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.

May’s 11

Lauren Reid and Matt Hurst pose for a photo with Pee Wee Herman
Every month I share a list of 7 things shaping my perspective in life. It’s been a couple months since my last update, so I’m going to include a few extra for this edition.

  • Application – Instagram. Instagram has become my preferred way to share photos on Twitter, Facebook, and to make posts on my photo blog Speaking in Megapixels. It’s fun and easy using it to turn cameraphone pics into memorable photos. I find myself increasingly posting Instagram in place of Twitpic to share instant memories over the internet.
  • Blog – Geekosystem. Imagine a blog that brings together the best links from Reddit + Tech blogs + general geeky ideas in a single source.
  • Colleague – Jake Brus. I worked with Jake as a student at American University, and was impressed by his knowledge of branding and creative writing style. A midwesterner educated in DC, Jake is a pragmatic problem solver and great collaborator of projects in the classroom. And since graduating he’s started writing a blog about Place Branding which is recommended reading for anyone who wants to learn about the subject.
  • Music – Harry Nilsson. Probably the best pop musician in the 1960s-70s since forgotten, whose soaring harmonies I can’t help but sing along to myself.  He’s the consummate musicians-musician, and his exploits have since made him the subject of the documentary “Who is Harry Nilsson (and why is everybody talking about him)?”  After watching the film, it’s easy to understand why.
  • Social Network – Empire Avenue. The stock exchange game lets you buy and sell stocks of individuals on social networks, increasing their values based on social media activity. While it’s not meant to act as an social currency like competing influence ratings metrics (Klout comes to mind), it makes for addictive gameplay that effectively functions as a social network in its own right, complete with personal profiles and public comments.
  • Television – The Office. This season we wished farewell to Michael Scott, wrapping up years of plot lines into satisfying conclusion. Nostalgia for the “World’s Best Boss” was hi, and even Ricky Gervais couldn’t resist making a cameo for the character he made famous. No one knows who will play the next boss at Dunder Mufflin, but I’ll be watching along with everyone else.
  • Word Game: Words with Friends. Yes it’s just Scrabble, but by opening up to my network of friends through my iPhone changes they way we can play. Just look up “matthurst” if you want to play a game with me!

Extra credit after the jump: Continue reading May’s 11

Foursquare by the Numbers: Measuring my social life by location

Heatmap of MattHurst's checkins on Foursquare Since Foursquare was created in March 2009 its social network which connects people and places into an addictive public game has motivated millions to continue checking-in. Whether your friends use the social network to unlock badges for brands and special events, compete on the leaderboard, and of course become “the mayor” of their favorite venues. Location-based social networks like Foursquare have created new opportunities for friends to connect IRL (or allegedly to stalk each other), while opening individuals to new connections more like they do online.

Of course Foursquare was hardly the first location-based social media; by the time I signed-up in March 2009 I had already been checking-in for nearly a year, using networks like Brightkite and Loopt. Indeed the founders of Foursquare were well ahead of the competition, having set up the SMS-based location network Dodgeball years earlier which had been bought by Google, only to revisit their idea with smartphone technology. By mixing game elements and unlockable rewards, not to mention the right timing to take advantage of the burgeoning social media scene, Foursquare has created a unique application that has proved popular by 2010 and beyond.

In the process of the gameplay and deals that attract users and brands to use the service, one of the byproduct of using Foursquare is the data that’s created about individuals who use the service. Here’s some perspective on how I’ve used Foursquare over the past 2 years:

Thumbnail of Foursquare infographic - click to enlarge
click image to enlarge the Foursquare Infographic
  • I was the 3,820th user to register on Foursquare, making me an early adopter of the location-based network that now tops 8 million members.
  • My first check-in was on March 17, 2009 at Breadsoda in Washington D.C., and have checked-in another 669 days since
  • In my first two years I’ve checked-in over 3000 times (3241 as of April 15, 2011) at 723 different venues.
  • I’m currently mayor of 7 venues, and have earned as many as 13 mayorship at any one time, earning me the Supermayor badge
  • So far I’ve unlocked 61 badges so far: 38 official Foursquare badges, and 23 more branded by their promoted partners

Of course Foursquare is much more than a means to broadcast your location, although the network has that reputation since many early adopters (myself included) had their service configured to tweet their check-ins automatically. However I’ve found Foursquare is best experienced not just as social media, but as a tool to connect people with places. Their service aids the discovery of new places to visit by using the suggestions and tips of friends, and on several occasions has helped result in the social media serendipity that has connected me with new friends and enabled impromptu rendezvous with friends who check-in right around the corner.

Continue reading Foursquare by the Numbers: Measuring my social life by location

Social Media 101: Why Brands shouldn’t let Interns Manage Social Media

Perhaps no one better embodies the pitfalls of taking your brand into social media without a strategy better than Charlie Sheen. Last week the celebrity made headlines by joining Twitter and broadcasting his own professional (and personal) meltdown in this public forum, much to the delight of internet denizens and entertainment media. After attracting this considerable attention, Mr. Sheen must have realized he might need more resources and time to create a sustainable Twitter presence, so he did what many brands before him have tried: he asked for an intern to help out with social media.

What Mr. Sheen hasn’t learned through his own use of social media is true for many other organizations who want to promote their brand and protect their reputation using social media: you’ve got to have a communications strategy.  And no, “going viral” is not a strategy, it’s only a goal (which can sometimes backfire).  To that end Charlie Sheen captured the attention of the online world, but without a strategic approach his haphazard embrace of social media seemingly hurt, rather than helped his reputation.  In contrast with individuals who have developed their personal brands, Sheen lacks personal experience to cultivate the tremendous interest in his brand in the best direction, which seems justify his search for a third-party who can give his Twitter account a positive spin.  Yet instead of looking for an intern, he should take a page from the many established brands who’ve successfully managed their social media presence, either though hiring online marketing and PR agencies or developing internal resources to plan their communications strategy.

Of course many brands didn’t always feel this way; when I started this blog in 2009 I wrote about my own experience using Twitter as a tool to find internship opportunities. At the same time agencies turned to my generation of recent grads and millennials to help them understand social media, so many were receptive to the idea of an interns helping out with a niche website like Twitter or Facebook. Especially because many businesses still considered social media a new fad (and not an important emerging platform) many were willing to let interns manage accounts for their brands; after all many simply assumed it was only kids using new media.

What seemed true in 2009 should not be assumed in 2011; social media have emerged as core platforms not only for promoting brands but for building businesses. With 600 million members on Facebook, and an established user base on Twitter that averages over 30 years in age, no brand would risk putting their reputation in the hands of an inexperienced graduate, much less an intern.  Instead organizations who want to build their brand through social media should hire professionals who’ve developed their strategic approach through experience, especially those who have tactical experience using blogs and social media to promote another organization.  Brands should look for professionals who’ve learned about social media through broad online experience, not necessarily specific skill-sets related to individual platforms like Twitter, because it demonstrates their ability to adapt and learn as new platforms emerge.

For prospective interns and job candidates, Twitter continues to stand out as a great tool to network and find job opportunities like my own Twitter internship. It’s also an excellent platform to share ideas and build your online reputation as a knowledgeable professional, particularly for social media marketers like myself, in a forum that’s highly visible in search results for those screening applicants. Likewise for job recruiters, social media offers a unique opportunity to screen potential employees and get a fuller picture of the people outside of their resume.

While it’s yet to be seen what the outcome of Mr. Sheen’s search for an intern may be, it seems likely that the same lack of direction that stifled his own social media efforts will sabotage any intern’s efforts.  At the end of the day a brand is only as strong as it’s own commitment to their unique offering, and that comes only through the knowledge and experience all members of an organization share.  To be sure, Charlie Sheen has earned America’s collective attention fixed on his social media presence, so what he is able to achieve depends not only on what he says but also who he chooses to manage his brand’s voice online.

Update: Continue reading Social Media 101: Why Brands shouldn’t let Interns Manage Social Media

February’s 8

I started 2011 fresh by listing the things I could live without from 2010, but have found many more worthwhile ideas to share over the last month.

Application – IntoNow. I’ve been trying a half-dozen TV check-in apps, to share the shows I’m watching with friends and to chat with other viewers, but they’re all are kind of the same. This app stands out by becoming the Shazaam for TV and Movies, recording an audio-fingerprint which instantly recognizes the show I’m watching with a single push of the button (even if it’s a live broadcast!). So it fits into the lean-back experience of TV viewing, almost like you’re not using an app at all.

Blog – The Atlantic. As a long-time reader of the magazine, I’m surprised I hadn’t been reading their blogs earlier, especially since their editors seem to have fully embraced the medium. My favorites include Alexis Madrigal for literary tech analysis (rather than reporting/punditry) and a handful of contributors behind their Culture blog.

Colleague – Alhan Keser. I worked with Alhan at Blue Fountain Media, and he impressed me immediately not only for his understaning of SEO and social media (what he hired me for), but for his insight into a consumer’s behavior as they use the web. He effortlessly combines thoughtful web design with online marketing tactics, to create successful websites that build business for his clients. It’s a rare talent in the business to wear both hats. Fortunately Alhan is more than a talented co-worker, but he’s also a nice guy that I’m glad to count among friends.
Continue reading February’s 8

Music by the numbers: Measuring my Listening Habits online

Music is a powerful means of self-expression and a deeply personal part of our lives, influencing individual attitudes and motivating our behavior on a daily basis. The pervasive influence of music in culture is well documented, and I’ve already written about it before on this blog. There are any number of ways we analyze the impact of these art forms, especially when media make their annual “Best of” and “top artist” lists each year. Since any kind of social change should be measured, I was curious: could I measure the impact of musical art on my own life much like I measure other influential media?

Fortunately I already have one data set to pull from: for the last 5 years I’ve been tracking my listening habits through Last.fm, a social network that tracks playback by music lovers so that we can compare music tastes. By keeping track of the songs I play through my computer (and more recently on my iPod), the network generates peer recommendations and Top 10 lists.

Last.fm graph visualizing music played by artists in 2010
Visualizing data my top artists in Last.fm during 2010

Over the last 5 years using Last.fm, here’s what I’ve learned through tracking my own listening habits: Continue reading Music by the numbers: Measuring my Listening Habits online

7 Trends I Won’t Miss in 2011, and a Resolution for the New Year

Matt Hurst and Lauren Reid pose for their holiday card from NYC in December 2010

It’s that time of year again, when we put into perspective our goals over the last year and look forward to renewing our efforts in the year ahead. While some media outlets and blogs might be content to share lists of top ideas and their favorites things (something my blog does each month), this year I feel compelled to share my hopes for the year ahead by reviewing trends from 2010 I would look forward to leaving behind. Here are the 7 Trends I won’t miss in 2011:

  1. Oversharing
    We all have a friend who uses every opportunity to promote themselves, seemingly with no limit to the minutia of their everyday life (I may be guilty of this more than once). But while you may think that your minor inconvenience is an outrage whose solution is only a Twitter-rant away, the rest of us see it as crying over spilled milk. Oversharing was at its end in 2009, so I hope this comes to an close in 2011.
  2. Food Trucks
    Sure they bring much needed affordable options and variety to an otherwise staid lunch scene in NYC, but mobile food vendors carry some strong negatives as well. Many trucks try to occupy the same spots each day and are about as mobile as a trailer home, which detracts local competition while crowding the sidewalks. Meanwhile their constant use turns would-be vendors into portable smokestacks contributing their greenhouse gases in return for any savings on food.
  3. Tea Partiers
    2009’s insurgent protectors turned into the populist political organizers that dominated the news by turning over control of congress in the 2010 elections. In 2011 these conservative ideologues will have put put their protests into actionable legislative efforts, which will undoubtedly involve negotiation and compromise on core principles, although I have my own doubts their party will continue much longer after the elections.
  4. Continue reading 7 Trends I Won’t Miss in 2011, and a Resolution for the New Year

Happy Holidays to you, from Matthew

Seasons Greetings! I wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy holidays, however you choose to celebrate the season. This year I’m home for the holidays, travelling from New York to St. Louis to celebrate xmas with my family and friends, and I hope you’re able to do the same.

To thank my readers for their support over the last year, I’m sharing my 5th annual Very Indie Christmas mixtape.  I make this mix each year to share new Holiday songs besides those played repeatdly on commercial radio and in the shopping malls, so you might consider this my gift to you.

You can find more of my mixtapes and listening habits over the holidays on my Playlist page.

If you’re looking for a good last-minute gift for anyone, feel free to borrow ideas from my list of charities and philanthropic causes I support. Helping those in need is just part of the holiday spirit, so I hope the best for you and yours in the new year!

December’s 7

Matthew Hurst's before and after from Movember 2010

It’s better to give than to receive, so each month I share a list of 7 worthwhile ideas currently influencing my perspective as my gift to you. As 2010 comes to a close, I’m reflecting on the year that was with a certain nostalgia, so I’m checking my list twice to find out which ideas are especially nice, or at least 12 worth sharing this December:

Blog: Gizmodo.  In addition to being my favorite geeky outlet for tech news over the past few years, Gizmodo is probably the best blog to read when picking out your gifts this holiday season.  And since we know that consumers are willing to spend more on electronics and tech this year, Gizmodo’s sharp analysis (and new rating system) are more important than ever.

Colleague: Ishmael Vasquez.  As a co-worker of mine at Blue Fountain Media earlier this year, I was able to experience first-hand Ishmael’s creativity and ability to use social media strategically as an online marketing professional.  He’s also a productivity master who is a pleasure to work together with, in addition to being able to put work and life into their propper perspective.  Personally I’m proud to call Ishmael a good friend of mine, especially since he’s one of the nicest people I’ve met in NYC (and fortunately, he’s pretty humble to boot).

Game: Angry Birds.  If you’ve played you know already, but for the uninitiated Angry Birds is an instant classic on par with Pac Man for the smartphone generation. The original is already on its way to becoming one of the best selling games of all time, spurring Halloween Costumes and fan Meetups alike in the process, and already has season sequels that are best sellers in the iOS and Android markets.  I think it’s an addictively fun game that will be around for awhile longer.

Group: Movember. Participating alongside my co-workers and mustachioed peers I was able to raise over $130 toward mens health issues while raising awareness about testicular and prostate cancer.  My mustache was a regular source of curiousity and discussion in my workplace, and an interview on Anthony’s blog as well as a point of pride for this folliclely-challenged young man.

Social Network: Facebook.  500 million strong and growing, in spite of numerous threats to leave the site due to privacy concerns.  The company continues to make smart acquisitions that build talent and leverage their position as the largest network to create innovative software that improves how we interact with our friends online and IRL.

Theory: Cord-cutting. Since moving to NYC in 2009 I’ve lived without cable TV, on a media diet of Netflix, Hulu, and over-the-air DTV via rabbit-ears antenna. Anecdotally I know lots more techies interested in changing their media consumption habits, mostly for cost cutting reasons, although despite what you read in the news it’s yet to become a widespread phenomenon.

Company/Agency: Blue Fountain Media.  This online marketing agency and website design company is a leader in creating results-driven websites that build businesses online.  This time last year BFM was willing to take a chance on me, and helped develop my skills as a social media manager into a full fledged SEO specialist. I was proud to call them my employer in 2010, and would easily refer them as the best in the business.

Continue reading December’s 7

Public Communication & Privacy on the Internet

Online Privacy described in a Venn Diagram
Infographic by Buriednexttoyou (via Flickr)

If your friends are like mine you’ve heard them complain all year-long that we’ve lost our private lives, sacrificing anonymity in the interest of advertising data.  Since the beginning of 2010 we’ve heard public figures and friends alike suggest it’s time to quit social media.  Culminating with the FTC’s policy recommendations about internet privacy, 2010 has been another marque year for privacy advocates.

Yet the internet has opened up new windows of insight into each others’ lives, connecting us closer with our friends and sometimes revealing new aspects of our personality between friends.  Often these ideas are shared in public channels, opening individuals to new connections, although others prefer to keep there information between friends alone.  For years there has been a backlash to protect privacy on the internet, but is an open medium paid for with advertising dollars ever truly private? Continue reading Public Communication & Privacy on the Internet

Public Communications, Online Marketing, and Social Media Strategy