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Agenda Setting: How social media empowers opinion leaders and influences voters

The 44th President via Jumbotron

Comparing how the Presidential candidates are using new media this year, the 2008 race looks like the social media stone age. Back then Myspace was still the largest social network, Facebook was considered a mainstay for mostly students, and the most followed account on Twitter was then candidate Barack Obama. That campaign was noted for it’s pioneering use of new media, at a time when few politicians had social media profiles, but the benefits were immediately understood and adopted by nearly every campaign since 2008.

I was lucky to have a front row seat to the communications changes taking place that year, both as one of the early adopters of Twitter (when the site had only a million users) and as a graduate student in DC studying public communications.  That fall I was enrolled in Matthew Nisbet‘s course in Communication Theory, learning all about agenda setting by the newsmedia and the role of opinion leaders in swaying public opinion.  The 2008 elections proved a great working example to apply the theories I was learning. (more…)

Blogging by the numbers: Measuring my writing and blog readers

Ever since I started blogging in 2004 I’ve been trying to better understand my audience of blog readers through stats like unique visitors, pageviews, social media shares, or the number of comments readers add to each post. Analyzing these data points gives me a better a understanding of which pages interest my visitors most, and helps me think of new blog posts I hope will resonate with my audience. As an online marketing strategist I also try look at how readers come to my blog, focusing my efforts on what content I can offer which will introduce new readers to my blog, as well as how to connect with them outside my own website.

In the interest of trying to become more transparent as a blogger, here’s a look back measuring my own blog’s audience during 2011:

Matthew Hurst's Year in blogging 2011

Source: http://jetpack.me/annual-report/6790360/2011/

  • A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,900 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.
  • In 2011 there were 15 new posts on the blog, growing the total archive on this blog to 61 posts so far.
  • Twitter and Facebook were my main sources of referral traffic, but increasingly Google+ brought new readers to my site.
  • I’ve had far fewer comments in 2011 than in previous years, and average less than a comment per post.
  • My most read posts in 2011 were actually from previous years, bringing in visitors searching for “Twitter internships” and how to become “Social Media Marketers“, showing the long-term value of SEO built through blog writing.
  • (more…)

Blog Action Day 2010: Measuring the impact of Water use

Bottled Water Bar in Chicago's Museum of Science & IndustryWater is one of those things we never notice unless it’s unavailable. Sure I’ve been known brag about my hometown’s great tap water and am known to enjoy tasty beverages made from this resource, but besides the occasional outage I rarely consider it’s impact on my everyday life.  Yet for millions of people, access to clean, safe drinking water is not available, even if the solutions to this basic Human Right are simple.

As long as Water is a finite resource with limited availability to many, we should conserve this natural resource while increasing access to those who deserve our help. When I was writing my Master’s thesis on Energy Conservation (and last year’s Blog Action Day post), I had water in mind as well because it is another resource subject to increasing demand and inefficient use we take for granted in the United States.  Among my findings were that consumers were best encouraged to improve their usage of a resource when they have concrete examples of steps they can take to reduce their consumption (and the tools to measure them).

To better understand this issue, here’s a few ways to measure how we use Water everyday: (more…)

This Blog’s for You: How Beer indicates a Changing Marketplace.

When Anheuser-Busch’s sale to InBev was announced, years of branding began to unravel for the King of Beers. The maker of the Great American Lager (their slogan) was a family-owned business based in the American Midwest which had spent decades creating their brand based around nationalism and tradition; they were being purchased by a foreign corporate conglomerate. Almost immediately columnists were writing about how the sale was indicative not of globalization but of the American economic recession.

In spite of how the stories were framed, A-B products Budweiser and Bud Light continue to be the best selling beers in the United States (if not the world). The sale is only the latest consolidation between the world’s largest brewers; in the years prior rivals like Miller and Coors had combined into SABMiller, not to mention A-B’s own acquisitions before their own sale.  The beer business is as complex as any other industry, but major brewers like Anheuser-Busch have relied on a wide national market empowered by mass market advertising to drive up demand for their product.

The rising popularity of Craft Beer parallels the changing media landscape of the past decade; as audiences become fragmented, their consumption choices are changing.  Once mass market advertising for brewers would create print and broadcast ads designed to appeal to the widest audiences where they converged in a limited media market.  Brand loyalty was thought to begin when young adults learned about their products, and like their beers these branding techniques were meant to reach the largest audiences.  However this same target audience no longer converges in the same mass media sources, often turning online to learn about new products across a ever wider range of new media; about the only place this market would still see their ads might be watching the Superbowl, during which only the largest brewers can afford to advertise.

Consumers today have more choices in where they get their media from, especially online, which have opened up opportunities to build niche audiences like those in the craft beer market.  Along with a growing audience of beer lovers, craft breweries have taken to blogs and social media to promote their products.  This audience is passionate about their interest in craft beer, inspiring brand loyalty among those who are reached out to directly by brewers who share their values, not unlike the nationalism appealed to in Budweiser’s branding.  Most importantly this passionate audience of craft beer advocates likes to tell others about the beers they love, usually acting as opinion leaders within their network of friends and thusly growing the market for tasty craft beer every year.

Of course mass marketing still works in many markets; many consumers of Blue Moon (a SAB Miller/Coors product) believe it is a craft beer, and niche beers like A-B’s Michelob brand enjoy limited popularity. But the mass media advertising techinques do not work as well online, as demonstrated by the expensive failure of Bud.tv and other websites.  It has been suggested that beer in America’s national beverage, and as America changes so will it’s tastes.

You can learn more about Beer marketing and the craft beer movement by reading my blog The Brew Noob (on Twitter @BrewNoob).

Blog Action Day: Changing Minds (and Climate)

Climate change is a fact, but it’s also a choice. Everyday we make decisions about our energy consumption, most of which will have an effect on global warming. Sometimes these decisions are impacted by policy, but climate change is not inevitable; we can slow and maybe prevent its effects through our own energy conservation choices.

This year’s Blog Action Day is a call to speak out about climate change, but by now most of us know what we should say about global warming. Probably the biggest contribution individuals can make is to turn their attitudes into behavior, at least by adopting energy conservation as a way of life.

In my Master’s thesis I compared different strategies to promoting energy conservation through case studies of three communication campaigns, including We Can Solve It, Flex Your Power, and Energy Star. As an example the above advertisement, from the Flex Your Power program in California (following their energy crisis in 2000), is only one part of a comprehensive social marketing campaign which has successfully reduced total energy consumption by at least 14%. These ads go further than merely providing all the reasons you’d want to save energy, because they give people actions to use in a way which make them seem fun and easy.

Of course no one approach to this issue works with every audience, and energy conservation is only part of the solution to climate change. In the future I’ll be posting more about my original research into energy and communication, but on Blog Action Day I would encourage you to do your own research.  My former professor Matthew Nisbet has studied communication about climate change, which he blogs about extensively, which helped inspire my own study of energy conservation.  Perhaps leading your own study about what you can do would be the best use of your energy today

Moving On

Goodbye DCNo I’m not moving my web address, but in real life from DC to New York City. Following graduation from American University and an internship at New Media Strategies, I’ll be moving to New York City (or Brooklyn rather) to seek employment as a communications professional.

As a long time proponent of location-based media, this move is more than simply a personal transition for me. This last week marks one year since I entered a Youtube video contest sponsored by WMATA (which I went on to win) documenting my commute in celebration of Car-Free Day in Washington, DC. I’ve been preparing for my move by writing a review and tribute to my neighborhood, Glover Park, on my local blog Pedestrian Capable DC, which specializes in transit and local issues.

Of course writing about local interests has been a professional interest of mine long before moving to Washington, DC.  While still a student at Webster University in Saint Louis I established another local blog, Highway 61 Revised, which created original news stories for college audiences within the metro area.  Alongside a team of other young journalists and engaged writers, we created original blog posts, mixtapes, videos, photo essays, and event listings which engaged a local audience of blog readers through its website and social media tie-ins.

I learned about building relationships with local media and other bloggers through my blog, and had a few adventures along the way.  Being a blogger has introduced me to a whole ecosystem of location-based social media that I still use everyday, from the Craigslist postings that helped me move to the marketing opportunities of newer networks like Brightkite and Foursquare.  Without these services I might have had a harder time finding out where to move, much less discovering my own neighborhood through the word-of-mouth recommendations of my neighbors.

As I prepare to move into my new home in New York City, I know I will use location-based social media to discover the landscape once more; reading local blogs and checking consumer-review websites like Yelp are only the beginning. In the meantime I’m still addicted to blog feeds from STL and DC, now augmented by new media in New York City.  I’m looking forward to beginning a new adventure in New York, learning from my experience using location-based social media in order to discover what’s worthwhile and new wherever life takes me.

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Living Classrooms – Learning By Doing

Any company can use online media to connect their brand with their audience, but how does a non-profit grow their organization despite expected declines in charitable contributions?   Even with a limited budget online media levels the playing field to free and earned media for non-profits, like Living Classrooms a client I had the privilege of consulting for last spring.

Along with a team of classmates at American University, we set about creating a strategic communications plan for Living Classrooms, a non-profit organization serving underprivileged youth in the DC-metro community since founding in 2001.  One of the challenges unique to this client was their difficulty distinguishing not just from a successful parent organization, but also standing out from other non-profits in DC currently struggling for funds; branding would become a strategy.  Their hand-on education approach meant almost all of their funding was used in their programs, but was a challenge to developing new sources of fundraising. Meeting these budget limitations helped us build a strategy with specific objectives (met through some work on our own part).

As discussed in our presentation (and memo), creating and using a Blog and Twitter were critical tactics to meet the campaigns goals.  First these online tools serve an agenda-building relationship with the local newsmedia, through which Living Classrooms would try to earn media without expensive advertising. However social media is not synonymous with free media: even though these platforms are free to use, they require thoughtful and persistent work from dedicated professionals in order to work well.

Any organization can ask someone to Twitter for them, but only a professional can make it relevant to reporters, bloggers, and others who would want to tell Living Classroom’s story.  My role in this process was to build these media tools for them, and to start using these so that Living Classrooms would could model on them; unfortunately they did not have the budget to hire someone to write  so my model was key.  While new media levels the playing field, a public communications professional can lift an organization above from the rest, so that a non-profit like Living Classrooms can stand out online.

These tactics also play a critical role in winning and retaining new donors, since they allow Living Classrooms to provide regular updates which demonstrate the value of their donation.  Because Living Classrooms, like so many non-profits, is involved in so many programs donors don’t always know about all the work their donation allows an organization to accomplish everyday.  These regular updates demonstrate the compelling work Living Classrooms does through stories told in words, videos, and pictures in the channels which new donors are likely to discover this cause.  This serves as a compliment to the newsletter and mailer our group designed, usually adapting the same material for online use.

We’re still waiting to see which parts of our strategic plan will be used by Living Classrooms this year, so in the meantime please check out the blog I set up or follow @LCNCR on Twitter to learn more. For a communications professional with a strategic approach, online tools can become a successful tactic for non-profits to  overcome limitations and expand their communications budgets, ultimately changing minds and lives of those most in need of help.

Digital TV: Convert Now

By now you know the drill: broadcast television is switching from analog to digital signals. There are a few ways to keep receiving television of course: if you get cable or satellite nothing will change, but it you’re still using an antenna signal on an older television you’re going to need a DTV converter box. Fortunately you can get a U.S. Government issued coupon that covers most, if not all of the cost of these new set-top boxes before the transition on Friday June 12th, 2009.

While you probably know all about the Digital Televison transition, chances are you have family members or friends who still aren’t ready, even if they’ve already heard. So the Department of Commerce (partnering with the CEA) consulted with myself, as part of a group of American University students, to get the word out to young people so that we could help those we know prepare for the transition. Using a YouTube video contest, our objective was to strategically reach out to this audience so that they would be ready to help others get equipped in time before the transition. With our sights set on the original February 17th transition date, we were ready to use this contest to target these technology-connecting audiences.

Of course creating buzz with a YouTube contest takes more an announcement and a prize; although our partners had produced an original video and sent out press releases, the contest did not gain traction (or stand out from dozens of others competing on YouTube at any time). So my consulting group needed to do a little more: we created a social media presence for the contest on Facebook and used word-of-mouth marketing to engage potential entrants on YouTube.
We even wrote a script and shot a short video (watch above) mock-entry into the contest to show just how easy it could be to make a qualifying entry. These tactics helped to spur 12 contest entries, 5 videos of which were deemed finalists for the public to vote on the winning entry. More importantly the contest created discussions, both online and offline by contest participants and viewers, about the DTV transition within this target audience.

Ultimately it’s hard for any group to take credit among the myriad of messages supporting the switch, but I’d like to think our tactics contributed an outreach to a key public whose unique role might make the difference. Of course we’ll find out for sure on Friday June 12, 2009 just how many American’s television sets will be left in static.

The Resume Website

a public, pay-per-use internet terminal

I knew it would help to build a website with my resume, but I didn’t realize how much.  Ever since publicly launching this site less than a month ago, I have been humbled by all the positive feedback from colleagues, classmates, prospective employers, and on social networks.

A few have even asked me to help build their own websites, although I haven’t decided how much to charge.  The truth is that almost anyone is able to build a website like this one. I had never learned how to buy a domain name, web hosting, or to set up the website until I tried it for myself.

I am a firm believer that blogs are capable websites for almost any purpose, so I devised my resume website as a WordPress blog (this part is free).  By hosting my own blog (not necessarily free) I needed to set up WordPress in their famous 5-minute installation.  This open-source software gives me the ability to customize by adding features and designs to my blog.  And since this is a blog, it doesn’t take any advanced knowledge of codes or programming to build it; making this website is as simple as writing with a word processor.

While I would be happy to make a few bucks helping my friends build nice looking websites, but I think they might learn some valuable skills by trying it for themselves.  At least a few of my friends have been doing just that on their own websites.   And until this site makes the first page of Google search results for my name, it’s going to take a lot more to make my own name stick out from all the other Matthew Hurst’s of the world.

Building this website has been an ongoing process, helping me to consider how it could be improved by incorporating feedback.  There is almost always a better way to do this work, so I really appreciate all the feedback so far, but I have trouble taking credit; after all it’s just another WordPress blog.