Getting Timely Information from Twitter During an Emergency

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guiberson fireThis fall, we had two wildfires that generated significant interest within the Ventura County community.  The first was the Station Fire from late August/early September and the second was the Guiberson Fire from Late September.  

During both of those fires, I spent a substantial amount of time publishing information gathered by VC Star staff at the @vcsfires account as well as retweeting information culled from tweets.  During those events, I built up a decent list of local twitter accounts that published credible and timely information during the emergencies.

I think this list is a great example of where Twitter's new list feature can really shine because most of the time, there's no need to follow this many "emergency" accounts. However, assuming you "follow" the list, then during an emergency, you can have access to many of the most credible local sources. 

To follow this list yourself, you need only to click here: and then click on the "follow this list" button (assuming you are already logged into Twitter).

On a completely non-emergency note, if you're interested in connecting with local people and/or businesses, here are some additional Twitter lists I've published in the last few days: 
If there's a local list that you wish you had access to, let me know. Assuming it's general enough to be interesting to the community, I'll most likely be happy to have my team set about creating it!

[Photo by James Glover II]

Ventura County Twitter Superstars

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With Twitter lists rolling out to everyone, I thought it would be interesting to put together a list of some of the more active Twitter users from Ventura County.    It was pretty easy to do because I've been doing my best to follow just about every non-spammy account from Ventura County over the past few months on at least one of the VC Star Twitter accounts.   So, late last night, I looked through the people I've been following on the VCSCommunity profile and then choose the ones that seemed particularly active.

Ventura County Superstars.pngWithout further ado, here is what I'm calling the Ventura County Twitter Superstars.

By the way, I'm actively creating a few more Ventura County lists, but the only one I'm ready to make public is the List of Ventura County businesses.  I thought this might be interesting to some who want to see how other local businesses are using twitter.

If you see an obvious omission in any of my lists, don't hesitate to suggest someone in the comments (or on Twitter where you can find me at @tyr), although I'm gonna to remain fairly picky about who makes the various lists in order to keep the value high for all...

Moving beyond online: Join us for a Ventura County Meetup!

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Thanks to tools like Twitter and Facebook, it's become relatively easy to meet and engage with people online... However, my favorite part of being active online is when I get the chance to put a face to a personality and meet people in-real-life (a.k.a. "IRL").   

Last week, when I took a biz trip to Seattle, I organized a meetup and had about two dozen people show up for a wonderful evening of stories and conversations.  So, when I heard Mana Tulberg was organizing a meetup (or Tweetup in twitter terms) for Ventura County people, I was super excited and asked how I could help. 

The scoop.  Next Friday, we're going to meet up around Happy Hour at Cisco's in Thousand Oaks... and you're invited!   Regardless of your internet skills, if you're interested in chatting with some people from Ventura County who are generally pretty active online, then put it on your schedule and make sure to join us!

In real life 

The details:
Friday, November 6, 2009
 4:30pm - 7:30pm
Ciscos Mexican Restaurant
1712 Avenida de Los Arboles
Thousand Oaks, CA

Some of the people who have already RSVP'd on the Facebook and Twitter event pages include:
So I know there's going to be some great conversations...   Hope to meet you there!

Ventura County Star on Twitter, Facebook and more

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[UPDATE: I'm now using Twitter's List feature to manage our Twitter accounts.  Check out this list of our sections and this list of people associated with The Star.]

In my last post, I talked about how we recently created a variety of VC Star accounts on Twitter as journalists, staff and bloggers have become more active.

home-tweet-home.jpgIn the last few weeks, the activity has continued to grow, so I thought it would be helpful to create a comprehensive list of VC Star related social media accounts.  I encourage you to connect, reach out and join the conversation with any (all?) of these accounts:  

Highlighted Issues

  • @VCStar. News stories selected by the Ventura County Star team. Business, sports, crime, food, politics, education and more
  • @VCSBreaking. Automated feed of "breaking" news
  • VC Star on Facebook
  • Other places we're active include StumbleUpon and YouTube.
Crime and Emergency
  • @VCSCrime. Covers crime, courts, and other legal issues
  • @VCSFoxman: Crime reporter for the Star, Adam Foxman, runs updates out of this account
  • @VCSFire. Covering local fire news... For obvious reasons, this account is likely to sit dormant most of the time, but be extremely active during events
Local Issues
  • @VCSCommunity. Covers local and community issues: Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Ojai, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, & Ventura
  • @VCSPolitics. Covers politics at both the county and local levels
  • @dennert. Long-time VC blogger, Brian Dennert, covers local politics
  • @VCSEdu. At the moment, we're including all educational issues in the Community account, although there's interest among VC Staff in breaking out educational issues, so look out for this account to get more active in the near future
  • @TimeOutVCS. Covers events that are likely to be interesting to VC residents
  • TimeOut VCS on Facebook
Business and Technology
  • @VCSBiz. Covers local business and technology news 
  • VCS Wheels on Facebook covers all things related to the local auto scene
Food and Wine
  • @VCSEats. Covering local food topics... restaurant reviews, farmers markets, and more
  • @805Foodie. VC Star reporter, Lisa McKinnon, covers food, wine and more as well as does a great job bringing photos into her tweets.
  • @VCSFarmer. VC Star reporter, Anne Kallas, brings you updates from local farmers markets
  • VCS Eats on Facebook
  • @MattjGray. Video producer with the Star, Matt Gray has been doing a great job covering local high school football games
By the way, I expect to keep this post "alive" as I'll update it as new VC Star related accounts are created.

And finally, if you're wondering how to get the most out of Twitter, check out the Twitter Cheat Sheet

[Photo credit: Image: Home Tweet Home, originally uploaded by HeatherH27.] 

Searching for the VC Star's Twitter Sweet Spot

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A little over a week ago, I started making changes to the main twitter account of the Ventura County Star (@vcstar).  

The big change was that I took out all automation (the account was being populated by a "breaking" news feed that can now be found here: @vcsbreaking)... and made sure that each tweet was handcrafted. 

twitter accounts.pngThe "big" lesson I learned:

  • The VC Star has too much content for one twitter account.   I quickly found that some of the more obscure articles were being shared and retweeted (and I love retweets!) but it rarely makes sense to publish "niche" articles to the main @vcstar account because I know that they could only appeal to a small portion of the accounts followers.
The result is that I created a variety of new accounts so that I could have a place to tweet just about every "original" article that comes out of the VC Star from journalists and bloggers:

And the traffic results were quite impressive.   A screenshot I took yesterday from supr (which tracks clicks from links I'm posting to twitter) shows that the clicks on links that I've been posting have gone from a few hundred a day to over a thousand a day (and still growing pretty impressively).

supr traffic.pngHowever, more interesting, there has been a noticeable increase among VC Star staff in using Twitter.  While I've made almost all the updates to all the accounts over the past two weeks or so (How I managed this without spending all day every day in front of a computer is worthy of a follow up post!), word is spreading about the power of twitter to not only publish ideas, but to crowdsource them.  And I'm most excited that I've had more than a few journalists reach out to me to ask how they can get involved with using Twitter more effectively. 

I'm confident that as the journalists get more involved, you're gonna see higher quality tweets, richer engagement, and better outreach to the VC community.

Probably the only lesson I've learned that has a negative slant is that I now think I've created one too many accounts.  When I created the @vcsedu account, I hadn't realized just how much overlap there was between "education" and "community" articles.   For almost every article with an educational slant, I'm conflicted because I also want to publish it in the community section.  At least in the near term, I'm going to abandon the @vcsedu account.

So far, it's been a wild ride over the past two weeks or so where I feel like I've learned a ton about what works (and what doesn't) when tweeting as a newspaper, and I can't wait to see what great things happens as we get more journalists involved!

With regard to many of the things I'm doing with Twitter at the VC Star, I'm not sure where my original ideas start and where I was inspired by a great conversation I had last with Andrew Nystrom of the LA Times and Keven Sablan of the OC Register at the Redwood Bar.  Hopefully, they see my actions at the VC Star along the lines of "imitation is the sincerest of flattery" or as my friend Downtown Scotty Brown says Amateurs retweet, professionals steal.

Finally, if you see the VC Star screwing something up on Twitter (or simply missing the boat on an opportunity), don't hesitate to let me know!

And since you made it this far, you might also find these resources interesting:

Some thoughts (and changes!) on how the VC Star uses Twitter

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VC Star on TwitterYesterday I spent some time some members of the VC Star team where we talked about ways we could improve the VC Star's main twitter account (@vcstar).

Here is what I didn't like about the way the twitter account was being used:

  • It's almost entirely "breaking" news which tends to be focused on negative news (fires, shootings, court cases, stabbings, etc) and doesn't highlight the wide breadth of content that gets published by the VC Star every day
  • Almost all of the content is automated from an RSS feed so sentences get cut off and the "teaser" text is rarely compelling
  • It's pretty obvious no one is manning the ship (thanks to the automated feed and the lack of following back), which really cuts down on how much people can engage (i.e. replies and retweets) with the VC Star on Twitter
After a great discussion, here are the changes we decided to make: 

  • We're going to create a new twitter account for breaking news (@vcsbreaking) for people who want to continue to get this automated feed on twitter!
  • The updates to the main twitter account (@vcstar) will now include a mixture of breaking news and general interest stories similar to what we've been doing with the VC Star FB page
Obviously, if you like the breaking news feed, then by all means, please subscribe to @vcsbreaking where we'll continue to give you that same great feed!  

And since you made it this far, you might be interested in some of the social media theory behind the changes as well as an overview of the social media project I'm working on with the VC Star.

What do you think of these changes?  Is there something else you'd like to see us do on Twitter? Facebook? 

FOF Marketing: Creating Content Worth Sharing

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While the title is a bit outlandish, Vadim Lavrusik wrote a great summary article about the 12 things Newspapers Should Do to Survive.   Much of his advice, such as publishing on multiple platforms and going niche, is right on target (and almost exactly what I've stated I'm trying to accomplish with our social media strategy at the VC Star).  

About the only thing missing was an overall framework that ties everything together... I'd like to think I've been working on such a framework and have presented it to multiple audiences (including on a radio show, a webinar and a conference presentation), but have never written about it, so here goes.

FOF Marketing Defined

I call the overall framework FOF Marketing... FOF standing for friend-of-friend, friend-of-fan or friend-of-follower.

The idea behind FOF Marketing is to put your online marketing focus on creating content that will be shared by the friends/fans/followers of your business with their friends/fans/followers.  

If you're creating content and using tools that's focused on reaching your existing base, then you're likely creating dead-end content that's not helping your overall social media efforts.  Instead of creating content that's meant to be "consumed", we really need to be thinking of creating content that's worth sharing... and then using the tools and technologies that make sharing your content easy.

FOF Marketing = Relevance

The main reason to be interested in FOF marketing is that it puts your online focus exactly where it should be... On attracting an extremely relevant audience.  

vcs preps fb page.pngTraditionally, the way to attract relevant traffic to your website was to improve how your site ranked in Google because Google's search algorithms is well tuned to send targeted traffic.  However, the one audience that's often more relevant than Google's search engine are the existing friends and fans of your business.   In other words, do you want to find people who are likely to be interested in local ventura county sports, then your best bet is to reach out to the friends of people who actively engage in Ventura County sports...

FOF Marketing in Practice 

As someone who loves to market businesses online, I've become enamored with the Facebook platform because they make good FOF marketing so easy.  If you write a status update (could be text, a link, a video, a photo, etc.) and someone leaves a comment, or "likes" your update, then that information gets sent to their profile and is likely to be shared with their friends. In addition, if you're running a Facebook business page, and someone engages with on your business page, then Facebook will often help spread the word to their friends by recommending your page to their friends.   This is the classic FOF Marketing in that people are sharing things with their friends/fans/followers by simply engaging with your content.

Interestingly, retweeting within Twitter can be a form of FOF Marketing in that it can really help you spread your content to the friends-of-followers (again, a ridiculously relevant audience for most businesses including newspapers!).  The fact that retweeting is such a widely-used aspect of twitter makes it an extremely effective way to generate interest in your content should you be so lucky as to write updates that others find worth sharing with their followers!

I've been thinking about the concept of FOF Marketing for quite a while, but one of things that prompted me to create this post was the news today that the Huffington Post showed they get the power of FOF Marketing by creating a deep integration with the Facebook Platform.  Now, whenever you read or comment on an article on the Huffington Post, you can have that information shared with all your friends on Facebook!  It's fascinating news and I think a demonstration of the type of integration we'll continue to see between social media sites and news sites into the future.

Twitter cheat sheet: the terminology and tools to get you started

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It's hard to think of Twitter as anything less than a phenomena... To the uninitiated, the fact that people actually use the tool can seem amazing, but the fact that people actually generate value out of the site often seems baffling.  

The idea behind Twitter is that anyone can use the tool to broadcast a 140 characters message (called a "tweet") to anyone who wants to listen.   Because each tweet is short, the vast majority of tweets look banal, but as you start to take part in the service, many people find they really enjoy the vast number of people and conversations that they can easily tap into. 

If you think you might be ready to start playing with Twitter, then this article will give you some insight into both the twitter terminology as well as the tools you can use to get the most out of twitter.  However, if you feel like I missed something critical, or I didn't answer a question of yours, please don't hesitate to let me know in the comments!   

twitter inbox.png
Twitter Terminology

While you can just dive in and start tweeting, you'll be able to get the most out of twitter the sooner you get a handle on the insider slang.  Here are the terms to know: 

Tweet.  This is a standard update... famously limited to 140 characters.  
  • Example tweet: "I'm heading over to element coffee in old town camarillo right now"
Username. When you sign up for an account, the first thing you'll do is create a username. A username will typically be a take on a person's name, business, nickname.
  • Some examples:  @tyr (my main account), @vcstar (VC Star's main twitter account), @805foodie (journalist Lisa McKinnon)
  • It's extremely common to put an "@" symbol before a twitter username.
Reply. One of the best part of twitter is how easy it is to start up a conversation with someone.  If you see something you find interesting, then you can "reply" to them by starting your next tweet with their handle preceded by the "@" symbol
  • Example reply tweet: "@tyr you gonna be at element's long? I'd like to chat about something..."
  • Just about any twitter tool you might use to update your status will make this easy... When viewing a tweet, just look for the "reply" option.
  • All replies are public
Retweet or RT.  If you see a tweet that starts with "RT" this means the person is retweeting a tweet from someone else. Typically a retweet will include the phrase "RT" followed by the person's username... if you want to make a comment on the tweet, that's normally done in brackets at the end of the tweet.
  • Example retweet:  "RT @tyr: I'm heading over to element coffee in old town camarillo right now [can I join you?]"
  • There's no "right" syntax for a retweet, but rather, this is just what appears to be most common.
  • Retweets are extremely important part of twitter because it allows interesting ideas and news items to spread quickly.
Direct Message or DM:  You're allowed to send a private or "direct" messages to another twitter user who is following you.  This is very similar to sending them a text message, except, they will be able to receive your DM via SMS, email, the web, or a desktop app depending on how they've configured things.   To send a direct message,  you only need to add the letter "d" in front of their username.
  • Example direct message: "d tyr will you still be at element at 2pm?"
  • Be careful what you say in a DM because they are extremely easy to screw up. I once thought I was sending a DM to a friend with my home address, but instead had accidentally "replied" to her so my home address became public! DM mistakes are way too common.
Hashtag.  This is when a simple phrase is proceeded by the pound sign (#).  The purpose of a hashtag is to bring a sense of organization to conversations that often span many different twitter users.  
  • Hashtags are often used during the planning (and attendance) of an event.   For example, I recently attended a conference where everyone agreed to use the term #icsf for all their conference related tweets, which made it easy to connect with people at the event.
  • Recent news-related hashtags that became extremely popular include #mj (for anything Michael Jackson related) and #iranelection (for anything related to the iran election).

Twitter Tools

After you sign up for an account, you can always do all your tweeting from the Twitter website.  However, rather than think of Twitter as a "website", it's best to think of twitter as a "communication service"... similar to email.    Just as you can access your emails from a browser (Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, or Gmail), a mobile device (iPhone, Blackberry or other "smart" phone) or a Desktop App (Outlook or Mac Mail), you can also access and interact with Twitter in many different ways.

For people just starting out with Twitter, their website can be a great place to tweet.  From their website, you can read the updates, send replies and DMs, and do searches.    While the website is fully functional, some of the other tools, especially mobile and desktop apps offer many advantages to using twitter from their website.

  • SMS.  Because tweets are limited to 140 characters, it's quite easy to send and receive tweets as text messages... and in the early days of Twitter, many people used text messaging to get their updates. However, as your network grows and you start following hundreds (thousands?) of people, using text messaging quickly becomes overwhelming.     
  • BlackBerry Apps.  Ubertwitter is my personal favorite to tweet from my blackberry. The site makes it easy to read tweets, reply, DM, follow people, follow links, perform searches and more from a blackberry.
  • iPhone Apps.  I don't have an iphone, so I'm not up-to-speed on the best iPhone apps. However, Mashable recently compared 29 different iPhone apps and came away recommending TwitterFon as the best free app, so if you're an iPhone user new to Twitter, I'd recommend starting there.

There are dozens of popular applications that you can install on your computer that can make it easier for you to tweet.   The two most popular are:

  • Seesmic Desktop.  A personal favorite, Seesmic desktop is great for beginners and power users alike. With Seesmic Desktop you can send and receive tweets, organize the people you follow into groups, save twitter searches to easily follow relevant topics, and much more. 
  • TweetDeck. Very similar to Seesmic in functionality, TweetDeck is another popular way to stay updated with your twitter account(s).

Getting Started
So, hopefully after reading this you've got a least a basic understanding of the lingo and options for using Twitter...   Here's how to get started:  

  1. Create an account. it's easy to create an account on their website and will probably take you less than 3 minutes. 
  2. Find some people to follow.  Twitter really is a lot better when you have a stream of updates from interesting people.  Some tricks to finding people: 
    • Use Twitter's built in tools to match people who are already on Twitter based on the email addresses within your contact databases. 
    • After you find a few people to follow, check out the people they're following.   If you see anyone who looks like they might be interesting, follow them as well. Especially if you're friends are interacting with those people (i.e. they're replaying to or retweeting them), then they're likely to be people you might be interested in following as well. 
    • Run some searching on things that interest you.   Are you a surfer?  Run a twitter search on "ventura surf" to see updates from people who have a similar interest.   Most of the people you'll find in a search like this won't be interesting to you at all, but every once in a while you'll find someone great 
  3. Download an appropriate Twitter client.  If you're most likely to tweet at your desktop, get yourself a desktop app like Seesmic. If your more likely to tweet from your phone, get yourself a decent mobile client.  
  4. Have fun.  There's no better way to get the feel for twitter than to interact with other people.  If you spent just a little bit of time each day tweeting interesting links and replying to people saying interesting things or asking interesting questions, you'd quickly get a feel for the power of Twitter! 
Did I miss something?  Please don't hesitate to let me know in the comments!

Ready to Engage?

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Where to start?  

A little while ago I was put in the enviable position of working with the executive team at the VC Star to develop and implement an online social media strategy for the Ventura County Star.     I love thinking through online marketing strategies and couldn't imagine a more timely and interesting project.  

The social media strategy

socially wired.pngFrom my perspective, the real focus of a social media strategy for the VC Star needs to use online tools to build and strengthen community relationships.  With that in mind, the three part strategy I've designed includes:
  • Build out Community Hubs. On "niche" topics like local politics, local sports, local business, etc, I want to make sure that the VC Star has a thriving online community of people who love engaging with these issues.  It's well worth noting that the VC Star has already started down this path with sites like 805mom, Eldercare, and VC Pets, as well as more than a few sports and political bloggers, but I'm hoping we can push this to the next level by building out additional tools that will allow for community experts to engage in a meaningful way on the VC Star website.   
  • Engage on Social Networks. With a Facebook Page, a Twitter account, and a YouTube channel, the VC Star team has already started reaching out to some of the most active communities on the internet.   Going forward, I not only want to continue these efforts, but I want to get even more relevant to the VC Star community by focusing on niches like our new VCS Preps and TimeOut VCS Facebook Pages. 
  • Educate through Meetups. One of my favorite parts of social media is how it can create blogs that extend from the online world into real world situations.  For most businesses, getting people to connect with your business online is the first step to turning them into customers, advocates and potentially, even friends.   I'm hoping to host or facilitate regular meetups at coffeeshops, restaurants, bars (and maybe even kitchens!) to help people in Ventura County connect. .  
While I talk about building out "hubs", I'm definitely hoping this blog, socially wired, can become a social media hub where I will host a conversation around what the VC Star is doing as a way to help you understand how you can better market your business online.

Over the days, weeks and months to come, I'm going to go into a lot more detail on how we're using (and you can use!)  tools like Twitter and Facebook to market your business... So please consider subscribing to this blog and/or becoming a fan of my Facebook Page where I've built up a strong community of people who love to share ideas around using social media tools to build businesses. 

And if you have thoughts on this strategy (am I way off base???), want to share ideas for where we should focus, or want to take part in helping me manage a "niche" that you find particularly interesting, please don't hesitate to reach out!
Socially Wired
I'm working with the VC Star to develop and implement a social media strategy and really excited to use Socially Wired to not only document our progress, but also to host a conversation on how local companies can use social media tools to improve their business.

Feel free to follow me on twitter ( @tyr) become a fan of my Facebook Page, or email me ( with ideas, tips, advice or just to say "hi!"
  • Dr. Matt Leonard: Hey Dustin, I am also a Ventura Chiropractor and want read more
  • Dustin Luther: Sorry to disappoint, but as much as I enjoy diving read more
  • Brian: Check out my Twitter account. I link to it on read more
  • Carolyn: I'm searching for green business news in Ventura County and read more
  • Dustin Luther: Hi Steven, There's no "roadmap" I can point you to read more
  • Dr. Steven Alff: I'm a local Ventura Chiropractor and I just wanted to read more
  • Kelli Garner: Thats very good to know... thanks read more
  • Ricardo Bueno: Re: "How I managed this without spending all day every read more
  • Dustin Luther: Sharlet, I'm not sure I totally understand your question... However, read more
  • Sharlet Liebel: Hi Dustin Luther, StumbleUpon has a drop-down MENU when you read more