In part two of our three-part interview series with Judy Gombita, Judy shares her thoughts on curation, best practices and what led her to integrate Paper.li into the PR Conversations strategy.
Do you remember what drew your attention to Paper.li and why you began publishing one for PR Conversations?
I remember when I was really starting to make use of Twitter from a business perspective (in 2010), I saw many of the earlier adopters making use of Paper.li. Sometimes I would be notified of having a Top Stories tweet. Interestingly, most of those people appear to have stopped making use of your service; I’m guessing they moved on to some brighter, shinier social media toys—and on again to others!
Anyhow, when Heather Yaxley, Markus Pirchner and I decided to become the principals of PR Conversations in early 2010—we called it the Redux version— I agreed to take on the role of primary promoter of our global blog. I ran it by the other principals and they were in agreement I should experiment with instituting a PR Conversations dedicated Paper.li.
At first most of the Daily issues had only one, sometimes two, Top Stories picks determined by the algorithm. I wanted to publish three Top Stories, so a habit began of reviewing each day’s Paper.li and filling in missing Top Stories spots. With the manual Top Stories selections, I aimed to even out the country-of-origin and gender balance in any given week (i.e., seven days a week of three choices per day). Unsurprisingly, the featured articles I selected related to public relations, journalism, social business, etc., whereas the algorithm’s selections were sometimes less focused. Happily, over the past 2 years or so the algorithm has regularly selected three Top Stories per day. As I was already in the habit of reviewing the Daily, I continued this practice with three objectives:
- To check out the three tweets that had been algorithmically selected and try to figure out why they resonated with people, mainly in relation to suitable con- cepts or trends for future PR Conversations posts.
- To harvest, separately, some of the other great articles and posts (not chosen by the algorithm) for regular tweets on our @PRConversations account.
- To find new people who had a similar public relations ethos to our blog and monitor their posts and thinking.
Why did you decide on the name @PRConversations Champions?
Credit to Italian Toni Muzi Falconi, the founder of our global blog, for the name and the overarching concept—international conversations about public relations. He’d researched its availability in late 2006 and no one else was using it. Interestingly, a woman in the USA set up a video-based blog a few years later (a WordPress. org version) with a similar URL, but she had to name it “Conversations in PR.” She should have heeded advice this was short-sighted, as almost all of the profile and Google juice came to our global blog. Not only did Toni register the name first but it was better known, with some significant guest posters, interview subjects and com- menters, including James Grunig and Richard Edelman, colleagues and friends of Toni Muzi Falconi.
I wanted a similar mindfulness in creating our Paper.li version. It’s why I thought it was important to make both the publication name and why/how the people on its list from which our Paper.li were drawn clear to casual readers.
The original name was PR Conversations Champions; I made the small change to @PRConversations Champions around the time the algorithm regularly selected three Top Stories. Why? Because it was a blindingly obvious better profile tool—each Daily Paper.li also includes our Twitter account. Those who may not have realized they were on its list—or that a Twitter account existed—can easily find it. Many then follow it. Since I began mindfully curating our paper.li and populating the Twitter feed with articles and links from it and elsewhere, I estimate the number of followers to our Twitter account has tripled.
It surprises me other Paper.li users don’t build the Twitter account from which the Paper.li is published into the Daily name. Perhaps they don’t realize the name can be modified at any time without impacting delivery. I also like the fact that you can decide what time of your day or night it publishes, as I’ve also modified that.
How do you decide the list of people from which the Daily @PRConversations Champions is drawn? What tangible or intangible value has Paper.li brought to the PR Conversations community?
The original list included present and past blog principals, people who had contributed a guest post or those who were frequent or at least semi-regular commenters. Originally it was a small, but very focused, list.
As I began paying more attention to who was promoting and presumably reading our posts, I would add them in as well. I’ve found Topsy to be a reliable tool to discover individuals who tweet about our posts without the @PRConversations account in the promotion. Again, if a person does it regularly, and his or her other tweets consistently point to good, PR-oriented information, this individual can be designated a Champion.
Now these things relate to participation (or engagement) and promotion, but they don’t necessarily speak to loyalty—people’s job or learning priorities can change and they might become quieter online or move on to other resources. Or perhaps the quite-focused PR ethos of our blog no longer matches that of their own—someone who moves into marketing or advertising, for example.
Loyalty speaks to someone who considers PR Conversations an ongoing relevant and viable global resource, regardless of whether the person has written a post or commented. Public relations professors, national PR or communication associations, communication heads at international brands and global PR agencies—this is the type of account I’m talking about. Or someone who works in a country in which a post has never focused, but has been following our Twitter account for years and presumably reads the blog.
I’m very mindful about who the account follows back and is on our list. On a side note I really don’t understand the concept of the automatic follow-back, unless you are simply looking to inflate and sustain your follower numbers. The current Paper. li list almost mirrors the @PRConversations follows, although some accounts might be quietly removed from the list if we find the direction a company or person has moved into doesn’t match our unchanged ethos. Alternatively, if the type of information he or she regularly curates—that gets picked up by the algorithm—doesn’t have a complementary focus.
This long explanation on loyalty is to explain one of my more subjective decisions regarding list-building curation: About a year ago I scrolled through the list of the account followers. I looked at where people lived, worked and in what capacity.
There were several cases where I found evidence of long-term following loyalty without reciprocity and their recent stream proved relevant and interesting (and primarily in English), so I added them to the list. I remember adding people from Singapore, Eastern Europe, South America, Australia and Germany, amongst others. It wasn’t a perfect science, but I think it did have an intangible impact on improving the global appreciation of our blog, as several of the newly followed indicated their thanks. I’m now more inclined to add in new list follows of this nature on a more ad hoc basis. And I’m formulating a plan to use another tool to do this even more, which I’ll talk about a bit later.
I think the PR Conversations community is primarily of the silent variety. If I could use an analogy, think of a respected magazine or newspaper with thousands of readers. Only a small portion of them write a letter to the editor or engage in the online comments section. The true viability relates to the quality of the writers and topics covered, how many people continue to read and/or subscribe to it, etc. Does our licence to operate continue? Do the principals continue to earn loyalty through the type of posts written or commissioned (no-fee) as guest posts? Have we both focused and differentiated ourselves enough so that search engines continue to look kindly on our offerings?
You shared a Nicholas Carr article from The Atlantic, The Great Forgetting (online title: All Can Be Lost: The Risk of Putting Our Knowledge in the Hands of Machines), where Carr raises a red flag against automation in employment roles, daily computer usage and interactions. Some aspects of Paper.li are automated—do you see his criticisms as valid in relation to our product and services?
In his final summation Carr writes, “Knowing demands doing… each time we collide with the real, we deepen our understanding of the world and become more fully a part of it.”
Earlier he indicated, “Learning requires inefficiency.”
When social media first gained popularity it was very hands-on: blog posts written that found a natural audience; people tweeted to friends what they ate for lunch (or in my original iteration, travelling to Australia for five weeks); LinkedIn was an online rolodex of your professional acquaintances, and so on.
But then for many the personalized aspects of social media turned into a numbers game—the most reads, biggest number of follower/fans, particularly who would share your content, and affiliation with large numbers of people, even if you didn’t have much in common. Twitter is the easiest barometre in assessing who continues to engage on a personal basis—whether an individual or a business account—and those who have mainly resorted to various forms of automation in their usage.
If you look at the Twitter streams of those with the most followers—perhaps a bar of 15,000 or more—it becomes obvious if the owner is on the account in real time, using various forms of automation or a combination thereof.
Some of it is scheduled or “buffered” posts, other mechanization revolves around walled-garden platforms that promote “group” sharing of one another’s posts. Per- haps the person has a feed of tech or other specific industry publications, etc., and in the morning has scheduled “curation” time. The person can only devote an hour to this because he or she is important and busy with work and speaking engagements the rest of the day.
In-real-time “engagement” appears limited to responding to compliments (from those who believe there’s reflected glory in catching the pundit’s attention), thank- ing people for shares, or promotion of his or her next speaking gig, app release or book. More personalized engagement about favourite sport teams or coming conference speaking engagements seems focused on Twitter lists of people considered important and influential or those known the longest—the connections still deemed the most valuable (i.e., early adopters’ cliques).
On my own account, the majority of my follow-backs are a result of smart and interesting people I’ve met through Twitter chats or a productive debate about a particular event or issue, often through a related Twitter hashtag. Sometimes I’ve “met” and engaged with the person on a different platform such as LinkedIn group or GooglePlus community. I’ve indicated already how much I dislike the idea of performing for an “audience,” as that’s simply a form of one-way broadcasting, not two-way engagement.
But back to the question of Paper.li and automation.
Paper.li provides a valuable tool for those willing to take the time in the doing, including the seemingly inefficiency of building a really targeted list of people who regularly tweet about content that’s complementary to your own, and continually monitoring that same list, by adding and occasionally deleting accounts. Even the decision of whether to take the easy automated Daily publishing route or to be inefficient and publish it manually comes down to the individual choice of what is the best use of my time, from a qualitative, not quantitative point of view.
The Paper.li algorithm may be automated, but I want everything else associated with @PRConversations Champions to appear to have a mindful, personal touch related to a “reputation, values and relationship building” ethos.
My goals for our Daily paper are twofold:
- To be valued as a public relations resource (similar to how the PR Conversations blog is, for our Paper.li to be valued as a public relations resource).
- For the people who are on the list to feel a sense of worthiness or tribute at being chosen.
Because ours is a group blog, rather than a personal or business one, I have a responsibility to ensure it is our collective PR ethos at play rather than simply my personal inclinations.
These goals and my daily routine for @PRConversations Champion (to comple- ment the algorithmic output) can’t be automated.
If within our @PRConversations Champions I discover an article/post of interest, I determine the platform of origin (i.e., sometimes it’s an “authorized scraping” version that’s been curated, so I determine its first iteration), research the author’s Twitter account and wherever possible credit both in the tweet. Sometimes I add commentary, cc someone or credit the Champion with a hat tip.
This takes time. My way might be less efficient, but I think the end result is infinitely more valuable from a learning and relationship-building perspective than a tweet from a typical Paper.li Daily or other automated platform.
End of Part II
Part II of this interview is available as a slideshare presentation below.
Missed part I? Read it here to learn more about Judy’s thoughts on the importance of precision in language, social media concepts that drive her crazy and what constitutes an influencer and “thought leader.”
Make sure you connect with Judy!
Judy Gombita is a Toronto-based hybrid public relations, communication management and social media strategist, with more than 20 years of employment and executive-level volunteer board experience, primarily in the financial and lifelong learning non-profit sectors. She is the co-content editor and Canadian contributor (since 2007) to the global, collaborative blog, PRConversations and also wrote a monthly column on social PR on the Maximize Social Business site for two years. Judy is an editorial advisory board member (and contributor) to The Journal of Professional Communication (JPC) (and also curates its Twitter account and G+ and LinkedIn pages).