JOUR 7330: Twerking

I twerk for class. I even get a grade for it. That’s Tweeting + Working.

Oh, you want in? Curious about my hip prof? Check out her emerging research: http://changingnewsroom.wordpress.com

I’ll post reflections from our weekly readings here. If you go any further than this, you’ll be reading my homework. But that’s okay…since it’s a social media class. Feel free to follow and join us via #J7330.

Thousands Take the Ice-bucket Challenge for Good

While some like Brian Carney have written dissents regarding the forced altruism behind the viral “Ice-bucket Challenge,” one has to admit that this frenzied fad has made waves.

The ALS Association’s Ice-bucket Challenge has reached millions of viewers as thousands have participated, uploaded videos, and made donations to charity. Celebrities, presidents, school teachers, and even billionaires have been peer pressured into being silly for what will hopefully make a make long-term impact against a debilitating disease.

It’s no doubt that the ALS Association has benefited with a record-breaking $51.3 million raised, largely due to this campaign, in addition to the aided awareness.

What’s personally fascinating is the vast reach of young to old, rich to poor, popular to unknown…this social media tactic ignited a visible movement. People have openly expressed their support, financially contributed, had fun, and involved others. That’s exactly what nonprofits and many businesses strive for when engaging audiences.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (my employer) had a viral success earlier this year thanks to Ellen DeGeneres’ star-studded selfie that was retweeted by millions. The children’s hospital received more than $1 million along with millions of mentions because of a charitable social media push.

Although many folks challenged themselves and others for sport, I am glad to see strangers cheerfully uniting online for good causes. It sure beats the daily vitriol and mindless BuzzFeed posts that typically fill my newsfeed.

With that being said, bottom’s up:

Learned Advice from Living Social Media

Well folks, the show’s over: I came, I blogged, I conquered. What most of you don’t know is that I started this blog as an extension of a grad-school course: Social Media Theory and Practice by the indispensable, innovative, and often imitated Dr. Carrie Brown-Smith.

She’s classy to share her trade secrets with novices and burgeoning professionals. And in four months, her apprentices have Googled, WordPressed, crowdsourced, conversed, curated, chatted, Cinemagram’d, Wiki’d, tweeted, tumblr’d, photographed, video’d, viral’d, YouTubed, 365’d, optimized, LinkedIn, Facebooked, FourSquared, Yelped, Pinterest’d, recon’d, resourced, TechCrunched, Jarvis’d, Rosen’d, Shirky’d, Storifed, metricked, mapped, and engaged audiences. All for our own brands.

I emphatically understand that “life is about small events,” as Brad King penned. Every interaction (IRL and online) is an opportunity. And I’ve taken advantage of many:

  • My Storifies and hashtag participation have linked me to renowned academic journalists across the country.
  • Generous link-sharing resulted in guest posting on one of my favorite sites.
  • I’ve interviewed and subsequently quoted 60 people. Many new to me and now future contacts.
  • Actively following a new Facebook group led to being cast as a movie extra…now proudly touting an IMDB.
  • Mapping data netted me free drinks on a sunshine-laden patio.

If President Obama appointed this professor to a post, she’d be THE nation’s Social Media Czar. Thank you, Carrie, for imparting your wisdom, helping me find my voice, and uncovering a new passion.

My five-minute thesis, “Journalism Disrupted: Entrepreneurs & the Nouveau Niche,” with inclusions from Dr. Brown’s #SOCIALJ and Dr. Kelley’s #JPRENEUR classes. Presented on April 8, 2014 at Christian Brothers University for Ignite CBU. 

“Let Me Take a Selfie” and Change the World

Selfies are en vogue. People pose for them during their morning commute, while traveling alone, and especially when clubbin’ (thus inspiring this spring’s hit song).

I’ve personally jumped on the bandwagon by recently capturing my brother and his new wife’s first moment as a married couple. The second after they were deemed official, it was selfie time.

Ellen DeGeneres‘ star-laden candid was the most retweeted tweet ever. While that selfie’s record is Oscar-worthy, its generous impact meant more. Yes, a tweet that was circulated more than 34 million times resulted in millions donated to charity including $1.5MM to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. (Disclosure: St. Jude is my employer.)

Yet this week, it was time to one-up Ellen.

One of my favorite parts of the job is giving people tours of St. Jude, especially first-timers. On Monday, we hosted professionals, streamers, and influencers from the highest echelons of the virtual gaming world to help launch a streaming-fundraising platform for St. Jude: Play Live.

Because my group was so enthusiastic and light-hearted, I sporadically wanted to remember our fun time together. While I asked others to post the pic, they said, “Go for it,” and they’d join the effort. And did they ever?!

113 favorites and 26 retweets resulted because of their audiences. Small potatoes to Ellen, St. Jude, and them personally, but astonishing for a commoner like me.

However, my point isn’t to selfishly talk about a silly selfie. It’s the heart and generosity of others. These celebs, social media juggernauts, and gaming royals chose to help St. Jude and spread the cause to their followers. (My group alone had a collective 450,000.)

It wasn’t blasé self-promotion. It wasn’t calculated. It was their spur-of-the-moment, genuine desire to help others.

And that’s pretty rad if you ask me.

*We tried to take a proper, arm-showing selfie but a Baby Boomer interrupted us and just grabbed my phone. Pictured are Johnathan, Max, Aureylian, Panser, Ducksauce, Ms Vixen, MC, Renée, Noah, and Sarah.

P.S. Watch for super-cool stuff from #PlayLive and Twitch streamers next month.

Content, Curation, and Criticism

“The greatest reward for consistently sharing interesting content…is the request for new connections, friends, fans, and followers,” said Brian Solis. As he further outlined in this article, Solis writes that information is currency, and curation done well is an art.

What’s nifty about content curation is that “links are presents that can be given or earned but not bought,” according to Jeff Jarvis. Who doesn’t like sharing free finds?

That’s modern day curation, which includes pretty much everyone that shares deals, ideas, jokes, and news. But if you can figure out a way to cash in by spreading cool content, you’ve reached baller status.

To do this expertly, it’s better if you have a trained eye within your topic. If you’re a fashionista like Elle Perry, I therefore trust the trendy wardrobe recommendations. If you’re “Piled higher. (and) Deeper,” you probably know more about your subject area than me. Mindy McAdams‘ seven curation tips point out that if you’re an authority on a matter, readers trust you more.

Every post in my beat is derived from personal experiences. Whether I went to an event, visited a restaurant, or interviewed someone, I’m relaying first-hand insights or information to others.

Some use curation to dive into the experiences and emotions of others. “For me, I wanted to tell the story of Tunisia at an extraordinary moment in time, and capture as much personal media as possible from people living through it,” said Andy Carvin in an interview with Ethan Zuckerman. Carvin covered several country fallouts from the ground up via Twitter.

Yet, curating, like other forms of journalism, can come at a cost. If one develops a heavy habit of aggregating articles or finds, meaningful content could get sacrificed. And reputations could become diluted. (BuzzFeed comes to mind.)

And then there are the critics. A couple of months ago, I photographed some popular drinking establishments around town. The “Juke Joint” post garnered more than 1,500 uniques. Maybe because it was bars. Maybe because it sounded subversive.

As I had feared, not everyone agreed with my choices. Worse. Some vehemently told me so. This or that selection was “more than a stretch” to be placed on that list.

All picks were homegrown, independent venues that feature local music. And I prefaced the post explaining my broader definition of a juke joint (not the Delta-specific, turn-of-the-century one). Why? Because it’s 2014.

And we live in a metropolis.

Even going down South to Clarksdale’s Ground Zero wouldn’t replicate Harpo’s hidden joint.

Was I perturbed by the discourse? No. But my immediate reaction was along the same vein of Jeff Jarvis’ sentiments…”Those damn hipsters,” I thought. Scout them out some grungy spots where the closing time isn’t posted, and it’s still not edgy enough.

My intent was to start a conversation about freshening up the “juke joint” label because these too were institutions of local culture. Yes, traditional word choice meanings are important, but sometimes it’s the popular sites that’ll be remembered as historic.

Then I realized, it’s all a matter of perspective and maybe everyone doesn’t have the gift to bring soul wherever they go.

My juke joint is a place where I can mingle, drink, and jive. And it just so happens that I’ve curated one hell of a long list.

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…

 

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.