Month: April 2014

Listen to the Users

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from design-thinking, it’s that listening is a most valuable skill.

You think you have an idea that will solve the problems of cyclists who need to cross intersections more safely? Just tell the city planner so it can be fixed. But before the solution gets employed, you might want to speak to cyclists themselves (like Patrick Jones). New discoveries are made when we ask open-ended questions.

What the designer might perceive to be a problem may not lead to the transformative fix. Anthropologists like Kenny Latta are used to doing field work to get to the crux of an issue. They empathize with others to truly understand what’s going on so that all facets and emotions are included in subsequent thinking and decision making.

If poor health is a problem in a low-income community, an obvious answer might be to occasionally send doctors to the people. But a closer look might unveil that transportation is what’s hindering people’s health because of a lack of access. If one doesn’t own a car and public transit is too inefficient or costly, a person might skimp on taking preventative healthcare measures. (Ruby Payne has a lot more to say on this matter.)

The reason I mentioned this, is that if we want to serve our audiences, we should listen and take note of what they want or even need.

Since my blogging debut, I’ve constantly sought the feedback of friends, family members, and co-workers. And they’ve had a lot to say. Some proofread for me. Some provide story leads. And some encouragingly say, “Keep it up.”

What’s been especially helpful are specific comments about my site:

  • “I do enjoy reading the articles that I know you are writing for a class, but you make them very entertaining and disguised so the average reader doesn’t know the purpose.”
  • “Can I guest post on your blog?”
  • “Consider establishing a separately branded Facebook profile to match memphismaverick.com. Not everyone who is friends with Burton wants to see your posts continuously pop up on their feeds. With a brand-specific page, those that like the page can receive updates.”
  • Apply the same logic to Twitter since my handle is @MemphisMaverick, yet it’s not as critical because you can get away with many more posts of varied topics there.
  • “Every time you publish a new post, put it on your Facebook so I can see it.”
  • Provide more photos of events.
  • “As a non-user of oh so many (almost all) social media applications. I laughed at your article. And as much as I hate to say it, reading your posts makes me wish I was more social media savvy. Enough to make me use it.”

Who doesn’t like receiving feedback? It’s a lot to think about and if I acted on everything, it could radically alter the way I’m operating. However, with four months in, I’m ready to shake things up.

Yes, I’m listening to the people so expect to see some different and exciting guest posts from creative millennials very soon.

What do you want from me?!

Datahead Journos Could Rise Above the Rest

A journalist’s role is to report existing information and tell a story to inform others. Today, there’s such a proliferation of data that it seems to be coming from everywhere. Fortunately, reporters can help the public make heads and tails of it.

While bots and aggregate digests can inform users, good writers help synthesize what’s out there. Yes, we still need humans to help us make sense of things. Yet, people know how to play to our emotions.

The popularity of Buzzfeed is that it appears to be collecting and compiling nuanced trends or observations, but in reality, it’s tabloid-esque. I find it the most distracting online trick. I fall prey to its quippy headlines about what irritates women to how to pull off the best April Fool’s joke.

Just because those articles are sticky and spreadable, they’re not game-changing. The access to data is.

Interactive maps, graphs, libraries, and infographics are perfectly suited for social networks. Plus, they’re quite trendy as deemed by Digital Amy (Weiss). They quickly and effectively spark dialogue and can inform readers at a glance without having to read a 10-page spread.

What’s more impressive is that any online user who’s comfortable with tinkering can build compelling tools to tell a story. For the uninitiated, I would recommend visiting visual.ly.

Memphis’ daily newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, features major stories each week with accompanying stats. Unlike many of my peers, I do receive its crispy-pages on my doorstep. However, its online datasets are much more fun for learning about income levels by zip code, for instance. (Grant Smith, a CA data guy, frequently pairs with reporters to convey information just like photographers have done for decades.)

By no means am I the first to preach the importance of informing with data. Even my company has an entire team focused on the analytics of our fundraising progress and donors. Yet, my favorite part about that newspaper and nonprofit example is that I’ve noticed greater collaboration between all parties.

Usually dense information was limited to the geeky teams of people who compiled it and possibly shared it in high-level reports. Because of technology and nifty scripting, single-shop journalists can also arm their audiences with mountains of information by employing eye-catching and easy-to-use widgets.

In other words, the big data playing field has been leveled. And that’s empowering.

Finding and conveying data is not always serious. Check out this cheeky clip about Game of Thrones factoids via Visually.

 

 

Facebook knows me like the back of its cursor.

Did you know that your Facebook likes predict preferences? And people study them!

Margaret Weigel‘s article, “Facebook, Private Traits, and Attributes,” cites research conducted at Cambridge and Microsoft that Facebook can accurately tell a person’s traits and innermost personal details.

By one’s online activity, they could accurately predict religion, sex, sexual orientation, and political ideologies from liking a certain TV show or artist. Yet, I will add that for years, Facebook nearly required its users to self-identify with nearly all of those categories.

As soon as one becomes a user, it prompts you to state if you are male or female, etc. While it is disconcerting that Facebook knows so much, we pretty much told them everything about us out of the gate.

Yes, this study was much more than people checking boxes about themselves. It studied user behavior. This further proves that the way we consume social media is just an extension of our everyday lives.

If someone votes for President Obama in an election and places the bumper sticker on back of a vehicle, it’s not surprising that liking certain shared links would also reflect that candidate preference. It’s context clues.

What scares people though is how Facebook intends to use that data. It’s one thing for my family to know who I am, it’s another for companies to send me “Burton-specific” deals, ads, and offers. Smart? Absolutely.

Is it enough that this company is worth billions? If Facebook quit raking in money tomorrow, it could probably sell our information piecemeal to others for decades and still be worth billions. Such personal information is invaluable, especially when they didn’t have to work or bribe their users to obtain it.

A poor graduate student didn’t have to beg folks to take a survey. Facebook simply let people loose on its playground and watched…and saved everything like a depression-era family.

Right now, campaign managers rely on dated census information and voting records to determine who to mail for certain primaries. In the near future, I bet anyone will be able to buy lists from Facebook for the purpose of targeting ads. “I want to buy an ad that’s just visible to all users with Democrat-tendencies in the Memphis area.” Presto!

This is more efficient, probably comes with more purchasing power, and online content can be uploaded or removed in seconds (unlike a mailer with a typo). Facebook might already be doing this, but it’s not spelled out that clearly to me. Comment below if you know.

In sum, as a new blogger with a geographic and generational focus, this information could help me grow MemphisMaverick’s visibility. I could specifically target a niche audience with ads, shares, and links that would be of interest to certain users.

So, while some denounce Facebook’s tactics, I think it’s too powerful to be declining anytime soon, especially with its monstrous pocketbook and ability to acquire trendy apps like Instagram.

Facebook Data Center

Facebook Data Center

Yes, social media users are diverse, but we all value the same things.

Say what you will about social media, its purpose in communication is to transfer information. Thus, if you’re an avid user, you can’t help but be informed, even as a bystander. Yet, it appears that different demographics have their own preferred means of online communication (and that shouldn’t surprise the anthropologists).

“The membership of certain online communities mirrors people’s social networks in their everyday lives,” said Eszter Hargittai in “Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites.” In reality, one will notice that various demographics congregate in certain neighborhoods, places of worship, and display unique cultural characteristics.

In addition, socio-economics also determine how people live, work, and play. In Danah Boyd‘s “Viewing American Class Divisions Through Facebook and MySpace,” she observed that there were distinct educational differences between MySpace and Facebook superusers.

Social networking users with college ties were more likely to be active on Facebook whereas people with less education preferred MySpace. While this article dates back to 2007 and there’s no explicit reason for this, I can’t help but think that Facebook’s business model affected it.

I recall being an active MySpace user from ages 15 until 18. Why did I stop? I enrolled at a university. Facebook was exclusively for collegiate users. It was a rite of passage for matriculating freshmen. And that’s where my friends were: My social network mirrored my actual life.

Academics have also delved into making sense of how multiple demographics use social media. In 2014, it was documented by Pew Research that 40% of young African Americans ages 18 to 29 use Twitter, compared to 28% of young white people in the same age range.

Carrie Brown et al., found that Twitter served as an online supplement to offline relationships, especially among young African Americans. Thus, real life connections are doubling as followers.

Farhad Manjoo wrote in “How Black People Use Twitter” that certain trending hashtags have been started and dominated by African American users. BET even named the “Top Twitter Black Hashtags of 2013” that included #AskArmani and #PaulasBestDishes. Both hashtags were saturated with rhetorical and tongue-in-check responses to the Armani and Paula Deen brands, which many deemed had made appalling and regrettable mistakes and statements.

“While users from a variety of backgrounds joke and play games on Twitter, many Black users engage in these activities in ways that closely mirror longstanding traditions in Black American communities,” said Sarah Florini in “Tweet, Tweeps, and Signifyin’.”

If that’s true, then I see this practice as a sturdy use of Twitter. It allows an individual who has been moved by a particular topic to speak with others about it.

Since I’ve mentioned demographics and socio-economics, I might as well bring up psychographics, or subgroups of those interested in particular topics. If someone took my Twitter away during the quadrennial Republican and Democratic conventions, I would tear up. I crave the second-by-second commentary of the nation. I don’t care what Wolf Blitzer says in a post-recap, I want to read public snark and raw emotion.

This participation allows me to connect to fellow politicos, even for a night. I can’t talk to my family or coworkers about politics, and sometimes it’s even dicey to speak among my friends, thus Twitter is my outlet.

While I can’t transfer my feelings to a different group of people, I can boil this post down to something more simple: collective ideas. That’s social media’s greatest aptitude. If all social media did was “connect” us to one another, we’d still be using phone books. Social media takes the ethereal and transforms it into reality. (My favorite example is embedded below.)

One shouldn’t label certain social media sites as being primarily for one group of people over another. It all comes down to use. How does one person and the group that he or she identifies with intend to use the tool?

Sometimes organizations and journalists get caught up in reporting data by race, age, income, and education like the census. While it’s interesting, we could also just ask: Why are we drawn to social media?

To have a voice, to discourse, to raise concerns, to laugh, to cry, to help others, to add more value to our everyday lives…

 

Memphis in May: Resource Roundup

Loyal MusicFest fanatics already know the ins and outs of trouncing through mud and cutting into mile-long porta-potty lines. But here are some useful hints for first-timers and veteran reminders for the 38-year-old Memphis in May International Festival.

Beale Street Music Festival (May 2 – 4)

  • The Lineup features dozens including Kid Rock, the Alabama Shakes, Joan Jett, and the mainstay Jerry Lee “The Killer” Lewis.
  • The Stage Schedule becomes your bible as you’ll be forced to make painfully difficult decisions like seeing either Foster the People or Snoop Dogg.
  • Tickets! Sellouts are possible. Single one-days start at $35+
  • Drinks? Mostly SoCo, sodas, and run-of-the-mill beer.
  • Park anywhere downtown and walk, bus, or Trolley to Tom Lee Park. Expect to pay at least $20 the closer you get. Tip: Line your floor boards with newspaper for your muddy footprints.
  • I personally take taxis. Call Omar and you can disco your way downtown with party lights and a mirror ball.
  • Rain gear: Locals call it “Memphis in Mud” for a reason. Pre-purchase some wellies because the city oddly sells out. Guys: Try Home Depot, Lowe’sOutdoors Inc., and Bass ProLadies: You have many more options; start with Target.
  • Where’s Waldo? The crowd is so dense that you WILL get separated and cell service will be dicey. I suggest setting old-fashioned meeting places and times upon arrival. And I highly recommend gaudy, blinking apparel. My crunk, Superman glow necklace reunited us last year.

Salute to Panama (May 5 – 11)

  • Brush up on your Spanish greetings because music-loving Panamanians will descend on the town expecting your hospitality.
  • Viva Panama!, the main attraction, will feature a night of jazz and Central American cuisine at the Orpheum on Thursday, May 8.

World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (May 15 – 17)

  • Tip: Know that it’s mostly private tents and teams, however, if you hang around ’til the weeknight evenings and have a friendly smile, you might score an invite.
  • Want to be a judge but lack a law degree? Well, for $60, you can taste, vote, and be sucked up to by 250 barbecuers. (The judging deadline came early, but good to know for next year.)
  • The Ms. Piggie Idol Contest will take place Thursday, May 15 at 6 p.m. It’s a snort-worthy revue of pop culture, satire, and elbow ribbing by the teams themselves.

Sunset Symphony (May 24)

  • The event is budget and family-friendly, and picnic baskets are welcome (more FAQs).
  • Your rite of passage to becoming a local is hearing a rendition of “Ol’ Man River” on the Mississippi at sunset.

P.S. Suffer short-term memory loss? Just download the free MIM app to your iPhone or Android.

Effective Engagement: Context, Conversation, and Booze

Who doesn’t love a good dinner party? Worldly discussions and cocktails! Similiar to sociable hosts, savvy journalists are conversation starters.

They pull relevant points from hour-long public speeches. They give background on municipal budgets worth $613 million. And they listen to the wants and woes of the community.

How have I engaged an audience in four months? By providing context, invoking conversations, and going where the people are.

For Olivia Pope the fixer, her end game is to make the public aware of a topic, gain interest, and ultimately change attitudes and behaviors. That’s the watered-down version of “audience engagement” as described in Philip Napoli‘s Audience Evolution. Some form of mental processing must happen before someone becomes engaged.

So how does a journalist grab one’s attention? By being provocative, news-breaking, or insightful. Provocation frequently incites argument and story-breaking is rare. However, informed commentary or detailed context can set a writer apart.

Geneva Overholser espouses that because of the proliferation of digital storytelling, wise journalists should spend time reporting extra details. No longer are writers limited by newsroom word-count limits. There’s no fuss over uploading a black and white versus a color photo. It’s even a cake-walk to cite other sources. (It’s elementary to hyperlink!)

Readers can gain more information from online mediums, therefore, it’s virtually our duty to add more insight, or context, to reporting. That’s what I’ve attempted by covering local events. Post-event quotes, venue descriptions, and historical details add oomph to scene blogging, (rather than posting aggrandizing announcements).

Yet, no matter how much data or detail one provides, social interests must be piqued. “If audiences are looking for a human dimension in the creation and distribution of news, they might as well be looking for themselves in that process,” said Doreen Marchionni in “Journalism-as-a-Conversation.”

Through Rising Stars, I found it salient to depict millennials through a casual lens. While notable city publications profile the careers of young do-gooders and their accompanying head-shots, they lack grit and grind. In real life, informality and humility win people over conversationally.

Thus, I took Marchionni’s advice and reflected what people saw in themselves. And it’s worked. Now, each Rising Star post has garnered at least 100 views and attracts new site visitors.

Lastly, one thing I’ve noticed that works in engaging my audience is…booze! How do I know? Because Mayer and Stern’s engagement tips mention the importance of metadata. Google “Memphis Patio Hopscotch,” and the first 13 results are all my doing.

I wasn’t Google-bombing; I simply added appropriate tags and strategically posted on public Facebook profiles. Further, I used the same tactic when reporting on local juke joints, and that entry clocked 1,551 views. Either the Internet has a drinking problem or Memphians are loyal to their barstools.

Okay, while beer and wine aren’t ubiquitous ingredients for engaging fans, they are apparently relevant to my audience. And that’s my parting point! Find what your readers want to know, and serve it up on a silver platter.

One of several Overholser's insights from her 2014 guest lecture at the University of Memphis. Click for a descriptive Storify.

One of several Overholser’s insights from her 2014 guest lecture at the University of Memphis. Click for a descriptive Storify.

LinkedIn-and-Out and Back In

LinkedIn has baffled me over the years. I found the public resume format with so many intricate details quite odd, especially when I wasn’t job hunting.

However, its presence and uptick in use among professionals and employers have solidified its credibility. I’ve caught myself researching people online (e.g., those applying for a position), and if a well-constructed LinkedIn profile surfaces, I trust them a bit more.

That’s one of the many powers behind social media tools. By having a presence on a robotically-algorithmic site, it can spark an emotional response: “Oh, thank goodness she has a photo!”

While I’ve been a member of LinkedIn for years, I’ve seriously neglected my activity there. About every six months, I’ll log in and find 300+ people trying to “get in my belly network!” I usually can recall an interaction with about 65%. The rest is a guessing game.

But since I’m a textbook Leo, the more, the merrier!

Further, I did some profile pruning recently and am finally happy with the layout. I moved volunteer board positions to another section, “Organizations,” which has kept my day-to-day work history crisp.

Even though I haven’t listed five bullet points for each title, I did include one summary sentence of my work. It’s not the kitchen sink. It’s not a resume. But it should provide a telling glimpse for friends, colleagues, nosey competitors, and unknowns to understand my scope.

I write this as a testament for fellow skeptics to revisit an old site with the mindset that you don’t have to conform to rules or guidelines that modern-day Emily Posts preach.

Just try what works for you. If it doesn’t, there are thousands of other sites awaiting your mastery.

Patio Hopscotch across 38104

Springtime in Memphis summons the stodgiest from their cubes to outdoor dining. Fortunately, for self-professed people watchers and the light-depraved, patios are aplenty.

They’re in such abundance that I couldn’t begin to list them all. Each one offers up its own vibe, perks, and unique menu. So, I’ve narrowed it down to a dozen decks within the 38104 zip code:

These places pack patrons on weeknights and weekend afternoons. Below is an interactive map that includes individual descriptions for each and easy-to-map directions.

So bike, hopscotch, or stumble your way through Midtown (with shades and sunscreen, of course).

 

Take 5: Veena Rangaswami

Meet an intercontinental non-profiteer who digs blogging, the Far East, and has a soft spot for Elvis.

Veena Rangaswami

Puzzles never get in Veena’s way, especially when they impede global progress.

Stage name: Veena Rangaswami

Friends call her: V., Veeno, Veener, Vienna (i.e., she’s too friendly)

Starring roles: Program Manager (and expert catch-all) for The Wandering Samaritan, a New York-based nonprofit startup; recent graduate of the Clinton School of Public Service

Daily script: “Connecting international travelers with a sponsored miracle bank – donations fund miracles around the world.”

Really? “Yes, if travelers find a need, then they can help fund it.” Veena mentioned a friend of the founder’s who was passing through Nepal and learned that power outages were preventing children from doing their homework at night. He sent word to Wandering Samaritan who subsequently sponsored a solar panel installation for that family.

Your inspiration? “After college, I worked in India and taught English at a home for working street children in Bangalore for four years. Child laborers, runaways, those begging…anytime you see a child alone, you can call a helpline that sends the police and a social worker who bring them to a transitional home.”

Behind the scenes of blogging: “I like to issue challenges to myself. It started when I was applying to grad school. It was a way to keep my friends everywhere updated on what was happening.” See Veena’s “Wonderful World.”

And the King? “I love going to Graceland. Whenever family would visit from India, they would always want to see Elvis’ house. I bribe people to come to Memphis so I can go; I like to share it with other people.”

Personal best? A conservative estimate of 27 visits.

(Thanks for introducing us, Dylan Perry!)

Young Pros Advocate for Young Girls

For nearly 70 years, women have been organizing to mentor and guide youth in the Mid-South. This past year, 4,000 of Memphis’ young girls have been impacted by school-based programming and mentoring relationships because of Girls Inc.

“Girls face tremendous barriers today and issues that society places on them,” said Lisa Moore, president and CEO of Girls Inc. of Memphis. Moore began her career with the organization and worked at the headquarters in Indianapolis. She returned to the nonprofit last summer to take the helm locally.

“Fun, engaging programs and mentors help unearth their brilliance and provide an environment where they realize that and what they have to give to the world,” Moore said. She credits the staff and scores of volunteers for the success of their programs which promote fitness, creativity, confidence, mentoring, literacy, leadership development, and more.

While professionals have been serving as mentors for decades, a new avenue has surfaced for those that would like to assist in other ways. “What inspired me to start this is that there’s also a hands-on need to raise money to provide support,” said Amanda Eckersley, a Girls Inc. board member. Eckersley is leading an auxiliary group of young professional women to raise funds and awareness.

Even though Eckersley has been volunteering her time as a mentor, she admits that the organization has also made a difference in her life. “When I lost my mother in the summer of 2012, the only reason I left my house was for my weekly Girls Inc. session,” she said.

For 2014, the Young Professional Women’s Group (YPWG) is planning to host events such as a lunch and learn, networking mixers, and a “Red Heel Run” to engage the community. One of the group’s first champions is Jamesha Hayes, a Girls Inc. alumna and teacher at Freedom Prep Academy. “Talking to a girl for two seconds could change her life forever,” Hayes said.

While Hayes regularly volunteers as a mentor, she didn’t hesitate to join another venture to further the cause. “It’s necessary because we need something to rally around,” she said. “I want Girls Inc. to be a household name.”

YPWG Event

YPWG for Girls Inc. is hosting a happy hour April 29.

To get involved with Girls Inc. and efforts by the YPWG, check out their Facebook page or contact Amanda Eckersley or Andrew Israel (staff).