Cautiously Optimistic

Social media for better communication and a better life

Archive for February 2012

Facebook Timeline: Your ‘Long Tail’ is Longer Than You Think

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As Facebook converts more of its user accounts to the new “Timeline” format, we citizens of what the Atlantic magazine terms “Facebookistan” have had to make some hard choices.

The timeline format displays, in chronological order, almost everything a person has ever done on the site, including pictures, links to articles, comments on or “liking” of others’ pictures and articles, and which celebrities and consumer brands they follow.

Facebook gives each person a bit of a grace period—some time to review the information on their timeline before publishing it to the web. For many of us, that means we have had to browse through a great deal of content, perhaps more than we remembered creating.

Looking down my timeline, skimming past all the content I knew I was going to have to edit, I was reminded of “the long tail,” one of my favorite concepts from the realms of both business and communication.

Chris Anderson wrote about the long tail in a Wired magazine article, and described it as a special kind of demand curve.

The Long Tail (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)In this graph, the green-shaded area to the left represents things that are in high demand, and the yellow-shaded area to the right represents things that are in low demand. The volumes of the two areas are roughly equivalent. In a business context, the aggregate demand for the plentiful low-demand items is around the same as the aggregate demand for the scarce high-demand items.

In editing my Facebook past for public consumption, I discovered that the timeline was looking awfully like a “long tail” as well. There were lots of entries packed into a short time period for the last two years. Beyond that, each month had fewer and fewer items, but the timeline just seemed to stretch on and on and on. I had no idea I’d spent so much of my life in social media.

According to the long tail theory, if I had a dollar for every social media activity I ever engaged in since I signed up for Facebook, I’d be twice as wealthy as if I had just recently signed up. So I think I’ll keep looking in the mailbox for my check from Mark Zuckerberg. I bet it won’t take that long. Not long at all.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.


Written by Charles Primm

February 28, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Social Media: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

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Let's Call the Whole Thing OffThe other day I was catching up on my reading about social media and communication, and I started thinking about the old song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” In particular, I was remembering the line “you say EE-ther, I say EYE-ther.”

The song came to mind because social media is being presented as the source of a) “persuasion,” a positive outcome that justifies the billions of advertising dollars being spent with Google, Facebook, Twitter and other networks, and b) “manipulation,” a negative outcome increasingly pursued by repressive regimes such as those in Syria and Iran.

Persuasion, as I’ve written about before, is one of the tools of the trade for public relations practitioners. When you get down to it, all of us are persuaders, no matter what line of work we are in. We all have wants and needs, and we communicate with others in order to get what we want. From tweeting your need for a ride to class, to posting a YouTube video encouraging your friends to vote for your candidate, to seeing your agency’s online advertising campaign delivering increased revenues to your client’s business, we all use social media to persuade others to agree with us and/or do what we want them to do.

Manipulation, on the other hand, is a bad thing. It’s not something that “we” do; it’s an evil thing that “they,” the others, do. Author Anne P. Mintz’s new book, “Web of Deceit: Misinformation and Manipulation in the Age of Social Media,” looks at how manipulative individuals and organizations use social media to spread misinformation and propaganda on a scale and at a speed not seen before.

Jillian C. York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes in this Al Jazeera article about how Syria and Iran twist the features of social networks such as Facebook in order to identify and eliminate anti-government activists.

You say “manipulation,” and I say “persuasion.” So how do we call the whole thing off?

This great article by Adam Dachis of the Lifehacker blog on how to avoid brainwashing has some suggestions:

  • Identify the manipulative message you’ve received.
  • Find an opposing message, one that is as unbiased as possible.
  • Compare the different messages and see how you feel.

I think the third suggestion is the most important: “see how you feel.” We are smarter than we think we are. We all have the ability to think with our feelings as well as with our intellects, and so we should honor what our hearts and our minds are telling us.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm

A Reality Check for the Biz Side of Facebook

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Facebook logoThe eMarketer newsletter is reporting that Facebook’s global advertising revenues will exceed $5 billion in 2012, up from $3 billion in 2011. Just over half of this year’s revenues will come from US advertisers, the report says, which is interesting because Facebook itself reports that approximately 80 percent of its active users are outside of the US and Canada.

So although only providing around 20 percent of the user base, US-based advertisers are expected to pump in a little more than half of all the site’s total ad revenues.

It sounds like a lot of money, and it is.

But to put that in perspective, $5 billion in revenues doesn’t even crack the top 200 list of global companies.

This list from Wikipedia, backed up by references including corporate annual reports and the Financial Times Global 500 list, shows that US-based retailer Walmart had revenues of $421 billion as of 2011. The next four on the list are oil companies: ExxonMobil ($370 billion), Royal Dutch Shell ($368 billion), BP ($297 billion), and Sinopec ($289 billion).

Filling out the bottom of the list at number 205, with 2010 revenues of $40 billion, was information technology giant Cisco.

So while Facebook is certainly showing strong revenue growth, it has a long way to go to match the true titans of industry.

And next year, it may not even be able to match the titan of the Internet, Google. Another eMarketer report predicts that Google’s online ad business will roar past Facebook in 2013 and 2014, at least in the US.

So the next time you’re in Walmart, checking Facebook on your smartphone, just remember that the company that Sam Walton built is earning over 400 times as much revenue as the company that Mark Zuckerberg built. And that’s just this year.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 23, 2012 at 7:02 pm

The “It” Social Network of 2012

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Pinterest logo

That’s what PR Daily’s Arik Hanson is calling Pinterest. Hanson’s recent post on “17 Pinterest stats to show your boss or client” include these fun facts:

  • Pinterest is driving more Web traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and MySpace combined.
  • In the US, 97 percent of Pinterest users are women. In the UK, 56 percent of users are men.
  • Tennesseans are among the top users of Pinterest in the US.
  • Pinterest’s user engagement rate is between twice and three times as much as the same point in Twitter’s development.

The (very interesting) list goes on, but you get the point. Pinterest has staked a claim to the imaginations and online hours of millions of people, and is growing at a phenomenal rate.

The addictive nature of the social media site has, perhaps inevitably, spawned “junkie” stories like this one from the Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak:

“I’ve made 17 attempts at writing this column in the past three days. The pattern is always the same: turn on the computer, log in to Pinterest and lose myself in the site’s churning cycle of interest, hope, inspiration, jealousy, desperation, despair and depression. Pinterest is the hottest new social-networking tool. And it’s digital crack for women.”

Since I am writing this on Mardi Gras, it might be fitting to note that, just as the New Orleans cops break up the Bourbon Street revelries at midnight on Fat Tuesday, Pinterest is in effect doing the same thing, taking away the punchbowl right when the party is getting good.

In this story from Mashable’s Joann Pan, Pinterest has released code that lets companies block their online content from being pinned to Pinterest users’ personal pinboards. The story notes that perhaps 99 percent of all pins on Pinterest violate its own terms of service, so in order to prevent being sued into bankruptcy, the company had to shut down the party somewhat, if it wants to stay in business in the future.

We’re only two months into 2012, but unless another social media site gets this big, this quickly, Pinterest gets my vote for the “it” network of the year.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 21, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Infographics – Classic Communication Made Modern

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Infographics are becoming a hot topic among social media outlets and communicators.

Bloggers such as Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing and Marcie Giovannoni at Complex Visuals have written about the recent jump in interest in infographics, which deliver often numerically-laden information in a way that helps, not hurts, understanding. Koerth-Baker also explores the history of this communication art, including an illustration considered to be the best infographic ever created, the map by Charles Joseph Minard that illustrated the destruction of Napoleon Boneparte’s army in the Russian campaign of 1812.

Charles Joseph Minard's map of Napoleon's 1812 Russian campaign lossesPublic relations practitioners are climbing aboard the infographics party train. PR Daily’s Meryl Serouya recently wrote an article specifically exploring the use of infographics as press releases, citing their brevity and focus, especially when distributed via social media channels.

Serouya wrote that infographics “can prove especially powerful in press releases by extending the core message and highlighting the important components to bring the text to life.”

I agree completely. Infographics certainly are full of promise as communication channels, although I would not go so far as to say they should replace a news release. If I was advising a client about the use of infographics, I would say that they do have their place, but not as stand-alone releases.

SC Johnson infographic on shifts in consumer environmental actions and behaviorAn interesting infographic could accompany a news release, whether it is e-mailed to media outlets, posted to an organization’s Facebook page, or Tweeted to its followers, giving the story extra context, drama, and background while explaining the more complex parts.

Even though infographics have been around for a long time (like the 17,000-year-old Lascaux cave paintings in France), a well-crafted infographic still has the power to take dry information and make it seem fresh and new and understandable. I’m looking forward to seeing how this hybrid of art and communication will change and grow in the future.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Relationships vs. Rhetoric in Public Relations

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Relationships vs. Rhetoric - two sides of the same coin? Image Courtesy of iStockPhotoOne of the more interesting classes I have taken in my pursuit of a master’s degree in public relations has been a look at the theoretical underpinnings of the industry.

Normally we don’t think of what we do as having a basis in theory. You can’t just pick up a theory and hold it toward the light. It’s an abstract concept. But it is helpful to ponder some of the competing ideas that try to explain what public relations is, why people and organizations engage in it, and why it works (or doesn’t work).

In that class, we spent a great deal of time discussing whether “relationships” are at the heart of public relations, or whether “rhetoric” is the basis of all that we do.

I was reminded of that discussion by a recent article by John Trader in PR Daily, which listed the “5 key traits of a successful PR professional.”

The article outlined the following must-have traits for anyone wanting to “make it” in public relations:

  • Thick skin;
  • Resiliency;
  • Attention to detail;
  • Creativity; and
  • Relationship building.

In my experience, all five of these traits really are “must-haves,” but the final item intrigued me. There it was, plain as day: support for “relationships” as the bedrock of PR success. But reading deeper in the article, Trader described “relationship building” as the ability to “bridge communication chasms through quality conversations.”

That’s the point at which my PR professors would say “A-ha! And what are quality conversations made of? Rhetoric. The ability to communicate with others in such way as to persuade them of the rightness of your position, while being open to being persuaded if their arguments have greater merit.”

That is what a “quality conversation” is. Anything else is just a monologue.

As public relations practitioners continue to learn how to use social media to create and improve relationships with their publics, using the tools of effective rhetoric, it might be safe to say that instead of being in conflict with each other, relationships and rhetoric are actually the two sides of the same coin.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 17, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Time is Money, and Vice Versa

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Among the many catchphrases attributed to inventor, publisher, diplomat and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, one of my favorites is “time is money.”

The basic idea is that even though time is an abstract concept, it still has a real, concrete value. Usually, so the thinking goes, the more time you have, the better off you are.

Whole industries have arisen around time-saving products. The Franklin Planner time management system was reportedly based on Benjamin Franklin’s own personal system of keeping track of his days and his to-do lists. Smartphones now have time-management “apps,” and bloggers discuss topics such as the “5 simple web apps for saving time at work” and the “top 7 ways to save time on Twitter.”

Since humans do not (as of yet) have the power to lengthen the day, we all have the same 24 hours. So can we really “save” time? No. We are just shifting things around, doing less of one thing so that we can do more of another thing.

This is actually a wonderful development, because some actions are worth taking, while it is really, really nice to not have to do other things.

There is a great op-ed piece by Jon Barocas on that discusses the end of QR codes, the little black squares that you can scan with a smartphone and automatically navigate to a website or download other information.

The best part of the article is a YouTube video demonstration of Google Goggles, a potential successor to QR codes. Google Goggles is the search engine’s method of looking for information by taking pictures of something.

The reason I like the video is not so much because of the product demonstration, but because it illustrates how much of a time-saver the ubiquitous Web has become. Walking the streets of San Francisco, the narrator is able to access information that would have required the nearby presence of street maps, printed telephone books, library card catalogues, and old copies of Wine Speculator magazine. Yet he was able to get all of the relevant information streamed to his smartphone in time to have lunch.

So if “time is money,” the reverse is also true: “money is time.” If you have the money to afford a smartphone, you can use it to “buy” time that is then spent on lunch at some out-of-the-way Italian restaurant, rather than at the nearest library.

I am cautiously optimistic that Benjamin Franklin would approve.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 16, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Audio Podcast: Social Media and the Newspaper Industry

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Click here to listen to a podcast interview with Kevin Slimp, director of the Institute for Newspaper Technology in Knoxville. Slimp discusses the impact of social media on the newspaper business, and some surprising ways that social media usage is changing our lives. Download the file here.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 12, 2012 at 5:19 pm

The View from Nowhere

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I recently attended a convention of my state’s newspaper association, and one of the highlights of the convention was a series of training sessions on all aspects of the newspaper business.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that social media was the topic of around half of all of the training sessions. Social media is something that all communicators are grappling with, and newspapers are no exception.

The attendees were a mixture of newspaper owners/publishers and reporters/editors, but the discussions tended to focus on the business side of social media.

The topics included the return on investment for hiring dedicated social media staffers versus giving the responsibility for social media to existing staffers, and the cost-benefit analysis of creating customized newspaper “apps” for smartphones and tablet computers versus spending money to revamp newspaper websites to maximize their viewability across a variety of platforms (PCs, tablets, smartphones).

I didn’t hear much about the impact of social media on the news gathering process itself, which was too bad, because this article from GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram highlighted a problem that the editorial side of newspapers are facing with social media: using it to promote reporters (and by extension, their newspapers) while at the same time preventing those reporters from letting their personalities shine through.

According to the article, the fear is that any hint of personality shining through a reporter’s social media activities could expose the person, and by proxy, the newspaper, of bias or <shudder> a personal opinion. Objective reporting is supposed to reflect “the view from nowhere,” meaning complete impartiality.

But, as the article points out, the whole point of social media is personal connection. So it seems to me that in addition to worrying about the impact of social media on a newspaper’s bottom line, publishers ought to consider its impact on their own reporters and editors.

No one is a robot. We all have opinions and personalities. So if reporters are going to be marketed via their social media output, they have to let their personality shine through. Their reporting has to be “the view from right here.”

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Audio Podcast: Social Media in the Classroom

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Click here to listen to a podcast interview with Lisa Fall, associate professor of public relations at the University of Tennessee. Fall discusses her experiences with social media in the classroom, both the brick-and-mortar kind and in online teaching. Download the file here.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 7, 2012 at 6:00 am