Entries from February 2012 ↓

How I built a community on Facebook

I merged Facebook with my personal blog world in 2010… But getting there took some work. My mom online world started many years before that. It’s something I had started on Geocities in 2002 before my son was born. By the time I was pregnant with baby number two, I had moved over to the Blogger platform to tell my mom stories. (I moved to WordPress in 2007.) To me, it just seemed right to create a new blog for the second child.

What I didn’t expect was for my daughter to be born with a left arm that stopped just below her humerus bone. No elbow. No hand. I didn’t even know that could happen. So as I tried to wrap my brain around the idea of a child with a limb difference, I started to search for community.

I wanted to hear from other parents with similar experiences. I wanted to know what they did when they had a new child. How did they move past the thoughts of cultural fear and how to raise a child without feeling damaged just because of a missing body part or parts? I found an online Yahoo chat group. It was my first life line of knowledge. The whole time, I blogged. I had been a member of Facebook for about nine months before my daughter was born in December 2005. Pages didn’t exist. I didn’t have Twitter yet. But I knew I needed to find people to talk to. As I grew more comfortable as my daughter’s advocate, I felt more comfortable sharing the lessons I learned in to my online communities and my blog. Those lessons expanded onto Facebook and eventually Twitter (which I joined in 2007). I started blending the lessons I was learning from my mom world into my newsroom and classroom. Learning to converse on Twitter about my mom world helped me learn how to transition those skills professionally as a journalist. Eventually I blended my Twitter use into hashtag conversations. One hashtag is the core of an ongoing conversation in the course I teach at the Missouri School of Journalism. I help coordinate a hashtag community of journalists.

I added that Born Just Right Facebook page in 2010 because I was about to build a new helper arm with my daughter in Chicago and I wanted something easy to post updates. The mobile Facebook app has been pretty great for quite a while. I thought a new helper arm and live posting the process would encourage people to “like” it and keep me entertained during that slow process. It worked… and slowly the Facebook page has been as much if not more engaging than the blog itself. Facebook is already a space where people comment and share, so it isn’t hard for followers to contribute thoughts and posts on a Facebook blog page. Facebook posts are a huge driver for post when I’d share a link. The combination of search and the Facebook account for at least 60 percent of the traffic to my site. (which averages 7,000 to 10,000 views a month. It’s a small, but kind space.)

Fast forward to 2012 and not only are there communities for limb different adults, children and family members of those who are limb different… There are organizations popping up in forms of websites and social network pages to share stories and support left and right. I’m doing what I can to keep up with each day for about an hour after the kids go to bed so I can help my readers see what’s happening. All of these pop up communities are a big reason why I hope the tech community can work together with the special needs worlds to find better ways to communicate. The desire to find community and connect with others is deep when you’re in a special needs world. The support I found early (when there weren’t many spaces online) are why I feel informed, empowered and able to help advocate for my daughter and others. That’s why I’m really honored to have my Facebook page nominated for an About.com Special Needs Online Community Reader’s Choice Award. It’s so cool to get some recognition after years of engaging and connecting on many different online spaces. I don’t plan to stop but I do hope to continue to get better at it. I also appreciate that each moment of success on my personal pages teaches me lessons that can help me continue to improve the engagement experience on my newsroom’s social spaces.

Taking a passion to a panel at SXSW12

It would be magical if I could just share my brain and it would auto publish… There are so many ideas I hold in my brain that I wish I could get out into a computer screen for dozens of blog posts. Lately I’ve thought a lot about a panel I’m helping lead at SXSW next month in Austin. Most of my friends assumed I was holding a panel about journalism. It’s certainly one of the parts of my life where I spend a lot of time talking about and teaching.

But this is SXSW. I needed to share an even more specialized sector of my world. I decided to see if it was possible to blend my love of tech and social engagement with my love of the special needs communities.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing next month. I’m holding a session called Tech Unity Beyond the #SpecialNeeds Hashtag. Communities connecting on Twitter using the special needs hashtag is awesome… But there are other ways we can share. So many different sectors of the special needs world have their own circles. The challenge is, so many of these communities are discovering similar ways to help kids and adults succeed. The trick is getting the communication out there. It’s much easier said than done! So I’m calling EVERYONE who has a connection to the tech world or special needs world to come together and help us brainstorm. Spread the word, let me know if you can help. I would love to be able to share video perspectives or comments during the session. Here’s my YouTube video explaining the project:

 

Broadcaster versus Engager

A friend of mine in the social journalism world mentioned in a blog post how he isn’t an engager… because it isn’t possible. He’s a broadcaster inside social media. And that made me think. Social media has grown because it’s all about sharing and talking and learning. Why can’t media brands be a part of that and not just broadcast information? It’s a challenge I’ve focused on for years in my career as a journalist and teacher. That dual job gives me so many different perspectives. When I think about what I want to teach and what I want to accomplish in the newsroom, most of the time my goals match. I want to use my work in the newsroom as an example to my students. That motivation leads me to spend a lot of time thinking about what is the right balance between being a broadcaster and an engager.

Here’s what I am seeing: Broadcast journalism-focused students really understand how to broadcast content across multimedia platforms. But I think we need to teach the concept of engagement and listening earlier in the journalism school experience. I have a lot to do to try and encourage, teach and execute a comfortable engagement process for my young journalists to reach our news consumers. To me, engagement is why I got into this journalism business. The idea of connecting to the consumer and helping them better understand where they live and the decisions they make in life is thrilling. Technology makes that goal SO much more real than when I dreamed of it in the early 90’s. Broadcasting content inside social media is just the beginning. There are so many more ways to listen and learn after a newsroom shares information. One of my favorite ways to listen on social sites these days is a site called Kurrently. I stumbled onto a few additional facts beyond a new item our newsroom covered this past week.

In the KOMU 8 newsroom, we had a really difficult coverage of a three year old who died allegedly at the hands of his mom’s boyfriend. According to investigators, initially the boyfriend and mom staged a hit and run accident to try and hide the abuse. The details from the boy’s death was released and it’s all really heartbreaking. The small town where the boy lived had a small candlelight ceremony with a low turnout a day after his death. Comments on the KOMU.com site had a couple of people mention how they did not know about the vigil but they plan to attend an event next week. I hadn’t heard about the vigil until I read through the comments. That tipped me off to do some more searching. I used Kurrently and searched using the boy’s name. Almost immediately, I discovered a photography studio that has been taking yearly pictures of the little boy since he was a baby. The studio put out an album of photos in his honor on Facebook. More heartbreak. An hour or two later, mentions of the vigil started appearing in public Facebook posts. One person posted details, names of organizers and a phone number to one of the organizers. Our newsroom did a story on the event it over the weekend and we’ll be at the vigil later this week.

Instead of considering the job done after our newsroom broadcasted the details, I listened. I searched. I know our market wants to continue to learn more about this situation. According to our chartbeat statistics, it remains a top search item on our site. Simple mentions can go a long way by searching, listening and using tools that help.

The next step is taking the knowledge gained from social media and improve our engagement with our news market. There are ways to do that, no matter what size newsroom you’re juggling. We all are able to broadcast across more platforms and listen in new ways… What about using those skills to follow through with the true purpose of social media and engage? KOMU 8’s U_News show is one way we’re trying to merge traditional broadcasting with engagement. Our audience has a chance to jump into a web cam chat during our 30 minute newscast. We try to use our traditional broadcasting skills to offer our news market the chance to engage with other viewers or to let the truth come out on important issues. We can’t just broadcast our requests for engagement. We have to do the follow through. (By the way, one of my favorite people who talks about engagement is Joy Mayer. I highly recommend reading her insights!)

 

The overwhelming rush of social

As I teach and lead a newsroom at the same time, it’s incredible to think of the number of ways newsrooms can deliver information. When a reporter goes out to a story, we expect him or her to deliver information from a cellphone via Twitter with text, photos and video. We expect a written news story for the web along with possibly additional information and documentation. Then they must get multiple versions of a broadcast story  that may include on air time on the set or from a live location. That is a lot to do for any person who is at any point in a career as a journalist.

It’s so fascinating how I continue to help coordinate and expand the roles of journalists in my newsroom. It’s also led me to expand my attentions. I no longer have one central place (like this site) where I share all of my knowledge. I have Twitter (which I’ve used since October 2006), Facebook (since March 2005), LinkedIn (since April 2006), my Google+ page (which is new), Facebook journalism and blogging groups, my course Facebook page, my course Tumblr, my course blog, and my advocacy site and its many social outlets. (Oh, and I love Instagram.) I juggle all of these resources while encouraging my students to focus on one work brand (KOMU or KBIA) and one personal brand (on a portfolio to help them get a job).

It’s no wonder my brain feels busy all of the time.

With my experimentation of so many different tools, I wouldn’t recommend this mode of sharing. Keep it centralized as you build your identity online. Leave comments and share links of information that come from smart people you want to know and talk to. Write strong blog posts and find others who will be interested in what you have to say. You can’t assume they’ll come to you and learn. If you snag a job that lets you experiment… that’s when things can start to get messy. The important thing is to find ways to report back the lessons you’ve learned. I’m lucky to have a class and a newsroom where I can do that. I also get to share my knowledge in spaces like #wjchat and at local meetings for hacks/hackersIRE.

Of course, there’s this space as well. And it feels good to get back to sharing my knowledge here again.

(Photo courtesy of Aramil Liadon/Flickr)

UPDATE: I guess I should clarify after reading my student Max’s blog post. This is what happens when I dump the thoughts in my head. I juggle a thousand different social media tools for many, many different purposes. When I say focus, I mean focus on yourself, your interests and experiment for yourself (a portfolio and social media energy for yourself) and your career (managing multiple social tools for your workplace) before you start adding all kinds of other projects.