Posts Tagged ‘ Social media ’

Tweets have more historial value than you might think

If every communications platform got judged by the standard we imposed on Twitter, they’d all be rendered trivial.

Newsprint would just be a forum for gossip and sleazy scandal. Projectors would just be the vehicle for brain-dead dialogue and needless explosions. Telephones would just be a conduit for endless teenage chatter on the superficial.

All those mediums get used for such trivial purposes. A lot. It doesn’t make the medium itself trivial. Instead we recognize all the groundbreaking journalism, innovative films and meaningful conversations that are facilitated as a result.

Twitter too often doesn’t get that appreciation. Because it’s used so often to broadcast meaningless minutia, the general public renders it silly before they stop to see all the benefits of good tweets.

And there’s plenty of good. Twitter is it the most effective way to share links and information with colleagues. It is unrivaled in delivering instant reactions to breaking news. It establishes a direct connection between public figures and their fans that bypasses all the old filters. Even the worst cases of narcissism it inspires can have value as pure entertainment.

Given Twitter’s often under-appreciated status in the public sphere, it’s nice to see our government recognizing its potential. The National Archives announced last month that it will start saving each and every tweet sent from a public account (those with privacy settings won’t be gathered) and preserved for posterity. It’s the type of thing that has inspired instant snickering. Even my iMedia class, which has produced some outstanding research presentations on the value of social media marketing, reacted to the news with many a smirk.

But block out the mundane quality of boring tweets and take the macro view for a moment. When in history have we ever had a larger collection of public views, opinions, thoughts and feelings all recorded? Sociologists and historians no longer have to extrapolate from anecdotal evidence on how certain publics reacted to critical events. There’s a wealth of primary source data that is easily searchable. It doesn’t represent all of society, to be sure, but for certain demographics it provides the kind of in-depth look into our culture and collective pulse to a degree expensive surveys only hoped to reach. That group even includes prominent political figures. What scholar wouldn’t want to preserve their reactions to critical events in the country’s history?

Don’t discount Twitter’s potential for political change either. The protests in Iran last year organized through Twitter are the most prominent example, but you don’t have to go across the world to see an impact. Now that tweets show up in real-time  search engine results, they have the potential to instantly shape what information (or misinformation) is spread. A research paper on how this may have been a crucial factor in Scott Brown’s upset victory in this year’s Massachusetts Senate race was presented at last week’s WWW2010 Conference in Raleigh. Of all the papers from researchers across the globe featured at the that conference, it was the one Word Wide Web Founder Tim Berners-Lee immediately cited when asked what study most interested him.

Of course this post  comes to you from an unabashed Twitter fan since 2008 who now has two accounts, one for my professional interests and one for personal interests. Am I overselling the medium? Are there ways that Twitter falls far short of other mass communications platforms?

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Unmasking our privacy, one tweet at a time

Illustration licensed through Creative Commons for transformative use. Find the original at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/carrotcreative/ / CC BY 2.0

It was a brutal loss, the kind that sends UNC basketball fans into an emotional tailspin. Georgia Tech walloped the Tar Heels two weeks ago, adding insult to a season already full of physical and emotional injury.

There was no shortage of reactions. Commentators howled. Fans scowled. And the coaching staff seemed on the verge of exasperation.

The next day, two of the players found time to laugh at the misfortune.

It’s not a response you could have heard at a press conference or read in a newspaper article. The laughs came from the boisterous Twitter account of freshman guard Dexter Strickland, who posted a goofy pic of how he and teammate John Henson attempt to attend class incognito on days after losses.

Such a lighthearted tone fits right in with Strickland’s twitter stream, no matter how rough the season gets. He’s joked about the embarrassment of being stared at by the bus stop after a loss, or in hearing ESPN commentators criticize the team. That’s when he’s not tweeting about class, his pet snake, boring hotel rooms or accidentally walking out of the grocery store without paying for bottled water.

Strickland is no anomaly. His account is merely the most lively example of an entire team (notably Henson, Will Graves, Ed Davis, and Larry Drew) that has embraced Twitter as the method of choice to broadcast the daily details that never make it into on-the-record interviews. Following them this season has softened my perspective on Tar Heel basketball. As a UNC grad I still get emotional watching games, but the losses have been much easier to take after hearing unfiltered accounts from the players on the court.

We forget they’re just kids, barely out of high school. Twitter makes that fact abundantly clear, and instantly puts their growing pains on the hardcourt into perspective. It personalizes the players and makes it more enjoyable to root for them even during bad seasons.

It also takes fan voyeurism to a whole new level. Pro athletes have learned to filter their Twitter accounts somewhat, pressured by the leagues and franchises who write their multi-million dollar checks not to post anything offensive. But in the college ranks, even players for a program that has millions of devoted fans garner just a few thousand Twitter followers. It’s just far enough under the radar that their every word won’t be scrutinized.

But I wonder, is it only a matter of time before one errant post is torn apart online?

Twitter is no stranger to sports. I blogged several weeks ago on the BCS’ attempts to use it for PR purposes. Georgia Tech’s coach, following that lopsided win against UNC, even used it to lash back at critics and defend the performance of his team.

But when you’re dealing with youngsters, privacy becomes an issue and a concern. We’ve all said stupid things in college. We probably said stupid things last week. What if they got out into the blogosphere for the world to see? It’s an almost inevitable result once you’re accustomed to immediately broadcasting every thought. The nightmare happened just last month for University of Oregon wide receiver Jamere Holland, whose profanity-laced Facebook status updates cost him his collegiate football career.

The Internet is littered with such horror stories of the private error becoming a unerasable public humiliation. Many of the most horrifying are chronicled in The Future of Reputation, an excellent account by law professor Daniel Solove on the dangers of spreading too much information online. Discussing the book in class this week has served as an interesting counterpoint to the ethos of The Cluetrain Manifesto (another book assigned in my curriculum), which preaches the virtue of letting employees communicate directly to consumers without restrictions or filters.

Ideally we’d all like to hear an unedited account from the companies we buy from, the colleagues we spend time with or the athletes we cheer for. The tweets from UNC’s players have proven a wonderful way to lighten up an otherwise gloomy season. I hope they continue. But there’s a risk that can’t be forgotten with social media. As effectively as it can connect in an instant, it has the power to decimate reputations just as fast. That kind of power demands some degree of caution, or else victory in real life could be forever tarnished by stupidity in cyberspace.

Tweeting against a playoff

Push marketing has survived every new development in media over the past century, the Internet included. Instead of just interrupting your reading, ads started interrupting your listening, then your viewing, and now your web browsing.

But one thing has changed. Now you can push back.

Two-way conversations and relationship-building dialogue were the underlying themes of all three fantastic research presentations I heard recently on web marketing. The details differ, but the overall mantra is the same: talk to your customer base and also also listen to what they have to say.

My fellow classmates sum up this philosophy much better than I can, and I highly recommend the online versions of their presentations. You can find David Hollander’s presentation here, Cathy Freeman’s here and David Parsons’ here.

It all makes the process of talking with consumers seem so engaging, so uplifting, so affirming.

Now try it as the voice behind college football’s loathed Bowl Championship Series, the entity standing in the way of the playoff system so many fans passionately want.

It isn’t pretty, as the BCS’ brand new Twitter account, INSIDEtheBCS, demonstrates. As it touts the benefits of the bowl system and the flaws of a playoff format (they even created a website dedicated to bashing playoffs), the feed is clearly meant to convince some fans that having polls decide who plays for the national championship isn’t such a bad idea.

What’s happening instead is that the BCS’ many enemies have a place online to rally. Try searching insidetheBCS on Twitter and you’ll come across the barrage of negative comments lobbed against an institution most fans feel is standing in the way of fairly crowning a national champion.

But does that make the attempt a failure? Whoever is manning the BCS account has taken the time to respond to many of the negative posts since the feed started a couple of weeks ago. This is exactly what marketers are supposed to do with social media, as criticism comes with the territory.

It’s in addressing the criticism and winning over new converts that social media marketing has its value, and the jury is still out on whether the BCS will win in this regard. Having the BCS actively respond to proponents of a playoff is much more endearing than conference commissioners arrogantly proclaiming on network TV that the current system must stand.

But it’s doubtful the BCS cares at all what its Twitter followers have to say. Despite heavy media and fan pressure to do so, BCS officials have shown zero interest in a new format. Unless they’re taking input into account for possible changes to the bowl system, then this is a social media effort that’s all talk.

If you’re going to stick with the traditional push marketing tactics, there’s not much use for new media. That’s a forum best saved for those eager and willing to act on their audience’s input.

Social media offers little if there’s no plan in place

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re an active user of Facebook and Twitter. So quick show of hands, how many Facebook fan pages do you actively check? What about commercial brands you follow on Twitter?

For all the talk about the potential of leveraging these social media spaces for profit, few companies enter with a real strategy on connecting with customers. As a result, you get a glut of Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and very few that have active audiences following their content. They’ll sign up. Maybe check in every now and again, but ultimately move along to their friend’s photo album from the weekend.

This is of course a gross generalization. There are some smart and creative users of Facebook and Twitter who build an audience for their company/organization. But it’s highly unlikely anyone who just shows up is going to build a following.

This is where web analytics come in, enabling the companies with a plan to comprehensively track activity on their site and see if it matches up with their predetermined goals.

That’s assuming you have a plan. Many don’t.

Being able to clearly articulate your social media objectives is absolutely essential before making the Web 2.0 plunge. That was the central point my classmates and I heard today from PR and Marketing professional Mark Tosczak, who has worked with many clients in tracking their web presence and expanding into social media.

“Being on Twitter is not a plan,” Tosczak told the class. “It’s not a strategy. It’s not a goal. It’s just being on the web.”

Merely being on the web may have been impressive for a company …. in 1996. Nowadays corporate organizations need to define their goals for cyberspace. Is it just to get a bunch of page views? Is it to sell a product online? Is it to get consumers to sign up for a mailing list? Is it to expand into a new region? Is it to foster customer loyalty?

These are goals that can be measured through analytics by looking at the concrete results of what people are doing once they reach the site. It’s here that an organization can keep tabs on whether their website or their Facebook page is fulfilling it’s intended purpose or just taking up server space.

Once the objective is defined, then comes the challenge of wading through all the data and putting it in proper context. That’s a valuable skill where firms like RLF Communications, where Mark Tosczak works, can provide a great service to corporations.

But nothing happens unless the goals are there first. Nowhere is that more evident than on the social media spaces that are created just to exist. As I’ve blogged about before, these pages need to be offering valuable content, building customer relationships and offering something unique in order to stand out.

Just existing on the web isn’t enough.

Braving the new world of social media

A year ago, I never expected dialogue with my favorite reporters.

Now it’s expected.

The rules all changed once traditional media outlets began embracing social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Some resisted, thinking the “comments sections” after every story sufficed as feedback. But the smart ones realized that you can’t have meaningful exchanges in virtual spaces where everyone is anonymous and most are emotionally overheated.

Attach a name and face to the comments, however, and the civility and level of intelligence goes way up. Actually respond to the negative posts, and what emerges is a general sense of camraderie between reader and journalist even in disagreement.

That’s what makes Facebook fan pages, when done right, such great communities. Look for New York Times or Washington Post and you not only get lists of stories but an honest dialogue on each.

It works even better when you can break up your readership into segments, like Slate does with fanpages for each of its podcasts. These podcasts themselves feature top Slate reporters and drive traffic to the main site. So each fan page serves as a fun mini-community for political junkies, sports nuts or culture mavens. Post to the page, and you often have a host of the podcast respond to you directly. The pages got me hooked on Slate’s podcasts and overall news site as well, since I have an open invitation to reach out and comment to the creative forces behind the content.

This approach isn’t limited to news. It works well for just about any company looking to actively bond with its customer base (and really, what company isn’t?). The corporate world is beginning to catch on. A recent survey by PR Week of 271 marketers found that 63 percent use social media for their companies. Facebook emerged as the most popular tool, as “connecting with customers” was the most common social media goal marketers listed as “very important.”

In interviewing these early adopters of the trend, a theme emerges of representing the company honestly and openly. Blatant sales pitches (or worse, sales pitches disguised as user-generated content) are highly frowned upon. The marketing executives who have had success in boosting their brand through social media did so by having productive exchanges with their customers, responding to feedback and taking it into account.

It’s not always pretty. The company on Facebook will hear a lot more negative comments than the one hiding behind a static website. But those comments will get said regardless. Only through social media can the company not only hear them but also respond, often solving the problem and building a long-term relationship at the same time.

Death in Second Life

Virtual environments have long been defined by limitations.

Facebook has a restricted design and interface that creates uniformity of content among all users.  Online role-playing games saddle each character with constraints and stunted abilities until they’re able to build up experience and wealth. Twitter has achieved rapid popularity on the strength of its rather severe limitation on use.

Yet in the world of Second Life, limitations are immediately tossed aside. From the start each user navigates the space through flying. A seemingly endless array of islands are instantly accessible through teleportation. Users have an ever-growing selection of objects to customize their appearance and put their stamp on unclaimed property, with countless ways to build elaborate structures using designs  limited only by imagination

All these reasons are how my classmates managed to build an excellent virtual space for learning.

They’re also why I may never set foot in Second Life again.

Today was the final piece in the project I blogged about a couple of months back. With the virtual classroom built, we tested it as the site of our actual Public Opinion and New Media course. Check out the tutorial YouTube video we made if you’re curious as to how it all came together in the end.

By all accounts, the test worked well. While virtual class was far less engaging than the real thing, it sure beat the  message boards that substitute for discussion in online courses. The building looks great. Everything is functional. I managed to go to school and learn in my pajamas.

But there has to be an easier way.

The seemingly limitless options, so much fun to play with at first, proved maddening when it came time to get things done. Without a sense of law, a respected ethical code or even reliable rules of physics, making productive use of time in Second Life resembled chasing an ever-moving target. Designs were adopted and scrapped. Debates grew heated. Plans abandoned. The workflow grossly inefficient.

And then there were those hostile users trying to sabotage the construction effort.

I don’t in any way blame my classmates for these setbacks. I blame a program that scoffs at constraints and in doing so undermines productivity.

The best tools on the web save us time with an interface and design built to accomplish specific tasks. They’re limited in their options, yes, but they enable us to do what needs to get done as quickly and professionally as possible. Amid the endless choices of the online age, these sorts of programs become more valuable, offering a little bit of security and reliability to make sense of all the clutter.

Second Life does not have these attributes, and its popularity could wane as specialty programs make it easier to accomplish particular goals online. The next time a group of students needs to build a virtual classroom, several programs will have an interface designed specifically with that in mind, minus the chaos that ultimately rules a virtual world without limits.

Blogging for bucks

For all the hoopla surrounding new media (blogs, podcasts, social media), it’s still a rough landscape for those looking to turn a profit. Take Twitter, which has tens of millions of users and active accounts from every organization and corporation out there. For all the investment it has generated, it still struggles to find a viable business model.

It should come as no surprise then that very few are using blogs as a direct money generator. Technorati’s annual State of the Blogosphere survey for 2009 shows that very few are cashing in just through a blog. The survey polled nearly 3,000 bloggers, and less than a quarter are blogging professionally. Of that subset, just 17 percent say it’s their primary source of income.

So why is everyone under the Internet sun launching and nurturing a blog? It’s because they have potential as a marketing tool driving customers to the main product. It’s hard to sell ads on even a well-trafficked blog. But if the blog has built up a loyal readership, it can then turn that audience into customers.

There’s a tricky balancing act to follow. Straight-up shilling will be recognized as advertising and tuned out the way we fast forward through commercials when given the chance. But if the blog is offering useful info, it becomes both an engaging read and a chance to demonstrate expertise in a topic. This builds relationships that will create customer loyalty for a commodity or service.

It’s the same thing with Twitter. A growing segment of users aren’t signing up to tweet about their lunch plans, they’re marketing their companies. News organizations have recognized this value. Travis Lusk, director of new media for WCBS, spoke to my class today about what works in the New York radio market and emphasized the importance of actively using Twitter to cultivate an audience and drive followers to top stories.

Anyone who evaluates new media in terms of direct revenue is doomed for disappointment. But viewed as a marketing tool for a larger campaign, its value is immense. Not only can it be effective in generating sales, it’s far cheaper than traditional print and broadcast advertising, and builds the kind of loyalty no sum of ad dollars can buy.