Nov 23

Mining Networks

Information Research Through Finding
& Following Subject Matter Experts

 When researching a topic, Googling, using Linkedin Answers, searching Twitter, posting a tweet to your peeps, phoning contacts, or retaining an information broker are all good approaches. Another effective tool is mining Delicious bookmarks and, better yet, mining the Delicious user network.

Delicious (formerly is the leading online bookmarking service and used by many programmers, industry experts, journalists and thought leaders. They use Delicious for the same reasons you should: it’s a convenient way to keep track of web addresses and articles that you may need to reference in the future.

Unless you’re already a mover and a shaker who has personal relationships with such contacts, finding subject matter experts on Delicious may be a close as you can practically get to phoning an friend who is an authority in the particular conceptual area of your question. Delicious is also a social network, which provides the opportunity to identify emerging industry trends and issues early, before they become mainstream. The site allows you to create a personal “network” of other Delicious users whose bookmarks are of interest, and you can view their networks as well (FAQ on Delicious Networks).

Mining the Delicious user base of experts is simply a focused extension of exploring individual Delicious bookmarks:

  1. Presuming you already have a well-populated Delicious account or you’ve done a search for bookmarks of interest, you can click on the number of people who have bookmarked a particular site to see those users’ pages. This number is located in the upper right corner of the individual bookmark’s information (#1). Alternatively, you can click on the original bookmarker of the site in the lower left corner of the bookmark’s information (#2).
  2. Clicking the number will lead you to an intermediary page of all the users who have bookmarked a site. From here you can click on individual usernames in the lower left corner to reach this user’s full list of bookmarks.
  3. If a particular user’s list is particularly well populated and fresh, you may want to add this user to your network by selecting “Add to my network” in the blue highlighted area at the top right of the page, directly under the search box.
  4. If you’re fortunate, the user’s bookmark page will include the URL to their blog or Web site at the top of the page, and the page title might reflect the user’s actual name or company rather than just their Delicious account name. This can provide additional clues to the authority and value of following this user.
  5. If the user has a network, or has subscribed to particular tags, this will also appear at the top of the page, providing additional research opportunities. These options are worth following if you have identified a thought leader or expert and want to understand what other users they find particularly valuable.
  6. If the user has a network, this alone is somewhat of an indication that they are a Delicious power user. The list of users in their network appears in the right hand column, and flag icons give you an indication of mutual networking relationships. If you recognize names of subject matter experts, thought leaders, industry journalists, colleagues or competitors, these may be worth further investigation.

The overall goal of mining Delicious users and their networks in this way is to identify subject matter experts and add them to your own network. This process will also help you identify key tags to subscribe to using the subscription feature. Once you have a network, it becomes a resource to browse, but even more important, it is a way to narrow Delicious searches by selecting to search “My Network’s Bookmarks.” The result of mining Delicious in this way is targeted access to the same research and Web sites that experts are using within your areas of interest – making you a smarter and more valuable member of your business team.

How Delicious Could Become More Social

Delicious’ approach to the social aspects of its tool could use some improvements. Some key enhancements that would improve the ability to mine the Delicious network of experts, and thus make a great tool even better include:

  1. Improve user search – Currently you need to know a user name to find a delicious user (or be a really good guesser). This is inadequate. One should be able to search by real name and bring back a list of close matches along with corresponding user names. Plus, if I already know the user’s e-mail address, I should be able to use that key to find a user account, just like on Facebook.
  2. Enhance user profile information and its display – Currently, Delicious will display the user’s URL on their bookmarks page. This could be enhanced by also displaying a short profile description such as appears on the top left corner of Twitter. This would help me confirm the username is the expert whom I’m seeking; provide personal background many people appreciate in social networks; and provide additional keywords that can be used to search for users of interest.
  3. Provide a browseable user directory – A directory that one can browse by keyword or name would help identify users to add to your network. This directory could display the number of bookmarks and how fresh the posts are, the user’s real name and profile information, and information about how many people have included this person in their network. This latter element would, of course, provide some estimation of authority.
  4. Promote Delicious badges on user sites — Delicious offers various badges for use on your web site or blog (for example: the network badge, Tagroll clouds ), but these are not particularly popular. An increased recognition of the value of Delicious networks would flow naturally from implementing a method for people to search for networks and ways to personalize the display of their profile information on their bookmark pages. This in turn would lead to more use of Delicious badges and listing of user names on user’s personal sites. Promoting the use of these badges, and perhaps few more badge options, might be worth consideration as well.
  5. Develop a way to visualize the users associated with bookmarks, tags and networks – Converting Delicious networks into a visual form could help users research other users and networks of interest. The Network Explorer is a Java application that lets one drill into a Delicious user account and see some connections. An enhanced version of this that functions like the Visual Thesaurus would be an ideal tool to help people explore Delicious as a true social network of experts – tracking bookmark originators, or most popular users common to a tags of interest. Such a tool might also help identify the “followers and following” aspects of Delicious users — such as which other users and networks that a particular expert may subscribe to. From a user perspective, the goal of this visual tool would be to help identify thought leaders of interest and expand one’s own network of experts in various topic areas.
  6. Provide more statistics about users in a person’s network – Flag icons in the right column of a network page currently indicate new or mutual network “fans.” It would be helpful to know how many bookmarks a user has saved from a particular person in their network, and perhaps how many or how fresh those bookmarks are. This would help identify the most valuable or prolific users in a network.
Delicious Users to Follow

Some well known individuals that you may be interested in following by adding them to your Delicious network include (note: not all users have fresh bookmarks):

Other ways to identify Delicious users include:

  • Recognize Delicious icon links included on their web sites, usually grouped with Twitter and Facebook links.
  • Look for Delicious links on individual’s Google, Friendfeed or Linkedin profiles
  • Search for posts on Twitter made via Delicious by doing a Twitter search for “” Obviously, although somewhat unfortunately, this jumps directly to the bookmarked page without providing a hint of the actual Delicious username — unless it happens to be identical to the Twitter username.
  •  Find Similar Users on – A Python script that searches for similar users. A user-friendly web application of this concept would be great.
  • Bundling delicious networks into groups – How to group networks within Delicious
  • 8 Tips for Better Bookmarking – Including a neat tip for using the via: tag to give credit your sources
  • Becoming a Delicious Power User – Great tips to get the most out of Delicious
  • Social Bookmarking in Plain English by Lee Lefever – a great introduction to the basics of online bookmarking


Nov 16

Practicing Guerrilla PR with ‘Help a Reporter Out’

Smaller organizations and non-profits often have a challenge in communicating their story to the media. Not only do they have limited staff and budgets, but today’s pool of journalists is smaller and busier. Enter Help a Reporter Out, a way of connecting journalists working on specific projects with subject matter experts in business or academia, appropriate public relations professionals, or other individuals able to provide testimonials or background information.

How it works

Journalists register with the site in order to post topics with which they are seeking assistance. “Helpers” register separately to receive e-mail s everal times a day summarizing current requests. This feed is also available via Twitter. Helpers respond either directly or through HARO to the media requests. The journalists follow-up as desired from the responses.

From a Public Relations perspective, success in using Help a Reporter Out is dependent on focused and professional PR skills, as well as being in the right place at the right time when a journalist inquiry is posted. Peter Shankman, founder of HARO, only has a few ground rules for the site, such as not Spamming journalists with off-topic pitches, not reposting the queries, and not harvesting the journalists’ e-mail addresses. Overall, Shankman explains, HARO works because it is based on principles of mutual trust and support — something we might add that has often been lacking in journalism-PR relations.

As Wired Magazine has point out, Help a Reporter Out is a deceptively simple approach to “crowdsourcing” within the journalism and public relations fields. Wired also provides some examples and user reactions to Help a Reporter Out in an effort to quantify the success of HARO — something that the service does not trumpet themselves. Similar services such as ProfNet and Media Kitty are available, although they have not achieved the same level of awareness, or follow a fee-based model (HARO is free).

In Marketing Warfare, Al Ries and Jack Trout discuss the use of unconventional tactics when outnumbered and outgunned by the competition. In such situations, tools like Help a Reporter Out have the potential to help balance the “discussion field” for smaller organizations and non-profits.

Additional Links

Help a Reporter on Twitter

The original Help a Report Out Facebook page

Top 10 Tips for PR Success Usin g HARO

Strategic Public Relations blog discusses Help a Reporter Out

Media Kitty on Twitter and Facebook

Peter Shackman’s Web site and Twitter account

Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work–And Why Your Company Needs Them – Book by Peter Shackman

Sep 22

Responding to Online PR Issues Requires Advance Planning

How will you respond – or will you?

Every month or so, we hear of another company facing a public relations crisis. More and more often, these originate on the Internet or have a strong online component. Responding in the face of a crisis or criticism has long been a function of the public relations manager. Today, more than ever, PR staff must be equipped to analyze and react to online issues — or to offline issues using online tools.

To this end, the Air Force has developed an excellent flow chart that helps clarify the decision-making process when responding to public relations issues appearing on social media. The “Air Force Web Posting Response Assessment” (pictured below Link to PDF) identifies four types of online posts: Trolls, Rager, Misguided or Unhappy Customers.

Options for response that are identified by the Air Force include monitoring only, fix the facts, restoration, concurrence, or let it stand. In many ways, this algorithm applies logic similar to what PR staff has long used in responding to criticism in letters to the editor, editorials, or other media reports.

If you decide to respond as part of an online crisis, author Rohit Bhargava provides five steps to apply:

  • Identify the participants
  • Evaluate the conversation
  • Respond authentically
  • Publish your point of view
  • Monitor and respond to conversation

Of course, whether to respond or not is one of the critical questions a PR practitioner must answer as an issue develops. When and if to respond to an online issue or criticism is often challenging. Nathan Gilliatt put it well in a post on his site, The Net-Savvy Executive, when discussing blog criticism, “The short answer to almost every interesting question is, ‘it depends,’ and the question of how to deal with critical bloggers is no exception.”

Thinking out possible options in advance and making plans for addressing online issues, as the Air Force has done, is part of the role of a public relations manager — and one of the keys to success when a real crisis actually develops.

Additional Links

Sep 14

Helpful Guidelines for Writing Sponsorship Announcements

Tips on Constructing Underwriting Acknowledgements
For Public Radio & Television

Sponsoring a program on public radio or TV is just one part of a public relations or marketing strategy – the other part is getting public credit for your donation. In commercial radio and television, your investment typically provides you with time for what is appropriately called a “commercial” or advertisement. Public broadcasting announcements are different due to the non-profit nature of these stations — and regulations imposed by the Federal Communications Commission. For these reasons, nonprofit radio or TV stations provide their underwriters with a short announcement to identify – rather than promote – the sponsor. This is typically placed at the beginning or end of the program and fits the criteria of “brief, descriptive information on products and services.”

The station may offer to create this sponsorship announcement for you, but sometimes marketing or public relations staff are called upon to write this script to ensure the tag meets company branding standards and sponsorship goals. As with traditional electronic advertising, you will want to clearly state your brand, keep the message short and concise, and incorporate your company’s theme or positioning. These are some additional guidelines that will help you write an effective sponsorship tag without running into objections from the station or the FCC:

  1. Length – 15 to 20 seconds is generally acceptable with most radio stations to meet the criteria of “no longer than necessary.” Nationally, PBS limits announcements to 15 seconds, although some 30 second premier sponsorships are available. The longer the announcement, the more likely it will be judged “commercial” in nature.
  2. Names – The business or product name is acceptable.
  3. Contact information – A phone number or web address is acceptable.
  4. Location – Mention of the business location or the area served is acceptable.
  5. Preamble – The preamble is phrasing such as “Brought to you by,” “Made possible by,” “The weather on WKRP is sponsored by,” “Funding for this program provided by,” or “Helping WKRP with the broadcast day.” Use of preambles is fairly traditional although not strictly required. The FCC has objected in some cases where such wording is omitted.
  6. Logos, slogans and theme lines – These are generally acceptable if as long as the logo “identifies” and the slogan does not “promote.” The key here for slogans is that the phrase should not be comparative in nature or an appeal to purchase. The wording should be value-neutral. Well-established company slogans fair somewhat better under review.
  7. Product mentions – Factual descriptions of up to three products or services, the use of the product, what the product is made from, or the form of delivery are generally acceptable. On television, products can be shown but their depiction is an issue since it should not convey product superiority or customer satisfaction (sometimes referred to as “no smiling). Products may not be displayed on children’s programming.
  8. Dates – Days of operation are acceptable. Event dates and locations may be acceptable depending on the nature of the event.
  9. Avoid – Wording that is qualitative, comparative, or that urges the listener to buy, call, visit, try, or compare. This means one should avoid superlatives, calls to action, and endorsements by customers or professional groups. Here are some examples hot words to avoid: efficient, excellent, best, premier, number one, quick, prompt, largest, leading, and bigger. Truth of the statement is not an issue; comparative and superlative wording is just off limits.
  10. Avoid – Price information of any type. Words to avoid include: free, sale, economical, affordable, and so forth. Limited time offers, trials and special gifts are not acceptable.
  11. You or Your – Although a favorite of marketers, use of the word “you” or “your” generally causes problems in sponsorship announcements. It may be possible to successfully rewrite the phrase without the word.

These guidelines are a compilation of basic standards and guidance provided by various stations, as well as how the FCC has acted in the past. You will want to consult your individual radio or television outlet for specific requirement that they may have. The station has the ultimate right to approve or reject your underwriting acknowledgement script.

Sponsoring a program on public radio or TV can be an effective way to position your organization with your target audience. Applying these guidelines, good electronic copywriting techniques and some common sense will help your organization make the most of the short on-air time that you receive for your donation. Of course, the smart public relations manager won’t stop here. Announcing your sponsorship to internal and external audiences and weaving it into your communication plans will more fully leverage your organization’s investment.

Additional Links

Aug 05

The Trouble with Twitter

In jumping on the Twitter bandwagon, many communicators are forgetting communication basics.

Surveying the use of Twitter by organizations shows many, if not most, are using Twitter exclusively as a one-way communication tool. A prime example of this is when an organization’s Twitter strategy is limited to tweeting its news releases. Hello, guys, this is what an RSS feed is for!

The significance of Web 2.0 is that it’s social. That means the strength of the medium is in conversations, not one-way bursts. Company news releases, or happy talk factoids spaced throughout the day don’t add significant value to the social media universe and are generally unlikely to coalesce into conversations. This isn’t to say that an organization shouldn’t tweet its news releases, just that it should also have a more mature, robust Twitter strategy.

Another common Twitter tactic has been to develop Twitter “events,” especially those that capture media attention such as tweeting during surgery. The first organization to create such an event will certainly get some buzz in the Twitterverse as well as in traditional media outlets. But such an approach is not a really great strategy because it focuses on what the organization wants to talk about and not necessarily what consumers are interested in discussing.

The First Step is to Shut Up

The first step in a mature Twitter strategy should be to shut up and listen. Many organizations recognize the importance of brand and public relations monitoring, but it is easy to push the significance of these efforts aside in the rush to “do something.” Yet listening has value and is the first step toward a true two-way communication strategy.

Tools that can help with Twitter monitoring include Twilerts, TweetBeep, TweetScan and Monitter, or Twitter’s own tracking feature and search-related RSS feeds. At a minimum, organizations should set up basic alerts to monitor their brand name and keywords of significance to their industry or location.

Stop Thinking of Tweets as Sentences

Next, in order to stop monopolizing the conversation, communicators need to stop thinking of tweets as only sentences. One way to do this is to look for ways to ask “Twuestions.” In other words, tweet engaging questions that prompt a discussion (see TwiTip’s How to Ask Effective Questions on Twitter).

Or tweet a survey (like twtpoll, for example). Then think about tweets as useful links and tweet about the survey results — or combine your findings in a blog post worthy of tweeting about. Focusing on questions can help force the one way/two way communication issue, making tweets potentially more conversational. Focusing on links can add value and expand the conversation from 140 characters to something of more depth.

Another approach is to develop separate Twitter accounts or hashtags that will help your organization better focus on an narrower audience or topic. It is unlikely that people will see the value in following @BigConglomerate, but they might find value in following narrower conversations such as suggested by @greencleaningproducts, @coolsportscarmodel or @cholesterolcontrol. Healthcare non-profits may want to pursue a similar approach and segment their conversations on specific diseases or conditions. Of course this requires focus, and some parts of the organization may not get as much attention as those on the priority list – unless, of course, one can train and democratize those smaller units to become their own social media communicators. In general, multiplying the number of Twitter accounts has potential to increase the tweet-stream value as people perceive you are discussing topics of targeted interest to them.


The cost of entry is low for Twitter, so marketing and public relations managers might be tempted to think that not much return is needed on their investment. But to be effective within this new medium will still require a focus on two-way communications. To benchmark Twitter’s effectiveness has to come back to metrics of engagement. One-way tweets don’t count as a conversation. And only conversations count as effective communication.

Additional Links

Twitter in Plain English by CommonCraft

Trouble with Twitter from Current TV

Quantcast Audience Profile of Twitter

Graph of Twitter Usage (A downer for those with Twitter obsession)

How Hospitals and Health Systems Should Not Use Twitter

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