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April 28, 2011 / assembled

Semester Wrap-Up

As the Spring 2011 semester of the graduate course Social Media: Objectives, Strategies, and Tactics at NYU comes to an end, it is a good time to review the course learnings as they relate to both my academic and professional ambitions. Just several months ago, I started using this blog as both a way to fulfill a course assignment, as well as a way to contribute to a larger dialogue. A strong background and keen interest in both the written and spoken word seemed like a solid foundation to leverage as I parlayed into the blogosphere– however, as I quickly learned, this is very different than any other kind of writing that I had experience with.

Throughout these last few months, my experience with blogging has uncovered several unforseen surprises and challenges. The single most surprising thing about writing a weekly blog post assignment is the sheer amount of time it takes from start to finish. I admire the avid bloggers who post daily, even weekly– it sure is a real time commitment. Perhaps most challenging was making the realization that even though this is not the most rigid forum for academic writing, the basic writing rules still apply–more or less. Blogs should still be held to some of the same journalistic standards when it comes to grammar and spelling. Where blogs differ from traditional journalism is the freedom to interject a very personal point of view. Each blog is the personal space of its author, and therefore can reflect the personal attitudes, tastes, and opinions of its author. I did have a difficult time figuring out where to draw the line; keeping in mind these journalistic standards, while at the same time giving my writing a bit of an attitude and point of view.

Also very challenging was the idea of writing for an audience. When writing, it is very important to know your audience! However in the case of blogging, it is hard to know your audience when you are trying to build one that consists of complete strangers. I don’t claim to have this whole blogging thing down to a science yet, but I am certainly trying, and I will continue to try to apply these learnings to my future posts.

Now that my semester is over and classes are coming to an end, it will not be mandatory that I make a weekly submission. I do intend to continue to write here from time to time. As a student and professional whose interest lies precisely at the converging point of language and all things digital, a blog seems like a very natural outlet for wanting to express my opinion. I enjoy the idea that each post has the opportunity to reach someone, somewhere. I will continue to write with the hope that each reader is able to take away a new perspective or insight.

Image: Maria Reyes-McDavis

April 21, 2011 / assembled

Privacy: A Look at Biometrics and Location-Based Technology

Everyone wants to know where all this social, digital technology is taking us. The rise of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have led us to the rise of sites like Gowalla and Foursquare, both of which make giving your physical location a social, sharing activity. Some of us have some concerns about privacy, but for most, the benefits (discounts and special sales given for checking in) outweigh the perceived risks.

Though the rise of location-based social sharing sites and the use of location and GPS softwares are already quite prevalent and common throughout our daily lives, some have started to question what it all means. If you have an iPhone, you might be slightly more anxious about your privacy after reading this article from the Wall Street Journal. As it turns out, your iPhone  keeps a record of where the phone has been and when it was there; this is about as close to real-time surveillance as you can get. But aren’t most of us voluntarily sharing this information already?

In case you want some insights as to where this is leading us, let’s take a look at this article titled “The Convergence of Biometrics, Location, and Surveillance” from O’Reilly Radar. The article explores the idea of biometrics which are the elements that makes humans distinct from one another. The most readable biometrics include our fingerprints and our iris, which is the colored part of the eye. As everything is starting to move onto the web, and everything starts to consolidate onto our phones, biometrics will become increasingly important.

With the rise of mobile payments and transactions, it is clear that our phones are well on their way to becoming our wallets. Furthermore, our phones are being used to consolidate some of the clutter in our wallets; why carry our gym membership card, metro card, and various other membership and discount cards when they could all be stored on our phones? In fact, the Japanese are already using their phones for their Oyster cards with great success, and with little fraud or theft.

But given the perceived threat of having all of our most important financial data and information in one central place, our phone, the emergence of biometrics will be used not only to identify people who can’t necessarily identify themselves (includes children and people in accidents), but also might be used as a way of allowing access to our phones.

Though the article’s contributors are mixed about the pros and cons of biometrics and surveillance technologies, they agree on one idea: “The biggest danger is that over time our society will just accept surveillance as part of the cultural landscape.” As these technologies continue to move into new frontiers, we must all be vigilant of our own personal safety, as well as how we choose to use technologies, knowing very well that there are both benefits, but very serious risks.

Image: Camera Video de Surveillance by Frederic Bisson

April 14, 2011 / assembled

Digiday: Video Upfront

I was fortunate enough to attend the Digiday: Video Upfront conference in New York on April 12th, 2011, where I learned about several emerging trends in online video content and online advertising.

I arrived just in time to hear from Dan Goodman and William H. Masterson III, Partners and Co-Founders of Believe Entertainment Group, who are famous for various digital content projects, including the recently launched animated web series called The LeBrons. The duo discussed the implications of turning celebrities into media networks, and also touched on how they successfully financed this digital short form content ahead of a revenue stream. In this case, it was clear that there was already an established audience for the content (LeBron’s Facebook and Twitter pages have a combined total of 8M fans and followers). Another key factor that has helped to drive the success and popularity of this series is that these episodes are self-contained units that do not necessarily need to be watched in order. Though this series was launched without the help of ‘big media,’ both Goodman and Masterson agree that despite the changing media landscape, and contrary to popular opinion, big media is NOT out. Big media is oftentimes the solution. In terms of current and future opportunity, both agree that short form content is the best space for producers and advertisers to be.

Following this presentation, I sat through a series called “The State of the Industry on Digital Video” which discussed changes in advertising budgets to accommodate more online/digital advertising. Gian Lombardi of YuMe talked about the emergence of new media such as mobile and tablet, and the huge projected increases in ad spending within these spaces.  Lombardi reasons that huge projected ad spending within these spaces is largely in part due to the targeting capability and measurability. Because advertising is moving into new environments, the need to measure its effectiveness is a hot topic. Lombardi argues that there is a huge disconnect right now with measurement and ROI, claiming that click through rates are not useful metrics. Metrics really need to ladder back to the campaign objectives- this statement is true for online advertising. What really caught my attention was when Lombardi made the point that the shift to online video is not a generational shift, but a technology shift. He also concluded that the audiences that are most difficult to reach through TV are the easiest to reach online. The space is changing, no doubt. Given the opportunities for measurement and targetability, online advertising will slowly begin to steal huge chunks of traditional advertising budgets– we are seeing it happen now, and will continue to see it happen into the future.

In the next panel, titled  “The Buyers Speak Out,” the panel discussed a hot topic– the value of metrics. An important distinction that was made here; the closer metrics get to identifying sales, the more valuable they become. Given some of the capabilities of online advertising, advertisers are shifting away from broadcasting using traditional advertising and focusing on narrow-casting; pinpointing specific audiences they want to reach, and specifying how and when they want to reach them. The ability to measure will be much greater as this process is refined. Though the advertising space is changing, advertising goals largely remain the same: to drive sales and achieve brand lift.

All in all, it was a very valuable use of my time. The entire field of communications, including advertising, marketing, and public relations is changing faster than most of us anticipated. None of us really knows where this is going, or how long it will take to get there. Is this an evolution, or a revolution? Based on what I learned from the panelists at this event, we must continue to work hard, fuel our passion into what we love to do, keep bringing good ideas to the table, and just enjoy the ride.

Image: CPH Metro by Borya

April 7, 2011 / assembled

Analyzing Coca Cola’s Social Media Strategy

With 24,299,808 Facebook fans, 244,233 Twitter followers, and 18,709,427 Youtube video upload views, Coca Cola is a best in class example of how brands can effectively use social media to drive engagement and loyalty. According to a recent report from socialmediatoday.com, Coca Cola has cut its ad spending by 6.6% in order to invest more in social media, citing that Facebook and Youtube are increasingly important advertising platforms for them.

In addition to thoughtful, engaging, and entertaining branded social media pages, Coca Cola has also launched Coke Zone, a microsite for Coca Cola fans in Ireland and Great Britain that has original content and rewards. Coca Cola has done a great job of using social media to not just launch or support a campaign, or even to create buzz around a new product, but to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships with Coca Cola consumers around the world.

Coca Cola is also staying relevant by aligning their brand with current events, such as March Madness. According to this ABC News report from earlier this month, Coke spent more than 20% of its March Madness advertising budget on social media- a huge increase in comparison to last year’s 2%. The report further cites that Coke created a virtual “gathering place” called the Coke Zero Social Arena, (embedded within the NCAA official online site) which gave fans a space where they could talk about the games, and find fellow fans with whom they could root on their favorite teams. Coke also took Tweets from the game and segmented them according to team, and kept all of these in one centralized location.

So does all of this time and money spent on social media drive sales? Diet Coke recently took Pepsi’s spot as the second biggest cola brand in the U.S. Coca Cola holds the number one spot, much to Pepsi’s chagrin. Referencing a blog post I did about Social Media Week, I might argue that Coca Cola needs to shift from using social media to just inform, engage and entertain consumers and actually adopt a process whereby they can use the insights from their social channels to better understand their consumers, their wants, and their needs. I argue in my earlier post that national brands with local audiences need to create a continual feedback loop that uses consumer insights from social channels to make decisions at the corporate level. This is a process that needs to be refined and perfected, and I am convinced that the business that gets this right will be the one that sits at the top.

Image: Coca-Cola by DeusXFlorida

March 31, 2011 / assembled

A Case Study in Social Media: @BronxZoosCobra

The case of the missing Cobra from the Bronx Zoo, more commonly known to his followers as @BronxZoosCobra, has finally been solved, according to this report from the Huffington Post.

Following the announcement that the dangerous cobra went missing, someone (or an organization, yet to be named) created a Twitter account to chronicle the adventures of the missing Cobra around New York City. The Tweeting started on March 28th, 2011 with the following serving as the first of many humorous tweets: “I want to thank those animals from the movie “Madagascar.” They were a real inspiration.”

Over the course of the next few days, the snake drew a significant following, with 210,034 followers as of March 31st, 2011. Just to give you some perspective, the Bronx Zoo Twitter account (home to the infamous cobra) only has 9,519 followers.

By reading through the snake’s Twitter diary, we can see that he takes in a Broadway show, Ray’s Pizza, The Museum of Natural History, Equinox Gym, the High Line, Rockefeller Plaza, Wall Street, Union Square, and Ellis Island, amongst others. He adds humor to the mix, a personal favorite being one from the morning of March 30th, 2011 that read: “Getting my morning coffee at the Mudtruck. Don’t even talk to me until I’ve had my morning coffee. Seriously, don’t. I’m venomous.”

Other people and companies were quick to jump into the conversation, talk show host Ellen Degeneres tweeted: “Hey @BronxZoosCobra check the Guggenheim They’ve a great Kandinsky exhibit, also don’t have any stairs.” The Hilton New York tweeted: “@bronxzooscobra Do you have a place to stay in NYC tonight? We can offer you the Penthouse ssssuite.” Even Mayor Bloomberg of New York tweeted: “Today President Obama and I toured NYC’s Museum of Natural History. We saw a 94 foot whale, but not @BronxZoosCobra.”

So why did this work? How was someone able to take a Twitter account from 0 to 210,034 followers in a matter of days? And better yet, what does it tell us about the power (and importance) of a strategic social media strategy? In this case, we should look at the best practices of the person (or organization) behind the Cobra’s Twitter account. We should also look at the team behind the social media for the Bronx Zoo, who only Tweeted twice during this entire ordeal- once to tell their followers that they understood the “interest in this story” and second, to let people know that the snake had been found. I would argue for them, that active and strategic participation in this situation could have driven interest in the museum, therefore driving visits and sales. All of this reiterates the importance of a social media strategy and team in place to capitalize on situations that may or may not be expected.

It will be interesting to continue to follow the situation, even now that the cobra has been captured. The creator of this Twitter account was able to combine a bit of the harsh reality (the actual news) with some fun and humour in cyberspace, which created the perfect environment for lighthearted dialogue that included locales around New York as well as various celebrities. Both confirming the power of the internet and social media to engage and entertain, as well as the importance of a strategic social media strategy, the @BronxZoosCobra will be a case study for years to come.

March 10, 2011 / assembled

The White House addresses Cyber-Bullying

On Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 President Barack Obama and Michelle made a video to announce the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, which took place today Thursday, March 10th, 2011. The White House has partnered with Facebook, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health, as well as students, parents and teachers everywhere to bring awareness to a very timely issue. Given the recent string of teen suicides over the last several months, it became clear that these tragic events were not isolated incidences, but rather an epidemic in the making.  Influential activists like Ellen Degeneres, Lady Gaga, Perez Hilton, and Anderson Cooper all expressed outrage over the devastating loss of life over something that had gone unaddressed for far too long.

The White House conference today tackled some of these important issues, and sought to address how we can unite as “digital citizens” to make the Internet a better (and safer) place for everyone. The fight won’t be easy, however, and we must all step up and police not only ourselves, but also our peers. In this case, we are just as guilty as committing the act if we stand idle and let it happen.

The issue of cyber-bullying is more or less an unprecedented situation. As we are well aware, bullying at school is usually handled by school officials. But what happens when bullying happens in “lawless spaces” outside of the classrooms and over the Internet? Should Facebook privileges be revoked if hate speech is being used to bully? What are the boundaries between hate speech and free speech?

Facebook has taken a proactive approach in answering some of these questions. They have created several resources for reporting cyber-bullying issues resources including stopping online bullying, a Safety Page and a Safety Center. The White House has also created its own website, StopBullying.gov. But this again raises a very important question: who should intervene and who should be responsible for punishing cyber-bullies?

To answer this question, I think we all need to be responsible; parents need to be responsible for teaching their children about the moral, social and legal consequences of bullying. School administration needs to be responsible for addressing all instances of bullying, punishing, and providing accommodations (in Tyler Clementi’s case, he requested a new dorm room but was not given the proper attention). Teachers need to be responsible for teaching students about safe and appropriate internet usage. Teachers also need to be responsible for alerting the appropriate disciplinarians. Students who witness acts of bullying need to be responsible for telling someone (and they also need to be given the proper tools to tell someone). Everyone can take a proactive approach to addressing this issue, and by bringing it out from the shadows and into the spotlight, it looks as though there is a real opportunity to put an end to cyber-bullying.

March 3, 2011 / assembled

Facebook is taking over the Internet

Facebook would like to become synonymous with the internet- we just have to accept this. With 500 Million + users and blow-your-mind statistics about user generated content and time spent per day on the site, these aspirations aren’t so far-fetched. Though the hype sparked by The Social Network Oscar and Golden globe wins, and visions of Mark Zuckerberg on the cover of TIME Magazine have started to slowly fade from memory, Facebook’s recent 50 Billion dollar valuation won’t be so easily forgotten.  We don’t know what the future looks like for Facebook, but a lot of people are betting a lot of money that it will be very bright. 

On March 1st, 2011 Facebook unveiled a very sophisticated comment system that will revolutionize the way we interact with content online. When commenting on an article on a news site, you will have the option of “posting to Facebook” which will allow the article and the comment to appear on your Facebook wall. Subsequently, any comments left by your Facebook friends will then appear both on Facebook and on the original outlet’s site.

In addition to this new comment system, Facebook also recently tweaked the functionality of company/brand pages by allowing a branded page to comment on Facebook stories as the actual company or brand. This, combined with the new comment system, gives a company/brand the option to comment officially on a news story; having their comment appear both on Facebook and on the news outlets site (otherwise known as killing two birds with one stone.) Though TechCrunch is the only news site testing this feature, it will be interesting to follow the traction of this service as other news outlets identify what appears to be profound opportunities and benefits.

Based on some of the comments left on the TechCrunch article (Facebook Rolls Out Overhauled Comments System (Try Them Now On TechCrunch), it looks as though there are mixed opinions; some users are against this new comment system, citing it as “creepy” and an “invasion of privacy,” however several comments spoke to the real benefits this services will provide: 

1. News content and user generated content (comments) will be integrated and appear in a single space.

2. The accountability and responsibility that comes along with having to use your real name (your Facebook name) may result in comments of a higher quality (no spam, no trolls, etc.)

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook has boasted in the past about taking Facebook to the next level with “personalized” capabilities and services. We all know that with greater personalization comes increased privacy concerns. For a company that has been somewhat controversial in their privacy settings, users must be wary of how their privacy will be impacted by this new comment system.

What are some of the benefits and risks of this new comment system?