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.

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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).

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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.

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.

June’s 7

Mr YogatoIn the month or so since my last update my life has become busier than ever as a full-time Intern and a part-time student. Perhaps therein lies the time-deprived unironic logic behind this month’s list of great ideas that have entered my life recently. A day late, a buck short, I’m writing this report…

Art: Artomatic. No curators, no judges, just open-source art. Unlike most art shows, this series is democratic ordeal more like a craft fair, stretched out for weeks on end of open submissions with fine art. Now in its 10th year, Artomatic uses over 9 floors of space in an unfinished office building which compromises the showroom and performance art venue for this show, which runs through the 5th of July in DC.

Commercial: Dirt Cheap. Those from Saint Louis know what’s up, but for the uninitiated this is a local advertisement for a chain of liquor and tobacco stores.  The ads have been running for at least the past 20 years, usually featuring the famous Dirt Cheap chicken suit and the trademark “Cheap cheap! Fun fun!” Sometimes the ads that stick in your mind the most can be the ones that seem the cheesiest.

Meme: Downfall. It’s not a new meme, but it has become one of the more enduring. (Here’s a Primer if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Like any good meme, Downfall continues to surprise me with the creativity applied to decidedly Shakespearean tragedy within real life.

Music: Pandora. As a 4+ year loyalist to Last.fm it pains me to admit that I have been using Pandora lately. Without the benefit of the 19000 songs counted on the rival service, Pandora has done surprising work referring me to good music I would like. But mostly because I can use it in my browser at work.

Theme Party: Superhero. Grabbed a flier from a dude wearing a superman t-shirt in Williamsburg last Saturday. Besides a couple hundred people crammed into a warehouse with DJs, fire breathers, and a man on stilts, the main highlight were the great costumes by those who joined us. I played their Accountant, complete with a balance sheet and calculator. Perhaps not since Studio 54 has New York seen these costumed heroes.

Theory: Belief Formation. A belief is different from opinion, so a belief cannot be easily changed once it is set, unlike an attitude through communication. You need to be proactive in order to prevent an opinion about your reputation, responding to each negative criticism with at least 3 positive rebuts, from solidifying into a belief. Especially because we are more likely to believe the person pointing out our faults than the individual defending themselves, so it’s important to manage these risky discussions.

Word Game: Crossword Puzzles. Since I started work I’ve had the chance to play crosswords on my commute. Riding public transportation has put a free daily newspaper in my hands every morning, so I’m playing this game for the first time in years. So far enjoy the rock music references in The Onion’s crossword best, but I’m still trying the every day’s paper until I finally finish my first puzzle.

May’s 7

hatmememe
Picking up on my friend Gabe Bullard‘s tradition (in turn borrowed from the Thomas Crone), here’s a monthly list of 7 things I’m enjoying these days. There is no particular order to the list, just a chance to pass along some genuinely worthwhile ideas and trends that wouldn’t warrant a blog post otherwise

Blog: Dork Yearbook.  This is why Tumblr is great;  Like Mortified, only geekier.  I could probably submit my own pics here, except I didn’t have a computer until I was 9 years old.  Just because a good blog doesn’t fit into a professional website’s blogroll doesn’t mean it need remain my guilty pleasure.

Meme: #sillyhats .  It started out innocently enough when @laurenreid photoshopped a whimsical hat on top of @gbullard‘s profile pic.  At some point, we’re not sure when, it became a meme of sorts.  You’re more than welcome to join in of course, with the right hashtag.

Music: Cover songs.  All my favorite musicians are making cover songs (or having their songs covered). Nothing new there, except there seems to be a dearth lately, or at least I finally have taken an interest.  This started well before Beck/Sonic Youth’s split-single covering each other’s songs.  Why re-invent the wheel when you can acknowledge your influences directly.

Social Network: FourSquare. Before I moved to DC I couldn’t really use Dodgeball, now resurrected as FourSqaure.  So I was skeptical about the usefulness of the network, versus my beloved Brightkite. Something about the gaming aspect, earning badges like Mayor of local establishments, makes this incredibly addictive.  Try the iPhone app, connect with Twitter, and see you around town!

Theory: Social Marketing. Contrary to the online connotations of it’s name, social marketing does not describe social media marketing.  Applying marketing techniques to positively change behaviors that benefit the public good has impressed me with it’s results. And it’s not Plato’s Noble Lie.

Video: Let Me Twitter That. As if my obsession with all things Twitter weren’t enough, this Andy Milonakis video has become something like a theme song. The video itself is ironic, original, and full of in-jokes that Twitterati will recognize immediately.

Word Game: Scrabble. I never thought I’d give this Hasbro classic a try after the Scrabulous fallout. But now that I can play with friends on Facebook, and make plays on my iPhone, this game is hard to put away.

Re:Cap(stone)

If you’ve been wondering what’s been keeping me from updating the blog lately, there need no be any mystery: this is the home stretch of final projects for school. Not the least of which is my masters degree Capstone Thesis paper.

Any one of these projects could warrant a blog post of it’s own, and I will be glad to share more about them after each is completed.  In a meantime, here’s a little insight into what a Graduate student in communications can accomplish.

  • Practicum: My team has been building a long-term strategic communications plan for Living Classrooms, a non-profit that serves communities in the DC-metro area with hands-on environmental education and workforce development; they call it “Learning By Doing”.  This group does amazing work with young people who live in underprivileged areas, but one of the drawbacks of their success is having so many diverse programs it is difficult for newsmedia to make a clear focused story about what it is they do exactly.
    One solution I have contributed, which fits the group’s communication strategy, is by making a Blog and Twitter for them to get the word out. I’ll cue you in on how we plan to help a non-profit grow as donors face a recession soon.
  • Management: We’ve been given a mock assignment in this class, responding to an RFP from the American Red Cross.  Our group has been designing a complete response, including plans for a multi-city festival and a localization model for more than 700 chapters of the Red Cross.  We’ll be competing with another group for the contract in an upcoming presentation, which I’ll try to share here.
  • Social Marketing: Diabetes is not “Your Grandparent’s disease” any longer; it increasingly impacts younger people.  I’ve conducted an environmental scan of the issue, and conducted original primary research through in-depth interviews with students.  From there we’ve designed a comprehensive social marketing campaign, that doesn’t just change attitudes but people’s behaviors as well.  I’ve already built a mock-up of the online network presence, which is key to our strategy.
  • Seminar/Capstone: My thesis involves original research of a scholarly nature, but with real-world application to the problem of energy conservation.  Although I am exploring an academic subject, exploring through case study and interviews how individuals are motivated to change their behaviors, I am writing it so that anyone can understand the issue.  Hopefully my research will help me build the soapbox I need to come out of my degree with specialization in opinion leaders, agenda setting, and marketing as they apply  to the salient public issues that brought me into PR.

I’ll be sure to tell you a little more about what I’ve learned… just as soon as I finish working through them of course.  Stay tuned.

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