My Experience Using FourSquare

One of the assignments for this week in my Social Media Theory & Practice class was to experiment with a location-based checkin service/app. I choose FourSquare. I had previously used Facebook’s checkin since I already had a Facebook app, but I did not use it regularly. I signed up for FourSquare, and it automatically let me know via my phone contacts who else I knew that used FourSquare, so I sent them all an invite. I got 4 friend responses. I began checking in regularly when I got to work at the Roaden University Center at Tennessee Tech University. I also checked into my hometown of Baxter — I actually received a badge and became Mayor of Baxter on FourSquare for my number/frequency of checkins (and I admit, it was an ego-boost even if it was a virtual badge). I tried to remember to checkin at businesses throughout the week, but to be honest, it was a burdensome to try to remember to checkin. Juggling 3 young children when we go to a restaurant or shopping, I am doing good to remember my purse and wallet, let alone checkin on my phone. I guess it could have been a better experience if more of my phone contacts had responded back to be friends, or if there were a part of the app that could show me categories of events going on throughout the week (for me, I would be looking for kid-centric events).

With that being said from my personal perspective, I do think these kind of apps would be very useful in promoting the university where I work. I even think we could do internal promotions for faculty/staff/students on building checkins, especially if they would make mention of an event going on — and give them some TTU swag. I also think these would be useful for our recruiters when they are visiting high schools — another way to make a connection by checking in when they get to the high school or recruitment fair. Lots of possibilities here, just need more bodies to implement a strategy for them. 

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Reflections on Readings for Week 9

This week in my Social Media Theory & Practice class, we read several articles about understanding how to get the most out of posts on social media and understanding metrics. The first article, “10 Questions To Ask About Your Twitter Reach & The Free Twitter Tools To Answer Them” by Gerry Moran, provides useful advice on tools to better measure the effectiveness of Twitter, concentrating on amplifying messages, engage followers and conversion. The 10 questions included: (1) What do I know about my Twitter followers? (2) Where are my Twitter followers? (3) What part of my follower reach is really not worth following? (4) Is my messaging reaching an audience beyond my followers? (5) When is the best time to tweet, so it reaches most of my followers? (6) Is my messaging reaching an influential and geo-targeted audience? (7) How can I find people who should be following me? (8) Who are the most influential people on a subject? (9) How healthy was my social network today? (10) Am I positioned as an expert so I can increase my message reach through retweets and Twitter listings. In reading about the different tools that can assist in provide data and metrics to these questions, the most robust two that stood out to me were Ads.Twitter.com and FriendorFollow.com for the kinds of data they can provide.

Working at a university, our Office of Communications & Marketing frequently receives requests from other offices and academic departments that want to jump feet first into social media, usually establishing a Facebook or Twitter profile. Oftentimes, they’ve already launched them and are floundering. I wish they could understand that social media is not just the latest way to get in front of the high school market or even current students. They usually want a page/profile because everyone else has one. They do not ask the kind of questions mentioned in this article. These questions go to the heart of creating a strategy for engagement and being able to track that. What we usually see is, for example, an academic unit establishing a page, which gains less than 100 followers and they can’t figure out why they are not growing. Or the other scenario is that someone from their department has established a page, and then abandoned it, so the page has lost all relevance. We do strongly encourage all units to assign the updates on their social media to a full-time employee versus a student. Student workers may be the easiest solution in terms of knowing how to do it, but they also come and go each semester, and there are security concerns. We have created Social Media Guidelines to bring a level of consistency campus-wide to TTU’s social media presence — http://www.tntech.edu/web/socialmedia/.

The second article for this week was “A Scientific Guide To Writing Great Headlines on Twitter, Facebook, And Your Blog” by Leo Widrich. This was a really a good review for writing traditional headlines with some helpful tips for writing for online and social media. I thought it was interesting on the emphasis on numbers in headlines and making them more “how to” or DIY. I think this help make the content evergreen/timeless when you write lists that can remain relevant. And of course, the tip on using action verbs also holds true for print media. I thought it was good to that the writer strongly advised that when posting, be specific about the action you want your readers to take — download, visit link, retweet, etc. So be declarative in your request for action — I think this harkens back to positioning oneself as an expert online and via social media. I also think it is very true that photos are the attention-grabbers on Facebook. People respond to them and share them. This reminded me of how traditional papers always have photo above the fold, sometimes just a standalone photo with a cutline to attract reader attention. Another good tip from this article was when writing for your blog and you are searching for a topic — try tweeting the topic first and see what traction it gets. This will be an indicator of how successful your blog post can be.

The third article for this week was “5 social media metrics that your business should be tracking” by Luke Chitwood. As someone who works in marketing, I understand the importance of metrics and ROI. Some of the metrics that stood out to me here were: reach, engagement and conversion.  On reach, I agree that the growth rate of your audience depicts your social media momentum. But perhaps the most important metric is engagement. This is the metric we look at for the university’s social media — how many people liked a post, commented on it, shared it, retweeted it, favorited it, posted original content back to you, etc. Engagement is measuring what is resonating with your established base. Of course, conversion is the metric where you expect to see an action. It would be ideal at the university if we could capture the true conversion rate. However, this is a big challenge because so many offices are working to recruit a student (Communications & Marketing, Admissions, specific Academic Department, Student Orientation, etc.). Each office collects data to the best of its ability, but we have never been able to funnel that data together to get a true conversion rate or even an accurate number of what it costs to recruit a student. So, on our end, the best metric I can show for the university marketing I do is reach and engagement. At my level, I can only show I brought so many eyes to the page and how many inquiries were generated. Marketing can only bring them to the front door, the other offices I listed have to bring them through it. One metric mentioned here activity and the customer service savings was a new concept to me to measure in a formal way. We have currently started measuring number of inquires at the campus help desk and the number of inquiries received through the university web master email. I think I will start tracking the number of questions answered through social media because honestly that is where most students connect.

The final article for this week went deeper into metrics with a specific case study. The article, “How Promotion Affects Pageviews On The New York Times Website” by Brian Abelson. This article detailed a research experiment that looked at the New York Times’ promotion efforts in relation to the success of an article (how many pageviews it received). I do agree that page views are probably not the best measurement, but as an advertiser that juggles multiple media when I am doing a campaign, they are an easy go-to metric to let me see what kind of reach my ad is receiving. I think this was valuable research in using PAR (page views above replacement) since it created a predictive model for articles and correlated their method of promotion to predict how many views it will receive — in other words “a clear relationship in the data between promotional energies and page views.” The predictive model follows logic in that the more an article is promoted (either by time spent on the NYT homepage or if it is promoted on NYT Twitter account, then the more page views that article will receive). Probably the most interesting fact here is that the model can explain almost 90% of the variance in page views. The one thing not addressed here is that as an advertiser, I would want to be able to pick the best combo for my ad to be seen on — so I would want to always be seen with the articles that are most likely to come out on top in terms of page view. And now with a predictive model, I wonder if this might hurt other areas of the news — like sports articles being more popular than arts articles? Could this be detrimental to less popular sections of the news?

I was not able to read the full article on Al Jazeera English — only the abstract. So, there may be an update to this reading section if I can access the full article.

UPDATE:

Dr. Brown found a new link to the full Al Jazeera English (AJE) article. Below are my take aways from this article, “Al Jazeera English Online: Understanding Web Metrics and News Production when a Quantified Audience is not a Commodified Audience” by Nikki Usher. This scholarly article focused on AJE as the Arab’s world largest English-language news site to reach an international audience and showed how, although freed from economic forces, journalists at AJE still use metrics to a certain extent to gauge audience reach. The author addresses upfront the finance issue at work with AJE — it is creation of the Qatari royal family and supported by oil revenues. And even though the family insists the news organization is independent, I don’t know if I fully believe that.

The article focused on the use, or lack thereof, of Web metrics in the AJE’s newsroom. Launched in 2006 to counter the lack of Western coverage of the Middle East, some notable metrics mentioned for the site include: available in 220 million households across more than 100 countries, averages 8 million visitors a month, and more than 50% of web traffic comes from the U.S. The author’s research focused on absent the pressure to show metrics to support financial decisions, she wanted to know whether editorial judgements in the newsroom were affected by metrics when journalists decided which stories to cover/write about.

The author here found that at AJE, although individual journalists had access to basic metrics, using Chartbeat (and upper management used Google Analytics), the use of these tools did not appear to influence any editorial judgments on what to cover. It was interesting to note that the journalists used the tools as a method of personal validation — i.e. personal info on how successful my story was based on readership. Many journalists were aware that upper management used Google Analytics, but none of that historic info was shared from the top down, which indicates to me that you want to keep your people in the dark versus maintaining editorial integrity.

Reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of the old journalism cliche of “if it bleeds, it leads.” Even before the web was in wide use, newspapers in print have been making decisions about what to include on the front page above the fold to help sell papers and get a wider circulation. So, that is why a murder makes the front page versus a new public school opening — it sells more papers. That is why newspapers, especially those found in small towns, still do non-traditional pubs/special tabloids — not because the content is particularly interesting, but because it sells ads to boost overall revenue. Some examples of special sections — Best of the Best for local businesses, home improvement, back to school, etc. I remember writing a paper about the history of my hometown paper, the Herald-Citizen in Cookeville, TN. I interviewed the managing editor at that time in 1998 and asked what was the biggest story they ever covered. The answer was the assassination of local state senator Tommy Burks by the local property assessor who was running against him. He judged that based on selling out of newspapers that featured the story on the front cover.

Overall, I think an awareness of metrics is key in today’s data-driven world. Even at the university level where I work — we are not paid by the story, but we do have to show number of clippings for our press releases and number of clicks on the webpages. We have to give account for our web traffic and explain how that influences our website’s site map. Social media is another tool we track data on to see how successfully we can engage our stakeholders/audience.

Reflections on Readings for Week 8 (Happy Spring Break!)

The readings for this week in my Social Media Theory & Practice class included articles on location-sharing apps. The first article, “7 Ways Journalists Can Use Foursquare” by Shane Snow, gave some good tips for making the most of these apps. The seven tips included: finding targeted contacts, breaking news, sourcing information from tips, learning about people your profiling, discovering and monitoring trends, publishing and distributing content and crowdsourcing new and rewarding readers with badges. The app featured in this article was FourSquare. In thinking about these tips, I can see how these kind of apps can be valuable for journalists because it gives them a lead on where the news is happening, making it easier to find interview subjects and to make connections.

On the second tip about breaking news, I’m not sure if location-sharing apps can take over the large market share that Twitter commands as a social news tool. Working at a university, I think these apps could be effective as another means to distribute information during an emergency situation if the event was contained to a specific building or area of campus. Ever since the tragedy at Virginia Tech, universities have been hyper vigilant in getting timely notifications out to students during emergency situations. Thank goodness at Tennessee Tech, we have not had a life-threatening emergency, but we have had suspects on the run around campus and of course severe weather alerts. We have found that using social media, Facebook and Twitter, to be faster versus using our RAVE alert system that sends out text alerts. RAVE is an opt-in system, and it requires several steps to join versus following a social media page with just one click.

Another tip that I thought had potential was the publishing and distributing content. It was not mentioned in the section, but as a marketer, my mind went immediately to how businesses can capitalize to have their reviews get top listings when someone is using a location-sharing app — sort of like pay to play. This could be a way for apps like FourSquare to make revenue.

The last tip on crowdsourcing news and rewarding readers was good. However, I don’t think badges hold long-term appeal/reward for people to continue to use an app. One of the first rules of marketing is remembering WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Businesses should be offering their most frequent customers who check in discounts/coupons/premium seating, etc. — something tangible and immediately rewarding versus a virtual badge.

The second article this week was choosing one about another location-sharing app to read. I chose “We&Co Aims to turn the Checkin into the Thank You” by Christina Warren. This article was written in 2011 when We&Co launched. We&Co’s original intent was to provide a way to connect customers and employees of businesses. If you get superb service at a business, this app would let you give a personalized shout out to the employee who did a good job. I think this really has some potential. For example, I am a frequent shopper at Kohl’s and at the end of every purchase, they tell me how much money I saved and encourage me to take a survey to help the employee and the store. Well, as a customer, that means I need to keep up with my receipt, find the time to sit at my computer, log on to Kohls.com and take the survey which lasts 5-10 minutes. That is a lot of work for the customer. It would be much easier if an app linked my location, asked me if I made a purchase and then allowed me to say rate good/bad experience and let me type in an employee’s name if they were particularly helpful. I could get reward with a coupon on my next purchase.

I checked online to find an update on We&Co since I thought this product had potential. Since its launch, it has morphed into a hiring solution for the service industry. On its Facebook page, which only has 940 likes, it calls itself “Linkedn for Service Professionals.” The company says it gives these workers an online identity to help promote their careers. In some instances I think catering to a niche is good, but in this one, not many people I know aspire to be in the service industry for an long period of time, unless they are climbing the ladder to management. So looks like not much growth or press for We&Co since its launch.

Social Media & the Use of Photos (Feedback on My Photo Posts)

Let’s face it — in today’s hyper-visual world online, photos (and videos) are a must when creating and sharing content. Even though we haven’t had the best weather in Middle TN this week, I choose to post photos of the Tennessee Tech campus on both my personal Facebook and Twitter pages. These reason I choose these social tools is because even on my personal accounts, I represent the university (and never forget that), and I was curious to see how many likes/shares/retweets/favorites photos of campus would get compared to my standard fare of kid photos that usually are posted in my news feeds. I posted the photos early in the morning, and by lunch, they had 13 likes, 2 comments and one share on Facebook out of a total of 368 friends. On Twitter, my set of photos were retweeted 3 times by our TTU Athletics Director, TTU Parents Association and TTU Office of Student Orientation. Total exposure on Twitter counting my followers (69) and the number of followers on retweets (1,083) was 1,152. So by far, my reach on Twitter was greater versus Facebook.

In reflecting on using photos and social media, I think I need to make a greater effort to use Twitter versus Facebook. Facebook is my comfort zone — it was the first social media I regularly adopted and it is a place where I catch up on news about my family and friends. Twitter is more for professional use, and I need to take the time to cultivate that. As seen from the retweets I got — those are all professional level connections that help keep the university top of mind for some of our key audiences (sports, parents and new students). I intend to post a photo at least 1-2 times per week on my Twitter feed and include photos with each blog post. Image

I am really enjoying doing a separate photo-a-day project for class — it allows me to capture the randomness of my life with work, kids and all in a way I wasn’t doing before. I think that I would like to do a project where I post one photo a day of each of my kids and create a person album year in the life of to see when they get older.

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Reflections on Readings Week 7

This week in my University of Memphis’s Social Media Theory & Practice class, we finished the Clay Shirky book Here Comes Everybody. In these closing chapters, Shirky really sums up his thoughts on the social media revolution and where he would like to see it all go. Chapter 10 is appropriately titled “Failure for Free,” in which Shirky describes how the new publish-then-filter system of using the Internet means that new social tools must tolerate enormous amounts of failure. Some tools, blogs, websites, online groups, etc. really take off and flourish and become wildly popular and successful, while others die due to lack of traffic. The heart of what Shirky is getting at here is that for the average user trying to launch or even connect an online group, failure online is free because publishing online is free. There is no risk of monetary loss if I can create an online group and no one joins versus a group meeting in person that requires renting a space to hold meetings, buying refreshments for members, creating handouts, etc. There is a real world cost in doing all that. So cheap failure in this instance equals an increase in exploration of multiple possibilities. In this chapter and the following chapter, Shirky uses the example of software programming and Linux to show how groups interact online. One good point is that the number of people willing to start something is much smaller versus those who are willing to contribute once it starts. He points out that the inventor if Linux asked for input, promised  not all would be implemented and then created an open license for it, so that what came out of their group collaboration could not be taken away and used for commercial gain. 

I think this concept of failure for free applies in some aspects to higher education. Although in recent years, higher ed has been subject to market forces, for the most part, it still remains insulated. In our office of communications and marketing, I once had a graphic designer tell who came from a corporate ad agency that he felt so much more creative because the immense pressure of profitability was gone here —  he was still expected to do his best work, but if that work failed to resonate, there was no monetary consequence. He felt more freedom to explore and grow as a creative artist versus hit a home run every time like in the corporate world. I think Shirky’s quote about institutions was also spot on for higher ed: “institutions prefer steady performance to brilliant but erratic” because the culture is so slow to adapt to change.

In Chapter 11, Shirky covers the three basic elements to have success using these new social tools: promise, tool and bargain. The promise is why anyone joins/contributes to a group, including their desire to participate. The tool is how they connect, And, the bargain is the set of rules for road (both formal and informal). I think it was good that Shirky pointed out that there is not one social tool that fits all. Just because Facebook can do photos and video does not mean it will replace Flickr or YouTube. In my opinion, the more focused a tool can be, the more potential it has for success and user adoption. The two most important things to remember about a deciding on which tool to use is: (1) is your group small or large? and (2) is your group short or long-lived? The new array of social tools is tied intrinsically to the modes of group interaction they need to support. And a word of caution from Shirky — new tools are not always better (i.e. the Buffy the Vampire group fan site). 

Shirky notes that bargains are the most complex action of a functioning group. I encourage anyone who doesn’t understand this concept to visit a fandom discussion board. I love to read and one of my favorite genres is paranormal romance/urban fantasy. I am a big follower of the series by J.R. Ward — Black Dagger Brotherhood about vampires (insert fangirl squeal for The King coming out April 1st). I joined the fandom discussion board on the author’s website. There is a hierarchy at work here with moderators, experts, trolls, lurkers, active users and passive users. This online group I belong to is not profitable. We just have a common love of a book series, like to discuss characters, future books, subplots, etc. The author encourages us by posting spoilers and even having the book characters themselves come out to play and interact with fans on the boards. If I were to write a negative post or start flaming someone else’s post, my post could get deleted, I could get banned and membership revoked from the boards. So in this group governs itself without any oversight — but that governance comes from a passion and love of the topic, which can be hard to replicate in forced interaction around a practical work topic. 

One issue we have been struggling with at our university is communication about the university’s new strategic plan called Flight Plan (but don’t call it a strategic plan). We have revamped web pages, published success stories, etc., but we still get feedback that people don’t understand their role in the plan. We have tossed around the idea of a discussion board moderated by the leaders of the plan’s four key focus areas: improve the undergraduate student experience, transform technology, create distinctive programs and invigorate faculty, and expand financial resources and modernize infrastructure. And under these focus areas are key priorities — pretty clear to our office how your could tie your department or office’s goals into this larger university plan. But I just don’t know if discussion boards will work to force discussion and interaction on a topic that people should be passionate about but aren’t. I think more marketing messaging on why this is important and essential to the university is necessary (i.e. the promise component here has not been established and we are jumping ahead to the tool).

In the book’s epilogue, Shirky notes that “social tools don’t create new motivations so much as amplify existing ones,” and of course “more is different.”  In this closing for the book, articulates what he would like to see happen with these new social tools — with the “ridiculously easy group forming” online, there will be many more groups. This will be beneficial for society because the net value of change will be positive and because the political assumptions, including the freedom to say/do what they like will increase. This bookends nicely will Shirky’s other book I have read – Cognitive Surplus, which puts forth evidence that we as a society need to harness the free surplus of time modern life has afforded us and use it for the greater good. However, on his political assumptions part of the equation, I have to disagree with Shirky. Although I have a journalism background, I also earned a degree in political science, and I am not as sure that a rapid influx of freedom, facilitated by social networks, is in the best interest of many countries, such as the Arab Spring. I do agree that the rapidly coordinated protest by ordinary citizens is the most durable story of social media because it is easier to destroy versus create. But I question the speed at which that change occurs, and the interim period of chaos and bloodshed. I know not every revolution is peaceful, but even after freedom is given, there is no guarantee it will last (look at Iraq and Afghanistan today). Okay, my political soapbox rant is over. Overall, I thought Shirky’s book was a really good read to discuss the broader implications of new social tools versus reading about trends and how they can be used for marketing/branding. Even if I disagree with the political assumptions part. 

For my trade journal article this week, I chose Adweek’s current article from Feb. 16 entitled “Big YouTube Channels Join Forces to Help Drive Ads.” This article detailed the formation of a new trade organization for online vides called GOVA (Global Online Video Association). This will be a nonprofit group formed with the primary goal of bring in advertisers to the online video medium. Some of the big players signing up for GOVA include multichannel networks Maker Studios, Fullscreen, Collective Digital Studio, Big Frame, BroadbandTV, DECA, Discovery’s Revision3, Magnet Media and MiTu Networks. The article went on to explain that in the past, most ad sales for these channels have focused on aggregating video views and pre-rolls to make a profit. Now they want to be able to bring attention to the space, and GOVA will be set up to protect their interests. One interesting point in the article is that originally advertising sold for online video was done by non-ad salespeople (technical people generating the video content or those doing editing). Because of that some unusual precedents were set that need to be addressed, and GOVA could be a place to codify industry standards. Here is the link to the article: http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/big-youtube-channels-join-forces-help-drive-ads-155758