How we used Twitter to help our community to tell its own story

community camerasI’m a huge fan of driving engagement by getting the community involved.

I have always argued that there are more folks on the ground than reporters, and often they can tell their story better than any outsider can.

Case in point: The @UW_Cameras twitter account from United Way Ottawa, where I work. United Way Ottawa gave some of the agencies it funds a wifi-enabled iPhone (dubbed a ‘community camera’) and gave access to this twitter account. We then asked them to show the world how they are changing lives on a daily basis.

The photos are stunning, and they tell a story better than we at United Way ever could. Take a look:

Continue reading How we used Twitter to help our community to tell its own story

5 simple ways to be a better publisher

Industrial age print presses are no longer required.
Industrial age print presses are no longer required to get your message out.

Publishing content has never been this easy, companies no longer have to rely on traditional media to get their message out.

Whether you’re publishing content as a company or an individual, there are a few fundamentals to keep in mind.

1. Know your audience

Who are you writing for? This is the first and most important step towards designing content to appeal to that audience. Take the highly-coveted world of the ‘mommy blogger.’  Pampers has created ‘Mommy Corner’, with lots of parenting tips for newbie parents. The site offers tips on how to get babies to sleep through the night, what to do with your toddler on a rainy day, cooking with your child… and coupons and explanations of its full product line.
BONUS: Get your audience to join in, and create its own content! Lots of sites have an active community of writers, looking to get their voice out to a wider audience. Involve your audience in the discussion, and watch your web traffic grow as they share with their networks.

Continue reading 5 simple ways to be a better publisher

Watching a hashtag spoil

Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake mock those talking in hashtags in this great spot.

More than a few times, I’ve found myself in the uncomfortable position of selecting a hashtag.

The key goal to selecting a hashtag is hoping people will use it. And use it as you intended.

Without the necessary foresight, a hashtag can go bad in an instant.

Case in point this week is Carleton University’s upcoming 75th anniversary in 2017, and its very public launch of its website and branding #DistinctlyCarleton. The University even devoted a full page to the campaign.

I’m sure the communications folks were hoping to read lovely comments from faculty, staff, students and alumnae when they tweeted about the relaunch:

Continue reading Watching a hashtag spoil

What to do with this space

No, not that kind of space. But nice image, Hubble.
No, not that kind of space. But nice image, Hubble.

I’ve been thinking about space for awhile.

Not the nebula taken by the Hubble you see beside this post, but more micro than that. This space. This blog.

What do I want this blog to be? For the past five years I’ve blogged mostly about journalism under the blog name ‘’.

(At the end of October, I’m retiring that URL, replacing it with the name you see at the top of this page. I know, original.)

Maybe this space suffered an identity crisis? After 16 years in newsrooms, I’m now a ‘Communications professional’ – someone called me that to my face the other day , so I guess it must be true –  and now I’m left wondering how best to use this space. For months, I’ve written nothing. Not-so-deep space, you might say.

But here’s the thing – I’m writing, editing, producing and storytelling more than ever.  My life has always been, and continues to be, about content.

I’ve been telling stories since I was two. Sure, at that time I was developing plot lines around my best/imaginary friend Cheeky, who was the most dynamic character you’d ever imagine. But from there I was writing short stories and poems in grade school, columns for the town paper in high school and I never looked back from the student newspaper office in university.

And who doesn’t love a good story? Who doesn’t love examining how content can make its audience react?  How simple letters/words/video/visuals can move us?

I’m going to be talking about amazing digital content here people.

That’s what this space is about.

The most important element of online storytelling

hookIf you haven’t got me interested with your your first sentence, I’m out.

I’m fickle, ruthless and impatient with online content. And I’m not alone.

Journalists have always known the importance of snappy headlines and crafting a lead that makes a reader want to know more.

That’s why most stories written are in an ‘inverted pyramid’ style, with the most pressing information at the top and less information (traditionally it could be cut from a printed page) at the bottom.

With digital distractions (yes, I’m looking at you social media) all over the web, it’s important to remember that your reader is only one click from moving on. Continue reading The most important element of online storytelling

5 fundamental things you must understand about Twitter


Such a lovely, silly name for such an important social media tool.

In my last post, I wrote the five fundamental things you must know about Facebook. In it, I called Twitter a ‘sexy flirt.’ Some of my Twitter followers took offence to that, and pointed out how often I’m on the social media tool.

It’s true – I tweet a lot. Last night I live blogged/tweeted a fascinating debate on Canada’s Press Gallery, asking ‘Does it matter?’ It was great to get immediate feedback from twitter followers on the statements made by panelists in real time.

So, to give my close companion – sexy flirt that Twitter is – its due, I’m going to offer five fundamentals you must know about Twitter.

Continue reading 5 fundamental things you must understand about Twitter

5 fundamental things you must understand about Facebook

facebookI’m not denying that Twitter is sexy. Something about those 140 characters is so alluring. Perhaps it’s the challenge of displaying wit and intellect in a soundbite.

I love Twitter, don’t get me wrong.

But I also find it interesting that during conversations I’ve had with people (journalists, politicos, public relations/communications professionals) about social media, they think Twitter first. There’s no doubt that there are some key influencers on Twitter.

The New York Times’ David Carr recently said at a Boston University recent conference on narrative:

‘Being big on Twitter is like being big in Japan. You can’t use it as a metric of your actual reach.’

Twitter may be a sexy flirt, but Facebook is a player.

Continue reading 5 fundamental things you must understand about Facebook

We need to keep experimenting in journalism

This photo from the high school science class I really wish I'd taken.
This photo from the high school science class I really wish I’d taken.

Any good scientist will tell you that not all experiments succeed, but it’s important to keep at it.

It’s sad to hear that Digital First Media in the U.S. is closing its Thunderdome shop and selling some of its papers. There were a lot of quality journalists working on the team to centralize news for all DFM news properties.

Steve Buttry, one Thunderdome’s many talented journalists, has written this completely honest post on the demise of the project. In it he writes:

I knew the risks in 2011 when I went to work for a company owned by hedge funds. And I knew the risks in 2012 when I turned down an attractive offer from a family-owned newspaper company to stay with the company owned by hedge funds.

All this makes the j-school students I teach, the journalists of the future, nervous.

Continue reading We need to keep experimenting in journalism

Learn new things, flex that journalism muscle

Fantastic image from Jeffrey Dvorkin's blog Now the details
Fantastic image from Jeffrey Dvorkin’s blog
Now the details

Journalism is an art that requires practice. I tell students it is a muscle, and like athletes they are training.

Yes, this means endless writing, but it also means feeding the curiosity that comes so naturally to all journalists. You wake up with questions, ask more questions throughout the day and even when you drag your sorry self to bed… still, more questions.

Learning more about where you live, and the people who make up your city is a way to start answering these questions.

At the same time, journalists are always curious about new tools to find and tell sotries.

The training in journalism never ends – reporters who have been in the business more than a decade will remember ‘training days/courses’ (I was once sent on a fabulous week-long course in D.C. called ‘Managing the 24/7 newsroom’ at the American Press Institute).

These days, however, skills are self-taught, or learned through support networks with colleagues who have figured out something new and are willing to pass along the knowledge.

When I ask journalists (and communications professionals) what they’d like to learn next, they often tell me they’d like to become more comfortable with ‘Big data.’ To them I say, roll up your sleeves and get started. It’s time to work some muscle. You have to just do it. (Getting comfortable with spreadsheets is a start.)

Continue reading Learn new things, flex that journalism muscle

Why humans are better than computers at social media analytics

No, not this Data. BIG data.
No, not this Data. BIG data.

When it comes to understanding what is being said about you/your company/your product via social media – and whether it’s positive or negative – humans have the edge.

Or, at least it’s possible for those who can understand context, inflection and emphasis. Shocker.

See that? Sarcasm. It’s the bane of online communication. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve written an email or blasted out a sarcastic tweet that was misunderstood.

That’s why Jim Sterne thinks understanding social media analytics is so much more than measuring RT’s, hits, mentions with data tools.

Computers crunch numbers, analysis is real work that must be done by people, Sterne said during his talk at a recent Third Tuesday Ottawa event.

When examining social media data, the greatest understanding isn’t during a “Eureka!” moment, Sterne said.

Rather, more can be gained from asking “That’s funny… I wonder why that happened?”

Just as in journalism, asking the right question will help you understand the story more fully.

Quite a few times during Sterne’s talk, I found many parallels between social media analytics and things we practice naturally in journalism.

Sterne spoke of intuition, and this need for understanding as important as intelligence and knowledge when looking at data.

Creativity is essential – when examining social media metrics, we need to look from a different perspective, Sterne said. And then he delivered this gem, which all journalists can probably identify with:

The goal to presenting social media analytics is story telling, Sterne said.

“Don’t just crank out numbers in reports,” he said. Help people understand your audience, who the typical person is who you are appealing to.

“And sure, if someone comes at you looking for statistics, give them all the charts and graphs they want,” he added.

One point I took issue with was Sterne’s response to a question about real-time analytics. They’re not accurate enough, he said. You need to have a broader perspective of what’s out there – and real-time is drilled down too far.

“The problem is you look at the last data point, and not the whole picture,” Sterne said.

I disagree. When it comes to social media, you need to be on top of what is out there, whether you are dealing with crisis communications or customer service. I think you need to look at the forest and  the trees.