Accio Pottermore

Sunday morning, I watched the TweetDeck column, cordoned off by hashtag, explode with updates. “OMG I got in!!” “Where’s my email?!” “Registration is now closed, nooo!” I saw tweets in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian, and probably a few other languages I couldn’t have identified.

It was all for Pottermore.

The site is spending exactly one week — seven days for seven books — giving one million fans the opportunity to answer trivia for a chance to access the site early. Early adopters get to join a beta version of the site sometime in August and September; everyone else has to wait until October. By my calculation, about 142,000 registrations are allowed in any given day (a million spread out over seven days), and when that quota’s been filled, registration closes.

Despite going live when most of the U.S. should have been sleeping (about 9 a.m. in the UK, 4 a.m. on the East Coast), Pottermore registration lasted a little more than an hour before it closed. Fans who missed out have six more chances to get in.

What the project ultimately is remains to be seen. The site itself describes it as an “exciting new experience from J.K. Rowling based around the Harry Potter books.” (Editor’s quibble: Can something be based around something else?)

If you follow the publicity campaign, you’ll read that Pottermore will allow fans to have an interactive Potter experience. They can get wands, be sorted into houses and follow along with the books’ progression. The nitty gritty is still, of course, a mystery.

It got me thinking, though — if Pottermore is a success, might its model be adapted for other purposes? The main draw appears to be immersion in the story with other fans. But this is a fictional story — what if the subject matter was a long-term investigative reporting piece? Could this model represent an evolution from passive reading/viewing to active audience participation? Pottermore will definitely have a social media aspect. Could that be used in other models to mine data for reporting ventures? Could a Pottermore-like infrastructure turn into the next great crowd-sourced project?

I think journalists and social media managers would be wise to observe Pottermore’s evolution and apply what they learn to their own work. It’s untilled ground thus far, which makes it much more exciting.

It’ll be a few weeks before I can use Pottermore for myself and report back on what I find. Fortunately I managed to solve the clue and register for early access in time. One of my nerdier moments, if I may say so.

I’ll keep my username to myself for the moment, but here’s a clue: It works for both Harry Potter, and A Song of Ice and Fire. Double geekiness.

What’s Google+ waiting on?

Google+ is working on developing business/brand accounts, and asking businesses not to join the network yet. It seems reasonable on the surface, but it could easily backfire.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my first impressions of Google+. I liked it a lot then, and I like it now. I’m noticing, though, that there’s an unhappy trend in posts from people in my Circles. There’s a prevailing attitude of, “Well now what do we do?”

Some brands have managed to slip through. Pete Cashmore of Mashable has a personal Google+ profile that he’s now “winding down” in preparation for a Google+ branded account for Mashable. This is after Mashable’s original personal-esque account went on hiatus. It’s enough to give you whiplash.

Given the benefit of hindsight, I have to wonder if Google wouldn’t have been wiser to beta test branded accounts first, or in conjunction with the very first personal accounts. Waiting until the site has 20 million users before actively discussing branded accounts (and suspending many branded accounts masquerading as personal ones) is like opening a shopping mall with no stores.

A site like Facebook, which started out as personal and casual and only gradually migrated to a more business-friendly approach, is a different animal. The main draw of Google+, near as I can tell, was always the networking/professional aspect. Some people I follow or who follow me use it casually, but the vast majority of them post about technology, journalism and politics. Even the personal is professional.

We can always discuss such things on personal accounts, but if we can’t engage with “official” newspaper, TV station, magazine, business and news site accounts, what can that accomplish?

Google+ needs to present a clear and compelling reason for its existence and open up the personal-to-business channels, or it’ll be drowning in cat GIFs in six months for lack of anything else for people to do.

Your Social Media Strategy Here

Fertilizer-pushing is not my strong suit.

I’m deep, deep into the job hunt at the moment. When I apply for a position, I do my very best to use direct, plain language. If I describe an achievement or a milestone, I use tangible markers. Kansan.com saw increased site traffic and expanded multimedia content, and won a Pacemaker from the Associated Collegiate Press when I was the site’s managing editor. See how simple that was?

No mention of “humanizing the brand.” Or starting “organic conversations.” Or “leveraging influencers.”

Almost a year ago, I wrote about social media strategy with the same level of annoyance, and nothing has really changed.

How can we, as journalists, put such a high value on clear, concise language, while simultaneously clogging our CVs, “About” sections and job postings with rhetorical nonsense? If I read a job posting and can’t even figure out what my daily duties would be, I move on.

In my earlier post, I hypothesized that maybe we use vague language to describe social media because even we haven’t really figured it out yet. Or we want to seem indispensable. I grimace when I see anyone describe themselves as a “social media guru.” There is nothing spiritual about Twitter, I promise. If you’re that good, you don’t need to hide behind flowery language.

Ascribing some higher level of importance or even mysticism to social media ignores or downplays the stone-cold truth: If you link to quality content and reply to your audience respectfully and helpfully, you will gain and maintain followers. If you ignore queries or rarely tweet or spam people, you won’t. From the perspective of a company like Foursquare, successful branded accounts will post tips early and often and reward their followers with badges and possible merchandise discounts. Foursquare is, at its root, a game. So give your customers that experience.

I love editing. I love the ins and outs of journalism on the Web, and I love social media and what it can accomplish in terms of connecting people and spreading information. I love those things so much that I can call a spade a spade. I can say exactly what I do. I hope others can do the same.

Facebook lays a PR egg

I’ve had a Facebook profile since June (or was it July?) 2005, almost six years. When I joined, it was still novel, still just for university students and still largely text-only. The Farmville scourge was a speck of cosmic dust. If I recall, it was “the Xanga replacement,” and a way to keep tabs on where people were going to school and who was dating whom.

I still use Facebook daily, but it’s become much more of a grind and more about habit than enjoyment. Like many people, I’m wary of its business practices and how it handles privacy, but I also recognize its power of sheer numbers and organizational heft.

Even now, as it’s arguably in a moral decline, Facebook is nigh unrivaled. That makes the following story so baffling.

A Search Engine Watch story earlier today described how a guy named Michael Lee Johnson took out a Facebook ad, calling for Google+ followers. Shortly thereafter, his ad account was disabled and he received a note from Facebook citing vague violations of the site’s Terms of Use policy, but with no concrete explanation.

It’s true that Facebook’s policy mentions banning or disabling competitors’ ads, and on the surface, it seems reasonable. Many news sites, for example, ban links to competing sites in their comment sections. Upon examination, though, it was truly a dumb-as-rocks decision.

1. It had the opposite effect of what was intended. If the site had left it alone, Johnson’s probably would have been just another random, slightly distracting side ad. Facebook ceded the narrative when it axed the ad. Johnson likely gained more Google+ followers through publicizing the suspension than he would have if the ad had remained up.

2. Facebook showed its cards. The company has put up a public face of indifference and wry amusement in the wake of Google+. And frankly, publicly, that was probably appropriate. Even with a boom up to about 10 million members (a rough, unofficial approximation), Google+ still only has a little more than 1 percent of Facebook’s worldwide numbers. But in banning an ad for Google+ followers (not even a Google-bought ad), Facebook looks caught in the headlights and rattled.

3. Whatever merit the “competitors’ ads” argument has, I have a hard time believing that Johnson’s ad is any more ridiculous than ads for weight-loss pills, marriage counseling, divorce lawyers and numerous others I’ve seen. The company looks downright draconian and petty. Bratty, even.

4. Fortification solves nothing. Competitors often must cross paths and even share development and ideas. Without competition, there’s no innovation, no motivation to learn and get better. Apart from being a baffling move in public relations, it’s also a blown opportunity to learn more about an emerging player.

I added Johnson on Google+ as soon as I read about his ad. And you know what?

Dude’s pretty entertaining.

Show me your badges

Here’s a true story.

Last fall, I started using my Foursquare account more. I was very jealous of my friends’ badges, including a Cupcake Connoisseur badge from TLC. I wanted it (it was cute!). I found a couple of London bakeries on the TLC page and visited one the next time I went into London. That bakery was The Hummingbird, and I’ve been back multiple times since and I kind of want them to make my wedding cake if anyone’s crazy enough to ever actually marry me.

I never got the cupcake badge (it retired and I had eventually had to settle for Bravo’s Just Desserts badge), but the moral is simple: I sought out an entirely new business and became a repeat customer based on a circular graphic.

Foursquare badges are a lot of fun and I’d argue that they’re more satisfying to collect than mayorships (although I wouldn’t turn down 20% off at Starbucks). I have 39, and each one is a happy reminder — an ode to my coffee addiction, another trip to the cinema, a late night at the library, a day in London, airports on different sides of the world. They can mark an event — were you at the Colbert and Stewart rallies? Or access — so you got into five different SXSW parties? Or sheer dogged determination — 20 different pizza shops, really? And, I’d wager, no one has the same exact set as anyone else, apart from newcomers.

In the wake of Google+, Google announced a couple of days ago that you could start earning badges based on stories you’d read on Google News. I mentioned on Twitter that I loved badges and thought the idea was neat, and a New York Times interactive editor tweeted back to ask why.

I thought about it and replied back that it’s in our nature to hoard and collect. Foursquare badges (and soon-to-be Google News badges, I hope) are like digital postcards or keychains. They’re reminders of where we’ve been and what matters to us. You can tell a lot about someone from their badges: where they live, where they eat and shop, what brands they follow. As a committed anglophile eager for others to see the London that I see, I once wrote about how London could use Foursquare, and I stick by that still.

It can be easy to get consumed by social media, but Foursquare is brilliant in its mobility. It’s a social media app that necessitates breaking away from your computer cord and going out. Likewise, Google News badges reward you for expanding your knowledge and learning and reading about different things.

Are badges somewhat silly? Of course. Only a few Foursquare badges are ever linked to any tangible monetary reward. At the end of the day they’re just cute graphics on a profile. Will I keep having a blast earning them, and smile whenever I unlock a new one? Oh absolutely.

My Tumblr gets un-tumbled

For the better part of a year, I’ve had a Tumblr feed. For as long as I’ve had it, I’ve struggled to figure out what to do with it. I left it back in October, only to return to it a few days ago when my Google+ habits gave me some social media zest.

“I can make this work,” I thought. “I just need to figure out what to do with it.”

Successful Tumblrs, I’ve noticed, have a theme of some kind. My personal favorite lists hilarious things that kids have submitted as homework. Sadly it’s now on summer vacation. Many websites, newspapers and magazines have Tumblrs for content. Others exist to pass along artwork, recipes, videos and memes of all kinds.

I was determined to post my own work as much as possible, whether it was text, videos or photos, even if it took me a while to gain followers because I didn’t pass along Popular GIF #5638. I took inspiration from two of my friends’ blogs — Lauren’s and Jessica’s — and tried to let it come naturally.

Finally, earlier today, I made my decision. I’ll use my Tumblr to display my travel photography, and pair the photos with proverbs I deem thematically pertinent (or, you know, cool). I take many, many photos, but I’m not a photographer in any trained sense. Using my Tumblr to show them off seems like the perfect way to get them “out there” without needlessly duplicating any content from my Google+, Twitter or personal site (although my existing work on here will stay). It’s a simple pet project.

I’ve posted four photos total since deciding to take my microblog in this direction — I hope to add one or two every day — and it’s been fun selecting the photos and the quotes to accompany them.

I feel an odd sort of triumph that I’ve sorted out the formerly mystifying Tumblr. Even if I’m the only one who ever looks at it.

Stupid is as stupid tweets: Six tips for Twitter users

Yesterday, during a conversation with a good (non-journalist) friend, the talk steered toward the News of the World scandal and the Kansas City Star’s sacking of columnist Steve Penn for plagiarism. (Full disclosure: As discussed numerous times on this site, I interned with the Star last summer.)

He was angry about the NOTW’s alleged phone hacking, while I was flummoxed as to how any professional journalist could plagiarize in this era and expect not to get caught. The ending question was the same for both of us: How could anyone be so stupid?

Fast forward to this afternoon, when the BBC posted an updated list of social media guidelines. Included, verbatim, in the guidelines is the blunt advice, “Don’t do anything stupid.”

After laughing a little, I thought, “Well, what does that mean?”

The BBC guidelines suggest that its journalists should avoid overt partisanship on sites like Twitter, that any “official” tweets should be read by at least two people, and that “official” BBC personality profiles should be kept professional at all times.

The tips were common-sense enough, almost deceptively so. Social media — especially Twitter, but theoretically any such site — is fraught with potential mistakes and lapses in judgment. In print, your words go through an assignment editor, a slot editor, a rim copy editor and a proofreader. Any flagrant stupidity is, I hope, flushed out. If nothing else, there’s time to consider words and allow anger to cool off.

With Twitter, though, it’s easy to slip in a moment of hot-headedness. In 15 seconds, you could type and post something that you’ll regret for years. Journalists have been fired or asked to resign over tweets. So have spokespeople. Not to mention political candidates and public relations workers. Whether their terminations were justified is beside the point; their employers determined that their tweets were inappropriate to the point where they were sacked.

So how can you avoid this? How can you not “do anything stupid”?

1. If you tweet for your job, I’d consider having two separate profiles, a personal one and a professional one (example: @john_doe, @john_doe_kcstar). Many journalists I follow on Twitter have just one profile for both personal and professional use, and that’s fine. But it’s something to think about, especially if you’re new to Twitter or unsure about your company’s precise policies.

2. If you keep one all-purpose Twitter account, it’s worth using up biographic real estate to cover your butt. “RTs are not endorsements.” “A follow is not an endorsement.” “My opinions are my own.” Obviously this won’t be enough to save you if you’re flagrantly misusing Twitter, but it does create a conscientious wall between your personal views and your professional ones.

3. Avoid getting into Twitter spats with readers. I see far too many writers (a lot of them columnists) engaging in prolonged insult-fests with members of the public. A reasoned response or even a tart one-liner is probably fine. But it just looks childish if your feed is clogged with a back-and-forth argument. The longer it goes on, the angrier you’ll get and the likelier it is that you’ll say something stupid. Remember, if you’re arguing with an idiot, so is he.

4. For the love of all that is holy, know the difference between normal tweets and direct messages. Let’s not say that Anthony Weiner’s political downfall was in vain, yeah?

5. If you retweet anything — especially if it’s a photo or a link — make sure that it says or displays what you think it does. Never retweet anything blindly (I admit I’m guilty of this when I’m in a hurry). If you think you’re linking to a Times story, make sure you’re linking to a Times story. Nothing is more annoying and embarrassing than unknowingly retweeting spam or something else that’s inappropriate. In the same vein, if you’re following people and reporting on their tweets, make sure that what you’re following are their real accounts, and not parodies.

6. The adage that it’s better to be correct than first is true with Twitter as well. Before you fire off a tweet, edit yourself. Without a copy desk, the responsibility is even more on you to make a good decision. Let it sit for a few minutes, however long it takes. Is it something you’d say face to face with someone? Would you include it in a print or Web story with your byline? Does it target anyone based on religion, race or gender, even in jest? Does it contain profanity? When in doubt, don’t hit send.

Twitter at this point is an absolute necessity for journalists, politicians and most major companies, but it can be a double-edged sword. So tweet smart.