Monthly Archives: March 2014

How to give Twitter trends context



Providing analytics for twitter trends seems to be an industry focus point at the moment. This is especially true if you’ve been following any of the South by Southwest coverage that is dominating twitter. Public Relations companies have especially been keen to promote to use SXSW to promote themselves or their clients. For example, Fleishman Hilliard has re-created their social media war room that looks mighty impressive:

Fleish-Hillard's Black Box at SXSW

                                                              Fleishman-Hillard’s Black Box at SXSW

While analytics can be useful and Fleishman’s war room was impressive, I think that Twitter could do a better job of providing context for their trends. Trends are helpful if you already know about them or are a part of the, but if you are outside of the trend, there is a sort of barrier to entry. Especially in cases where the hashtag isn’t self-explanatory, this could be a huge time saver.
An example
I spent a large part of my weekend sitting in front of my computer, with Twitter open in my browser of course. According to twitter the hashtag #MOTATAKEOVER was trending in Toronto and occupied the top spot for most of the day.

Twitter trends for Toronto Sunday March 9, 2014

      Twitter trends for Toronto Sunday March 9, 2014

In cases where the hashtag is a bit ambiguous, I am always curious to find out more about it, if only to stay in the know. The problem is that Twitter doesn’t provide an easy way to understand what the hashtag actually means, or where it originated. When you click on a trending hashtag, it just brings you to a screen with all the tweets that include that hashtag. The problem is, once that hashtag has trending status, it is often re-appropriated by everyone else to increase their exposure. When I clicked on #MOTATAKEOVER I saw the following messages:

Tweets from #MOTATAKEOVER trend

                                                                Tweets from #MOTATAKEOVER trend

As you can see, the other users tweeting about #MOTATAKEOVER also don’t provide any context for what they are tweeting about. As the hashtag becomes more prominent it also becomes more prone to spamming and hijacking, and therefore less useful. From the tweets above it’s pretty obvious that this is an issue, especially in the case of @Forever Alone who is using every trending hashtag to promote his dubious website that is unrelated to any of the hashtags.
The next obvious place to look for context is the images associated with the trending tag. Unfortunately that also wasn’t very helpful:

twitter images

The last (or first) resort is to simply Google the hashtag, but as I mentioned earlier, with so many web services looking at twitter trends, the first page of results are loaded with companies tracking the trend, without providing any context.  Without any answers I used my keen sense of deduction to assume that MOTA was Mall of the Americas (if such a place even exists), and it was having some sort of sale.  Clearly I was wrong.  Eventually after some searching I realized that #MOTATAKEOVER was about twitter user Beth Mota, an 18-year-old designer who was taking over the twitter account of Aeropostale to promote her new line of clothing.

#MOTATAKEOVER mystery solved

                                                       #MOTATAKEOVER mystery solved

Two simple pieces of information at the top of the Trending Topic would be helpful

1. Hashtag originator – a field that would identify the user who posted the hashtag for the first time. This would only be necessary when the hashtag begins trending regionally, so that twitter servers aren’t bogged down by having to identify all the various users who use hashtags that aren’t trending.  In the case above, if twitter had identified Beth Mota as the twitter user with her original tweet “Hey! I’m taking over the @Aeropostale twitter account right now!  Chatting, give aways, and more!  come join 🙂 #MOTATAKEOVER“, I would have been instantly aware of the context of the trend.
2. Hashtag definition – a simple 140 character explanation of what the hashtag represents. I think this could be crowd sourced by asking users to write a brief description of what the hashtag means, once it has been trending. Or, the hashtag definition is given by the hashtag originator, but that information is only visible once it’s trending.  This definition could be featured at the top of the trend page.

These two fields would allow users to become part of twitter trends that aren’t already part of the group who are “in the know”. It would also provide some much appreciated publicity for the user who got the hashtag trending. Twitter users who are influential or are trying to start a social media campaign could get some much-needed recognition.  In Beth’s case, I assume it is no coincidence that Ogilvy + Mather follow her on twitter.  The #MOTATAKEOVER hashtag was probably part of a social media campaign developed for Aeropostale.

I’m no social media designer, merely a propagandist.  I hope my ideas get to the right people and become reality.

An easy way to give the Paralympic Games more prominence

PHOTO: Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

PHOTO: Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

The 2014 Paralympic Winter Games kicked off on Friday without much notice.  I am not saying this to make anybody feel guilty for not supporting our Paralympic athletes, because I also haven’t watched any of the events (in our mutual defense, since the games are being held in timezone that is ahead by 8 hours, I also missed more of the Olympic games than I expected).  Back in 2001, the IOC agreed that the host city of the Olympic games would also host the Paralympic games, which makes a lot of sense.  It would be really great if both games took place under the umbrella of one event, though I understand that there are issues about accommodations and logistics.  But if the IOC is going to bind the Olympics and Paralympics together, it would make more sense to have the Paralympic games first and the Olympic games second, instead of the way they are sequenced now.

If the Paralympic games were held first:

  1. It could be positioned as a sort of warm-up to the Olympics, allowing everybody to get into the spirit of sport and nationalism.
  2. The athletes themselves could get more exposure.
  3. The paralympic athletes could then stay in the host city as guests and be part of the Olympics.
  4. There would be more viewers because people wouldn’t be experiencing “Olympic fatigue”.
  5. It would make the Paralympic games seem less like an afterthought and would greatly increase viewership.
  6. Increased viewership would lead to more corporate sponsorship and generally help the Paralympic athletes worldwide.

My point is, if Olympic athletes are amazing for what they are able to do, then Paralympians are twice as amazing and four times as inspiring.  If more people were just exposed to the nature of Paralympic sports, I think it could catch on naturally.  Especially in places like Canada where the World Junior Hockey Championship is considered a must-see sporting event, then sledge hockey can surely capture our national attention and admiration.

Rob Ford’s loyal base

I feel compelled to write about Rob Ford now that he has become part of the America’s public consciousness.  After all, his late night appearance on Jimmy Kimmel not only made waves across Toronto media, it also boosted Kimmel’s ratings by 19%.  Rob Ford is a bona fide celebrity, whether the people of Toronto want it or not, and it’s important to understand how he created such a loyal following.  Most importantly because after the different videos documenting his antics are shown, the inevitable question is, “how is this guy running for re-election?”.  U.S Media loves to point out that the “Crack Mayor” has polling numbers that show a surprising level of support, as if it were some sort of punch line about the city as a whole.

Because Rob Ford seems crazy, people outside of Toronto can only assume that Torontoians are equally crazy for supporting him.  No matter what he does, his approval rating rarely drops below 40%.  Here is an interesting graph of Mayor Ford’s approval rating during different controversies from 2011 to 2013 I saw in an article on Torontoist two weeks ago.

Ford approval ratings trend line

                                                                        Ford approval ratings trend line

The Ethos of Rob Ford

Rob Ford’s strength is that he has made himself out to be an average hard working guy who is accessible to the citizens of Toronto.  He is the kind of guy who directly disobeys his communications staff in favour of giving out his personal cell phone number, or coming directly to his constituents’ doorsteps to discuss issues.  In an age where political messaging and posturing is so crafted, where images are perfected, Rob Ford stands out for better or worse.

Let’s not forget that George W Bush was the presidential candidate that most American’s wanted to have a beer with and he won the election partially based on that.  People shouldn’t be voting for their leaders based on how agreeable they would be as a drinking buddy, but we can’t help ourselves.  We want leaders, but we also want somebody that we can identify with.  We desire somebody better than ourselves to lead us, but not someone explicitly better.  Not somebody too good for us.

Radio Magic

During my daily commute I listen to talk radio.  I hardly know what the faces or backgrounds of the host, but I have nevertheless come to feel that I have relationships with the hosts.  They speak to a large audience, but radio has some magic that is very individual.  I assume that’s it’s partially due to the direct connection between speaker and listener, but also the fact that it is live on-the-air radio.  It has an unparalleled degree of verisimilitude because it is so direct.  To bring this back to public relations and propaganda: It makes me think about FDR’s famous fire side chats devised by the Office of Public Information that helped him become a President loved by the people.

Now, Rob Ford is hardly a Roosevelt, but I feel that he does owe a lot of his support to his use of radio.  Way before he was a mayor he had “What’s Eating Rob Ford” a weekly segment on AM640.  He also used other talk radio shows to get his message across by calling in.  Once he was mayor, he had another other radio show with his brother, “The City with Mayor Rob Ford & Councillor Doug Ford” this time on rival station CFRB.  While I did not listen to either of these shows, I can understand how fans of his would really like this type of connection and access.  I can also understand the necessity to connect directly to his constituents rather than use traditional media who have been somewhat hostile to him since he was a councillor.

Through the eyes of supporters

For the members of Ford Nation who have been rooting for the Ford family for years, Rob has become a pretty sympathetic character.  He is widely disliked and ridiculed by media not only in his own town, but now across the continent.  He is also apparently dealing with numerous personal issues: drug addiction, alcohol abuse and weight issues.  Although he never seems to play the victim for these specific issues, I still believe his supporters feel sympathetic to him.  Not in the late-night talk-show feigned concern, but in a way that is much more personal.

For the people that hate Rob Ford all these issues only make him more of a liability for the city and clearly show how unfit he is for office.  For his supporters though, there is a real concern that Rob get help with his issues so he can overcome them and get back to being the sort of person that they want to see lead.  It’s that personal connection that his supporters feel for him.  I believe to them he is more than just a politician they want to vote for, he is somebody they feel they know and care for.  They are sympathetic to his problems and are becoming increasingly defensive when he is brought out only to be humiliated.

When Jimmy Kimmel showed images of Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti with images of Rob Ford it was a study in contrasts.  Sure, Mayor Garcetti looks great in his photo opportunities, but the contrast really brings back what made Rob Ford so popular with his constituents in the first place.  He isn’t the slick politician, he isn’t good at photo ops, he isn’t postured by a team of experts.  He is who he is, unapologetically.

Despite his willingness to get publicity however he can, he shouldn’t have gone on Jimmy Kimmel.  At least he took the ridicule and questions politely without creating a bigger and newer problem.  I did actually feel bad for him as he sort of seemed caught off guard.  This would have been better:

FORD gif

Lessons to learn

Rob ford has harnessed this sort of populist ethos very well.  Whether genuine or not, he created an image that felt authentic, a sort of what-you-see-is-what-you-get mentality for voters.  This has also been his tragic flaw in the past year, as he has been unable to help himself.  The same qualities that brought him close to voters and made him stand out from the pack, and the very same qualities that are now playing a large part in his inability to rehabilitate his image.

I do not live in Toronto so I cannot vote in the mayoral election.  However, I fear that this election will become so focused on an “anybody but Ford” race, which may not be in the city’s best interest.  It would be nice to have a candidate that took Rob Ford’s politics, ethos and dedication to the tax-payer without any sort of crazy personal or legal issues.  Rob Ford has really fallen from grace, and likely will neither be able to re-build his image to gain any new supporters, nor should he.  It would be best for Toronto if he just moved on, but don’t let the exuberance of watching him self-destruct get in the way of the lessons he taught us.

If you can do all the crazy things that Rob Ford has done in the past 8 months, and still have a large base of support that isn’t based in a specifically political ideology, surely you’ve done something right.