The presidential election can teach you how to use social media

This post was originally written for Dubtizzle on 9.20.12:
Four years ago, I watched social media explode right in front of my face. I watched the Obama campaign use Facebook and Twitter. I watched newsrooms crowdsource images and information. But four years ago, social media was not mainstream.

Fast forward to now.

Social media may not reach each and every person who can be a customer or client, but it certainly gives you a direct line to thoughts, opinions and interest groups. For years, I have watched the White House post photos on its Flickr account and other social outlets before releasing them to media outlets in more traditional ways. Social has removed the middle man and allows politicians to speak directly to voters. If you’re ever looking for new ideas on how to share and gather information about potential customers, watch politicians closely.

A presidential election year is a perfect time to study up. Not long ago, Ad Age created an infographic showing the reach for Obama and Romney (and their wives) along with some statistics on how the two candidates use the powerhouse tools: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

With November getting closer, the two candidates have done some interesting things to encourage social media sharing and information collecting on voters.

Romney
The Romney camp has two different apps available for mobile users. One allows you to take your pictures and brand it with different sayings like “I’m with Mitt” and “Romney Ryan 2012.” The other app keeps you up to date with the campaign. The campaign encouraged people to sign up and use it so they could be the first to find out Romney’s vice presidential nominee. The app released Paul Ryan’s name before Romney announced it at a public event.

The campaign also became the first political campaign to purchase a sponsored hashtag on the final night of the Republican National Convention. The price tag to promote #RomneyRyan2012 is said to have been cost around $120,000.

Obama
While the Romney campaign spent a lot of money to engage the Twitter community, the Republican National Convention tweet with the most retweets was this image:

53,877 retweets to a photo responding to Clint Eastwood’s convention speech where he spoke to an empty chair representing President Obama. (Which also launched the #eastwooding meme.) That’s a huge response on Twitter.

That same week, Obama reached out to a social community that has never seen a presidential candidate make a visit: Reddit. The president spent about an hour answering questions that ranged from political to sports and beer. Did you visit that link? It’s had almost 1.9 million views with more than 24,000 comments. That’s remarkable engagement.

It doesn’t matter where you sit on the spectrum of political preference. Both camps can teach you a lot about ways to reach different audiences. Watch what works and doesn’t work for the candidates and consider giving it a try for yourself or your brand. (An interesting study by the Pew Research Center found the candidates are doing a great job talking inside social media, but not really engaging.) Do you have a public Spotify account? Both candidates do. They also have Instagram and Tumblr accounts. Watch and learn. Both camps may teach you how to share and listen in ways you’ve never tried before.

Groups are your secret to community

This post was originally written for Dubtizzle on 8.28.12:
Facebook Pages are a great way to extend your public relationship for yourself or your brand. Facebook Subscribe lets you share your personal posts in a public way. As your news feed fills with branding and professional talk (kind of like when Twitter feeds automatically appeared on LinkedIn), you may lose track of actual conversations. There was a time when you could post a question on Twitter or Facebook and you could get a stream of input. It just is not as easy as it used to be.

Mind you, my streams are loud. I have 1,786 friends on Facebook and like or subscribe to more than 2,000 brands or people. When I post a public item, my 50,000+ subscribers have a chance to comment. I follow 5,649 brands and people on Twitter from years and years of using the service. (I started in 2007.) Clearly, my most dominant social media tools are “loud” with nonstop chatter.

You don’t need that many people and brands to feel overwhelmed and watch conversations disappear into the social ether.

Enter Facebook Groups. Sure, there are LinkedIn Groups but where are you when you want to build conversations with customers or clients? How can you grow a relationship with your most committed brand supporters? If Facebook comes to mind, you’re probably right. The difference between Groups and Pages? Groups give you a more personal space to talk to a members-only collection of people.

Groups have different settings depending on how private or public you want your conversations. Secret groups are invite-only. Closed groups are request or invite only but the group names are searchable on Facebook. And then there are open groups. Open groups are searchable and anyone can join. Groups become a more directed conversation than the type of posts you add on a fan page. (Pages use the kind of posts that encourage conversation but also likes and shares.)

There’s another secret you may not know about Facebook groups. Not only is it a great way to create an extra relationship with potential brand ambassadors, you can find groups that benefit your career as well. There are groups for every topic you can think of. Many are focused on career-minded topics that help benefit the members. Other groups help people of similar careers share stories of success and failure. Groups can even be created just to help manage a project.

Let’s say you are a photography business and you want to grow a more personal relationship with your customers or potential customers. Using your Facebook page, you can invite your fans to join an open or closed group where you can share special tips and answer photography questions. (A closed group would require you to approve member requests.) From that group, you may find a small number of super fans who want to spread the word about your business. You could invite them to a special secret group where you can offer special deals or tips. You could even brainstorm ways to spread the word about your awesome business.

Facebook groups are one of the few places where I find I’m participating in excellent debates, conversations and updates on parts of my job that matter to me. At times, it may seem like it’s a spot where only the “cool kids” hang out. But the real power behind it is when you can’t find a group you want to join, just make one of your own. Invite friends, colleagues or clients. It just depends on what you want to get out of the group experience. If there’s any piece of advice to make a Facebook group experience really work for you, it’s to just try it and make it your own.

A shift in broadcast news delivery

With Google+ celebrating its public launch a year ago and KOMU 8 celebrating a year of experimenting in the social network, I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of the ways I see a tremendous shift in the way broadcast news is headed in the near future. G+ Hangouts changed the way our newscasts can interact and share but once Google opened up the tool for anyone to broadcast live on YouTube, it allowed anyone to become his or her own broadcaster. Since more and more people have high speed internet at home, more and more of those users are dumping cable and using streaming tools. My kids now use a Roku more than our DirecTV DVR. Netflix is now considered “the biggest cable network.”

So what is regional news doing with this information?

Not a lot.

That’s why I feel so lucky to work with Sarah Hill. She held a “G10 Summit” on Hangout broadcasting today. You can watch it on her YouTube channel. Broadcasting live from a hangout can be as easy as validating your Google Plus profile. Once you have a G+ Hangout Live account, you can start recording conversations, shows… Anything you can think of and include others from other webcams. This isn’t just something a professional can run. Anyone can do it. One of our mid-Missouri news viewers, Chad LaFarge, started a channel and holds hangouts called “Fix My Electronics.” Sarah recently wrote her top ten ways reporters can use hangouts for news coverage.

As Huffington Post moves into a streaming network, YouTube adds more original content channels and tools like Roku make it easier to take streaming networks directly to a television… Regional newsrooms need to experiment. National newsrooms need to experiment. (And some are joining streaming networks.) News content is not just the written word. Video content for the web can’t just be carbon copy from television. Somehow we need to find ways to reach out to the on-demand customer in a timely manner… Something sites like news video site, Newsy struggles with from time to time.

I hope we’ll continue to use the KOMU newsroom as a space to try new while keeping up with the traditional demands of broadcast. (And that’s an exhausting process at times!) A growing number of larger markets are trying new attempts at using Hangouts. But there’s more to be done in the on-demand stream. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep track of the new ideas and put more into action in my newsroom.

Thinking back on Twitter

There was a time in history not long ago when Twitter was new. Nowadays it so not new that it doesn’t even need a “T’ as a logo. Twitter updated its logo and made it just a bird. Heck, Twitter even made a pretty video about it:

 

I used to blog about Twitter all of the time. Interestingly enough, it’s gone mainstream in most parts of the United States… even in portions of the world. Funny. It still hasn’t really caught on in the middle of Missouri where I work. There is a committed group of people using it. There are lots of people who use it as a news and information feed. But where I work and deliver news, Facebook is so dominant.

Maybe because of my market’s use of Twitter, I’ve evolved in the way I use it. Maybe it’s because I follow 5700+ accounts. Maybe because I started too early in Twitter’s history and I haven’t been able to properly build lists. I don’t know. But the way I use Twitter the most is through hashtag-based conversations and conversations I or someone else initialized. I don’t get a chance to just scan the feed as much as I used to. I kind of miss those days. Actually… I have my old scan habits with the way I Instagram and Tumblr. I love keeping up with the people I follow and interact with photos and my Tumblr list is still small enough I can keep up with it. Lately I feel more personally connected to my IG family than my Twitter ones. And no, my market is not a heavy Instagram user just yet. But it has potential. It’s young. After almost five years in the Twitter space, it’s not growing rapidly for my news environment. I wish I could say better of it. Twitter was one of the first spaces I discovered online community around the world. I don’t plan to quit it. But I know it’s changed and I don’t know if it will ever be as much of a go-to network as it is in places like New York City and Seattle. I wonder how many other people feel this way.

Learning and changing for a traditional audience

Last September my newsroom took a jump into an uncharted path of merging social media with broadcast. We had had moments of success leading up to the U_News show that gave us the bravery to do things differently. We had a schedule opening after Oprah ended her show. That’s when we launched U_News@4 #SarahHill. We blended conversations online and on air using social media and Google+ hangouts. As our online audience grew around the world, our local audience never caught on quickly. In a world where traditional broadcast still relies on the majority of its funding from on air advertisement, our station continued to look for a way to create a new show and new revenue opportunities.

From the start, our team tried to learn and create without having access to analytical data that can show us the potential financial opportunity that hides inside social media-based audiences. U_News anchor, Sarah Hill, has steadily grown as a powerhouse of interactivity with an online and on air audience. If you’ve ever watched her juggle an on air segment and casually speak with a Google+ hangout during sound bites and commercial segments, you’ll see an incredible ease to communicate with two different news audiences. That ease doesn’t exist in the sales world. At least not yet. How can we take the power of her 900,000+ circles inside Google+ and translate that into funding for our news station? We don’t have answers just yet.

In January, the hour long U_News broadcast was moved from 4pm to 11am and moved to a 30 minute format. The interactivity and show content remained similar. But it wasn’t enough of a change for our traditional audience. Instead of canceling the show, we’re making more changes. KOMU plans to scale back on how we present interactivity in a way our audience is more willing to accept. U_News’ major changes are the show’s time (noon), name and format changes to boost its professionalism. The dominance of social media will be toned down. But it isn’t canceled and we will continue to use Google+ and other social media tools. This is partly the challenge of bringing new delivery to a traditional space. It’s also proof of the challenge of creating audience in new ways but not having the ability to measure the audience for sales to find non-traditional ways to fund the newscast.

The biggest lesson we’ve learned: When you try to launch new efforts on the news side of a broadcast environment, you need the sales side to also innovate.

Our efforts to bring more education and awareness to our market isn’t over. We will continue to share our skills with the community and encourage more participation in our market. So if you hear how KOMU’s interactive newscast was canceled, that’s wrong. It’s moving, it’s constantly changing and because I’m lucky to work here, we’ll continue to share the lessons we’re learning.

I’m lucky to work in a newsroom that is willing to take risks. I’m lucky to work in an industry that is trying to find ways to be flexible with an increasingly inflexible funding base. I’m also trying to learn how to better blend my skills with the growing entrepreneurial nature of the industry. Where do you balance your drive to do good journalism while seeking out funding in a traditional environment? Is the traditional newsroom more motivated to find non-traditional funding? If so, when it is right or wrong to cross the line of journalist versus sales? I’m not sure. So I’m hoping to keep track of how other broadcast stations are innovating and blending online and on air and finding ways to monetize. My favorite person of late is Matt Markovich at KOMO News in Seattle. He’s playing with live online broadcast and finding ways to gain sponsorship and an audience. It’s fun to watch and I hope KOMU will continue to experiment and report back what we’re learning.

At the same time, we aren’t backing away from the communities we’ve built and continue to build online. It may look different on air, but we will continue to learn, grow and help as journalism changes.

Now that you’re using Instagram

The combination of new Android users and Instagram’s $1 billion purchase by Facebook means swarms of people are signing up for the community. I figured I would share some of my tips since I have really enjoyed the community there. First, I HIGHLY recommend reading Anthony Quintano’s tips on succeeding inside Instagram. It’s a fabulous list of tips. Also, Poynter posted a good list of examples of how journalists are using Instagram (which include’s Anthony’s work). I also like how Brian Stelter explained his use of Instagram after the tornado in Joplin last year.

One of my favorite elements of Instagram is community. I’ve followed many people I know through Twitter and Facebook. But I’ve also found people just based on looking at who is liking my friends’ posts and different hashtags based on topics and regions. I’ve tried to create an Instagram community hashtag in my area (Often termed “igers.”)… but nothing has caught on just yet. My favorite igers are in Chicago. Check them out with the hashtag #igerschicago on Instagram or @igerschicago on Twitter or Tumblr or Facebook. It’s a community that started as a hashtag on Instagram and has grown beyond the app. It’s pretty cool. (And the photos are awesome.)

Give it a try! You never know what kind of community you may discover or create!

Hey Facebook. Let’s talk about Instagram.

I love Facebook and its many ways it helps connect people on a personal level and gives brands a different way to encourage sharing and information distribution. I don’t like how Facebook has killed some pretty great apps in the last few years. I’m writing this to share some history… and let Facebook know I really care about Instagram and don’t want to lose it. But first, let me explain why I’m worried about the future of the Instagram community now that Facebook is paying $1 billion for the app.

In 2009, Facebook purchased FriendFeed. It was a way to keep watch of conversations across various platforms. I used it a bit and enjoyed it. This purchase made a lot of sense to me because Facebook was working on better aggregation of Facebook users. Just think of the many ways the Facebook news feed has changed in the last few years. The FriendFeed concept has led Facebook to include many third party apps into its feed.

In 2010, I discovered a cool app called Hot Potato. The guys who created the app were bouncing around the Austin Conference Center during SXSW. I loved the app. The idea was to provide a more private twitter-type conversation where you could converse quickly based on a topic or an event without overflowing your twitter feed. It was smart. I liked it. Before I could really like it, Facebook bought it. I realize this was the foundation to Facebook’s messenger system. I like messenger… but it still doesn’t meet all of my messaging needs.

I thought the purchase of Hot Potato was really smart. It was small and smart. Facebook snagged the technology at the right time: Before it got too popular. I looked forward to what Facebook would do. I was really happy for the Hot Potato developers.

The big app acquisitions continued in 2011. But my positive view started to change. There were two acquisitions that I felt ate up a product that was great, but Facebook didn’t use to its fullest.

It was clear in 2011 that group messaging was gaining in popularity so I thought I’d play with many of the group tools during SXSW. That was when I fell in love with Beluga. It was a great messaging service where you could have private conversations with a set of people. It would let you message the group and it would display your geolocation. I used it a lot during SXSW with my roommates and groups of people who I wanted to keep up with, but didn’t feel the need to physically follow around during the event. GroupMe is probably the closest tool that I’ve enjoyed since Beluga died, but that geolocation element was really great for me. So Facebook bought it up in the second half of 2011. The app disappeared and I had expected to see more of the Beluga features inside Facebook Messenger. I want Beluga back. I began to think Facebook was buying products up just to squash the competition, not enhance its current products. I hate it when that happens. (I take it personally when Snapfish bought up Motionbox and never made that technology available.)

And then there was the purchase of Gowalla. I LOVED that application. The badges I earned were beautiful eye candy and I enjoyed collecting items for my “passport.” (I even blogged about the ways newsrooms could use it.) It connected with Facebook really well. My check in’s not only showed up on Facebook, they showed up on my Facebook map. (Have you ever checked your Facebook map timeline? It’s kind of cool. It’s really cool if you used Gowalla.) The down side of the purchase? Facebook took all of my check-in history from Gowalla, but never returned my badges, stamps and pins from my long-term use of the app. I had built up a lot of my life story in there. It was fun and full of cool images. As Facebook ate up Gowalla, all of my cool collections disappeared.

So now Facebook has purchased Instagram. It’s an app I have used intensely for about a year but joined in 2010. It’s been a really wonderful community of pictures where you can talk to members and share using hashtags. I had planned to sit down and right a list of ways to connect using Instagram today since last week, Instagram opened the community to Android users. I have dozens of new friends inside the app and I had hoped to share my community building tips.

But before I write that post, I want to beg Facebook to keep Instagram intact. It’s one of the few communities where I’ve enjoyed sharing and loved the simplicity of it all. There’s a fabulous monthly photo challenge that started by a mom blogger last January and has grown each month. (I blogged about that topic on this blog.)

I get it. I really do. Just as Read Write Web wrote, this purchase is all about the investors. Many, many people were posting photos to Facebook through Instagram. The two started working better together recently. You can produce Instagram and Foursquare photo albums instead of just linking out to the app on separate websites. But I think there’s a bigger reason here. Google+ purchased Picnik so users could edit their photos inside the social network. Now, Facebook wants users to be able to “improve” their photos as well. This is a way to use technology to encourage more people to go to Facebook and post photos. This isn’t about the app. But I’m here to beg to keep the app alive. I don’t want to be forced to publish every Instagram photo to Facebook. I have 910 photos on Instagram. Many are also published to my Flickr account, some to Twitter and Facebook. But most are just inside my Instagram community and that’s the way I like it and I hope to keep it.

Jumping into the new

I love new technology. I can’t stop myself from signing up and giving a new application or website a try. It’s a part of my curiosity as we continue to look for new ways to help journalism grow into its future. I’m often really excited about the new because I often see the great potential a new tool can offer.

Google+ had me super excited when I watched its engagement at its launch last year. Since then, my newsroom has harnessed its vast power through video hangouts. We’re talking to people in our market and beyond about topics of the day live each day Monday through Friday. I love it. This week I signed up to check out On The Air – a tool that claims to be a bigger, more reaching concept for broadcasting webcam chats. I look forward to seeing how it works when it launches. Another site I’m checking out: Twylah. It takes your trending topics on Twitter and makes it into a personal brand page. I signed up for my page and plan to add my newsroom’s soon.

Today I’m talking to members of the New York Press Association. First, about my ongoing collection of free (and almost free) online tools for journalism. I try to update the list at least two or three times a year. (And I’m always happy to add more links if you see something you think should be included.) Second, I’m talking about why I think it’s worth your time to jump into new technology and explore. My tech curiosity made me the tech geek I am today. I love this stuff! I hope to encourage more journalist to learn to play and have fun when it comes to growing our skills as journalists!

Why I avoid tribes at SXSW

This year was my fourth time attending the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, TX. Four times isn’t that long but it is long enough to assess some of the changes that have come with the experience.

For years I have bragged about the festival’s awesomeness. To me it’s like the Online News Association conference but with people who have similar interest across dozens and dozens and possibly hundreds of different career directions. The core interest in technology and innovation is similar across the board. I love that so much. Tools like Group Me made it easier to stay in touch with friends inside your already existing tribes: career path, friend history… heck I had a Group Me of people I only see during SXSW. Tools like these make it easier to stick within your comfort zone.

One tool that emerged during the festival that tries to make it easier to discovery serendipitous meetings through technology was Highlight. It shows you people you randomly passed by during the day and gives you a look at their background. I happened to be in rooms with fascinating people. It ranged from scientists and space engineers to reporters and authors. Highlight will tell you if you have similar interests based on your Facebook profile and connections. It was cool to discover people I’ve never met who are friends with my Facebook friends. I talked to a couple of people through the tool to say hi and introduce myself. (A passive introduction is by “highlighting” someone you might want to meet.) The challenge of actually talking face to face with people you’ve highlighted is the fact that by the time you have a moment to look at the app and see who are the interesting people in the area, they’ve already left and you have to go above and beyond effort to find a chance to meet this person face to face again. (Oh, and I continued my #PowerFriends power strip friend-maker. I love meeting people by sharing hashtag-based electricity.)

That’s why I kind of miss pre-app SXSW. (Yeah, Twitter existed… but Foursquare was just getting started three years ago! My how times have changed.) My best moments were and remain the random eye contact conversations in the hallway, while you charge your phone or wait to order a beverage at the bar. My favorite meetings have always happened this way and it happened again this year. I met brilliant librarians, filmmakers and leaders of popular social media tools that I love to use.

This tribal SXSW is probably going to continue. But I will focus on breaking through it and I highly recommend working outside of your comfort zone when attending a massive conference like this one. I tried very hard to balance the combination of sessions, serendipitous meetings and reunions. The more years I put under my belt and the larger this event gets, the harder it will be to keep my focus on new experiences. But for now, SXSW remains worth it to me.

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.