Monthly Archives: April 2011

in a blackout, can social media light the way?

Losing power to campus in the middle of the day on Thursday provided a serious challenge on several fronts. But it also taught me an illuminating lesson on proactive social media use.

I was sitting in a meeting around noon when the lights went out. The head of facilities was also in the meeting and relayed that power was out for most of campus. This happened earlier this semester in the evening and I didn’t even learn about it until later after quite a few complaints on social media. I didn’t want that to happen again.

So, even without much information, my first instinct was to acknowledge the issue via Facebook and Twitter:

Since I did so via iPhone, the update to our Facebook page posted as — surprise, surprise — me! I got over any concern about that quickly, realizing it was more important to have the information out there, even if it draws things back to show the man behind the curtain. Note also that the Twitter message got retweeted, which makes for nearly instantaneous dissemination via personal networks.

I returned to my office where with a laptop and working ethernet (that in itself a minor miracle), we put any and all updates onto Facebook and Twitter and fielded any questions we could. Some people wondered about questions out of our control, but our main promise to provide updates — which we did — may have sufficed for many folks.

In this instance, social media preceded information via official channels, because an official mass communication may involve many more players and factors. Fortunately, the outage itself was resolved fairly quickly, plus it was really nice outside, so the majority of hardships were minimized. In all, it brought home the vital role of social media communication and the importance of us receiving timely and updated information. Not a lesson I was in any hurry to learn, but it’s good to know.

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the fall of whrrl and the future of geosocial.

Between the announcement Whrrl will check out at the end of the month and speculation over whether checking in has jumped the shark, the past week gives us pause to ponder the future and direction of geosocial, or location-based, media.

As stated previously, I liked Whrrl for its Societies (connecting users with similar check-in habits), its clean interface and its functionality. But with Groupon acquiring Pelago, Whrrl’s parent company, the geosocial service will spin off into oblivion. Groupon will likely take on some of Whrrl’s better features, but since Groupon already has some location-based elements to it, one could argue redundancies existed.

Way back when I started studying geosocial media, I predicted some players would fall by the wayside and others would be acquired by other companies with similar interests. Whrrl had a low user base and, despite some pretty decent promotional ideas, more prone to being rolled into something else. They may have been the first, but they won’t be the last.

Jeffrey Kirchchick of SCVNGR, who first let me know about Whrrl’s demise, likes to (accurately) say the future of geosocial goes well beyond the check-in. You can find a more extreme position via a RWW guest post by Goby CEO Mark Watkins declaring 2011 as the year that check-in died. Leaving aside the very legitimate question as to whether it’s in Watkins’ self-interest to declare the check-in dead, he notes:

In July 2010, Foursquare had 2 million users performing 1 million check-ins per day. By the end of the year, that number had risen to 5 million users performing 2 million check-ins per day. Impressive growth, yet this means check-ins per user declined from 0.5 per person to 0.4. It also suggests that many of those five million users aren’t active.

Between that and poor data on Facebook Places — always the weakest of location-based offerings — Watkins explains that the mere art of the check-in may not be enough to sustain these apps. It’s a great point. Yet the article has, at best, a flawed headline and, at worst, flawed assumptions.

Let’s say I own a bookstore. In the span of a year, the number of customers coming increases 150 percent. And my sales double. True, my average sale nets 20 percent less than the previous year, but … did I mention I had twice the sales of my previous year? Would I declare my bookstore dead? Of course not. It’s silly overstatement and cherry-picking of numbers. If I were a smart bookstore owner, I’d work with customers to see how I could better meet their needs … and I’m pretty sure geosocial media companies are smart enough to do the same. It’s too bad Whrrl won’t be among them, but I suspect these companies have plenty of sharp mind to help them navigate solutions.

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5 reasons businesses should be using social media.

I gave a presentation to a community leadership class last week and realized that (despite my arrogant assumption to the contrary) not all businesses and organizations are yet sold on the value of using social media. Whether it’s fear of the lack of control, tight resources or not believing they have the skills navigate Web 2.0, some businesses hesitate to take this step into what appears The Great Unknown.

Preparing for that presentation (as well as a rush job for class when a guest speaker had to cancel for a death in her family), I assembled 5 top advantages businesses and organizations can gain from social media presence. Turns out the reasons spell out the word MEDIA — pure happenstance, as I’m not nearly clever enough to create such a thing.

Multimedia storytelling: It’s so much easier to show with visuals than words, whether with video (the richest form of online content) or photos/slideshows. For example, would you rather read about our college having more than 100 student organizations or see a user-contributed Flickr slideshow with students in action? The bonus is you can embed slideshows on your own pages or share via social media.

Engagement: Your customers or clients, students or alumni are key to, and part of the narrative of, any business or organization. Interacting with them via Facebook or Twitter helps solidify their connections with you, and may help you better solve their problems. If a potential client posts on three Facebook pages looking for more info, and yours is the only one that responds, how much of a better chance do you have of earning their business? Or if you aren’t on Facebook, that discussion can’t even take place.

Direct communication: How traditional PR pushes out a story: We write a news release. We send it to editors who may throw it in the trash, put it into some kind of story purgatory or chop down to two sentences and make it a brief. Even if you get a good story, then consumers have to actually pick up a paper that day, turn to the page where it is and find time to read it. With social media, you bypass gatekeepers and uncertainty to get directly to your stakeholders. Also worth noting that our official Facebook page has decidedly more fans than our hometown daily newspaper has circulation.

Immediacy: Getting the word out, and placed in the media, can be a laborious process … albeit one that’s still worth doing. But if you create a Facebook event and invite all your fans to it, it’s immediate (and engaging and direct, as noted above). Or if something changes at the last minute, you can let attendees (or maybes) know immediately. There are other countless reasons businesses may want to get some kind of important message out instantly, and social media is delivers quickly.

Authenticity: Our businesses, our brands are not about buildings or sales figures. They’re about people. Authenticity — being who you are, telling the truth and embodying your values — is required for social media but also provides opportunities. Why not allow users to see behind the scenes at your operation in some way? Why not invite your most loyal customers to tell their stories? Why not make everyone feel like they are a genuine and important part of your story?

I’m not saying social media doesn’t come with perils, but then anything worth doing — just opening a business in the first place — comes with some type of risk. And I’m not saying delving into social media should completely replace existing marketing efforts, although they can greatly enrich, extend and complement existing marketing. Social media is more of an investment of time than of money, but it’s an investment that can reap great dividends.

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yesterday’s newspapers = tomorrow’s geosocial community builders?

It’s no secret the entities once known as newspapers continue to transform into multimedia, multipurpose organizations. But can they also use new tools — especially geosocial media — to lead the process of online community-building? The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle’s score! app raises such intriguing possibilities.

While the company did not return an interview request from this lowly blogger, this interview on WXXI and this Nieman Journalism Lab story provide interesting context — the project started as an alternate-reality partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology, then had another short civic-engagement run around the midterm elections. It relaunched a few months ago as a full-fledged social gaming site with location-based challenges.

“[T]here’s this huge community in Rochester that we can send people to all these cool places they don’t know about,” project developer Mark Newell told WXXI. “We have reporters and contributors that are trying to get more stuff out there. … We have this amazing cache of knowledge that I think we’re trying to get out in more ways than just writing newspaper articles.”

Sign-up takes less than a minute if you connect via your Facebook ID, and the site is pretty easy to navigate. You can pursue missions, which may include logging onto the score! mobile site for checkins like any geosocial app. Missions point users to both known places and hidden gems, such as New In Town with Driardonna Roland by the D&C’s young professionals beat reporter or Ashish’s Sport and Spice by an intern on local spicy food and sports hangouts.

And score! represents a merging of user with content and, for the D&C, revenue potential. The missions tie in advertisers as destinations, while giving users a chance to discover local flavor (perhaps literally), all the while promoting Rochester as a vibrant community. Quite a brilliant concept, really. User activity seems decent, albeit not overwhelming, and it’s hard to predict a development curve.

The question at the heart of this is: Could colleges or other businesses create a similar homegrown solution? (By which I DON’T mean: Drop a huge chunk of change to an app developer.) The D&C benefits from economies of scale — they already have a large staff of content providers, backend development support for their website and a well-used communication vehicle. Some colleges have those advantages as well.

Colleges establishing their own rich geosocial applications and networks — to better connect students to each other and their institutions — would require not just resources, but a paradigm shift in some traditional roles and expectations. But hey, if print media, (erroneously) considered dinosaurs by some, can jump on this kind of innovation, why shouldn’t other industries consider it too?

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