Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Crowdsourcing my Social Media for PR Syllabus: Need your Input!

The end of the fall semester is right around the corner and that means it's time to start thinking about spring classes. When I started teaching my Social Media for PR class in Fall 07, the field was so new I had little to go on to help me put together a syllabus. In the end, I developed my syllabus by compiling a number of social media and PR topics I felt my students needed to know. I have been tweaking the class ever since -- adding topics, changing readings, experimenting with assignments, etc.

This semester, I'm ready for a major overhaul and I'm asking for your input! I'd love to create a state of the art Social Media for PR syllabus crowdsourced by experts in the field. And I'd love to hear from you! Actually, make that I need to hear from you!

What do you think PR majors should know about social media -- specifically:
  • What topics should a Social Media for PR class cover?
  • What readings are absolute musts?
  • How can students demonstrate their mastery of course content? What should the student projects/assignments consist of?
I have started the brainstorming process in this wiki and I would like to invite anyone with an interest in social media and PR to contribute to it. The wiki is open to anyone (you will need to create a free Pb Wiki login if you don't already have one). Please feel free to suggest additional topics, projects, readings, etc. I've also posted my old syllabi on the wiki for reference purposes.

Can't wait to hear from you/see your suggestions!

Monday, October 12, 2009

You don't need to tweet to get value out of Twitter

Yes, you heard me right: You don't necessarily need to tweet in order to get value from Twitter! Let me explain why I say this. For the last few semesters I have been encouraging my PR students to get on Twitter. I've explained the necessity to be Twitter literate (twitterate?) and discussed examples of corporate, non-profit, and personal uses of Twitter. I've even thrown in a lecture on how to use Twitter as a job search and personal branding tool. The response though has been mixed. While some students get really excited, others react much less enthusiastically.
Let me make a confession here before moving on: I probably fell into that second category myself when I first learned about Twitter back in 2007. I saw its potential as a PR tool, but as an academic, I didn't see the need to tweet myself. I set up an account mainly because people were talking about it and I felt it was something I should discuss in my social media class. I basically registered my account so I could learn about Twitter.

So now you know - I never planned on tweeting myself! Having said that, I think I can understand my students' initial hesitation about joining the twitterverse. I've been there. So here's my advice for them (and anyone else sharing their feelings): Just set up an account, develop a network and listen in - no need to jump in with your own tweets right away! Staying away from tweeting for a while might even open your eyes to Twitter's potential as a powerful social search engine.

So how do you develop a good network?
  1. Start by identifying a few people in your field whose work you admire. Then look them up to see if they tweet. You may use Twitter's built-in search engine to locate people on Twitter (click on the 'Find People' link on the top right hand side of the page), or you can check their blog or other social networking site to look for their Twitter handle.
  2. Now you can piggy-back off their following/follower list! Go through both lists to see whether there are any people who share your interests or who tend to pass along valuable information. A quick look at their latest tweets usually is enough to make that call.
  3. When someone in your network sends out an RT (retweet), look up the person who sent the original tweet. Again, check their latest tweets to see if you could benefit from the type of info they tweet.
  4. Check out the #followfriday suggestions from the people in your network. Every Friday thousands of Twitter users all over the world participate in this event by suggesting people who are worth following.
  5. You can also check Twitter for suggested users although those suggestions won't be tailored to your specific needs. Twitter uses the analogy of your local book store's staff picks to explain its suggested users list.
  6. If you want to receive suggestions on who to follow based on your current network, give Mr. Tweet a try. Mr. Tweet looks through your relationships and tweets to identify the influencers and followers you should follow.
  7. An even easier way to discover new and interesting Twitter users is to consult a Twitter list. Twitter is in the process of rolling out its own list feature to the public, so you may want to check your favorite tweeter's lists once the feature goes live for everyone.
  8. In the meanwhile, check out the lists published on TweepML, another service that allows you "to manage and share groups of Twitter users." Use its "find a list" search tool to locate lists of Twitter users in your field (for instance, check out this list of educators on Twitter, or this list of PR pros).
If you implement all of the steps outlined above, you should end up with a pretty good-sized group of people to follow. Now all we need to do is a bit of network tweaking:
  1. Start by filtering your incoming tweets. That's the only way to keep on top of Twitter when you are following a large group of people. Get a Twitter desktop client such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic and divide the people you follow into groups. For instance, I have a group for PR educators, one for PR professionals, another one for non-English tweets, etc. By organizing them into categories, the tweets will be neatly displayed in columns which will make it much easier to scan your tweets for relevant information.
  2. "Test drive" your Twitter subscriptions for a month or two. Then re-evaluate. Are there accounts you are subscribing to that aren't providing much value to you? If so, hit the "unfollow" button! Think of your subscriptions as coming with a money back guarantee. If you don't like what you see, simply cancel at no cost to you.
  3. Don't forget to repeat steps 1-8 every now and then to add new voices to your Twitterstream.
Do this for a while and I'll almost guarantee you'll see the value of Twitter and will want to get involved yourself. You'll learn so much from the people you follow and come across so much great information you'll want to reciprocate by sharing your insights.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How to optimize a news release (brief tutorial)

Now that you've learned how to write a traditional news release, it's time to discuss how to bring this old PR tool into the 21st century! After all, the media landscape has changed tremendously since Ivy Lee issued the first news release a little more than 100 years ago. It only makes sense that we adapt this old tool to today's media reality. And that reality is complex: publics don't just receive their news from traditional media outlets anylonger and they don't just passively consume news either. They receive news from their social networks and likewise share news with those networks. As a result, we need to change the way we think about news distribution. I have embedded the class notes on how to optimize a news release below. You won't see any of the animations since I had to convert the slides to a PDF file, but the content is essentially the same:

List of sites mentioned in class:

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Assignment: Optimizing a News Release for Search Engines

I'm teaching our PR survey class this semester and instead of reusing the traditional news release assignment for the writing part of the course, I thought I'd try something a little different this year: I'm having students optimize their news release for search engines. Students will still write a traditional news release, but once that has been graded, they will then take their release, make the necessary corrections and optimize it. The assignment is described below. It's very much inspired by a position paper on search engine visibility published by Steve Rubel on behalf of Edelman. I'd love to hear from anyone who's done this in their class already - anything I'm missing?

The Assignment: Optimized News Release

As we have seen, news releases and the messages they contain increasingly end up on the Internet where they get indexed by search engines. Since these messages have become searchable, it is important to include words and phrases Internet users would use intuitively when searching for content related to that message. Having read Edelman’s position paper on the issue and having discussed search engine and message optimization in class, it is now your turn to take your SEU news release and optimize it. For this assignment, you will need to identify a set of keywords/keyword phrases for use in your optimized news release. Use free tools such as Wordtracker, Google Insights, Google Adwords, or Microsoft’s AdCenter Labs to do so. You may also want to check Twitter Search or Facebook Lexicon to get a sense for the natural words and phrases people use to talk about your type of topic.

  1. Accurately reflect how people talk & search (natural language)
  2. Face little competition from other keywords

Once you’ve decided on your keywords, strategically incorporate them into your news release (see the Edelman position paper for tips on how to do so).


  1. Your revised & optimized news release with the keywords highlighted in bold print
  2. A short paper listing the keywords/keyword phrases you decided on and explaining why you chose them and how they fit the 2 keyword requirements outlined above. Include screenshots of the visuals generated by tools such as Google Insights to back up your argument.
  3. A Twitter pitch for your news release of no more than 140 characters. Use a separate page for this pitch. Your pitch should incorporate at least one of your keywords. Since this is not an official SEU news release, do not send it out over Twitter. For tips on writing effective Twitter copy, check out this example.

Grading Criteria:

Your optimized news release will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  1. Quality of the writing (10 pts.)
  2. Properly optimized
    1. Keywords incorporated into headline (10 pts.)
    2. Keywords incorporated into body (10 pts.)
    3. Keywords bolded (only bolded words will be considered) (10 pts.)
  3. Quality of the paper
    1. Lists keywords (10 pts.)
    2. Provides rationale for choice of keywords (10 pts.)
    3. Explains how keywords fit reqs (natural language & competition) (10 pts.)
    4. Provides screenshots to back up rationale (10 pts.)
  4. Twitter pitch
    1. Within the 140 character limit (10 pts.)
    2. Incorporates keyword(s) (10 pts.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Creating a social learning environment in the college classroom

It's back to school for us next week and to start off the semester, I'll be giving a presentation to our faculty on how to create a social learning environment in the college classroom. Since I can only cover so much in a 20-minute talk, I've decided to focus my presentation on a conceptual discussion of social learning and cover the how-to aspect in a series of tutorials on this blog.

The idea behind creating a social learning environment is to get students to engage the course material critically and to have them keep their eyes open for interesting material to share with their peers. By having to provide their own examples, students learn to reflect upon course concepts and simultaneously learn to evaluate their peers’ contributions. Such environments allow students to contribute course material and share relevant stories, articles, videos, and pictures in near real-time with both their classmates and instructor around the clock. Although this type of sharing of insights isn’t new, we now have technologies allowing us to do so much more efficiently. My presentation will discuss three technologies instructors can use to set up a social learning space for their classes: (a) Delicious Social Bookmarks, (B) Zoho Creator Databases, and (c) Blackboard Scholar. I have created a tutorial on how to set up each and have embedded them below.

The first tutorial covers setting up Delicious and pulling it into Blackboard through a simple Yahoo Pipe. I have students contribute at least one quality resource a week on a topic discussed in class that week. These contributions can take on the form of relevant news stories, articles, videos, podcasts, or slideshows. We occasionally review these bookmarks in class. During those reviews, students are expected to tell their classmates about the resource and why they think it serves as a good illustration of a particular course concept.

The second tutorial is based on Mike Wesch's 94 articles activity and explains how to set up Zoho Creator databases and how to connect them to Blackboard.

The last tutorial is a brief introduction to Blackboard Scholar, a social bookmarking service offered through Blackboard.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Favorite slideshows from my social media class

Over the course of the past few semesters I have made some of the slideshows I use in class publicly available on Slideshare. I also shared most of them on this blog. Since I periodically get requests for particular ones, I've decided to make the most popular ones available in one post here:

Blogging 101:

Twitter for PR:

Using Twitter to Connect with Audiences:

Twitter & Social Media for Crisis Communication:
Monitoring Conversations Online:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Social search in academic research

If there's one thing that hasn't ceased to amaze me since I started blogging, tweeting, bookmarking and aggregating it's this thing I've come to refer to as social media serendipity. It can happen any time, anywhere. Sometimes it strikes as I am preparing classes, other times it happens as I am working on research. I may be working on a class on pitching stories when a new blog post just pops up in my feed reader with a relevant, up-to-the-minute case study to include in my class. Other times it is a Twitter or user I follow who will share the perfect example. The reason I call it serendipity is because I didn't ask for it. The information just has a way of finding me. It's as if there were hundreds of research assistants out there scanning the web and bringing the information back to me just when I need it. I honestly can't remember the last time I spent hours online searching the net for that perfect example to illustrate course material.
Yesterday as I was working on research I had another one of these serendipitous moments (which I will describe in a second) and it got me thinking. There's been a lot of talk lately about social search and the future of search and it just dawned on me that this thing I had affectionately called social media serendipity really just is the result of a passive social search. I call it passive because in the cases described here, I didn't actively seek out any information from my social networks. I simply received pertinent information from my networks without actually asking for it. Nevertheless I do think it qualifies as search since I am constantly scanning those networks for relevant information through the various feeds I am subscribing to. I've always viewed social search exclusively as an active process (such as outsourcing your questions to your Twitter followers), but I think that definition may need to be broadened to include serendipitous, passive social searches such as the following:
  • A few months ago, one of the people I follow on Twitter shared an interesting article with his followers. Since the article seemed relevant to research I am working on, I bookmarked it and set it aside to read at a later point (an example of a passive social search through Twitter)
  • As I read it last week, I annotated it with additional research questions. I noted that it would be nice to know how many of the videos uploaded to YouTube each month actually reached more than 1,000 or 10,000 views.
  • The next day, one of the users I follow bookmarked an article in Slate Magazine that answered that exact question (another example of a passive social search, this time through social bookmarks)
  • Yesterday after I had finished writing up the section of my paper that deals with these stats, I checked my feed reader only to find that I had a new item in the folder labeled research. The new item wasn't relevant to the research I had worked on that day, but the one above it, which I had marked as "keep new" was (I do that when a feed sounds interesting but I don't have the time to review it). This is how I stumbled upon a paper from HP's Social Computing lab on the success dynamics of 10 million YouTube videos - a perfect fit for my research and another example of a passive social search.
So there you have it - three examples of passive social searches that greatly helped me complete a book chapter I was working on. Obviously the quality of those searches will depend on the quality of your network and there is a definite danger of casting that network too narrowly as an article in the journal Science suggested this week. But that's something to explore in another blog post.

Update 7/27: A day after I published this post, ReadWriteWeb wrote a post using the active versus passive social search framework I outlined here. I'm not sure I completely agree with their search discovery continuum though - I think "friends & following" is just as important at the passive discovery side of the continuum, especially since our passive discoveries are filtered by our decisions on who to follow and friend.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What if your credit card company wrote your syllabus?

Classes are out for the summer and my husband and I are slowly getting ready to prepare our classes for the upcoming fall semester. The following post is inspired by a recent letter from one of our credit card companies announcing a change in their terms and conditions - a practice that most major banks and credit card institutions seem to be engaging in right now from what I hear (also see this report). Since we were working on our syllabi as this letter landed in our mailbox, it inspired the following thought: What if your credit card company wrote your syllabus? Here's the answer (should be 7 pt. font but noone would be able to read it):

Contents and Effectiveness of Agreement. This syllabus governs your classroom experience with your professor. This syllabus becomes effective and you agree to its terms by either showing up in class or by failing to drop the class within 3 business days of receipt of this syllabus.

Amendment of this Syllabus. Your professor may amend this syllabus by changing, adding or deleting any assignment, required reading or due date at any time. S/he will provide you with notice of the amendment to the extent required by university policies.
‡ Please note that your professor reserves the right to change how each assignment is weighted throughout the semester. For example an assignment originally worth 9.99% of your grade may increase to but not
exceed 29.99% of your grade. If you are late on any assignment during the semester you will be required to perform additional work on each assignment and will also need to submit an extra credit assignment for each late submission.

Performance information: Your professor may periodically review your overall class performance by obtaining information from your other professors concerning your work in their classes. Should it be found that you did poorly on any assignment for another instructor, your professor may adjust your grades for his/her class accordingly. In addition, your professor may report information about you to the dean's office. You have the right to dispute the accuracy of information reported. Your professor may at any time during the semester and for any assignment require that you perform more work than originally outlined. In that case, your instructor must give a one week notice before new requirements go into effect. Depending upon how your professor and his or her colleagues like you, you will be graded more or less harshly than other students in your class. If at any point during the semester, you do not agree with the professor's changes to the syllabus you may choose to drop out of the class--however, all homework will still be required. Please don't worry about your prof, however, as should your class perform poorly, s/he may receive additional funding from the provost.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

U.S. Government to Twitter: Please no Fail Whale during the Iranian Election Crisis

As Iran is working to restrict access to the media in light of the recent election uproar, the U.S. government has responded in a rather unusual manner: According to news reports, the State Department asked Twitter to move its scheduled maintenance to a different time in order to allow Iranians to tweet about the ongoing crisis:Twitter acquiesced to the State Department's request and issued the following statement on its blog:
When we worked with our network provider yesterday to reschedule this planned maintenance, we did so because events in Iran were tied directly to the growing significance of Twitter as an important communication and information network. [...] It's humbling to think that our two-year old company could be playing such a globally meaningful role that state officials find their way toward highlighting our significance. However, it's important to note that the State Department does not have access to our decision making process. 
Looks like the State Department has come to understand  the importance of social media in times of crises. The governments of countries such as Iran, China, and Myanmar should have learned an important lesson too: that restricting access to the media no longer works to crack down on dissent. Governments trying to control all information flow are facing the same reality as businesses trying to control all branding messages - they are fighting a losing battle. Despite Iran's efforts at blocking social networking sites and threatening Internet users, Iranian citizens have managed to post pictures of the unrest to the Internet,  upload videos to YouTube, and post their stories to Twitter and Facebook. And now that traditional news outlets (banned from reporting directly from the scene) are relying on these social networking services in their reports, the story does get out. Maybe even in a more authentic way?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Playing with Slideshare's Slidecast Tool

I've been meaning to try out SlideShare's slidecast tool for a while, but never got around to it until now. My husband and I decided to enter SlideShare's Tell a Story contest and figured it would be a good time to give slidecasting a try. Here's the result - hope you enjoy:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring 09 Student Podcasts

Here's a fresh batch of podcasts from this semester's students! Each student team was instructed to produce a 5-10 minute podcast on an issue pertaining to class. Teams were given the option of either interviewing an expert on the topic of social media or organizing a panel discussion on a social media and PR issue. This semester, we relied entirely on open-source software (in this case Audacity) to produce the podcasts. Here are the results:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Twitter's Agenda Setting Power: Example of a Hail Storm

I just made it home from work yesterday right before a brief but vicious hail storm descended upon Austin. After checking the radar on TV and realizing I'd probably be fine, I turned to the important things in life - checking my Twitter feeds. And there I saw this:
Must be a hail storm in Texas right now. Mighty Twitter knows all.
Nothing too unusual considering the speed with which messages get spread through Twitter. Except that in this case, the tweeter was @pphilp and lives in Canada. It took me a second to realize that the hail storm must be a trending topic on Twitter and lo and behold it was:

How can an event this localized dominate the Twitterverse so easily? A number of possibilities come to mind: either yesterday was a very slow "news day" for Twitter, or there is a disproportionate amount of Twitter users living in Austin. Or maybe it's a combination of both? TwitterGrader does support the idea that Austinites might be particularly prone to tweeting - it lists the city among the top 10 Twitter cities. Maybe the tweets around events in Austin are more likely to make the trending list because there are simply a lot of Twitter users in Austin? Think about the power that gives Austinites and other tweeters from Twitter-friendly cities in terms of setting the agenda for what other Internet users hear and think about.

Whatever it may be, here's an example of an event that didn't make it past the local news in the traditional media (at least I'm not aware of any of the major networks running a story on the Austin hail storm, let alone the international media). Yet, Twitter spread the news of this localized event all the way to other countries - and all of that pretty much in real time. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Monitoring Online Conversations with Yahoo Pipes

Last week we concluded our discussion of online monitoring by building a Yahoo Pipe designed to capture conversations about SXSW. Considering all the excitement SXSW generated, I'm assuming the pipe we built kept your RSS reader busy over spring break! For those of you who weren't in class, I have embedded the slideshow/tutorial on how to build this pipe below. You don't necessarily need to monitor the same keywords (SXSW and southbysouthwest in our class example) - just use any tags/names/keywords you are interested in monitoring.

View more presentations from Corinne .

You may also want to read Brian Solis' new post on
Social Customer Relationship Management with regard to the need to listen in on online conversations. Yahoo pipes offer a very basic, yet easy way to do what Solis is describing here:
Listening to the dialog related to specific keywords within every community, initially, will help us define and chart an accurate social map that pinpoints the exact communities that require our attention, the volume and frequency of relevant conversations, and the tonality and reach of those conversations within their respective networks.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A new way to grade blogs?

I just found a fun new way to grade your blog posts. Here's the deal:
First, I'll run your blog URL through the MoneyPath Bailout Calculator (via @BarbaraNixon). Then I'll rank order your blogs based on the bailout money you received and assign a corresponding grade...

Okay, just joking! Tempting though :-)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Explaining Twitter in 140 characters or less - is it possible?

Good talk by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams on how Twitter evolved from the original idea of letting people share moments of their lives into something a lot more complex. Williams contends that although Twitter was initially designed as a broadcast medium, it's the users that ended up shaping the system into what it is today. Some of Twitter's current uses go far beyond the original idea of allowing people to stay connected and were completely unanticipated according to Williams.

I think that's one of the reasons many people have a hard time "getting" Twitter. Twitter is many things and continues to evolve in directions that are hard to anticipate - even by its co-founder. The ever-changing nature of Twitter means that we need to stay open to its many possibilities and that we can't just categorize it one way. It's another good example of what I talked about last week in a short guest post on the PRSA ComPRehension blog: the danger of static views of social media technologies. It's difficult to summarize what Twitter is all about. Imagine having to do so in true Twitter fashion: in 140 characters or less. I don't think I could do it. Could you? ABC tried to explain Twitter last week and they did a nice job but it took them 7 minutes to do so!

One other thing worth pointing out in this talk is the demonstration of Twitter as a backchanneling tool for presenters. We've seen it with Sarah Lacy's interview of Marc Zuckerberg at SXSW last year and we saw it again last night at the Texas Public Relations Association (TPRA) awards when comedian Sherry Belle offended her audience and was castigated in real-time on Twitter.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Who controls your online identity? Study suggests it may not be you.

Here's a summary of a study I discussed in my Interpersonal Communication class last week. The study examined the question of whether or not our Facebook friends influence the way other people perceive us online. The findings indicate that on social networking sites, our friends may indeed participate in the construction of our online identities. In other words, we're not solely in control of constructing these identities anylonger. A fact which a lot of companies have had to come to terms with over the course of the past few years - especially with regards to accepting that they're not solely in control of their brands' idenitities anylonger.
View more presentations from Corinne . (tags: pr study)
, J. B., Van Der Heide, B., Kim, S. Y., Westerman, D., & Tong, S. T. (2008). The Role of Friends’ Appearance and Behavior on Evaluations of Individuals on Facebook: Are We Known by the Company We Keep? Human Communication Research, 34 (1), 28-49.

Facebook's new terms of service angers users

I seem to be blogging about Terms of Service changes lately (see LMT post below). This time it's Facebook that's drawing criticism for changing its TOS. Check out this post from the Consumerist for the full story (via das Textdepot). Here's an excerpt from a Facebook reps' interpretation of the new TOS:
That is, if you send a message to another user (or post to their wall, etc...), that content might not be removed by Facebook if you delete your account (but can be deleted by your friend).
Update (02/18): Facebook today announced that it will temporarily revert back to the old TOS while it is working out the kinks in the new one. Mark Zuckerberg also announced the creation of a Facebook Bill of Rights & Responsibilities in his blog post.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Last Minute Travel Travails - or how not to run a promotional campaign

Last week, a website specializing in discount hotel and air fares, launched a tantalizing online promotion dubbed the "World For $1 Sale". In order to introduce people to the revamped website, the company (LMT) promised to run a 15 minute booking window each day (from January 26th - February 6th) during which site users could book a room in any of their 15,000 hotels for $1 a night. The catch? Users would have to decipher a series of clues in order to determine when those 15 minutes would occur.

The campaign went off without any major glitches the first two days, but as the promotion gained steam (it received coverage by several major media outlets: CNN, CNBC), the initial excitement soon turned to frustration and outright anger due to a number of seemingly avoidable problems such as:
  • Improperly timed email messages: After keeping everyone glued to their computers all day on Thursday, LMT sent out an email at 10 p.m. CST reading "You didn't miss your chance today because the sale hasn't happened yet" only to retract that email 2 hours later.
  • Ever-changing terms of service agreements: Thus far the TOS have changed 3 times, each time getting longer and specifying new restrictions. Another piece of confusion: Although the sale states that winners will pay $1 per day, they are actually charged $0. This raises questions of whether or not to consider the promotion a sale or a contest (and carries important tax repercussions).
  • Banning of auto-refresh and auto-fill browser plug-ins: As of yesterday the company has banned the use of auto-refresh plug-ins that keep reloading the page (i.e. check4changes, changeEvery). Note from LMT: "The World for a $1 Campaign was designed to give an equal opportunity to all individuals to make a booking during the Campaign, and therefore, the success of the Campaign requires that we forbid the use of automated devices and/or software. You may attempt to make a booking the “old-fashioned” way – by watching our videos that contain hints, logging onto the site, and checking the clock." These plug-ins were not banned earlier in the competition and the TOS were changed yesterday to add this new restrictions. Funny side-note: the LMT clue videos show computers auto-refreshing the hotels page while the video protagonists are asleep or have their hands tied to the bed.
  • Punishing crowds for pooling resources in a chatroom: In true Web2.0 fashion, Internet users started pooling resources by creating a forum to discuss clues, provide support to one another while waiting for hours, and most recently launching what may be the world's first silent chatroom meant to alert people when the sale came on. At the height of the wait last night, the chatroom hosted about 2,000 anxious Internet users. It seems LMT responded by randomly opening booking windows for individual users, rather than opening the sale to everyone at the same time.
  • Chopped up time segments: Rather than running 15 minute booking windows, the company has been running two 7.5 minute or three 5 minute windows. To complete the booking they also made users watch several promotional videos thereby complicating users' ability to complete the booking. (See forum for discussion of other allegations such as timers counting down to zero much faster than they should, videos looping endlessly, etc.)
  • Contradictory clues: One clue read: "Knowing when NOT to look, is as important as knowing when. Monday-Friday, The World for $1 will only happen between specific hours. While Kevin and Janice sleep in their Manhattan apartment, you need not worry about missing your chance." The video showed the couple sleeping from 11:52pm to 6:02am (EST), yet on day 3 and 5, the sale ran during the wee hours of the morning)
  • Limited hotel inventory during the sale period: Internet users trying to book hotels during the sale have reported only limited availabilities - especially with regard to 4 and 5 star hotels which are said to disappear during the sale.
Internet users who sat in front of their computers for hours on end yesterday reacted less than favorably to these change of terms and technical problems and have created a PR nightmare for LMT. Should the company have seen this coming? Absolutely. If people can trample a Wal-Mart worker for a sale on an $800 plasma TV , it's not that difficult to imagine how involved an excited Internet crowd can get in a sale that promises a 7-day resort vacation for $1.

I think that's exactly where LMT went wrong. I know web promotions are a big thing right now, but unless you have thoroughly thought this through, you shouldn't launch such an ambitious campaign. And there's plenty of reasons that lead me to believe that the company didn't think this through very well:
  • They launched a blog and a Facebook page 2 days after the sale had started, seemingly as an afterthought. Although the blog has comments enabled and plenty of upset website users have left comments, the company has yet to respond to any of them. Seems like a blog without a blogging strategy. One-way communication instead of dialog. Gil, who runs the blog sums it up nicely: I'm "actually not a blogger but rather a viral advertiser"
  • They clearly didn't anticipate the amount of users who would rush to their website at the same time and overwhelm their servers. You simply can't run such a promotion without having the technology side of it all figured out.
  • Changing the TOS several times suggests that they really hadn't put much thought into the first version. In this age of mass collaboration, is it really that difficult to fathom that Internet users would get organized and collaborate on this project? Maybe the authors of this campaign should read up on some Web 2.0 literature?
Update 02/04: KetaKeta Ltd., LMT's viral video advertising agency today called the campaign a success citing the buzz the promotion created as evidence of that success. Seems like the agency considers all buzz to be good buzz, considering that the comments on the World for $1 blog and the forum are mostly negative.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

French Media create Portrait of Person from Info Gathered from Social Networking Sites

Just in time for our discussion on personal branding and online privacy issues, I stumbled upon this intriguing story: Earlier this month, a French magazine called Le Tigre, published an intimate portrait of a randomly chosen Internet user laced with private information the reporter garnered from social networking sites around the web. The idea was to pick a complete stranger and to tell his life story based on the digital footprint that person either voluntarily or involuntarily left behind on the Internet. The magazine thereby tried to call attention to the fact that most people don't think about the bits of private information they share online, but that these pieces of information, once aggregated, draw a cohesive and troublingly intimate picture of our lives.

The point here: when you share information online, you've left the private sphere and shouldn't expect to keep that info protected. A good lesson for us all to learn!

Since publishing the Google portrait of Marc L. (the person featured in this article), the magazine had to change all references to cities, places, etc. The original article only rendered the names of the characters anonymous.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What a day: A new President and a new White House website

Within seconds of the swearing-in of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States came another big change today: the take-over of the White House website by the new administration. Social media enthusiasts will be excited to learn that the new site resembles the much praised site the Obama team had put up to communicate with the public during the presidential transition phase. The new White House website contains a blog and the first post by Macon Phillips, Director of New Media for the White House, clearly describes the priorities of the Obama administration's new media efforts (emphasis added by me):
1. Communication -- Americans are eager for information about the state of the economy, national security and a host of other issues. This site will feature timely and in-depth content meant to keep everyone up-to-date and educated. Check out the briefing room, keep tabs on the blog (RSS feed) and take a moment to sign up for e-mail updates from the President and his administration so you can be sure to know about major announcements and decisions.

2. Transparency -- President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and will play a major role in delivering on that promise. The President's executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review, and that’s just the beginning of our efforts to provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government. You can also learn about some of the senior leadership in the new administration and about the President’s policy priorities.

3. Participation -- President Obama started his career as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, where he saw firsthand what people can do when they come together for a common cause. Citizen participation will be a priority for the Administration, and the internet will play an important role in that. One significant addition to reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.
Update: Wow, I must say Obama's new media team is on the ball! I published this post at 1:52 p.m. and received a Twitter notification exactly 32 minutes later to inform me that Government Tweets (dotgov) is now following me on Twitter. And I thought they were all busy celebrating...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Spring Semester 09: Out with the old, in with the new!

The new semester is here and with it a number of changes to this class. First off, we have added a new textbook to the reading list: Deirdre Breakenridge's PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences. I'm hoping that this book will give students an idea of the tremendous impact social media has had (and will continue to have) on the PR profession and that it will encourage them to think of new ways to conceptualize PR practice.

Based on student feedback and my own experience teaching this class for the last 3 semesters, I've decided to add more emphasis to a number of issues, including:
  • Search engine optimization
  • The semantic web
  • Cloud computing
  • Microblogging
  • Social networking sites as a PR tool
  • Personal branding
  • Social media for crisis communication
This semester we'll also have an increased number of hands-on, in-class activities designed to demonstrate the various uses of a number of social media technologies such as:
  • Using social bookmarking sites as search tools
  • Doing a social media audit
  • Setting up Google alerts and similar monitoring tools
  • Creating a community of learners who share class content via social media tools such as social bookmarks (this semester social bookmarking will be an integral part of class participation)
Although the class projects remain mostly unchanged, the web video project will be completed entirely in the cloud using free web-based video editing tools. I experimented with this last semester and decided to adopt it for good because it worked so well (some students got hooked and started using these apps to make movies for their other classes). Besides, it looks like cloud computing might just be the future (see the rumors about Apple planning to move its video editing application iMovie online).

One of the major lessons I've learned while teaching this class is that students often approach new technologies with unrealistic expectations regarding their performance and ease of use. As a result, frustration levels tend to rise rather quickly when new technologies decide not to cooperate- especially when deadlines are looming. This is why I will be adding a session on dealing with new technologies and frustration levels when things don't work the way they should. This session will focus on how to problem shoot online and resolve technology problems on your own. An important skill to have IMHO!