Category Archives: Social Media

It Ain’t Just How College Students Get the News

John Robinson, not long ago the editor of the Greensboro News & Record, is now teaching journalism to students at UNC-Chapel Hill. He’s written a blog post about how his students get their news, and while it’s not exactly shocking, it’s still interesting.

This is how one of my student’s began the diary of her day’s media interactions:

  • 8:15 a.m.: phone alarm sounds, snooze it
  • 8:30 a.m.: phone alarm sounds again, snooze it
  • 8:45 a.m.: phone alarm sounds again, turn it off
  • 8:50 a.m.: begin checking phone
  • Check text messages, respond
  • Check UNC emails
  • Check personal emails
  • Check Facebook
  • Check Twitter
  • Check Yik Yak
  • 9:05 a.m. Turn on laptop and begin work

That’s pretty much how she ended the day, too, minus the alarm.

I had 35 students in one of my classes record every interaction with media they had over the course of two days. The exercise surprised most of them with how reliant — addicted, in the words of several — they are to their phones and to social media. Putting aside the above student’s wake-up routine, it’s worth noting where her first stops of the day are not:No newspaper, no TV for news or otherwise, no CNN website. If it isn’t on her social media, she’s not going to get it.

That’s not uncommon, either. In fact, it would be more common if you add two more stops: “Check Instagram.” And “Check Snapchat. Respond to Snaps.”

As I read this I had to chuckle because if you were to push the time frame up – I am almost 50 and I have a hard time remembering the last time I slept that late – that’s pretty much how I roll in the morning too. I do consume news directly from traditional sources like newspapers, TV news and magazines, but honestly I do that more for depth and background than for news itself. Almost all of the interesting stories I read are shared with me by someone on one of my multitude of social networks and I seriously doubt I’m the only person in my demographic who can say that.

Later on in his post John writes, “They simply don’t access a great deal of mainstream news media outlets in their course of the day. They often get the news indirectly. But they still get it. (I was a college student once pre-Internet and they know a lot more about what’s going on in the world than most of my classmates did.)” That was true of my college experience too. So many people gave me funny looks when they saw me reading a newspaper or magazine even though it wasn’t assigned school work. Sure, plenty of people cared about news but many did not then and still don’t to this day.

What’s interesting to me is that most people I know in the working world already behave the way his students do. Many of them never paid attention to the news before social networks, and now they actually do because they’re bombarded by shares from their friends. (The reliability of these sources can be questioned, but that’s a post for another day). In my mind if a media company figures out the sharing economy then it’s made itself relevant. If not? Well, bless their hearts.

Assuming Positive Intent

To me one of the most important things we can do as human beings is to assume positive intent from the person we’re working with or talking to. What that means is that even if you say or do something I disagree with, I assume your intention in saying or doing it was to create some kind of positive outcome. By doing this I can look at another person’s action or words and think, “Okay, why would Jane think that was the right thing to do?” even though I might think it’s completely wrong. Rather than take it as an assault or an insult, I view it as a step towards some kind of (eventually) positive outcome.

One of the most maddening things about human beings is that we tend to see everything in black or white, right or wrong, us versus them. It’s maddening because it instantly divides us and it makes us predictable and easy to manipulate. It also prevents us from solving our society’s hard problems which all live in the gray areas, the ambiguous territory between what’s obviously right or wrong, the responsibility of not me, or you, but both of us.

All of this is nothing new – people have been like this since the dawn of time – but now we get to see these tendencies on full display on a daily basis through peoples’ new forms of interaction, namely social media. Not to put too much import on Facebook or Twitter, they are simply a new way for people to express the feelings they’ve had all along, but in the past we were limited to hearing the opinions of those we actually shared a physical space with or the limited number of people who wrote for a newspaper or broadcast on radio or TV. Now we can see or hear the opinions of people we might see in person once a decade, and their friends, and those drips of sharing turn into a flood of opinions.

Unfortunately, most people either don’t have the time or the ability to formulate nuanced or well thought out positions on the issues of the day and so they default to sharing some quote or visual that represents their opinion and helps identify them as being in the pro-this camp or con-that camp. Then they get a thumbs up from those who think like them or maybe a visceral “eff you” from someone who sees things differently.

It would be easy to dismiss this as silliness, as just people spouting off on stupid platforms intended to waste time at work, but I think that would be a mistake. When you have serious social issues like the police protests going on, any medium that is potentially contributing to the division in our society should be taken seriously. So the question becomes, are our social media channels contributing to a widening divide in our country?

Short answer: maybe, but they don’t have to. Let’s return to my original statement about assuming positive intent. Take any of the things you see on Facebook – or whatever your social media platform of choice is – that you disagree with and think to yourself, “They must be saying or sharing that because they believe something good will result. What is it?” By doing that you avoid thinking, “Man, Jon’s a moron for saying that and I know that because I’m right and he’s wrong.” The moment you pass judgment is the moment you begin to close your eyes, your windows to the world, to the possibility that there’s an alternative view you may not have considered.

Of course some people don’t have positive intent. In fact there are plenty of people who would like nothing more than to take advantage of any given situation, but you can rest assured that they will reveal themselves very quickly. You have nothing to lose by assuming positive intent and then reacting accordingly if you find otherwise, but if you don’t assume positive intent then you will never have the opportunity to learn from those who think differently than you. Remember, different doesn’t have to be wrong or right, it’s just different.

So folks, please as a favor to me, when you’re getting all hot and bothered about an issue please remember to do yourself and our society a favor – assume positive intent until proven otherwise.

We Are Journalism

Lex has a post about the state of American journalism that ends thus:

Nobody’s coming to save American journalism. Some observers have finally figured that out. And we’ve seen that right here in Greensboro, where billionaire Warren Buffett, the News & Record’s new(-ish) owner who has repeatedly professed his love for newspapers, has made it abundantly clear that he has no use for newspaper people. When the Batten family decided to get their money out of the news bidness and put the N&R and the Landmark chain’s other papers up for sale, Buffett was seen as a savior. Not so much, it has turned out.

At the front lines of journalism, reporters have to report. What’s  your best story? Give THAT to your editor, then, and forget the craven or just plain silly assignments that come down from the publisher and the executive editor and the managing editor. Your bosses might have a nose for real news, but my observation of American journalism leads me to think the odds are very much against it anymore. So, you with the laptop, you with the camera, you with the microphone, you with the blog: You’re it. You are all there is. Go get better, go do better. Because it’s you or nobody.

Another way to look at it is that the Fourth Estate is being crowd sourced. Let’s get to it people.

Mary’s Gourmet Diner Gets the Daily Show Treatment and It Goes Well

For those of you who don’t live in the Winston-Salem area you probably haven’t had the pleasure of eating at Mary’s Gourmet Diner, but you might have heard about the social media kerfluffle that broke out a couple of months ago when someone posted the discount they got for praying, aka showing gratitude. Some people jumped on the story and started screaming discrimination, but once the local press started digging into it what was revealed is that Mary’s had a long-standing policy of letting their servers give on the spot discounts for acts of kindness, “moments of Zen”, etc.

From a business standpoint it was probably a bit risky as a policy because it did open the doors for misunderstandings and perceived bias, but on the other hand it was a positive way for the proprietor, Mary Haglund, to empower her employees to acknowledge positive patrons. (How’s that for a little bit of alliteration?) Anyway, the story got the Daily Show’s attention and it was nice to see they exposed the “perpetual panties in a twist” nature of the shouters.

Video is below, and here’s a link in case it doesn’t load here for some reason. If you aren’t from Winston-Salem and end up visiting our fair city then by all means visit Mary’s – great food and atmosphere.

The Power of Blogging for Associations

I work for a local trade association that is affiliated with a national association. A few times a year the national association hosts meetings at which all of its volunteer leaders get together to discuss the association’s business. Last week I attended one of those gatherings and sat through several committee meetings and general sessions, and at one of those sessions a staff member from the national organization excitedly described several new initiatives upon which they had embarked. Most of the announcements were good news for my organization and the other affiliates from around the country, but one was not so good – the service they were launching had the potential to compete with one of our services and have a negative impact on our income and to confuse our members/customers. I instantly messaged one of my counterparts from another affiliate to see if she felt the same way and she immediately replied with a strident YES!

This came to mind as I read the following excerpt from an article written by an association executive who is arguing that blogging is a powerful tool for associations:

As a member of several associations myself, I much prefer an association news stream that talks to me like a colleague and gives me updates on the good work (and sometimes risky experiments) that the association is doing to advance its mission and the industry it represents. The people closest to those projects should be reporting on them, not just describing the work they are doing, but the reasons certain decisions are made, and how they tie back to something that is of value to the members.

Blogging is a much better platform for this kind of communication. Using the traditional method, a staff person may work an entire year on launching a new product or service, and say nothing about it to the members until it’s ready to be sold to them. With blogging, the staff person can share information about the developing program throughout that year–its impetus, its initial framework, challenges it encounters along the way–all of it inviting and encouraging feedback that can be used to make it more attractive to members when it’s ready to launch.

As you might imagine I’ve always been a big fan of the blog as communication tool for an association, or any business for that matter. We’ve had one at our place for years, but until now I hadn’t really thought of the power of using it to communicate our “works in progress.” What a fantastic idea, if for no other reason than to avoid scenarios like the one I described above. Until now we’ve used our blog to cover industry news, share “members in the news” items and to promote some of our events, but I’m thinking we should use it to communicate some of our “skunk works” projects and, hopefully, get helpful feedback from our members.

The Feedback Machine

Why blog? Why maintain Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. accounts? Obvious answers to these questions would be, “To express myself”, “To keep in touch with friends and family”, “To find interesting people in the world and see what they’re doing” and probably dozens more. One that may not come immediately to mind is, “To build an awesome feedback machine!” From Fred Wilson’s excellent AVC blog:

But blogging is another helpful tool in reminding yourself that you are not all that. Marc Andreessen said as much in his excellent NY Magazine interview which was published yesterday. I loved the whole interview but I particularly loved this bit:

So how do you, Marc Andreessen, make sure that you are hearing honest feedback?

Every morning, I wake up and several dozen people have explained to me in detail how I’m an idiot on Twitter, which is actually fairly helpful.

Do they ever convince you?

They definitely keep me on my toes, and we’ll see if they’re able to convince me. I mean, part of it is, I love arguing.

No, really?

The big thing about Twitter for me is it’s just more people to argue with.

Keeping someone on his or her toes, making them rethink their beliefs, making them argue them, is as Marc says “fairly helpful.” That’s an understatement. It is very very helpful.

That’s the thing I love about the comments here at AVC. I appreciate the folks who call bullshit on me. There are many but Brandon, Andy, and Larry are common naysayers. They may come across as argumentative, but arguing is, as Marc points out, useful.

It’s easy to focus on the toxic elements of online commenting, but Wilson’s approach is far more useful. Sure some comments are so imbecilic that you simply have to ignore them, but for the most part if you pay attention to what people are sharing with you on your various social media platforms you’ll get a pretty good picture of how you’re being perceived.

As the married father of three young adults I don’t lack for sources of honest feedback, but when I stop to think about it I’ve learned a LOT from folks who comment on Facebook or reply to something I’ve written here on the blog or shared on Twitter. You can rest assured that if I have a moment of stupidity, and I often do, that I’ll be called out on it and that’s most helpful. In fact it often prevents me from doing it at home which spares me plenty of grief.

Tweet This, Facebook That

SmallBusiness.com has an interesting post about how the uses of Facebook, Twitter and Reddit differ depending on the subject:

  • Platform usage is context-dependent. Entertainment events are more likely to be discussed on Facebook, while sporting events (and live news events), like the NFL Kickoff or the Napa earthquake, are more likely to be discussed on Twitter. Reddit tends to be the dominant platform for political and international discussion.
  • Timing is crucial when posting to certain social networks. Facebook tends to be the dominant platform to discuss and publish stories 2-3 weeks around an event; but Twitter and Reddit are more reactive, dominating 2 to 3 days around an event.
  • Within 24 hours of a major event, 85% of sharing occurs on mobile devices.

This next one was very interesting:

  • News events like the Napa earthquake and the Ferguson riots are highly localized with sharing. Missouri saw a 7.7x surge during the riots.

Back in the early days of blogging it became trendy to “liveblog” at conferences. Basically attendees would send out rapid fire blog posts sharing what they were seeing, hearing and learning. While it still happens that action has been largely replaced by people Tweeting their experiences and using a hashtag so that their observations will be group with other attendees’ in a stream of conference-related information that any Twitter user can see. That’s why every conference now has a #ID printed on everything so that everyone knows which one to use and they can generate some real-time conversation.

Facebook is also used at conferences but usually it’s people posting photos, letting people know they’re there, or at the end of the day saying things like “Had a great day at JonCon. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s session on excellent enemas!” It’s not nearly as spontaneous and, to use a real world analogy, is the conference yearbook vs. Twitter being the conference newspaper.

What does all that mean? If you’re using social media for business, church, non-profit, school, club or whatever, you need to make sure you utilize the proper social media channel at the right time. If you don’t you’ll be whistling in the wind.

The Importance of Trust

If you want to know why it’s important that we have  strong, trustworthy government and media in our society then all you need to do is look at the developing ebola situation.

Unless you’ve been asleep for the last six months you’ve seen news about the growing ebola epidemic in Africa and the worldwide angst that has ensued as cased have popped up in Europe and the U.S. Here in America the government – the Center for Disease Control in particular – is under intense pressure and scrutiny after they bumbled in their initial response to the first U.S. case in Dallas. Unfortunately those early mistakes have created a scenario in which people who were already skeptical of the government’s competency will now disregard anything the authorities say about the disease. They’ll also be susceptible to overreacting to suppositions or improbable outcomes ginned up by media outlets desperate for their attention. Here’s an example from Fox & Friends:

http://video.foxnews.com/v/3840172448001/purdue-professor-says-ebola-primed-to-go-airborne/?playlist_id=930909787001#sp=show-clips

So while the story isn’t totally irresponsible in that the interviewee and the Fox on air talent repeatedly say that nothing currently indicates the disease can be transmitted through the air, they also say repeatedly that at some point the virus could mutate and become transmittable by air. While the interviewee couldn’t put a number on the probability he also couldn’t call it a zero probability.

You can guess what happens next. People who will look for any reason to discount the government because it’s led by their arch-nemesis President Obama, and that would be the vast majority of Fox’s audience, take to their social media accounts and start sharing the story and saying things like, “We knew that Obama/the CDC was lying about this to keep us from panicking” or “The CDC is so incompetent that they didn’t know that ebola could go airborne.” What makes it even worse is that the clip that Fox & Friends put on their Facebook page is a 22 second excerpt that includes only the pieces of the interview where the expert says it’s possible for the virus to go airborne. Here’s a link to it.

In my mind that’s just plain irresponsible. They have to know full and well that people will be sharing that clip, that it will spread quickly with their viewers, and it will play into their audience’s preconceived notions about the Obama administration and the federal government. That’s par for the course with just about any topic these days, but it’s especially bad when you’re talking about a public health situation.

Back to the government’s side of this equation. They admit they bungled the initial response to this situation. That’s good, because while people might be unhappy, critical, calling for someone’s head to roll, etc. they will at least be working under the assumption that the authorities are being straight with them. Unfortunately the government has not always been straight with the public (think Watergate or any of the other “gates” that have happened over the last 40 years) so there exists a baseline of distrust in the American public that the media outlets exploit to appeal to their audiences. In other words, no matter how transparent the CDC is on this they will have a very hard time getting anyone to trust them. Just take a look at Matt Lauer’s interview with the head of the Department of Health and Human Services to see how even morning TV shows are disinclined to accept the government’s word at face value:

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/32545640

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The really tragic part about all of this is that the public trust has been exploited  to the point that when the American public is confronted by a true crisis they won’t know who to trust.  How will they be able to discern a legitimate threat from a minimal threat that’s been hyped by various media outlets to discredit their favorite target? Hopefully we’ll never have to find out.

Social Media Tools Reveal Tools

Boiled down to their essence, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. are communication tools. They enable anyone who has them to communicate in a way that used to be restricted to people who could afford to buy their own printing press, radio station or TV station. That’s pretty cool, but just like any other tool it can be dangerous for those who maybe shouldn’t be allowed to walk with sharp scissors. A couple of cases in point:

The former executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party has tweeted that Ebola victims should be euthanized to help prevent the spread of the disease. Here’s a couple of his tweets:

KincannonTweets

The second example is an image of Vladimir Putin that some conservatives are sharing on Facebook and suggesting that we Americans should follow his lead:

If you’d told me 20 years ago that Republicans would be looking for policy inspiration from a Russian autocrat I’d have said you were nuts. Ronald Reagan must be spinning in his grave.

The first example is obviously pretty extreme, but it’s a big deal because the person who posted it is prominent in his field and is seen to represent a large group of people. In the past, before he could express himself directly to so many people with just his two thumbs and a smart phone, he would have needed a witness to capture the moment and then share it via one of the traditional media outlets in order for anyone to really see it. In other words he likely would have had a media professional around to say, “Whoa, that’s some bat**** crazy stuff you’re spewing. Let’s not share that with the rest of the world.” Now he has all the tools he needs to reveal himself as a tool without anyone’s help.

The second example is a classic case of someone sharing what they think is an astute observation, no matter how half-witted it is, and then have it shared by like-minded people. This is interesting to me because it tends to say as much about the sharer as the creator and so over time people reveal their character and intellectual outlook by what they support and share. The only corollary I can think of from days gone by would be people posting signs in their yards or putting bumper stickers on their cars, and that by it’s very nature provides a much smaller window to the soul than do peoples’ social media activities.

Of course there’s a positive side to this. People can share inspiring messages, truly insightful observations, interesting facts, etc. on social media just as easily as they can negative/hateful thoughts, dumb ideas or historical inaccuracies. All-in-all it’s a net positive, especially when you consider that in addition to all the positive stuff we find via social media we also have a much more effective way to identify the tools in our midst.

Building Your Business One Bad Social Media Review at a Time

Tired of feeling like you’re being held hostage by Yelp and other ratings sites? You’re not alone, but do you have the guts to do what this pizza joint in California is doing?

Botto Bistro in Richmond is not very concerned about its Yelp rating. In fact, in an effort to undermine the reliability of its Yelp page, the five-year-old Italian restaurant is on a mission to be the worst-rated restaurant in the Bay Area.

To achieve this end, Botto Bistro is encouraging all of its customers to leave one-star Yelp reviews; it is even offering deals for anyone who pens a crummy review: 25% off any pizza and a chance to win a cooking class. (Hat-tip toRichmond Standard.)

Chefs and co-owners Davide Cerretini and Michele Massimo are veterans of the local dining scene, and say that their food is excellent and they run a busy restaurant. According to Cerretini, they simply grew tired of the constant advertising inquiries from Yelp and what he dubs “blackmailing” and review manipulation. (Sidenote: A judge recently ruled that Yelp has the power to manipulate reviews.)..

Cerretini says that business has increased since he began waging this campaign against Yelp, though he notes that it’s also attracted better customers who are more loyal and end up spending more. “We are getting not just customers, but new friends who they like this.”

This is pretty gutsy, but it also goes to show how important it is to build and maintain a strong relationship with your customers. Those efforts will do more to build your business than a bunch of five star ratings online ever will.