Featured On Page One Of Washington Post's Sunday Business Section

I was away on vacation and so was not there to bask in the glory, but I was given a heads-up by the reporter and knew it was coming: On Sunday, June 26, me and my colleague Cindy Cotte Griffiths were featured on the front page of the Washington Post’s business section. The story, by Ian Shapira, was about our decision to move our successful local blog, Rockville Central, to a Facebook-only platform.

As of March 1, we have been publishing entirely on our Facebook page (which is open and so viewable by anyone, even those without a Facebook account). No new content is published to our web site. The results have been largely successful and our traffic and levels of interaction have both gone up.

The lede:

When the Rockville Central blog wanted to increase its readership, the owners looked to Facebook — now topping 750 million members — and thought: Let’s move everything there.

In March, Brad Rourke and Cindy Cotte Griffiths stopped publishing new content on their Web site and began posting to Facebook. Just like that, rockvillecentral.com was cast aside. The blog’s new site is theirs and Facebook’s: www.facebook.com/RockvilleCentral. Even in this era of Internet experimentation, the move was unusual.

With news organizations nationwide slashing staffs, this all-volunteer blog covering a city of 61,000 poses an intriguing possibility for the future of journalism: Is using social networking media such as Facebook a better way to reach a wide audience and still make money?

Go here to read the whole thing.

Lotus Uprising

Backyard Buddha

Over the weekend I attended a wonderful event that I wanted to share with you.

It was called Lotus Uprising, and was part yoga class, part dinner party, part house concert.

Here’s how the organizers describe it:

On a Saturday around 6:00pm  you converge with about twenty other people who seem like your kind of crowd.  You lay out your mat, grab some cucumber water, and start breathing deeply.  You practice yoga outside as the sun goes down set to music crafted for the occasion. You love the teacher. This is your kind of class.  Luminaries light the edges of this scene, and smells of natural foods waft through the air.  You sweat out your stress.  When the class ends, you change clothes, or maybe you don’t.  Either way you feast upon a delicious vegan meal that restores your strength.   You didn’t think vegan food could taste this good.  You sip on the wine you brought over good conversation, and then the band begins to play. Everyone listens to the music.  You can dance if you want to. After the set ends, you walk out the door with some new friends.  You feel good and it’s only 10:30pm.  The night is young and full of possibility.  Your world is expanding.

l to r: Jamie Gahlon, Colin Brightfield, Erin McCarthy

It was a super evening, and everything was just perfect. It is not normally the kind of thing I would find myself doing (for starters, I love me my beef) but from beginning to end I found myself thinking about what a good time I was having.

Part of what had me so enthusiastic, I think, is that this entire production was completely do-it-yourself, bootstrapped from a simple idea tossed out in conversation six weeks ago.

Yoga teacher Colin Brightfield, vegan chef Erin McCarthy, and producer Jamie Gahlon are friends who were sitting around one afternoon and someone had the idea of doing something like a “yoga party and vegan mashup.” This quickly became Lotus Uprising which is much more than the sum of its parts. It is an experience. By attending, you buy into the idea of having this experience, which includes community, yoga, mindful eating, and supporting local music.

In six weeks, the event was put together, people were invited (and responded). The event came off. People paid to attend, and some percentage will attend the next one (July 9). They will tell friends. In other words, from nothing, Lotus Uprising is now something. Proof-of-concept has been demonstrated.

More and more, this is how creative things come into being now. Someone has an idea and — instead of trying to sell it to a gatekeeper like a record company or event company — they go ahead and implement it using free or almost-free tools. (Just think about all the artists who are writing songs and just performing them to a cameras and posting them on YouTube. Like Justin Bieber, though his first video was a cover.)

Lotus Uprising, to me, is of particular interest because it is a a completely different category of creative product. It is a hybrid event (yoga, food, music). It would have been impossible to sell . . . yet 20 people paid $40 to attend. That doesn’t make someone a living, but it more than defrays the cost of putting on the event. So the idea is pulling its own weight.

I look forward to what Lotus Uprising has in store next. The band that played last weekend was a local band called The Woodworks — they played a reggae-infused pop — and it took place at a private home. The band on tap for the next one is a bluegrass band, and the location (I am told) will be a rooftop in the city. There are also plans to hold one in another town sometime. The trappings of the idea can change from event to event, but the core (yoga, food, music) is the organizing idea. There is a lot of room in this concept for growth. It is elastic.

I hope to see you at the next Lotus Uprising.

Facebook And Twitter: Fitting Your Voice To The Environment

Last night I had the good fortune (along with Cynthia Cotte Griffiths who recently launched Online and In Person) to attend the first DC-area meetup convened by Facebook + Journalists at American University.

It included a great panel discussion that included friends Mandy Jenkins (social news editor at Huffington Post) and Ian Shapira (enterprise reporter at Washington Post).

l-r: Vadim Lavrusik, Mandy Jenkins, Laura Amico, Bryan Monroe, Ian Shapira

The evening included a great deal of sharing about best practices when it comes to how journalists can (and do) best use Facebook to do their jobs. Facebook’s journalism program manager Vadim Lavrusik gave the opening remarks and to my pleasure gave a shout-out to Rockville Central as a  media organization that had moved entirely to Facebook.

One of the main take aways for the evening, as far as I was concerned, had to do with voice and authenticity.

Ian Shapira, for instance, talked about the need to appear human on Facebook so potential sources will feel more comfortable interacting (he told a story of a potential source who gave him an exclusive interview on a sensitive subject because he contacted them on Facebook and so the subject was able to check him out before responding). Other panelists repeatedly talked about the need to be “real” and “transparent.”

There is an interesting nuts-and-bolts corollary to this idea. Vadim Lavrusik reported on research that Facebook had done that suggests that status updates that get automatically pulled from other applications get 2-3 times fewer interactions than posts that are organically produced within Facebook.

In other words, auto-tweeting, or even pushing your Twitter updates into Facebook, is far less effective than crafting a post designed specifically for each context.

Many blog owners set up plug-ins that will automatically tweet their latest blog post into their stream, and then automatically pull Twitter updates into their Facebook account. This saves time, but it comes at the expense of engagement.

Vadim pointed to New York Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof as an exemplar of this. He organically uses his Facebook updates almost as a reporter’s notebook, and his voice there is very, very Facebook-ish.

Vadim did not go so far as to compare Kristof’s Twitter and Facebook behavior (I don’t think he mentioned Twitter once, actually, but who can blame him since this was a Facebook event) — but I thought it would be instructive to make the comparison.

Look at this recent post by Kristof in Facebook:


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In the post, he talks about a nonprofit he recently ran across, describes it briefly, and shares a link.

Here is the same thing in Twitter:


(click for full size)

Much briefer, too the point.

The lesson is that the time saved by auto-linking Facebook and Twitter may come at too great an expense in terms of engagement.

My own strategy is to keep some of the auto-linkages when it comes to my blog posts, but I try to add a great deal more organic updates to my stream (mostly in Facebook, but also in Twitter). The auto-links are there (based on RSS) because I find it useful to have a mechanism to create an “archival” or “official” record in each stream of my work — I often use this as the main post I link back to when I re-share.

If you are a content creator with a blog and working in both Twitter and Facebook, how do you deal with the three worlds?