Sheila Guides You to the Good Stuff

July 2, 2009

The dumb names are not important

Filed under: Mobile,Twitter,Web Communications — Sheila Scarborough @ 10:29 pm
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Model T Ford club members (courtesy me'nthedogs' on Flickr CC)It’s hard to take something called “Twitter” seriously, I know, but the various cutesy-named social media tools and applications are not important in and of themselves.

It is what people are doing with them.

These are early days for Web connection technology, very much akin to the early days of the automobile. Sure, the first cars were loud, stupid and rather unreliable, compared to Ye Olde Horse.

Why bother, said most folks.  Aren’t those silly new machines a ridiculous extravagance?

If, however, one looked beyond how to make the danged things work, and finding decent roads to drive them on, and locating places that sold gas, tires and parts, one could see the Big Picture….fast and affordable personal transportation across vast distances, anywhere, anytime.

That’s the social Web, too: human connection, anywhere and anytime.

Today I’m reading a John Sutter article on CNN.com about Steve Tucker, a farmer in Brandon, Nebraska who sends tweets from his tractor (I learned about the article on Twitter, of course.)

Who the hell cares, you ask? I care. Here is why, from the article:

“Tucker is proof that smartphones are starting to put down roots in rural America. He lives in a 150-person town near Brandon, Nebraska — a place even he calls ‘the middle of nowhere.’ The nearest neighbor to his 4,000-acre farm is about 2 miles away.

Yet, farmers like Tucker are using Internet-enabled phones to gain a foothold on online social networks — both for business and personal reasons. (Follow him on Twitter)

‘I can be in the most remote place and just with the power of having a BlackBerry … I can communicate with anybody at anytime about anything,’ he said. ‘It is just amazing.’

The growth of smartphones on farms is important because many people don’t think about where their food comes from, much less associate a specific farmer with that process, said Andy Kleinschmidt, a farmer and agricultural extension educator at Ohio State University.

‘When you can put a name or personality with someone who’s actually raising corn and soybeans or actually milking cows, that’s the most important thing that’s come about in my opinion,’ he said.”

We are watching our society knit itself together, making far-reaching human connections across timezones and cultures, in totally new and unexpected ways.  I learned about Steve in Nebraska on the same day that I reconnected with a wonderful travel writer in Florida;  I first heard Tom Swick speak at the best annual book festival anywhere, and now he’s figuring out what to do with Twitter, just like Steve on the tractor.

I would not miss this moment in history for anything, even if it does come laden with goofy names for the tools we are using to make that history.

June 27, 2009

Does social media ROI mean Return on Investment or Return on Ignoring?

Filed under: Web Communications — Sheila Scarborough @ 10:56 pm
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The 3 monkeys who don't see, hear or speak (courtesy Anderson Mancini at Flickr CC)I wanted to call your attention to my Aussie friend Des Walsh’s excellent post on why social media ignorance [is] not an option for business.

One of the post comments, from Carlos Hernandez, mentioned a moderator’s remark during the recent 140 Characters Conference (about Twitter) in New York.

While moderating a panel, Jeffrey Hayzlett, Kodak Chief Marketing Officer, noted that ROI (in addition to its usual “Return on Investment”) can also mean “Return on Ignoring” if a business or organization sticks its collective head in the sand about the fundamental changes wrought by the social Web.

Couldn’t agree more.

The connectivity of the Web and cellular technology, in the hands of humans who desire connection, is equivalent to the impact of the printing press in Western culture or movable type in East Asian culture. In fact, it has MORE impact because we can reach around the world with it almost instantly.  The “Return on Ignoring” is finding that one’s business has been left behind.

Yet, the scoffs and laughter continue amongst those who will not see, unfortunately many of them around my age (I’m 48.)

I see it, though.

I see it even with bifocal contacts and gray hair. I’ve seen it ever since I wrote about network-centric warfare and Navy organizational structure.

I see the path and I’m heading down it with confidence, even if I have to leave a few folks wandering behind in the wilderness. They see a mirage called “the way it was,” but my feet are taking me along the path carved by “the way it is.”

Want to travel with me?

June 18, 2009

When should you remove or shut down comments on a blog post?

Filed under: Blogs,Web Communications — Sheila Scarborough @ 4:10 pm
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Arguing with himself (courtesy Leonid Mamchenkov at Flickr CC)We’ve all been there – you’re reading along through the comments in a blog post, and two (or more) of the commenters start getting into a written tussle, a back-and-forth that gets increasingly heated and increasingly irrelevant to the original post topic.

It’s similar to watching two drunks arguing at a party;  the usual reaction from more sober bystanders is, “Get me out the heck out of here.” Same thing on a blog – readers see all that racket and click away for more rational discussions elsewhere. Maybe a few want to hang around and watch the train wreck, but really, why feed the voyeurs?

If you’re the blog administrator, what should you do when your post is hijacked like that?

It’s easy to remove stupid, obviously spammy comments from trolls, but what about apparently rational readers who have a bone to pick with each other?

On the Perceptive Travel Blog, I wrote a post about the Art Car Parade in Houston, Texas – a really fun and quirky annual event with wildly decorated cars. Two commenters starting disagreeing about whether a woman in the parade had shouted foul language at bystanders, particularly children.

Since their own language remained relatively civil, I didn’t remove any of their comments, even when the Cranky Factor escalated.

My view is that it’s usually not a good idea to remove comments once they’re posted because yes, people DO remember that they were there, and as long as the discussion was reasonable, readers will wonder what the blog owner is trying to hide or squelch. They’ll often leave comments asking about the missing comments, too. (At times like that, you’ll be almost ready to swear off of two-way communications like blogging….)

The best information I’ve found so far also indicates that I’m not held liable for comments left on my blog (for you legal beagles out there who are wondering, because I wondered, too.)

So, after my one “let’s all calm down” comment failed to stop the additional verbiage coming in from these two women, I closed all comments on the post.

I’ve never done that before – it felt a bit odd, but I figured if I was tired of reading about who-said-what, my readers were as well, and my first responsibility on that blog is to provide good travel-related content, not a platform for those two to holler at each other.

Here’s what I wrote in the final comment:

“I’m now closing comments on this post, which is supposed to be about the Art Car Parade and not devolve into a “who said what in Houston.”

Dawn, I know you submitted another long comment in response to Nikki’s comment, but I really do not want my blog (which I think of as my house) becoming a platform for arguments about some other woman’s actions and whether they occurred or not on the day of the parade.

Y’all take your discussion elsewhere, please. Start blogs or something.

For all the other readers, just go see the danged event, but any verbal or actual brawling that occurs there is out of my control.”

That’s my take on the situation – most comment brawls only make the commenters look silly, not the blog author, but at some point, hey, it’s MY blog.  The comments are an integral part of any blog, but if they run off the rails, they also run the blog off the rails.  I stopped the train.

What would you do in a similar situation?

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June 15, 2009

How to reach out to bloggers, and what makes us crazy

Reaching out; we all do it (courtesy exquisitur at Flickr CC)I recently received an email from a senior executive at a mainstream public relations (PR) firm.  She said that she has clients in the travel industry and they’d like to know how to reach out to bloggers, and specifically how to get a mention on my BootsnAll Family Travel Logue.

You know what’s next (bloggers are a different breed because we’re public, rapid and sharing) so to save myself from drafting an entirely new blog post when I’ve already written what I want to say, this is what I told her, shared here with you….

“In response to your question, the answer is yes, I do get a ton of PR/marketing emails and end up deleting most of them, and blocking those that are totally unrelated to family travel, sent to me 4 times or with giant attachments that clog up my life.

It is too hard (and not worth it for my [travel blog] readers) to keep up with the rising, ever-more-desperate stream of notices (desperate because of the economy) about hotel packages, good deals on ritzy, live-in-a-bubble resorts in Cancun (I’m not a resort kind of traveler, as any reader of my blog knows,) how CVS Pharmacy products can help my family road trip, blah blah.

The flood is really starting to impede my ability to see/respond to important emails that involve actual writing or consulting work for pay.

I want to blog about places I visit and things I do with my kids, not regurgitate, for free, press releases about resorts that I’ve never been to and will never visit.  I write for two travel blogs, two blogs about social media and another about drag racing – I don’t have time to plow through all that junk.

The few emails that resonate indicate that:

  1. The sender actually reads my blog, and not just to get my name to “personalize” their email blast. I particularly like the copy/paste of my name such that the greeting is one font and the press release pasted below is another.
  2. The topic ties into a place that I’ve been to and written about. I’ll admit that the current template on my Family Travel blog is NOT search-friendly and I’m addressing that with BootsnAll, but my topic categories can be found through Archives at the bottom of the front page.  You can’t read my mind to see where I’m going that I haven’t visited before, obviously, so PR might get lucky and hit me with something about someplace I happen to be planning to go (but I doubt it, so why waste your time?)
  3. The email topic ties to my focus of budget, independent, family-friendly travel. I’ve lived in the Middle East as a preteen and with my own kids in Asia and Europe, and have traveled all over the US.  I am so NOT the kind of person to stay in some all-inclusive package place in Cancun or Jamaica, so don’t inundate me with off-topic pitches.
  4. I would much rather support state/county/city tourism organizations than more commercial travel businesses.
  5. I’d rather deal with someone who has already “hung out” on my blog, by leaving a comment or two on some of my posts. Problem is, hardly any PR rep who’s blasted an email at me has ever stopped by and left a helpful comment and participated in the blog’s conversation BEFORE filling my IN box.

When I DO say “y’all come” to tourism organizations, they are often clueless. They’re so used to broadcasting, they don’t know how to interact in a two-way fashion.

For example, I’ve been running the 50 State Series on my family travel blog for weeks now, taking family-friendly suggestions from Twitter and Facebook for each state. I’m giving state tourism organizations a chance to toot their own horn, but I can’t believe how hard it is to get them to respond. Hel-LO!  Here’s the Vermont family travel 50 states post; that is the kind of stuff I want to blog about. Thank goodness for my Twitter followers; at least they know how to respond to calls for tips or I’d never get a post done each week.

Other insights:

  1. I talked about this outreach topic in a podcast with travel writer and blogger Pam Mandel for Canadian tourism tech expert Todd Lucier: A conversation with bloggers about their craft.  Some of your clients might find it helpful.
  2. They should also read this guest post by my Perceptive Travel editor Tim Leffel:  6 ways to improve your destination marketing (and why you’re toast if you don’t)

Sorry if any of this came across as excessively crabby, but there’s no magic bullet for blogger outreach. Good PR has always been about knowing your target journalist or writer, establishing a relationship BEFORE you pitch and not pitching blindly.

PR folks Geoff Livingston, Kami Huyse and Jason Falls have met and interacted with me on Twitter, on my blogs and in person at events like the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) tech conference. I respect their knowledge, count them as friends and would now listen to most anything they have to say to me. They’re the gold standard.”

That’s all you gotta do, really….

Did I miss anything? Am I, in fact, just too crabby?  🙂

June 7, 2009

Bloggers hit the Pacific Business News front page

Pacific Business News front page featuring the HTA blogger's tourI’ve just returned from a 10-day “fam tour” (familiarization tour,  sometimes called a press trip) to the Hawaiian Islands with a diverse group of bloggers who were sponsored by the state’s Hawaii Tourism Authority and organized by Cilantro Media.

Our trip made the front page of the Pacific Business News, and in the fight for the legitimacy of bloggers and wired writers/photographers/videographers as information sources, that’s kind of a big deal.

More thoughts to follow, but the bottom line is that I see our “So Much More Hawaii” tour as a breakthrough in the use of social media for tourism and travel organizations.

It shows that bloggers can provide legitimate insights into a destination.

We can also reach an audience that might not be swayed by glossy brochures, advertorials in newspapers that we don’t read or TV ads on programs that we don’t watch (because we watch TV on Hulu.com instead.)

Seems a little strange that economic desperation is largely driving this interest in social media, but we’ll take what we can get.

Just So You Know Disclaimer:  The state Hawaii Tourism Authority through Cilantro Media paid my way to Hawaii for the So Much More Hawaii bloggers tour, and also paid most of my expenses while I was there.

May 24, 2009

So Much More Hawaii – talking travel story with blogs

Beach Office (courtesy Scott Ableman on Flickr CC)Next week, my 9-year-old son and I are heading west from Texas to spend 10 full days in the Hawaiian islands, all because of blogging and Twitter.

Through my tweets, writing and particularly my travel blogs, I’ve gotten to know Christine Lu of Cilantro Media and several people who work in tourism for the state of Hawaii.  They’ve gotten to know me and my enthusiasm for social media in tourism.

To connect digital creatives with a beautiful place, the Hawaii Tourism Authority is bringing a group of prominent bloggers to Hawaii to “talk story” about what we find on Kauai, Maui, the Big Island and Oahu. I’ll be the blogger who mostly covers family travel.

The tour is called So Much More Hawaii (full Web site up in the next day or so. Meantime, add your best pics to our Flickr pool.)  (Update – here is the So Much More Hawaii blog/microsite that includes our content plus that of local bloggers.)

I was on Christine Lu’s China 2.0 tour in November 2008,  and social media is a common theme in her life for creating those connections.  She writes:

“The upcoming ‘So Much More Hawaii’ tour is meant as a proof of concept that through social media, first-hand insight of Hawaii can create content and outreach that influences those to understand Hawaii better and want to visit the islands…key bloggers in different vertical niche markets [will] experience the islands as a group, with separate sector focuses. Each one has a sector they are known for covering and their visit to Hawaii is meant to share this with their audience.”

Other bloggers on the tour include:

As we all know, the economy is down around the world. The Hawaii tourism industry is in crisis right now and the outlook is grim.  I applaud Christine and others for seeking new, more effective ways to use social media to showcase the islands for potential visitors.

Here are some of the blog posts already online about So Much More Hawaii:

Keep an eye not only on this blog but also on the Perceptive Travel Blog, my Twitter stream and the @HawaiiHTA stream (we’re using hashtag #HawaiiHTA.)

Just So You Know Disclaimer:  The Hawaii Tourism Authority through Cilantro Media is paying my way to Hawaii, and also paying most of my expenses while I am there including lodging.  I am contributing to my son’s expenses. The point of the trip is to bring experienced bloggers and communicators to the islands to talk about what we see; my primary focus will be on travel with kids. No one has told me that I cannot post negative information. No one has told me that I must say positive things.  I will be as objective as I can possibly be.

May 14, 2009

Share your virtual cookies with your imaginary Internet friends

Sheila shares a social media cookie in Hutchinson, Kansas (courtesy Becky McCray on Facebook)As soon as our gaggle settled in for the first meeting on the blogger’s tour in Hutchinson, Kansas, we started whipping out the laptops, cameras and other geek accoutrements.

That’s what those who are wired into the social web do – we start connecting immediately.

Bloggers are natural connectors, but we do it differently than some, and we use Web tools in ways that seem strange to the unplugged.

Sitting around the table, we introduced ourselves and ate box lunches while we yakked, tweeted and photographed everything.

At one point, I pulled this enormous cookie from my lunch and made some joke about it, and small business whiz Becky McCray pulled out her camera to take a photo.

You could sense that our Hutchinson hosts thought we were a bit silly, photographing everything, but I said, “Just you wait, this cookie can get around, and we’ll use it to talk about your town.”

  • The “Hutch cookie” lives on Becky McCray’s Facebook profile under Photos. More importantly, it’s in the Hutch Blogger Tour set. That set shows people some of the neat stuff we saw in Hutchinson (and every time she uploaded something to it, everyone in her Facebook network saw it.)
  • I tweeted about the cookie after the “Share your cookies with your imaginary Internet friends” was posted.  Because the post was hashtagged with #Hutch (the Hutchinson-related hashtag) it also shows up in Twitter Search.

Yes, it’s only a cookie. It’s a seemingly pointless photo; but, it will live on forever, and so will our words about Hutchinson, Kansas.

THAT’S why the Web is powerful as hell.

April 29, 2009

How to respond to a negative blog review

crayola-state-crayon-collection-courtesy-acidcookie-at-flickr-ccThis morning I Stumbled a post on the Travels with Children blog; it’s a fairly negative review of the Crayola Factory in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Author Linda didn’t feel that the place met her expectations for a creative experience for her kids. There was no “wild blogger” ranting or digital spittle – she was simply disappointed in what visitors get there for their money and time.

Since she linked to the Crayola establishment (they should see that by monitoring inbound links/backlinks) and wrote about them as “Crayola Factory in Easton, Pennsylvania” (which any decent Google Alert should catch) I would expect a sharp PR/marketing person from the company to check out the post and leave a comment.

You know, at least something along the lines of “We’re sorry you were disappointed, we’ll take your ideas into consideration, we have a facility redesign in the works, blah blah.”

Figure the odds that anyone actually does that.

A quick glance would show anyone that Linda’s blog isn’t the home of some pajama’d nutcase. She has active and engaged readers who are interested in her family travel topic.

The business communications world often still doesn’t get it, so the review will probably sit there, unanswered.

To me, that’s a lost opportunity for Crayola to reach out to customers and possibly turn a negative impression into a positive one.

Your thoughts?

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