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.

Continue reading Moving On

The Birthday Challenge

What difference can one person make simply by asking their friends to make a charitable contribution? Any individual can help change the world, and this story is just another example to prove that (click here to play the video).

For my last birthday I challenged my friends to donate to a cause, People To People International (PTPI), instead of buying me a gift. I used the Causes application on Facebook for fundraising, and was overwhelmed by their support. I’ve written about my efforts before, and have since raised a few hundred dollars for PTPI.

My efforts earned the attention of People To People, who like most non-profit organizations are exploring all the new opportunities for fundraising that social media can offer. We connected though Facebook, where an interview was published highlighting my fundraising efforts in addition to how PTPI has impacted my life both personally and professionally.

We wanted to share my story and inspire others to try the same challenge for themselves, so I flew to Kansas City, Missouri to shoot this video. The birthday challenge has also been the subject of another recent interview accompanying the video, as part of a series highlighting the accomplishments of young people working with PTPI.

Thanks to Scenic Road Productions for creating this video promoting a good idea for a a great cause. And Happy Birthday for my friends at People to People, which celebrates their 53rd year of fostering peace through understanding this week!

September’s 7

Every month I share a list of trends and great ideas, because of the benefits they have brought into my life.  This last month has been filled with personal triumph and tumult in which I’ve finished an internship in DC, visited friends far away in Kentucky, and celebrated a 3rd-anniversary in NYC (where I’ll be living by the next time I write this feature next month).  For extra credit, and because this assignment is late, please keep reading after the bump for a few more good ideas worth sharing this month.

Blog: Lifehacker.  Whenever I’m in search of inventive solutions to everyday problems, (including some I didn’t think were problems), this blog is my default resource.  Apartment hunting? Check. Turn an old PC into a NES arcade? Ditto. Going paperless in the home and office? Indeed.  Lifehacker makes the impossible seem practical with it’s a DIY aesthetic.

Colleague: Renan Borelli.  As a colleague at NMS, Renan was an exemplary addition to every team: innovative, analytical, and fiercely ambitious. As a mentor of my own he demonstrated climbing the ladder through his own example, and shares my passion for social media.  I’m also happy to call this colleague a friend of mine.

Comic: Toothpaste for Dinner.  I LOL’d.

Location: Louisville, Kentucky.  This river city is is more than a one horse town; it’s a metropolis of burgeoning home-grown food, culture, and is the home to many of my esteemed colleagues.  On my recent visit I rode in a VW Karmann, tasted inventive brews, listened to a coffeehouse concert, and attended the Kentucky State Fair.  I would visit again.

Meme: Auto-Tune anything.  This should be old news, but in spite of Jay-Z’s wishes this vocal gimmick refuses to go away.  It has been the subject of much debate between me and my colleagues lately.  And now with the “I am T-Pain” iPod app, this fad is irrevocably bound to this time in history (or at least news coverage of it).

Politics: Health Care Reform.  Regardless of what you think the best solution would be, the status quo in is unsustainable.  Those who believe in shutting-down necessary changes, through the undemocratic tactics of an angry mob, only serve to protect those who profit the most from the injustice of a health care system which leaves us more sick and poor. We need to reform our health care system, now or never.

Social Network: LinkedIn. So your boss wants to become your friend on Facebook? Well you could play with your settings, or you could redirect them to your LinkedIn network. Let’s keep our professional relationships in a professional setting, where you can fully take advantage of professional networking in ways that Facebook just isn’t designed to facilitate.

Extra Credit: Continue reading September’s 7

Happy Birthday, the Internet!

@NMSosphereThis week is the 40th anniversary of the internet, when ARPAnet was created in 1969 almost no one could imagine a world of email evolving into Google and Wikipedia, much less Facebook. Last week New Media Strategies celebrated their 10th birthday as well, some small eternity of life on the internet; among good company like Google and Amazon this Word of Mouth marketing (WoMM) and online PR agency has thrived in two dotcom booms (and busts).

Coincidentally 2009 marks the first 10 years I’ve been using this network of computers we call the Internet, in many ways I could have never anticipated using. Yet somehow New Media Strategies knew where things were heading years in advance.

This summer I had the unique privilege to gain hands on experience at NMS as an intern/online analyst, learning first-hand what online brand promotion and protection mean today (and some ideas about the future). Working with corporate clients from both Fortune 500 companies and Non-profits alike, I learned how Word of Mouth marketing carries influence; I was called a “Social Media Power-User”. Working with NMS was different than any other internship I had heard of, especially since I was given all the same responsibilities they expected of their entry-level employees.

Most importantly I contributed valuable research and report writing along with my team members, using online communication as a sort of public focus-group style audit to measure opinion and perception, and on at least one occasion to avert a crisis. These experiences were my primary responsibility at NMS, and helped me understand how to identify (and sometimes create) discussion in many valuable and unexpected venues; in many cases the majority of conversation took place outside of Facebook, and most of it cannot be found using a simple Google search.

Working at New Media Strategies I also met great people, who I’m looking forward to recognizing for their work, as I will describe in upcoming case studies of our work with clients. In the meantime I would like to thank NMS for the unique opportunity they gave me, and to congratulate them on their first 10 years on the Internet.

Why The Twitter Backlash Proves Its Influence

The backlash to Twitter was inevitable.  As recent attacks on the social network/microblog have made clear people depend on Twitter to communicate, although users of this site continue to be stigmatized. In the same week the AP published its new restrictive guidelines for online media, another AP story employed such recycled clichés as “tweeting about lunch plans, the weather or the fact that Twitter is down.”

Full disclosure: I’ve been addicted to Twitter since I started using it in September of 2007. Since then I have witnessed its explosive growth as a daily user of this social network, growing from thousands of daily users to millions now.  These attacks are evidence of Twitter’s importance, and like Facebook before it this social network is grown large enough to be experiencing a backlash.

Unlike many social networks before it, Twitter has become an agenda-setting media.  This might seem obvious because broadcast and print newsmedia about Twitter have been nonstop, frequently breaking news stories or framing an issue through its social media context. As a social network (although many of its users of Twitter do not think of it as such) Twitter facilitates interpersonal communication in which opinion leaders, or at least some with a large number of followers, introduce new ideas to their network which help set the public’s agenda.

Because Twitter serves an audience that is constantly engaged in the discussion of new ideas, frequently accompanied by hyperlinks, Twitter has succeeded at become agenda setting media like none before it.  To be sure Facebook, itself a much larger social network, only recently overtook email as the primary means for most individuals share news stories and links to websites.  But rarely have these social media, including social bookmarking websites like Digg and Delicious, taken part in constructing the news agenda with the wider public much less offline as Twitter does.

The explosive growth of Twitter is not necessarily because of any special function the site offers (there have been other microblogs before) but because of it’s core of users, who themselves have set the tone of what Twitter should be used for.  This isn’t to say there is a right way or wrong way to use media, just that some practices seem to work better. The critical difference in using a social medium comes from those who are using it; in this case the core users who serve as a social model are opinion leaders in diverse subjects such as communications, celebrities, and politics.  And it’s easy to see the appeal; opinion leaders are provided a platform to introduce ideas about culture (and even about themselves), while the accessibility of the platform allows individuals to interact within their network of connections which make even celebrities (who continue to lead the way onto Twitter) seem approachable by any fan.

Perhaps this model of influence offers a clue to one recent trend on Twitter, in which power-users remove all of the users they follow in order to reconstruct a list which better reflects a tightly-knit social network.  While some organizations scramble to create a list of followers on Twitter which seems to be the largest, these users illustrate the power of influence over a small agenda-setting audience they want to stay tuned into.  Because in social media influence is not measured as the number of followers who might read the monolougue you’re broadcasting to them, but by the relationship between individuals which is built through a dialog.

Never before has there been such a media tool to listen to the audience’s ideas, and to engage them in conversations about them.  The backlash may have been inevitable, but it has almost always come from those unwilling to participate in a dialog; it would seem from what I’m hearing that Twitter is here to stay.

August’s 7

They say one’s influence is limited not by the frequency of their communication, but by the quality of ideas and recommendations. At risk of diminishing my own role as an online opinion leader of sorts, here is my monthly anthology of 7 ideas I think are worth sharing with others.

Blog: Things Marketing People Love.  If you ever work in or with a marketing agency, this will make you LOL.  You have heard these words bandied about as if they were sacrosanct, although on their face they mean very little.  Since we’ve already learned about white people and journalists, why not marketing?  And make your own submissions via Twitter.

Colleague: Gabe Bullard.  Back when we were working on Highway 61 (revised), there was no one who’s insights into online communications I trusted more. That hasn’t changed, so if you’d like to share these ideas, he’s still on the internet.

Meme: #hcmyth . With so much disinformation being active spread about Health Care reform, why not make fun with ridiculous myth-making of your own?  My colleague Beth Carpenter helped start and promote this hashtag on Twitter, which set off any number of LOL funny myths about health care.  My favorite? “RT @tobytobitobe : Under ObamaCare, all Starbucks beverages will be pre-ordered “skinny, nonfat, hold the whip.” It’s for the best. #HCMyth

Music: Blip.FM . As you might have guessed reading my post about music and opinion leaders, I am enamored in the peer recommendation system of Blip.  Or maybe I just enjoy playing DJ, even if it’s just to my Twitter followers.

Social Network: 3121. This is an idea who’s time has come; the social network for Capitol Hill staffers. While you need a House, Senate, or Committee email address to sign up (still in beta), it’s easy to see the promise of a networked directory (3121 is the extension of the Capitol switchboard) that connects people and ideas in such a focused audience. Congrats to the National Journal and New Media Strategies, and god luck on launch.

Theory: Balance of Power. In politics, this describes a group of strategically allied parties that come together to create parity in systematic power.  In the world of hip-hop, there are Great Powers (Jay-Z, Kanye West, 50 cent) and middle powers (The Game, T-pain, everyone on Def Jux). This theory actually works well when it’s explained at length, so please

Video: Mister Rogers defending PBS to the US Senate. Your favorite neighbor was always there for the children, inspiring many generations of kids to know they are special and loved.
One time I was asked “what’s cool and new in your ‘hood?”, to which I replied:

Being polite, friendly, and helpful. Lately I’ve been helping my new neighbors move in, or even just talking with them about things I would ordinarily care less about. Since we’re together we might as well stay. Sometimes they don’t even steal my packages.
But as usual, the cool things in my ‘hood are IMAGINATION and MAKE BELEIVE. It helps out a lot when you live on the wrong side of the trolley tracks. Won’t you be my neighbor?

Please support your local public media.

Continue reading August’s 7

Have You Heard? Music is getting Social

Think of the last album you bought, and compare it to the your first record. If you’re like me the first album you bought was a favorite from the radio (The Simpsons Sing The Blues), whereas the last album I bought (Bitte Orca by The Dirty Projectors) was a recommendation from a friend. It’s not just the music formats that have changed, but what we listen to and the experience with music that is transforming.

In the past the music industry has relied on taste makers such as DJs, critics, and marketers to help introduce new music to would be record buyers (or downloaders).  However over the last decade opinion leaders, those most influential individuals in your social network, have played the most important role; think of these people as your friend who is usually the first to introduce you to a band that you go on to love.

Online these opinion leaders have started popular music blogs, their influence measured by their expertise within genres and their appeal within their blogging audience.  Offline these taste-makers usually have the largest music collection among your friends, and they make frequent recommendations that are catered to your own tastes.  Opinion leaders are the arbiters of new music in a marketplace no longer limited by the label-centered distribution, and serve agenda-setting roles with their personalized recommendations which mirrors the shift from mass-media driven popular music (radio, Rolling Stone, MTV) to online distribution meant for niche fans and private listening (iPods and YouTube).

Continue reading Have You Heard? Music is getting Social

News, Notes, and Interviews

I recently had the privilege of being interviewed by a colleague (Zhamilya Gafurr) from Voice of America Russian Service about how young people in the United States use the internet.  Since I’ve been using the internet for at least half of my young life, I tried to explain why 9 out of 10 Americans expect major disruptions to their daily life without the internet. While I wanted to explain how reliant our society is on the internet, you’ll see that something must have been lost in translation back to English:

Says Matthew, “ I’m probably one of those people who panic when their smartphones sits battery, because without a mobile GPS, I can and the city lost.”  Morning of Matthew begins with checking e-mail.  Light lunch – and Mr. Hurst had to stop in anticipation of the bus.  Make sure that the site of public transport District of Columbia has no information about the delay of its route, he can afford to read the latest press.

Earlier this year I wrote about promoting my favorite non-profit cause, People To People, who also posted an interview with me. In addition to discussing my work with them in fundraising, we discussed the impact my years traveling as a student ambassador has had on me intellectually and personally. You can read the whole transcript on their Facebook fan page, where you can learn more about their work to create peace through understanding.

Thanks again to my esteemed colleague Gabe Bullard for the personal recommendation on his blog, which features his expert insight into media and culture that serve as a source of inspiration for this blogger.   I’m also looking forward to sharing interviews from my alma mater (Webster University) and the video we shot for People To People, which I’ll be happy to share here once they are both published.

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.

July’s 7

Just when you though 2009 couldn’t get any more crazy, this last month saw witness to revolutions taking place in the streets and online, overshadowed by celebrity deaths and iPhones.  So it’s time once again for me to share some of the trends and ideas that have emerged  in my sphere of influence recently:

Comic: Superhouse. A new webcomic, illustrated by the Chris Maue.  Required reading if you like to LOL.

Meme: Michael Jackson. Did anyone even remember how much they enjoyed the King of Pop as an entertainer anymore? Within minutes of his death millions of people reacted in shock, and later celebration of this musical icon. In the wake of the news, websites like CNN, Twitter, and even Google received spikes in traffic that nearly took down their servers.

Music: Beck’s Record Club project.  Every week Beck releases a cover version of a song through each sequential track from a record album. First up he’s recording The Velvet Underground & Nico. These cover songs are accompanied by original music videos they make themselves. Beck has always been and will probably remain the most significant musical influence in my life.

Politics: Iran Election. Maybe you remember hearing about this before a bunch of celebrities died? For a little while it looked like real democratic reform was about to take place at the will of it’s people.  People around the world rallied to their support, and Twitter became really important.  This last month has been heartbreaking.

Social Network: TIE – Reddit & Kirtsy.  Social Bookmarks are the agenda setting mediums for the 21st century.  Whereas Reddit serves an audience more engaged with newsmedia, with measurable influence in this community.  Kirtsy offers many of the same great shared links, but without the misogyny that prevails on Digg (among others).

Theory: Image Repair Discourse.  Benoit provides a model through which reputations can be repaired through appropriate responses to each crisis.  Depending on the nature of the crisis, there are several strategies through denial, evading responsibility, reducing offensiveness, mortification, and taking corrective action.  These are strategic approaches to communicating with the public about your impact during a crisis.

Video: DTV Transition.  On June 12th, broadcast television signals were   switched from analog to all digital signals.  Believe it or not, millions of people did not know about or how to make the switch to DTV.  After all my work helping to spread the word online last year, I was happy to tune in for the last night of analog TV.

Public Communications, Online Marketing, and Social Media Strategy