NewsSpark beta available to Dispatch readers
When I first started in social media and spent a lot more time watching and listening than posting on Twitter several more experienced users of the medium reached out to me and encouraged me to ask questions. They encouraged me to learn more about how to use the social space and spent a lot of time answering questions. One of those people was Chris Ehrlich. Chris Ehrlich NewsSpark He was brimming with knowledge and ideas and genuinely happy to help. Which is why I’m thrilled to be able to repay his kindness.

Ehrlich founded NewsSpark a social content hub. He is also opening the private beta of the NewsSpark digital PR and marketing channel to readers of Dispatches from the Castle.

Readers can access the private beta hub and “stake claims to their industry categories” via my referral link, keeping  “AuroraMeyer” in the referrer field.

Readers can also use the hub’s invite-a-friend feature to invite others into the private beta.

Here’s more about the NewsSpark concept
Original content
NewsSpark is a digital hub where creators publish original content through their favorite mediums. The hub is made in East Grand Rapids, Mich. and metro Los Angeles.

Creators can publish original news, blogs, updates, photos, videos and audio (soon) on every topic — or Sparks. The hub also features catalogs of content creators, brands and groups.

The freemium model NewsSpark is planning to implement paid features, such as branded Content Galleries.

“Looking at the marketplace, we believe we’re the first digital channel dedicated to publishing and consuming original content,” said Ehrlich. “Some may argue the claim, but the hub’s makeup and utility are clearly distinct when compared to other digital channels.”

NewsSpark plans to exit its private beta and launch later this month.

Initial partners
After testing the hub with family and friends, NewsSpark has set up member benefit and/or content partnerships with several organizations during its private beta: the West Michigan Public Relations Society of America, or WMPRSA; stock video production company Uberstock; early stage venture capital fund Start Garden; and Michigan State University Spartan Innovations, the university’s startup innovation division.

“We’re just getting started,” Ehrlich said. “We’ll be forming partnerships on an ongoing basis.”

User-rated content
Sparks can be published by “anyone with great original content,” Ehrlich said.

Creators increase or decrease a Spark’s stoke count — and hub-wide rank — when they “stoke it,” “douse it” or mark it as a “firestarter.”

The hub of user-ranked content is organized by a set of filters and designed to be “a meritocracy and front-line source for anyone who consumes digital content,” Ehrlich said.

“Right now, the community is in its infancy,” Ehrlich said. “It will naturally grow as we grow.”


Content marketing problems
NewsSpark is designed to be an “open and organized hub where creators can complete their content marketing cycles,” Ehrlich said.

“The hub lets their content burn and work for them in ways it can’t at other digital channels,” he said.

Ehrlich explained that “almost immediately after it’s posted,” original content “functionally disappears” from other digital channels, where he said content is an ad unit, fleeting, disorganized, unfindable, isolated or in a closed network.

“There’s all this great content being created that gets lost online — as a fleeting mention, one-time broadcast or on a virtual island,” Ehrlich said. “We wanted to create a hub where original content can be planted, judged on its merit and work as an ongoing catalyst for creators — in real-time and long-term.”

The hub is also a platform for creators to package, consolidate and digitally present their complete range of content to their audiences in a professional-grade user interface, such as a plug-and-play social Content Gallery, newsroom or web presence.

“A brand’s content is diluted when it’s only fragmented across channels — and never unified in a single user experience for ongoing discovery,” Ehrlich said.

Sparks flying
The hub is designed to potentially increase multiple near- and long-term content marketing metrics: brand awareness, SEO and social search, audience, engagement, web traffic, coverage by bloggers and media outlets, inbound leads and sales.

“We’re simply engineered from the onset to deliver returns to creators who market their content,” Ehrlich said.

The hub is also designed to deliver cost and staff savings on managing and sharing digital content.

“Trying to manage and use de-centralized content is hugely inefficient for teams,” Ehrlich said. “And when they turn to platforms to package and centralize the content, they often run into technical or pricing obstacles.”

Bigger picture
NewsSpark will donate 5% of its income to The NewsSpark R. D.  Ehrlich Communications Scholarship at colleges across the country, beginning with UCLA and Denison University.

About NewsSpark
NewsSpark™ is the social content hub™ where creators publish original content through their favorite mediums. NewsSpark is made in East Grand Rapids, Mich. and metro Los Angeles.

Social media in a crisis

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed this weekend’s tweets were full of #stl and #tornado.

An EF-4 tornado hit Lambert International Airport, the airport I fly out of most often. I was lucky and left Friday morning, but I left my car behind in one of the long-term parking lots.

As I watched the news and searched the local news outlet websites and Twitter late Friday night and early Saturday morning, I was pretty easily able to see that this tornado devastated the area and quite a bit of the airport. At the time, Lambert International Airport was closed, “indefinitely.”

Twitter was crucial for me to get the information I wanted. To learn about the Southwest terminal and Super Park Lot C (Cypress Road). But I also verified the information I received from local and official social accounts with the phone calls to the airline and parking lot. Thanks to everyone who shared information, I was able to determine that one, I would be able to get back to St. Louis on Sunday and two, that my car was likely not damaged.

In the aftermath, I’ve noticed some people claiming this will be an excellent case study of the best use of social media in a natural disaster situation. I’d caution that. Not because it didn’t work, it did. Beautifully.  But because a tornado is very different from a hurricane, earthquake or tsunami. In a tornado situation, the damage is not very wide-spread. Most infrastructure is still in place and cell phone and internet services aren’t as interrupted as they are in other crises.

Instead, I would look at social media adding another layer of humanity to a natural disaster. People can see in real-time how those involved are affected. What they are seeing and hearing. First hand accounts that have not gone through a reporter and news outlet. Essentially, with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social sites, the general public now has access to raw footage and uncut interviews.

The filter of the news media now has the chance to give perspective, tell more than just how the event affected people and tell the bigger story. There is still room for the basic facts (for example: when will the airport open, how many people were injured, etc.) and they should not be ignored, but relying on first hand accounts won’t pull viewers away from social media.

If you want to help those affected by the tornadoes in St. Louis, my friend, Justin Goldsborough created a CauseVox for the Red Cross. You can read about why he created it here and can donate here.

SXSW Community Engagement Takeaways

The Community Engagement Strategies: Rational Debate or Herding Cats? session at South by Southwest was one of the best sessions I attended. There were too many suggestions to write about each one, so I’ll stick with my top five.

  1. Start a community IN PERSON first because then there’s already a connection. Communities must be centered around respect and it is a lot easier to respect someone you’ve met in person that someone hiding behind a keyboard. Even if the community started online, hosting a meet-up can increase member engagement and interactions. It can also make people be nicer to each other because they know they are talking to a real person.
  2. Directly contact the crazy person and try being reasonable. Ask them what on earth are you doing and gauge their response. Sometimes calling a person out in real life can make them realize they’re acting foolish, they can apologize and everyone is happy. Other times it might get your head verbally ripped off. Obviously, if you think the person is a real danger, don’t confront them in person. Connecting online engagement with real life can only enhance the community (see #1).
  3. In your terms and conditions, be very clear about what the moderation rules and consequences will be. Don’t be afraid to enforce them. Without guidelines in place, people will break the norms of the community. Without consequences, you as a moderator have no control. When asked to color in the lines, most people happily do.
  4. Community moderation is not the easy answer, it takes time and energy. If you aren’t willing to cultivate the community, by keeping the blight out and the comment board free of spam, the reflect that. It’s a bit like babysitting. Not to mention, a good moderation system can protect against extreme crazies.
  5. Identifying your bias and areas of expertise is a way to keep arguments from spiraling out of control. For example, if you’re an expert in child psychology and you say so in a post about the relationships between best friends in a specific setting, you’re more likely to be taken seriously.

Those are the top five takeaways from an awesome community engagement session. If you’re interested in reading about what others had to say about the session, check out the #community engagement search.

SXSW is Like Twitter in Real Life


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This choice piece of wisdom was passed on to me about day two in the massive conference, but the statement is absolutely valid and not just for South by Southwest, for almost all conferences.


All conferences have name tags. This makes it easy to see who you are talking to, just like a Twitter handle. Remember the person’s name and use it in conversation, it will help you remember who they are.

You’re going to meet people, so be friendly. Be quickly able to say who you are, who you work for and why you are at the conference. Shake hands. Smile. Share your business cards, collect other’s business cards. Write on the back where you met the person (example: dinner at name the restaurant). If you got swag, write that down too.

Don’t be afraid to join a conversation, but use social cues. If you jump in with a witty comment and and get funny looks, jump out. If no one responds to your comment, politely leave. Unlike on Twitter, you will feel dumb. That’s ok. The conversation just wasn’t for you. Other ones will be! The flip side is to be nice to people who hop into your conversations. Don’t give them nasty looks.

If you can handle Twitter and have an ability to read social cues, you’ll be fine handling real life Twitter.

(The social cues post, however, is another post.)