Michelle Sullivan Communications

The 502nd mile mark – when moving from fifth into third gear makes sense

This blog is shifting gears.

When Jack Layton passed away, I decided to postpone publication of this blog post to pay tribute to him. The positive reaction that my 500th blog post garnered reinforced the notion that social media in general and blogs in particular are a wonderful way for me, as an individual, to connect in meaningful ways with other members of my tribe. Thank you for everyone who took the time to write and speak to me about what I’d written.

In that 500th blog post, I alluded to the fact that I was going to change the direction this blog has been taking for the past 4 years. When I first launched this social-media-for-PR blog in January of 2007, there were only 2 other PR bloggers in Quebec. I had been excited about the possibilities social media opened up for our industry and our clients for a few years by then, and was eager to share and discuss my discoveries with my PR tribe.

Mission accomplished. Far from single-handedly, mind you! Along with many other early adopters and social media zealots, I’ve managed to convince a colleague or two to take a look at social media for PR and I’m pleased with the inroads that have been made. We’ve been joined by the industry mainstream and social media is taking root in the Quebec PR landscape. There now are dozens of Quebec-based blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Google+ profiles and LinkedIn Groups – not to mention Third Tuesdays, Camps and other events – available to Quebec PR types hungry to stay abreast of the latest developments in social media.

I’ve written hundreds of blog posts presenting social media case studies, tools and best practices for PR professionals. Now, many more voices have joined and there’s a wealth of information out there. It’s fantastic.

And it’s why I’m now able to shift gears.

I’m going to start concentrating less on the tools and innovations, and more on the impact social media and the Internet in general is having on society, on tribes, on individuals. You’ll see less of this and more of this and of this. And you’ll probably hear more about tribes than you ever thought possible. I may just have to rename this blog …

I also intend to focus more on the public affairs side of PR, moving away from where social media seems to have found an easy and natural fit – marketing communications. So no more brand name case studies. There are other great blogs for that kind of thing. I want to take a look at how lobby groups – whether corporate or grassroots – are leveraging social media to effect political and social change.

Fifth gear: Lowest power, highest speed. Used for high speed cruising on dual carriageways, motorways and other such open roads.

Third gear: Used for driving uphill, through a hazard at speed and where a greater degree of power is needed than fourth will allow.

This blog is shifting into third gear. The hazards are greater in number, the stakes are higher. We’re talking about people’s lives and how they use social media to change the world around them.

It’s going to be a fascinating ride. And yes, I pick up hitchhikers.

Social Media measurement: Charlie Sheen and Klout – on the wrong track?

Charlie Sheen has been a tabloid favourite for years … unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. This week has seen the American actor on a media tour, appearing on daytime and late night television talk shows from 20/20, to Good Morning America, to Piers Morgan Tonight.

Yesterday saw the appearance of a verified Charlie Sheen Twitter account (@charliesheen). The buzz spread from traditional media outlets and influential online publications like Mashable to the Twittersphere itself like wildfire.

According to Mashable:

Haven’t had your fill of Charlie Sheen’s rants? Now you can get them via 140-character messages, because the actor’s Twitter handle has officially been confirmed.

In a matter of minutes, Sheen has acquired more than 60,000 followers and a Klout score of 57 — without even tweeting.

That last sentence is particularly worrisome to social media specialists who turn to Klout for an analysis of online influence. The reason? While the fact that Twitter had verified the account ensured credibility, Sheen’s profile included no avatar, no biography and .. most importantly .. not a single tweet.

Within the hour, Sheen’s account had risen to 133,644 followers. Twelve minutes later, those figures had ballooned to 147,149, an increase of 14 000+. Still not a single tweet.

What does this mean for the credibility of tools like Klout that measure online influence? It means that they measure influence based exclusively on quantity, and not quality. It means that they don’t take much else into account (if anything).

Adriaan Pelzer of RAAK of Nexalogy Environics here in Montreal recently ran a test of Klout, based on this hypothesis and the results are quite compelling. A series of four automated bots, tweeting relative nonsense, quickly attracted followers (mostly other bots) and reached a Klout score of 51, 37, 26 and 25 respectively. That last first figure is higher than mine and either higher or slightly lower than that of other Montreal influencers and early-Twitter adopters like tech bloggers Laurent Maisonnave and Sylvain GrandMaison, art of entertaining and design blogger Kim Vallée and fashion blogger Cindy Laverdière (CindyLou of  Mode Trotter).

What does this mean for you?

Well … it’s important, as in everything, to be critical in our use of tools that measure social media influence. Klout is only one example of many. No tool is perfect. These tools should be used as part of a larger mix. They should provide guidance, but not represent a bible of online influence measurement.

After all, if you’re into green glowing snow-ball abacuses, and there’s only a widow in Wales and a teenager in Chile interested in green glowing snow-ball abacuses too, and you’re only interested in following their Tweets, Klout isn’t likely to judge you favourably. But think about the quality of the tweets the only three people in the world into green glowing snow-ball abacuses can exchange with one another. Of the influence they can have within their tiny niche.

If you’re selling green glowing snow-ball abacuses, do you want to reach out to these three Twitter users? Or do you want to reach out to Charlie Sheen?

I think the answer is clear.

Will I continue to use Klout? Absolutely … as I always have. With a grain of salt. As a jumping off point. As one measurement tool among the many which — along with my knowledge of online networks and my own judgement — allow me to create a portrait of the online influencer I may present to my client in an influencer audit or as a possible participant in a blogger outreach campaign.

Online tools are great, but in the end nothing beats experience and human judgement.

Now … don’t get me started on sentiment analysis!

* Note: To his  credit, Klout founder and CEO Joe Fernandez responded to Adriaan Pelzer’s assertion that Klout is broken in the blog post’s comments section as follows:

Hey Adriaan,

I am one of the cofounders and the ceo here at Klout. This is a great post, even though we get slammed 🙂

A couple things:

– Clearly there is more we can do to recognize and punish bots. This is something we are working on and I think you’ll be impressed with what we have coming. That said, this is an incredibly hard problem that even Twitter still has trouble with (judging from the clear spam bots I see following me and not disappearing).

– The score right now is actually doing what it’s supposed to in the sense that it’s measuring engagement. Take a look at search for @burroughsbot (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%40BurroughsBot). This account is actually getting way more engagement then it should. We do measure for noisiness but obviously we need to look at how we handle extreme cases like this.

We have a science team working on stuff like this on a daily basis. Post like this get us really fired up so I am excited about your challenge to step our game up.

Would love to chat sometime about how we can throw some data your way for some more independent testing.

Thanks.

Hat tip to Diane Bourque who followed the growth of Twitter followers after I’d shared the Mashable article with my Facebook network and provided the statistics contained within this blog post.

For posterity: Charlie Sheen’s first tweet. At time of publication of this post, he was at 817,083 followers and had been included on 5569 Twitter lists.

David Crystal: an analysis of Texting and Twitter by Britain’s preeminent linguist

British linguist David Crystal has a lot to say about Twitter. If you have 30 minutes to spare … maybe skip the latest episode of The Bachelor or Survivor … I’d encourage you to listen to him debunk some myths about Twitter and texting. I’d especially encourage you to listen to him if you’re still scratching your head wondering what kind of creature tweets. I would particularly encourage you to invest 30 minutes to listen to Crystal if you are the kind of person who stands up in the middle of a conference and asks why we should care about communicating to a bunch of people who have nothing better to do but to spend their days typing into a smartphone. And I know you’re out there.

Some myths, explained:

  • People actually don’t abbreviate in text messaging and Twitter as much as one might think. This is partially because Texting and Tweeting isn’t a uniquely youth phenomenon.
  • Abbreviations like CUL8tr aren’t anything new .. Lewis Carroll and Queen Victoria played around with these language rebuses
  • Young people don’t leave letters out because they can’t spell … in fact, the best texters are often the best spellers, simply because they get tons of practice. They leave out letters because « it’s cool ». Following the fashion is a socially bonding experience.
  • Texting and Tweeting in fact gives young people more motivation to write and read.
  • Students aren’t translating text-speak into their schoolwork and exams, contrary to popular belief.
  • There is an artistic dimension to the evolution of Texting and Twitter. Crystal cites Twitter poetry contests as an example.
  • Many of the sentences in a Tweet are actually quite long – you can get 30 words into 140 characters and there are often 20 word sentences in a Tweet.
  • Twitter has become more of an information exchange mechanism than it was when it first launched as a « What are you doing? » platform.
  • Twitter has value in that, among other things, it accelerates the transmission of information.



David Crystal believes teachers have an important role to play in Internet management. For young people, the electronic technology is central and the book is marginal. This isn’t going to change, so, according to Crystal, it must be managed and used in a way that becomes motivating for young readers.

According to Wikipedia:

Crystal is the author, co-author, or editor of over 100 books on a wide variety of subjects, specialising among other things in editing reference works, including (as author) the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (1987, 1997, 2010) and the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (1995, 2003), and (as editor) the Cambridge Biographical Dictionary, the Cambridge Factfinder, the Cambridge Encyclopedia, and the New Penguin Encyclopedia (2003). He has also edited literary works, and is Patron of the UK National Literacy Association. He has also published several books for the general reader about linguistics and the English language, which use varied graphics and short essays to communicate technical material in an accessible manner

Social Networks : Modern day Knights of Columbus (or Loyal Orders of Water Buffaloes)

I spent part of a glorious Sunday afternoon this weekend sitting in an unusual place (for me) : a pew at the Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts church in the Laurentians. Curiosity had led me there. While I’d sat through countless Sunday masses as a child, this was the first time I would witness the ordination of a priest.

The whole process was very fraternal (emphasis mine). The novice, the Bishop and dozens of priests were led into the packed church by a plumed and caped group of older men I knew to be Knights of Columbus. While I’d never seen these men in full regalia, I knew immediately by their demeanor and costume who they were. For the uninitiated, the Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organisation. Akin to Fred Flintstone’s Loyal Order of  Water Buffaloes, if you will.

As I cursed myself for not having a fully charged iPhone with me for live tweeting and TwitPics, I sat back and reflected on the community I was observing before me. My mind eventually – inevitably – turned to social networking. Yes, I see everything (not really, but anyway), even the ordination of a priest, through a web 2.0 lens. I call it 2.0/2.0 vision.

I was watching a tribe in action. Two communities of men (the Knights, the priests) – mostly of an older generation – sharing similar values, a similar belief system and a relationship which is mutually beneficial. It’s not a stretch to imagine that members of the Sainte-Agathe chapter of the Knights of Columbus help one another and even refer business to one another. This is what we do when we’re part of a group of like-minded people. We refer people to those we know and we help other members of our tribe when we can.

Business groups are the same. On Facebook a few minutes ago, my cousin Dermot, an Irish photographer,  shared a Sunday Times article in which he’s featured. In the interview, he credits part of his business development success to Business Network International (BNI), an organisation that brings business owners from different disciplines together into a single group whose members refer their personal and professional contacts to one another.

Social networks, like LinkedIn, step in to provide a virtual way to cultivate and maintain business links. Today, I received a note from a colleague from a dozen or more years ago who is now a real estate agent looking for business.  Would I know anyone in the market for a house? I might decide to go out on the limb for him for any of a number of reasons — because I like him, because I see an opportunity for myself, or just because I’m nice. I’m not likely to do it, however,  if I don’t perceive him to be a member of my tribe.

No matter what form our business networking takes, the glue that holds it all together is the concept of tribe.

As we build our LinkedIn profiles, join Facebook discussion groups or join a hashtag-ed discussion on Twitter, we’d all be wise not to lose sight of the fact that human relationships remain at the cornerstone of it all.

Olympics 2.0

Interesting article in the Vancouver paper, The Westender, on how the 2010 Olympics will be shaped by social media.

(…) there will be almost the same number of non-accredited journalists at the Games as those with official media accreditation, resulting in a potentially dramatic increase in the range of stories told about the event, and about the city. « The mass media – or accredited media – are so focused on celebrating the sports that their agendas don’t permit much deviation from the narrative, » he (Andy Miah, chair in Ethics and Emerging Technologies in the School of Media, Language, and Music at the University of the West of Scotland)  says. « This is why social media is so critical. When we look back in history, we will want to know what took place throughout Vancouver, not just what happened in the stadia. »

Very interesting discussion about how Web 2.0 will impact the IOC, with its strict rules and regulations:

An increasingly blurred division between official and unofficial media — particularly with regard to how it will play out in Vancouver next month — may challenge the IOC to change its approach in how it handles media during Games time. “What we have here is a major sporting event taking place in a western liberal democracy, in a country that is highly wired, and in a city that has a very active social-media scene,” Hermida says. “In many ways, this is a tremendous opportunity to really expand the appeal of the Olympics, and to involve not just established media, but involve emerging media, and involve the public in general into celebrating this through the media.

Available online here.

(Thanks to my brother-in-law, Bob, for the heads up. Great when your whole circle supports your obsession 😉