Digital Digest: Twitter’s new algorithm, the new dynamics of PR and more

It’s like Reader’s Digest, except shorter, more cutting edge, significantly hipper…and, you won’t find it in your grandmother’s bathroom.

Image: Brittany Herbert/Mashable

Image: Brittany Herbert/Mashable

Twitter’s timeline goes algorithmic
Facebook has notoriously used complex algorithms to decide who and what you see in your Facebook News Feed – from friend posts to updates from that band you Liked two years ago (hint: you’ll never see that band’s posts unless they pay for it). Users can now opt in to see what Twitter thinks is “the best” at the top of their timelines. This change complements the platform’s First View ads, which stay at the top of Twitter feeds for 24 hours. Learn more

Are you a content marketing curmudgeon?
Well, if you have any blog you like reading or enjoy taking those “What Harry Potter Character Are You?” quizzes, then you shouldn’t be. You can also tweet at me, and I’ll give you a thousand reasons you should be totally jazzed about content marketing. Or you could read this article by a guy who was very against content marketing until he saw the light. Read it here.

Using Content to Battle Big Brother
Apple takes a strong stance in an essay explaining their refusal to build a back door into iPhones for the FBI as doing so would compromise the current and future privacy of all iPhone users. And the way Apple spreads that message illustrates the new dynamics of PR: they published directly to the public without the need to go through any news media outlets. Read more about that and read Tim Cook’s essay.

And your bonus prize of the week:

Tim Cook took a blurry photo at the Super Bowl and got seriously trolled for it


The medium is not the message

In the wake of the London riots, British Prime Minister David Cameron is pointing a finger at Facebook
and Twitter as the culprits
, and he’s “summoned” them along with the makers of the Blackberry “for a meeting to discuss their roles during the violent outbreaks.” He wants to ban anyone from social media who appears to be using it to plot “disorder.”

So would he “summon” Smith and Wesson if there was a shooting spree or call in a fertilizer manufacturer if someone made a homemade bomb?

Cameron said, “Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.” Sure, that’s true – but who gets to decide what is “for ill”? From my understanding, the riots in London were mainly perpetuated by a bunch of hoodlums who didn’t even understand why they were rioting, other than to steal some TVs. But what if they had a legitimate cause?

What about Tunisia? Egypt? Libya? I’m sure the ruling governments (regimes) of those nations deemed the organizing of the revolutions via social media to be “for ill.” But the rest of the world didn’t.

I heard a report about Turkey recently on how they are imprisoning reporters and individuals who speak out against the government in a negative way. And I really liked Hillary Clinton’s response. She said that, yes, in the United States she hears people speaking out against the government in ways she thinks are ill-informed, inaccurate or just plain reprehensible. But, she went on to say, the system is secure enough that it can handle such criticisms, and almost always the voice of reason from so many more citizens drowns out the nut jobs. (The use of the term nut jobs is mine, not hers.) Is the British government not secure enough to deal with some angry teenagers? Don’t you think if you ban social media, they’ll just find another way to use to organize?

So, Mr. Cameron, instead of pointing your finger at the companies who provide the medium, why don’t you use that medium yourself to persuade your citizens to do the right thing? Why not use Facebook and Twitter to drown out the fringe voices by providing solutions to their complaints or at least by offering a productive alternative to rioting? Why not show them that you’re listening to them, not just listening in on them?

Twitter Etiquette / The value of sustained relationships

So if you haven’t hung out with or called a friend in six months or so, it probably wouldn’t be very wise to call that friend to see if he can give you a ride to the airport. Obviously, that’s very self serving, and most people would agree that is not OK to do.

Apparently, a number of people don’t translate real-world relationship sense to social media. I run the Twitter account for the nonprofit I work for, and there are a lot of businesses, authors, speakers, etc. who interact with us on a regular basis by sending @mentions, retweeting and direct messaging. When those folks decide they need to promote something and seek my help, I do so enthusiastically. 1) Because we have an ongoing relationship and 2) because they promote my nonprofit without solicitation.

And that’s how it should work.

Well, our yearly convention is coming up, and it’s a great opportunity for businesses to advertise to our member base. So I’m getting businesses I’ve never heard of wanting me to retweet them and promote them via our Twitter channel just because they have a booth at our convention. They’ve never interacted with me at all on any social media or email or anything else, and now they want me to push their product? Umm, no.

So, come on people. Get your act together and realize that just because you’re interacting through a computer screen doesn’t mean that you’re not dealing with a person. A person who would love to help you if you’ve made the effort to build a relationship. A person who will scratch your back if you scratch his. But a person who will probably not give you a ride to the airport if you haven’t called in six months.

One too many social networks

I only get around to checking my Google+ account about once a day, and I feel like I’m neglecting it. I’m already probably spending too much time trying to stay relevant and engaged on Facebook (personal, business and band page), Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress and Tumblr.

I’ll be honest here. I’m a person who reads voraciously and likes to share what I find. I’m a person who loves to write (even if limited to 140 characters). And I’m a person who usually has plenty of things to say on lots of topics, from social media to Mediterranean food. Despite all those characteristics plus my extreme extrovertism, I don’t have enough to say or share to fill up all my media streams. Well, I should say I choose not to fill them all up. Sure I could share every technology or current events article I read, but I doubt that everyone always wants to be hearing from me. (Even I don’t want to always be hearing from me.)

So it may actually be somewhat ironic that I’m writing a blog post about how I don’t have anything to say, but at least I can go post a link to this post on all aforementioned social networks.

But what I’m really getting at here is this: Where do we draw the line? When should we stop promoting the work that we’re doing and actually go do more of that work? It seems to be getting to the point where everyone is spending more time promoting their stuff than they are creating the stuff they are promoting. I can’t tell you how many articles I run across via Twitter where the tweet promoting it is more interesting and contains more information than the article itself. Remember people, horse first, then the cart.

Where do you post the most? And how do you decide what to put where?

Taking a break

Do you ever feel like you’re running out of time, but you don’t know what for? I’m sort of in a position with a few things in my life where I’m having to wait…and be patient. Things both professional and personal. I’m such a mover and shaker that being patient can be hard. In the specific situations I’m thinking of, I’ve done the work, I’ve made the right connections, and now I’m just waiting to hear back. And that is an odd state of limbo to be in, where I can’t even really execute (or even start to make) alternative plans since doing so would be counterproductive at this point.

Driving home from band practice tonight, I realized that I like to stay busy so much that I can push myself to the breaking point. As we were rehearsing, my fingers weren’t going to the right frets on my bass guitar, and I just felt off. Afterwards I realized that I have been going nonstop for about six months straight. Working, writing, editing, networking, socializing, rehearsing music, playing shows, socializing, exercising, socializing. Today around 5pm the go go go lifestyle hit me like a prizefighter’s punch. So—to keep with that metaphor—I’m gonna go down for the count…but voluntarily. I have a short vacation that starts tomorrow at 5pm, so I’m gonna go away for a bit.

And as hard as it is, that means a break from social media. This is the first real break I’ve attempted to take since diving into my new career, and it’s gonna be as hard for me not to check my Facebook, blog, email, Twitter or Tumblr from my iPhone as it is for a crack addict not to take a hit from a pipe being handed to him. I’m driving up into the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado, so let’s hope that their majesty can steal my heart away from wanting to tweet about how beautiful it all is…at least until I get back on Monday.

The Twitterization of our brains: Is unlimited choice making us better or worse thinkers?

I just read the Newsweek article “I Can’t Think!” that claims the vast amount of information available to a person in the digital age overloads our decision-making processes and causes  a “brain freeze” (and no, not the kind you get when you eat your ice cream too fast). I’ve stood on both sides of the fence on this issue, and at times sat securely on the fence. But I believe I’ve come to a more solid decision on the matter: Yes, unlimited choice can paralyze us…but it doesn’t have to.

After going through a graduate program for a master’s and another for a Ph.D. in English, I may not represent the average person here simply because of the way I had to train my brain to survive those years. During my Ph.D., every week I was responsible for having “read” several hundred pages of text. Clearly, no one can absorb that much information, so your brain starts to pick and choose what to register and tuck away for later and what to discard.

The key to that process is recognizing the information that was beneficial to my immediate purpose, then shutting out everything else. Think of it like going to the grocery store. With the thousands of products there, one could easily have a panic attack because of all the choices. But you don’t. Why? Because you have a list of what you need—a list of the items that will be beneficial to your immediate purpose of cooking dinner. If you ever go shopping (or information scouring) without a list of what you’re looking for in the first place, you will be overwhelmed, no matter if there are five options or 500. Figure out what you need ahead of time.

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re not exactly sure what you want, then browse. If browsing starts to confuse you, then pick something arbitrarily. The reason I think that’s a somewhat safe route to go is because it won’t really be an arbitrary decision, it will be a more instinctual one. I don’t even mean subconscious here, like the article discusses, but rather what your hand automatically reaches for without any apparent rhyme or reason.

Because of the insane amount of information coming at us every second, our decisions are that much more valuable. Not in the sense that one’s decisions are more weighty, but in that what we choose has more value because we chose it from among so many options. I bought a new guitar a while back (a Nashguitar T-63 aged vintage Telecaster to be exact). I did a vast amount of research on a number of different guitars that were along the lines of what I was looking for. Out of the hundreds of options, the one I bought is the one guitar for me. Do you think I just lucked out and happened to get the one guitar in the world that was made for me? No. It’s the one guitar for me because it’s the one I chose. Many of the other guitars could also have become the one for me if I had chosen them. See what I’m getting at? Our decisions are valuable, but they aren’t any more weighty than if we only got to chose one of two options rather than one of hundreds.

But I’ve always been a very intuitive decision-maker, so maybe that, along with the torturous amount of academic training I endured, make me a little less susceptible to information overload.