Posts Tagged ‘ twitter ’

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?

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.

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.

Don’t judge Twitter by a few rotten tweets

Teens waste thousands of hours on meaningless phone conversations of gossip and superficial chatter. Adults fritter away entire nights watching trashy “reality” shows and formulaic sitcoms.

Does anyone think this means the telephone and the television are stupid, pointless devices?

Of course not, yet we push this impossible standard onto Twitter. The entire concept is derided and denigrated just because it’s used by some for dumb purposes like tweeting about their lunch plans or their mundane routines.

No one wants to read dull posts likes that. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t great uses for Twitter that more than justify its ubiquity. New developments in the platform are making this more abundantly clear.

Consider location-based tweeting, something being rolled out in the near future by developers. Tweets would be accompanied by the latitude and longitude of their source, so you can search for those in your immediate vicinity. Imagine the usefulness (and entertainment value) of being at a concert, sporting event or festival and having the option of seeing what all your fellow attendees are thinking.

This feature would also have great practical purposes for newsgathering. If there’s a major event taking place in a specific area, Tweets from that source would  provide a tremendous depth of perspective from those at eye level.

Sounds good for big, crowded events. But what about everyday individual lives, you say? How can people use Twitter on the days when they mostly keep to themselves?

One option is to donate your Twitter feed. Many charitable organizations are asking supporters to retweet their key messages. Water.org has a great feature where the non-profit will automatically post its most important messages onto your feed for whatever time period you agree to donate. These groups recognize that your Twitter voice carries a unique credibility to friends and family following your feed. If you feel passionate enough about a cause, you can use the platform to instantly convey that feeling to those who trust your perspective.

Will these uses stop celebrities and narcissists from providing too much mundane information about their lives? Certainly not. But maybe they’ll broaden society’s outlook on Twitter’s considerable potential and value as an integral part of the media landscape.

Blog as if everyone’s watching

Social media makes for lousy diaries.

We all know this rule (or at least think we do) yet that doesn’t stop the torrent of mundane Twitter updates about lunch, heart-on-the sleeve Facebook postings about a relationship or ill-informed pop culture rants on a blog. There’s a fine line between creative expression and personal overexposure, and it gets blurry every time a new communications tool reaches the masses.

Mark Luckie, the creator and author of the outstanding 10,000 words blog, understands the need for separation. In his question-and-answer session with my Interactive Writing and Design class last week, the journalist and multi-media expert emphasized the importance of keeping the personal and professional in different spaces on the web. Luckie’s professional persona is built around his knowledge of using interactive media for journalism, something he shares on his blog each week. He has other interests as well, expressed through what he described as serial tagging and bookmarking of  websites on his favorite topics. But that’s an entirely different identity, one he shares with his professional network very sparingly, if at all.

For those of us with fledgling online identities, he offered a simple piece of advice that is too often ignored by first-time bloggers — write as if you have a large audience. When you know of only a few people checking your blog or Twitter feed, it stifles the content from ever reaching a level of quality that can attract new viewers. If you’re writing just for a few friends, entries become so casual and personal that they reach diary territory. Post just for a teacher in mind, and the content is stilted and stuffy without a unique voice.

Write for a large audience, on the other hand, and you naturally start focusing on  topics where you have expertise, adding something substantial to the conversation. You also develop a natural and distinct voice that makes your blog engaging for new readers.

Whether the audience actually comes around or not, a blog like this shows credibility to employers, Luckie said. Rather than just claim knowledge in a job interview, you can point to a blog and prove your engagement with a topic. He should know. He managed to turn a professional interest into an online outlet enjoyed by thousands, and one that’s opened up new doors in his career, all without sacrificing his personal privacy.

Technology minus the complications

Technology has the unfortunate reputation (at times both real and imagined) of unnecessarily complicating our lives. It’s why entire segments of the population actively resist or routinely dismiss the latest innovations. It’s why nostalgia for pre-Internet days has evolved into an entire “simple living” movement. It’s why bridging the digital divide requires teaching people how to use new technology as much as giving them all the tech tools.

But new Internet-based innovations, when done right, have exactly the opposite effect as this stereotype. They filter out the clutter and make our favorite things easier to undertake and less complex to master. That’s a theme that ran through the iMedia program’s first Face-to-Face Friday, a rapid fire sequence of 90-second pitches on new communications tools from each of the 37 students. We’re not talking about gadgets for computer geeks. The focus here is simple devices with an interface just about anyone could pick up.

Take Sony’s new e-reader, which reads electronic books like Amazon’s Kindle but without the button pushing that can make the experience confusing or cumbersome. Staying with books, there’s the Espresso Book Machine to print in minutes whatever title you’re looking for at the library. There’s a device allowing scientists to instantly upload data they collect in the field, or for journalists to file a live broadcast anywhere with an Internet connection. Even finding information is getting easier, with Google’s new feature visually organizing related search terms, a news website putting together a “Cheet Sheet” of the top stories being reported across the globe, or advertisements containing interactive features for consumers to get free info and samples on the products that catch their interest. Making connections also get simpler, with a new way to reach people by phone whom you only know through Twitter.

In all these cases, the goal is not to confuse but to streamline, making everyday tasks more efficient and enjoyable. Some might say that opens the door to more complications since it allows us to do much more in a shorter span of time. That may be true, but try convincing the visually impaired to stick with the “simple” life when they can start instantly reading in braille any book they can pull off the shelves.