Taking the Plunge

Posted on July 12, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I have a history of being a late bloomer when it comes to new technologies and media. For years, I insisted I was too old for Facebook. Now, hardly a day goes by when I don’t check my Wall at least once, appreciating how it keeps me connected with friends.

When my husband first purchased an IPhone, I insisted that a phone was just for talking with people. My resolve quickly faltered though, when I discovered how handy it was to check email, look up directions, and search for restaurants on the go.

So, when the recent announcement was made introducing Google+, I decided it was time for me to go from reluctant adopter to early adopter. To stop focusing on why something was not valuable or necessary, and to open up to the possibilities of how it might be fun or interesting.

Google plus

Like blogger Becky Robinson, I worry about fitting another social network into my life. Is there room for Facebook and Google+? Does it even make sense to be active in both? Am I setting myself up for early adopter grief if I invest time and energy into creating my Google+ Circles only to have the network fail?

I have lots of questions and very few answers. But, I’m determined to enjoy the ride, no matter how long it lasts. As one of my handful of Google+ connections pointed out, we early adopters will be able to look back years from now and say, “remember when…”

In this final post for my blog project, I would like to offer sincere gratitude to all who have supported me by reading and commenting each week.


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A Newsie’s Journey from the Obits to the Cutting Edge

Posted on July 10, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

A hearty cyber-welcome to guest blogger Susan Manning! As a 15-year veteran of the news industry, Susan has had a front row seat for the major changes brought about by emerging media. Read on for her insider’s perspective—and leave a comment for her!

Susan ManningI’ve been a newsie for as long as I can remember. Nary a week went by in my house without the Boston Globe daily, the Sudbury Town Crier on Thursdays and the nightly 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. News keeps my blood flowing.

Though I had many internships, I started in the field professionally the year I graduated college and worked my way up the ladder to management—a traditional journalist’s journey. I still remember the day I told my mother I landed a job at the local daily. She was thrilled, that is, until I told her I’d be writing obits and that it would be a second job. I assured her it would lead to bigger and better things. And it did. Just being part of the newsroom fabric made me smile and I worked harder to ensure promotion.

But aspiring journalists today will experience a different journey than I did.

Today’s journalism is a dynamic field—ever-changing and cutting edge. Today we have to win over our readers in 10 seconds—if they even choose to give us a chance. When I was last an editor of a local print newspaper, my penetration rate was 82 percent. The penetration rate of that same paper now, 4 years later, is down to 47 percent. Why?

Fewer people read papers. And those who do, skim. They don’t want a 25-inch story on Town Meeting. They want you to tell them 5 things they missed at that meeting. Readers are working more hours now and many who used to have a stay-at-home mom can’t afford that anymore. With less free time, they want more information digested for them. And with the advent of social media and the Internet, they are able to find the news the need in the form they need it.

But fear not—our job as journalists is not to retire the printing press and go home. It is to ride this wave of new and social media as it emerges and changes to fit the needs of its users. My company, Patch, is a hyperlocal (read: We get as granular as the news in your individual neighborhoods) news and community website. We have no printed product. In fact, even our offices are virtual. We stand on our own, with our own platform and we do very well. Still, much of our traffic and engagement comes from and happens in other arenas: twitter, Facebook, Huffington Post. And we are OK with that.

Patch logo

Our goal—my goal—is to engage communities and get them to be as excited about news as I am and to have informed residents who can participate in an educated way in their own towns. If I have to be dynamic and willing to change my methods on a dime to accomplish this, so be it. When the engagement falters, I will worry. But until then, I—and Patch—will use social media to its fullest and will be excited when the next avenue for news dissemination emerges.

-Susan Manning

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Are you App-Happy?

Posted on July 6, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I was surprised to discover recently that apps rank pretty low on the priority lists of smartphone users, with only 29% claiming to make use of them. How is it that such a large segment of the population has not yet discovered the magical convenience of apps?

When my husband and I took a month long, West coast, road-trip-of-a-lifetime last year, I downloaded five apps just for the journey:

  • Yelp and TripAdvisor to check out restaurant and hotel reviews
  • Chipotle, because it’s a safe, healthy and tasty option while on the road
  • NPR to listen to recent news and locate local stations that carried its programming
  • And a hotel app that I have since deleted, but proved quite handy when searching for cheap lodging
TripAdvisor App

While these applications are all very practical, games are actually the most popular type of app. I currently have three games on my IPhone, all of which are for my nieces and nephews to play with when they get restless during family functions. But, as much as they they love to play BubblePopper and Piano Pals on Auntie Joyce’s IPhone, Uncle Paul wins out in popularity with his IFart application. This high tech version of the classic whoopee cushion is quite lucrative. At a price of just $0.99 per download, the IFart maker raked in $80,000 during the app’s first two weeks on the market alone.

IFart appWhile the overall percentage of app users is rather low, they make up for their small numbers by downloading lots of apps. According to Pew Internet, on average, these users have 18 apps on their phones at any given time. Paul and I are overachievers with 45 and 32 respectively.

What about you? How many apps do you have on your phone? And do you go for the entertainment value of games or the practicality of information-based apps?

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In Search of Authenticity

Posted on June 26, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Back when chat rooms were the “in” thing, people used cryptic screen names like BostonGirl28 or luv2ride. Unless you actually knew these people in the three dimensional world, there was no way to know who you were really chatting with. Was Mike2468 really a 21-year-old Harvard athlete? Or was he a 45-year-old pedophile? Or a group of teenage girls having fun by pretending?

chat room lurker

The anonymity of the Internet allowed people to be someone they were not, whether to commit a crime, have a little fun, or temporarily escape low self esteem. There was a generally accepted belief that it was not safe to put your true identity online. Yet, I think the use of fake names, in and of itself, made the Internet an unsafe place to connect with people.

But times have changed and recent research has shown that, today, people are quite “real” on social networks. Rather than projecting an idealized version of themselves, as was popularly thought, users offer up their genuine feelings, behaviors and habits through sites like Facebook. In fact, many credit Facebook for this change, as it was the first social site to require people to register with their real name.

Not everyone thinks linking real identities with online personas is a good thing though. Christopher Poole, a 22-year-old social networking entrepreneur, created www.4chan.org, a site in which all posters are anonymous. It has been called the anti-Facebook and, because of its raw, uncensored content, “the id of the Internet.” Poole claimed in an interview, that anonymity is authenticity. It allows kids to be kids—to say stupid things and not worry about them affecting you as an adult.

Christopher Poole

Christopher Poole

His theory assumes, however, that people stop saying stupid things when they grow up. Not to mention harmful things. In fact, the notorious hacker group “Anonymous” was hatched at of 4chan.org, although Poole claims no involvement.

While the “realness” of Facebook has its flaws and potential dangers, I think it largely encourages responsibility and honesty. Anonymity, on the other hand, allows people to write and act without fear of accountability.

Which site do you think offers more authenticity–Facebook or 4chan.org? Is the Web safer when identities are exposed? 

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Flogging (and I’m not talking about the punishment)

Posted on June 19, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The term “unofficial” can imply that a source is unreliable or that information is not confirmed. Yet, in this day and age in which people trust each other far more than corporations, unofficial is where it’s at. To some, unofficial is the real deal, the inside scoop, the uncensored truth a company might not want you to know.

Unofficial blogs have sprouted up all over the Internet, written by current and former employees, rabid fans, and brand haters. Some (like IKEA Hackers) sing a brand’s praises, while others (think Walmart) tear the brand apart. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, power has shifted to the consumers, and we are having our say.

One way in which some companies are fighting back is through fake blogs (a.k.a. flogs). You may have heard about the 2006 Walmart flog fiasco, which involved the retailer paying a couple to travel across the U.S. in an RV, stay in Walmart parking lots along the way, and write lots of wonderful things about Walmart and its many happy employees in their blog, Walmarting Across America. This scheme backfired in a very public way when the “blog” was revealed to be a campaign dreamed up by Walmart’s PR agency.

The blogosphere may be part of the “Wild West” that is social media, but that doesn’t mean there are no standards of behavior. Among many bloggers who voiced their disapproval of Walmart’s flog tactic, Kevin O’Keefe of Real Lawyers Have Blogs claimed that the company broke the unwritten rules of the blogosphere; and Aude Sapere had just one harsh word—fraud.

I agree with Kevin and Aude in that blogs have a spirit, if not a written code; and that spirit is characterized by openness and transparency. Walmart took a “by the people, for the people” type of format and used it to try to fool and manipulate the people.

What about you? Do you think it is fair game for companies to test the limits of social media for gain, like Walmart did? Or do you think flogs are a betrayal of consumer trust?

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Going Viral

Posted on June 12, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

In my last posting, I wrote about how advertising is everywhere these days and, as a result, we’re all getting a little numb to it. We fast forward through commercials, we barely glance at print ads, and heaven help the telemarketer who calls our cell phones. Thanks to technology (e.g., TiVo, caller ID, pop-up blockers), we have more control these days—and we’re using it to take a stand against advertising.

For the marketing industry, this shift in power means it needs to raise the bar to create advertisements that we want to watch. Ads that don’t interrupt our entertainment, but in fact, are entertainment. Ads that we just have to share with friends. Ads that, in the best case scenario, go viral.

An Ad Age article lists the top 10 viral ads of all time. While most ads are unceremoniously passed over by consumers, the top video ad of all time has more than 134 million views. It’s not for a soft drink. Or running shoes. It’s for a blender. Blendtec created an Internet sensation by blending everything from iPhones to glow sticks to golf balls.

So, what makes an ad go viral? According to the Social Times, no one cares about your product and its many benefits. Rather, they want compelling content. “You need to tell a compelling story or show something that is so funny or unique that viewers just can’t help but share your video with their friends.” Blended iPads, dancing hamsters and flash mobs all seem to fit the bill.

A Mashable article adds that video advertisements that provide good information are also candidates for going viral. People not only like to learn interesting, useful things, but like to teach them to others by sharing via email or social media.

A powerful combination of emotional content and valuable information has created a success for a new ad by the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund. Despite being five minutes long (forever for a commercial), this video about skin cancer is so compelling that it has received 2.3 million views in just over one month.

With the dawn of YouTube and social networking, friends can share memorable video ads with the click of a mouse. What are some of the ads you have deemed worthy of sharing, and why?

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No Free Lunch—Even on the Web

Posted on June 8, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I was surprised to discover recently that, according to a 2010 study by Performics, only two-thirds of Internet users are aware that some of the results you get from a Google search are actually paid advertisements. (Psst…for those in the other one-third, the ads are the ones in the shaded box at the top, as well as along the right side of the screen.) Because I hear so much grumbling about all of the advertising on the Web, I assumed everyone knew about these ads.

Google sponsored ads

People tend to dislike advertising in general, but some get especially testy when it invades their cyber turf. These folks might agree with the idea that “your Facebook page is your personal space,” as is proclaimed on a website offering an application to block Facebook ads. I, on the other hand, would say that Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg’s space, which he allows me to use, so he can make money from advertisers. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. We live in a capitalistic society—this kind of give-and-take is what makes it all work.

Facebook cash

The Web may have changed a lot of things, but one constant is the sentiment captured in the old adage, “You can’t get something for nothing.” You may not pay cash each time you look up useful or entertaining content on the Web, but you make a contribution with your time and attention, and maybe even a click or two. These actions, along with lots of online purchases, satisfy the advertisers who pay for prime real estate on search engines, Web-based publications, blogs, Facebook, and more.

Way back in 2002, a Wall Street Journal article warned that, without advertising, the Web would turn into a “pay-per-view world,” in which users would be charged for content. We actually have begun paying the piper to some extent, with some online publications, including The New York Times, introducing some form of a paid subscription. Just a few months ago, Ran Cohen issued a warning similar to the Wall Street Journal’s, reminding “Web freeloaders” that both advertising and data collection through cookies are what pay the bills for online publishers.

For those who are frustrated by Google’s “sponsored ads” and those pesky, moving banner ads, do you feel that the annoyance is worth it for the valuable content you’re accessing? If not, is there a price you’d be willing to pay for an ad-free Web?

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Hello infographic, goodbye pie chart

Posted on May 31, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Much like fashion, website design has trends that come and go. Depending on your age, you might remember the days when websites were reminiscent of the Vegas strip, with all the bells and whistles the designer could cram onto a screen.

bad website

Click on it--the colors scroll!

Thankfully, most of today’s sites are more refined. According to “The State of Web Design Trends,” one of the up and coming trends is infographics. This term is fairly new to me and, as the name implies, refers to a graphic representation of information. If you’re unsure of the benefits of infographics, here is an infographic about infographics:

infographic about infographics

With color, images and a flexibility you just can’t get from Excel, infographics are the charts and graphs of the 21st century. According to marketing professional and blogger Pam Dyer, an infographic is more effective at communication than its predecessors because it translates complex data into an easily understandable format. In her words, “charts and graphs can communicate data, but infographics turn data into information.”

Take Obama’s $787 Billion Economic Stimulus Plan. All politics aside, how many people really understand how that enormous sum of money is broken down? Enter the infographic:

Obama's Economic Stimulus Plan infographic

Click to open the full graphic.

A New York Times article goes a step further, suggesting that infographics have the potential to “prompt visceral comprehension, moments of insight that make viewers want to learn more.” For example, regardless of how you feel about Twitter, this visual representation of how the death of Osama bin Laden spread via Twitter offers an instant appreciation of the power of this medium.

bin Laden death spread viaTwitter

It all started with a single tweet from Keith Urbahn...

Not everyone is on the infographic bandwagon though. Could this trend be another indication of just how lazy we’ve become? One blog suggests this new tool is simply a gimmick that drives website traffic without offering value to readers. This infographic might fall into that category:

coffee infographic

Count me as a passenger on the bandwagon. Like it or not, we’ve become a culture of skimmers. As a communications professional, I have some sadness about this development. As a part-time student, full-time employee, and lifetime consumer, however, I have to resort to skimming just to make it through the day. If you want to get your point across, especially if you are marketing something, then you had better do it in a succinct and appealing manner.

What do you think about infographics? Do you have any favorites to share?

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How young is too young for Facebook?

Posted on May 24, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Facebook Baby

One of the focuses in class this week is today’s youth and their seemingly innate proficiency with new media of all kinds. While I consider myself fairly tech savvy, a recent Xbox lesson from my 13-year-old nephew proved that my hand-eye coordination lags woefully behind that of today’s teens.

For these kids, technology is second-nature because it has always been a part of their lives. But are there categories of emerging media that should be reserved until their maturity is as developed as their joystick skills?

Mark Zuckerberg thinks not. The Facebook controversy du jour is whether kids under the age of 13 (the current limit as determined by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) should be allowed to use the popular social networking site.

Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg

Acknowledging there is no easy answer and admitting I have no children, I lean toward agreeing with Zuckerberg. As Gawker.com blogger Adrian noted, an estimated 7.5 million underage kids are already posting status updates, “liking” pages, and playing Farmville on a daily basis. They are already there and we can’t keep them out. Adrian suggests focusing instead on making Facebook a more kid-friendly environment. For example, allow and encourage kids to use fake names to make them less vulnerable to child predators and bullies.

If used for good instead of evil, Facebook has the potential to be a conduit for 21st century pen pals, teaching kids geography and politics, as well as the valuable lesson that we are all more alike than we are different. A Teachers.net article touts the many educational benefits of social media, pointing out that kids today are multi-taskers, and so we need to mirror that environment in the classroom. By incorporating new media, including social networks, into schools, children will remain engaged and be more excited about learning.

Are there dangers? Sure. Does my childless status influence my opinion? Without a doubt. Still, I feel the bus has left the station on this particular issue, and there’s no turning it around. At this point, we are best served by encouraging responsible Facebook use with proper parental guidance.

What do YOU think? Take my poll and comment below. I especially look forward to hearing the perspectives of parents and kids!

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What NPR and the European Wax Center have in common

Posted on May 15, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Hello, World! Welcome to my blog for Emerging Media and the Market, my fifth class in WVU’s Integrated Marketing Communications program. While followers of my former blog (temporarily on hiatus while I earn a master’s degree) read all about my travels, training and racing, followers of this blog will read about my thoughts on the newest media technologies.

One of the best things about this new digital world is the ease with which we can interact. So don’t be shy – post a comment! Share your insights, ask a question, play devil’s advocate or express yourself through an emoticon. Seriously, this blog is graded and comments make me look good. 🙂

Now that the introduction is out of the way, I’ll get to NPR and the European Wax Center.

I just spent three minutes skimming my Facebook newsfeed and discovered that Julian thinks Hardball is a good movie, Kate is doing a walk to raise money for Children’s Hospital Boston, NPR wants to speak to expectant mothers for an upcoming story, Pollyanna goes to the European Wax Center…and much, much more. A quick peek at my Twitter account offers mentions of Myers and Chang, The GAP, Spirited Gourmet…and so on. You get the picture.

In his tech and gadget blog, PC Mike discusses how social media has changed “word of mouth” to “world of mouth.” With smartphones, apps, texting and the Internet, it’s easier than ever before to get brand recommendations, even while standing in the supermarket aisle. This is a boon for us consumers since we trust each other much more than we trust advertising.

Types of Advertising Trusted by Internet Users

But it’s also a win for businesses – at least the ones who are quick to adapt to and embrace new media. Think about it, how often do you mention brand names in your status updates, blogs or tweets? While checking in to Target on Foursquare isn’t exactly a glowing recommending, it lets all your followers know you shop there and puts the company’s name in their minds, if only for a brief moment. Compared with the thousands of dollars businesses pay for billboards, social media is cheap, quick and potentially far-reaching.

According to Alterian’s Eighth Annual Survey, however, a lot of marketers admit to being behind the curve. Seventy percent reported having “little understanding of social media conversations surrounding their brand,” while 75% feel “their brand is at risk of not being as engaged with customers as it should be.”

What are some brands that you feel “get” emerging media and are using it effectively to engage you?

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