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The Conversion of a Social Media Skeptic

I never saw myself taking a social media class.

ripe-organic-strawberry-field-1392513-mIn fact, my first blog post was about how I was taking a hiatus from Facebook and other social networking sites. Imagine my chagrin when I found out that a requirement of the class was to use even more social networking sites to create and maintain a personal brand, the maintenance of which required daily posts on various social media platforms.

So, I made the accounts, standardized my profile picture, and added biographies. After the creation of the accounts, my activity on them stagnated and the accounts just sat. I was a horrible personal brand manager, but that was not a surprise to me.

I am a very personal and private person. I don’t like sharing my thoughts and life events online. Call me old school, but I enjoy talking to people in person. This posting thing is too impersonal to me. I needed something to get behind. I needed to make social media not about me. That was when a golden opportunity presented itself.

Since sophomore year, I have been volunteering for a community garden in North Omaha called City Sprouts. The organization is relatively well-known in Creighton circles because there are many Creighton organizations that volunteer at the garden every once in a while. Every year in May, the garden participates in Omaha Gives!, a 24-hour online fundraising event, which raises money for businesses and nonprofits alike. With such a busy schedule this semester, I was not able to volunteer in the gardens Saturday mornings. I thought working on a social media plan to help City Sprouts fundraise during Omaha Gives! would substitute for my Saturday morning gardening.

Once I got behind this social media campaign, I came to better appreciate the power of social media. I have logged on to webinairs about using social media in conjunction with Omaha Gives! and learned a lot from how other community organizations use social media. From working on this campaign and listening to Dr. Carol Zuegner’s lectures in class, I know that my social media presence will increase online. It is already growing.

Since January, my Klout score has doubled, from 19 to 42. In that time, I have also increased my “influence” on Kred. However, with an outreach level of one of 12, my social media presence still has room to grow and I mean to grow it, just like City Sprouts hopes to grow with the help of donations during Omaha Gives! this May 21.

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What happens after everyone’s on Facebook?

What happens after everyone’s on Facebook?

Will this ever happen?

ImageThe simple answer: it’s definitely possible. Though the world’s population just passed the 7 billion mark and is on pace to reach 10 billion by 2050, the use of social networking sites is also on the rise. But, wait, online social networking sites, like Facebook, are relatively young, compared to natural social networking like Humanity, which has been exponentially growing since the Industrial Revolution. The growth of online social networking sites would have to add everyone currently alive before eventually keeping pace with population growth. Considering that Facebook continues to grow at about 10 percent per year, this pace may be possible. Of course, the big limiting factor here is the fact that not everyone has access to the Internet. In fact, only 2.24 billion people are online, according to the latest figures from the International Telecommunications Union.

However, let’s pretend we live in a universally-connected world (which is very possible in the near future with continued development). Everyone has access to the Internet. Would everyone then make a Facebook account? The latest statistics from the Pew Research Internet Project tell us “yes.” Seventy-three percent of adults use social networking sites. With 71 percent of those online users having a profile, Facebook is far and away the most popular social networking site.

Great! Now, we’re all connected on Facebook. Now what happens? This is the playground of futurists and science fiction writers. As a fan of science fiction, I’ve read a few novels that include universal social networking-like themes.  Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars opens with the protagonist and his friends playing in a fully submersible virtual world. (I know some people who sometimes feel like Candy Crush and Mafia Wars are real life.) Of course, there are also lots of science fiction books and movies that depict futures in which people live there lives out in computer-generated realities (e.g. The Matrix). I don’t think this is our future, but I can’t  More often than not, science fiction is only fiction for a short time before it becomes fact. What reality will we choose to live in?

Sneaky Marketing

As a kid, I remember shoveling into my mouth the last spoonfuls of my Honey Nut Cheerios, hurriedly draining my cereal bowl of sweet, sweet milk, and sliding the bowl and spoon into the sink. I would fly from the bar stool to the breakfast nook and speed down the hall to the computer room, where I would have 10 or 15 minutes to play Honey Nut Cheerios: Honey Defender before I leaving for school. I’d help Buzz the bee defend his honey against thieves so that the next box of Honey Nut Cheerios would be as delicious as the last. Little did I know General Mills, the maker of Honey Nut Cheerios, was using the game to get me to buy more cereal.

ImageIt’s all a part of a new marketing frontier called “Content Marketing.” Some businesses, like John Deere, have been marketing products through magazines since the end of the nineteenth century. Other companies, especially recent start-ups, are coming into the game during a boom fueled by the ubiquity of social media. Zapier--a company that connects different apps together–would not have existed a decade ago; however, today the company uses content marketing in a business-to-business model. Danny Schreiber, a Creighton alumnus and new content marketer at Zapier, visited my Social Media class to talk about Zapier’s content marketing.

According to Schreiber, content marketing requires extensive measurements of social media engagement, exhaustive promotion of the product, and meticulous SEOing of material. When he began his job at Zapier last fall, Schreiber outlined seven steps to successful content marketing for Zapier.

  1. Choosing a topic. The topic Zapier focuses on is productivity. Their weekly blog posts focus on increasing productivity in businesses.
  2. Effectively use six different content types.
  3. Finding ways to weave promotion into content. An example would be to include Zapier in a listicle of apps that improve productivity.
  4. Setting up an editorial schedule. Schreiber tries to post to the Zapier blog every Tuesday.
  5. Measuring. Schreiber determines whether views of blog posts convert to sales of the product.
  6. Promoting. Schreiber will often link to other products and blogs.
  7. Guest posting. He hopes linking to other blogs will encourage those organizations to share his blog post.

Content marketing is a budding frontier, with some measurable success. Well, it definitely worked on me. I still eat Honey Nut Cheerios to this day.

Too fast to the presses

Last Wednesday in my social media class, we talked about social media management during disasters and tragedies. Problems arise when news sources are quick to post unverified information on their social media. In the end, this misinformation becomes a source of embarrassment for the media outlet and a source of annoyance for media consumers.

ImageTake for example when NPR mistakenly reported that then Rep. Gabby Giffords had died from injuries sustained when a gunmman opened fire at a constituent meet-and-greet. As Alicia Shepard reflects, any glory NPR had from breaking the story of the shooting evaporated when the public radio mistakenly reported the representative’s death. Even those outside the news industry need to step delicately during crises. Businesses should wait before promoting their brand in the midst of disasters or risk harming their brand.

Unfortunately, a case study in social media management during a tragedy offered itself up hours after the lecture. An Army specialist at Fort Hood in Fort Hood, Texas opened fire, killing or wounding 19 of his fellow soldiers Wednesday. Twitter was instantaneously a storm of information about the shooting, from the number of killed or injured to the number of gunmen. And as expected, different news outlets were reporting different details. Some news outlets reported three deaths, while others reported 4 deaths, attributing the information to USA Today. It was later confirmed that three were deceased. Misinformation continued into the next day. CNN tweeted that shooter was an Iraq veteran being treated for mental issues, but the Army has disputed this claim.

If media outlets were not pressured to be the first to the scoop, then we wouldn’t have to question the verifiability of news. And I, for one, would wait for the truth than get served misinformation to the point that I can’t separate fact from fiction.

Pawsome power of social media

The Nebraska Human Society is all about providing sanctuary, protection and adoption of animals. Walking into the main building on their campus off of Fort Street, one’s awed by all the things that are happening under one roof: animal education, training, healthcare and adoption. It’s very much a cat and dog (and apparently, rat) world. After you tour the kennels in the back of the building, you almost can’t leave without at least considering taking some critter home. But as much as it is about animals at the NHS office, its all about the bipedal animal–man–on the society’s social media pages.

photoWhen I looked at the NHS Facebook page last Wednesday, the organization had almost 45,000 followers. Elizabeth Hilpipre, the society’s social media guru, explained how the organization uses a combination of metrics, engagement and cute animals to promote the mission of the society. Society’s powerful presence online has grown over the course of four years because of Elizabeth’s tireless work. Elizabeth understands Facebook’s algorithm and how to promote her content through sharing and posting at specific times. She responds to questions, though the task is tiring. She knows what people want, and she delivers, using it to her advantage.

For example, Elizabeth knows people universally love puppies, so she posted a picture of puppies. The post was shared and liked a multitude of people. Then, taking advantage of the popularity of the society’s page, she posted a picture of a pitbull named “Boomer,” who was have trouble finding a home. The popularity of the puppies’ picture made the society’s posts more relevant and put the posts higher on followers’ newsfeeds. Within a day of posting about the homeless pitbull, Boomer had found a home.

The power of social media is awe-inspiring, and if one can harness its power, one can raise a lot of money and attention for good causes. In her time at NHS, Elizabeth has raised nearly $200,000 for the non-profit organization, which depends on donations. But, perhaps what’s most rewarding is that because of Elizabeth’s efforts, many animals have found a home.

Birds of a feather flock together (on Twitter too)

How often do you hang around people with different views from your own? Be honest–not very often. Why is that? We’re always told to go out and talk to people with different opinions, different beliefs, different views. We call it “getting some perspective” or “hearing the other side.” But once we’ve found that perspective and come near to the end of our wits listening to that other side, we don’t continue the conversation. In fact, we drop the conversation entirely and move onto more agreeable topics. Only later do we pick up the conversation again with like-minded people to consider what we have learned from the other side.

ImageAs our lives have increasingly transitioned into the online world, these interactions have moved online too. The Pew Research Internet Project has mapped our conversations on Twitter (scary!) and found that the Polarized Crowd network structure, as described above, is only one of several types of crowds and conversations that take place on Twitter. Before the institute’s analysis sounds intrusive like the highly-criticized NSA surveillance program, consider their findings: “There are at least six distinctive structures of social media crowds which form depending on the subject being discussed, the information sources being cited, the social networks of the people talking about the subject, and the leaders of the conversation.”

The four conversational archetypes on Twitter that appear most in my Twitter feed are Tight Crowd, Community Clusters, Broadcast Network and Support Network. My Editing professor, Sara Ziegler, is attending the annual American Copy Editors Society (ACES) conference. As part of her tweets during the conference, she included #ACES2014, so her tweets are grouped with other tweets from the conference, which is a tight crowd of assuredly grammatical sticklers. The tweets of the whole ACES conference are swallowed by the number of tweets related to March Madness. As a follower of CBS and ESPN, I’ve noticed that the two sports news sources are using slightly different hashtags to group conversations about games. These different groupings are a prime example of community clusters. When I am too maddened by the madness (or the state of my bracket), I turn my attention back to real news, like the situation in Crimea. There again I find clusters of conversation surrounding different news sources from CNN to NPR. Though the news of the Russian annexation of Crimea is all the same, twitter users are grouped into different broadcast networks depending upon their source for news. Now, before you think I only use Twitter, I want to say that I do see Twitter as a social networking site. Amongst the tweets about Crimea and Creighton Basketball, I found a tweet from a friend complaining (and rightfully so) about Delta Airlines’ service. I was a little surprised but heartened that Delta responded to her complaint. This be an example of the support network Delta has built around its business.

How long until the next Winter Olympics?

The torch has been extinguished. The athletes have all gone home, some with metals that testify to their athletic ability and others with newfound canine friends. As the world shifts its attention, Sochi has become a ghost town overnight, with its  infamous stray dogs returning to reclaim the streets. There’s no more buzz on social media, no more triumphant tweets. All I find at primetime on NBC are primetime television sitcoms.

The Winter Olympics, which have captivated the world for the past 16 days, are over. And if you’re like me, I’m already asking myself how long until I get to see the beauty of ice dancing, the high flying tricks of freestyle skiing or the precision and skill that is curling again.

ImageSomebody must be wondering the same thing and has posted a countdown to both future Summer and Winter Olympics.

In the meantime, I’m diagnosing myself with the Winter Olympic Blues. And I am prescribing my own medicine: a rundown of my five favorite things from these Games in particular order.

The Stubborn Snowflake

Maybe it speaks to a nation still on the mend from a rocky past. Maybe it sums up the whole record breaking $51 billion Games. Or maybe it is was just a minor glitch in what was otherwise a terrific opening ceremony. Whatever it was, one of the five mammoth snowflakes did not morph into the interlocking Olympic rings. The best is that the Russians made fun of it during the closing ceremony.

Bode Miller

When the Internet attacked NBC reporter Christin Cooper for cuasing Miller to cry during a post-race interview, he came to her defense. Cooper asked Miller about his emotions following his Super-G run, which made Miller tear up thinking of his deceased brother, Chelone.

Sportsmanship

That’s what the Games are all about. When Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth saw Russian Anton Gafarov trying to finish the men’s cross-country skiing sprint with a broken ski, he ran out and replaced the ski with a new one. I wish this kind of cooperation extended beyond the Olympic course.

Ice Dancing

The costumes. The routines. The duo. The light, quick and lovely American duo Meryl Davis and Charlie White dazzled all with their breathtaking gold medal performance. For me, this event was second only to freestyle skiing.

Ruffled Media

Before the opening ceremony, the Olympics were all over Twitter. But it wasn’t the coverage event organizers imagined. Journalists were tweeting about unfinished or underprepared hotel rooms in and around the Olympic Games.

One too many screens

As usual, late Sunday night finds me in front of my T.V. absorbed in the newest episode of AMC’s original series “The Walking Dead.” And I’m not alone. The mid-season premiere last Sunday drew a total audience of 15.8 million viewers, more than the Winter Olympics. The zombie apocalypse drama is pretty contagious (pun intended!), to say the least.

ImageThe popularity of the show has spread from the living room to the Twitterverse, where hashtags like #TheWalkingDead overrun my newsfeed for hours before and after the show Sunday nights. It’s a part of this trend in social media called “second-screen,” where people tweet or post on Facebook while watching a sports event, political event or T.V. show. Last night, tweets about “The Walking Dead” swamped my Twitter newsfeed, hiding any tweets about the Doug McDermott’s win over Villanova and Bode Miller’s emotional response to winning bronze in the Men’s Super-G. People were tweeting quotes from the episode and pcitures of their viewing parties. Someone even tweeted a picture of his cat scratching at the T.V. during the episode. (That was a winning combination; the Internet loves cats and “The Walking Dead.”) I was easily distracted from my studying and couldn’t wait to get home to watch it.

At the same time, I was a little annoyed that people were spoiling the episode, especially for those who live on the West Coast. One may think that one accepts the risk of spoilers when following twitter accounts of characters from the show, but I follow them more for the entertainment of their in-character jokes and asides. Next Sunday, I’ll think twice about checking my Twitter feed when the episode airs on the East Coast.

You’re excused to be on social media

We’re always distracted. We’re hardly ever focused on one thing at one time. As I write this blog post, I’m watching the season opener of AMC‘s original series “The Walking Dead.” I’m stopping and starting as I watch hordes of the undead attack the characters I’ve become attached to. I’m not being very productive. However, not all distractions are unproductive or bad, according to career and life blogger, Alexis Grant. Some distractions are meaningful distractions.

ImageA “meaningful distraction” sounded like an oxymoron to my type-A ears, like a flawless opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. If you get distracted from the task at hand, it’s hard to pick up from where you left off and finish on time or as planned. However, that’s the beauty of distractions. A distraction may take you off in a completely different direction and cause you to throw away whatever you were working on and start new and fresh with another idea. This seems especially true for those interested in advancing their brand on social media. In her blog post, Grant argues that scheduling time to peruse the Internet, to follow links in Tweets or to scroll through one’s newsfeed on Facebook or Instagram will help one to better promote their brand on social media. I follow many links in Tweets by news organizations, but I don’t necessarily use it to promote my own brand. A simple way to promote one’s own brand is to retweet interesting articles or tweets.

As a journalist, I don’t believe there is such a thing as “wasting time on the internet.” The Internet keeps journalists up-to-date on the latest happenings. Story leads can come from the what’s trending on the World Wide Web. Exploring the Internet for stories and news is no revelation to me, but now (thanks to Grant) I have an excuse for my time spent on the Internet and social media.

What’s in a number?

19 – That’s my number on Klout, a website that measures your social media activity. The score is pitifully low, seeing that it is out of 100 and comparing my score with friends. Many other people my age scored in the 30s and 40s, showing a greater presence on social media sites than me. Why are their scores so much higher than mine and what what can I do to improve my score?

ImageTo investigate my low score, I Googled myself. And the explanation for my low score became instantly obvious. I couldn’t find me–the Eric William Villanueva who attends Creighton University–on the first 3, 5, or 7 pages of Google. In other words, I don’t have a very large social media pull; I’m practically nonexistent by social media standards. However, I’m not upset by this at all. In fact, I think I’ve enjoyed this virtual anonymity for some time, the latest step in that lifestyle being my hiatus from Facebook.

Of course, my inactivity on Facebook probably explains some of my low Klout score. I also haven’t connected with many people on other social networking sites that I have just joined, such as Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pintrest. I think my Klout score will improve as I explore and use these sites more. Ayelett Noff has one great tip for improving one’s online presence: post engaging content. This will be something I will need to work on the most.

However, I am not too upset with my Klout score; at least, it’s double what the Broncos scored in the Super Bowl last night.