Rob’s blog

Join us at OSCON – and catch the session on Open SoSi!

Later this month, we’re packing up the tents, band instruments and trapezes, and taking the show down south to Portland, Oregon for a week to attend OSCON 2010.
I’ll be cartoon-blogging the event – and Alex and I will be presenting a session on our Ope…

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Is it ambush marketing, or conversation?

Last week saw much gnashing of clothes and rending of teeth over the fact that Nike (which is not a World Cup sponsor) is outdoing Adidas (which is) in Twitter mentions, blog references and a few other social media metrics.
Nike isn’t alone. Coke is…

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New Twitter feature lets you embed tweets in your blog posts with original formatting

Updated: Thanks to Mitch Cohen for this comment pointing to a one-click bookmarklet – even easier!

Blackbird Pie (kind of a gruesome name, if you’ve grown attached to the Twitter icon) is a new Twitter service that lets you post individual tweets to your blog or web site – keeping that good ol’ Twitter formatting intact, while picking up elements of your site’s design (such as the typeface) as well.

Blackbird Pie screen capture

Now, because of certain style overrides we have on, the result isn’t quite as picturesque as we might like:

Finally! A tool for blogging tweets about the new tool for blogging tweets! than a minute ago via TweetDeckRob Cottingham

There’s a certain amount of overlap and such. But it’s still pretty sweet, especially since our workflow used to be:

  1. Load tweet in browser.
  2. Capture screen. (We use Skitch, so we don’t have to…)
  3. Crop screen capture image and save.
  4. Upload image file to our site.
  5. Paste a link to the image file in our blog editor.
  6. Add alt text with the contents of the tweet.

With Blackbird Pie, the workflow is:

  1. Copy tweet URL.
  2. Paste into Blackbird Pie, and copy resulting embed code.
  3. Paste embed code into blog editor.

So much easier. And now the text is selectable by others – not a minor issue from an SEO standpoint, either. And it preserves hyperlinks to the original tweet, the Twitter client and the originating Twitter profile.

I like that for a number of reasons, not the least of which is making it easy for people to see the larger context of a tweet: a conversation, for instance, or the user’s Twitter stream. And if you’re trying to blog about a longer Twitter conversation, citing several tweets, this could save you a whole lot of time.

There are plenty of caveats – among other things, it doesn’t work on Tumblr yet, and I keep having to fight the urge to call it “Blackberry Pie” – but it’s a handy tool to have.


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This is the age of miracles and wonders

It's a small thing, I know. But one of the fine little pleasures of this era is posting a cartoon, and then watching it get retweeted on Twitter. Especially as the evening goes on, and the North American tweeting dies down... and I start to see people in India pick it...

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Free Social Signal ebook: 10 Ways Your Blog Can Provide Real Value to You, Your Organization and Your Brand

For anyone who’s been told to cut the blog from their communications proposal…

…for anyone who knows their social media activities could pull more of their own weight on the bottom line…

…for anyone who wants to take their blog from the experimental stage to having real-world impact – and real-world value…

…we have something for you.

Today we’re launching Social Signal’s first ebook, called 10 Ways Your Blog Can Provide Real Value to You, Your Organization and Your Brand.

It’s based on one of our most popular blog series, and we think you’ll find it timely. Budgets for organizations – whether they’re corporations, non-profits or government agencies – are tighter than they’ve been in a long time, and every program has to justify itself. That’s especially true when we’re talking about something as new as social media.

One thing you won’t have to justify is the purchase price for this book: it’s free, in the Open SoSi spirit.

This ebook will help you make a business case for your blog (and for other social media channels). But more importantly, it will help make sure you get as much value from your blog as possible: by building capacity for your team, putting a human face on your organization, creating a crisis communications channel, and more.

It’s illustrated with Noise to Signal cartoons, naturally, and licensed under a Creative Commons non-commercial attribution license (which basically means you can’t sell it, and if you reproduce it or portions of it, please attribute it to Social Signal with a link to this page).

We would love your comments. Even better, we’d like to hear your ideas for getting value from blogs and other social media tools.

In times like these, organizations have to make every bit of effort and investment count. We hope this book will help make that happen… and we hope you’ll join in.

Download it here (PDF)

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CPAWS seeks Ottawa web intern

Tell me this isn’t someone’s dream internship:

Our friends (and The Big Wild clients) at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Committee are looking for an intern to help them make their web, email and social media presence a thing of grace and beauty. If that sounds like someone you know, do pass along the details:

Deadline: March 30, 2010
Start date: May 10, 2010
Length and type: Full-time, for 3 months
Salary: $14/hour
This position will play a role in improving, updating and analyze CPAWS’ web activities.

Responsibilities may include

  • Making updates to CPAWS-managed sites as directed, using our CMS
  • Using public domain image repositories to find appropriate images for projects
  • Coding HTML emails
  • Suggesting ways to improve existing sites
  • Assembling statistics on our email blasts, websites and social media accounts for analysis
  • Organizing and tag images from our collection
  • Using services like Google maps, Twitter, etc. to create interactive tools for our sites
  • Researching and compare online service providers.
  • Working with our chapters to improve their websites
  • Writing and editing text for the web

The complete posting is here.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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Why, yes — I’d LOVE to speak at your event

Public speaking and speechwriting: the essential guides

(photo of books with text) Leadership communications: the essential guides

Looking for advice on public speaking, speechwriting and leadership communications? Here are some of my most comprehensive posts, on topics that people ask me about most often.

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