Yearly Archives: 2011

Why Steve was our Elvis

Thousands of more respectful and talented writers will pen an eulogy for Steve Jobs. Many will recall his personality, belief system, impact on technology, and his business style and successes. Hopefully I’ll stand alone in comparing him to The King.

I broke the news earlier this evening to my good friend, who also happens to have been the primary reason I ended working at Apple in the 90s. Even though Steve was in exile most of our tenure, we talked like we had lost a friend. And even with the company only a few years away from it’s innovative-less darkest hours, the often-cited DNA was firmly still part of the Apple culture. We really did believe we were “changing the world one person at a time” and “the journey is the reward.”

For my mother’s generation coming of age in the 1950s, Elvis Presley was the icon of change. While he borrowed ideas from others, he alone popularized them. While he was clearly full of talent, it was his style which overflowed. He broke the rules, smiled and others laughed along with him. He was going to do it his way, or not at all.

More importantly, like Elvis, a new pop culture emerged around his talent becoming something bigger; almost a reflection of how a generation lived, valued and thought about their life. No one knew exactly where they were going, but everyone wanted to get there.

My professional career began as the first personal computers were finding their way into the workplace. While the original Macintosh borrowed ideas from others, its execution felt remarkably new and it did in fact popularize the graphical user interface we use everyday. We didn’t know it then, but we were just starting the journey toward the persistently connected technology enriched mobile life many of us live today.

From his influence on mainstream entertainment (music, Disney, Pixar), and products like the Macintosh, iPod and now the iPhone, Steve Jobs became a icon that defined how my generation imagines, creates, communicates, collects, and shares it’s life with others and in that, in some ways how we value it. For many of us who worked in the technology industry, we didn’t want be like Steve Jobs, we wanted to be Steve Jobs.

I only had one uneventful three minute conversation with Steve Jobs back in 2003 and thanks to my mother I was drug to the LA Forum as a preteen and saw the King in concert. Both were flawed men. They left us in two absurdly different ways, but while they were here they bent the universe in a new direction. And like Elvis, Steve Jobs will ultimately be remembered as the first to leave the generation he defined.

Was the journey the reward? Funny, only they now know.

Information and the Chatter

[From my day job]

For the past several years, Water.org’s social media engagement strategy has not only focused in growing online conversations but has also looked to leverage the Twitter API to quantify, measure, and manage these efforts. Starting with a base of just under 2,000 followers in late 2009, @water now boasts over 375,000.

One recent example was our approach to supporting Blog Action Day in October of 2010. Each year Change.org selects a global topic and promotes conversation in the blogsphere and in 2010 it was the water crisis. Water.org saw this an opportunity to further extend its reach on social media channels while educating new audiences on how the water crisis impacts peoples’ lives in the developing world.

By spending a few short hours with the Twitter API, we were able to develop a few simple applications to help us measure not only the reach of of the chatter on Twitter but also what conversations got the most traction. It all started with encouraging the use of a hashtag for the campaign and @change selected #BAD10. Our monitoring code checked the Twitter stream for use of this hashtag and logged each tweet. A secondary application then collected basic user demographics of those who were posting these tweets.

Here are a few of our findings. During the days leading up to Blog Action Day, the #BAD10 hashtag was used in over 5,200 tweets. We know that 20 of the top 25 tweets from that week were either authored by @water or retweets of our posts. What got the most traction? Not self-promoting fluff. Tweets that included interesting and provocative facts about the water crisis like “More people have a cell phone than have a toilet” were by far the most retweeted during the campaign week.

By collecting user demographics of those tweeting we were able to established new mutually following relationships. For instance, if someone tweeted for the campaign and had a quality following (not just “how many followers”), we followed them. Nearly half that time, they followed us back. In another study we did earlier in 2010 we found that when we followed influential folks who tweeted about the water crisis, fully 60% followed us. Mind you, this wasn’t auto-following, it was intentional-following that was data driven. We believe that online there is “following capital” and because it has real value, we are deliberate who we follow.

Given 17% of all tweets the week leading up to Blog Action Day either mentioned @water or were tweets of ours that were retweeted, we estimate Water.org made 18.9 million brand impressions in less than five days. Not bad for a little bit of thoughtful planning ahead of time and a daily commitment to encourage a conversation. Few, if any, other outreach efforts of Water.org have cost so little, performed as well, or were as measurable as Blog Action Day 2010.

We have reused many of these and other learnings, to inform our daily Tweets, how we select search terms for Promoted Tweets, and how we design future campaigns. While we continuously monitor the online chatter, we believe that by transforming that into actionable information we can extend the reach of our cause and build a following of people who want to solve the water crisis in our lifetime.