Living Social Media
Google+ branding advantages over Facebook

I have been a Google+ user for just over a week now and am still trying to acclimate myself to this new social media tool by figuring out all of its features and functions. I understand how to “hangout” and how to add people to my circles, but what I am struggling with now is finding a reason to use Google+ over Facebook in day to day life. Facebook is a well-established part of my daily routines where I already have hundreds of friends, Google+ still isn’t engrained in my day and I think I have no more than 12 friends. However there is the branding side of social media that might be more functional for every day usage, and will be of increasing importance as social media continues to gain clout. I found this piece on Mashable, 4 Reasons Google+ Brand Pages Will Be Better Than Facebook’s. From a business standpoint, the first point on better search opportunities makes total sense to me and would be crucial in branding endeavors. The point of businesses on these social media sites is to get users to visit and see their name, with more search opportunities and click through, this is necessary. Do you think Google+ really does have these advantages (or any others) versus Facebook? Read the rest of these reasons at: http://mashable.com/2011/08/07/google-plus-brand-page/

Virginia Tech breaking news via social media

I can clearly remember the morning of April 16, 2007 when I found out that a gunman was on a shooting rampage through the Blacksburg, VA campus of Virginia Tech. I was born and raised in Virginia and this tragedy literally struck home for me. Fortunately, none of my loved ones were injured in this massacre, but it was a shock and a wake-up call to all of us near the tragedy, and I’m sure those beyond as well. Four years later, we still remember the tragedy and this puts us on edge when any threat of a similar occurrence might occur. This edge could be seen in this past week’s breaking news that a potential gunman was seen on the same Blacksburg campus.

Thursday morning, students at the Virginia Tech campus for a summer program reported seeing a man possibly carrying a gun near a dining hall. Unfortunately, the campus is all too familiar with this threat and almost instantaneously, the campus was on lockdown and media inquiries went out across the country. This small community in rural western Virginia was once again broadcast all across national news at a rapid pace as new reports and statuses were updated continuously throughout the day. Thankfully, we later found out that police could find no evidence of a gunman and any alerts of a threat were down.

This incident though, is true testament to the power of immediacy in breaking news reporting and the dependence we have on social media to notify not only those in immediate dangers but also those far away seeking information on the incident. The Virginia Tech campus itself as well as news organizations around the country captured this story through social media. I have gathered a variety of social media reports published since the threat alert was first made to get a sense of how social media was used to report on this story. Below is my analysis and thoughts on how social media was used in this time of urgency as well as images of the news outlets’ social media feeds. Situations like safety alerts are unfortunate but at least this particular one proved to be no threat at all and actually an excellent test for how to employ social media in an emergency.

First, let’s look at the official Facebook and Twitter pages for Virginia Tech. In the days after the April 16th 2007 shooting, Virginia Tech was heavily criticized for its inadequate notification system. (Read more in this New York Times article and this CNN article) Victims’ family members, the campus community and state officials voiced complaints that if the university had better notified students and staff earlier in the day about the gunman’s first attacks, then more people could have stayed safely away and lives could have been saved. It has been four years since those mistakes in notification were made, and the university has clearly made progress in their alert system. Thanks to active social media accounts, the university is now able to immediately and broadly alert people of safety threats. Virginia Tech relied upon these accounts with this past week’s threat of another gunman. The official Facebook and Twitter feeds for the university were constantly being updated as soon as the report of a possible gunman was made. From then on, they each notified their broad communities with a stream of updates throughout the day.  Any follower or friend of the university was almost sure to see the reports on their news feeds.

Besides looking at the Virginia Tech social media accounts from progress in notification/alerts since 2007, I also found it helpful to look to these accounts as an official source of information on the day of the threat both for consumers seeking updates and other news organization seeking verified sources. As we have learned through our studies of social media reporting, getting to a verified source is crucial when reporting live and avoiding misinformation. It is evident that many people turned to these official sources for updates and information on the possible gunman; just look at the amount of comments and likes on the Facebook posts. Virginia Tech did several things right in using social media for this incident. First of all they actually USED it! This college is renowned for its community involvement and devoted followers. Many students, fans, and anyone associated with the university are probably proactive on the campus social media sites. By using social media, the university engaged its many followers/friends, which sets this news story apart from any other reporting done on this day.

Next, I looked at major local papers- papers that locals to the city of Blacksburg, to the state of Virginia and to the region of the east coast turn to for breaking news. These publications are The Roanoke Times, The Virginian-Pilot and The Washington Post.

First of all, The Washington Post utilized hashtags and retweets regarding the Virginia Tech reports, which were helpful to those- like me- who did searches based on hashtags. The publication is obviously a reputable name in the news industry and I’m sure others turned to them for reliable coverage. I felt like what the Post tweeted was just the bare essentials. They didn’t tweet (or retweet) constantly throughout the day, but they did supply the important updates as they happened.

I then looked at The Virginian-Pilot’s Twitter feed. This paper is a large publication in South-Eastern Virginia (where I am from and where many Virginia Tech students and alumni are also from). Similarly, and almost surprisingly to me, the Virginian-Pilot also just sent a handful of tweets on this report. I would have thought that given the large Virginia Tech community in Southeastern Virginia, there would have been more coverage. I also noticed that the initial tweets they did send were retweets from other sources of the possible gunman, showing that they were reliant upon other news sources for this information, probably because of their location 4-5 hours away from Blacksburg.

Not surprisingly, The Roanoke Times, the major newspaper of the Blacksburg, VA region, covered the incident in depth. The Twitter feed for this news outlet was definitely active on Thursday. The amount of tweets they sent was almost overwhelming, but I’m sure that for those close to the scene, this was a help and reassurance. The Roanoke Times published any minor details they could find on updates of the lockdown/possible gunman. They also used many hashtags and retweets to further open up the discussion and community. I think they did a great job covering the event, especially as the trusted local source for news in this area.

After the 2007 massacre, The Roanoke Times and its website were awarded the Associated Press Managing Editors’ Online Convergence Award for their coverage.  According to the newspaper website, “The online convergence awards recognize print/online combinations that exhibit the best applications of both in presenting a story.” The publication’s successful use of multi-platforms to report on the evolving April 16th story surely played into its coverage of the 2011 possible gunman threat. They heavily covered the incident and once again successfully reported along multiple platforms. I would be curious to find out if and how their policy to report on Virginia Tech news specifically changed after the 2007 shooting.

Read more about the award and look at The Roanoke Times’ 2007 coverage

Next, I looked at major national news outlets’ coverage of the Virginia Tech lockdown. CNN was unique in its use of iReport (Twitter handle: cnniReport). As we have found, crowdsourcing is a major asset of social media and in times where a community is affected with news, those crowds at the scene can be a huge help. IReport was actually used in the 2007 shooting when a student at the scene of the massacre shot a video with his cellphone and submitted it to CNN iReport. This video was seen by viewers all across the world and created  much attention to crowdsourcing and online journalism. According to CNN, “This tragic event was a watershed moment in iReport’s history, drawing unprecedented attention not only to CNN iReport, but to the importance of citizen journalism efforts around the globe. Not only that, but Albarghouti’s cell phone would later be displayed in the Newseum in Washington, D.C.” IReport did appear to try to recreate its success by crowdsourcing during this past week’s incident.  Read more about the here and here.

The main CNN Twitter account was pretty standard, and reported on the necessary information as opposed to constant updates. This was the same for several of the Fox News Twitter accounts who reported on the incident, but again at a cursory level. Just enough to notify the public. At first I thought that the scarce amount of tweets was odd, but I suppose if anyone had actually reported being injured or the gunman has been confirmed (to avoid inaccuracy, another lesson of social media), then perhaps more coverage would be given.

Lastly, I looked at the top national television stations’ (CBS, NBC and ABC) Twitter accounts. These are well known news organizations that many people turn to for nightly and morning television news, and perhaps turn to for breaking news as well. CBS and NBC each had few tweets on this breaking news. They did report on it, but at a very minimal level. This might be similar to the reasoning I used for Fox News and CNN, that until actual action has been confirmed, they hold off on further reporting, especially if it is in a location where few if any of their staff are located- like rural Blacksburg, VA. In comparison, ABC News covered the incident a little more heavily and published at least 8 tweets about the Virginia Tech report. Granted, most of these tweets basically reiterated the same message that a possible gunman was on the Virginia Tech campus and the campus was locked down. This may have simply been done to drive more traffic to their website where more news was featured.

Things are quite different now than they were in April 2007 with the use of social media to relay breaking news. Albeit there are disadvantages to social media (more frequent inaccuracies in reporting and an almost obsessive overflow of news), emergencies and breaking news events on safety do prove the usefulness of social media for reporting. While those of us wait anxiously for updates, we turn increasingly towards Twitter and Facebook to supply these details and inform those involved as well. The many widespread uses of these platforms to engage us all in breaking news are truly an advancement and an asset in news distribution.

Virginia Tech news outlets

Regional news outlets

Major national news organizations

Government social media surveillance

Given the recent riots coverage on Twitter that both informed onlookers and incited additional protesters, it is no surprise that some governments (especially those with unrest among citizens) might look to their social media policies to prevent rioting or keep control of these citizens.  The Times of India reported today that India’s Home Ministry wants social networking sites monitored, the reason being to “strengthen cyber security paraphernalia.”

As someone who will probably never post anything controversial that might lead to or ignite a riot, I don’t think these surveillance policies will affect me.  Although, I generally side with users on this issue of surveillance, feeling that government interference is an infringement; I do also see some safety benefits that might be of use. If a dangerous situation can be prevented because intelligence finds out via Twitter monitoring, then that seems worth it.  

There is the point though that this is a large scope of work to monitor social media and perhaps funds and time could be better spent elsewhere.  What are your thoughts on this debate?

Here is the Times of India piece: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/social-media/Govt-wants-to-monitor-Facebook-Twitter/articleshow/9530919.cms

I also want to mention that I really respect and agree with Twitter and Facebook’s privacy policies described in the article, they are simple and make sense, “According to their policies, Twitter and Facebook don’t share any private information available on their servers without valid court order or subpoena. Twitter had said in the past that even if there was a court order, it would first inform the users in question before sharing information related to them.”

Google+ outpacing other social media

While skimming the news earlier (on Google News, of course), I found many articles on the topic of how Google+ is outpacing Facebook and Twitter. According to ComScore, Google+ attracted over 25 million users in its first month while Facebook took 3 years to reach that number and Twitter took 2.5 years. I found that this Forbes article broke down the ComScore information and analyzed it in applicable terms, click here to read: http://blogs.forbes.com/mobiledia/2011/08/03/google-outpaces-facebook-twitter/

One note I would point out on this comparison of initial users for social media, is that Facebook debuted when social media barely existed. Google+ is entering the scene at a time in which users actively and routinely engage in social media and  continue to want more social media in their lives. Timing is a factor that I don’t think we should overlook when assessing the initial success of Google+. What will be important is whether it maintains relevance.

Google+ The article points out that the most difficult part of starting an online social media site is getting users initially, but Google+ has already done this, so where does it go from there? What do you think about the long term success of Google+?

Thoughts on Google+ Hangout

I am currently in Florida for the week and although it has been great to get a change of scenery and a break from my routine from back home in DC, I do have prior obligations to work and school that conflict with my trip schedule. Luckily, Google+ came to the rescue tonight when I was faced with the dilemma that I had to attend a class in DC but was not in DC to physically attend the class. Now that Google+ offers the “hangout” feature, I was able to virtually attend the class.   

I have never once used any sort of live online video chat, so I don’t have any other service to compare Google+ hangouts to; but as a newbee to online video chatting, I must say that I was very relieved to find out that Google+ had a video chatting option. Google is such a familiar and simple site that I feel comfortable with so knowing that this was the tool that I needed to use to video chat gave me ease and confidence. 

And it really was simple to get started! There is a big green button on the main page asking if you want to hangout and from there users are guided to inviting other users to hangout with them. Default settings are then used to capture your voice and video.Once connected with other users in the hangout, there are two features: one similar to a gchat box where you can type and send text to the group and secondly the actual video of the people in the chat.  

I thought that technologically speaking, the site was up to speed, I could hear everything perfectly and there was no pause or delay in sound. Although one drawback was that a few of the other programs on my computer were running slower while the hangout took place. The actual video image was generally OK but at times ran slowly with a delay or pause. So if you are dependent upon the actual video and exact timing, this might be an obstacle to overcome. Unfortunately at one point, I was disconnected to the hangout and could not re-join. I don’t really know why this happened or how to respond. I wasn’t sure how to rejoin the group without being invited once again or having others join me in a new chat. Hopefully with more time and use I’ll be able to figure this out. The fact that I was unable to re-connect with the group and was at a loss for what to do, was a hindrance and makes me hesitant to fully rely on Google+ hangouts for important events.  

Overall though, it was an enlightening experience and proved its usefulness in allowing me to attend class while being in another part of the country. For personal, casual use, I think that Google+ has a lot of potential and can definitely find a place in the online social world.  Obvious a use for a hangout would be to interview people , but are there any other journalistic benefits to a google+ hangout? Learn more about Google+ Hangouts: http://www.google.com/support/+/bin/static.py?hl=en&page=guide.cs&guide=1257349&rd=1

Foursquare Analysis

For this week’s assignment on location based social media, I chose Foursquare. Admittedly, I lag behind in social media usage as compared to many of my peers, colleagues and acquaintances and Foursquare proves to be no different. This is the first time I have ever taken a close look at social media location applications and I have never “checked in” anywhere before- I still have yet to do so. So trying to wrap my head around Foursquare was a bit of a challenge and I still don’t fully comprehend its real necessity in society, although I must appreciate that others do and it is a growing trend in social media.

Essentially, one checks into locations that they are at and that notifies other people who are also at the location as well as people that the user is connected to. Foursquare records where you have been and if you go to a place more than anyone else, you become the mayor. Besides just notifying others, it is also a game where you get points- these points play a factor on whether you become a mayor or not.

I think that this gaming aspect actually inhibits its journalistic use. It is difficult for me at least to get hard facts and news from an application that is a game for many and where you can be called a “mayor.” I simply prefer tweets from CNN for news. I think time, more usage and major events being broadcast via Foursquare might amp up its credibility leading to greater journalistic capabilities on this medium. As with other social media applications though, the same limitation do apply; such as the likelihood of falsities being broadcast due to the immediacy of sending an update ranging from typos to flat out wrong information on an event.

There are times though when journalists do successfully use Foursquare. I found this piece on Mashable that puts the advantages of Foursquare for journalists in excellent terms. The piece also shows the usefulness of Foursquare in breaking news as seen when The Wall Street Journal “shouted” to followers of the bomb scare in Times Square. Another great resource I found for journalists using Foursquare mentioned in this piece was its use for gathering information on people you might be profiling. Read more about the uses of Foursquare for journalists here and let me know what you think: http://mashable.com/2010/05/14/journalists-foursquare/

Crowdsourcing Essentials

On the heels of our discussion about crowdsourcing being a major aspect of social media, I found this piece on SocialMediaToday.com, Six Crowd Sourcing Essentials - Shaping Your Future Marketing Department. I think that right after the marketing and distribution benefits, crowdsourcing might be one of the biggest benefits of social media. It is a timely and efficient way to gather material and feedback in a manner that works so well with current society’s need for community engagement and information flow.

The author of this piece states that the 6 essentials from crowd sourcing are:

1.       Educate for internal buy in

2.       Flexible planning, not final planning

3.       Listen & trust your crowd

4.       Straight talking

5.       Smarter Media buying

6.       Get agile and Get started

See a full write up and explanation of these essentials at: http://socialmediatoday.com/nick-bennett/322474/6-crowd-sourcing-essentials-shaping-your-future-marketing-department

These essential remind me of the social media guidelines we recently discussed. I found that when reading through the essentials, there were points that I would also include in general social media guidelines. One of the most useful points in this pieces that I didn’t not include in my guides was “be flexible.” This is something any journalist especially social media journalists need to practice daily.

Do you agree or disagree with any of these essentials?

Political events turning away from tradition and to social media

The newest trend in politics appears to be using Twitter in creative ways as replacement for traditional political events. Take Obama’s Twitter town hall earlier this month or the Republican Twitter debate held yesterday. This definitely shows how valuable politicians find social media to be in deciding future elections or gaining publicity and credibility- albeit there was much critique of the functionality of the Twitter debate. So now that we see town halls and debates on Twitter, I am wondering what is next to come in terms of traditional political events turning to social media. Will voting one day be done via social media? Let me know your thoughts on possible future political applications on social media.

Read some reviews on the Twitter debate

http://techland.time.com/2011/07/21/gop-presidential-hopefuls-face-off-in-first-ever-twitter-debate/

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/07/20/MNAT1KD364.DTL

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/post/gop-2012-twitter-debate-was-a-joke/2011/07/20/gIQA29GoQI_blog.html

Women’s World Cup sets Twitter record

It’s no news that the US women’s Soccer team has captivated America for the past several weeks and made many new fans of the sport. As an unlikely competitor in the Women’s World Cup, the American team successfully made it to the finals this past Sunday, and although losing to Japan, the loss is overshadowed by their earlier victories and enchanting spirit. It was a unique experience for the nation when this team of women captured our attention and brought a unified spirit to the country, but the country also reciprocated by encouraging their team through an amazing amount of support. Support came in many ways including traditional media attention and in particular social media attention.

Fans flocked to social media to cheer on the women’s soccer team and applaud their efforts. The high involvement actually set a Twitter record! Twitter reported that the number of tweets about the world cup games set the record 7196 TPS (Tweets Per Second).  This record is reflective of the amazing national pride and that Americans showed and social media helped to facilitate.

My social media guidelines

I have spent this past week reading through various news organizations’ social media guidelines as well as engaged in discussions with my classmates on these social media guidelines. I have now used my analysis of these guidelines as a means to create my own set of social media guidelines. I began by thinking that if I had my own news organization- a standard, bipartisan, general news outlet- what would I want my staff to be guided by when using social media? The below guidelines are a reflection of what I think is most important for journalists to know and practice as they use social media for their jobs. I have tried to combine encouragement and motivation with critique and warnings to create useful and practical guidelines for successful reporting.

Although it is not required to engage in social media, it is highly encouraged as a means to creatively report on the news, disseminate stories and information, stay informed, gather material and promote the company.

Getting Started

We recommend that all journalists fully understand the tools and functions of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter before proactively using your accounts. You can find information on how to properly use these on the company websites as well as useful resources like:  http://mashable.com/guidebook/twitter/ and http://mashable.com/guidebook/facebook/

Be mindful that your activity is not only representative of you, but also of the company. Ensure that your activity is reflective of both yours and the company’s characters and standards.

Create a handle and insert a profile picture that are both clearly representative of who you and the company are.

If you create a description for your account, use full disclosure to clearly state that you are a journalist and who your employer is. Including contact information and any additional handles you may use, is also very helpful.

Be proactive yet careful in whom you choose to “friend” or “follow.” These will be the people who can view your activity and who you may be associated with. Try to be balanced and bipartisan in these decisions by connecting with roughly the same amount of people on all sides of a discussion. If there is a user who you are unsure of, discuss with your colleagues and supervisor then make an educated decision.

By broadening the people and organizations that you are connected with on social media, you are expanding the number of resources you have for information and contact thus progressing your career and the business. You are encouraged to actively connect with appropriate persons/organizations for this reason.

Be wary of direct messaging with anyone. Extensive communication done on social media but not broadcast to all of your followers could appear suspect. In some scenarios this might be appropriate to initiate a dialogue with a source, but quickly thereafter, switch to company email/phone. Consult with your supervisor before continuing communication. 

It can be easier to do and say things online because of less restrictions, face-to-face confrontation and different social norms, but remember to behave the same online than you would in any other public setting.

Content

Remember, nothing is entirely private or your own property on social media.

When appropriate, link your posts, messages and updates back to the company website. As a main goal of social media is to market the brand, driving traffic back to the company is essential.

Do not use obscene, abusive or vulgar language in any online communication.

Ensure fairness, accuracy and transparency in any and all activity done both in social media and in traditional media.

Do not express any personal biases on subject matters; this will compromise your role as a trusted, unbiased news source. Also, be conscious of expressing any personal opinions. While there might be times in which expressing an observation is harmless, there are also times in which expressing opinions such as on politics is inappropriate.

Never delete a status post, tweet or any other outgoing communication. Although websites give you the option to delete, once a statement is made it is public and permanent allowing all of your followers to see. Deleting statements challenges credibility. If a mistake is made, acknowledge it and correct it as humbly as possible.

As with traditional media, attribute any information to its correct source and use trusted sources.

If you are crowdsourcing or using social media to gather information, be upfront and clear about how you intend to use this information.

Try to consistently keep up with your social media accounts. A benefit of social media is its immediacy. If you do not respond or post in a timely manner, you are not fully utilizing social media’s capabilities.

Discuss social media often with your coworkers, employees and supervisors. By creating a constant dialogue in the office, you will learn and teach others about new developments and tactics in social media usage.

Be creative with your reporting using social media. There are constantly new innovations and tools to use to support your reporting. Investigate these tools and use them to support your reporting and promote yourself and the company.

Below are links to information on social media guidelines for several news organizations. I have used their guidelines as guidance, insight and models for creating my own social media guidelines.

http://stevebuttry.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/the-buttry-version-of-social-media-best-practices-for-editors/

http://zombiejournalism.com/2010/06/social-media-guidelines-to-live-by/

http://www.npr.org/about/aboutnpr/ethics/social_media_guidelines.html

http://gigaom.com/2011/05/03/social-media-policies-lets-talk-about-what-you-should-do/

http://socialtimes.com/ap-updates-social-media-guidelines_b70545

http://www.roanoke.com/newsservices/wb/xp-59614#48

http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/page/guidance-blogs-personal-summary

Customers voice outrage via social media

I may have never been a subscriber to Netflix, but I have reaped its benefits over time by watching movies that friends or family have had delivered. So I am familiar with the advantages that this service has and the reliance many people have on the ability to easily and affordably have movies delivered right to their door or TV screen. However, I had no idea the extent to which customers valued and relied on their Netflix accounts. This extreme dependence was made obvious in the past day via social media.

As Netflix announced on their blog that charges to customers would be increased, thousands took to social media to express their outrage at this announcement. Sites like Twitter and Facebook were flooded with protests and the Netflix blog currently has no less than 5000 comments. By using social media platforms, voices have been heard loud and clear on this issue. Seems like the days of filing a written complaint or angry phone call are over apparently. Now people comment on a company’s blog or Tweet their annoyance.

News outlets across the country have been reporting on this social media outpouring today, which probably encourages more Netflix customers to engage social media to voice their opinions. I’m curious if due to this publicity and unforeseen social media attacks on the company, Netflix will change or modify its new policy. It will be an indicator of the powers of social media if any changes do come out of this.

Netflix Blog