Posts tagged: Social Media

The Power of Stories: It Gets Better Project

By , 09/30/2010

Have you seen the “It Gets Better Project” on YouTube? No? You might start with the video from the project’s creator, “It Gets Better: Dan and Terry.”

Dan is Dan Savage of “Savage Love,” a long-running column in Seattle’s The Stranger newspaper. He started the project after the tragic suicide of a gay teenager in rural Indiana led him to act. The project invites people to submit their own videos to tell and show LGBT teenagers that “it gets better,” that there’s hope beyond the pain and difficulties they may be experiencing in school.

In an interview in the New York Times, Savage said that he created the project because he “realized that with things like YouTube and social media, we can talk directly to these kids.” He also talked about the importance of hearing stories from gay adults who aren’t celebrities, because what “kids have a hard time picturing is a rewarding, good, average life for themselves.”

This project is such a moving and powerful example of using social media in times of crisis, and the growing number of suicides by gay teenagers is a crisis on more than a personal scale. There’s power if just one of these stories reaches just one teenager who’s struggling to hold onto hope. And I have hope it will reach many, many more.


Two New(ish) Social Travel Tools: Everlater and Atlas Obscura

By , 06/11/2010


I just got back last week from a week-long vacation in Greece, where I went for a dear friend’s wedding on the island of Mykonos (with a couple of days in Athens as well). Since much of my time there was built around wedding-related activities, I was pretty last-minute in my planning and research on what to do once we actually got there.

I used Lonely Planet guidebooks for much of our sightseeing, but I also tried out two new(ish) travel tools with social media elements before, during and after the trip. I first heard about both at SXSW Interactive this year.

Everlater is a free online travel journal/travel blog site that allows you to post updates online or via a free iPhone app (which can be used offline or synced using wifi). I’m still working on completing my notes and uploading photos from my trip, but it’s a pretty robust service that was helpful in keeping track of what we’d done each day as we went along. It’s been many years since I’ve been able to keep a proper travel journal, but because I always had my phone with me and could enter notes offline, I found the Everlater app to be really easy to integrate into my day.

From the iPhone app, there are options to add notes about food, lodging, activities, etc., and to write longer stories or add photos. You can share your journal with others either before your leave (so they could follow along) or after you’ve completed your trip.  I think the service has an advantage over just posting your updates to an existing blog because of the way it allows you to organize and navigate the information you share and how you share it. Also, you may have a sub-group of people or close friends who are interested in hearing more details about your trip than the general readers of your blog (and your trip can be public or password-protected).

Atlas Obscura, a “compendium of the world’s wonders, curiosities and esoterica,” is an interesting look at all things a little off the beaten track. I looked up Greece before I left, and among the items saw this one on the Syntagma Square Metro Station. My friend and I went through that station a few times, and I made sure we stopped to look at the artifacts and layers behind the glass walls. Had I not read about it in advance, it probably would have gone by in a blur of subway commuter efficiency. Atlas Obscura functions in part by reader submissions and in part by editorial oversight, so I think this is one that will also get better – and bigger – over time.

Both services were helpful in different ways, and given my love for travel, I imagine I’ll be using these again.


What I Learned: A Spring Semester of Student Blogs

By , 04/29/2010

Multitasking by foreverdigital

Yesterday was the last class of my first semester teaching Social Media: Objectives, Strategies, Tactics at NYU. I’ve heard from many that the first time teaching any new class is always the most challenging, and while time will tell if that’ll be true for me, it was an interesting and rewarding challenge along the way.

In addition to examining the theoretical and practical application of social media, students were required to maintain individual blogs, comment on other blogs, use Twitter, and keep abreast of ongoing developments in social media, PR and communications. (Our class wiki, Google Reader and other tools were optional.)

There were 29 students in the class, and the students had about as diverse a range of experience with social media as you could get going into the course. The NYU program is a Master’s in PR and Corporate Communications, and because it’s a professional master’s program in New York City, students have a particularly diverse range of backgrounds in general. Some work full-time and go to school part-time, while some are full-time students (particularly many of our international students); some students have worked in professional communication jobs for many years, some are fairly fresh out of college, and some are relatively older students working on career transitions; and then some students had experience using social media not just for personal use but also professionally, while some were opening Twitter accounts for the first time at the start of the semester.

Into that mix came the individual blogs. The students could write about any topic they wished, as long as they made some connection between the topic and social media, PR or communication. (Some took more advantage of this freedom than others, but I think it did allow those who wanted the option the ability to blog about something they were really passionate about.) Some weeks were open topic weeks, and some weeks had a general assigned theme, like nonprofits and social media.

The blogs were a significant part of their ongoing semester assignments, and this past week I asked that they use their last post to evaluate their semester of blogging. These emerged as the common themes from their reviews:

  • Blogging well takes time. I think many thought initially that a blog post could be dashed out in 15 minutes before the start of class, but they quickly realized how much time was needed to write thoughtful, well-written and clearly organized posts.
  • Blogging’s harder than it looks. Again, with many coming at the assignment from a more personal perspective, many students went into it thinking that you could just jot down anything you’d like that came to mind. In practice, many talked about learning to capture ideas along the way, as well as how they learned to overcome writer’s block when they didn’t know what they wanted to say.
  • Blogging publicly can be scary. Many commented on their initial reluctance to post their thoughts for all the world to see, but almost all said that in the end the assignment helped them become more confident in writing online.

And what did I learn from their blogs? These may not be earth-shattering conclusions to some who’ve been assigning blogs to students for years, but it was interesting for me to see this in person:

  • Doing it trumped reading about it. I don’t think they would have come away with the same experience by reading about or being told how to blog. Getting their hands dirty made the learning much more sticky.
  • What they learned isn’t blogging specific. In the end, the blogs were a means to an end. To become more comfortable with a slightly different style of writing, to become more confident sharing their work and opinions online, to habituate to the social norms of different online environments and groups, and to begin to adapt to more real-time feedback and communication loops.
  • Their experience will help them be better professional communicators. I truly believe this. Many of the class don’t plan to continue their blogs, and I told them I’m agnostic about whether they do or not. On a personal level, not everyone’s going to want to blog. (Social technographics, and many other things, tell us this.) But what I wanted them to get out of it, and I think they did, is a better professional sense of the dynamics at play and the questions to ask. Not just about blogs, but about social media in general. So when their boss or client says, “We should have a blog (or a Twitter account, or…),” they can say, “Why? What are we trying to accomplish? How will we manage the time needed? Who’s accountable?,” etc. And they can have a sense of why those kinds of questions are important in the first place, and why the answers matter too.

So that’s my review of their semester of blogging. What do you think?


How I Use Twitter

By , 10/01/2009

I often get asked about my Twitter habits, by students and others. I spoke to a class earlier this week, and about half of the class’ 20 students had Twitter accounts, some using it more than others. But even for people who have had accounts for a little while, it can feel a bit like a foreign language. So, here are a few ways that I use Twitter, and I hope this is helpful. I’m not a Twitter power user (by any means), but so far this has worked for me.

The Tools

  • Desktop Tool: I rarely use Twitter on the website itself. Twitter is built on an open API environment, which basically means that third parties can develop applications for it. On my desktop (I’m a Mac user, both professionally and personally), I use TweetDeck. I like that I can sort and see multiple columns simultaneously. I do use the standard columns (All Friends, Mentions and Direct Messages), and I’ve also created custom columns. I have a custom “Group” that I call “Personal Contacts” (more like “people I know in real life”), and include the people I want to make sure not to miss in the full stream. I also have “Search” columns set up for the name of our firm, as well as for some of our clients. (I’ve downloaded Seesmic, another desktop application that some people like [particularly for handling multiple Twitter accounts], but I haven’t tested it much yet.)
  • Mobile Tool: Part of what has fueled Twitter’s growth is the ability to use and access it from mobile devices. I’m an iPhone user, and these days I’ve mostly been using Tweetie, more rarely using TweetDeck for iPhone. (I’m not crazy about Tweetie’s retweet [or RT] approach, but otherwise am mostly happy with it.) These applications aren’t free, but they do make using Twitter easier on the go. You can also use SMS text messages to send and receive certain content from Twitter. I have my Twitter settings set to receive Direct Messages (DM’s) also as a text message, but you should check your mobile plan to make sure that wouldn’t put you over your text message limits.
  • Other Tools and Resources: There are a LOT of tools and services for Twitter. (In fact, Laura Fitton, aka @Pistachio, just started as a resource for Twitter apps, among other things.) But, I’ve found the following particularly helpful: TweetChat (for participating in/following Twitter chats); WTHashtag?! (for figuring out what particular hashtags mean); TweepML (for sharing lists of Twitter users); and Twictionary (dictionary for Twitter; some entries are a bit ridiculous, but still helpful). For searching Twitter, I use the standard Twitter search and occasionally Twazzup. (There are other ways to search Twitter too.) For a simple way to store and search my own tweets, which is hard to do on Twitter itself, I’ve added my Twitter feed to my RSS reader (Google Reader), and have found that to be very helpful. There are many other tools, like picture sharing tools, but these are ones I use more frequently.

The Technique

How I Read: One of the things I hear most often from newer Twitter users is how overwhelming the amount of content seems, even for people following <100 people. For me, I’ve found that part of the process is learning to let go, and acknowledging that there’s no way you can read everything. No day is exactly the same, but I generally read in this way:

  1. Morning: I check Tweetie on my iPhone in the morning after I’ve scanned my email, sometime soonish after I wake up. I scan the full feed to see if there is any breaking news. I check my @replies to see if there’s anything waiting for me. And I double-check my direct messages, even though theoretically those should have come through as text messages as well.
  2. When I Get to the Office: I wait and open Tweetdeck until after I’ve read and responded to emails. Then, I spend a good amount of time going through each column. This is probably the time of day I use Twitter in the most focused way. (I also do this before I go through my Google Reader.)
  3. Throughout the Day: I keep Tweetdeck open but minimized, and resist the urge to open it too frequently. I generally check in about once an hour when I’m in the office, spending a little more time (10-15 minutes, say) over lunch and at the very end of the day, but try to set time limits for myself during those times.
  4. Night: I check once more before bed in the same way I do in the morning.

How I Write:

  1. I haven’t done a full analysis, but I’d estimate that about 1 in 10 of my tweets is personal. I use Twitter more for sharing resources, either direct links or retweets (RT) of content I think others may find useful and/or I think may have missed. I also use it to respond to and engage with people that I’m following – answering questions, engaging in discussion or commenting on something they’ve tweeted.
  2. The majority of my client work is confidential, so generally speaking, I don’t tweet about my travel. If I’m going to Chicago, say, it’d be unlikely for anyone to figure out what client I’m going to see. But if I’m traveling to a smaller destination or a place where one company dominates, you won’t be hearing about it from me.
  3. I also am a bit more careful than some I observe about writing about my personal activities. I’ve had jobs in the past where I had a few situations when someone was following me (not in the Twitter sense of “follow,” either) or paying undue attention to me, and it’s left me a little wary. What can I say, I’ve also lived in New York City long enough to take my personal safety seriously.

How I Find New People to Follow: (another common question from new Twitter users)

  1. People Who Follow Me: I don’t follow everyone back that follows me, but I do look at each one and follow most people back if they: a) are real people; b) are not spammers (who I block and sometimes report); c) relate to my areas of interest (education, communications, public relations, social media, media & journalism, etc.); d) don’t have huge numbers of followers and aren’t just trying to drive up their numbers; and e) have a photo, a bio, and appear to actually be using Twitter (I look at their numbers of tweets). Note to new users: PLEASE add a bio and photo before you start following lots of people. Most people will not follow you back until you’ve included that information.
  2. In the RT’s or in the Body of Tweets of People I Follow: If I see something interesting in a RT of someone I’m following, or if I see another user’s name mentioned in the body of the tweet, I’ll often click through to look at the original source of the tweet (or person mentioned), scan their bio and recent tweets, and decide if I want to start following them. (Note: if the other user’s name is at the very beginning of the tweet, as in an @ reply, you won’t see the message unless you’re already following that person, or if there’s some kind of punctuation mark before the @ sign (e.g. a period, comma, exclamation point, etc.). People add punctuation marks before their @ replies when they want it to appear to everyone.)
  3. Events, Conferences, and Chats: If I’m at a conference, event or participating in a chat on Twitter, I’ll often find a number of new people that I want to start following. It’s a great way to meet others.
  4. Blog Posts: As I’m reading blogs, I do pay attention if someone is mentioned in a post and there’s a link to their Twitter account.
  5. Business Cards: More and more people are adding their Twitter names (and other social media account information) to their business cards, so sometimes I find new people to follow on Twitter because I’ve met them in real life.

There are many good blog posts, presentations and other good resources about Twitter out there. I’ve bookmarked many on my Delicious site, and you can do sub-searches under posts I’ve tagged with Twitter. Also, Shel Israel‘s book Twitterville is taunting me above my computer right now, waiting to be read.

This is a fairly long post, but what else would you add? Any other tips, services or tools that you find helpful?

Note: This is the first part in a series, spurred by a few questions from a graduate student, Stephen Woodall, at Purdue. Dr. Mihaela Vorvoreanu matched mentors with students in her Tech 621 class, and Stephen and I are paired for the semester. I had a number of pen pals growing up (Bindi in Australia, where are you now?), so this sort of feels like having a digital pen pal.


Could “Social Contagion” Affect Online Relationships Too?

By , 09/22/2009
Running lgh75

Running or... by lgh75

The cover article of last week’s New York Times Magazine, “Are Your Friends Making You Fat?” explored the “emerging science of social contagion,” the idea that our behavior is influenced in both positive and negative ways by our social environments, that “behaviors…pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses.”

The majority of the article focuses on the work of two social scientists, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, and their work in analyzing the huge amount of data from something called the Framingham Heart Study. The Framingham Heart Study is unique among medical studies because of its size, scope and duration: the National Heart Institute has been following over 15,000 people since 1948, collecting a mass of individual information both broad and deep. And for the researchers, it also importantly tracked connections by asking participants to list some of their relatives and friends as part of the study. (Christiakis and Fowler first published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007, “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years.”)

After years of mapping and analyzing the data, the scientists concluded that social ties did in fact influence certain kinds of behavior, so that if your spouse, friend or relative became obese, you had a greater likelihood of becoming obese too. (Refer to the full NEJM article for exact findings – the percentage was different for different types of relationships.) They also found that the effect played out over three degrees of connections, so your friend’s friend could also affect you.

The magazine piece does cover some of the critical responses to their work, including the general concern that amongst networks it can be difficult to prove cause versus correlation.

But, what struck me was a small bit towards the end of the piece about how some people are using Christakis and Fowler’s work to address broad-scale public health concerns using online social networks, and gives the example of a pending Facebook application to encourage people who are trying to quit smoking to take their struggle public and potentially influence others in their network of friends on Facebook.

Something a bit similar (but related to fitness and healthy living) exists on Twitter in the form of #twit2fit and it’s corresponding network on Ning (started by Jason Falls in May 2008). The article got me thinking about whether it would be possible to study the usage of #twit2fit on users health and well-being over time, and if there is a cause or correlation between usage and improved health.

What are your thoughts – do you find that sharing your goals or activities online has an impact on your potential success?


They’re Young, Have Them Tweet!

By , 09/17/2009

I came across a surprising post today on a PRSA blog (via @cubanaLAF) titled, “Status Update: Millennial Staffers Can Update Your Social Media Plans.” Lauren Fernandez and Kasey Skala (@kmskala) already have a great response post up, “There’s More to a Millennial than Updating Your Profile,” but I wanted to explore a bit further one of the misconceptions in the original PRSA post from a slightly different perspective. 

For the last almost two years, I’ve been speaking regularly to graduate students in communication and business programs about social media, as well as to clients at large companies, which has enabled me to see a bit of both sides of the coin. I’ve sometimes encountered a perception from some professionals that younger, Gen Y or Millennial people grow up with social media technology so must automatically know how to use it.  But the problem is, they don’t. That is, they may, but they’re more likely using Facebook or one of many other social media services or channels for personal use. They haven’t necessarily had the experience thinking about or working with social media in a business context and tying it to larger business or communication goals and strategies. (For more about teens on Twitter, see danah boyd’s post, “Teens Don’t Tweet…Or Do They?“)

This misperception came up with other educators in the field at the 2009 New Media Academic Summit in June, and other people I talked with voiced the same concern.

There are other problems with the original post, which Lauren and Kasey respond to further in their post. But I just wanted to highlight this particular misperception.  I think of it like this: just because I cook every day doesn’t make me a chef. Access and usage do not necessarily equate to expertise. 

What do you think?


Greetings and Salutations

By , 09/12/2009

Hello, and thanks for stopping by. I created this new site for two reasons:

1) I’ve needed a central home for my online activity that could expand and morph as needed. I’ve been blogging occasionally at the Logos blog (the company I work for) since January 2008, but there have often been ideas and topics that I was thinking about or working on that weren’t quite right for that space. (I’ll continue to contribute to the Logos blog as well.) And 140 characters on Twitter isn’t enough to really dive into a topic. 

2) I’m a new adjunct instructor at NYU in the Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communications program, and will begin teaching a new course on social media in January 2010. I plan to use this site leading up to and during the course: to bounce ideas around, to communicate with students and others, and to provide a “home” for the course. This course is meaningful to me on a number of levels. I’ve been guest lecturing at NYU since early 2008, and have seen how courses in the program have been incorporating social media into the curriculum. At the same time, a dedicated social media course will provide an incredible opportunity for an in-depth examination of how social media is changing the worlds of public relations and corporate communications. I’m also a graduate of the program that I’ll now be teaching in, so the program, its faculty and students have a special significance for me.

Here’s to good dialogue, thought-provoking questions, and engaging debate. With a healthy dose of fun. Cheers.


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