Social Media

Thrilled to Announce That I’ve Joined News Deeply!

I’m so happy to say that I’ve joined a fantastic journalism company as Director of Strategy & Research.


July 2015

I’m so happy to say that I have joined a small, wonderful journalism company full-time. The company’s name is News Deeply; they’ve been a client since March. It’s been a great match so far, and I look forward to continuing our work together.

I will be Director of Strategy & Research at News Deeply — thereby fusing my passion for media, content, and editorial strategy with user research. I will also be working with our philanthropic partners.

Here is the company’s exciting official description:

News Deeply logoNews Deeply is dedicated to advancing the user experience of complex global issues. Our team of journalists and technologists builds unique, user-centered resources that fuse news, live events, information design, and social participation.

Our inaugural platform, Syria Deeply, is a fusion of journalism and technology created to enhance coverage of the Syrian crisis. In recognition of the project’s innovative approach, Time Magazine called Syria Deeply “The Future of News,” while Fast Company Magazine said “Syria Deeply Outsmarts the News, Redefines Conflict Coverage.” Based on the website’s success, CEO & Founder Lara Setrakian was invited to the White House to brief President Obama on the dynamics of the Syrian conflict. News Deeply won the National Press Foundation’s Excellence in Online Journalism Award in 2013, joining honorees like the Wall Street Journal, the Center for Public Integrity, NPR, and Re/code.

The most recent platform from News Deeply is Water Deeply, which covers California’s record-breaking drought crisis.

In addition to our single-subject information hubs, the News Deeply team ideates and creates custom projects for think tanks, institutions, and private sector partners. News Deeply’s clients and partners include the World Economic Forum, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Baker Institute at Rice University, and Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. The company’s work has been featured on outlets including CNN, NPR, BBC News, the Guardian, and Wired.

How To Hire Writers For Content Marketing: Reviewing The Options For Quibb

Many companies really want to hire high-quality writers, but have trouble finding them. Here’s how to find and hire good writers.


June 2015

When companies build content marketing strategies, they typically include writing — whether blog posts, how-to lists, thoughtful articles, in-depth white papers, or full-on “brand publications” and “owned information hubs.”  For these projects, brand marketers need professional writers.

But where can they find writers?  As brand content has proliferated, a variety of solutions hit the market.  Solutions include semi-famous subculture bloggers with devoted, niche fanbases; marketing agencies with an arsenal of versatile English majors; and tech platforms that want to be the “Uber for articles.”  It’s bewildering.  How do you know what’s out there, and what’s the best value for money?

I started by drawing from my own experience as a writer and content strategist; then I interviewed my media friends and surveyed a few technical products in order to help Sandi answer this question for Quibb.  (During this process, I had to sign up for email lists run by content marketers with varying moral sensibilities, and I’m still unsubscribing weeks later!  You’re welcome. :) )

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How I Audited My Daily Media Habits And Improved The Way I Read

I’ve thought a lot about how to have a good media diet, and ensure that I read only the best stuff. Here’s how I dodge bad articles and collect the best.


April 2015

This piece was originally published at the tech site Gigaom at the beginning of 2015.

Creating web content is incredibly easy — but filtering content is really hard. In late 2014, I realized I was reading too much bad content. I felt enraged by some of the articles I clicked on, because they were such a thoughtless waste of my time.

I got so frustrated that I decided to invest serious effort in fixing the problem on my end, instead of fruitlessly swearing at my laptop.  I hoped to determine what’s non-optimal about my media habits, and how I can improve them.  So I audited my habits (with a spreadsheet and everything!) — and what I learned might surprise you!

Current Clickbait Solutions

I’m not alone in my anger about clickbait and my desire for a better media diet.  There’s plenty of mocking commentary about this, like The Onion’s satirical site ClickHole, or the amazing Twitter feed Saved You A Click by Jake Beckman.  Beckman helpfully summarizes the answer to one clickbait headline per tweet:

It’s becoming an arms race: One side makes ever-sneakier clickbait… while the other side makes ever-better filters.  Much of this stuff get spread via Facebook, yet Facebook knows that it’s a threat to user satisfaction, so the company is working to make the News Feed algorithms less vulnerable to bad content in clever packaging.

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One Dollar At A Time: The Ultimate Guide To Earning Money From An Internet Audience

This guide is for writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, game creators, and anyone else who wants to raise money from their audiences. I discuss Kickstarter, Patreon, self-publishing, and many more tactics and tools.


October 2014

Everyone knows that the creative businesses have changed. You can still get huge book deals, record deals, and other deals — but those business models are not the only answer anymore. Now independent creators can reach their fans directly.

One dollar at a time picture by doctorwonder

We’ve all heard the Kickstarter success stories. But not everyone knows all their options. Talented creators are using Patreon, self-publishing, and many other tools to raise money one dollar at a time. This guide will explain and describe the best ones!

(If you’re new to my site: Hi! I’m Lydia, a writer and media strategist. I have personal and professional experience with these tools and I’ve helped other people figure them out, too. If you want my advice or help for your project, feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly.)

Important Note:
This Is The Wild West

Before I cover all the options, I’ll point out that these tools are evolving rapidly. And there’s more change to come.

I hear about new relevant startups every week. The almighty Google just announced that they’re developing features that allow fans to fund their favorite creators on YouTube. This is on top of Google’s other new service, which sells music through YouTube.

I’ve heard suggestions that Apple’s $3 billion purchase of Beats happened because Beats could become “a platform for artists to build businesses.” And even Lady Gaga’s social network, Backplane, just recreated itself as a monetization tool for creators.

Click to tweet: Twitter is starting to offer its users the ability to sell directly to their followers!

Meanwhile, over in China, people can already sell directly to their audience on Chinese social media platforms like WeChat. And Twitter will soon offer its users the ability to sell directly to their followers! I’m so excited that this is happening — I’ve been hoping Twitter would do something like this for a long time.

So the future is bright! But let’s talk about what creators can do right now! For each strategy below, I describe some current tools that cover it. Then I give pro tips for using them.

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How Censorship Affects Social Media Business

Lately, I’ve been researching how different cultural circumstances affect social media! This article outlines some social and technical effects of censorship at different places and times.


May 2014

The 29-year-old founder of VKontakte, Russia’s largest social network, just got “fired” and left the country. That is, Pavel Durov described himself as fired, although there were previous rustlings of resignation.

Durov’s departure was accompanied by much commentary about the censorship climate in Russia. He himself announced that he plans to create a new social network, and that he moved because “the country is incompatible with Internet business at the moment.” This comes right on the heels of the U.S. IPO for Sina Weibo, a social platform that’s sometimes called “China’s Twitter.” Mashable recently reported that when Sina Weibo filed its IPO, it described Chinese censorship specifically as a risk factor.

How much does censorship affect digital media from a business perspective? I’ve recently been researching cross-cultural social media while working on some articles for O’Reilly Media. Unsurprisingly, it’s clear that censorship has a huge impact on how social platforms develop and on how individuals use them. Some of the specific effects of censorship can be surprising, though.

Strengthening Social Ties…

Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, and other experienced commentators have argued that censorship can actually strengthen dissent when very popular sites get taken down. For example, a person who only visits YouTube for cat videos will be alerted that something big has gone wrong if YouTube is blocked, even if that person wouldn’t normally pay attention to the news.

I’ve also heard tales of how censorship and its pal, propaganda, strengthen social media ties. “In China, the Internet plays a much deeper role in society because all the normal media is propaganda. You know that what’s appearing in state-run media is not objective, but something on the Internet might be,” says Thomas Crampton, the global managing director for international marketing agency Ogilvy & Mather.

This is supported by other marketing reports like this one from management consulting firm McKinsey, which notes that Chinese consumers value the brand recommendations of friends, family, and social media influencers far more than American consumers do.

… But Censorship Weakens Social Ties, Too

However, there are plenty of situations where social media platforms are decimated by censorship. Some data crunching by the Telegraph in the U.K. showed clearly that last year’s Chinese “war on rumors” — and more importantly, the war’s associated arrests — caused Sina Weibo usage to drop off a cliff. No wonder Weibo called censorship a “risk factor” in its IPO.

The writer and anthropologist Sarah Kendzior, who researches authoritarian states in Eastern Europe, has written that “In authoritarian states, the circulation of state crimes often serves to confirm tacit suspicions, and in some cases, to reaffirm the futility of the fight. Fear, apathy, cynicism and distrust are as common reactions to these quasi-revelations as are outrage and a desire for change.”

“What I think is interesting is how much of the authoritarian state mentality people take when they leave the country,” Kendzior tells me. “I see the same fear and wariness about social media from people who have fled Uzbekistan, as people who are still there. It’s very hard to shake off self-censorship.”

Kendzior also mentions a case from 2011 where someone, probably the Uzbekistan government, created a fake activist who only existed on social media. Then they spread the news that the activist committed suicide. This was an effective strategy to weaken ties by spreading fear, anxiety and distrust.

“It means everyone’s suspicious of everyone else,” explains Kendzior. “It makes everyone wonder: Am I talking to a real person?”

Protectionist and Popularization Side Effects

China’s blockade on Facebook, Twitter, Google and other high-profile American platforms has arguably had some protectionist side effects for local industry. I’ve often heard China’s social media landscape compared to the Galápagos Islands — Darwin’s closed-off archipelago, which famously evolved many unique animal species due to its isolation. In other words, when China blocked most major U.S. social platforms, its government created an ecosystem where local platforms that came later to market could flourish.

Censorship can carry other unexpected popularization effects, too.

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I Didn’t Expose Him—But Last Year, Rapportive Showed Me @GSElevator’s True Identity

Months ago, a Gmail tool showed me the true identity of a snarky Twitter personality. The man was publicly exposed this week, and I’m not the one who identified him. But here’s how you could use the tool to expose someone — or protect yourself!


March 2014

Months ago, I interviewed the snarky Twitter personality @GSElevator while researching a long report. Last week, I heard that the elusive and anonymous man behind @GSElevator had been unmasked. He even lost his book deal.

But I already knew who he was, because I — quite accidentally — had discovered his identity before I interviewed him.

I wasn’t even trying, so how did I do it? I used a Gmail tool called Rapportive. (Update: As of July 2014, Rapportive no longer works as described in this article. This is how it used to work, though.)

Rapportive is a great tool for journalists and other media folks. It digs through lots of data to show you the complete social media profile of each person you email. Here’s what it looks like in action:

This is a screenshot of me in Gmail, composing an email to my awesome friend Erin Polgreen. (I’m totally following Erin on Twitter, by the way, but sometimes Rapportive doesn’t show that properly.) As you can see, the tool dug up Erin’s many fabulous job titles, as well as a picture that’s associated with her, and links to a batch of social profiles. I got her permission before using this screenshot here.
John Lefevre
I love Rapportive and I use it all the time. I was using it when I sent a message to the email account on @GSElevator’s Twitter profile, and it unexpectedly gave me his name: John LeFevre. I even got a headshot!

I had no interest in exposing LeFevre. I just wanted to talk to him about @GSElevator. Plus, I have a soft spot for Internet anonymity, although anonymity gets scarcer every day. So I simply told LeFevre that I’d found his name connected through Rapportive, and I explained how he could fix that.

Then I asked for an interview — which LeFevre immediately granted. ;)

(Incidentally, in case you’re concerned about what your Rapportive profile might be showing, you can control that by downloading Rapportive to your Gmail account. Then you should type your own email address. When your own Rapportive profile comes up in the sidebar, you will be able to edit it. If you’re concerned about Rapportive gathering your data, there may be an alternative way to change your Rapportive profile without downloading the product — try contacting their Support people.)

I don’t know who gave LeFevre’s real name to The New York Times. One article claims that it took “weeks” to find his identity, but it doesn’t explain how they did it.

I also don’t know how Rapportive found his real name. Rapportive has a privacy policy in which they say that the tool only uses publicly available data. But of course, the truth is that the “public availability” of most data has become fuzzier and fuzzier, and it’s extremely difficult for people to know what they’re making public and what they are not.

I don’t blame Rapportive — although obviously, I think anyone who’s concerned about how they look online should check on their profile right away. Yet when it comes to privacy, that’s almost beside the point by now. This story is a useful object lesson in how data collection and correlation is making true pseudonyms hard. The level of tech-savviness required to maintain any pseudonym has gotten very high — and it’s only going to get higher.

Update: Someone asked me whether Rapportive paid me to write this post, or whether Rapportive is a client of mine. I don’t have any professional relationship with Rapportive; I just use their tool a lot.

Update 2: Mr. Elevator has a new book deal!

Update 3: Rapportive, which was recently purchased by LinkedIn, had my favorite features removed on July 31st. I’m currently testing alternatives such as Rapporto, Ark, FullContact, Vibe, Connect6, and/or Sansan (via this post by Alan Hamlett). If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

Strange Greeting Cards I Have Known

Cats with cigars. Comfort for the newly divorced. I explore the wild world of greeting cards!


March 2014

I typically limit my fixations to Internet media, but lately I’m fascinated by “real life” greeting cards. Greeting cards are like congealed zeitgeist. They’re personalized memes for sale.

Unlike memes, greeting cards are intended for one person. They’re usually meant to express comfort, support, and/or love. Most Americans know what the typical greeting card is like. It is exceptionally inoffensive and quotidian, and it says something like “Happy birthday and many happy returns!”

Here’s an example of the typical greeting card message, although the actual card edges towards weirdness:

And then… then there are the really weird ones. I have been hunting these Weird Ones, tracking them through their habitat of indie bookstores and hipster boutiques. Behold my Instagram trophies:

Number One

This is probably my favorite greeting card of all time, yet I have no idea what the creator intended it for. I found it in a small stationery shop in Alameda and, to my eternal regret, I did not buy one. Nor did I record the shop’s name. I have only this photo to remind me of my greatest find.

I wish I’d bought 200 of these cigar-wielding cats. If I ever get married, they’d make great wedding invitations.

Praying Skeleton

This praying-skeleton card is from a hipster stationery shop near the Seattle waterfront. Like the cat with the cigar, I cannot imagine what this card is intended to mean. In what context would you send this card? Who would you send it to?

Sorry About Your Divorce

I like this divorce comfort card, actually. It’s relatively tasteful, considering its content. (I seem to recall that it’s on sale at Diesel Bookstore in Oakland.)

Better Than Facebook

The modern greeting card struggles to justify its existence in the face of social media. (This one’s from Merch, on San Francisco’s Haight Street.)

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Goldman Sachs’ Big Problem With Twitter

An interview with the elusive and anonymous man behind the @GSElevator Twitter account, which mocks Goldman Sachs by publishing terrible, inane, and breathtakingly arrogant quotes overheard at the office.

Topics: Social Media

November 2013

I don’t know much about investment banking, but even I know that Goldman Sachs has a controversial history full of alleged misdeeds. The 144-year-old company is not famous for its openness, so there was a bit of a stir when it officially joined Twitter in 2012. One might say GS already had a Twitter presence, though: the “Overheard in the Goldman Sachs Elevator” @GSElevator account reportedly had 261,000 followers by the time @GoldmanSachs sent their first tweet.

Today, @GSElevator has over 520,000 followers — over seven times as many as @GoldmanSachs. It has been featured by media outlets from Gawker to CNN Money. In fact, the first Google auto-complete line after “goldman sachs” is “goldman sachs elevator.” This might be great for Goldman Sachs, but it’s hard to say because… well, here are some @GSElevator tweets:

Basically, @GSElevator is an anti-Goldman Sachs mini-blog. The person behind @GSElevator doesn’t use Twitter for conversation; the account is entirely devoted to mocking the company by publishing terrible, inane, and breathtakingly arrogant quotes overheard at the office. It used to include racist and misogynist quotes too, but the creator of @GSElevator decided to stop tweeting those in July, after he concluded that he was accidentally supporting the bigotry he abhors, and also because his agent advised him to stop. Because he has an agent. And he’s working on a book deal.

This could be seen as the ultimate example of a media debacle for the brand… but is it? I caught up with the elusive (and anonymous) Mr. Elevator by email to learn more about what inspired his online presence, what he thinks about the official Goldman Sachs Twitter strategy, and Twitter strategy at large within the finance world. Mr. Elevator has apparently been in finance for 15 years, though he hasn’t been with Goldman Sachs the whole time. That would imply that he likes it, right?

Or not. “I am very cynical for a few reasons,” he wrote to me. “1) People in this industry take themselves far too seriously. 2) There really aren’t that many people on Wall Street that are truly impressive as people, thinkers, or innovators. 3) For the most part, the job is not terribly difficult, yet bankers act like they are rock stars. 4) The culture is exceptionally deviant and morally deprived.”

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Brandopolis: A Big Brand Strategy Report

I spent the summer working on an in-depth report about content marketing and digital media strategy. I’m so pleased to announce that you can read it now!


November 2013

Over the summer, I heard that a marketing agency called Distilled was seeking a journalist to cover the content marketing landscape. My heart was in my throat as I applied: The assignment sounded really interesting! I knew it would give me the chance to do plenty of in-depth research and analysis.

I’m really happy to announce that the results are in! Brandopolis: A Big Brand Strategy Report.

I had a great time working with Distilled, and I’m proud of the results. I read up on lots of major brands’ content strategies, and I interviewed marketers at those brands as well as the agencies they’re working with. I had the chance to sort out some of my thoughts about online media and to explore some questions I’ve been thinking about, like how social networks act in their early phases, and how marketers think about media differently from journalists.
Lydia Laurenson in front of a camera. Photo by Paul Garber
My favorite section of Brandopolis might be Early Adoption Stories, where I discussed what it means for brands to get into certain networks early — and how to systematize that. (But all the sections of Brandopolis are my favorite!)

Special shout-out to Paul Garber and Justin Oliphant at Compound Creative! They helped me in my time of need by recording my Brandopolis promo video. Paul also took this great photo of me in front of the recording camera, and my mother keeps sharing the photo on Facebook. (I love you Mom!)