Categotry Archives: Twitter

Selfie-help – can selfies make a meaningful contribution to an interpretation toolbox?


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I’m looking for some selfie-help.

During a recent briefing for a new interpretative project I started thinking about selfies.  It’s not such a jump – the project is a new walking trail with a target audience of youth, families and first-time hikers. The trail has cell coverage for most of its length. My client briefing me pointed out a natural feature that was a popular spot for photos and when she said; “I don’t like the idea of people with their cell-phones out in the natural environment;” my response was, “but they’ll be doing it anyway so why not use it to our advantage?”

Selfies used to be considered bad taste; the exclusive domain of self-centred narcissistic teens on Myspace. But a social media culture shift has occurred, and everyone is doing it. Higher quality shots are possible, helped along by the advances in the photographic capabilities of cell phones; with specific selfie apps soon following.

Even I must confess that both my current Facebook and LinkedIn profile pics are selfies.

Even I must confess that both my current Facebook and LinkedIn profile pics are selfies.

Selfies at their core are self-portraits. People have been painting, drawing, photographing themselves since we used to live in caves. Selfies say “I was here”. They are people-focused and not much of a step away from what tourists have been doing for years – taking photos of themselves at places they have visited to ‘capture memories’.

According to Wikipedia the Oxford English Dictionary declared selfie ‘word of the year’ in November 2013. According to Google 93 million selfies are taken every day on Android devices. And in March 2014 a selfie broke the internet when a selfie taken by Academy Awards host Ellen DeGeneres was retweeted over 1.8 million times in the first hour of posting (yes we hear about this stuff, even in the antipodes).

We have seen their power used for evil; that bad taste still rises in your throat when people take selfies that seem to be at odds with the place, events and environment.  

New Zealand’s national museum Te Papa freely admits that sculptures and paintings are being damaged by people backing into them for selfie shots. But that hasn’t stopped them from allowing – and in some places encouraging – their use.

“We want visitors to be able to take pictures and share their experience with friends,” says a spokesperson in this media article.

Shantytown long-drop photo opp...

Shantytown long-drop photo opp…

So how do we harness the selfie phenomenon to help facilitate interpretation? Or should we even try? A quick search and brainstorm came up with the following examples of selfies in interpretation, and some thoughts:

Interpretive sites have often encouraged photographs as a way for visitors to interact with their exhibits – see the Shantytown example above. Te Papa has gone so far as installed a mirrored selfie wall.

Encouraging visitors to share their own selfies on a social media platform is a common marketing tool and creates a community of common experience. Could this be done while on the trail perhaps at one of the huts?

This life-sized ranger sign at the glacier below has unwittingly become the co-pilot in many a tourist selfie. So perhaps the same idea could be used to introduce an historic figure at one of the huts or shelters along our trail?

This life-size ranger was intended to draw attention to safety warnings.

This life-size ranger was intended to draw attention to safety warnings but is now featured in many selfies

Check out this instagram – if Laura Ingles Wilder took selfies

What about an app that reveals a ghost figure from the past if you take a selfie at a certain spot? Or some other information at pre-designated, beacon-marked spots?

I’d love to hear from anyone who has attempted these or any other selfie ideas and are willing to share their experiences. Selfie-help – all shares welcome!

Which platform to use to display your selfie community?

Which platform to use to display your selfie community?

Why Do We Always Need to Change?


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Photograph of a sign in a store window that reads "FREE WIFI & INSPIRATION"

Seen at the REI Store in Roseville CA

Back in May, I talked about some of the hyperbole that constantly surrounds social media trends. If you follow these trends at all, you’re always hearing that [fill in the blank] is now the hot platform, what you know already is obsolete, and there’s something magical that will answer all of your needs just around the corner, especially if you’ll fund my kickstarter account!

In the meantime, the most popular and commonly used platforms are constantly changing things, seemingly to maintain hipness and interest plus deal with constant lawsuits over privacy violations and patent infringement. Less popular ones do the electronic equivalent of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

I used to think that a lot of this stuff is done just to tick me off. I really loathe it everytime a platform innovates, and Facebook is the nadir of this annoyance, I guess because it’s the most pervasive platform out there. I hate it for the same reason I hate video games. I never get the doggone thing totally figured out! Just when I feel like I know what’s going on, here comes a shift; a new reality.

Much as it might annoy me, though, these platforms have to innovate constantly. Part of it is litigation. It’s common knowledge that Facebook, Instagram, Google and other platforms are constantly being sued for privacy violations. As a result, they change the way they collect, display and use information.  It’s not benign or necessarily corrective, by the way. Rather than really address privacy issues in a way that most people would be happy with, the changes often just provoke frustration and tick people off. Most recently, privacy settings have changed on personal pages. This and several other things have been explained by Information Week.

They like to change how information is laid out on the platform too. It was just a couple of years ago that Facebook did a major redesign to incorporate cover images. and switch over to a two-column layout. Milestones also appeared, allowing you to highlight significant dates. Nearly everyone I talked with about these things hated them, but we adapted.

Another reason for this constant innovation is to better monetize the platform. It’s one of the things that virtually all of us, I think, totally disregard about social media. Regardless of whether we’re providing content as an individual or on behalf of an interpretive site or business, we are performing unpaid labor for the platform’s owners.

Let me rephrase that. Without our content, Facebook, Instagram, Google +, Foursquare, Tumblr, or whatever has no content to draw viewers. No viewers, no eyeballs, no advertisers, no Silicon Valley, no Mark Zuckerberg, no… Hey, wait! This could be just great! I’m going to set up a Meetup group so we can plan this, and then send out evites, and…


Al Jazeera has a great opinion piece written by E. Alex Jung called Is It Time To Quit Facebook? where he makes his case pretty well. You may have heard about the research project that Facebook used us as Guinea Pigs for, Emotional Evidence of Massive Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks. You can read the “editorial concern” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for yourself to learn some of the details, but essentially Facebook played everyone who uses the platform by selecting post types that you and I would receive, determining (duh) that happy posts make us more engaged, while sad or non-happy posts decrease our engagement. This might sound kind of silly and obvious, but it’s not if you understand that we are not only an audience, but also unpaid content providers for some of the richest and largest content providers in the world. The study, while verifying something that seems obvious, also gives license to social media platforms to target what we will see, to drive more engagement and therefore sell and charge more for ad content.

How does this concern us, aside from the obvious? Well, for those of us who provide content on behalf of an employer or a beloved interpretive site, perhaps some of our most intellectually important posts are not “happy” enough, and won’t be seen by a large part of our desired audience.

The work we do as interpreters is not at all related to feeding tame deer and reveling in nature’s beauty. Well, part of it is, I guess, but in addition to the “happy” stuff we also interpret tragedy, death, greed, horror, accident and natural disaster. If we don’t, but they are part of our story, we do a disservice to our audience and stakeholders. Who is the world is Facebook or whoever to censor or diminish distribution of what we feel is important to get out to our audiences? Who gave them the right?

I’ve previously opined that social media is the equivalent of a public utility. They are pervasive, ubiquitous, and necessary for a lot of people to keep up in a fast-paced and modern world. I was wrong. A public utility normally provides a level of service commensurate with our ability to pay for the services. My water service won’t be diminished by my mood or the colors of the flowers in my garden. My electricity won’t be cut off if I like to burn lights all night, and my satellite provider won’t change my channel lineup based on what they think I should see. How can social media providers then, filter what I see versus what’s put on the platform and offered for viewing?

They are the owners. We are the unpaid employees, and we are at least partially, suckers for agreeing to be in servitude to them.

I’m not quitting social media; it’s simply too much a part of my life, and it’s definitely a part of my work. I’m not happy about it though.

Online exhibitions – do they work? Hm…


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I recently undertook some research into ‘online exhibitions’ to see what was on offer out there in our wonderful world. What I found was quite enlightening.

The Tate (group of art galleries in the UK) has been experimenting over the last year or so with ‘Twitter tours’ of their exhibitions. In June 2013 one of their curators gave a tour of the Lowry and the painting of modern life exhibition. More recently, the gallery showed off their Matisse exhibition in the same way. See here. During both tours Tweeters were treated to an exclusive preview by using the hashtag #TateTour. The tours presented facts about the artists and their paintings as well as images and videos of the paintings in the gallery space. After the tours the curators invited questions from followers. I didn’t find this type of tour very engaging to be honest (and I think this is evident from the amount of people that asked questions?) but an interesting experiment nonetheless.


Image from here

Other ‘online exhibition tours’ – by far the most popular method used by organisations that I looked at – including one published by The Smithsonian American Art Museum here – provide exhibition slideshows on their host website. The Smithsonian example presents information about the artworks in the exhibition and asks viewers to share ‘personal stories’. Not interpretive, but at least there is a nod towards viewer engagement.


Image from here

The Louvre in Paris, France (probably with a fair bit of cash behind them – it was sponsored by Shiseido) takes viewers through their permanent galleries via a ‘virtual tour’ which enables you to select artworks/artefacts to find out more (information). Very flashy, very expensive, but not very exciting.


Image from here

Then I came across The Canadian Museum of History’s Canada at Play online exhibition about toys and games. See it here.  The exhibition enables viewers to explore different themed ‘rooms’, close-up images of artefacts, images from the library and archive, downloadable catalogues, and archive audio, all of which is accompanied by accessible – and I would go as far to say almost interpretive – text. I spent ages looking at this online exhibition.


Image from here

So what did my research reveal?

I’m not sure many organisations know what their online exhibitions are trying to achieve. Most seem just out to provide content for the sake of it. Also, they don’t seem to have considered who their online audience is and as a result the content is pure information (in some cases the curatorial information is all that you get, e.g. size of artwork/artefact, who needs to know this??). Lastly, save for the Canada at Play exhibition (which I did like), there wasn’t much of an attempt to make the online exhibitions interpretive. Which perhaps is fine for those who already have an interest in the artworks/artefacts/subject matter, but what about the rest of the world?

Some might argue that interpretation is not really interpretation unless it involves the visitor interacting with ‘the real thing’. Without that ‘authentic experience’ then the audience is just taking in information. But I disagree for the most part. Sure, there really is no substitute for standing in front of the Mona Lisa, but what if circumstances don’t allow you? The web is opening up the world to us and it is often the first step of the ‘visitor journey’. If we give someone a great online experience of the Mona Lisa, then perhaps they might decide that they simply must save up and get themselves to France to see the ‘real thing’. And when they get there, they will perhaps understand or appreciate it more because of their initial online experience. If circumstances are prohibitive, then hey let’s have a go at giving them the best experience of the Mona Lisa we can. But – and I stress this ‘but’ – we need to understand more about who is using our online content. As far as I’m concerned, if you are displaying something to an audience then you have to deliver this display in a format that is right for them and if it is intended to engage them then it has to be interpretive. In this an interpretive plan for an ‘online exhibition’ is just as necessary as it is for a site, museum or gallery.

Do you know of any great online exhibitions? Please email me:

Lisa Keys

Lisa is a Committee Trustee for the Association of Heritage Interpretation

The Association for Heritage Interpretation is a key forum for anyone interested in interpretation – the art of helping people explore and appreciate our world.
AHI believes that interpretation enriches our lives through engaging emotions, enhancing experiences and deepening understanding of places, people, events and objects from the past and present.
AHI aims to promote excellence in the practice and provision of interpretation and to gain wider recognition of interpretation as a professional activity.

Connecting in our Parks


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There’s a major controversy in Canada right now. No, not Mayor Rob Ford’s new crack cocaine video. No, not the bloated dead whale in Newfoundland that is a ticking timebomb of exploading gases. No, not the U.S.’s fight with Canada over who should have to claim responsibility for Justin Bieber. This controversy came to my attention when looking at the “What’s trending” box on Facebook.  It said, “Now Trending: Parks Canada”

“Parks Canada? Trending? Seriously?” I asked myself.

Yes, our government agency that manages Canada’s national parks and historic sites was suddenly in the news and all over social media. Why? Because they are looking at installing wifi hotspots at 150 locations throughout the system.

wifi parks

Now, just to be clear, there are a couple of key points to understand. We are talking about wifi hotspots – areas of a few hundred metres where people can access the internet on their devices. Just like a coffee shop. Or an airport. And, these hotspots will only be in specific locations where people gather – such as visitor centres, townsites, and some campgrounds. It will not be available across hundreds of kilometres of wilderness.

Regardless, this story has exploded, and there are very strong comments about it. Here are just a few I pulled from Twitter:

“If you wanted proof that city folk are ruining the world, they’re installing wifi in Canada’s national parks.”

“I think the fact that Parks Canada is even considering wifi in our parks shows what our society values more.”

“Wifi does not grow in parks, so wifi should not go in parks.”

Even 92-year-old author Farley Mowat chimed in with this subtle comment: “It’s a disastrous, stupid, idiotic concept and should be eliminated immediately.” Of course I responded on Twitter by saying, “Funny, I hear the same response from people his age about the internet in general.” But, I digress.

Celebrated Canadian Author Farley Mowat is 93 years old

Celebrated Canadian Author Farley Mowat is 92 years old


At first, I was quite taken aback by the controversy of this issue. But, after reflecting on it overnight, I can see a few reasons the issue has generated such a strong, guttural response:

Story Framing by the Media

In almost all of the media treatments I’ve seen (newspaper, television, online), the story begins somewhat like this: Imagine you are enjoying the serenity of one of Canada’s pristine national parks, when suddenly the silence is interrupted…” The media has purposely framed the story to cause conflict. They suggest that the mere presence of wifi will prevent others from enjoying the solitude and peace of nature. Well, of course people are upset. The media is inciting the public by creating a conflict where one doesn’t actually exist.

Clash of symbols

The public outcry may be a result of the personal symbolism of national parks. Many people see national parks as pristine wilderness – small islands of purity that have to withstand the constant onslaught of human presence and activity. They naturally see this as just another modern intrusion that threatens what a park means to them. Rational or not, this is viewed as a threat to something they hold dear.

Cell phone vs. Wifi

Much of the controversy revolves around cell phone use.  And towers. Comments are flooding in about people not wanting to hear a phone ring 50 kilometres into the backcountry trip or massive cell towers on top of every mountain. Even one of the large television channels had this as the story title when reporting: “Call of the Wifi? The Government plans to erect cell towers in national parks.” This shows a real lack of understanding of the issue. Wifi and cell networks are different. There are no towers going up for a wifi hotspot, and people’s phones are not going to suddenly start ringing because they are in range of wifi.

Need to control

This is where I have a hard time understanding much of the reaction. So many people are rejecting the idea because it doesn’t fit into their opinion of how people should connect with nature. I have heard and read comments saying that if someone needs the internet, they don’t belong in parks. Parks are about disconnecting. People shouldn’t bring that stress with them. The only way to experience nature is through solitude. You get the point. I may agree with some of those feelings on a personal level, but I would never impose that on someone else. Much of the negative reaction I’ve seen shows a bizarre need to control how others connect with nature. To me, it reeks of arrogance and elitism: “The only way to experience nature is the way that I like to experience nature. If you don’t like it, stay away.”

People’s travel habits have changed. The ways that people connect and learn have changed. And, there are many groups of people that are underrepresented as visitors, that may come if their needs are addressed.

How will wifi help? Someone can check the weather to decide what activity to partake in. They can book a canoe rental or a hotel room online. They can download a Parks Canada app that they didn’t know about before arriving. They can use birding apps or plant identification apps on their smartphone or tablet. They can take photos of and report sighting of rare animals. They can let their loved ones know they arrived safely. They can post a selfie to show what an incredible time they are having in nature. They can send a digital postcard. A work-at-home parent can take their kids to a park and still check in to the office. The list is endless…

As I have said before, maybe we should be less judgemental about how people should connect with nature, and just be happy that people connect at all.


The popularity contest everyone’s tweeting about!


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Forest and Bird e-poster. M Herrick.

OK so New Zealand has a lot of birds. And we’re pretty proud of how unique they are – I mean 87% of them are found nowhere else in the world! We’ve named ourselves after one of the weirdest ones – kiwi.  So it’s no wonder that when Forest and Bird Protection Society launches its annual ‘Bird of the Year competition’ we all jump up in a flurry of ruffled feathers to vote.

Forest and Bird e-poster. M Herrick.

Bird of the Year competition/campaign advisor, poster-designer and general go–to person Mandy Herrick  says that the competition is about celebrating our native birds and highlighting the threats they face.

“The voting page outlines the threats to each species of bird, and outlines how special they are by giving the public the latest (often rather grim) population figures,” says Mandy.

“Last year’s competition received 10,292 votes and we received just over $3,000 in donations.”

Look a little deeper, beyond the figures and the ‘pretty birds’ and you find that there are some very clever reasons why this competition is so successful. Here are three…

1)    Forest and Bird invites people to become ‘campaign managers’ for their favourite bird and makes it easy to do so.

Celebrities make great ‘campaign managers’ of course, but anyone with a passion for birds can be one. These ‘campaign managers’ tap into their own networks and connections, star factor, and ‘friends’. They make the most of the power of word of mouth. “Like me, like my bird!”

Last year, NZ comedian Raybon Kan campaigned fiercely for the karearea under the tagline “NZ’s got talons” and won the competition.

“Enlisting people (celebrities or otherwise) who are passionate about our birds is key,” says Mandy. “One campaigner went to extreme lengths to raise the profile of their bird by inking his bird onto his body last year (the tieke). Let’s just say this really raised the bar!”

2)    They make the campaign visually rich by creating e-posters and sharing these via twitter and Facebook.

“We give campaign managers the chance to create their own poster or they can just give us a tagline and we’ll create a poster for them,” says Mandy.

Forest and Bird e-poster; M Herrick.


3)    They keep the “buzz” going with regular updates and postings.

“Last year, we did regular graphic updates of which birds were polling well. This always creates a boost in voting and pushes the smack talk to whole new levels,” says Mandy.

“(The competition) created a conversation about our birds and it’s fun. Some people run information-rich campaigns, others concentrate on more superficial characteristics of their bird; i.e. their looks. Any which way, it helps to raise awareness, and hopefully will lead people on a path to becoming more aware of our birds, and perhaps protecting them in the future.”

So, if you like this post, make sure you vote for the bird that INNZ is backing this year –wrybill/ngutu parore. Wading in with personality and pizzazz it’s the only bird in the world with a beak that is bent sideways – and always to the right!

Why vote wrybill? Because we are all a little bent!


P.S. there’s been no mention of rugby, hobbits or Flight of the Conchords in this, or my last post, so I’ll leave you with this tenuous link – Jermaine Clement’s Pretty bird clip.

Walking on Eggshells: Commemorating a Tragedy on Social Media


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Last week’s anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was predictably somber. The tenor of the conversation on social media, in particular, struck a quiet and respectful tone. Many organizations either stayed off social media altogether or posted simple messages of unity and patriotism.

At a time when emotions are raw and tensions are heightened, social media managers have to be particularly sensitive to the messages they put out into the world. Even when intentions are good or mistakes are honest, the already-critical social media masses are on hyper alert on days like 9/11.

This is why it was particularly jarring to see major brands make really egregious errors in judgment last week.


The Los Angeles Lakers started the day by tweeting a photo of their own controversial star player, Kobe Bryant, wearing the American flag ribbon they and every other team wore the season after the attacks. The social media sphere erupted in outrage that the team would tweet an image of a player to mark the day, culminating in a post on the site Deadspin that simply asked, “The hell?” The Lakers realized their mistake and almost immediately pulled the post (though not before it was screen-captured a billion times). They later offered this apology by email, documented on Yahoo Sports:

We apologize to anyone who took this differently than we intended and were therefore offended by it. We used a photo of how we commemorated 9/11 in the 2001-02 season, shortly after the tragedy occurred, because we wanted to show our support of what we felt at that time and continue to feel now.  Out of respect for the intensely personal nature of how people remember this day, and that we recognize that not everyone understood the intent of our message, we pulled down our tweet and photo.  Ultimately, our intent was to honor the spirit of remembering a day that we should all never forget.

Esquire Magazine had to deal with a different sort of mistake. A truly unfortunate technical glitch on their website caused an image associated with an article about the attacks to be paired with a frivolous headline about looking good on the way to work:


The reaction on social media was equal parts baffled and irate, and only intensified when Esquire offered this pseudo-apology, as noted on Huffington Post:

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One of the most essential decisions an organization makes is whom to put in charge of social media. The easy thing to do is to hand it over to the tech guy because it feels like technology, but (sweeping generalization alert!) tech guys are notorious for holding everyone in the world in contempt for being hopelessly stupid—and that’s the last person you want responsible for being the voice of your brand. Esquire’s “Relax, everybody” Twitter response to an understandable but horrible technical glitch should have been utter humility. Instead, their snarky response became the story—and the new focal point of the social media mob’s rage.


Finally, a lesser-known brand made headlines before 9/11 when the Tumbledown Trails golf course offered a tasteless 9/11-themed deal on rounds of golf, as seen on USA Today and a million other sites. The outrage was so intense that two apologies, a promise make donations to the National September 11 Memorial, and the plea on Facebook that “We are a family owned business & proudly support all local charities and have always gave 20% off everyday to all Police, Fire, Emergency, Military, etc.” were not enough to placate the internet masses. The golf course received threats and other vitriol heaped on its Facebook page to the point that they considered closing on 9/11 for their own safety.

Every day brings new challenges for social media managers. How and if we respond to national or international events on behalf of our brands can be an identity-altering decision. On Monday, I stared at my computer screen for 10 minutes when posting a simple message on NAI’s Facebook page that our office in Fort Collins, Colorado, had reopened and staff members were safe after flooding ravaged parts of the state.

What it boils down to is awareness. Whether we specifically acknowledge events in the news or not—from tragedies like wildfires or mass shootings to positive news like holidays or (in my mind) major sporting events—social media managers need to know how to strike an appropriate tone and analyze how their words might be perceived regardless of their intentions.

And then if we do get it wrong, we need to know how to apologize sincerely without telling people to “relax.”

This just in! How social media campaigns can be successful


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I am often a great supporter of procrastination. Not a proactive supporter, just a passive one. In fact, I often find that the mere act of doing nothing has the unintentional effect of encouraging procrastination.

So, I was busy procrastinating from writing my latest blog post for Media Platypus. I guess I was just waiting for something to happen on its own, when – ding! – something suddenly appeared in my inbox. It was a report from Ipsos, a worldwide market research firm. But, this isn’t just any report. It is a report about social media campaigns. Bingo! Procrastination 1. Hard Work 0.

This new report (from Ipsos’ UK office) attempts to identify ways that social media campaigns can be successful. It is something that I fully intended on coming up with myself, but how about I just tell you what the report says instead?

In a nutshell, this report identifies three things you must do to be successful with your campaign:

1. Play to the strengths of each platform. They are all different. I can’t stress the importance of this one enough. Just because they are all grouped together under the umbrella of social media, it doesn’t mean you should take the same approach with each platform. They are all different and have different users. And, these users have different behaviour and reasons for using those platforms.


Social Media – as explained by the act of peeing

According to their survey of UK users, Facebook is about sharing enjoyment with friends, Twitter is about discovery and connection with like-minded individuals, and YouTube is about entertainment and relaxation (like TV). The implication? Your content for Facebook should be focused on bringing friends together, your content for Twitter should be about discovery, and your content for YouTube should entertain and inform.

2. Deliver content people want to engage with. This seems obvious, but I see a lot of examples of content that either isn’t engaging or is on the wrong platform. When surveying how people interact with brands on various platforms, Ipsos discovered that people look for promos and offers on Facebook, and news on Twitter. Linkedin was more for learning from experts.

3. Be relevant and add value.  If we want people’s time, we need to reward them for it. 45% of people that “like” a brand on Facebook subsequently unlike it. There are all kinds of reasons for this, but often it is because there is some immediate one-time reward or contest, and there isn’t enough relevant and rewarding content to continue.

If you would like to read the entire report (it isn’t very long), you can check it out here. As for me, I have some serious procrastination planned.

Dealing with negativity and trolls, Al Roker style


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I’m going to say something I’ve never said before, and certainly thought I never would say: I was inspired recently by weatherman Al Roker. One of the things we talk about in social media is how to deal with unfettered negativity and trolls, which, unfortunately, is something you see a lot online.

Most of the time, we argue that you should set standards for your page and make those standards known. Typically, you might delete spam, foul language, and outright slander, but otherwise, you are pretty much forced to let people have their say. Often, people who are negative will go away if you ignore them, but if you engage them, they are encouraged and it only makes things worse.

Al Roker has taken a different approach. He has more than 200,000 followers on Twitter, and being a prominent weatherperson, is frequently going to incur the ire of knuckleheads who blame him for things like clouds and rain. However, he has been doing the near impossible for the last month: having a lighthearted, funny exchange with some anonymous dude who picked a fight with him. The Twitter war, which is detailed on the website Gawker, has included some of the following barbs:

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The exchange had the chance to be good because the instigator is clearly just having fun, rather than being malicious or crude. It ends up being extremely funny because mild-mannered celebrity Al Roker, who must get hundreds or thousands of this sort of message, engaged him on his own terms—rather than in any sort of way his publicist would have approved of.

Obviously, we’re all faced with negativity in some way when we manage social media. Any time you engage a troll, you risk inflaming a delicate situation—the absolute worst thing you can do is try to shout down an anonymous jerk who is just looking for attention. We may not always have the opportunity to be funny with people picking fights with us, and when we do, they may not play along like Dr. BAE does here with Al Roker, but this is one of the rare occasions I’ve seen where celebrity/follower Twitter war has been entertaining for any reason beyond the spectacle of people losing their minds.

Hashtags have come to Facebook. What are they and what do you do with them?


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Hashtags are the fire ants of social media. They’re an important if somewhat prickly part of their native habitat, but their invasion of other habitats is causing alarm and painful itching. Hashtags are endemic to Twitter, but they are establishing colonies in other social media outlets like Instagram, Pinterest, and most recently, Facebook.

There are people in the world who like Facebook but hate Twitter. This makes sense to me. (There are also people who think that putting nuts in chocolate is a good idea. This does not make sense to me.)

One of the reasons that I believe some people don’t like Twitter is that it’s imposing and a little confusing at first glance. The very art of micro-blogging requires the use of abbreviations, codes, and awkward, stilted language, resulting in a foreign-looking structure that I think of as “Twitterese.” One of the symbols that makes Twitter so distinct is the hashtag—#—known to people weighing things as the pound sign, to people using telephone keypads as the number sign, to musicians reading sheet music as the sharp symbol, and to 1960s scientists at Bell Laboratories as the octothorpe.

hashtagThe Twitter-haters groaned when hashtags recently showed up on the Facebook landscape, just as residents of Arizona did the first time they discovered a colony of invasive fire ants. (Of course, there’s already a Facebook page called This is not Twitter. Hashtags don’t work here.) But I like to think of hashtags as more commonly accepted types of invasive species, like palm trees in Hawaii or house cats in my house.

Hashtags have the potential to connect your site with new followers and to insert your page into conversations you may not have even known about. In short, hashtags identify and make clickable keywords that you identify in your post. So if blogger, interpreter, and junior astronaut Cal Martin were to post on his own personal Facebook page, “William Shatner personifies my two favorite things: #StarTrek and #Canada,” his post would show up (if Cal’s privacy settings allowed) any time someone clicked on or searched for one of those hashtags.

One trend that you see on Twitter a lot is people hashtagging complete sentences, in what I can only assume is an ironic way. So, because hashtags cannot include punctuation or spaces, you might see blogger and pretend engineer Phil Sexton tweet, “I like trains. #trainsarethebestandanyonewhosaysotherwiseisajerkface.” I honestly don’t understand why people do this other than to be funny, because clearly, clicking on one of these long, full-sentence hashtags will not yield any results.

Here are a few best practices for using hashtags on Facebook:

1. Use simple words or phrases. Apply hashtags to single word or very short phrases. For the hashtag to serve its purpose of connecting you to Facebook users who don’t know about you, it would have to be used (or searched) by someone else.

2. Be relevant. Interpreters should be good at this! Choose terms that are pertinent to your site or message—#conservation, #civilwar, or #saguarocactus, for instance. Hashtagging random words or phrases just to try to show up in as many searches or conversations as possible makes you look like one of those jerks who brings signs to sporting events just to get on TV.

3. Don’t use too many. A post with 10 hashtags in it looks like spam. Identify two or three terms to tag at most.

4. Investigate your hashtag. Especially if you plan to use a specific hashtag regularly, search for it and see how it’s already being used. Search for #conservation, #civilwar, #saguarocactus, or whatever and see what pops up. If no one is using it, it’s not an effective hashtag. If too many people are using it or people are using it in ways that you didn’t expect, your posts may get buried.

5. Tack them on the end. This may be the typographer in me coming out, but I find hashtags mixed in to the middle of sentences distracting. I’d much rather read

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is starting for the AA Reading Fightin Phils tonight. #fightinphils #phillies

instead of

#Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is starting for the AA Reading #FightinPhils tonight.

Like fire ants in the southern United States or house cats in my house, hashtags on Facebook are here to stay. As with all things social media, we may not love this new development, but it’s to our detriment to refuse to use hashtags or to ignore their potential for growing our audiences.

Welcome Home, Commander Hadfield


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15 years ago, I met the now famous Commander Chris Hadfield. I was creating a Space Camp at IMAX Theatre in Winnipeg in conjunction with the film, Mission to Mir. Yes, it was a neat project, but to me, it was just an excuse to legally spin kids in a “spaceball” until they vomited.

Well, Chris Hadfield was passing through town, promoting the film and the Canadian Space Agency (the agency responsible for the “Canadarm“). He was on a fast promotional tour, with very little spare time. Yet, he took the time to meet with me and film a personal message to the Space Camp participants, instructing them on their “mission.” I was pleasantly surprised that this busy astronaut made time for a group of children in Winnipeg.

Today, Chris Hadfield is a household name. Earlier this week, he returned to Earth after a four month mission as commander of the International Space Station (ISS). During his time in orbit, he amazed and inspired people from around the world.

We watched him discuss life in zeroG, including how to go to the bathroom, clip nails, and try to cry in space.

He answered questions from students through live feeds, sang songs with the Barenaked Ladies in real time, and posted some of the most beautiful images of Earth I’ve ever seen.

One of Chris Hadfield's stunning photos he tweeted from the International Space Station

One of Chris Hadfield’s stunning photos he tweeted from the International Space Station with the caption “The Greek islands, like delicate, shattered eggshell pieces.”


One of Commander Hadfield’s great achievements is that he demonstrated, better than anyone I can think of, the power of using interpretive techniques through social media. His videos, photos, and vivid descriptions of life on the ISS brilliantly connected people with space (and Earth), and turned on a whole generation to science. He built strong emotional and intellectual connections, related his messages to his audience, used drama and surprise to provoke us and maintain our interest, and connected everything to the higher messages, or intangibles, of the resource.

As a result, Commander Hadfield skyrocketed to social media superstardom over the last four months.  He currently has over 90,000 subscribers and 11 million views to his YouTube channel and almost one million followers on his Twitter account. In addition, the Canadian Space Agency has been posting most of the videos of Commander Hadfield, with over 25 million views on their channel. In essence, he has shown how to harness the power of social media the way an interpreter would – to connect us, inspire us, and make a difference in the world.

Before returning to Earth this week, he posted one last video – a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”  The video has since gone viral, with over 10 million views in just three days. It is a beautiful rendition, but also a fitting summary of his time in space, and a wonderful example of how he used the arts to connect people with science.

This mission to the ISS wasn’t just about station repairs and the numerous scientific experiments performed in zero gravity. This was also about connecting millions of people to the wonders of space and science, and showing the world from a new perspective.

Well done, Commander. Mission accomplished.

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