Death on social media

About a month ago, my grandmother passed away.

Obviously there were other things that I had thought about and physically had to do, but I noticed that my activity on Twitter and my usual blog had dropped off to zero. I was on the computer many times, checking in at work and communicating with family over email, but not once did I want to post on Facebook or put a tweet into the cyberverse.

It would have felt too close to celebrating or doing something fun. (I even spent 10 minutes deciding whether or not a picture of my grandmother would be appropriate to post online. I decided not to.)

But weeks later, I’m wondering if there are any tools online to help people deal with loss. For me, platforms like Facebook are for things that are more fun. It’d probably take something more than online chat with a grief counsellor (and I would think in-person support would be more effective) but it’d be interesting to see if there were any social media resources for these purposes.


Cory Booker: social media mayor

I’ve been a fan of Newark, NJ Major Cory Booker since I saw him on The Daily Show last year. The way he spoke about his city and the potential for his constituents to keep moving forward was inspiring. This wasn’t the actual TDS clip but another great example of how sincere he sounds when he praises the people he works for:

Flashforward to now. Thanks to a Joel Stein article mocking Sarah Palin’s Alaska (she deserves ridicule), I started to follow @corybooker on Twitter. Not only did this dude continue to inspire (and be inspired by) the people of Newark, he really leveraged the strengths of this medium:

Same day responses to requests to fix pot holes? Sure, it might be a trivial issue compared to other things going on in Newark, but how often do you get same day responses to non-urgent issues from your bosses, your doctors, or your own politicians? His blog, Facebook page, and youtube channel show that he is also consistently communicating directly with his constituents about the important thigns he is working on.

I understand that politicians probably don’t do these things on their own and they have a staff that helps with this type of work, but the fact this leadership leads to this level of access is still impressive. Show me another mayor (or any other politician, employer, or community leader) who is able to engage her or his constituents as well as Cory Booker, please.  The world needs to see more of this.

Multwiple accounts!

Social media experts familiar with Twitter will likely have capabilities managing multiple accounts. They’ll have their own personal account and then the accounts of whatever project they’re working on at the time.

In the interests of developing these expertise, I’ve created @ttbama513 and will be engaging others over Twitter about social media. I’ll also note how well Hootsuite and Tweetdeck enable multiple accounts.

In the meantime, here are some resources related to how Twitter can be effective for individuals:

Slow response time?

In class a few weeks back, our prof described an undergrad student who sent a “Why haven’t you gotten back to me yet?” email to him after failing to receive a response in 45 minutes. Obviously, he was telling us the story because we understood, as intelligent experienced Masters students, that a reasonable turnaround time was probably 24 hours for a non-urgent request. If you were emailing someone who could be expected to be busy, within 48 hours wouldn’t be unheard of.

@cdnsoccergirl asked whether or not it was so unreasonable for that undergrad to expect such a quick response. “Could 45 minutes the new standard though?” The answer, at least for this particular case, was no. (The prof in question was teaching a class during all 45 of those minutes and replying to an email would have been impossible.)

On the other hand, at the end of the work day, I check my Twitter feed and find that something I missed in the morning or even 3 hours earlier is old news by the time I got to it. 45 minutes is probably an unrealistic expectation for the timeframe in which someone responds to your email, but given the availability of mobile devices and thus to email, Facebook, and Twitter, maybe we need to start thinking about the perception around how long it takes for us to reply.

“Show me the money!”

I cringe every time Jerry Maguire is quoted without irony.

One thing we discussed in class last night was the use of social media in fundraising. It was a very brief tangent (we spent more time talking about the cover of Wired), but I managed to take away a very important difference between social media used in overall activities of non-profit organizations and social media used for fundraising.


Social media can be very effective for fundraising. I hate to keep referring to the Obama campaign in 2008 (yeah, you should really read Yes We Did) but that was a great example of what to do if you want to encourage people to make donations.

The traditional method of political fundraising was to cater to people with money who want to influence power, e.g. invite a bunch of privileged rich people to a fancy schmancy dinner and charge them what you think you are worth. Essentially, the norm was to ask a small group of people to make large donations. What Obama’s campaign did instead was to target regular Americans, which was consistent with their key message of putting power back into the communities, and ask many people for smaller donations.

And the campaign found great success by raising $500M online compared to McCain’s $75M from online donations. (By the way, Freaknomics author Stephen Dubner argues that current research suggests raising more money doesn’t lead to a win on election night. Rather, it’s the reason why more people tend to donate to a particular candidate that is related to the reason why more people tend to vote for that candidate.)

Another great example is the Movember phenomenon that is happening right now. (Yes! A rare timely blog post!) Instead of prostate cancer foundations asking for money, men (and some women with too much testosterone) are growing facial hair and asking their friends and family for money. The campaign makes use of the fact that leveraging stronger connections is more important than trying to exploit weak ones. (And feel free to prove your strong connection to me.)

Non-profit organizations

So social media is effective can be effective for raising money towards good causes. However, I argue that it is more difficult to build communities around good causes using the same tools. For a non-profit organization to motivate a group of committed individuals to do good works toward a cause, it will take more than social media, simply because the actions required must be meaningful and take more effort and gumption than simply donating money.

Malcolm Gladwell describes activism and social change in the 60s, before all these kids were getting into Facebook and Twitter. The costs of their actions and the potential risks involve dwarf what social media allows us to do today. Standing nose to nose with figures of authority does not compare to clicking “Like” on a Facebook Cause or entering your credit card information to make an online donation. And real, meaningful action will take more than that.

So what?

Social media is an important tool for non-profit organizations. It can be very effective in fundraising and will also have a very important role in communicating with the community and recruiting new members.

However, social media experts in these groups should be careful in focusing exclusively on these tools, since their ability to connect online activities with meaningful offline action will determine whether or not they succeed overall.

Even Masters Students Do Book Reports

In important part of the eMarketing course I’m taking is to review the work of others. (Don’t worry. This blog is about more than just doing my homework.) Far be it for me to take the word of my prof as gospel, but he would probably be the first to cite references that support what he says, as well as refer to sources that might have a different opinion. The most important thing is to develop the skills that help you assess whether or not the material is useful for you and determine what you can take away from it.

Yes We Did (Cover)

So an assignment to complete is a book report. Actually, it’s more flexible than that since students can review an article, blog, or podcast or conduct an interview relevant to eMarketing, so long as take-aways are interesting and useful for professional marketers.

I had just started reading Rahaf Harfoush‘s Yes We Did when this particular homework was assigned, so I thought it would be a great choice from the two birds, one stone aspect. In addition, the book was relevant to my interest in social media, not as a way to build a brand around a business, but as a way to build a community around a brand and keep that brand consistent as the community grows. The book delivered on the expected content. Harfoush’s experience as a new media strategist provided many social media lessons as well, so Yes We Did turned out to be a great choice.


Yes We Did is broken down into three sections, corresponding to the periods in which Barack Obama was the underdog, the candidate, and POTUS. Although there are several short chapters about Harfoush’s experience working on the campaign, the book is about the social media campaign and how the brand was communicated through, email, text messaging, an iPhone app, blogs, social network sites, video, and online ads.

Through the retelling of the social media story, a prevailing theme is using online resources to build a community. This need for regular Americans to get together and be heard over the corporations and special interest groups which was the pivotal point for many Obama supporters. Yes We Did explains how the social media strategy of the campaign leveraged this inherent need of Americans into meaningful offline actions.

A significant turning point in the campaign was the final day of the Republican National Convention on September 4, 2008, when Sarah Palin compared Obama’s community organizing experience to that of a small-town mayor’s, except for “actual responsibilities” (At the 0:56 mark).

Campaign Manager David Plouffe mobilized Obama followers using email and other social media within mere hours, tapping into the “narrative of empowerment” that Palin had just insulted. Within the first 24 hours, supporters contributed $10 million to the campaign. This story exemplifies the way the strength of social media was leveraged in building the strong community and motivating online activities into offline actions.


American politics is arguably the most interesting politics on the planet. In 2008, there had been no other election and no other campaign utilizing social media to the extent that the Obama campaign had. Harfoush literally writes the book on an effective way for campaigns to use new technologies to provide information and media to supporters, encourage meaningful activities through the right incentives, and organically grow groups of followers. Yes We Did gets into the granular details about how the Obama brand was fostered online across the United States.

However, there was very little of the book devoted to how the brand was created. In then Senator Obama’s case, this was obviously done offline to be consistent. As a result, the message and the spirit of the brand was a natural extension of what was happening offline, where traditional campaigning was still vitally important.

Example of email from Obama campaign

An example of an email from the Obama campaign

But to traditional marketers, the importance of online media is highlighted in Yes We Can. Simply involving social media is not enough. You have to do it well, as illustrated in the contrasting example of McCain’s email strategy. The McCain campaign had seemingly no specific email strategy. Emails tended to be large blocks of text resembling press releases and contained no images and very few links. Patrick Ruffini called them “Tolstoy in my inbox”. Meanwhile, Obama emails were crafted to mix pictures, text, and links with an “emphasis placed on brevity”. They also carried a voice emulating Obama’s eloquence during speeches.

(Not only is the difference in social media strategies seen in the votes, but also in fundraising. Obama raised $500 million online while McCain only raised $75 million from online sources. This allowed Obama’s overall war chest to be over twice as large as McCain’s.)

For social media marketers, the book provides evidence for why marketing principles still apply online. An important example was the way the campaign segmented followers by demographics such as location but also by psychographics such that they could tailor emails and text messages to the issues that resonate with a particular recipient.

Relevance and Usefulness

Obviously, the application of Yes We Did is not limited to political campaigns, but to any use of social media to build communities. Although the techniques were applied in a short-term campaign, many of the social media lessons would apply to organizations aiming to build long-term relationships online.

For me, the book did not provide much direction for creating a brand’s message and crafting the spirit around the message. However, I did see that applying the social media lessons described would largely depend on whether or not they were consistent with the brand. Utilizing what Harfoush describes in a setting where leaders are independent or an environment where open communication is not paramount would likely not be as successful.

Yes We Did is not only a great summary of the social media lessons from the Obama campaign, but is a great read for anyone wanting to learn more about building communities online for meaningful offline actions.

Off we go!

This is an outrage.

My e-marketing class started almost two weeks ago and I have yet to make a blog post. This is meant to be a course where we basically show off what we can do to potential employers and simple cultivate our interests in social media. I was excited because I will finally be able to justify spending time on blogs, tweets, and JOINING THE COMMUNITY without worrying about other assignments, deadlines for work I actually get paid for, and spending time with awesome people.

(But it didn’t happen for reasons I may or may not blog about later. Stay tuned.)

In any case, I’ve always been interested in social media and ways to use new technologies to come together as human beings.

My social media experience began in the fall of 2008, when I took part in a blogging workshop in Mauritius. It was run by Sameer Vasta for the hundred International Gold Encounter delegates from around the world.

The workshop was conducted without computers except for the 10 minutes at the end where we signed up for blog accounts. Instead, we used chalk and the ground, walls, and any other surface of the Seniors’ Centre we stayed in to speak our minds and comment on what each other were writing. Given that there were so many of us from so many different places in the world, it provided a way for us to find out that we’ve known each other all along.

For me, it really spoke to the potential of social media. It’s not for that guy’s company to create new customers. It’s not so this guy can show his boss how popular their product is because they have x number of followers. It’s a way for people to share their thoughts discover who they really are.


I’m all for demonstrating expertise and interest in social media for potential employers, but my purpose of this blog (aside from course requirements) is to share examples,  resources, and tools that go beyond the quotidian ways blogs, tweets, and all the rest of it are exploited by companies that may or may not have a decent marketing strategy.

I’m still excited about this and my reasons for putting off this project have been addressed. Will be updating regularly now for the blog to be considered a journey. Join me, won’t you?