s guide to online community management. Details (and a free sample chapter) here.

And second, I just came across some notes I took on the experience, and I thought they’d be worth sharing. As with most experiments, this one held a few surprises for me – and some useful lessons. Since I want to offer cartoon-blogging as one of our Social Signal offerings, those lessons take on a special significance.

Here’s how it unfolded, and how I’ll fine-tune my approach next time:

  • I arrived with my MacBook Pro and Cintiq, and settled in at a table. Handy tip: bring a power bar. Conferences usually max out their electrical outlets, and being able to turn one outlet into many is a valued skill (and a not-bad way to make friends). I have a nice little Belkin that also happens to have USB ports, which can be handy if you want to charge, say, an iPhone. As it turned out, I needed to.
  • I had hoped to live-stream my cartooning on (one of the event sponsors). It worked fine on both the Vancouver International Airport and Holiday Inn wireless networks, neither of which was especially fast. But conference WiFi is notoriously unreliable, and bottlenecks and signal dropouts made live-streaming impossible. If live-streaming is anything other than a nice-to-have for you, make absolutely sure there’s a rock-solid Internet connection.
  • If WiFi fails, you’ll want to have a Plan B ready to go so you can at least upload your cartoons – or email them to comeone who can. In my case, it was tethering: connecting my computer to the net via my iPhone. (Given the cost of data roaming for this itinerant Canadian, my Plan B would also have involved a second mortgage and possibly a night job.) As it turned out, the wireless connection was reliable enough that I stuck with it.

Now, what I’ll do differently:

  • While the main room for the event had plenty of electrical outlets, the same wasn’t true for the breakout sessions. And for that matter, the Cintiq isn’t exactly a mobile device; picking up, moving and setting back up was a time-consuming effort. Next time I’ll take my sketchbook into breakout sessions.
  • My digital SLR broke down right before the conference, which meant that when I did use my sketchbook, I was shooting with my iPhone camera. That required a lot of Photoshop work… which I ended up abandoning: the quality just wasn’t good enough. Instead, I wound up redoing the sketchbook in the Cintiq, which doesn’t take as long as you might think but took longer than I’d have liked. Next time, if this comes up, I’ll do bigger, simpler drawings, and shoot them under bright, even light.
  • This was a day that relied largely on breakout groups rather than keynotes or panels. Since most of the ones I attended were facilitated rather than led, they were certainly interesting… but they lacked the narrative coherence that can make for good cartoons. Next time I’ll choose more carefully (admittedly, a little harder with the spontaneity of unconferences.) And when a session has me completely out of my technical depth (a debate over whether a particular app has a RESTful API is a solid clue), next time I’ll have the humility to smile and leave.
  • There were several sponsors there, and a few made it into one of the cartoons… but most didn’t. I wasn’t playing favourites, but I wouldn’t want to inadvertently put the conference convenors into an awkward position. Next time I’ll clarify with the organizers in advance how to handle sponsors.
  • I learned a lot about my own workflow in cranking out cartoons and getting them web-ready. I discovered, for example, that it’s a lot more efficient for me to work in batches: do several sketches, then polish them, and then fire them off. But I’d made some assumptions about how things would go on ReadWriteWeb’s end (through no fault of their’s) and when those proved to be mistaken, I had some scrambling to do. It all turned out fine, but next time I’ll make sure I understand clearly how the workflow will go, establish the organizers’ expectations for the pace and volume of cartoons, and make a personal plan for the day.
  • We could have done more to think about presentation: whether the cartoons would have a stream of their own, and where they’d live. As it turned out, they did perfectly well as part of the ReadWriteWeb blog flow, but if I’d cranked up my pace, the day’s blog posts might have been lost in a cartoon sea. (We could have done more to feature them on the Social Signal site too, but as it happened we had a little competing news that day.) Next time, I’ll work with the organizers to suggest ways of presenting the cartoons in a way that enriches the conference experience without detracting from other communications.

The fact I took away some important lessons doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun, of course – I had a great time, learned a lot and, I think, contributed something of real value. And I can’t wait for a chance to do this again.

read more

That’s what friends are for

A while back, a friend of mine wondered about LinkedIn's somewhat limited options for indicating how you know someone. ("I vomited on their shoes at the office party" isn't on the list, for example.) We had a back-and-forth on her blog, and I came up with a list of...

read more


Probably no need to mention that this cartoon was inspired by the Web 2.0 Expo debacle involving danah boyd, a Twitter backchannel projected onto a giant screen behind her, a speech that faced an uphill battle from the get-go, and a few audience members with some...

read more

We mean you no harm

We mean you no harm(alien to two army generals in Roswell, 1947) Your primitive organizational culture is not ready for our advanced social media technology. Call us in 60 years or so.

read more
%d bloggers like this: