engaging fans

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.

They like it? Hey, Mikey!

Businesses live and die by big data. In fact, there’s so much content production (2.5 quintillion bytes per day according to IBM) that we can’t begin to make sense of it.

However, metrics and optimization tools are here to help us. As a new blogger, I don’t have to spend my day counting the different IP addresses that hit my site. WordPress magically aggregates the number of unique views and slices and dices them to my liking.

Reporters don’t have to scour through 2.9 million Google results pages to find an acceptable definition of “quintillion.” They can mostly trust the first page because search engine optimization (SEO) terms push the salient sites to the top.

Metrics have enabled us to analyze, infer, and interpret large quantities of information. Metrics have shown newsrooms which headlines spike traffic. And metrics have infatuated leaders to the point where decisions can be made based solely on numbers.

If data is available, it should be studied. Highly clicked stories can let an editor know what’s resonating with people. This is especially helpful for news outlets who are still trying to determine how to monetize operations as advertising and subscription revenues have decreased.

According to a study by Nikki UsherAl Jazeera, the Middle Eastern media network, has captured the attention of millions (e.g., 220MM households), established itself as a notable news source, and grown rapidly over the last 18 years, all while being financed by monarchs. i.e., “They got money.”

To some, a news organization being owned by rich, powerful people sounds alarming, yet it’s worked for decades.  Around the world, readers have trusted the San Francisco Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal, and CNN despite the names Hearst, Murdoch, and Turner. (Albeit, Al Jazeera’s financiers are also government leaders.)

As a result, Al Jazeera has been insulated from the economic penalties associated with being a news organization. It doesn’t risk losing readers from the creation of a pay-wall. It doesn’t have to compromise editorial decisions to only produce stories that will guarantee a bump in web traffic. And its staff have the luxury to focus on what they want to do: report the news.

Is it worried about profits? Of course! But execs and managers keep track of the bottom line. While Al Jazeera is in a plumb position to ignore perilous economic effects, it still keeps up with metrics. Usher found that individual reporters want to see who’s reading what. Managers want to see what audiences want.

Even if Al Jazeera’s modus operandi seems vague to others, it clearly understands that measuring engagement is critical. Because of social media, viewers can tell companies what they like and dislike. Yet, direct conversation is not the only way to communicate.

Everyday, we interpret emotion and feelings from nonverbal body language. Likewise, news organizations, journalists, and bootstrapping bloggers infer a lot from metrics. By tracking the behavior of users, we can stay one step ahead in this content-saturated world.

Visit Steadman's blog for quintillion explained.

Mark Steadman built this clutch quintillion infographic. Click graphic to see his Robin Leach-esque break-down.

“I love Memphis” may sound cliché, but these three don’t care.

You’re 26. You live in Midtown. You boogie downtown. You go to tweet ups and meet ups. You volunteer. You happy hour. You hum the blues. You grit. You grind. You are Memphis.

So, what?! Along with the thousands of other folks? I’ve never been shy of the bandwagon, so it’s refreshing to see what will hopefully evolve from a cultural fad into lasting civic pride.

That pride is palpable, and there are entire sites dedicated to it. Let’s review a few: Choose901, I Love Memphis, and theGRIND.

Choose901 offers a robust terminal for navigating the city. Whether it’s restaurant picks, prominent local blogs, or job openings, you can find many up-to-date tidbits. Choose901 is more down-to-earth than an “official visitor’s guide” in that it includes the most interesting part of our city: the people.

  • My favorite feature is Choose901 TV where you can meet residents like Samilia Colar, an entrepreneur-seamstress, or Kevin Mattice, a math teacher turned coffee-lover. Well, maybe you can’t meet them here, but that’s my point. I feel like I have; this site builds community!
  • Helpful tips? I have no clue who’s in charge of Choose901. I want to learn about the writer(s), publisher, photographer(s), developer(s), owner(s)…some bios or added detail on the about page would suffice. Also, its “enjoy” tab leads the user to a gargantuan listing of past and upcoming events. It would be nice to have them categorized by type (e.g., music, sports, and fundraisers).

The I Love Memphis blog is operated by the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and one of its staff: full-time blogger Holly Whitfield. The blog’s extensive posts span the gamut from Elvis-related to highlighting local causes and needs (Project 50). I Love Memphis has been an activity portal for locals and visitors since its founding in 2009 by Kerry Crawford, and it’s still charming.

  • My favorite feature is 5 Things to Do This Weekend which provides a heads up on the cool and quirky events (along with schedules, venue information, and pricing) every week. If you ever come up short on plans, check it out.
  • Helpful tip? A plus to this blog is that most of its content has a long shelf-life. However, it would be nice if the latest and greatest was identified with more chutzpah. The homepage begins with page one and goes to 549; all the posts look the same. Maybe some type of color-coding or highlighting would help the reader distinguish between the new and old (rather than a fine-print dateline).

theGrind is an online magazine published by students of Rhodes College that launched last month. It presents profiles of residents, events, art, music, and photography that is unique to the city. theGrind’s crisp layout and striking imagery allows the reader to nearly feel the pulse of the city through the lens of Midtown millennials.

  • My favorite feature is the overall design and the photography section. It’s up-close and stunning! For those of you who’ve moved away from Memphis, just visit this site every once in a while to cure your homesickness.
  • Helpful tips? Overall, the navigation is straightforward and the content is organized, however, the transitions can be jarring. Several of the sections have different looks and styles to display content so it can give the impression that you’re jumping to another site. Also, Humans of Memphis does not list the names of the subjects that I assume it’s quoting. (Maybe it’s intended to be gallery-esque and not the typical interview profile?)

Super Social: Choose901 and I Love Memphis do an excellent job of engaging readers through social networks. @Choose901 recently had a t-shirt promotion where it announced a code via Twitter for people to purchase an exclusive run of shirts. They sold out faster than a Justin Timberlake concert. @ILoveMemphis has done an excellent job of responding to reader questions and sending timely reminders about events. @TheGrindMemphis is still working up its Twitter following, yet its Facebook page is loaded with content and has more than 1,000 likes.

This trio promotes Memphis and provides a service to the city. These sites are more than a billboard or brochure, they engage and listen to their audiences through social networking and fun promotions. While it may be confusing to some to see multiple Memphis-centric sites popping up, they each have a niche to fill for our natives, transplants, and passerby. Kudos to each of you and keep the hometown love comin’.

galvanizing your peeps…and tweeps

As social media dominates the next century, it continually undermines something that happened 300 million years ago. Pangaea, our planet’s former super-continent, broke apart and created divides that separated people until travel finally intervened. Today, physical barriers no longer obstruct communication, ideation, or galvanization. While people may still be far from one another physically, the influence that social media continues to garner worldwide is nearly Pangaea-like.

In Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, the notion of connecting people behind a cause is not portrayed as novel but powerful. His account of Evan Guttman’s attempt to retrieve his friend’s stolen cell phone by publicly blogging the ordeal conveyed that human emotion and mass participation had a direct influence on government bureaucracy. Readers of Guttman’s blog rallied behind a cause that they connected with and lent their voice (and outrage) to solving a problem.

Because social media is fueled by technology, there are Orwellian fears that it will increase distance between people. While Nicholas Carr makes a strong argument that social media causes more distracted people, the opportunities for game-changing collaboration and open source projects outweigh having harried attention spans (in my opinion).

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (my employer) open sources its side projects and research related to its Pediatric Cancer Genome Project. St. Jude believes that the more access scientists have to information related to anomalies in the genetic code (that lead to cancer), the better. It allows researchers across the globe that have a vested interest to request access and explore the data. Why? Because children could be ultimately be helped by others with a fresh set of eyes, other resources, and different ways of thinking.

That harkens to Shirky’s point, and others. People have already converged. Now, we’re in the next phase of witnessing results, actions, and progress.

Pictorial reaction to class readings by Burton Bridges.

Pictorial reaction to class readings by Burton Bridges.

Other articles of interest from this week: