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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…)

How to use Facebook to promote your personal brand

With the recent update on Facebook to both personal profiles and pages using the Timeline interface, many brands are reevaluating their marketing strategy on the social network. Likewise individuals promoting their personal brand should consider updating their Facebook presence to take advantage of these new opportunities.

Recently I’ve written about how timelines can be used for visual storytelling, and likewise Facebook’s new design lends itself well to creating social narratives out of photos and status updates, especially by highlighting key events in our lives. Timeline’s changes to personal profiles gives individuals greater control not only of what information is shared publicly vs privately, but to highlight their own accomplishments and personal stories with friends both new and old. And because we know most employers look for Facebook profiles of job candidates during their evaluation, it’s critical to make sure your timeline reflects your personal brand.

Timeline also changes the Facebook pages for brands, and earlier this year I converted my Facebook Open Graph application (for this website) to a full-fledged page. Facebook pages can be built for personal brands to share career accomplishments and insights with like-minded professionals, which might otherwise come across as spammy to your friends; one of the top reasons people are unfriended is for sharing too much work-related information. Many brands have used applications to customize their pages in the past, but now Timeline will become the public face of these pages, allowing them to create more engaging stories which reflect their history. So far I’ve added my work history and career accomplishments to my Timeline, showcasing my professional development for all to see, with the most recent stories highlighed at the top of my timeline (a bit like a blog).

For example, here’s how I use my own Facebook page: (more…)

My Top 11 Memes and more from 2011

Matt Hurst's "Deal With It!" avatar
Looking back on 2011, I wanted to recap my favorite internet memes, music, trends, and more during the year which saw many changes in communications and technology. Until recently I’ve posted a monthly list of my favorite ideas on this blog, and though I’ve lapsed these updates I still share my favorite media on my Tumblr blog. Every day on Tumblr I share the best memes, infographics, viral media, and ironic links, many of which contributed to this list of Top 11 memes.

After the jump, check out my favorite memes from 2011! (more…)

Facebook by the Numbers: Measuring my friends on the social network

via ShoutFlow.com

Not only is Facebook increasingly synonymous with social media usage, but it’s ubiquity reaches more than 7 out of 10 web users every month, and a growing number of weekly and daily users like myself.  Here’s a few more ways to understand the impact of Facebook:

My 550+ friends on Facebook represent only a fraction of Facebook’s 800+ million registered users, but it represents a historic shift in creating larger circles of friends. Thanks to Facebook’s ubiquitous popularity, I’m able to keep in touch with friends in high school and college who live hundreds (and thousands) of miles away, whereas only a few years earlier I would more easily fall out of contact with my friends. Since I grew up in the Facebook generation, I’m not alone in using the social network to keep loose-ties with old friends following my own graduation and relocation to New York City.  Here’s a few more stats about how I use Facebook to connect with friends:

Infographic on Matthew Hurst's Facebook friends

Facebook Infographic via ShoutFlow.com

5 years ago I reluctantly joined the social network, admittedly at the behest of Lauren Reid who wanted to make our relationship “Facebook official”. I’m happy to say we’re still “in a relationship” (even though only 24% of my friends are single), and that I’ve been hooked on Facebook ever since.  Here’s how I used Facebook when I first started:

Matthew Hurst's early posts on Facebook with Lauren Reid, in infographic form

I’ve seen this social network grow from a core of friends and college classmates into an everyday network of family and friends used by some people I never thought I’d interact with online; most recently my Mom even signed up! You can connect with me through my Facebook profile or by becoming a fan of my Facebook page for this website.

Nielsen’s Social Media Report

Data visualization of demographics on social media sites from Nielsen's Social Media Report
Last month Nielsen (my employer) released a new State of the Media report focused on social media use in the US and around the world. This report offers a unique snapshot overview of the social media landscape, using measurements of consumers’ behavior in their browsers rather than survey data. It reveals not only the significant growth among the population visiting social networks and blogs, but also who makes up the audience on these sites and how they use social media.  Here’s a few highlights of its key findings and takeaways:

  • More than 4 in 5 American who are active online visited Social Media websites within the last month
  • About a quarter of all time spent online is using Social Networks & Blog sites, more than twice as much as the next nearest category of websites.
  • Facebook is by far the most popular social networking website globally, and in the U.S. Tumblr is among the fastest growing
  • Growth in social media users comes from people of all ages and increasingly among those aged 55+, making social media more representative of the online population overall

As a member of Nielsen’s global communications team (full disclosure), I helped research and write this report, working together with our thoughts leaders/experts and designers to create compelling data visualizations that help convey Nielsen’s insights into consumer behavior.  The response to the report has been overwhelmingly positive, with coverage by key news media and thousands of links shared across social networks. Of course all ideas/opinions expressed on this site and in social media are my own (and are not necessarily shared by my employer), so hopefully you find the analysis and insight in this report as helpful as I do.

Visit the Nielsen’s website to read the Social Media Report and download a copy of your own.

Twitter by the Numbers: 2011 update

Infographic of Matthew Hurst's Twitter usage

I’ve wrote before that Twitter has inspired a fixation by online marketers like myself because of how it can be measured. Since my previous post, Twitter has continued to grow its influence among newsmedia, brands, and consumers around the world.  Even among experienced Twitter users like myself, Twitter use has changed significantly over the last year as the social network broke records and even breaking news.  As of writing this blog post, marking my first 4 years using Twitter, here’s how I’ve used Twitter:

  • I joined Twitter 1462 days ago on September 15, 2007
  • I’ve posted over 16,100 tweets in four years, almost double my total since April 2010, and average 11.3 tweets per day and 328 tweets per month
  • I’ve gained 1677 followers, about 2/3rds more since March 2010, and I’m following about twice as many Twitter users (1347) as I was during my prior blog post measuring Twitter

In celebration of my 5th year using Twitter, I wanted to update my status about how I use the social network, so I created this infographic using Visual.ly to help illustrate my use on Twitter as of September 2011:

Infographic of Matthew Hurst's Twitter usage

Click here for a version of Matt Hurst’s Twitter infographic which is automatically updated based on my most current usage on the social network.

Extra credit: Follow @MattHurst on Twitter and see how I use Twitter and hear what I have to say.

Relationship status: How social media is changing weddings

Mark Welsh and Kristin Arena update their status from "in a relationship" to Married at their wedding

As social media becomes increasingly intertwined with daily lives, it seems inevitable that romantic relationships make greater use of social media. It wasn’t long after online networks were created that web users found the Internet to be a ideal medium not just for academics communicating over long distances but for developing friendships and romantic relationships as well. Perhaps the first social networks formed around dating sites during the web’s early years, and once these social networks began to take part in our online routines, the relationship status became a key part of profiles. Today many consider updating your relationship status from single to “in a relationship” a legitimate means to acknowledge their entry into a committed relationship, and sharing the news of an engagement is only a mouse click away for Facebook users.

Couples use social media to tell their story and about preparations for the wedding, and to exchange photos and share memories with wedding guests (and maybe those who couldn’t make it) after the big day. One popular trend for newly engaged couples is to make a wedding website on which couples can share the story behind their relationship and to share wedding day plans in advance with guests, not to mention making it a breeze to link to their wedding gift registry. Some even use social media to propose to their spouse, creating a unique proposal but also making it easy to share their special story. Here’s a few of the unique ways couples are using social media to share their proposals and weddings:

Social Media 101: Why not to cross-post the same message

Don't cross the streams

At least once in your career as a social media manager you may be tempted to cross-post your marketing message over multiple social networks.  While new tools make it easy to post updates across Facebook, Twitter, and more sites you should resist this inclination to broadcast your message through social media; cross-posting ignores the unique purpose of using social media to reach your audience.

The practice of cross-posting has become increasingly common as brands build their online marketing strategy around Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and link baiting across social networks. Posting updates on each site requires sustainable commitments of time and resources, so there’s temptation to publish the same message across multiple sites with only a single update. However the acceptable rate of updates varies widely between social networks, so while it’s effective to post messages multiple times a day on Twitter, this same frequency might be viewed as spammy on Facebook and other networks. The result is often that brands lose fans/followers as well as the trust of their audience, not to mention deteriorating their brand’s value in the eyes of consumers.

In addition to making your brand become perceived as a source of spam, cross-posting also appears tone deaf to the consumers who are interested in interacting with your organization. Social Media opens up new opportunities that can help promote brands, but all too often is viewed as the platform to broadcast their own advertisements. But even a soapbox speaker will read the reactions of the audience they’re addressing, and likewise your brand should listen and interact with your audience.

Even the Ghostbusters use their TV ad to demonstate willingness to listen to consumers problems, and demonstrate how they can help provide solutions

Best practices:

  • Post updates individually to each social media site, varying the frequency for each platform; perhaps 1-2 updates a day on Facebook and 6-10 for Twitter.
  • For every 5 updates on Twitter, only 1 or 2 should promote your company, and the rest should engage your audience by sharing their ideas and answering their questions for subjects which you have expertise about.
  • Use measurement tools to note which posts resonate with each audience, and make adjustments accordingly to what they find most valuable.
  • Take advantage of the unique features of each social media site, such as @replies on Twitter and the Events or Photo apps on Facebook, to spark discussions with your target audience.

Use these unique social media tools to listen carefully to your audience and then offer them solutions to their problems, not just to sell them your products.

Being strategic in your communications means using research to focus your goals on any media outlet, including social media. Of course many organizations may not be able to commit resources to support so many social sites, and instead they should focus on one or two which best meet their goals. In many cases a poorly executed communication plan may be worse than no having no social media presence at all, so be don’t be afraid to be selective.  After all an abandoned social media profile is like a ghost for your brand, and when you’ve got the tools and the talent “I ain’t afraid of no ghost”.

Instagram by the Numbers: measuring my photo sharing via mobile

In its short history, Instagram has become very popular is crowded market of competing mobile photo apps, or at least has become my favorite among them since I started using it in October 2010.  For those not already familiar with this iPhone app, Instagram has been installed by over 1 million users who use the app to snap pics, apply creative filters to add visual interest, and easily share their photos across multiple social networks (ie Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare).  Users can follow photos by their friends using a timeline inside the app, which doesn’t have a web interface but rather exists as a social network of sorts confined within the app itself (and accessible to services using its API).
Matt Hurst's Instagram infographic
Of course the concept behind Instagram isn’t new; long before this app I’ve been been sharing mobile photos on TwitPic, showcasing my photography on Tumblr, and sharing thousands of pictures on Facebook, Flickr, and many other photo sites. Although it’s not immediately apparent how useful the service might be as a branding or communications tool, it has caught on in popularity from a consumer-generated media standpoint.  At least in my own experience Instagram offers immediate gratification and feedback that makes it addictive, with the added value of offering perspectives across a variety of social networking sites.

Matt Hurst's Top 5 followers on Instagram Matt Hurst's favorite Instagram users Matt Hurst's "likes" on instagram
Matt Hurst started using Instagram on October 24th, 2010 MattHurst's instagram infographic

Outside of Instagram, here’s a few more ways to measure the impact of mobile on photo sharing:

  • The iPhone is the most popular camera on Flickr overall, and I’ve uploaded more than 5% of my 8194 photos on Flickr from pictures taken using my iPhone camera.
  • Photos are the most used app on Facebook, and they’re rumored to be working on a mobile photo app
  • At least 2 million photos are posted to Twitter each day on average, and doubtlessly more buzz comes from image driven Tumblr posts and photoblogs

Most recently with the announcement of Twitter’s new photo sharing functions, as well as their deeper integration with Apple products, photography continues its push into mobile platforms and remains a key driving force behind social media into the foreseeable future.

Extra credit: check for updated stats about how I’m using Instagram, and see a gallery of my favorite photos in my Photography portfolio. And of course you can look for my photos by following MattHurst on Instagram

Is Google vs Facebook is a false dichotomy?

Google vs Facebook - Why can't we be friends?

As Facebook’s latest push to highlight Google’s potential privacy concerns was revealed this past week, their rivalry was once again brought to the forefront of the public’s attention. While the two web behemoths continue to compete for ad dollars and offer increasingly similar services, the press plays up their business competition. Yet this news represents larger themes at work about how online businesses impacts the media business in particular, and the wider communications and economic paradigms more generally.

For instance, I keep reading posts that assume as common knowledge that the Google and Facebook are competing for users’ loyalty, but have yet to see evidence that this is true.  Instead I’ve noticed the large overlap of users for both services, albeit for different purposes. As far as many consumers are concerned Google and Facebook serve different functions, with the former used to search for information and the latter for relevant social links and recomendations.

From a consumer’s perspective Google and Facebook serve differing functions, even while they begin to encroach on each others core businesses through their growth. This same story about competition may be written about Microsoft vs Google, vs Apple, or vs Twitter, and so on; conflict drives the news, even if it does not reflect the unique audiences for individual businesses. While each company has different offerings, it’s fully possible for consumers to use both sites together rather than competing.

Of course this news has broader implications for PR professionals everywhere, by reinforcing negative stereotypes of the profession. Because of irresponsible, overly-secretive behavior of individuals at one of PR’s largest agencies, professionals like myself may have our reputations damaged. It’s even worse among the tech businesses, which sometimes see PR as a function only meant to earn press, and these days many startups would rather try going it alone using blogs and social media. At the very least this serves as another example of when PR can cause blowback, rather than how integral it should be in building communications strategy.

It’s my hope that the so-called “PR war” between two of the most popular global web brands will end, and both companies will find a more proactive way to continue building their own audiences. The history of the web has been of evolving and growing use, rather than competition between competing sources (as in print and broadcast media before it) for our attention, and I’d expect this to be the inevitable outcome between Google and Facebook.

More info/context about the news from Amplify, via www.wallstreetjournal.com:
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