Tag Archives: social media

Social Media Done Right Is Reverse Narcissism

I often get asked to speak to journalists and student groups about social media and how they should be using it.

This is, to say the least, a broad topic. It’s hard to know exactly what to focus on. I’ve taught entire courses on social media and journalism, and although the new social journalism MA program I lead at CUNY is about more than *just* social media – we believe in using all the tools at our disposal to listen to and engage with our communities – our program is infused with the idea that social tools are a great way to connect people and help communities to achieve their goals.

But after thinking about this a lot over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that you can, in fact, distill the essence of social media for journalists rather simply.

It comes down to getting comfortable with an ethic of sharing and listening. If you don’t want to do that, fine, but frankly, if so, social media is a waste of your time.

But it’s all so narcissistic, gross! Plus, I have nothing to say.

I still hear something along those lines all the time,  even though we’ve generally  gotten past the idea that social media is only about what you had for lunch.

Look, I get it, to a point. We all know one of those people who are still taking duck-lipped selfies in the bathroom long past the age when such “look at me” behavior is at least somewhat understandable. There are numerous examples of people online doing all kinds of stupid, self-aggrandizing things.

But here’s the thing. If you are Doing it Right (imho), social media, especially for journalists and/or journalism academics, is NOT about saying  “look at me!” It’s about sharing, and about having a healthy curiosity about what others share and what you can learn from them. Others have written things along these lines before, but I think it still bears repeating and amplifying, given the amount of misconceptions that abound.

Fundamentally, it’s a mindshift. You are on social media to share stuff that that is genuinely valuable to other people. It makes their lives better or more interesting. You have knowledge that others can use. Every single day, any journalist or professor reads at least one interesting thing. You talk to one interesting person, or even a LOT of interesting people. You have an interesting thought or insight. You see something beautiful or unique. You make a funny.

So, drop into your stream and share it. And spend a few minutes listening and learning from the stuff other people share. Engage with them as relevant. Repeat.

This obviously and naturally means that you are sharing other people’s stuff. This doesn’t mean you can’t share your own work, of course. But if you are *only* using social media to promote your own stuff, you are  spam. I see so many authors, for example, who *only* or almost always tweet about their own books, for example. I love books, and am probably interested in yours. But if that’s *all* you do, you are basically like a telemarketer as far as most people are concerned.

This is not a technical skill. None of these tools are all that hard to use, and unless you have a big budget or a lot of time, no specific targeting tactics or carefully-wrought strategies are going to be all that helpful (I’m talking here about your personal use of social media, here, not that of institutions, which is a different story).

If you do this, the self-promotion and the personal branding and all that stuff people talk about is a natural byproduct. People start to associate you with being a reliable source of info about a few topics, with some humanity thrown in – and even the most serious among us generally prefer to engage with people not brands and enjoy some levity from time to time. It’s just that it has to come from a place of authenticity, rather than a contrived effort to get people to think you are so great, because the latter is just annoying.

And not only can social media be a source of news tips and a way to cultivate sources, it gives you a window into other people’s lives, attitudes, and beliefs that is both fascinating and valuable.

For me – and this may be a byproduct of my nerdiness – I was always doing this kind of thing through a weird compulsion to share things, long before there was social media as we know it today. I was *that person* back in the day that was constantly emailing you with articles I thought were interesting or so enraging that I wanted everybody to know about it, damnit! (Most watchdog journalism gets me pretty riled up.)  Or sending my friends in far-flung places little newsletters with attempts at humor about dumb little things I had done or had happened to me. Hell, I was collecting articles of interest and filing them away for reference when I was kid, before there was an Internet at all. When sites like Twitter and Facebook came along as places to share and connect with others and create a stream of valuable things you had read for future reference, well hot damn, it was perfect!  I’m pretty sure I’d be tweeting away even if not a single person was  paying attention, because doing it is fun  just for myself – a kind of sticker collection for adults, I suppose. Instead of scratch-and-sniff, now we collect experiences and knowledge in an accessible stream we can share with everyone. How awesome is that?


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One Way Journalism Schools Will Survive and Thrive

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t dedicate my life to studying and teaching journalism in order to help people learn to sell products or bolster a company’s image. My heart and my roots are old school, democracy-lovin, watchdoggin journalism.

But to those who think collegiate journalism programs are now obsolete, I say au contraire mon fraire. The stuff we are really good at – creating content, reporting, storytelling – are more in demand than ever before.

According to this piece by marketing and new media expert Brian Solis, “brands can earn greater attention, reach, and results by investing in a journalistic approach. It’s a move away from promotional content to the delivery of useful, entertaining, or meaningful engagement and experiences through new media.”

Business schools and marketing programs do a great job teaching students social media strategy and ROI, but journalism departments remain the place to go for actually gettin ‘r done when it comes to creating stuff that will capture attention, increasingly in short supply in our information-saturated world.

I think this is a good thing not only for the sustainability of my chosen profession, but because even if you ultimate goal is making better content that will make people buy Wheaties, if you spend some time in a journalism school, maybe just a little bit of the respect for good journalism and its importance in our society might rub off, and the chances are better that you will become somebody who will consume and demand it. And if we all live in a world in which we are forced to view ads, they might as well be interesting and relevant ones that actually impart some useful information.

**Update: And here’s another piece I just came across by Jeremiah Owyang that shows the importance of good content. He says: “Our industry is afflicted with shiny object syndrome, a focus on the new tools, without thinking about the content that will drive it.”


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A Few Highlights from FedEx Social Media Summit

Today I had the opportunity to attend the FedEx Social Media Summit at their corporate headquarters here in Memphis, thanks to advertising director Steve Pacheco, who was kind enough to invite me.

FedEx Social Media Summit

Thought I would post a few quick highlights from the panel discussion that featured representatives from Google, Twitter, Facebook, GE, Visible Technologies, and NYU. I’m going to apologize for a bit of bad journalism – I don’t have names for all the panelists. Normally I wouldn’t publish without them, but given time constraints, I will just try to add them in asap.

Brands have accepted the obvious – social media is not a fad. The summit  focused on social media best practices and how to measure and maximize return on investment. If I had to offer  my biggest take-homes in one paragraph, it would be this:

The biggest opportunities for brands in social media are in content creation,  customer service, and data-based message targeting.  Although the panelists didn’t so much come out and say it in as many words, it seems pretty clear to me as a journalism professor that to cut through the clutter and produce the kinds of messages that have the emotional impact that compels people to share with their friends,  brands are going to have to hire storytellers with strong writing and multimedia creation skills. Second, good customer service has a powerful impact in social media because it can not only control the damage from negative reviews, but, if done right, turn the disgruntled into brand ambassadors, multiplying the effect of your investment – especially if the customer turns out to be a top influencer or has some influential followers. Not every creative campaign is going to go viral, but a consistently strong effort at good customer service can have a huge impact on how people experience and perceive brands. Finally, it’s no surprise of course that big companies are using the massive amounts of digital data generated by social media to better target ads, deals and messages to individual customers, but the most interesting applications of that come with the increasing ability to use location data to snag  people very close to the point of purchase, when they are right outside your store.

A few other highlights:

  • Return on investment is a tricky thing. It’s not that there is a dearth of metrics or tools to measure social media, panelists said. The challenge is to develop specific social media business goals and then align your metrics with them.  As moderator Colin Sutton put it,  you have to know if  you are looking at Eyes (e.g. earned impressions, number of fans), Minds (e.g. page engagement, post response), or Wallets (e.g. coupon redemption, registration). For example, NYU adjunct professor David Vinjamuri  noted that sometimes variables like influence can be hard to measure because it is not just the number of people who are listening, but who those listeners are. If you are a technology blogger with a small audience of only about 100 people, you might be tremendously influential if just one of those readers is Wall Street Journal technology columnist Walt Mossberg. He gave another fascinating example of a campaign for o.b., maker of feminine products. When the brand was first launched in Denver, its splashy and expensive campaign was largely judged a ROI failure; 25 years later, the company had an incredibly strong brand presence in Denver, 3X as high a share as it had in other cities. Clearly the campaign had a much greater long-term ROI than anybody had realized. Twitter’s Guy Yalif also noted that it’s not just the number of followers a customer has – it’s who follows them and how influential those followers are.
  • GE rep:  Our brand is the experience you have with us.  I prefer negative comments, because it’s an opportunity for us to find out what is wrong, to surprise and delight customers, educate them, solve their problems, etc. You can turn people with complaints into brand advocates. We try to respond to everybody. We don’t prioritize influencers, although if there was a major crisis, you might have to do that temporarily because it would be impossible to respond to everybody. Everybody has the right to a response.
  • Google:  Don’t just say you are listening to your customers. Make real business decisions based on what you hear. eBay did this when it launched a new mobile platform; today they are making a mobile transaction every minute.
  • Twitter’s Guy Yalif:  Tie your brand/campaign into what people are already talking about on social media. Unilever introduced an ice cream brand in U.S. that had long been popular in Europe. They decided to do this around the Royal Wedding, so they bought a promoted trend. This drove great results for them.
  • Facebook: Use social media to make your campaign local/personal or “mom and pop at scale.”  Wal-Mart is increasingly building a Facebook presence for its local stores, in which managers speak to the local community. Instead of corporate-speak, they might talk about high school football games, for example. They include things like local maps of stores and photos of local managers and employees.
  • Fun fact about Promoted Tweets from Yalif:  They get an engagement rate of 3 to 5 percent. Brand Twitter followers are 50 to 60 percent more likely to comment about the brand on a blog or news site. When Volkswagen relaunched the Beetle, they had 52% engagement rate with their promoted tweet. Al Jazeera English bought the promoted hashtag Demand Al Jazerra, and used it to showcase their reporting during the Arab Spring, increasing their traffic from Twitter 25X.
  • Google: It’s important to integrate paid search with your other efforts. For example, Old Spice’s tremendously popular viral campaign was made more effective because they bought a lot of paid search terms, invested in promoted video. It is key to be sure that if somebody is looking for you, it is really easy for them to find you.
  • Google: 20% of searches have local intent. For mobile, it is 1 of 3. Those numbers will get even bigger.  We are constantly looking for innovative ad formats and to help advertisers up their bids if they know a customer is right outside the store looking for your brand.
  • NYU’s David Vinjamuri:  Be nimble when you launch a social media campaign. Create a feedback loop so you can make quick adjustments. Some will blow up in good way, some won’t. You have to figure out what is working and make adjustment on a daily basis. 
  • Becca Ramble, Visible Technologies:  If you don’t see the conversation you want to lead or follow, create it. ADT mines conversations around home security, and they found that most of it is very spammy. So they decided they wanted to really build a better conversation around  home security.
  • As social media increasingly goes global, many big companies are creating local/national accounts in the local language/culture. But it is important to have good internal communication so all the account managers know how to help or refer customers that might contact them.


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Shilling for Social Media and Other New Tools

This post is part of the monthly Carnival of Journalism.  Here is the prompt: How do you decide to dedicate time to a new tool/platform/gadget? What is the process you go through mentally? And then later – how do you convince others to go through that process? And, last: How do you ensure that the tools you do adopt are used once the “newness” factor fades?

As a journalism educator, a big part of my job is convincing students to try new tools and cultivate the habit of using them regularly, so I’ll focus first on that part of the prompt. I teach reporting and social media, two courses in our curriculum that emphasize multimedia and experimenting with new technologies. Contrary to popular belief, many of these so-called “digital natives” are often neither savvy about new tech nor exceptionally eager to go beyond their Facebook and Internet Explorer (?!) comfort zones.

As David Cohn of Spot.us puts it, my main goal is less to teach mastery of any particular tool or software, but to “teach a mind-set of problem solving.” But cultivating the motivation in students to grapple with new things that may be initially frustrating is often difficult.

A few techniques I use:

  • Show as many examples of high-profile journalists using these technologies as possible. Yes, I will stoop to pimping Katie Couric’s Twitter account or showing them People magazine’s Facebook page, as well as many accounts from the New York Times, CNN, local journalists, and the like.  It’s hard to argue you don’t need to do it when you see the pros, especially the ones you have heard of and respect, are doing it.
  • Similarly, I show as many examples of students at other schools using new technologies as possible. Those of you at elite schools where your students on average are more motivated or have access to all the latest gadgets and shiny new labs help show my students the way and foster a little sense of healthy competition.
  • Find ways to generate a quick community of fellow beginners by fostering cross-campus conversation. For example, last semester my students participated in a Twitter chat with Bob Britten’s class at WVU and Jeremy Littau’s students at Lehigh, among other collective activities.  When you are new to a social network, it often takes time to cultivate enough contacts to make the experience meaningful; this technique lets students learn more about engaging with a community in the shorter semester time frame.
  • Make it fun. Scavenger hunts or live tweeting the Grammys may not be the most noble of educational or journalistic pursuits, but enthusiasm pays it forward. Classes that have fun doing assignments together also tend to get along better with their peers, and in intangible ways I don’t entirely understand, this raises overall effort level in the class.
  • Similarly, harness students’ passions. I used to be more adamant about “hard news” assignments. I’ve learned, however, that if you want students to learn, say, WordPress, let them blog about whatever they want. All the same standards of original reporting, verification, grammar, etc. still apply, of course. But when a technology is new to you, it helps to have a genuine sense of excitement about what you are trying to use it for. As students get more advanced and take higher-level courses, they do more meaty and investigative work, but when you are introducing lots of new tools, giving them some agency in deciding their final objective helps.
  • Do it yourself. The whole “do I say” thing is not a cliche. You’ll lack credibility if it’s obvious you aren’t really using these tools yourself.

By the way, I know some of you are probably aghast that not all young journalists are inherently curious and eager to learn “cool” new things, but remember many college students are not long out of high school, where their access to technology might have been limited to sporadic trips to the computer lab. I teach in the Mid-South, and although I’m seeing a much higher rate of smartphone adoption recently, my students don’t all have access to the expensive devices, either – and the culture here is not one in which education is necessarily highly valued or prioritized, regardless of what you study. Students who work long hours waiting tables or similar may not have many regular technology-related habits or experience developing them.

As far as my own tech adoption goes, well, I think others have described it better than I could.  I think  University of British Columbia professor Alfred Hermida’s post offers some great insight into thinking through your social media strategy, and Cohn’s thought process is pretty similar to mine – I keep an open mind but probably won’t use it often if it’s not simple to use.

I will say that at least at the moment, my intentions sometimes override my capacities. I love trying new tools and I think it’s important to do so as often as possible, but at the moment I’m pretty much utterly overwhelmed at work and I’m lucky if I can keep even half of the balls in the air. For something to really become part of my routine, it’s got to meet a pretty high bar of usefulness and enjoyment. Once I develop routines I also tend to latch on to them, which makes it difficult to fit in new things; that may be something I need to work on to make more time for experimentation.


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