ProPR turns 3 – Should I stay or should I go?

ProPR quietly turned 3 years old in mid November. As I do every year at this time, I look back at my first post to ask myself whether my stated purpose is still valid.

Why did I start blogging?

I wrote in my first post

Through this blog, I hope to have a voice in the discussion surrounding new developments in public relations, communications and marketing.

At my firm, we encourage people to develop to their maximum potential.

Thought leadership is an important goal for all professionals. With this blog, I hope to stimulate others to think about these issues and advance their own thinking.

Comments are an important means of contributing to the discussion. I encourage any who read this blog to offer their comments on my entries.

I don’t kid myself about being a thought leader. But I am happy to be able to contribute my perspective on issues. And I’m even happier that people have commented on the posts they have found interesting or thought provoking.

So, will I keep going?

Blogging has become part of my life. I cannot imagine ever going back to reading a book without being able to make a note in the margin, “Post about this on ProPR.” Or to reading an online article without being able to tag it to delicious with the intention of linking to it in a post. Blogging provides me with motivation and occasion to think twice about things and to find connections and patterns. It changes me from passive reader to active thinker.

So, let’s end the suspense. Will I keep going? You bet.

Thank you to my community!

Since I started, you have been my constant companion. I have posted 566 times. For every post, you have written on average three comments. So, in a very real way, this blog is a truly collaborative creation. And I thank you for this.

As I keep writing for ProPR, I hope that you will continue to find content here that entices you to read and, even better, comment.

Here’s looking forward to another year of posting on Pro PR and having great conversations with you, my community.

Mainstream Media challenges Social Media

Ira Basen objects to the way I covered his presentation last week in Toronto to the Canadian Institute Conference on Social Media.

Ira BasenIra is a smart, respected senior producer who has had a distinguished career at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

He is also a highly opinionated person who knows how to use the pen and the editing room to make his points in a way that causes people to sit up and take notice. He does this by adopting a distinct point of view. He also is unafraid to make broad declarative statements that make a strong point. Most recently, he attracted attention and sparked debate with his six part radio series, Spin Cycle.

I definitely did not agree with many of the sweeping statements he made about public relations and social media when he spoke last week at the Canadian Institute Conference on Social Media in Toronto

I voiced my thoughts on Basen’s presentation in my Twitters from the conference. Ira was offended by my tweets. And he sent me an email to tell me so. The first paragraph in his email framed his complaint to me:

I guess it’s fashionable these days to slag speakers online while they are still on the podium.  Why wait until after they are finished so you might have an opportunity to actually reflect on what they had to say?  This way, you can impress your friends by how clever you are, as opposed to how insightful.  And besides, who has time for reflection in this busy world?


I don’t think of myself as someone who slags people. Nor do I tweet “to impress my friends.” My hope is that I can provide people with information and a chance to know what is being said at events they aren’t able to attend. And along the way, it gives me a chance to test my perceptions against those of others in real time.

I wasn’t alone in disagreeing with Ira Basen’s approach. On the other hand, some found value in what he said. And that, to my way of thinking, demonstrates the value of Twittering during a presentation. We can profit from other people’s thoughts in real time, deepening our understanding and providing validation or challenge for different perspectives.

So, to be fair, I’ve decided to post the original twitter stream, Basen’s email to me, my response to him and his further response. I’ve also offered to post the complete script of his presentation if he will provide it to me so that we can all have firsthand knowledge of what he said. In the absence of this, I think the Twitter stream provides insight into what different people culled from his remarks and the discussion that took place.

What do you think?

Once you’ve had a chance to read this, please tell us what you think? What are the real issues here and where do you come down on them?

The Conference Twitter Stream

Remember, this is Twitter. So, if you read top to bottom, you are reading in reverse chronological order. I have edited the stream to capture only the tweets directly relevant to Ira’s presentation. There were some other side conversations interspersed with these tweets. I’ve removed these tweets to make the conversation regarding Ira Basen’s presentation easier to follow. You can find the complete conversation by entering “CdnInst” into Twitter Search.

Ira Basen’s Email to me

Hello Joe:

I guess it’s fashionable these days to slag speakers online while they are still on the podium.  Why wait until after they are finished so you might have an opportunity to actually reflect on what they had to say?  This way, you can impress your friends by how clever you are, as opposed to how insightful.  And besides, who has time for reflection in this busy world?

And maybe it is also considered unfashionable to respond to being twittered, and to do so using more than 140 characters, but as I probably demonstrated the other day, I’m an old fashioned guy.  I assure you that I do not regularly follow your twitters, but a friend was kind enough to send along your remarks about my presentation, and I must say, I was disappointed.  I expected better from someone who is widely considered a leading light in Canadian PR.

In the five years that I have been writing and speaking to and about the PR industry, I have observed that there are basically two sets of responses to my work.  The first group considers me to someone who needs to be closely watched, and makes the assumption that as a journalist, particularly a CBC journalist, writing about PR, I must be both negative and wrong-headed.  I find this to be an almost reflexive response since those people often don’t seem to listen very closely to what I’m actually saying.  The second response is that I might have valuable questions to raise, and so I might possibly be worth listening to.

I have been gratified that the second group seems to far outnumber the first.  In the past three weeks alone, I have spoken to a group of about a hundred government of Ontario communicators, appeared on a CPRS panel, and did the Canadian Institute speech.  [text deleted at Ira Basen’s request]

I do it because I think entering into a dialogue like the one we had on Wednesday is useful for everyone.  For some reason, you mock the fact that people were actively engaged in that discussion.  “Is that a good thing?” you wonder after observing that I got people talking.  I find that to be an incredible question for someone of your stature to ask.  Frankly, I think you should be embarrassed that you even raised it.  Why would you minimize the importance of that dialogue?

My point, in case you missed it, was that we need to think about the implications of the road we are going down in social media.  I raised issues that I think journalists need to think about as we embrace “citizen journalism”, and issues raised by PR’s entry into a world of social media where the gatekeeper function has been diminished.  If you don’t think those questions are worth discussing, you should have invited one of the many social media kool-aid drinkers on the circuit, rather than me.

My sense was that people in that room wanted to engage in that debate, even if you did not.  By the way, after reading your comments on Twitter, I was surprised that you did not raise your objections at the time, or come up and speak to me afterwards. I guess that is old fashioned as well.

You made several comments about my exchange with the representatives from Molsons. Surely you must know that the points I was raising were raised first, and with much greater vigour, within the PR community when that “blogger relations” event took place last July.   In case you missed it, here’s a place you can start…..

I had been hoping to attend the Molsons presentation on the first day of the conference, but I wasn’t able to make it.  I assume that the objections raised by Heather Yaxley, Judy Gombita and other PR practitioners about that event were discussed in that session.  If they weren’t, I’m glad I was able to raise them, because I think they are rather important. I would hope you do to, but I must say, after reading your comments, I rather doubt it.

You should also know that I take all of these invitations to speak to PR groups very seriously.  If my perspective on PR is as misguided and distorted as you seem to think it is, if all I do is propagate “simplistic and misleading stereotypes”, why do I keep getting asked back to speak?  I’d like to think it’s because many PR people appreciate the fact that there is at least one journalist around who takes what they do seriously, who knows more about the history and theory of PR than most of them, and who wants to try to improve the often dysfunctional relationship between PR and the press.  Or maybe it’s just because I’ll show up for free.

I do try to tailor my remarks to be of interest to my specific audience.  So no, I don’t have a set speech that I have memorized, and I’m not a snake oil salesman with a fancy slide show.  Those people seem to thrive on the PR conference circuit.  So perhaps my “entertainment” value is not up to your standards, but I guess you get what you pay for.  Perhaps it is a legacy of my years at CBC Radio, but we tend to think audiences can rise to a challenge, and content is rather important.

This is really all I have to say.  I’m feeling better now.  Have a nice day.


Ira Basen

My Email response to Ira Basen

Hi Ira,

Thank you for your email.

Without doubt, your views and the way that you present them on air and in person spark discussion and tap emotions.

I used Twitter to offer comments on what you were discussing. It supplemented and informed the discussion in the room. And you will recall that during the question period, I did offer my views in the room itself (I was the person at the back of the room who suggested that social media is used to develop long term relationships with people who share interests with us, not simply to sell things.)

One of the great things about social media is that we all have a platform to offer comments to the people who are interested in the same subjects as us. Prior to the advent of social media, this ability to broadly publish comments was limited to people like you – people with access to mainstream media. And all too often, that meant that you talked at us. If we were able to comment, our comments would invariably be edited to fit into the format of a Letters to the Editor section or “Your turn” on the television news.

I think you make some good points. I only hope that you considered some of my points.

This discussion is, in my mind, all good. And I’m happy to provide you with a public opportunity to respond to the comments I offered in public on Twitter and in the room. So, I’ll publish a post with my original Twitter stream and your email reply to me. If you’d like to provide me with the script you read in the room, I’ll publish that as well.

Best regards,

Joseph Thornley

Ira Basen’s follow up response


Thank you for your reply.

I understand the point you are making, but I really don’t believe that what you were doing on Twitter could be considered a triumph of two-way conversation, or somehow analogous to how journalism works.

For example, amongst the many unpleasant things you had to say about my speech, you accused me of tossing out “provocative things without quoting sources”.  You’re obviously entitled to your opinion, but let’s pretend that you were giving a speech and I, as a reporter, was assigned to cover it.  If I felt you were guilty of making comments that were unsourced, and by implication, untrue, journalistic convention would demand that I quote the offending statements, or at the very least, paraphrase them, before passing judgment on them.

That’s not what happened here.  You got to take a free swing.  None of the people who read your comment would have any way of making an independent assessment of whether it was fair or accurate, since, like me, they have no idea what exactly you were talking about.

And if I were a reporter covering your speech and I questioned the credibility of some of your statements, journalistic convention would also demand that I approach you and ask for further clarification before I write my story.

Again, this isn’t what happened here.  Your question to the room in no way reflected the tone or substance of your Twitter comments.  If you thought my remarks were so off base, if you truly thought I had perpetrated an “odious caricature” of public relations, why didn’t you stand up and say so, instead of sitting back and telling the world what you were unwilling to say to the room?

Here’s my point…. In my remarks on Wednesday I trotted out the old Spiderman adage that with great power comes great responsibility.  In your note you wrote that “prior to the advent of social media, this ability to broadly publish comments was limited to people like you – people with access to mainstream media”.  I agree with you, but I would add that in response to the power bestowed upon us by our monopolistic position, we adopted certain conventions, like the ones that I have referred to above, to try to ensure that we wielded that power responsibly.  We also, I might add, tried to maintain a civil and respectful tone.  I understand, of course, that we often came up well short of that ideal, but that’s not really the point here.

Social media is supposed to be a two-way street, and fairness and balance is supposedly ensured by the self-correcting capacity of the web.   But let’s look at this example.  You took some shots at me that I consider to be unsubstantiated, inaccurate, and unfair.  You were bound by no codes of conduct or ethics. I was only made aware of your comments because someone I know stumbled upon them.  You have now offered me the opportunity to reply, and I appreciate that, but that was not your original intent.  If it had been, you would have taken it upon yourself to initiate a dialogue on these issues that actually could have been quite useful to people in your business and mine.  That would have been a genuine two way street.

In the end, I think this whole incident confirms the original intent of my remarks on Wednesday.  Social media holds out great promise, but for true believers to embrace a technology without thinking through the potential pitfalls as well as the promise does a disservice to everyone.  As for Twitter, I think it is a wonderful tool for making dinner plans, but to think it can be a useful springboard for meaningful communications about important and difficult questions is, in my view, seriously misguided.

Finally, I have no problem with you posting any of this wherever you choose, but my comments in my first note about [text deleted at Ira Basen’s request] is really nobody’s business, and probably unfair to the organizations involved, so I would prefer if you removed those references before posting.  I will send you a copt of my original remarks later.  Thank you.


What do you think?

So what do you think? What are the real issues here? Where do you come down on them?

Video of My WordCamp Toronto presentation

I spoke last weekend at WordCamp Toronto. In fact, the organizers put me on the stage as the lead off speaker – directly before WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg. Now, that’s a humbling experience.

With Matt Mullenweg following me, along with all the other fabulous WordPress developers who were speaking later, I felt I shouldn’t focus on the technology of WordPress. Instead, I decided to try to set the tone for the conference by talking about the development of the social Web and the central role that WordPress and other blogging platforms have come to play.

Finally, I wanted the people in the room to recognize right from the start that the wisdom of WordCamp was not exclusively on the stage, but was distributed among the participants. So, after my opening remarks, I used half of my time to invite any participants who had developed WordPress plug-ins, themes and Websites based on WordPress to stand up and let people know what they’d done. In fact, I think that was the best part of my session. I was really impressed with the abundance of smart, creative work being done by the participants.

Mark Wood captured and posted video of my presentation on Vimeo.

WordCamp Toronto 2008 – Joeseph Thornley Keynote from Mark Wood on Vimeo.

I’m used to Twittering and live blogging other speakers at conferences. But it’s rare that I get to see myself. So, thank you Mark. You’ve given me a chance to critique my own presentation.

On the positive side, I feel I’m making real progress toward my goal of telling a story in an engaging fashion and using the slides only to illustrate what I’m saying (no more bullet points and reading from the screen.) On the not so positive side, I still have to work to reduce the Um’s and Ah’s when I’m speaking and to punctuate my presentation with a bit more animation in my voice. Oh, and I have to stop swaying back and forth and walk a little more purposefully across the stage.

What do you think of this presentation? Do you agree with the content? Are there other points you think I should have made?

Only Genuine People Need Apply

This comment from “Veronica S” was in the comment queue this morning.

I’m not really to sure how using blogs work but I heard that by leaving my comment it can help inform and help people with information I know about. So here we go. I used the services of [URL removed] that really helped me get work in Canada. I wanted to write this message here so let people know that these guys are really good and fast. I got my gob confirmed in just 11 days. I hope they find a job in Canada for anyone looking there as well.

Spammers just seem to be getting smarter and smarter. The comment was submitted to my “Best Websites Built on WordPress” post. At first glance, the content appeared almost relevant to the post. The comment made it past Akismet and I had to read the comment twice to be sure that it wasn’t a genuine comment.

The giveaways? A hotmail address that consisted of an alphanumeric string that would be a very secure, very tough to remember password. But surely not an email address. Oh, and for good measure, the Website URL provided was the same as the link embedded in the email.

But here’s an irony for you: The company’s slogan displayed in prominent red font on their home page: “Only genuine people need apply.”

Only Genuine People Need Apply

Now, that’s got to bring a smile to your face.

Meet WordCamp Toronto Organizer Melissa Feeney

WordCamp Toronto 2008WordCamp Toronto is happening this weekend. And like all great community events, it will only happen as a result of the efforts of volunteers who give generously of their time and effort.

I caught up with Melissa Feeney at Third Tuesday Toronto. Melissa is one of the founding organizers of WordCamp Toronto, along with Mathieu Yuill.

She told me that WordCamp has been programmed to be of interest not just to developers and people who use WordPress, but that the sessions will be of interest to anyone who has any interest in blogging, including students, people in the PR industry and even those who have just discovered Perez Hilton. 🙂

And where did they get the idea to organize WordCamp in Toronto? Melissa says that they attended WordCamp in Dallas and were impressed with the concept. They decided that WordCamp would enrich the community in Toronto. And bingo. Here we are.

Thank you to Melissa, Mathieu and all the organizers who have invested so much of themselves to make WordCamp Toronto something that we all can benefit from.

Your favourite WordPress plug-ins?

WordCamp Toronto 2008In my presentation at WordCamp Toronto this weekend. I’d like to illustrate how WordPress plug-ins have extended the power of WordPress as a publishing platform.

Plug-ins that stand out

What do you think are the best plug-ins for WordPress? What are the most innovative? What extend its capabilities as a platform? What make it easier to use?

What my Twitter Friends Say

Here are some of the answers I received when I asked my Twitter friends what their favourite WordPress plug-ins are:

Jason Prini, @jasonprini, suggests two plug-ins: He says “you should never have a WP install without am XML sitemap generator” and “for bilingual blogging qTranslate is the BEST I’ve found yet.”

Andraz Tori, @andraz, volunteers “Dopplr, Disqus (and Zemanta naturally).” Andraz is the founder of Zemanta. I just discovered the plug-in thanks to his tweet. I haven’t tried it out, but I’m really intrigued by it. (Malcolm Bastien, @malcolmbastien, also suggested Zemanta. Thanks Malcolm.)WordPress

Aaron Wrixon, @aaronwrixon, says “I’m a fan of WP-SpamFree for catching and killing spam comments.”

Melanie Baker, @melle, and Stephen Davies, @stedavies, make sure I don’t forget about Akismet. “I would have probably stopped blogging without it. Almost quarter of a million spam comments stopped.”

Daniele Rossi, @danielerossi, endorses PodPress and cforms

David Jones, @doctorjones, thinks “WPtouch and WordTube are great.”

Greg Godden, greggodden tells me that “Another good one is SimplePie and the SimplePie Core, used for handling RSS feeds.” O.K. I’ve got to be honest. I don’t get this one. Can anyone who is using SimplePie explain it to me it language a non-coder can understand?

@TanMcG from Praized asked me to check out the Praized plug-ins. And heck, they’re a great Montreal-based start-up who will be at WordCamp Toronto. So, I’m not embarrassed to help them promote their plug-ins with a plug.

John Biehler, @retrocactus, says “I just spoke at WordCamp Vancouver about FAlbum (….it’s not super common so many may not have heard about it.”

Jordan Behan, jordanbehan sends me to look at, among others, flickrRSS and WP-Polls.

Finally, Brian Longest, @longest, pointed me to a post he’d written earlier this year identifying his top 10 WordPress plug-ins.

What do you think?

If you have a WordPress blog, please tell me which plug-ins you use and which you rate most highly. Are there other plug-ins that you find indispensable? What are your favourites? I’ll do another post following the presentation detailing the plug-ins I included and linking to the bloggers who suggested them.

Thank you for helping me with the research for this presentation.

One last thing:

As I look back at this post and the wealth of pointers people provided to me via Twitter, I realize that how lucky I am to have built up a community on Twitter of other people who share my interest. Mark Evans is SO right when he calls this “Twitter’s killer app.”

Someone please tell Canada…

I’m sitting in Seattle at 8 AM local time (11AM Eastern) and this item has just come through in my Google Canada News feed:

Please tell Canada...

Field Narrows for Obama’s Running Mate? Field Narrows? Boy, if that’s what Canadians are fed as up to date news, no wonder we have trouble with our relations with the U.S.

When I woke up two hours ago, I was greeted with this video from New Media Jim taken from Joe Biden’s front yard.

Sheesh. It’s 2008. We can all know what’s going on at the same time.

Hey Google, news should be timely. Not yesterday’s story posted today.

AideRSS' PostRank measures engagement

AideRSSAre you interested in a tool that will help you sort through the flood of new posts to find the most interesting and talked about content in your RSS subscriptions?

Are you a writer or content creator who wants to figure out which content others have become most engaged with?

Are you a corporate communicator or marketer who wants to understand which content and authors are having the greatest impact on issues and online conversations that matter to you?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, read on.

A Time Saver for Readers

Since AideRSS first launched just over a year ago, I’ve used it to identify online content that others have also found interesting and engaging. AideRSS provides a simple calculation of what they call PostRank which analyzes the frequency and type of interaction with online content and provides a relative score of how interesting and relevant people have found it to be. By sorting the posts by PostRank, I can easily spot those that seem to be generating the highest levels of engagement.

On days when I’ve let the posts in my FeedReader accumulate, I can spend more than an hour scanning them all (more time than I should invest), delete them all (What if I miss something that really matters to me?) or I can filter them with AideRSS so that I can review only those with the highest PostRank. I’ve installed AideRSS’ Firefox Extension for Google Reader to incorporate PostRank right into my RSS aggregator. A great time saver.

Measuring Engagement

From the outset, I was impressed by AideRSS’ approach to measuring what’s important in social media. It struck me that AideRSS-Co-founder Ilya Grigorik’s PostRank algorithm was a smart way to begin to measure engagement. When AideRSS launched, it wasn’t important whether Ilya had the definitive algorithm. What was important was that he was working toward a holistic calculation that incorporated both offsite and onsite interaction.

AideRSS’ CEO, Carol Leaman, participated in the Toronto Roundtable on Social Media Measurement this past spring.  During the day, she made some thoughtful contributions, both in the things she suggested and, equally importantly, the questions she asked. As I listened to her, it was clear that the folks at AideRSS were also thinking through their place in the social media metrics and measurement puzzle.

I didn’t have to wait very long to see what Carol, Ilya and the AideRSS team were working on.

PostRank: A New Standard?

A couple weeks ago, AideRSS launched PostRank on a its own site, The site highlights PostRank’s utility for measuring online engagement. It also offers a set of APIs to encourage developers to incorporate PostRank in their own Web Apps. At the same time was launched, AideRSS also introduced Thematic PostRank to enable the PostRank calculation to be applied to any collection of content assembled from a variety of feeds and sources (not just blogs, but Twitter and others services.)

AideRSS is attempting to promote PostRank as a standard measurement of online engagement. And to date, the AideRSS approach to measuring engagement is the best I’ve found.

Have you used AideRSS or PostRank? What do you think of them?

More on AideRSS and PostRank

TechVibes: AideRSS -Now it Gets Interesting

Video of AideRSS co-founders Ilya Grigorik and Kevin Thomason demonstrating AideRSS at DemoCampToronto14.

WordCamp is coming to Toronto

If you’re a blogger, if you’re interested in a day of good discussion about social media, or if you want to know more about the best blogging platform around, you’ll want to attend WordCamp Toronto on October 4 and 5.


WordCamp brings together bloggers, designers, developers, podcasters and all kinds of social media enthusiasts to learn, share, talk and explore the potential of social media and the WordPress publishing platform.

WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg has been booked to speak at the conference. Matt has said, “WordCamps are my favorite events to go to because there’s something about the core WordPress community that attracts smart folks with good philosophies that are fun to hang out with.”

Other speakers already confirmed include Brendan Sera-Shriar, Mike Ellis, David Peralty and Michael O’Connor Clarke (Yes, that Michael OCC, my co-worker at Thornley Fallis.)

The preliminary list of session topics includes:

  • WordPress Talk
  • Business Blogging
  • Blogging for Boomers
  • Podcasting
  • 30 Tips to Make Your Blog Better
  • Social Media for Dummies
  • Running Your Blog Like a Pro
  • Vidcasting
  • Entertainment Blogging: A Panel Discussion

Centennial College Student CentreThe organizing group for WordCamp Toronto is being led by Mathieu Yuill and Melissa Feeney. The even is being hosted at the Centennial College Student Association‘s Student Centre at Centennial’s Progress Campus. (Disclosure: the CCSA is a client of 76design.)

Thornley Fallis and 76design have settled on WordPress as the best all round publishing platform available today. And because we’ve benefitted from the work others put into developing it, we’ve tried to give back by developing two free plug-ins, FriendsRoll and TopLinks, that we hope bloggers will use to revitalize their blogrolls.

I’m keen to attend WordCamp Toronto. Not only because the blog posts and Twitter stream from other WordCamps have suggested to me that I’ll be able to mix with a particularly smart group of participants, but also because I’m hoping we can get some feedback on FriendsRoll and TopLinks from this social media savvy crowd.

If you want to attend, WordCamp Toronto, you can register at Eventbrite. I hope I’ll see you there.