Posts Tagged ‘social media’

City of Houston Produces Video About Surviving Workplace Shooter

August 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Last week, the City of Houston’s Office of Public Safety, with grants from the Department of Homeland Security, posted a video called RUN. HIDE. FIGHT: Surviving an Active Shooter Event as part of their Ready Houston initiative. It’s a professionally done, six minute instructional video about what to do if someone were to open fire at the office.

The video was actually produced two weeks before the movie theater incident in Aurora, CO that took the lives of 12 civilians and wounded many more.  Soon after the shooting, Mayor Annise Parker and Dennis Storemski, the Director of the Office of Public Safety, had the video posted within a week, stating that “knowledge is power in a situation such as Aurora.”

I have to admit when I first saw the video title I recoiled, wondering “have we come to this as a society?” But within a second, I had to stop what I was doing and watch the video, because I needed to know. Then I had the feeling to share it with all my coworkers. Then I had the feeling to blog it on the internets.


What was your reaction when you learned that a city is promoting tips to survive a workplace shooting? Have you ever considered what you would do if you were ever caught in this kind of situation? Should the government sponsor initiatives of this kind, or is it going too far?

In this digital age with social media, we rely on people at the scene to provide us with up-to-date information during extreme situations. Then we rely on creative and technically-skilled people to create tools to present data in a meaningful way. Then we rely on social media influencers to distribute the knowledge to rest of us. But all of this happens AFTER the emergency. Perhaps it’s the government’s role to empower us BEFORE anything ever takes place?


How Did Caine’s Arcade Get Famous?

April 18, 2012 Leave a comment

By now, you’ve probably heard of Caine Monroy, a nine year old boy who built a carnival-like arcade out of cardboard boxes in his dad’s auto shop. The short documentary was viewed more than 4.5 million times in just a week, netting him a $152,000 scholarship, a non-profit foundation to help kids reach their dreams, and a real pinball machine for his arcade.

If you’ve seen the 11 minute video, you probably teared up when you saw him surprised by the big crowd at his arcade. It was truly a heartwarming, feel-good story that inspires hope and creativity in all of us.

Caine Monroy and his cardboard arcade

So how did this little guy get so immensely famous?

Because he’s a genius?
There’s no doubt Caine is a special kid who is highly intelligent for his age. Many instances in the film that displayed his intelligence:

  • he built a drop-the-claw game out of a box, hook and string
  • he would hide behind a box and feed tickets through a slot
  • he recycled a toy from a pizza restaurant and turned it into a game

But did he get famous because of his ingenuity? I would argue no. Caine is a smart cookie, but that wasn’t the reason why his story went viral.

Because he’s persistent?
As inviting as a mini basketball hoop taped to a box may sound, Caine didn’t have any customers for a while because his father’s auto shop gets very little foot traffic. His dad actually told him to go play outside, but Caine never gave up. This is definitely admirable, but persistence and determination is also not the reason he became famous.

Because he thinks like an entrepreneur?
Caine could have just invited his friends to play, but he treated his arcade like a business. He charges $1 for 4 tries and $2 for a Fun Pass, which is good for 500 turns. He also made a shirt that says “Staff” on the front and “Caine’s Arcade” on the back. Make no mistake, he took his business very seriously, which is also a rare and admirable trait. But that’s not what made him famous.

Being intelligent, persistant and business-savvy are all key ingredients to achieving some amount of success in life, but to get viral on the internet requires something else. How 5 million people came to know Caine’s Arcade has nothing to do with anything Caine did himself.

The reason why Caine went viral is because his first customer was a filmmaker who understood the power of social media.

The documentary was created by Nirvan Mullick, a filmmaker who needed a car part, wandered into the auto shop, discovered Caine, and decided to make a film. More specifically:

He created an event
Getting people excited about a kid’s cardboard games is one thing. Getting people excited about a kid’s carboard games AND inviting them to a flash mob is completely different. What made you tear up wasn’t Caine’s brilliance, it was the giant crowd of supporters surprising him at the end of the video.

When it comes to mobilizing people, the best way to build a following is to offer a specific action. Don’t just get excited about a proposed city ordinance; join us two hours before the town hall meeting next Thursday and help us make some signs. You have to give people an actionable task if you want tangible results.

He promoted the event for a month
Many times we think of videos going viral as an overnight sensation, setting the internets afire in seconds. That may be the case for some internet memes, but in this case, it was a methodical and calculated effort by Nirvan. He understood the importance of promotion using social media, creating a Facebook Event, a twitter account, a website and posting to, and being very active to promote the event a month before the date.

He managed the logistics
When you invite the internet to a surprise party, you have no idea what will happen. Perhaps nobody cares and nothing happens, or way too many people show up and chaos ensues. There’s no way Caine could have accommodated a large crowd by himself, especially when $2 gets you 500 turns.

Nirvan was very active to set expectations, handle logistics, and answer questions. If his message was “come check out a boy genius’ cardboard arcade, best $2 I ever spent,” there would be people showing up to play, wait in long for hours, lose patience, and leave. No, the message was always “come show your support about an amazing kid and I’m shooting a film about it.”

Also, whenever there was a question or comment, he’d address it right away. He took care of issues such as

  • where to park
  • what to do if you show up early
  • whether or not to contact the media
  • why there won’t be a bouncy castle
  • how to volunteer
  • how to make a donation

He even asked a friend to continue answering questions on the Reddit page because he was going camping for his girlfriend’s birthday and didn’t want to lose momentum planning the flash mob. This was definitely a case of someone who knew where to find people on the internet and how to manage a large event.

Overall, the story of Caine’s Arcade is amazingly brilliant, and will go down as one of the top internet stories of the year. There are many takeaways from the documentary, not just about creativity and persistence, but about the ingredients needed to create a well-organized, public event over the internet. Caine’s flash mob teaches us the importance of planning an event, allowing plenty of time to prepare, and managing the logistics – all using the power of social media.

Use Twitter to Improve Your Next Presentation

March 8, 2012 1 comment

Thanks to Twitter, conferences are more social and open. A few years ago, if your audience is looking down at their mobile device, it probably meant that you lost them and they were checking email. These days, audience members clacking on their devices might mean they’re tweeting something meaningful that you said. Tweets from the audience benefit in at least four ways:

  • memorializes the important points from your presentation
  • expands your reach to folks that aren’t in attendance
  • promotes you as an authority on the subject
  • builds a relationship with the audience

Picture of a speaker

As a presenter, these benefitscome without any effort on your part. But why rest on your laurels, letting the tweets to fall to the ground? Analyzing your presentation tweets can help you improve and fine-tune your material for future opportunities.Here are five ways to use Twitter to improve future presentations.

1. What was tweeted/retweeted the most?

Which part of the presentation got the most tweets and retweets? These were the nuggets that came out of your presentation. This might not be what you thought was the most valuable, but that’s what the audience thought, which is what matters most. Review these tweets and see if they match what you thought were the most important quotes. If there’s a disconnect, fine-tune your presentation to make your nuggets more tweetable.

2. Where are the gaps?

Most likely, not everything you say will be valuable to your audience. There will be periods where no one is tweeting. Since tweets are time-stamped, you can estimate the lulls and figure out what you were saying during the long pauses. This doesn’t necessarily mean the material was boring or unimpressive. It could also mean that you were speaking too fast or tried to say too much at one time. There have been many times when I, as an audience member, tried to tweet something, but lost my thought halfway through because the speaker already moved on. When that happens, that’s a lost opportunity for the speaker.

3. Are people paraphrasing too much?

One of the drawbacks of twitter is that you have no control over what your audience is tweeting.  Sometimes, if you’re point is not clear and concise, your audience can begin the tweet with your words but end with their own. Of course, the audience is not purposely trying to twist your words, but if you speak too fast or have too many thoughts at one time, the audience might accidentally misinterpret or misuse your words. If there are many paraphrased tweets, you might want to chunk up your ideas or simplify the language the next time you present.

4.  Do you encourage your audience to connect with you?

Most likely, your audience will have questions. Many times, only a few are asked because 1) some people are too shy to ask in front of a crowd, 2) the questions don’t come until they digest the material later, or 3) you take too much time answering a question that people are afraid to ask another.

Remind your audience during the presentation to contact you if there’s a question. If you know your audience, you know which topics will generate the most questions. The interaction doesn’t have to be limited to the time in the conference room. Encourage them to engage with you after the conference and give you feedback on what was most/least helpful to them.

5. Is your presentation available online?

The most common question is probably: “can I get a copy of your presentation.” Why not put it online ahead of time and  announce the URL during your presentation? Once it’s online, you get the web traffic analytics, allow comments, enable sharing, and you have a web presence for your presentation to live on in perpetuity. Have a coworker or friend tweet it while you’re speaking.

Twitter is an integral part of trainings, conferences and educational events. If you are a speaker, don’t waste the opportunity to review the tweets about your presentation to improve for future opportunities.

Are Your Social Media Activities Integrated With Business Lines?

November 28, 2011 2 comments

Last weekend, I attended a conference at a nice resort and brought the whole family. We tried the hotel restaurant and went on Foursquare to look for tips and a possible check-in special. To my surprise, the hotel was very active on Foursquare and offered a free appetizer for checking into the restaurant. When I showed the unlocked special to the server, he looked puzzled and said he had no idea what I was showing him. He had to go back and forth with his manager a few times, and eventually, everything worked out and I got the shrimp tacos on the house. They were delicious.

If social media activities are not integrated with business, customer reps will be confused

Free appetizer on Foursquare? We do that here?

Very happy about the deal and very satisfied with the meal, I tweeted about how great the offer was, even though the staff had no idea they were on Foursquare. Not long after, there was an @reply from the resort apologizing for their uninformed staff. Of course, it was no big deal for me because a free appetizer is a free appetizer.

Spending just a few minutes looking through the resort’s profile, it was obvious that they were very well-versed in the social media space. Their Twitter account had over 2000 followers, 3100 tweets, and were on over 130 lists. They were very engaged and responded quickly. They retweeted useful content, used hashtags appropriately, and had a very likeable personality…displaying all the good practices for businesses on Twitter. Likewise on Foursquare, they had over 1500 check-ins from over 800 people, being available for at least the past two years.

So why was the staff unaware of their social media special? And why was I not surprised?

Perhaps the restaurant staff that night was new, but it’s not a unique situation. Plenty of times I’ll go into a business, show them the check-in special, Facebook coupon, Twitter discount code, or any other social media promotion, and get a “let me ask a manager” confused response from the person behind the counter.

Which makes me wonder, is your social media activity done in a bubble, or is it integrated with related business lines? For some organizations, especially in government, social media is an experiment or a “pet project” done on the side, disconnected from the rest of the organization. However, social media activities should involve related business lines and program areas, since they are the ones that engage with customers. If your communications expert/social media guru/marketing maven/web 2.0 ninja is interacting with your customers, most likely it’s being done behind a closed door. Eventually, the customer will need to interface with the organization, and it would make for a more pleasant experience if the person behind the counter were aware of the situation.

Of course, some transactions will be specific to a single customer and it’s not practical to inform your entire staff that Mr. so-and-so might be walking into any one of your 11 stores with a particular issue. Regardless, your staff should at least be aware that

  • you are on the social network,
  • you do offer certain promotions or special deals for customers, and
  • what an authentic promotion code looks like.

Eventually, if your social media “experiment” turns out to be a viable and sustainable program area in your organization, it is important to integrate the activities with relevant business lines and staff. Just like any IT solution, it should be aligned with the program it supports, especially if customer service is involved.

Facebook Questions is Great for Gov, But Be Careful…

April 5, 2011 Leave a comment

On March 24, Facebook rolled out the Questions feature to all its users. It’s a new way to ask and get answers from your friends or fans on Facebook. For government, this could be a great opportunity to get direct feedback for

Product development

  • How can we improve our current website?
  • How difficult was it to fill out the form?

Customer service

  • What was the most difficult part of the application process?
  • How long did you have to wait in line at the downtown office?

Policy development

  • What are your ideas to balance the budget?
  • Our agency is looking to add these service offerings. Which ones would be most helpful to you?

However, government must be aware of the implications of creating these types of content on a third party website. Hopefully, your agency already has a social media policy that covers general areas such as Security, Privacy, Retention, Accessibility, Acceptable Use, Advertisement, etc.

Introducing Facebook Questions might change the nature of your Facebook Page. Many agencies say their Facebook Page generates duplicative or transitory content. It’s duplicative because the original source of the link or post resides in a different location, such as their agency website, so the content on Facebook is not unique.

It’s also seen as transitory because it’s not essential, mission critical information, but more like conversations in passing. If you ask “How are you today?” and a fan responds “Great, thanks,” this information, although unique, is not treated the same as official agency information.

These two reasons, duplication and transitory, have allowed government to adopt less stringent policies for the management of its Facebook content.

However, if you’re now using Facebook Questions to develop policy or poll constituents , the nature of your Facebook content changes. There are at least three policy areas that might be affected:

1)      Record management: the results from your Questions are unique content. What kind of retention schedule will it have? Does it fit into an existing category or will you need to create a new one? Since this is critical information, you must have a way to capture and retain this data.

2)      Accessibility: Facebook is not completely accessible to persons with certain disabilities. There are workarounds, but you should still consider the accessibility of your Facebook content. In addition, how can you make it available for people who don’t have Facebook accounts? How will you make it available for people who don’t have computers or internet connections, especially if they want to participate?

3)      Take down policy: whenever you allow the public to generate content on your page, you should have a take-down policy, and it better be enforced quickly and consistently. As valuable as survey data can be, all it takes is one person with an offensive or inappropriate response to turn your brilliant poll into a PR nightmare. Moderation is always a delicate matter; if too extreme, people will be offended. But if you have a clear, fair, and visible policy (probably in your Info page or Discussion page), people will generally be okay if you remove comments that is consistent with your policy.

Overall, I think Facebook Questions will be a great tool for government to gain direct feedback from their customers. It’s free, easy-to-use, and can be an invaluable method of collecting data. As long as agencies figure out how to properly manage the policy implications, I believe many agencies will benefit from this feature.

What are some creative ways your agency could use Facebook Questions? Are there other policy areas that will be affected?


#DonationFAIL! Why Bing Got Blasted and What Gov Can Learn

March 24, 2011 2 comments

In the wake of the recent disasters in Japan, many organizations used Twitter to raise donations for the relief effort overseas. However, Microsoft’s Bing pledged $100,000 and received a lot of criticism for their generous pledge.

On March 12, Bing tweeted “How can you #SupportJapan? For every retweet, @bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K.”

Some may think it’s a clever way to engage users and make pledging more interactive. But Bing also received backlash from people accusing them of exploiting the tragedy to market itself and hijacking the #SupportJapan hashtag.

How so? Every time you retweet their message, you are mentioning Microsoft’s brand, promoting and expanding their reach to your followers, who might retweet to their followers, and on and on. If they  wanted to donate the money, then just donate the money. By turning this into a modern day digital bite-sized email chain letter (remember those?), they came across as opportunistic and self-promoting during a time of tragedy.

Furthermore, users who search the #SupportJapan hashtag hoping to get real-time updates on the disastrous situation will get intermittent tweets of Bing’s donation solicitation; not exactly what information-starved people are looking to consume.

Microsoft quickly apologized, but the damage was done.


What can government learn from this PR debacle?

1)      It’s not all about you

Nobody likes shameless promoters, people who focus too much on pushing their brand across.

This is a simple lesson that might not be easy to grasp. From our insider’s perspective, we’re just trying to figure out ways to make our information relevant and useful in the social media universe. And especially for agencies starting out on Twitter, they’ll have to push their names out just to build up their follower base.

But put yourself in the shoes of a recipient. Would you rather see an Education Agency tweet about all the activities they’re doing to improve school systems, or would you rather see “check out my homepage. Follow us here.”

The lesson is not “don’t talk about yourself,” but “don’t put yourself above the important services you provide.”


2)      Social media can be abused, so learn the proper etiquette

I’m sure Microsoft had good intentions and wasn’t trying to be opportunistic like Kenneth Cole was, but users are smart and can sniff out the perception of a hidden agenda.

Learn the culture and etiquette, which isn’t easy either, since it keeps evolving. I did a generic search for “Twitter etiquette” and the top responses weren’t completely up to date. But the more you participate and follow the influencers on Twitter, the more you naturally learn the rules of engagement.

It’s not likely that most agencies will experience the kind of backlash that Microsoft experienced, but it’s still good to keep in mind the lessons we can learn from other peoples’ failures.


What Can Government Learn from a Cell Phone?

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment

More and more government agencies are jumping on the social media bandwagon, but not all are starting with a social media policy. Some simply go forth and facebook, not realizing the ramifications of generating official information on a third party website. Are social media policies really needed?


I’d like to use an analogy to illustrate the importance.

According to Wikipedia, the first handheld mobile phone call was placed in 1973, but cell phones did not gain widespread adoption until 25 years later. What took so long?

One significant reason was the need for other technical and functional requirements to make the phone usable in a practical way.

Requirements like:

  • Size
  • Weight
  • Cost
  • Network
  • Battery

If the phone was too big and heavy, it wouldn’t work. If the cost was too high, it wouldn’t work. If the network was unreliable, couldn’t work. If the battery life… you get the point.

The mobile phone industry had to wait for these other technologies to mature; only then could the cell phone gain traction in the mainstream marketplace. It’s not just about developing a wireless phone… it’s also about making all these other elements work together to make the phone truly mobile.

In the same way, when we talk about social media for government, there are functional and technical requirements that need to be developed in order for social media to be successful. As government entities, we have legislative requirements regarding official state information being posted on a website. As government employees, we are held to a higher standard of conduct, even on our personal time. As government agencies, there is a higher expectation of transparency and accessibility of information. And on and on.

Requirements like accessibility, record retention, security, privacy, acceptable use, etc. definitely apply to content being generated on social networking sites, and if you don’t have a policy to take care of these items, I’m not sure how your social media initiative can be successful and sustainable.

The good news is over the years, agencies have figured out how to address the requirements to be compliant, which vary across states and levels of government. There are many examples of successful and innovative social media initiatives in government emerging across the world.

If you need examples, check out

Policies aren’t just for appeasing your legal counsel. They describe how the critical technical and functional requirements will be met as a government entity. If you have a presence on social networking sites and don’t have a policy yet, please consider forming one quickly.

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