Rob’s blog

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.

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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.

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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.

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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...

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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...

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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.

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Measure your social media influence with Influ-a-rama-matic Pro 2.0! (beta)

Are you eager to track your social media influence? Desperate to boil down the complex intricacies of human interaction into a single number? Of course you are!

But you’re also probably sick of getting results that suggest you could be doing better if only you had more followers… retweeted more often… wrote more interesting blog posts… or, y’know, really worked at it.

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Everything in moderation

Everything in moderationA range of flag-for-moderation icons, e.g. a finger pulling down a zipper, labelled ‘Overdisclosure’. Caption: ‘Flag-for-moderation icons I might actually use.’

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(person watching another type on a computer) Whoa! That post is going to get you kicked out of social media!

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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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