September 29, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Throwing Out the Social Media Rulebook

Throwing Out the Social Media Rulebook

Far too many of my colleagues who share a passion for the social media space treat this new media world more as a religion than as an art. Attending conferences, reading blogs, listening to podcasts, and talking at meetups will reveal rule after rule that many think cannot be broken in order for an activity to qualify as legitimate and successful.
I’m here to tell you that most of the rules are bunk, and we as an industry to ourselves a disservice by frightening off potential participants with absurd proclamations of the way things must be.
Here, then, are a few of the rules that just make no sense.
**1. It Isn’t a Blog Without RSS**. Go ask someone outside of the tight social media circle you play in and ask them if they use an RSS reader. If you don’t get a blank stare or a quizzical look, count it as a victory even when they say “no.” The fact of the matter is that RSS belongs to the uber-geek set. Yes, some tools are making this easier, but you would be surprised to learn that even some social media mavens (don’t force me to name names, you know who you are) still use things like Firefox bookmarks to read blogs.
**2. It Isn’t a Blog Without Comments**. Hogwash. Do comments often make blog posts better? Absolutely. Can you learn things from reading them that you might not have learned from the original post? Sure. Do comments help build a relationship between reader and author? Of course. But you can have a great blog without comments. Marc Andreesen of Netscape fame pens a fantastic example, but the zealots would dismiss it as inauthentic. And note how this idea clashes with the previous rule the zealots profess about RSS – when you read a blog via RSS you don’t even see the comments.
**3. The Press Release is Dead.** Sorry, Tom Foremski and friends, but the press release is here to stay. That’s not to say you should be emailing bloggers with press releases, but traditional media still do use them, when delivered appropriately and targeted correctly. Like most communications tools, the press release will continue to evolve, but it’s not time to drop it from the arsenal.
**4. The Social Media Release is King.** I know Todd Defren will think “heresy!” when he reads these words, but the social media release ain’t nothing but a press release served up in chunks rather than in story fashion. As someone who consumes such releases for use on some of the media sites I publish, I actually like the story ones better. Either way, the SMR is at best evolution, not revolution.
**5. It’s All About Conversation Not Messages.** The word “conversation” has a very nice ring to it. It sounds egalitarian and idealistic, especially when applied to corporate marketing behavior. But ultimately social media campaigns are – and should be – about the message. Companies don’t control the message today any more than they did in the past. But to suggest that corporations or non-profits or political campaigns should be prepared to start a conversation and not try to guide it in such a way as to deliver a specific message is both naïve and wrong.
**6. The Customer Controls the Relationship.** No, I’m not a Cluetrain disciple. That may put me in a fraternity of one among my social media evangelist colleagues, but I call’em like I see’em. The Cluetrain Manifesto offers many good ideas and some provocative thinking but the notion that customers are in charge is off base. Customers have always had a significant impact on companies and they will continue to do so. They provide the ideas to enhance products and the inspiration to create new ones. Customers vote with their wallets to determine winners and losers in the marketplace. But companies still play a huge role in the process and all of us as communicators must understand that.
**7. Authenticity and Transparency are Immutable Truths.** Wrong-o! Where’s my buzzer? There’s a big difference between being fraudulent and getting help behind the scenes. Companies need to build a trust relationship with their audience (and yes, I still use that word) and this likely requires some disclosure and a sense of realism. But there’s no reason why a CEO who can’t write well shouldn’t rely on a ghostwriter. It happens every day with speeches, and a blog should be no different. It’s the message that’s important and the messenger must agree with it, but it need not be a question of who taps the keyboard. Similarly, a company should not feel compelled to reveal the inner workings of its relationship with an outside agency in building content and developing strategy.
**8. Audience is a Word of the Past.** Somewhere between 1 and 10 percent of people who read blogs comment. It’s not a true conversation if more than 90% of the people just listen. What you have, friends, is an audience still. That’s not to say that new media isn’t more conversational than old media, but just as a small percentage of folks call radio talk shows or write letters to the editor, the same few comment on blogs. That means there’s still a vast audience to communicate to in a more traditional way.
**9. Lack of Comments Means Lack of Influence.** Many social media evangelists argue for the use of comments as a proxy for influence. Some would combine it with links and other more traditional measures, while others focus more heavily on comments. In fact, comments can be a measure of influence, but not across all types of social media or all content verticals (industries). For instance, most would agree that Rafat Ali’s PaidContent blog is influential, yet as of this writing only one of the 10 posts on its home page has comments (and even it only has 3 total).
No doubt there are other “rules” that many swear by that don’t hold water. Which others would you suggest?
UPDATE: Points have now been numbered upon request to enable easier commenting.
UPDATE: Neville Hobson has [responded via video]( using Seesmic.
UPDATE: In response to a question that Brian Solis asked me on Twitter: “I hope what people take from my comments is that we should encourage even baby steps and small words in the social media space and not get caught up as much as many of us do with being quick to criticize lack of adherence to all of our ideals.”

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About The Author

Chip Griffin is the Founder of CustomScoop. He writes and speaks frequently about data-driven public relations. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.

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    Sarah Wurrey

    I could not agree more about the ‘audience’ rule getting chucked. Even people who are well immersed in social media aren’t always talking back at their favorite blogs. And really, why should anyone be insisting on a conversation? We all have plenty to learn, there’s no harm in absorbing without responding…
    The rule I would toss out is the idea that you have to “follow back” everyone who follows you on Twitter. I got a bunch of new followers lately and followed them all back….and a good number of them don’t contribute anything I find all that useful or engaging.

    Doug Haslam

    Thanks for the bucket of cold water (not Gatorade). The best rule is that rules are made to be broken. Should I agree with every little thing you said? I know better than that, but why nitpick (ok, not sure the “story” press release is a great thing to keep alive– I like the bite-size chunks of the SMR– but a true SMR adds interactivity, which a company may or may not want/need depending on circumstances).
    Another observation is that “rules” and proclamations” made on blogs/Twitter/Facebook etc by people — including me– should not be taken as rules but one individual’s outlook. And that outlook changes. Should I follow everyone back on a social network? Maybe yes today, but if 500 people friend me, where’s that rule now (I still follow everyone back on Twitter btw)?
    Your article sends great messages to social media “leaders.” By the same token, how do we adjust our messages to the laggards that ought to take advantage of -some- of the social media tools out there?

    Jim Turner

    This post is somewhat like a shotgun blast. Some of the pellets hit there mark and some not so much, but it does go to show that Social Media is an art and many of us out their have our own definition of what we think that art is. Great read and thanks for putting this together. Will look to see the commentary that unfolds here.

    Christopher S. Penn

    Other joys:
    It’s not a podcast without RSS/MP3/player/feed. Whatever happened to audio the way you want it?
    Podcasting is dead. Still not true.
    Video is all that matters, audio is dead. Tell that to the police officer who pulls you over for staring at your iPod while you drive.
    Advertisers demand statistics. No, advertisers demand results. Statistics are what you use to avoid being fired when you’re not actually SELLING anything.

    Jen Zingsheim-White

    Doug, IMHO, it’s all a question of balance (getting all new-agey here, I am a Libra). I don’t look at this so much as “rules are made to be broken” as much as “for every rule there is an exception.”
    As far as traditional v. social media releases are concerned, the audience and context should be the primary consideration. Not, “oh crap, our competitor just did a social media release, so now we have to.” So many of the problems I’ve seen are caused by people jumping on the ME TOO bandwagon without thinking through the appropriateness of using social media, traditional media, or a mix.
    I think we also need to be careful using the term laggards–most of the PR practioners I know realize they need to know this stuff, but there is so much to absorb (and something new every other day. Utterz! no wait, Seesmic! no wait, some other weirdly-spelled word! etc. It’s ADDPR. I’m in this stuff every day and I can barely keep up).
    A set of rules doesn’t help, especially when some of it is contradictory. This is still an area of emerging understanding, and being generous with explanations (and staying away from “you must do X”) is the best way to bring along those who are just coming to terms with social media and the implications it presents for the PR industry.
    Or at least that’s one person’s take… 🙂

    Bryan Person, The Bryper Blog

    I’d be one of the guys who used to argue that a blog isn’t a blog without comments. But I’ve come around in my thinking. I now see that saying a blog that allows comments but doesn’t actually get many or any comments is somehow more of a real blog than, say, a blog like Seth Godin’s that conistently offers compelling content, doesn’t allow comments at all, but is consistently ranked at or near the top of the Ad Age Power 150 is nonsensical.
    As for “conversation,” can we not admit that many of us in the social media crowd have fallen in love with the term? It’s started to become a cliche. Yes, conversations are wonderful and powerful and potentially lead to new ideas, visions, products, etc., but let’s not be so overzealous in applying the word to every piece of content ever created. Is a stray a comment here or there automatically a conversation? Maybe, but not always. Let’s be a little more judicious in how we use the term so that its meaning isn’t completely watered down.
    Great post, Chip, and thanks for starting what I think will be several actual conversations around your post.

    Christopher S. Penn

    I like to think of stuff as tools in a toolbox. If I hand you a box full of tools, there are some general rules you should follow – don’t stick anything in this box in your eye, if it looks sharp, don’t touch it, don’t plug it in until you have a vague idea of what it does and which end is dangerous, etc.
    The rest is trial and error. Each tool has its uses and is good for some things but not others. Social media release may work for certain verticals, while regular PR works best in others. It”s all a matter of testing – and you’re right, a rulebook is useless when you’ve got tools you don’t understand. Manuals for each tool? Sure.

    Ronna Porter

    I don’t think there every will be a rule book again. Some will find that terrifying, others liberating. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t use a little common sense backed up with a good dose of evidence of what has worked in the past in any specific situation. To me, that’s the best basis of extrapolating what mix of techniques will work best in the future.

    Shashi Bellamkonda

    I work with a lot of Small Business and even asking them tech questions , we take care to explain these technologies to them example: RSS.
    I have a lot of friends who run restaurants and they do not have time to check email. Social media tools are a enhancement to traditional channels. You may need to update this post in 12 -18 months if these become more relevant than traditional channels.
    I think I heard this from “Naked Conversations” – Don’t get excited when a Techie downloads Firefox get excited when your mom does.( I am paraphrasing here)Thats the measurement we need to use here too.
    I will disagree with your post on the day when my car repair shop “twitters” to me that my car is ready 😉

    Justin Kownacki

    Thank god more people are diverging from the party line. Have we not learned that labels and rules are only marginally useful in the rapidly-changing web world?
    Instead of trying to decide on rules to make choices easier for the mouth-breathers, can we perhaps champion a non-system of improvisation and individual experience?
    Oh, wait, we can’t monetize that…

    Bryan Person, The Bryper Blog

    Another note: While I agree you with you, Chip, that a hard-and-fast rulebook might not be the way to go, a set of guidelines or recommended practices can certainly be helpful.
    For example: Instead of saying “NEVER e-mail a press release to a blogger,” you could say, “Here’s why sending a personalized message to a blogger can be more effective than simply sending a press release.”


    Great post! People are latching onto these “proclamations” as conventional wisdom while the social media space is still in its infancy. Lets keep up the critical analysis.

    Lewis Green

    First, let me say that in my relatively large group of bloggers, I don’t think many of them think of your list often, if ever. And not many of them would think of them as rules, but as Bryan says, guidelines.
    For 35 years I have made my living as a writer, marketer, publicist, and communicater. From a daily newspaper, to exeuctive editor overseeing several magazines, to freelancer, to corporate manager and VP, guidelines have always proved helpful.
    So what’s my point? I just don’t see the blogosphere as a place where rules are being created. Books are being written, some better than others, and like all books, they offer recommendations. My fifth book was just released,
    and I offer strong points of view, but never thought of those points as rules that must be followed to be successful.
    Where is the evidence that bloggers are promoting rules? I personally know well over 100 bloggers, most of whom have highly ranked blogs (for what that’s worth) and hundreds and hundreds of readers. I’m not aware of any of them operating with hard and fast rules.

    Chip Griffin

    Some great feedback here, too much to address it all.
    Bryan, I think you’ll enjoy another commentary I’m working on about the myth of conversation. And I agree that guidelines or discussing experience are fine ways to advise people. There’s a difference between a hard and fast rule, and advice/guidance.
    Jim, definitely a shotgun approach. There’s probably others I would add upon greater reflection.
    Chris, great points about audio and advertising.
    Amanda, good to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed it.
    Ronna, you said it more succinctly than I.
    Doug, I’m still bullish on social media. If anything, my message is that more folks should try it in the way that they are most comfortable. I think the more we move away from commandments and toward flexibility, we can see more individuals and groups take advantage of the great tools that are out there.

    Chip Griffin

    Lewis, “rule” may be too simplistic. Perhaps “widely held belief.” In retrospect, it might have been interesting to do a survey to ask some of these questions of social media evangelists to have hard data. Of course now, with the tremendous influence of Media Bullseye, the views will all change so a survey now might not be valid. 🙂

    Bob Geller

    Very well said, I concur on just about all your points and have echoed some of the same sentiments on my blog.
    Although I am all over the potential of social media for PR, I try to aovid getting religious about it like some others and focus on what works.
    As I’ve said, the press release will be around (and not necessarily an SMR) long after some of these Web 2.0 comapnies are gone.

    dc crowley

    point 1 – a blog with out rss is still a blog. Yup, but it is a suck-blog. Alot of people still don’t understand rss. I can live with that. But when the start getting it… watch what happens. The first PC’s arrived in the 70’s. I had my first on in 1990… stuff takes time.
    Rules can be broken, no big deal. Our way of dealing with each other and tasks… that is changing. Conversation is a cliche for ‘informal’ meaning lack of rules. all IMHO of course 😀

    Todd Defren

    Good post. Specific to the SMNR… Man, sometimes I feel like people never actually *read* what I’ve written about it. I’m the first to agree with your points about the SMNR, Chip.
    The SMNR does represent an evolution, not a revolution, and it’s definitely not “king” by a long shot, and lastly, what we put out was a TEMPLATE… in other words (and you’d appreciate this, given your other points): take from the Template what you like, disregard the rest. You like “narrative” releases? Fine by me. Just consider adding some multimedia or other social media elements for your narrative release.
    Anyhoo, I do not cry “heresy,” I say, “good on ya.” 😉

    Greg Smith

    Good stuff, Chip. I’m not a “uber geek”, but still use RSS on those (few) blogs I read regularly. I’d like to think an RSS link assists people in the process. Social Media Releases? Not in Australia. In fact, some news organisations have reverted to fax because they’re overloaded with e-mails.

  20. PR Communications

    Chip Griffin's Revises The Social Media Rulebook

    Chip Griffin’s new Media Bullseye website is making some waves today in a post he called, “Throwing Out the Social Media Rulebook,” he believes the exhortation of a number of rules for social media by a bunch of zealots is

    Geoff Livingston

    I disagree on the value of the press release, especially for smaller companies that cannot command attention by simply making an announcement. Small companies who cannot deliver strong news value are better off generating stories that play into larger trends. Further, PR people who rely on press releases as their primary mechanism to deliver news to the media are rookies and inexperienced.
    I also think a blog without an RSS feed limits itself from potential viral activity and long-term growth. It’s a foolish marketing move to publish without providing as many distribution mechanisms as possible.
    Finally, the community versus audience comment is pointed. And you know I disagree with that one. THe fact that you think you have an audience to dictate to is an attitude. I do think that’s an attitude that assumes people want to listen to you. If you’re always talking and not engaging then your ratings will go down. It’s a subtlety that many cannot understand.
    Lastly, you make many claims in this post about what is right and wrong, Chip. I highly encourage you to back it up with some case studies.


    Hey Chip
    Thanks for the mention. I agree with your point, especially about comments. I say that for us, come to our events, and each person there is a comment in a way that an online comment cannot. For us, the community where you find it.

    Chris Brogan...

    My last several weeks have been spent with plain old, regular, unsexy (says Scoble) enterprises talking about IT, and how (if) social media should thread into their world. In all of those conversations, all of them, we have NEVER talked about:
    RSS, comments, dead press releases, social media releases.
    We have talked about audience, that there is one. We have talked about the “relationship,” but not who controls it. We have talked about transparency, but not about all things.
    If I slide sideways into the podcast thing, first, @cspenn- the policeman believed me that I was looking for a bee as I hid my video iPod. Second, our conversation this afternoon about how absurdly difficult it was to get podcasts where we wanted to get them rings loud on this post, eh? We can’t just jump in the car and be influenced. We have to know how to load an iPod, link it into the stereo system, navigate, and then get the message.
    Back to the post…
    I’m siding with Geoff Livingston on the press release points.
    About mediabullseye, can you add a “subscribe to the comments” button, so we can have this update me when other people weigh in?

    David Fisher

    I can see where you’re coming from on many things, but at the same time I simply disagree. Just starting at the first one, yes, many people do not use RSS. At the same time, why should a blog not have an RSS feed? Just about every blogging platform has RSS built in and easily accessible. You shouldn’t have an RSS only blog, but at the same time RSS makes it far more accessible. I’ll read your blog in Google Reader on my iPhone, but if I’m mobile (as I often am) I’m not going to browse to the real page which is slow in comparison.
    The only reason I can see to specifically not have an RSS feed, is so that your sponsorships are more visible to your readers, which is a pretty selfish and poor reason to disable RSS feeds.
    If you don’t think RSS is needed, put your money where your mouth is and disable yours. Disable comments too. Watch readership drop.

    francine hardaway

    I write a blog, and have to email a weekly post from it to people who think they are reading a blog when they are reading one email piece of a blog. They don’t know what a blog is. So what?
    Sometimes they email me back. Are they commenting, because they aren’t reading a real blog?
    This is all silliness. Engaging the customer in the conversation is the real point. RSS, comments, etc. are tools. Is the customer in control? I’ll say. If one video of a flaming laptop can destroy a brand and reorganize a company, that’s control. That has always been true; social media just makes it transparent. Nice post, but to make its point it ignores all the gray areas.

    Scott Monty

    You know what I’d call a “blog” without RSS and without comments? Old media. Look at most “blogs” run by newspapers. What’s so social about that kind of “social media”?
    Aside from parsing through your assertions above – some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t – my comment is that you’ve created a nice healthy debate here, Chip.
    I think that these so-called “rules” that we see are probably mis-stated as such. They should be considered as guide-posts. After all, this is an emerging field and things are changing and being made up as we go along. Nothing’s right or wrong anymore. But there are good practices that we should try to promote – not as social media mavens – but simply as communicators.
    At the end of the day, it’s all about creating connections with your readership / audience / customer base. And you should be free to use whatever tools or methodologies work for you.

    Charlie Anzman

    Chip – A great start!. I received an e-mail from a guy at Intel today regarding ‘comments’ and the fact that he couldn’t leave one (It was positive). Comments have a lot of positives and a lot of negatives. For those who have time to ‘green light’ them, they can be very important. For example, Matt Cutt’s blog is a great place for legitimate posts regarding Google’s activities. We all can make the ‘social space’ a better place. I’m not sure if we can ever come up with a ‘central forum of some kind’ but the outreach by some search companies (that help others find your blog) is very, very important. There are some incredibly good blogs out there and we factually are connecting the people of the world. May sound profound. May have long-lasting and positive implications?

    Stevie Wilson

    First off, bravo at least for attempting this!
    Comments by item nunmber
    #1 RSS feeds are useful but not essential but when there are videos, podcasts, they are downright essential. There are some who solely rely on the RSS for the up to date news not realizing that’s like relying on only one newspaper or one tv station to give you the full story. (so limited and narrow)
    #2 & 9 comments are nice – particularly if you have something intriguing said but if there aren’t comments, that’s ok too because maybe what you posted is more a “service” oriented post than a commentary where there is to be a response.. If you are minus comments, it doesn’t mean that the post hasn’t generated interest.. actually if there’s a link to somewhere else or it’s action driven, that’s an indication that someone actually DID something if they didn’t post a comment
    #3 & 4 I love press releases– because they keep me up to date but I don’t want the same one all the time and if you can’t figure out different presentations/hooks about your client, perhaps you haven’t tried hard enough or you are in the wrong business. I need a variety of different ideas– and I can easily morph them into something else. Social media release? uhh- give me the entire package all at once and let me decide how to put it together– unless we strategize together.
    #5 & 6 & 8
    Actually the writer controls the relationship about what they write– because the medium is the message and the message is the medium and yes it is also about audience and conversations and creating a dialogue but it’s not SOLELY one thing
    #7 Authenticity and Transparency. That’s like asking someone are they just about ONE thing- I am pretty transparent but I am also very complex and while my blog is pretty authentic and transparent, you will note a variety of voices– both mine and some from bloggers that I have found with interesting content.
    That’s like expecting a person you have never met before to be entirely transparent to you from the introduction (puhlease).. and the authenticity ultimately must be there– but it’s all about the message– not the messenger

    Tim Allik

    Hi Chip – Good stuff. The level of hardcore orthodoxy about what a blog “is” or “is not” is frankly extremely amuzing to me. A blog isn’t a defined by set of hard and fast rules – it’s whatever you need it to be. The idea that a blog must “go viral” to be successful is laughable. In today’s long-tail world, it’s not the size of the audience that matters – it’s the quality of the audience. Perhaps you have a list of 1,500 influencers and thought leaders that you want to reach with your blog. RSS isn’t necessary to reach those people. Counting eyeballs as a measure of success is a throwback to late ’90’s. It’s all about targeting now.

    Brendan Cooper

    The only point I would disagree with is the first one regarding RSS.
    I really don’t think it belongs to the uber-geek set. Generally when I show people what RSS can do, they’re impressed, and as you say there are tools that make RSS easy to use.
    For me, the whole point of the blogosphere is that it’s many people with varying opinions – that is, the long tail of conversations. How else can this be monitored if we don’t use aggregators to bring this all together and make it readily overviewable?
    This becomes especially critical when analysing those conversations. From a PR pov, we need mechanisms that let us monitor conversations as efficiently and effectively as possible. It’s simply impractical to go through a set of bookmarks to see if anyone’s said something interesting.
    OK, so we might miss some important content this way but if I can achieve 90+% accuracy in 10% of the time, I’ll buy it.
    The point is really that we need to combine quality with quantity. At the outset you’d adopt a quantitative approach by getting a feel for what’s happening. Eventually you’ll home in on the great content, and that’s where quality comes in. You’d use RSS for the former, and bookmarks for the latter, essentially as you move up the long tail.

    Chip Griffin

    Quite an outpouring of feedback on this commentary. I plan to follow up on it in the coming days, so keep the thoughts coming.

    Joe Buhler

    I’m not a great believer in a strict set of rules here. Common sense and good practices are more useful than the stridency of many early adopters and advocates when it comes to social media. Having said that, I do believe that markets have turned into conversations and that customers are in control and that these concepts should be considered in marketing and communications practice. Insert yourself in the conversation and spread your own message is a necessity and yes, there are audiences for that.

    John Johansen

    Great way to get people engaged Chip. I think that the best point this article was found right in the very first bullet

    Go ask someone outside of the tight social media circle you play in

    As was mentioned in a few comments, most people aren’t joining in conversations, they aren’t learning how to use the new technologies, and they aren’t trying to connect to everything. I use RSS because it allows me to more quickly absorb more content from the many blogs I follow. My wife will open up her blog, and click on the links in her blogroll to go see what her friends have been talking about. How many social media insiders have actually clicked on the links in their blogroll? In the list of blogs they profess to be interested in?
    Non-socialites (that I know) don’t try to keep up with everything. They’re using the social media tools that provide them with value. The definition of value is a slippery one but if you can understand that for the people you’re trying to reach then you can create your own rules (or guidelines or principles or insights or whatever) as you commit yourself to being a valuable part of that community.

    Douglas Karr

    So Seth Godin doesn’t have a blog? Nor influence?
    I’m not knocking your rules, I actually like them. I’m just not sure if this is the perception of blog authority applications, blog ranking engines, or blog search engines. It’s quite evident that they would disagree with you.

    Chip Griffin

    I have begun a series of commentaries responding to the feedback on this original. Link appears above.

    Mike Chapman

    Great lesson in the realities of communications. I love all the new social media. And I love that it is enhancing, not totally replacing communications and media of the past. I’m for all of it…the old and the new. Whatever works for any single individual is ok. Why can’t we all just get along?

    Mark Grabowski

    Good observations, Chip.
    Another myth, I often hear: You can’t pitch a blogger the same way you would a traditional journalist.
    What exactly does that mean? Most PR people don’t know how to pitch to the traditional media, either.
    It’s funny to hear some of these guys pontificating about the new PR rules of online journalism, when they never really mastered the ropes of traditional media.

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