Friday, April 27, 2012

Social Slam: Knoxville Social Media Conference

I'm attending Social Slam today, a social media conference hosted in Knoxville. There have been some really great insights today, and I would definitely recommend checking out the #soslam topic on Twitter for all the highlights. It's trending in Knoxville - I'm pretty sure anyone in Knoxville who tweets is probably here today! There are some great speakers and a great audience as well.

Although everything has been really great, my favorite session so far was from Tom Webster, Vice President of Strategy at Edison Research (@Webby2001). He did a keynote called "Drowning in Data: How to Save Yourself," that really hit home on several key points. There's a huge difference between good, usable data and random numbers, and which one you are getting really comes down to if you are asking the right questions. People go to social media for answers, assuming it can tell them what their customers want or even who will win the presidential election. But ultimately, "Social media alone will never give you answers, but it will give you better questions."

Another point he touched on was what I am calling "infographic spam." The point of a good infographic, as Webster said, is to display really complex information in a way that makes it immediately apparent to the viewer. However, most of what we see online calling itself "infographics" is just information trying to be more attractive, trying to get more clicks. And frequently this type of simplified information is misleading.

Before trusting statistics, infographics, or studies, remember to check methods. Find out who ran it, where they got the numbers, and who they got the numbers from.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Using Twitter to Raise Awareness: When Things Fall Apart

By now social media are probably the most popular way to spread word and raise support for causes. One of the ways this is frequently done is by adding badges to Twitter avatars. While this can be done to show who has donated, it is generally a very simple thing to add even for someone who has not donated.

Georgia Tech Professor Eric Gilbert has created a code that might change that. Called When Things Fall Apart, the campaign slowly destroys and then rebuilds Twitter avatars over the course of three days for anyone donating $10 or more to the Red Cross. The experimental campaign is part of a research project by Gilbert, who built the code with the help of a grad student, examining "Twitter mobilization through changing profile pictures in both organic and orchestrated campaigns." Gilbert says he is interested to find out "If we inject serious computation into this can we get people to pay money and send it to a worthy cause."

The Red Cross agreed to officially partner with Gilbert on the project, and so you are taken to a real Red Cross donation page. There is currently no expiration date, and he plans to have the campaign available for a long time. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Predictions of Internet, Social Media, and Telecommuting via 1974

We're pretty used to the Internet by now, although as a society in many ways we are still coming to terms with social media. But 40 years ago, it would take quite a leap to guess where technology was headed. This is a pretty neat video of Arthur C. Clarke doing just that, telling an interviewer how in 2001 we would have access to any information we needed through a "console" in our homes. He even predicts telecommuting and social media! I imagine that these things we take for granted now seemed like pretty crazy ideas to most people at that point.

How (Not) to Get More Likes on Facebook

One of The Oatmeal's recent comics is labeled "How to get more likes on Facebook." Of course, before actually telling you how to do this (and you should really already know the answer) it humorously details several ways NOT to do it.

Essentially, this comes down to: stop begging for likes. It's annoying, spammy, and you wouldn't do it in real life. As the comic states, no one just walks up to someone to say "Hey, I'm trying to be a better person and become more likeable. Would you mind going around and telling everyone how great I am?"

This is pretty good advice, but I think that when you are trying to grow your social media presence there is a danger in taking it too far the other way as well. While the focus should ALWAYS be on creating content that people will WANT to like and share, there's no harm in occasionally reminding people to do so. If you're not promoting yourself, you're relying only on others to do so. But please, please remember that before you promote yourself, you should have something worthy of promotion.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Collective Art

Yesterday I talked about one of the reasons I love the Internet - the way people come together for no other return than to make someone happy. Today I have another reason: art and creativity.

Spanish photographer Pep Ventosa has created a body of work called The Collective Snapshot around the idea of sharing by layering dozens of different snapshots of landmarks on top of each other to create one image. The results are striking and beautiful, often looking like slightly abstract watercolors. His statement says "images in this series blend together dozens of snapshots to create an abstraction of the places we've been and the things we've seen. A celebration of our collective memory." (Emphasis added.)

I love the idea that these photos aren't capturing these places as they are in fact, which is how we normally think of photography, but instead are capturing the essence of what thousands of people see in them every day. It's using a camera to see the world through everyone's eyes instead of just one at a time. It's similar, in my mind, to what social media is doing for the first time - creating a saved collective memory of what has happened in our lives.

Making collective art is, in some ways, part of the culture of remix I wrote about a while back. The difference, I think, is that instead of creating thousands of new versions from one original piece of art (music, visual, writing, etc) this is creating one work from thousands, where everyone contributes to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Caine's Arcade: The Kindness of Strangers

You may have already seen this adorable short film/documentary on Caine's Arcade, since it's been going around the Internet over the last couple days. If not, then it's a short story about a 9-year-old boy who spent his summer creating an elaborate, incredible, FUNCTIONAL cardboard arcade inside his father's auto part store. He had no customers until finally, one day, Nirvan Mullick walked in looking for a part. After buying a "Fun Pass" and playing with the games, Mullick asked for permission to make a short film about the arcade. And then he did something magical. He recruited people through a Facebook event to create a flashmob to come to Caine's Arcade (without Caine knowing).

Caine's Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.

This is what I love about the Internet - when people from all over join together just to make someone's day. Mullick said people from all over were commenting on the page, saying how much they wished they could come if only they weren't so far away.

This TED talk (Jonathan Zittrain: The Web as random acts of kindness) is from 2009, but I love it. Here's a quote that struck me:
"So what we see in this phenomenon is something that the crazed, late traffic engineer Hans Monderman discovered in the Netherlands, and here in South Kensington, that sometimes if you remove some of the external rules and signs and everything else, you can actually end up with a safer environment in which people can function, and one in which they are more human with each other. They're realizing that they have to take responsibility for what they do."
This is similar to an effect I noticed in real life a while back when a stoplight was out down the road. It's not a huge major intersection, but it gets a ton of traffic. And yet, when the light wasn't working, there were no crashes. In fact, people suddenly seemed to understand the concept of a four-way stop far better than I usually observe at a real four-way stop. Traffic didn't get backed up. In some ways, it seemed to be moving better than when the stoplight was working.

So next time you feel like there's no hope for humanity (it's easy to get this feeling when reading YouTube comments or these Twitter posts from people who didn't know the Titanic was a real event), watch Caine's Arcade. Watch this TED talk. Smile at someone, and see if they smile back.

Monday, April 9, 2012

This Restaurant is a Rip-off

I know, I should be writing about Facebook's acquisition of Instagram, especially after Instagram launched to Android just a few days ago. But you know what? Everyone is writing about that, and after reading a bunch of articles so I could write a post, I got tired of hearing about it, including from me. So instead, what I have for you today is a cautionary tale: Always Look Up Reviews.

We have a unique ability at this point in time to get reviews and opinions from strangers on nearly anything using the power of the Internet. It used to be that you could, at most, get third-hand info - your friend has a friend who tried something, and told them how terrible it was. Now, all the anger from all the customers is available at most people's fingertips, and yet restaurants like Nello's still exist.

Nello's is in New York, on Madison Avenue, and you should never ever go there. The place is apparently notorious for hidden charges on top of entrées that are ridiculously expensive in the first place. Even the New York Times has written about it. From charging for "complimentary" drinks to refusing to disclose prices for "specials," this place seems to have ALL the scams. Terrible service and food are, of course, included in the price. If you want some pretty spectacular stories from people who accidentally ate there without realizing what it was, check out the Yelp reviews. Oh and for your entertainment, here is a user-uploaded photo of their receipt:

And THAT is why you should always read reviews.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Internet Easter Eggs

So I was sitting here this Saturday morning reading through my usual round of Internets, trying to decided what to blog about today - Twitter suing spammers? Google's goggles? Facebook relationships causing a gunfight? - but then I decided, hey, it's a holiday. Some of you are celebrating Easter and some of you aren't, but either way I hope you have a good weekend. And to help you in that endeavor, here are several worthwhile Easter eggs I found in my daily hunt of the Internet:

Texts from Dog - the tagline for this new Tumblr currently making its designated Internet rounds via ridiculous numbers of shares on various social media sites, as well as articles in places like Mashable, is "my dog sends me texts. i post them here. Yeah. it's weird." The OP is from the UK, and the characterizations of Dog are hilarious and spot-on. Warning: language alert.

13 Awful Easter Bunny Family Photos - Pretty much confirming the sheer terror a child feels when confronted with an enormous rabbit costume. Although to be fair, it's not just little kids. I found some of these pretty horrifying as well.

14 Wonderfully Geeky Easter Eggs - Hopefully this makes up for the previous link. Some fantastically decorated eggs to inspire the crafty ones among you this weekend. (Note to the Internet at large: See the Battlestar Galactegga and Alice in Wonderland portraits? Your assignment: Buffy and Firefly.)

Bonus round: Do yourself a favor and Google this 1.2+(sqrt(1-(sqrt(x^2+y^2))^2) + 1 - x^2-y^2) * (sin (10000 * (x*3+y/5+7))+1/4) from -1.6 to 1.6 in a browser that isn't Internet Explorer.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Your Facebook Password

I've been kind of avoiding the whole "employers asking for Facebook passwords" issue that's been going around, mostly because I believed it will blow over fairly quickly. Even when Facebook itself joined the fray, I didn't give it too much thought. (For the record, I would walk out of an interview if I were asked for my password; that's not the kind of environment I would be willing to work in.) I figured some employers would realize how much horrible press this kind of thing would get them, and stop, and others wouldn't care, and in return they would get the kind of employees willing or desperate enough to share private information.

However, I got into a short discussion with someone yesterday about the issue, and I realized it is potentially a very unique and interesting situation. Obviously, Facebook doesn't have to get involved - it's not technically the company's problem if a third party asks for your password and you give it to them. But instead, it jumped right in, leaving everyone slightly startled and kind of wondering about its motives. I mean, it's not like Facebook has a history of caring very much about its users' opinions, especially when it comes to privacy. So why take a stand now?

The difference is that when Facebook gives your information away, it makes money. When you are forced to give it to someone else, it loses money. Because that means you might spend less time on Facebook, might be less honest on the site, or possibly leave entirely. And all of those things are bad for Facebook's advertisers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Comedians Impersonate You Drinking Pepsi Next

What do you think of a comedian viewing your Facebook profile to get a sense of who you are, and then impersonating you tasting Pepsi Next for the first time? If that sounds like fun, you'll get the opportunity in Pepsi's new campaign.

Yet another attempt at viral social marketing, Pepsi is teaming up with Funny or Die to offer "online taste-tests" of the new product. However, fans of course have no way of actually tasting Pepsi Next online, so instead one of 12 Funny or Die comedians will attempt to simulate fans' reactions to the drink, and then post the videos online. Fans will have to opt-in to be chosen for the videos. A few sample videos have been posted to get people excited about the campaign.

Pepsi Next is meant to be a mid-range soda, not a diet drink but still with 60% less calories than the original version. This has been tried before by both Pepsi and Coke, but failed to have high enough sales to keep producing. Pepsi thinks consumers are now ready for this type of hybrid beverage. Still, it sounds kind of "New Coke"-ish to me, and I'm not sure how I feel about the campaign - even though it's an opt-in, I still think that there is a very real possibility of fans being offended at their portrayals, as even the promo video below seems to expect. And while it's funny to watch a video of someone else getting furious at being called by their middle name, it's less funny when something similar happens to you.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

How to Advertise on Facebook

It seems like a great place to be. Facebook has the numbers - a huge audience, the ability to target exactly the people you want - but then what? "Please, Facebook," you say. "Take my money and make people Like me or go to my website or buy my stuff."
"Okay," Facebook says. "Do you want a Sponsored Story or Facebook ad? What story type?"
You are a small business owner, perhaps, just trying to spread the word a little, and you maybe don't even have a marketing background. You stare blankly. "Um...what will work best?" you ask.

Up until now, Facebook didn't answer that question. However, the company is testing ways to make the advertising interface less confusing - AND more directly answer questions about ROI and how to specifically drive different types of responses. Instead of asking what type of advertising you want to do, Facebook will instead ask what you want the end result of your advertising to be. As you can see below, it starts by asking "What do you want to promote?" While this is similar to the earlier questions about "what story type," the choices here are a lot clearer, especially to people who don't have a background in advertising.

Even more interesting is the "Objectives" section at the bottom there. This relates to the audience you are targeting. Do you want people to Like your page? Install your app? Click on your ad? More specific targeting goals can only be a good thing as you look for ways to effectively reach your target audience and get the response you need.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Google Changes SEO Algorithms

So you may have heard recently (I believe it was first announced at SXSW) that Google is changing its SEO algorithms (again). Apparently, the question was asked how smaller businesses could compete with large companies on SEO - and what happens when someone searches and the whole first page is optimized content instead of what they were looking for?

The short answer is that Google is moving towards a more semantic search. This means that Google is trying to get at the meaning behind the words that people search with - how the meaning changes when certain words are next to each other. For instance, "New York" is different from a search of just "new" and "york." In other words, semantic search is about the intent, rather than just the keywords.

What this means for SEO is that over-optimized pages will basically be penalized, moving down the search results page in favor of legitimate content. So what can you do about it? As Matt Cutts, head of Google's search spam team, said, "Make a compelling site. Make a site that's useful. Make a site that's interesting. Make a site that's relevant to people's interests...We're always trying to best approximate if a user lands on a page if they are going to be annoyed...All of the changes we make are designed to approximate, if a user lands on your page, just how happy they are going to be with what they're going to get."

So if you were planning on using SEO in your social media campaign, you might want to take a second look at your methods.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Blogging vs. Facebook

Key Observations about the State of Blogging
Earlier I found this infographic of 10 reasons how, for businesses, blogging is better than Facebook. And while some of the points are definitely accurate, I thought the graphic was perhaps somewhat biased, and made it sound as if Facebook was unnecessary and a possible liability. I think it's a very convincing argument as to why you SHOULD be blogging, my confusion is why it seems to say you should blog INSTEAD of being on Facebook.

Here are the points made, and my thoughts on them:

"10. STABILITY. No frustrating changes to deal with - Facebook changes are fast and furious, and they can drive you nuts! But your blog is self-hosted, stable, consistent, and dependable."
This is true, and it might be a reason why blogging is easier for you than Facebook. But easier doesn't mean better, and whether on a blog or on Facebook you should be keeping up with relevant design, privacy, or other options in order to best present your information to your audience. Having a blog is not an excuse to never make changes.

"9. BIGGER PAYOFF. Facebook marketing is a risky and uncertain investment, but when done right, the time invested in your blog ALWAYS pays off."
I feel like this one can be turned around. If you do it right, Facebook marketing will also pay off. Whatever platform you are using, if you invest the time and research to do it right, it will most likely show results. In this respect, a blog isn't any less risky than Facebook.

"8. SEO. When done right, blogging improves your search ranking through in-bound links and key-word optimization. Facebook doesn't contribute to your search ranking."
I think this is probably the most important point here. Although Facebook results can and do show up in search, they don't have the same link- and keyword-rich content that a good blog does. And if someone is using a search engine look up your business, they probably aren't looking for the Facebook page.

"7. LONG SHELF LIFE. Your blog articles have a long shelf life because they will continue to be found in search for months/years. Facebook updates only last a few days at the most."
This is definitely related to the point above. When you're talking about search engines, blogging is the way to go.

"6. NEWS FEED. Facebook decides who sees your updates, but on your blog ANYONE AND EVERYONE can see your content."
This really isn't quite true. On Facebook, users decide whether or not to see your content, by "Liking" your brand or blocking it from their news feed. The same goes for a blog. The only people who will see it are the ones who are looking for it - a post might turn up in search, but the user still has to decide to click through.

"5. CONTENT HUB. A blog is the hub of your content and where your thought leadership starts. Facebook only helps you to distribute/promote your content."
My only issue with this statement is the use of the word "only." What, exactly, is wrong with having an outlet to distribute and promote your content?

"4. OFFER MORE VALUE. FB fans will only 'Like" your brand if they think you have something of value to offer. But on your blog you can give them more value via helpful tips, advice, and teaching them new things."
This one makes no sense to me. You can give people tips and advice on Facebook, and when it comes to blogging, it's just as selective - your audience will only read your blog if they think you have something of value to offer.

"3. MORE CLICKING. A compelling link on your blog will most likely be clicked while a link to your Facebook page will most likely be ignored!"
If you're posting links to your Facebook page on your blog and they are being ignored, maybe the problem is that you should be posting links to your blog on your Facebook page instead. 

"2. REACH MULTIPLE AUDIENCES. This includes RSS, email, site visitors, and ALL social networks. On Facebook you can only reach the people that 'like' your page."
So because they've liked your page and not signed up for your email, you should neglect them? Facebook is one of the multiple audiences you want to reach.

"1. CONTROL. You get to do what YOU want...NOT what Mark Zuckerberg wants!"
I'm not sure what to say about this one, except: Mark Zuckerberg wants to make money. Selling ads makes him money. This means that businesses have to see some value out of being on Facebook in order for him to be able to sell ad space. So, what you want from Facebook is value for your business, and so does Mark Zuckerberg. Because that's what will keep you coming back.

I think what I'm trying to say here is, this isn't - or shouldn't be - an either/or scenario. Facebook and blogging do different things for a business, and using them properly together can do more than either could by itself. As the image at the top of the post shows, Facebook is the number one social tool people use to drive traffic to their blogs.

If Facebook isn't working well for you, it might be because you're not using it in the best way. Many business turn to social media just because it seems like everyone else is, and then use it the same way as the other forms of communication they are more familiar with. This makes them, basically, anti-social on social media. By all means, start a blog for your business. But don't neglect other ways to reach your audience.